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Collecting in Mexico

In recent years, collecting in Mexico without an official permit is forbidden, and represents a serious violation of the law penalized with jail. The rules for scientific collections in Mexico were published in the Nom-126-Ecol-2000, in the official Mexican journal.


If you plan to collect in Mexico, check your rights and obligations. This is specially true in some States of the country, where people is aware of the responsibility of taking care of the natural resources and has been trained to request and recognize official permits. The state of Oaxaca is such a case!

Therefore, if you are planning to collect plants or animals while you are visiting, make sure that you have a contact in Mexico that has a permit and is willing to collaborate with you or request one for yourself. Requesting a collecting permit requires time and money, so plan in advance! Foreigners collecting in Mexico require a permit from the Foreigner Affairs Office and from SEMARNAT.

How to obtain a permit for collecting plants in Mexico

Marie-Stéphanie Samain

Ghent University,
Department of Biology,
Research Group Spermatophytes
K.L. Ledeganckstraat 35, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium


1. Introduction

Before being able to go into the field and collect your plants, you have to plough through some administration. However, the time you spend on completing the different forms is not lost as you have to look up the localities of your plants anyway. Additionally, as the staff of the ministry issuing the required document(s) is very helpful and correct and the permit is not at all expensive (in 2007: MXN 1145, then approximately € 75 or $ 105), collecting and exporting your plants in a legal manner is very straightforward.
In the following paragraphs, everything you need to do in order to obtain a permit is explained step by step.

2. Preparing and submitting your application

Keep in mind that you need to submit your application several months before you leave to Mexico (I submitted it nearly five months in advance). You have to send the documents to the embassy of your own country and they will send it to the different ministries. When you contact your embassy, try to get in touch with a person who can follow your case. However, you should not expect to obtain the permit before your arrival.
The two main forms you have to complete are available from the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores and the Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales and need to be submitted via e-mail to your embassy. The documents I have completed in 2007 are available in pdf-format as guideline.


A. For the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE)
1. “Formato de solicitud para la expedición de permiso para realizar investigación científica por extranjeros en territorio Mexicano.”

  • This document needs to be completed in Spanish!  You have to complete Chapters 1 (about the applicant) and 2 (about the project) yourself. Chapter 3 has to be completed by the embassy.  Please provide them with the required information in order to answer the questions.
  • Some remarks:
  1. “12. Periodo de la investigación”: if you do not know yet the exact dates, you can mention the approximate dates you intend to enter and leave the country
  2. “14. Lugar(es) de investigación”: in order to avoid that the same information is given twice in the same document, I only mentioned the states and referred to paragraph 24 for more detail on the localities. This seemed not problematic and in fact, on my permit only the states I listed here were mentioned.
  3. “18. Investigadores que colaborían con el titular”: although I gave detailed information about the colleagues accompanying me, their names were not mentioned on the permit. The permit is only given for the applicant and the names of the Mexican cooperation partners are additionally mentioned.
  4. “24. Ejemplares que se colectarían”: you should list here all the species you expect to collect, as well as their localities. In case detailed localities are available, you could list them, but if not (or if the list will become too long), you could list only the states and the municipalities. I did the latter and this seemed without any problem.
  5. “25. Destino final del material colectado”: please keep in mind that you should deposit duplicates of your collections in a Mexican herbarium.

B. For the Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT)
Besides the form (1), you also need to submit four other documents (2-5).
1. “Formato de solicitud para la expedición del permiso especial de investigación y/o colecta con fines científicos de flora y fauna silvestre y otros recursos biológicos para investigadores nacionales y extranjeros.”

  • This document needs to be completed in Spanish!
  • Some remarks:
  1. Part III: you can copy-paste the list you made for the SRE document after the summary of your project

2. Recommendation letter (“carta de apoyo”) by the director of the institute/herbarium you are cooperating with.
3. Recommendation letter by the director of the institute where you are working.

  • Write (at least part of) this letter yourself as your director might be less familiar with the requirements of your application than you are yourself. The letter may be in English!
  • Please pay attention to the following issues:
    • Assure that your collections will be used for scientific studies only.
    • Mention the name and institute of your cooperation partner in Mexico.
    • Emphasize that duplicates of your collections will remain in Mexico and will be deposited in a herbarium (e.g. MEXU).
    • Explain how your project contributes to a better knowledge of the systematics and status of your plant group(s) in Mexico.
    • Mention that the expenses of the persons who accompany you in the field will be covered by your project money.

4. Detailed description of the project in the framework of which you will do field work in Mexico .

  • Mention supervisor(s), involved staff, funding agency, aims, methodology and framework of the project.

5.  Your curriculum vitae

Check with your embassy that they have received all the required forms so that your application can be processed without any delay.

In case you want to export living plants, you need a phytosanitary certificate to be able to import them legally in your country. SEMARNAT only gives this certificate if you can show an official letter with the requirements for the parcel. The letter should be signed by someone from the responsible agency in your country.
It is very important to ask for this letter enough time in advance as it might take some time to get it, and you might loose valuable time waiting for it at the end of your stay.

Just before I left for Mexico, I received via the embassy a letter from the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores a letter in which additional information was requested. However, some of this information was already supplied in the initial application. After my arrival and following several direct phone calls with the responsible persons by a diplomat from the embassy assisted by my cooperation partner, I needed to submit two additional letters to SEMARNAT. The first one had to be from my supervisor to state that I was responsible for the project we were carrying out in Mexico (I would suggest you to prepare such a letter in advance too). The second one had to written by me and I had to confirm we would only collect in federal areas and not in private and communal areas (“ejidos”).


3. Upon arrival in Mexico
Upon arrival, you should include some extra days for the final organization of your permit. This could include (not extensively): visit of your embassy (it is a good idea to fix an appointment in advance so someone might have studied your files), buying and completing the original payment forms, visit of the office of SEMARNAT, visit of a bank where you pay your permit with the forms. Ask your cooperation partner to accompany you to the different locations as they probably are more fluent in Spanish and more experienced in negotiating than you might be.

The next step is the payment for the permit. The following information might have changed, please check at SEMARNAT before you pay!!!!!
You must pay attention to the following issues:
- You can only use original forms you have to buy in a paper shop (“papelería”). Do not use the form in pdf-format you might have received by e-mail, as this is not accepted by the bank! You need to fill the form in threefold but I would suggest buying more forms than necessary as mistakes on the forms are not allowed! In the paper shop, ask for a “documento SAT 5 para pagar impuestos”. In case you need a phytosanitary certificate, you have to use the same form in threefold, so you could buy them at the same time. However, you only pay the latter at the end of the trip.
- The forms should be filled with a black pen.
- Complete the forms in threefold: one for the bank, one for SEMARNAT and one for your own records. Upon payment, the bank will immediately return you two of the forms: the one you have to give to SEMARNAT and the one you keep for yourself.
- You need a Mexican tax number to be able to be able to pay in the bank. However, only Mexican citizens have such number, but fortunately it is possible to use the tax number of your Mexican cooperation partner!  Fill this number in the box above “registro federal de contribuyentes”.
- Fill the month(s) and year you collect in the four boxes with “mes” and “año”.
- Fill your name below “apellido paterno, materno…”
- Fill the small box right of “SIGLAS 499901” with “SEMARNAT” and the large box right of “NOMBRE” with the full name of SEMARNAT “Secretaría de medio ambiente, recursos naturales y pesca”.
- “Concepto”: “por la recepción y evaluación y, en su caso, la autorización para la colecta y uso de recursos biológicos forestales con fínes científicos”
- “Clave”: 400106
- Write the amount of money (in 2007: MXN 1145) at the right hand side, so it is not possible to add more numbers. The amount of money is mentioned on the letter you will receive before you leave for Mexico. Write this amount three times: 1) right of the box where you have written the number of the clave, 2) right of “total de derechos” and 3) right of “cantidad a pagar”.
- sign the large box above “firma del contribuyente o representante legal”.
- make sure you use the right code (clave) and check both the code and the price at SEMARNAT before you pay in the bank, as this might have changed since the summer of 2007!!!. If you use the wrong code, you will have to pay twice and it is only possible to get the money refunded from the government itself.
With the export permit, you are able to export the plants from Mexico. However, to import living plants in your country, you might need additional documents. Please check this at your government or responsible agency before you leave to Mexico.

4. After finishing field work
In case you still need to do some administration, it is very important to schedule some days in Mexico City after your field work and before you leave the country. If you require a phytosanitary certificate for import of living plants in your own country, take into account it takes several days. SEMARNAT can provide you with this certificate but only if they know the rules of your country concerning this issue. These rules should be stated in an official letter.
Please keep in mind that in order to obtain the certificate, the roots of the plants should be rinsed with water as all soil has to be removed. The plants should be brought to SEMARNAT, so they can check the plants.
In order to receive the certificate, you have to complete a form called “Solicitud de certificato Fitosanitario de exportacion”, which is available at SEMARNAT. Additionally, you need to fill again three SAT-5 forms for the payment of the certificate.

  1. “Concepto”: servicios que presta la secretaría de medio ambiente y recursos naturales, en material de sanidad forestal
  2. “Clave”: 400106
  3. “Cantidad a pagar”: MXN 678
  4. Again: check both the code and the price at SEMARNAT before you pay

5. Some useful addresses and links
Secretaría de medio ambiente, recursos naturales y pesca (SEMARNAT)
(Av. Progreso 3, Edificio 3-Planta Baja, Col. Del Carmen, Coyoacán, México D.F. 04100)
International Phytosanitary Portal (IPP): the official web site for the International Plant Protection Convention
Listing of foreign embassies in Mexico
Mexico Maps: mail order company in California where you can order maps
Wikipedia-Municipalities of Mexico

I am especially grateful to the staff of the Instituto de Biología and the Herbario Nacional de México (MEXU), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México: for the opportunity to cooperate, for the support with the preparation and organization of our successful field trip and for the enthusiasm to share field experience.
The administrational support of the Embassy of Belgium in Mexico is also gratefully acknowledged.
Our field work in Mexico in July and August 2007, mainly focusing on the tuberous species of Peperomia (Piperaceae), was financially supported by the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO G.0172.07), the German Science Foundation (DFG NE 681/5-1) and the Department of Biology, Ghent University.
This information dates back to August 2007 and might have changed. If you encounter any changes or you have remarks or additional information, I would be very grateful if you let me know so I can update this document.