Growing Accustomed to Customs

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Dashing husband leaning casually against one of the thousands of shipping containers patiently waiting for their turn with Mexican Customs.

August 6, 2014, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, MX – If I magnanimously overlook the morning we spent at the Mexican Consulate in Denver, and quite frankly I’m not feeling very magnanimous right about now, today marked our sixth interaction with the Mexican government, and neither us nor our car is *yet* truly legally existing in this country.  We started the process of getting legal temporary residence status nearly two months ago, and today the saga continues.

Most of you will never stay for more than six months as a tourist in Mexico, so you don’t need to understand the process for getting a Temporary Residence visa.  But perhaps among you there is someone who knows someone who knows someone who is going to Mexico for a year or more, and needs to know this.  Or perhaps I just need to vent.

When you drive across the border to Tijuana for a day of hassling and watered-down tequila, or land at the Cancun airport and head down its sleek concourses past Bubba Gump’s Shrimp and Margaritaville, you are issued what’s called a FMM, or Forma Migratoria Multiple.  It’s most commonly called a tourist card, and lets you stay in the country for 180 days.  If you’ve traveled much outside the U.S. you know that’s pretty generous, and most other countries want your loud-mouthed, spandex-wearing American ass out of their country in thirty days or less.  You only need a passport and $25 to get an FMM.  Typically you don’t even realize you’re paying the $25, as it’s built into your airfare.  If you’re going to be staying longer than 180 days you can certainly still get the FMM, but you’ll have to leave the country at or before that 180 day deadline, which, if you drove into Mexico as we did, means driving back to the border (ten hours away), crossing back into the U.S., and coming back into Mexico the next day.  At this point you can get ANOTHER FMM, good for ANOTHER 180 days.

There’s another option for tourists, and that’s the Temporary Residence visa, which allows you to stay in Mexico for up to a year before you have to leave.  There’s more work to do to get this visa, other than just showing up at the border.  We did some research and while it’s possible to get the visa once you’re inside Mexico, we figured that if it could be done in the U.S. of A. where we had the best possible chance to speaking English with someone, it should be done there.  Checked the Mexican government’s website, boom, there’s a consulate office in Denver.  Decided to spend the morning of Wiley III’s birthday (June 9th) getting this done.

Mexico’s big concern with issuing you this visa seems to be reassuring them that you don’t mean to come into their country and either live off the government or take a job that a Mexican citizen might want.  You’ve got to prove that you have a source of income from outside Mexico that is sufficient to support your household.  They want things like notarized bank statements showing that you earn an income.  Never mind that there’s no proof that that income will continue once you get into Mexico, but apparently they’re not overly worried about that.  We made lots of copies of stuff, got stuff notarized and official-like, got some of those tiny passport pictures made, and headed to Denver.

The Mexican-American bureaucrat who helped us in Denver was very nice and extremely patient with us as we attempted to download an image of our son’s birth certificate, since we didn’t have a hard copy with us.  She finally took our large sheaf of papers into her office and we were left to slump in hard plastic chairs, staring at the cement block walls with our compadres, all of us leading lives of quiet desolation in the dreary, slightly humid and very decidedly “governmental” environment.  Finally she emerged, and we were instructed to go to the cashier and pay and come back with our receipt.  Now we were getting somewhere.

The cost was minimal; $36 per person, and I was pleasantly surprised at this.  In Blanca’s office (we were on a first-name basis at this point) we were photographed again, fingerprinted, and sent back out to wait SOME MORE.  Finally we got our passports back, each now containing a page with a shiny, official-looking Mexican visa bearing a hologram of authenticity, which we all know renders government-issued documents and NFL merchandise legitimate.  As Blanca handed the passports back to me, she looked deeply into my eyes.  At this point we were both clutching the passports, me tugging just a little bit and her holding on for dear life, as she was not quite done with us.  I suspected she was about to warn me about el chupababra, so serious was her demeanor, but clearly I had just watched too much “X-Files” in the 90’s.  What she did tell me was that once we arrived at our destination we needed to go IMMEDIATELY to the nearest immigration office and get something called a Resident’s Card.  Well THAT sounded easy, something akin to getting a library card or a King Sooper’s card, so I thanked her again and the three of us nearly ran out of the place before we could slip deeper into the group coma.

I have mentioned our minor troubles at the border in another post, so I won’t go into that again, except to say that when we were issued a permit for our car the clerk told me it was good for thirty days.  I kind of started to lose it at that point, as I had been stuck at the border for two hours by then, and I wasn’t walking out of there with permission for anything less than a year’s stay in Mexico.  Unfortunately, the clerk I was talking to had exhausted her English once she had said, “good for thirty days”, so she went and got her supervisor, who explained that once I got the Resident’s Card (Oh yeah!   my feeble middle-aged mind shouted, I remember something about that!) the vehicle permit would be extended.  I climbed down off of the ledge and signed the credit card receipt for the $300 required deposit, which the Mexican government will gladly refund upon either 1.) you and your car leaving Mexico in thirty days or 2.) you getting your vehicle permit extended once you get the aforementioned Resident’s Card.

In retrospect, I realize that AGAIN, the supervisor-English-speaking-woman at the border had made definitive eye-contact (AGAIN! with the eye contact) with me and said in her excellent English, “go to the immigration office as soon as possible” and get your Resident’s Card.  But in reality, it was more like two weeks before I got my bearings and got over to the immigration office, in search of the elusive Resident’s Card.

Once again, a very polite Mexican bureaucrat with very good English looked intently into my eyes, only this time he gave me a list of things to do before the Resident’s Card could be granted.  Go to a website, fill out a form.  Fill out the forms he handed me (one set for each of us).  Get more pictures made, two facing forward and one facing right.  Copies of passports and the previously issued visa page of said passport.  And oh yeah, go to any bank and pay around $250USD each, and bring the receipts back.  Put your left foot in, put your left foot out, put your left foot in, and shake it all about.  Check a certain website and when we get notified there, come back and be fingerprinted.  And then, perhaps, the Resident’s Card might be granted.

So now the clock is ticking.  We are waiting for the Resident’s Cards, because without these we cannot extend the life of the automobile importation sticker (or so we thought).  Every day, likely twice a day, I am checking the website to see if our cards are ready.  Finally, an email came notifying me to come to the immigration office to complete the process.  Once there, we were all fingerprinted (all ten fingers!) again and told to come back on Friday, August 8th, to pick up our cards.

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Waiting. Again. In Querretero at the Customs Office. I was reprimanded shortly after making this photo, for making this photo. Perhaps my lawless attitude is the main reason why I can’t obtain legal status in Mexico yet.

That’s ten days to make a freaking card. If you’re keeping score at home you realize that August 8th is well-past our thirty-day window we were given at the border for our car to be imported.  Now we lose our $300, AND we find out that the car importation permit cannot even be extended in the San Miguel office.  We have to drive 45 minutes to Querretero to get this done.  More copies.  More forms.  Luckily no more money, unless you count the THREE HUNDRED AMERICAN DOLLARS that the Mexican government happily pocketed on August 31st. In hindsight, I think Laredo would have been lovely at Christmastime.

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