Flying into and out of a modern international airport like that of Puerto Vallarta is easy. Tickets are electronic and check in is relatively straight forward and simple.
RevisedJanuary 9, 2013
VISAS / CUSTOMS INSPECTION
For most international travelers, passing through customs at the Puerto Vallarta Airport is simple and fast.
On your airplane, the stewardess/steward should give you two forms, an FMM (visa form) and a customs declaration form on which you list items (beyond $300 US) and currency (above $10,000) being brought into the country. Some airlines do not do this and passing through immigration and customs will be a more difficult experience because you will have to find the forms in the airport. Most now do this.
After getting off of their planes, fliers line up and pass through immigration booths where the officers do little more than look at passports and your immigration form and issue a temporary (up to 180 days) tourist Visa. This visa must be kept until your departure or you will be fined approximately $40 (US) for failure to present it. All classes of visitors must complete this form, whether they are temporary tourists or residents with FM2 or FM3 visas (or the new versions of these).
If you hold an FM2 or FM3 visa, you will have to fill out one of these FMM forms before you leave Mexico and turn in the second half of it when you return (this is opposite of the procedure of visitors).
Then passengers pick up their luggage off of the carousals. Before arriving at the carousels, there are free luggage carts available. There are no porters available before the luggage inspection stations. There are porters available after the inspection for help in transporting your baggage to your taxi, bus or car. Travelers with pets will now have to stop at a special room where your pet documentation is checked. This room is close to where you are able to pick up the free luggage carts.
When you pick your luggage off of the carousels, you then proceed to a customs inspection point. For most passengers, this involves only putting all of their bags (including purses, coats and other carry-on items) into an X-ray machine where they are either allowed to proceed or are directed to personal inspection stations. The people who pass the xray inspection then press a button which shows either a random red or green light. If green, the passenger proceeds into the main airport area and on to their hotel or condo. If red, a quick manual search is made of the luggage. Many times travelers are directed immediately to personal inspections stations without pressing the light button.
The items of most interest to customs officers are those new or used items being brought into the country to sell (or look like they are being brought into the country to sell). These would include computers, audio equipment, DVDs, etc. The officers have little interest in other items although they may occasionally confiscate food or other “illegal” items. See your airline for lists of “illegal” import items.
THE SHARK TANK – BEWARE
The only tricky part for many tourists in this process is passing through the two rooms upon exiting through large, automatic sliding doors immediately after the customs “inspection” area.
These two rooms are known colloquially as the “shark tanks.” Here passengers are propositioned, often quite obnoxiously and deceptively, by time share salespeople under the guise of being “official” welcoming personnel and officers. There are even official looking counters where unsuspecting tourists are suckered into signing up for “free” items or services like taxi rides with their attendant time share presentations. The question immediately comes to mind, “Why is this allowed?” The answer is simple: timeshare is Vallarta’s greatest moneymaker. The more people who complain about this rather disgusting practice, the better the chance that it will end.
The best advice we can give you when passing through these shark tanks is to just say “No, gracias” and to keep walking on to the *real* terminal exit (you’ll know when you’re out of the timeshare shark tanks when you see car rental booths and crowds of people waiting for their friends. Even if you were to be interested in time share, the offers made in the airport shark tanks are much lower than would be made on the streets of Vallarta. Just say No.
There are currency exchange booths (cambios) and ATM machines in the Puerto Vallarta Airport. ATM machines are recommended for the best exchange rates and the airport cambios should used only as a last resort because their exchange rates are quite a bit lower than you will find in banks and in other cambios in town. Before you fly down here, check with your bank to see what Mexican banks it has a relationship with so that ATM fees are not exorbitant.
American and Canadian dollars are readily accepted for tips and most purchases (although at very bad exchange rates) in Puerto Vallarta if you don’t have the time or energy (after a long flight) to exchange currency at the airport. Banks in town will readily exchange dollars for pesos and cambios and ATM machines are available almost everywhere. Passports are necessary to exchange currencies in banks and cambios.
There are 3 taxi companies that operate out of the Puerto Vallarta Airport. Fares for transportation are by zone or distance from the airport and these fares are approximately double what you will have to pay for the return taxi fare to the airport when you head back to the airport to leave our fair city.
Specially licensed Airport taxis are stationed solely at the airport and are not allowed to pick up passengers anywhere else. Likewise, no non-airport licensed taxis are allowed to pick up passengers at the airport. The 3 companies have approximately the same prices and sell their rides out of the same booths.
Tickets for Airport Taxis should be bought at one of two stands that look like the illustration here. It is possible, if you have little or no luggage, to get approximately half fare taxis if you walk across the elevated bridge over the highway next to the airport where you will find ‘normal’ Vallarta yellow and white taxis waiting and often bidding for your fare.
Airport Taxi fares are determined by the zone of the destination. Below is the official Airport Taxi Zone Map. Current Airport Taxi Rates may be found on signs at the taxi booths. Prices range from 160 pesos to around 700, depending on the destination zone. The rate to Old town Vallarta, the last time I checked (Summer 2012) was about 260 pesos total for up to 3 people. Vans (for more than 3 people) cost more. A standard taxi, anywhere in Vallarta, will charge the same for 1-3 people (… for 4 if you’re lucky or small).
PUBLIC BUSES FROM THE AIRPORT
Public buses are also available to downtown Puerto Vallarta if you go out of the airport head toward the highway to a spot under the elevated pedestrian bridge over that highway (usually people will be standing there waiting for a bus). City buses stop here and cost 6.5 pesos to anywhere south of the airport or north to Las Juntas, just before the bridge to Nuevo Vallarta. Take one marked “Centro” to go to the Puerto Vallarta downtown area. These buses generally stop at or near all major hotels on the way to town and the routes end on the south side of Vallarta in Old Town.
If you wish to take a bus north from the airport to anywhere in Nayarit (Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, La Cruz, Sayulita, Punta Mita, etc) the process is a bit more complicated. You must cross the elevated pedestrian bridge and wait for a bus (not a city bus, but, rather, an ATM (not to be confused with the cash machines) or a Compostela (white) bus with the name of your destination on it. The price is usually 25 pesos or less. Ask the driver if he is going to your location. He will answer even if asked in English.
Bus travel from or to the airport is recommended only if you have very little luggage. As a common courtesy, it is best to sit in the back of the bus if you are carrying anything larger than a handbag. Buses often become crowded quickly.
More and more people visiting Puerto Vallarta are being picked up at the airport by friends or family. Parking at the airport for private cars is sometimes limited in busy periods, especially on peak holidays, but normally there is ample parking. The rate, as of summer, 2012, was 19 pesos an hour. The parking lot is secure but is not conveniently located. It is quite a walk now to the parking lot from the terminal and private passenger pickups are discouraged. If you do want to pick up passengers, it is best to have them stand at the departure door area of the airport. Never have them wait for you at the arrival area or near the taxis.
The parking lot has an automated charging system. You receive a card when you drive into the lot and you must put that card into one of several machines inside the airport within 15 minutes of your departure. You pay your parking in these machines and you take the card with you to the automatic exit gate.
A new addition to the Vallarta Airport is an OXXO convenience store just outside of the arrival area. The restaurants inside the airport are quite expensive and OXXO offers an alternative, though not a very high quality one, for passengers and airport workers seeking fast food and drink.
ONE LAST THING about the Puerto Vallarta Airport: There are many arrival and departure screens scattered all over the airport, but this is the only airport in the world without a clock or any time reference at all. Wear a watch.