This article is from the August - September 1996 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Moving To Mexico is a Breeze, Compared to Heading West in a Conestoga

by jennifer j. rose

jennifer rose, one of our favorite contributors, is an attorney practicing in Shenandoah, Iowa, and aforeign legal consultant in Morelia, Michoacan. She is editorin-chief of The Compleat Lawyer; a publication of the American Bar Association. She wrote the lead article of the March 1996 issue of The Mexico File on Morelia, as well as an article for the May 1996 issue on buying propertv in Mexico. The second part of this article on immigration to Mexico will appear in the next issue, October 1996.

 Hot on the lips of every American politician clamoring to seal America's borders, immigration summons images of Ellis Island, undocumented workers, the nanny problem and political and economic refugees. Whether you're sojourning in Mexico as a Mazatlan beachcomber, an aging boomer planning to hang out for a few years, or a 65-year old retiree, you become an alien once you traverse the U.S.'s southern border.

Foreigners legally in Mexico fall into one of four categories: nonimmigrant (no-inmigrante), visitor (visitante), immigrant (inmigrante), or one who has immigrated (inmigrado).

The most common no-inmigrante status, one which barely evokes thoughts of citizenship and immigration, is the tourist (turista). Anyone travelling beyond Mexico's border towns (and indeed anyone spending more than three days in one) must obtain a tourist visa or tourist card. This simple free two-part carboned form, formally called an is valid for 180 days. This is what most people receive at the airline counter and complete en route. Available at nearly any travel agency and the Mexican Consulate, as well as at the aduana, this document applies to land travellers.

All that's needed to obtain the tourist card is proof of citizenship. While a valid passport is the document of preference, a certified copy of a birth certified accompanied by photo ID, naturalization certificate, or an affidavit of citizenship accompanied by photo ID will suffice. The tourist card is simply a permit to enter Mexico as a visitor. Employment is not

permitted, and amount of accompanying goods is limited, although it's not defined. While the tourist is granted six months' stay in Mexico, customs officials consider appropriate what one might need for a two-week stay. (And I still have a hard time convincing them that four suitcases are the minimum requirement for a 10-day visit.) Entry by land allows a mere $50 worth of possessions, beyond their clothing, for those traveling in a motor home or recreational vehicle. A more generous attitude applies to electrical appliances and televisions. The airborne tourist has a $300 limit. Back in the old days (about a year ago), Mexican customs officials paid little attention to these limits. Today, they've become quite serious. Be prepared to show documentation of value and to pay an import tax.. .even on goods you may be bringing in for your own use during a vacation if you're traveling by car.

During last May's deadly heat, I crossed at Laredo at 2 a.m., fully loaded, hauling a flirnace in the back of my Suburban. Anticipating the tax, I had the invoice in hand, figuring that would limit the agents' taxing enthusiasm. I was wrong; they even taxed me on some old pottery flower pots (but allowed me to determine values). In all, the tax amounted to less than the bribe of the old days would've...but I gladly would've paid the extra $20 to avoid the agonizing sweat, 2-hour delay and paperwork. Even for a simple car trip on a tourist visa, a manifest can avert problems.


If a minor child is not escorted by both parents, a notarized consent from the absent parent is required. A similar consent from both parents must accompany the child travelling alone or escorted by a nonparent. A U.S. court order authorizing the travel can substitute for an absent parent who refuses to consent or who cannot be located. If paternity has not been established, have the child's birth certificate available, showing that there is only one parent. Where the child has a passport issued in the child's own name, consents are not necessary.


If you're driving, you'll be able to temporarily import your car for the same 180-day period. At the aduana, you'll need: 1) the original certificate of title, 2) an affidavit from the lienholder authorizing the temporary importation of the car, 3) a valid state registration, 4) a valid driver's license issued outside of Mexico, and 5) Mastercard, Visa or American Express, in the drivers name. You will use the credit card to pay the $11 fee. If you don't have a credit card, then you'll be required to post a bond based upon the car's value. The car permit is good for multiple crossings during its six-month life.

Once you've been granted FM-3 status, which is valid for a year, your car's import permit theoretically should be of like duration. The practice may vary with each border official. Some may insist that your car's one-year period began on the date on which the FM-3 was issued; others will hold fast to the six-month rule. If you end up with a six-month permit expiring before your FM-3 does, your sole recourse will be to make another run for the border when the permit's about to expire.

Conventional wisdom might dictate that annual renewals of the FM-3 and FM-2 would likewise apply to your automobile, but current theory seems to dictate that "as long as you're legal, so too is your car." This may be well and fine so long as your car remains far from the border. If you're close to the border, my advice would be to grin and bear it, fill out more forms, pay the $12 fee, and obtain a new permit rather than impress the border officials with arcane knowledge of the finer points of Mexican law.


The full impact of this notion didn't really hit me until a Pemex attendant, noticing my Doberman luxuriating in the back seat of a filled-to4he-roof Suburban, mentioned that it was easier for a dog to traverse borders than a human. All that's needed to bring your dog or cat into Mexico is a U.S. Interstate and International Certificate of Health granted within the past 72 hours, stating that the animal has no communicable diseases. Too err on the safe side, a current rabies certificate wouldn't hurt. No permit or visa is needed. To bring a pet back into the United States, you'll need another health certificate and a rabies certificate not more than thirty days old. In 20 years of chauffeuring pets back and forth at least thrice annually, I've never been asked for documentation on either side of the border. (I still would urge you to arm yourself with paperwork.)


Once you've obtained your FM-3, you're allowed a one-time opportunity to import a reasonable amount of household goods into Mexico. While there's no definition of "reasonable amount," be prepared for payment of taxes and some serious negotiation. Long before your move, you'll need to submit a detailed inventory, in English and Spanish, detailing all you intend to import, down to brand name and serial numbers and about $75 to the Mexican Consulate for review, stamp and approval. According to the Mexican Consulate, you can bring your personal goods, including computers, televisions and electronic equipment into the country duty-free. Used appliances seem to fare better than those still showing the warranty card. The customs officials at the border, reading from a different primer, will likely embrace a totally different interpretation of what constitutes "household goods." Plan on a very long and expensive day at the border arguing that your van of household goods has been approved by the Mexican Consulate 10 enter without duty, or consider hiring El U.S. bonded freight broker, whose fees ultimately may be less than the "transition fee" (read tax) you may end up forking over as your Consulate-approved manifest is challenged.

Copyright 1996 by jennifer rose