Wishing and Praying and Plastic Jesus

I don’t care if it
Rains or freezes
As long as I’ve got my
Plastic Jesus
Ridin’ on the dashboard
Of my car
by Ed Rush and George Cromarty

Sitting here in Tuscon at a beautiful Air Bnb out in the desert, watching Hummingbirds and Cardinals, waiting for the Javelinas to show up, we’re ready for the big border crossing into Mexico. I’ve packed and repacked the car 6 times working to fit everything in reasonably well, hoping to make it less noticeable that we are, in fact, bringing a lot of stuff for the boat back from the United States. Why would we do this? Why would we pack our car such that to find the boat stuff you are going to have to actually unpack the entire vehicle; a task that is a lot of work?

As seen from our patio at the bed and breakfast.

Because kind of like the speed limits in Arizona, the rules for crossing the border and bringing things into Mexico are really more like ‘guidelines’. They are notoriously vague even though on paper they look like they aren’t. We have a boat ‘in transit’, which means we are technically just passing through, and we are supposed to be able to bring in things to replace or repair systems on the boat without paying import duties. We have our boat import permit, and we have this extensive list of stuff that we are replacing or repairing on the boat. But although the ‘rules’ say one thing, it doesn’t always work that way. Rules change constantly and are interpreted individually by the folks who control the border.

So people like us are basically just rolling the dice as they cross the border with cars filled with boat goodies and stuff from home. Will we be stopped and our car searched? Will we have to pay import fees on stuff we shouldn’t have to pay anything on? Who knows?  Ninety nine out of a hundred people in our position crossing that border are waved through without any kind of scrutiny. But that 100th person will be searched and told they can’t come in without working with an import agent. That would mean fees for the agent, as well as a 16% tax on a lot of stuff in our car.  Usually that adds up to more than the amount we want to pay, which is zero dollars.

We are staying in this stunning ranch house with a view. Honestly, I love Air Bnb.

I don’t know about you, but when faced with what feels like an outright gamble, I like to cover all my bases. So we’ve got the car packed just right, we’ve got all of our paperwork, including our Temporary Import Permit with list of associated stuff, and all of our receipts. I’ll spit and spin a few times as we get in the car, we’ll say associated spells and prayers, and then we’ll leave it up to the Plastic Jesus on our dashboard to get us through. And if we have to pay? Well, maybe we have just committed one too many sins and the Great Spiritual Scales of Justice will need balancing. If that happens I know it’s probably going to be because of that 1/2 bottle of Prosecco I drank with my daughter-in-law when we met up with the kids in Beatty, Nevada.  That was downright wrong.  A lot of sins are like that. They feel so right at the time…

Holy moley, a little kangaroo rat! He came to the patio hoping for birdseed but refused to pose for us.

Anyhoo, speaking of rules that change, let me give you the low down on getting your Temporary Resident Visa for Mexico. Mike and I decided it would serve us well to do this because of two things: 1) It allows us to stay in Mexico without leaving to renew our tourist visa every 180 days. That’s a pain when you are traveling by boat. The temporary resident visa, when it’s all completed, will give us up to 4 years. By that time we’ll need to get jobs again. 2) All the cool kids are doing it and we like to fit in. Getting the actual visa is a very simple 500 step process that involves a lot of spitting and spinning and also being flexible and nice and smiling a lot. Maybe even the use of crystals, I don’t know for sure yet. Also $72 for both of us together.

To apply, you must first visit the Mexican Consulate in your home country. That’s where you start. We thought we’d do this in Seattle, but we were so focused and busy getting our house ready for renters that we didn’t get to it. We called them about a week before we left and they would have been happy to make us an appointment –  about 6 weeks out. Uh oh. Fortunately our good friends Curt and Lynn on S/V Slow Motion had given us the pertinent information about applying here in Tucson. If you are going to cross the border in Nogales, this is a good place to apply. No appointment is necessary and they have same day turn around for the FIRST PART of the visa.

Here’s the building you want.

You’ll need to bring paperwork with you, as well as some recent passport photos. They will take their own photo of you, and also fingerprint you electronically, but for some reason you need to also provide a passport photo. It’s best to just do as you are told and not ask questions.  Bring your passport, your current driver’s license with your United States address on it (Plastic Jesus help you if you don’t still have a US address), your marriage license if you are applying as a married couple, your boat documentation if you are traveling by boat, and 6 months of bank statements that show your deposits. Hell, at this point they may be requiring the birth certificate of your first born child as well, I can’t guarantee anything here. You can print out the form using the link above. BUT WAIT! Recall what I said about rules changing without notice? They do and they did.

The form we printed out, the one that is still on the website, has apparently been replaced by a form in Spanish. Our very nice lady at the consulate expressed dismay that the form is now in Spanish, since, as she says, most people who need the application do not speak Spanish. But whatever.  I mean, Mexico is a Spanish speaking country, so if they want their form in Spanish we don’t care. Besides, she copied all of our information for us onto the new form, using her very neat and tidy handwriting. So that’s one change. Please note THERE IS NO WAY FOR YOU TO KNOW ANYTHING FOR SURE UNTIL YOU SHOW UP! I am yelling in all caps here. It’s that necessary you hear and understand this to avoid disappointment and possible irritation.

We love this patio.

There is another change that is even more important than language on a form. Where you used to have 30 days to report to the Immigration office in Mexico to begin the final 300 steps to receiving your actual Visa, that is no longer the case. You now have 15 days. So that means we are very glad we did not apply in Seattle. We would have been really pressed for time had we applied that early. In addition, a friend who applied in Seattle had to go back the following week to pick up their temporary visa. We got ours the same day. My suggestion is to apply at the last possible time before you cross the border. We showed up at the consulate at around 10:00 AM and didn’t even have to wait. I don’t know when this allotted time period for showing up to the Immigration office in Mexico changed, and I have no idea if or when it will change back. But today when we showed up, the magic number of days before we turn into pumpkins was 15. Your mileage could vary.

We did make a couple of mistakes that had us scrambling just a bit but, I mean, why not let the adventuring start now, after all? We consider this a warm up exercise for the real Mexico. First, Mike had printed out the statements from his retirement account with Boeing as proof of income. It shows his income. It’s an ‘account’. You’d think that would do the trick. ALAS!!  First, Boeing is not a bank. They want bank statements. Period. Second, my name isn’t on that paperwork. The woman at the consulate asked me if I got Social Security. I sure hope that someday I will actually be able to draw on that account, since I’ve been paying into it since I was 16 years old and, why YES I DO feel entitled to it. Very much. But I’m not old enough yet. She looked confused about how I would have an  income since I’m ‘retired’, until I pointed out that I was, after all, married. So that Boeing income supports both of us. She wanted proof that the Boeing money was actually deposited into our bank account each month, so Mike worked his digital magic on his cell phone accessing our account and downloading bank statement going back 6 months. Then we trundled off to the Office Depot down the street where, after typing a special secure email address into his tiny phone 6 times, the young man behind the counter accessed the information and printed out our statements.  We paid about 15$ for two sets of statements. Most of that was trash since all they wanted was the part that shows the deposits. Still, money well spent not having to explain to the clerk that we needed only the first page of each month.

Our other mistake was forgetting the file of boat documents, which we didn’t even know we would need. It’s possible Slow Motion Curt told us to bring them, but whatever because we left them in our room 20 minutes away.  Fortunately Mike has a photo of our Coast Guard documentation on his phone and that  was enough to satisfy the consulate rep. Our advice to you: Bring EVERY PIECE OF PAPER YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON.

Here’s proof we were there. OK, our arms are not long enough for an adequate selfie.

When we go through the border they will scan our passports and that will activate the visa. Our next step is to stop at the little office off the highway at Kilometer 18 (or 21, some say) and fill out the FMM form (tourist card). Where it asks what the purpose of the visit is (tourism, etc) we are to check ‘other’.  She was specific about that. I pass this information on to you for you to check it out for yourself if you apply. Because I was confused about why I shouldn’t check ‘tourism’, or something like that. In the end, I felt it best not to ask too many questions. After that, we have to visit the immigration office in Guaymas. We’ll let you know how all of that goes down.

This issue of applying for the Temporary Resident Visa gets brought up on cruisers forums all the time. People who have been there and done that throw in their experiences, other people give their best guesses about how to go about it. It’s kind of like crossing the border. You really are not going to know until you are there and faced with a person whose job it is to either usher you through a process or say ‘no bueno’ and send you packing. Give yourself time, flexibility, bring cash and correct change, and make sure you can get copies of whatever documents you might not have right away. Smile and be grateful and all will be well. And it wouldn’t hurt to install a plastic Jesus on your dashboard.

Arizona sky view from the bed and breakfast.

We’ll let you know how it goes. For now, Galapagos, Out!

Let’s just hope his glue sticks all the way across the border.

2 thoughts on “Wishing and Praying and Plastic Jesus

  1. The challenges of interfacing with foreign customs and legal requirements are part of the adventure and charm of travel. Having relied upon FMM permits for traveling in Mexico (doing taxes in San Diego provided the excuse to fly home and reapply for new FMM permits before returning to the boat) wasn’t a burden in our case. Border crossings with our pick-up truck filled to the roof with boat stuff, along with a new rudder boxed up and extending from over the cab and extending partially beyond the rear of the shell was the finishing touch. Besides miscellaneous spare parts and other boat goodies, we had several Solbian flexible solar panels and Genasun regulators, as well. Stopped at customs in Tijuana, no questions about the enormous boxed up rudder on top, or most of the other miscellaneous boat items, but we were queried about the cost of the panels. Being diminutive in appearance, relative to the aluminum framed, glass covered variety, the officer was satisfied they weren’t valued more than a couple of hundred dollars and were intended for use on our boat. We were sent on our way without further questions or fees. While inspected on numerous of occasions, we were never hassled by the Aduana regarding potential import violations. This was in keeping with our practice of only carrying items for our own use. We did haul a new inflatable to a mate of ours in La Paz, as well as, small items from Down Wind Marine and occasional mail run from the mail collection site in San Diego. Good luck with your crossing and enjoy your Temporary Residents Permit (Visa de Residente Temporal). Fair winds, smooth sailing and enjoy your time cruising in Mexico and beyond.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.