Occasional Visits to the US and Canada From Lake Chapala
Even in paradise, we do hunger for home, family and old friends sometimes. But there are concerns about leaving our new home so let’s look at the entirety. Is it difficult to travel to a North American destination from Mexico? No, but we have to start with legal documents. Do you have your passport for entry to US/Canada? Do you have your VISA PERMANENTE or VISA TEMPORAL for your return to Mexico? What requirements are imposed?
Are you taking gifts? If so, are the gifts within customs limitations? Check with the US and/or Canadian regulations to find out before you leave. They do change from time to time, and you’ll want to know when you return to Mexico what limits Mexico has set. If you are flying, your travel agent should advise you. But if you are driving, the onus is on you to be certain that you pass without difficulty. And if items are new, bring receipts.
Customs Declarations allow bringing gifts into Mexico by land up to $75 USD duty free, except alcohol and tobacco. Coming by sea permits up to $300 USD duty free. Check on the present allowances in each direction prior to your trip. Be sure to go through “Merchandise to Declare” at the first customs checkpoint. There could be some duty owed, not a great hassle compared to having them seized. Firearms are strictly prohibited and if there is cause for suspicion, a car could be searched. Otherwise, normal personal goods and pets should be whisked on through.
Speaking of pets, are you taking one along? If so, make sure your pet has all the required shots, particularly rabies, and if you are flying, you need a safe carrier of sufficient size for the animal. Check with the airline as to which sizes and which pets can fly inside the cabin and which must go into cargo – cargo is much harder on pets. Get a water bottle for your pet, too. The animal may not want to eat while undergoing anything as traumatic as travel by air or boat. If you are driving, put your pet into the carrier as you approach the border. Food and water, I assume, will be as much a priority for your pet as for yourself, but don’t expect normal responses if it is the first trip.
Years ago, I lived in Okinawa and brought back a lovely cat who surprised me by settling right in for the long car travel across the US to visit family and back to California to live. In the car she usually lay alongside me or up on the seat back so she could see and breathe fresh air. But sometimes she went back with the children, and we carried a small sandbox for her which we cleaned scrupulously every evening. We never claimed a pet at a motel. There was no need because she was clean and quiet.
The key to a successful trip with a pet, or for that matter, with a child, is that their sense of security is linked to you, and it follows that the same is true of behavior.
Car Permits, Visa Temporal, Visa Permanente and FMM’s
Upon return to Mexico, a temporary visa will be issued if you do not have an Visa Temporal or Visa Permanente or Mexican citizenship. The FMM is good for up to six months. There is a fee for that, but when you fly in, that fee is included in your flight cost. They hand out the paperwork on the flight; you fill it in and hand it in at the airport as you process through. If you drive into Mexico, you pay for your FMM. Immigration retains the large portion of the document and you keep the small part with the expiration date. Keep it handy because Federal police may ask for it anytime, anywhere. It proves that your status is legal, and on occasion, people without proof of their legal status have been detained. Carry the FMM plus a photocopy of the initial pages of your passport, (ID, photo, where you’re from). When you leave the country, as you process through a Mexican Immigration check point, you are required to turn in the FMM. Lost forms can result in missed flights, fines and a cost to obtain a valid exit visa.
Cars – If you are already inside the country of Mexico, you should have a windshield import permit for a car you brought in with you. The permit required (1) evidence of citizenship from either the US or Canada, (2) title for the vehicle, (3) registration certificate, and (4) driver’s license. Oh, yes. I discovered there was a problem with how many cars you can claim as your own. We had two cars, mine and his but both were in my name because I had bought his while he was out of the country. You are entitled to bring in ONE. We changed ownership on his car right then and there.
Every time you leave Mexico, you will need these documents to re-enter. Bonds may have been required at entry to assure the foreign vehicle will be exported within a specified time period. If you hold an VISA TEMPORAL, that time is extended for as long as you remain legal in Mexico. With an VISA PERMANENTE you have declared intent to live as a Mexican, essentially, and so your vehicle is no longer “tied” to your status. You should have Mexican plates and a Mexican driver’s license.
But life gets complicated. Typical of many retirees at Lake Chapala Mexico, I have a VISA TEMPORAL with a Mexican driver’s license and South Dakota license plates. I have never lived in South Dakota. I wonder how the US immigration people would react to that if I drove across the border. These are all legal, but they are also matters that upset customs people so if you have a similar mix of documentation, check your rights and requirements and make certain that you have US car insurance when you cross. Do NOT take short cuts with documentation. Make certain that you deal with authorized personnel and official papers.
Entering the US and Canada from Mexico
For more information on entering the US, which you must do if you want to get anywhere north of Mexico except by boat, see www.travel.state.gov. For information on Canadian customs, just search “Canada customs“. You will find several good sources of reliable information on what you can bring, e.g. dogs/cats require rabies shots; vehicles brought in by visitors are permitted but if you are from Canada, the car must meet Canadian standards – presumably, if you are returning and you drove out, it already does. You can learn about all the details of what is permitted for customs entry. Keep in mind that security has become the #1 priority for customs throughout North America.
Popular California Border Crossings: Mexicali, Otay Mesa, Tijuana and Tecate
Popular Arizona Border Crossings: Agua Prieta, Nogales, San Luis Rio Colorado and Sonoyta
Popular Texas Border Crossings: Ciudad Acuña, Ciudad Juarez, Ciudad Miguel Alemán, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras and Reynosa
When leaving your home in Mexico, you might want a housesitter to look after the property, care for pets and perhaps plants. See the bulletin boards at the Lake Chapala Society, 16th de Septiembre and Ramon Corona in Ajijic. Check the references, and have a safe trip. Some people do housesitting to avoid paying rent while others get paid, and they care well for your property and pets. This is something I did once and I was paid a small amount for the personal inconvenience. The pets were charming. The house was lovely, and the owner enjoyed gardening, so my short stay was pleasant. The owner had a medical procedure so he was greatly relieved that all was well taken care of in his absence.
Yes, you can go home. VISA TEMPORAL holders have restricted exits and re-entries, and they already know about that. But VISA PERMANENTE holders can come and go as often as they like. The rest of the basics we’ve already talked about. Just travel wisely and enjoy yourself.
By Kay Davis, Access Team Writer