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Yesterday I crossed the border from the United States into the Republic of Mexico. I was slightly apprehensive about the crossing. I’d read that the border region is dangerous due the ongoing drug war in Mexico. I also read that the paperwork process was confusing and might be time consuming.
My apprehension was unjustified. The border crossing was an outrageously slow process, but it was simple, I managed with minimal Spanish and I felt safe throughout the process. I’ll document how it went here, and hope to document all my future border crossings.
I’ll also summarise the facts in a few bullet points, scroll down for the quick summary if you’re in a hurry. 🙂
I paid the $3 bridge toll on the American side. Then as I crossed into Mexico I kept moving. Nobody stopped me or even looked me over. I could have continued merrily on my way without doing any paperwork whatsoever. I believe Mexico has a free trade zone within 25km or 30km of the border. Within that zone visitors from the US have no need of a visa, paperwork, or otherwise. Just wander in. The crossing back into the states is a little more involved though!
I had read about the Banjercito, where I would get some sort of permit to take Bessy (the bike) into Mexico. I knew I had to stop there voluntarily otherwise I wouldn’t get the appropriate paperwork and would have to come back. There were a few people in dark blue uniforms lounging around a table smoking. I stopped to ask them where I could import my motorcycle. I attempted to say “I’m going to Monterrey” in Spanish, knowing that Monterrey is beyond the free trade zone. I was pointed to the Banjercito, across the way.
I turned immediately left and rode 10 metres up a one way street the wrong way to pull into the carpark in front of the Banjercito. I have read that at some borders the Banjercito can be quite far from the actual border. Here in Ciudad Miguel AlemÃ¡n it is physically adjacent to the Migracion office, easy.
I walked into the Banjercito office and was served immediately through a glass counter. The girl spoke little or no English, about the same as my Spanish! A helpful fella translated and explained I needed to go to the migracion office first. After a little navigational difficulty, I found it. The migracion office is on the same side of the road, 3 doors closer to the USA side of the bridge.
The migracion official was interested my plentiful visits to Cambodia. I used to cross the Cambodian border every 3 months in Thailand, so I have 3 or 4 full page Cambodian visas in my passport. After a bit of pleasant chit chatter translated by the various people in the office, we established that I was retired, riding a motorcycle, and 90 days would be sufficient.
They asked how long I wanted to stay in Mexico. I believe I could have asked for up to 180 days but they mentioned 90 and I figured that would be fine. If I stay any longer in Mexico it might take me years to get to South America. The migracion officer filled in my form for me. All I had to do was point out the address on my driving license, sign, and smile.
I was handed the carbon copy to take to the Banjercito to pay the fee. It was about $20 USD for the Permiso Personal I believe. Although the simplest part of the process, I think this was the most time consuming. There were two or three people in front of me in the queue at the Banjercito and it took forever to get through them with only 1 caja open.
Eventually some vaguely manager looking fella came out and started shouting at the poor girl behind the counter. Then he called a young fella from the back office and a second caja was opened.
When it came time to actually pay the fee, I handed over my good old British Chip & Pin visa debit card. This caused some confusion. He tried swiping it several times, apparently struggling to understand the Spanish instructions on the machine telling him to insert the card into the chip reading slot. Finally his colleague assisted and put the card into the slot. Then the machine asked for my PIN number, in Spanish of course. Well this caused even more confusion. He didn’t have a PIN number, so he called the manager looking fella. Then he cancelled the transaction and the manager tried the same process again.
Watching all of this I knew what was going on but lacked the Spanish to intervene. I was also puzzled as to how I was going to enter my PIN number through a 1 inch gap in the glass window. The machine had no detachable keypad and was several times larger than the hole in the glass. Oh yay for Mexican engineering… 🙂
Eventually, after the manager asked me, in English, to tell him my PIN, I suggested I try typing it through the window. In my head I was running over the risk of telling them my PIN number. I figured I’d have to call my bank nearly immediately and have a new PIN number issued. That would involve it being mailed to my mum, she’d need to read it, forward it on to me, etc. My card would be out of service for a week or two at least.
While they held the keypad up to the window, I was able to stick my finger through and punch in the numbers. Not exactly great PIN security, but it seemed preferable to reading my PIN number aloud for all and sundry to hear!
So, payment number one completed, I returned to the migracion office to have my, now paid, Permiso Personal, stamped. This part was painless. I walked in, handed over the paperwork, it was stamped and handed back to me. Muchas gracias.
Now I went to the copias booth which had been pointed out to me by the helpful translating fella earlier. The girl in the booth looked cute to me, but that might have been more to do with her flawless, effortless command of English than her physical appearance. I was grateful to be able to complete one part of the transaction without guessing what was being said to me. 🙂
I required copies of my paid and stamped Permiso Personal, my driving license, my vehicle title and my passport. I already had copies of all my own documents, so I only required 1 copy of the Permiso Personal at a cost of 50 cents. Expensive for a photocopy perhaps., but a bargain to be confirm, in English, that I had all the copies I needed!
I returned to the Banjercito, this time to get my temporarily import my vehicle. The girl behind the counter was incredibly diligent. She checked every piece of paperwork slowly and carefully, then compared every document to every other document and the computer screen, to ensure my name and other details were identical in all cases.
The same confusion arose with the Chip and Pin payment once again. This time, not content with the Spanish equivalent of “transaction confirmed by PIN”, she asked me to sign the receipt. Then she fished out my first payment receipt and had me sign that one just to be sure. I know all of this was completely unnecessary but it seemed so much simpler to just sign than debate it. This permit cost about $30 US dollars.
Then some lengthy discussion broke out in Spanish. Various permits and pieces of paper were handed about, discussed, disapproving looks exchanged, tempers flared, one girl whose job seemed to be standing around, looked apologetically at me as if to say “sorry about these crazy people”. Finally, after maybe 20 minutes of standing at the counter handing my documents back and forth through the glass more times than I remember, I was handed my completed paperwork. I checked that I had all my own documents, and now a new vehicle import sticker. I was set. Muchas gracias, I bowed with my hands palm to palm as if praying, and left the office.
I decided a victory cigarette was in order. I checked the time and realised the process had taken a little over 90 minutes. Wow. Arriving early in the day was good advice I had read somewhere! I rolled a smoke, checked with the assault rifle armed military fella if I could smoke there, and lit up.
A few minutes later a girl from the Banjercito office came out and asked me for something. I wasn’t sure what, so I volunteered the import sticker. She said something along the lines of, could she take it back inside for a few minutes. I smiled, of course, no problema. A few minutes passed. I responsibly disposed of my cigarette butt in a nearby barrel. I sat and waited a few more minutes.
Finally the girl who had served me returned with my sticker and asked if she could borrow my debit card just one last time. At least, that’s what I assume she said. She took my card and ran a pencil over the name section to take an imprint on one of her many pieces of paper.
When I was first given the import sticker they asked me to verify the VIN number and if it was correct, I was good to go. Now the girl wanted to double check the VIN herself I think. I pointed it out on the bike and made some sort of “same same” remark.
I asked about sticking the permit on the bike. The instructions say stick the permit behind the rear view mirror on the inside of the windshield. No such location exists on my motorcycle and everywhere on the bike is exposed to the elements. She didn’t seem concerned and swiftly stuck the permit on the underside of my windscreen. I tried to ask about rain but my Spanish and hand signals weren’t up to it. By this point I decided to take what I could get and leave before I was asked for my card once more.
I donned my gear, buttoned up, and rolled out from the border following the well marked route to Monterrey. Yee haa, I was once again in the Republic of Mexico, and it was warm. Viva Mexico!
Andrew Chant at 2009-12-13 23:41:39
I can't help thinking a Carnet de Passage would be easier. Especially if you've got to go through all that at every border. With the carnet there's no fee, someone tears one side out on entry and the corresponding side out on exit. Simple, free and possibly takes you out of paying insurance? We never had insurance anywhere except the USA and even that was eventually declined we found out as we were leaving LA!
Andrew Chant at 2009-12-17 00:31:26
Indeed, as I said for S. America you've gone with the right option. The whacking deposit in Thailand was beyond belief - they set it at double the new value of the bike - about GBP15k. Do you think I'd have got that back if I'd ridden out through Aranyapratet or Sungai Golok? Maybe I would but I'm sure it wold have been like blood out of a stone. Never ship a bike into Thailand - overland it's completely different.
Callum at 2009-12-17 00:18:44
My thoughts about it being phased out are based on Wikipedia comments about countries loosening their requirement of a Carnet. Honestly, I've no idea, I haven't done any research, it's just a feeling I get. Most of the stuff I've read says a Carnet is not required and not worth getting. Perhaps that's times changing, perhaps it's purely my perception. Paying $30 per country plus a great whacking deposit that I get back, in total, seems a lot better than $100 a month in money I never get back, or $50 a month in money I never get back plus a great whopping deposit. As you rightly said, horses for courses... :-)
Andrew Chant at 2009-12-16 22:31:11
Horses for courses amigo. It worked well for us and we had the cash, although I do think it's got significantly more expensive. I think we also had some sort of bank bond so didn't have to pay insurance. I guess if you're sticking to S.America then no carnet is probably the way to go - in a lot of countries elsewhere it's obligatory.
Callum at 2009-12-16 23:51:05
I count 23 countries where it's required (excluding Senegal and Egypt). Some of those would surely be fun to visit on a bike, India, some of the middle eastern countries, some African countries for example. But even the base cost of $650 is a lot of cash for a permit that's good for a year. If I was going to ride through a few countries where it was obligatory, I'd probably get it, but it seems like most places are phasing it out. I'd guess it'll disappear entirely as each country starts their own system.
Andrew Chant at 2009-12-17 00:13:38
"If I was going to ride through a few countries where it was obligatory, Iâ€™d probably get it" You'd have to get it, doh! I don't get the feeling it's being phased out at all. The list of countries where it's accepted / obligatory is almost identical to when this 'living in the past' fossilised old fart used one back in 1990. Bolivia and Thailand were and still are two of the few countries that haven't signed on. Bolivia was funny, they happily tore the half page out of the carnet and then brazenly demanded a 30 buck bribe anyway (no other paperwork). Thailand demanded a gigantic deposit so I 'donated' them my precious bike!
Andrew Chant at 2009-12-16 05:09:44
Carnet's are still going strong - http://www.go-overland.com/indy/articles/carnet.php All the countries in N., S. and C. America accept them. It doesn't remove the need for insurance but I can guarentee you it simplifies the documentation drastically compared to what you went through.
Callum at 2009-12-15 17:05:46
The carnet de passage wouldn't remove the requirement for insurance in Mexico, nor simplify any of the border paperwork. I'm not sure they'd even accept it. You seem to be stuck in the past mate, the world has moved on from the days of Carnet de Passages... ;-) The insurance requirement is only in Mexico and one or two other countries. In Mexico, it's a felony not to have insurance on a vehicle used on the road. I didn't need it at the border, but if I got into an accident I'd probably be taken to jail until they could figure out blame if I didn't have Mexican insurance. For $100 seemed better safe than sorry. :-)
Callum at 2009-12-16 13:15:58
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnet_de_Passage#Americas_2" rel="nofollow">Countries requiring a Carnet in the Americas</a>, none. <a href="http://www.caa.ca/travel/travel-carnet-e.cfm" rel="nofollow">Cost of Canadian CAA issued Carnet</a> $650 plus <a href="http://www.caa.ca/travel/travel-carnet-insurers-indemnity-table-e.cfm" title="Cost of CAA Carnet insurance" rel="nofollow">insurance</a>. According to <a href="http://www.caa.ca/travel/travel-carnet-cost-calculator-e.cfm" title="Calculate the cost of a Carent de Passages de Douane" rel="nofollow">CAA's cost calculator</a>, total to pay, $1'622, net cost after all refunds, $1'203.50. Contrast that with the $30 I paid to import the bike into Mexico and the $100 I paid for 6 months insurance. The Carnet works out at $100 a month, after the refund. Plus all the hassle of renewing or returning it at the end of the year, how do I return it if I'm currently in a country, etc, etc. Thanks for pursuing it, now I'm more convinced than ever that it's not for me. :-)