Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Checking into Mexico at Ensenada

Crossing into Mexico
We arrived in Ensenada on Sunday, November 4th, and then were up bright and early for the 9am role call at the marina office to go through the customs process.  Many of the marinas (if not all?) offer a service to help you check into the country as it can be a fairly confusing process – especially if you don’t speak Spanish fluently.  After reading the following, I’m sure you’ll agree it is worth every penny…

As you may have heard, there is now a building in Ensenada where all of the “offices” that you need to visit when you check in are located in one building.  This is ONLY true in Ensenada – in all other ports they are in separate buildings so you have to walk around to each one.  For us, this made it a no-brainer to want to check in at Ensenada and avoid an entire day of traveling from one building to the next.  When you arrive, be prepared with many copies of your boat’s documentation, proof of Mexican Liability Insurance, your crew list and your passports – make sure you have MANY copies of each one – you can never have too many copies!

In my mind’s eye I had envisioned this multi-story white building with each floor containing one of the offices and lots of room for all of the people lined up to get through each point in the process.  The reality is MUCH different!  It is a small (white!) building in a nondescript part of town that you would easily miss if you were trying to find it on your own.  The whole building is only about 100 by 100 feet at best!  Inside you will find 5 windows and a minimum amount of room to wait in line – with a couple of chairs to rest in throughout the 3 (or more) hour process.   There is a window for Immigration, the Bank, the Bureau of Fishing, the TIP permit (??) window and of course – the Customs window where you’ll see something that looks suspiciously like a stop light.  More on that later!

To say we were glad to have paid the 25 bucks to get help through this lengthy process is the understatement of the year!!!  Can you say confusing?  First you go to the immigration window where they process your visa, than you wait in line at the bank window to pay for your visa.  The bank will take pesos or US dollars, but better yet – they also accept (and seem to prefer!) credit cards.  Next it’s back to the immigration window again for (??? not sure what – maybe to process that you paid for your visa?)!  Next you go over to the window where they process the paperwork for a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) if you are coming by boat.  The TIP allows you to keep your boat in Mexico for up to 10 years and you will absolutely need it if you are going to stay for any length of time.   If you want to import ANY boat parts or have ANY guests bring a part for your boat, you absolutely must have a TIP and have completely filled out the form itemizing all the main systems you have on your boat – super important!  Also make sure you bring your serial number for the main engine(s) you have on board.

Brett with fellow travelers checking in.
I should also note that if you plan to do ANY fishing or even have fishing-related items on your boat, every person on board will need to have a fishing license.  If the Mexican Federales come on board and you have the stuff, but don’t have the license you can get into BIG trouble and receive a large fine at a minimum.  While this doesn’t happen very often, why risk it if you plan to fish?

Next, it’s (you guessed it) back to the bank again to pay for the TIP!  It’s important to note that if you are getting a TIP you need an ORIGINAL document to prove ownership.  This could be loan papers or (in our case) the official Documentation paperwork.  I’m embarrassed to admit that we DID NOT have our original Documentation with us (we’d been told by the marina that we wouldn’t need it) and actually had to go all the way back to the marina to get it and then BACK to the office to stand in line at the bank again and continue the process.   Just bring EVERYTHING you think you may need and have originals AND many copies!

After you’ve paid for your TIP, you finally are ready to go to the customs window, fill out another form and then you step up to the stop light.  If you’ve been to Mexico in the past, you’ll know this is to push the button that will determine if you get set aside for further inspection.  Green you get to leave, red you get to be inspected.  Please god, let it be green, right?   There are no veggies, beef, chicken, pork or fruit allowed into Mexico from the states, so if the button is red and you have stuff on board, you will soon be saying goodbye to it!

At this point the Customs guy tells Brett to step up to the stop light and Brett turns to me and says, YOU should press the button - you have way better luck at that sort of thing!  But the stern customs man says only the captain can push the button.  So after only seeing green lights all day, what do we get???  RED!  UGH!  So now we have to wait because they will send someone down to the boat for the inspection, likely in about an hour.  Did I mention we had already been there for about 3 hours already? 

But wait!  Suddenly our helper is having a conversation with the customs guys and turns to us and says it's our lucky day (Really?  Didn’t we just get the red button???)!!!  It turns out that they didn't have anyone available to do the inspection, so the customs guy is saying we are free to leave and there will be no inspection.  GRACIAS SEƑIOR!!!  You have no idea how happy we were that they were not going to inspect our boat.  PHEW!

With help this entire process took just over 3 hours to complete – and that was with a “helper” smoothing the path and basically handling all of the paperwork at EVERY step.  They are there to answer any questions you have and are well worth the price we paid – so keep it in mind if you have to go through the process yourself – especially if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. 

From there on you will only need to radio in to the local Port Captain at each port you visit.  No more paperwork unless you need to update your crew list.  If you have friends or family visiting you’ll need to communicate the crew list changes to the local Port Captain and fill out the appropriate paperwork.  This is for your own safety – so that if they need to rescue you, they know who (and how many) people they are looking for. 

That’s all there is too it.  My best advice is be prepared and plan to spend the entire day – that way you will be pleasantly surprised if it only takes 3 hours!

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