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.
Car Talk Oaxaca: Funky Honda Element Qualifies for Mexico
Some of you have followed my saga of trying to bring a car to Mexico. I recently sold the Honda CRV that I bought a few years ago with the intention of driving it to Mexico and using it here. Not possible, I found out, because it was assembled in Great Britain. Cars imported to Mexico have to start with a numeric VIN number that indicates it made in North America (USA, Canada or Mexico). Thank you, NAFTA.
I could not find a Made in the USA Honda CRV in the model year I wanted to replace the one I sold that had the right VIN. I even tried the Toyota RAV 4. No go. All assembled in Japan. (Sidebar: my Canadian friend Lynda who lives in Oaxaca part of the year, and has a permanent resident visa, must take her Toyota RAV 4 out of the country. Why? Made in Japan.)
So, I started to hunt for what I imagined might be the next best thing, a Honda Element. I happily discovered that since their introduction in 2003 until their demise in 2011, all were assembled in Ohio, USA. That qualifies. And, because so few of them were made, they are not that easy to find. But, right there in Durham, North Carolina, a black 2004 Honda Element came up on Craigslist. Not perfect, but good enough for my purposes — practical, affordable, solid transportation for the right price. Good for schlepping and hauling.
While in Oaxaca, my dear North Carolina friends Ted and Jo-Anne offered to help me check out this car before I negotiated the purchase. Thanks to them, a car like the one above became mine today. They picked it up for me and will park it in their driveway until I get there in early December. There’s some stuff that needs fixin’ but overall it’s a good car that will be ready for a road trip to Austin, Texas, before Christmas.
Why Austin? That’s where I will deliver it to a friend from Oaxaca, who for a fair price, will “legalize” it for Mexico, help me get Mexican automobile insurance, and drive it to my village so he can visit his family. A win-win for all of us. All I will need to do after he gets here is to go to the local office to get Oaxaca license plates. I know him and I know his family. It’s a perfect solution to the dilemma of being without personal wheels to explore the region and the need to restrain myself from buying more than I can transport by foot or in a small moto-taxi/tuk-tuk. Comparison shop for furniture? Explore a remote village in the Mixteca? Make a trip to the nursery to buy fruit trees? Without a car, a major undertaking.
I will be blogging about the road trip and the experience of getting the car ready to bring to Mexico. Meanwhile, what to name it? Maybe Little Black Box?
Meanwhile, I’m soon on my way to Mexico City to catch a San Francisco flight to be with my family in time for Thanksgiving.
Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, joyous holiday filled with goodness: creating fondest memories, preparing and eating delicious food, and delighting in the sustenance of thanksgiving.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Travel & Tourism
Tagged car, drive, import, legalize, Mexico, NAFTA, Oaxaca, register, regulations, rules, Vehicle Identification Number