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:
- 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 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.
Legalizing a Car for and Driving to Mexico
Check in with Aeromar is easy, and the new Austin to Mexico City service began only a couple of months ago. I am waiting for the flight. A K-9 unit is trolling the seating areas. The dog is sniffing everywhere. We are only five hours from the border.
Justo told me he got the call last night. The paperwork is ready. Once the papers are ready, you have only three days to cross the border. It happened faster than he expected. Muy rapido. He will leave early Thursday (tomorrow) morning and plans to arrive in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, by nightfall on Saturday. His brother Federico, who lives in the village, will meet him at the border and they will make the trip together.
The last two days have been filled with logistical details for La Tuga to continue on without me.
I bought MAPFRE Mexican car insurance for one year ($312USD) from Allstate agent Roger Morse after extensive online research about coverages. U.S. car insurance does not offer coverage. Legally, only a Mexican auto insurance policy will protect you, your vehicle, and keep you out of jail! You can read a lot about people who didn’t heed this.
I had the car checked out once again for a telltale front left end rattle. The Round Rock, TX, Honda dealer, after a thorough evaluation, said La Tuga is safe to drive and they couldn’t hear anything, repeating what Cary (NC) Honda told me last week.
I met with Justo to go over the route, the process of bringing a car into Mexico, to give him the insurance policy, and pay him another installment for services to legalize the car and drive.
The Process to Legalize a Car for Mexico
This is the busy season when U.S. citizens of Mexican origin make a little extra money to buy a car, legalize it, drive it to Mexico and sell it for a profit. Justo asked me a couple of weeks ago for the copy of the title, photos of the VIN number on the car’s dashboard and doors, and other documentation to give to a private customs broker he has worked with for the past 10 years.
It usually takes three days for the process to get the paperwork approved in the Mexican system, but this time of year it can take a couple of weeks or more. The customs broker, called an agente aduanale, does the legal work and applies for the permits. The cost is $1,500. I pay half in advance and the final payment before I leave. I also give Justo $750 and will pay the other half when he delivers the car. $500 of that will cover expenses (gas, motel, return bus ticket, and any gratuities to local police) along the way.
The VIN number of the vehicle is then deleted from the U.S. system and added to Mexico’s system, registering the car as a legal vehicle there. They check to make sure the vehicle is not stolen or salvaged and that the title is clean.
At the Nuevo Laredo border where Justo will cross, he will collect the pedimento (paperwork) and get the holograma, a sticker that goes on the windshield. He will attach the pedimento to the title and give these to me in Oaxaca, where the car can then be presented for Oaxaca license plates. He will also present a list of what is packed in the car along with the value. Each of passenger is allowed $500USD worth of goods without paying duty. He will declare any excess and pay what is asked.
Let me add, that this process only works for permanent residents and for citizens of Mexico. If you are in the country on a tourist visa, you can’t do this. Someone else will need to own the car!
This morning, when I picked Justo up at his house in South Austin, he told me he will be leaving at 2 a.m. tomorrow morning. He will drive from Nuevo Laredo to Saltillo, south of Monterrey on day one, and spend the night someplace safe. He will pass through San Luis Potosi, Mexico City, Puebla, and then arrive in Oaxaca. Federico, his brother, is a taxista in the village, and will travel with him. Muy rapido, he tells me this morning!
We will see each other in Oaxaca. He drives away with La Tuga, I wait for the Aeromar flight, and tell you about this last leg of the journey.
P.S. If you are interested in the services of Justo Lorenzo Martinez, please contact him. He is a personal friend, competent, reliable, and knows the process. I have turned my car and its title over to him and trust that both he and La Tuga will arrive safely in Oaxaca. Hasta Sabado.
Posted in Cultural Commentary
Tagged car, driving, fees, insurance, legalize, Mexico, Oaxaca, registration