Sunday, July 17, 2011

Debacle Debrief
By Michael

Driving across the border yesterday, still excited and
unaware of what was in store.
I have a much better understanding of what happened yesterday. This post is a distillation of what I’ve learned so far, having spent the past 28 hours reading tons of info online and hearing from folks in the know—thank you everyone and in particular Bob on s/v Owe No and Kathy on m/v Concordia.
The first thing I learned is that there are many varied opinions and interpretations expressed online regarding the proper way to cross the border into Mexico with your stuff, several in stark contrast. Furthermore, like the U.S. Border Patrol officer told me yesterday when I asked, what happens on the Mexico side of the border will largely depend on the individual official with whom you end up interacting.
For the straight dope on what should happen, I referred to the English portion of the Mexican Customs (Aduana) website:
Bottom line:
Persons entering Mexico can bring with them standard personal items (broadly defined and includes camping gear) without paying taxes. The quantities of a few personal items (such as laptops and cameras) are defined and restricted. The quantities of most items (such as clothing and toiletries) are defined only as, “suitable to the length of your intended stay in Mexico.”
We have no problem there.
Beyond this, anyone can bring in $75 worth of additional (legal) items without paying a tax. This can be items that don’t fit into the broadly defined personal category, or quantities of personal items in excess of what is appropriate for the intended length of stay.
You must pay a flat 16% tax on stuff you bring in that is in excess of the $75 exception, up to $3,000 worth of stuff (per person). Beyond $3,000 threshold, I don’t know what the tax rate is, but I know you must hire a Mexican customs broker to access and handle the transaction.
We were turned away yesterday because the stated value of the items on our list exceeded the $3,000 threshold and there were no brokers available. Technically, we should not have been turned away because the threshold is per person, meaning we should have been directed to pay taxes on what we declared (less than the $12,000 threshold four people should have triggered).
So I’m glad we were turned away. I don’t mind paying my fair share in taxes, but in this case, the taxes would have been due only because I did not have any means of proving to Aduanas that the goods and materials I am bringing in are intended to repair or replace existing goods and materials on property I own that is in Mexico. Under those circumstances, no taxes are owed, and without regard to the amount.
So our challenge tomorrow will be to prove our circumstances to the extent we are exempt from taxes, by law. This challenge will be significant. We cannot possibly meet all of the technical requirements to do so. Very few cruisers can.* We will rely on the common sense of the Aduanas officer we encounter, and luck.
Our game plan now is to contact the manager of the private housing complex in Marina Vallarta where our boat is. We can do this first thing in the morning since PV is two hours ahead of our time here in Arizona (only one time zone away, but Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time). Hopefully, he will agree to translate, move onto his letterhead, sign, and fax the letter I’m emailing him tonight. With that in hand, we should look much better to the Aduanas officials.
Another potential problem is that the TIP for our boat is not expired, but it is in the name of the previous owner. This may or may not fly, despite the documentation numbers matching our ownership paper work.**
Hopefully tomorrow night we go to sleep in a motel south of the border.
*As I understand things, the only way to bring boat stuff into Mexico and be exempt from taxes is to have a Temporary Import Permit for the boat that lists the particular items aboard that are to be replaced by the items you are attempting to bring into Mexico tax free. Furthermore, these excluded items may be limited to items used expressly for the navigation of the vessel. I read of one cruiser who could not get a replacement water heater past Aduanas tax free for this reason. This may not be accurate as there are a lot of stories of non-critical items being allowed.
If you are proactive and know you are leaving Mexico with the intent to return with parts you purchased in the U.S. for the maintenance or repair of your boat (such as bottom paint), and said parts are not identified on your TIP, my understanding is that you can visit Aduanas near your port before you leave Mexico and have them complete a Solicitud de Autorizacion de Importacion Temporal de Mercancias, Destinadas al Mantenimiento y Reparacion de las Mercancias Importadas Temporalmente to identify the specific item(s) by serial number that are being replaced/repaired or otherwise used. I understand that with this approach, you will have no trouble entering Mexico with the identified item(s).
But in either case, you are still advised to first obtain a letter from the Mexican administrator of the marina where your boat is located, on their letterhead, stating that your boat is at their marina and that to the best of their knowledge, you will use the stuff you bring into Mexico on your boat and not sell it.
**We could order a TIP online in our name from the Banjercito site (, but they arrive via postal mail.


  1. Good luck and I'm glad you are getting a do-over, where I hope things go smoothly and uneventfully.

  2. Good luck! I still say carry a pocket of $20 dollar bills..........grease those wheels of Mexican justice.


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