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).
Part One: Intention to Drive, March 19, 2013
I’d like you to get a haircut and trim your beard before you leave, I write to Stephen. He is driving our car to Oaxaca, Mexico, and I don’t want officials on the other side of the border to think he’s an undesirable. Looks matter, most of the time. Stephen doesn’t think so. He drove a Berkeley renegade taxi wearing a Valkyrie helmet in the 60′s. The kids here call him Santa Claus.
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.
Last year during one of my extended Oaxaca trips, Stephen went to a Francophile Meet-Up Group in Raleigh, NC. They were showing a French-language movie. A once-fluent Peace Corps volunteer in French-speaking Cameroon, Stephen thought he might untangle his tongue, focus on French, and stop mixing up Spanish and his first foreign language in the same sentence. At the Meet-Up, the man next to him introduced himself. They exchanged business cards. He worked in the Mexican consulate.
Our godson is getting married in Oaxaca in two weeks. Months ago, Stephen bought a round-trip plane ticket to attend, take some vacation days, and return to North Carolina in time to resume his teaching at Duke University. Life changes. Since then, he decided to retire at the end of June, wind down his private practice, and spend more time in Oaxaca. He’s still traveling by air, but returning to the U.S. on a one-way ticket. (That was the plan.)
First, I heard rumblings. Then, maybe I’ll drive the car down before the wedding instead of flying. Then, I’ll research it online. Then, I’ll call the Mexican consulate to find out more. He calls. The consulate doesn’t answer the phone. We hear from NC friends living in Mexico that they couldn’t get through either. You just have to show up. Stephen goes to the Mexican consulate and finds Felipe, whom he met at the French film screening. He’s got a plan, a direct phone number and the visa application.
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.
Right now, the car is getting 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 and linens that are impossible to get here.
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! Hah, I write back with my air of independence, that will be the day.
Part Two: Driving to Mexico–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! Will our Honda with a VIN showing assembly in the United Kingdom be allowed into Mexico? A telenovela? Stay tuned.
Part Four: Driving to Mexico — The Panic Sets In, March 21, 2013
Last night, I panic. I email with Lynda, again, who is here on a permanent resident visa but has to remove her car permanently from Mexico. Why? I ask mutual friend Roberta who I see for a glass on wine on her patio. She reports Lynda’s car was made and assembled in Japan. (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 we need to investigate. I send an email message to Banjercito, the Mexican bank that handles all the car importation, hoping to get an answer in time. Countdown: three days to departure. Que milagro! I got a reply in English this morning. Here’s the scoop:
- Because of NAFTA, only cars manufactured/assembled in the USA or Canada are allowed to be imported to Mexico.
- No cars made in Japan, Great Britain or anywhere else in the world can be brought in — ever.
- It doesn’t matter what kind of visa you have. What matters is the VIN (vehicle identification number) of the car.
- 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.
- 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.
- If you have a permanent resident visa, you cannot apply for a temporary car import license. You will be denied entry at the border.
- Thanks to Banjercito, and staff members Erik and Jose for this clear information.
Part Five: A New Resolution, 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 Three: Footnote–Driving to Mexico and Safety
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.