Tag Archives: expatriate

Driving to Mexico and Bringing a Car: The Plan and the Reality

This essay has to do with driving a car to Mexico, what kind of car can be imported to Mexico, getting a permanent resident visa, and safety tips for driving to Mexico, or The best-laid plans of mice and men/Often go awry (Robert Burns, 1785), in seven parts.

Part One:  Intention to Drive, March 17, 2013

For over two years we’ve been talking about driving our now ten-year old Honda CRV to Oaxaca.  Something has always tripped us up, gotten in the way, and postponed our plans.  Mostly, it’s because our casita wasn’t finished, we didn’t know how long we would stay for any one stretch, and neither of us had retired yet.  There were plenty of excuses, reasonable and otherwise.

And, we heard lots of tales from locals and expats — some of them true!  Mostly, we heard ‘ you can’t bring a car in unless it’s exactly ten years old.’ I breathed a sigh of relief as our car was aging in place.

Our godson is getting married in Oaxaca in two weeks.  Months ago, Stephen bought a round-trip plane ticket to attend, take vacation days, and return to North Carolina in time to resume his university teaching.   Life changes.  Since buying the plane ticket, he decided to retire at the end of June, wind down his private practice, and spend more time in Oaxaca.  He’s traveling by air, but planned to return to the U.S. on a one-way ticket.  

Bringing a car into Mexico is decidedly tricky.  There’s the driving part, of course.  Over the last six weeks, Stephen talked with our NC friends living in Mexico.  They recommended a driving route with a Nuevo Laredo border crossing.  Their advice goes something like this:  Sleep in Laredo, Texas.  Get up really early before dawn.  Drive across the border through the “no man’s land.”  Twenty miles in, present your papers at the check-point, then, drive without stopping until you are as far away as possible.

To prepare, the car got a twice over to make the journey, hopefully without a glitch.  Our mechanic says put the spare tire inside.  Stephen is leaving on Sunday.  It’s three days from North Carolina to the Mexican border.  Then one really LONG day with a very early morning start to San Miguel, two nights there to rest up, and another long driving day to Oaxaca.  Just in time for Semana Santa.  I can’t wait!  The car will be full of kitchen supplies that are impossible to get here.

Part Two: Surprises, March 20, 2013

Yesterday, we Skype again.  I’ve got two surprises for you, Stephen says.  I’m listening.  I got my visa, he says.  It’s a permanent resident visa.  (Link is to Mexican Embassy in Canada, where information in English is very clear.) This is great, I say.  I think, wow, that’s almost a miracle.  And, he says, you can apply for your visa in Mexico instead of the U.S. because I show enough money in my retirement fund to support you!  

Part Three:  Plan Interruptus?, March 20, 2013

Mexican immigration laws have changed.  There are no more FM-3 visas. Now, there are streamlined temporary resident visas and permanent resident visas.  There are also new regulations about bringing and keeping cars from the U.S. in Mexico.  To be legal, you must have the permanent resident visa and the car must be of a certain vintage, not too old and not too new.  Specifics?  Still more information to find out before Stephen leaves on Sunday!  Trigger:  I receive an email from friend Lynda who wants to know how we are bringing our car into Mexico.  Her’s has to leave, she says.  Something about the VIN number.  I remember our Honda has a VIN showing assembly in the United Kingdom.

Part Four:  The Panic Sets In, March 20, 2013, p.m.

I panic. I email with Lynda, again, who is here on a permanent resident visa but has to remove her car permanently, never to bring it back again.   I’m having a glass of wine with mutual friend Roberta on her patio.  I ask her if she knows why Lynda’s car has to exit. It’s made/assembled in Japan, Roberta says. (I’ve written before about how accidental getting information is here.)  I think, I wonder if that means my CRV assembled in the U.K., won’t be allowed in either.  I write Stephen and tell him to be on alert, we need to investigate.  He says contact Banjercito, the Mexican bank that handles all the car importation. I email them, hoping to get an answer in time.  Countdown: Three days to departure.

Part Five:  The Scoop, March 21, 2013, a.m.

Que milagro!  I got a reply in English this morning.  Here’s the scoop:

  1. Because of NAFTA, only cars manufactured/assembled in the USA or Canada are allowed to be imported to Mexico.
  2. No cars made in Japan, Great Britain or anywhere else in the world can be brought in — ever.
  3. It doesn’t matter what kind of visa you have.  What matters is the VIN (vehicle identification number) of the car.
  4. If you have a permanent resident visa, you must apply for a permanent importation license for the car which must be made in the U.S. or Canada.
  5. If you have a temporary resident visa, you can apply for a temporary import license, but the car has to also be made in the U.S. or Canada.
  6. If you have a permanent resident visa, you cannot apply for a temporary car import license.  You will be denied entry at the border.
  7. Thanks to Banjercito, and staff members Erik and Jose for this clear information.

Part Six:  A New Day, March 21, 2013

Stephen will be leaving the car at home and flying here, instead.  He arrives on Sunday night.  Everything we had intended to pack and bring by vehicle will need to be reapportioned between suitcases, distributed to family members to bring, or wait until the next time.  What to do with the car?  Quien sabe!  Maybe I’ll buy one in Mexico.

Part Seven: Footnote–Driving Safety, Forever

For you naysayers, my friend Merry drives back and forth regularly from Santa Fe to Oaxaca by herself.  Yes, I said ALONE.  I shared her advice with Stephen and I’ll post it here.

  • Don’t drive after dark
  • Take the cuotas – the toll roads — never side roads
  • Drive defensively and pay attention
  • Have your vehicle travel papers handy
  • Keep your driver’s license and passport within easy reach
  • Get a Mexican cell phone ($30 USD) at the border, load it up with minutes – at least 300 pesos of time
  • On the back of the Cuota ticket there will be an emergency phone number for the Green Hornets – like Triple A, they carry parts and are mechanics.  If you call, they will ask you to locate a  number closest to you painted on the highway pavement.  This is to identify your location in case you need help.
  • Buy the road guide to Mexico – called Mexico Tourist Road Atlas, Guia Roji.
  • If you get stopped by Federales,  immediately hand them your documentation, be patient, smile, let them do the talking.
  • It’s a stunning drive, very quieting, relax and enjoy.

Want to Live in Mexico? Advice from a Wisecracker!

Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak is a zany memoir by Mark Saunders (Fuze Publishing, LLC, McLean, VA, ISBN 978-0-9841412-8-9), who, with his wife Arlene Krasner, moved to San Miguel de Allende (SMA) shortly after falling in love with the place.  The book’s tag line is “Drop out.  Sell everything. Move to Mexico. Sounded like a good plan.”  Not!

Saunders’ writing is tongue-in-cheek witty, with a sprinkle of irreverent, brash, and self-deprecating thrown in for good measure.  Overall, it is an entertaining and fast read.  The book could be a primer for Baby Boomers on the eve of retirement who believe that relocating to Mexico is the answer to a less-than-adequate retirement income.   Saunders’ sardonic underlying message is a “don’t do what we did” warning to greenhorns who think they can move to Mexico on a wing and a prayer (or maybe in a 10-year old high-performance Audi Quattro) without adequate preparation (or an expert, specialized mechanic in tow).

Saunders’ memoir focuses on the couple’s experience moving from Portland, Oregon, to SMA, with their standard poodle and cat. (He’s originally from Sacramento, California, and she grew up in New York City.)  Wooed by blue skies and balmy days, bolstered by a vigorous ex-pat community, their story will resonate with anyone considering living anywhere in Mexico as an alternative to the northern part of North America.  Anecdotes and vignettes of mishaps, miscommunication, and missives fill the pages.

And, Saunders is unabashed while dissecting the realities of living in Mexico for uninitiated American and Canadian expats:  constant dust, barking dogs, lack of central heat and air, long queues to pay bills (which must be done in person) and at banks, past due utility bills and interrupted utility services, cars in need of repair, bodies in need of repair, the meaning of “manana,” and the ubiquitous language barrier.

Most importantly, Saunders raises important questions underlying the humorous pokes at himself, at “gringolandia” [a place where a lot of expats live in Mexico], and his situation.

Subtextual Questions — Self-examination BEFORE you move:

  • What are your primary reasons for the move?
  • What is your experience living in another culture?
  • How adaptable are you?
  • How dedicated will you be to learn or improve your Spanish?   How much patience do you have?
  • Do you need the same conveniences and lifestyle (food, entertainment, shopping, etc.) in Mexico as you had living in the U.S.?
  • Do you expect to live among English speakers?
  • How well can you negotiate through problems?
  • What special health care issues do you have that may require medical attention?

The book is sprinkled with Saunders’ own drawings and cartoons depicting daily gringo/a challenges and misadventures.  The ending is pure redemption  and I won’t give it away!  And remember, a sense of humor will take you a long way.

Here are my 9 Tips for Living in Mexico.

If you are an expat living in Mexico, will you share your advice with us for making the transition smoothly?  If you are a Mexican who wants to add your suggestions about ways to make the landing softer, please do so!

Norma Hawthorne’s 9 Tips for Living in Mexico Successfully (Mas o Menos)

Norma Hawthorne’s 9 Tips for Living in Mexico Successfully (choose your own priority order):
  1. Speak the language. Learn to speak the language. Try to learn to speak the language. Keep trying.  Hire a tutor.  Take a class.  Don’t give up and expect Spanish-speakers to understand you!  Otherwise, you will stay isolated within the gringo community.
  2. Before driving to Mexico, sell your high-performance vehicle in the U.S. and buy something simple that Mexican mechanics know how to repair, like a Ford, a Nissan, or a Honda.  I recently sold my 10-year old Saab 900s and bought a 2003 Honda CRV in preparation for my Oaxaca move.
  3. Visit many times (at least three or four) for at least several weeks at a time before you make the commitment to even rent in a particular location.  Stay with friends.  Talk to people.  Get the “lay of the land.”  Don’t let the romantic notion of living in Mexico — where it is warm, friendly and inexpensive — turn your head too quickly.
  4. Rent, don’t buy or build immediately.  Start out with several weeks in the winter.  Then, come in the off-season – during the rains or in the hot and dusty months.  Know what you are getting into regarding the climate.   It’s not pure blue sky and balmy days year ‘round.
  5. Create a base of friends and a support system before you make the move.  Get connected with local cultural organizations or volunteer groups.  For example, expats gather at the Oaxaca Lending Library for educational infrastructure, connection, and doing good in the world of Oaxaca.
  6. Expand your multicultural lifestyle and friendship circles – get to know the locals to appreciate and share history, culture, wisdom.  Understand that you are a guest in someone else’s country.  Treat all with respect and kindness.
  7. Understand that cultural competency means accepting things the way they are rather than trying to change them or make things “better” (in our own image of what is right).  Mexicans know what is best for them in their country — they have been living this way for thousands of years.  There is a lot we can learn from them without trying to “fix” it to suit U.S. standards.
  8. Stay open to adventure, to change, to the unpredictability of what each day might bring, to opportunity and who you might meet, what unusual delicacy you might taste, an impromptu invitation.
  9. Relax and enjoy yourself.  Saving money should not be your primary motivation for moving to Mexico.  It should be to expand your cultural competency, improve your language skills, and to stretch yourself through exploration and discovery.

Want to add your tips in the Comment section?

Casita Colibri Gives Shannon Pixley Sheppard a Birdseye View of Oaxaca

About Shannon Pixley Sheppard and how she came to Oaxaca starts here at the beginning of this sentence (click “About”).  If you want to read about how an ex-pat from the San Francisco Bay Area took a leap forward, retired … Continue reading