New rules for sailing into Mexico

Published on December 18th, 2013

Given some of the concerns and unknowns that surround the changes for sailing into Mexican waters, Richard Spindler of Latitude 38 magazine shares what he has learned…

December 18, 2013
We had 125 boats and 525 sailors participate in the early November’s 20th Annual Baja Ha-Ha Cruisers Rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, and many of them used the online visa application process. The system is a little funny, but as I was the one running the event, as best as I could tell it worked great.

Here are the funny parts…

When you sign up online, all you get back is a credit card receipt. This is your ‘proof’ of having gotten an online visa until you show up at your first Port of Entry and visit Immigration where they, for no extra charge, exchange your receipt for a regular 180-day tourist visa. The other funny part is that some people applied for online visas as a group for their boat, but the receipt just showed the captain’s name and how much was paid. So there were no specific names attached to the rest of the receipt. Others got their online visas individually. Immigration didn’t seem to care, and they even set up a special fast lane for Ha-Ha participants in Cabo. But we’d recommend applying individually.

The new online visa application process was a huge boon for the Ha-Ha, because otherwise the event would have had to stop in Ensenada, making it very difficult for it to be a two-week event, putting the existence of the very popular event in jeopardy. So hurray for Mexican Immigration, which has been working to help sailing events. We’re also told they are working on fine-tuning the process.

By the way, if you lose your tourist visa, getting a replacement is no problem; you just have to pay the $23 again.

Even more important to boats sailing to Mexico is obtaining a 10-Year Temporary Import Permit (TIP) in advance. These are as easy to get online as the visa application, and you get your TIP in about 10 days via DHL. They cost about $50. For whatever reason, Mexican Customs officials, backed by armed but very friendly marines, have suddenly began making the rounds of Mexican marinas making sure all boats have their TIPs, and sometimes working all through the night. They are also making sure that the TIPs, plus all other paperwork, is on file with the marina the boat is in, because the marina is actually responsible for all boats in their facility.

So far a lot of boats have been out of compliance, often for one little odd thing or the other, and the Mexican officials have been giving a grace period to comply. But for whatever reason, the TIPs have become a big deal for them now. The penalties for being out of compliance are potentially harsh: 25% of the value of the boat and maybe even seizure. To our knowledge nobody has been fined yet and no boats seized, but the government seems dead serious about this so don’t mess around.

To review: there is no problem with getting a visa app online. There is no problem getting a $50 10-year Temporary Import Permit online. There is no problem if you have all your paperwork on file in the marina you’re in. So just have your ducks in order, which is easy to do, and you’re good.

Sailing in Mexico is great. We just finished the three-day Riviera Nayarit Splash and Blast on Banderas Bay, which was a combination of this state’s welcome to cruising sailors plus a three day ‘nothing too serious’ regatta for charity. Twenty-three boats and about 100 sailors participated in absolute glorious sailing conditions, and no boats were hit by the countless breaching whales that were scattered all over the course. Viva Mexico!

Baja Ha-HaIndividual VisaTemporary Import Permit

December 20, 2013
How quickly things have changed. AGACE, a sub agency of Hacienda, told marina owners and Tourism yesterday that they would take, as the law allows, 45 days to 4 months to decide the fate of 338 boats they have ‘impounded’ for supposedly violations. These boats are not allowed to leave the dock, and if they do, the marina is forced to report them. Talk about shooting yourself in the head!

The following is what I wrote for Friday’s ‘Lectronic (Dec 20, 2013):

Is Mexico Committing Nautical Tourism Suicide?

We sure hope not, although thanks to the actions of a new sub agency of Hacienda (the Mexican IRS) called AGACE, it appears they are on the verge of doing just that — and even worse, perhaps setting the stage for possible problems with the United States government.

In the last month AGACE, which was created by the new Pena Nieto Administration to oversee certain aspects of foreign trade, has been checking the paperwork of foreign boats in 12 marinas in Mexico. To be legal in Mexico without having to pay duty, foreign boat owners are required have their boat documentation, proof of clearing into Mexico, and a Temporary Import Permit, and have all these documents on file in the office of whatever marina the boat is in. This is perfectly reasonable.

According to a harbormaster who attended a big meeting in Mexico City yesterday with AGACE, Tourism, and other officials, 338 foreign boats were found to be out of compliance with these rules in just the 12 marinas. That’s a huge number, so let us give you a hint why.

We at Latitude, who have easily been the biggest promoters of nautical tourism to Mexico for the last 30 years, have had our catamaran Profligate put in what’s called ’embargo precautorio’, or precautionary embargo. It’s not that we didn’t have our boat document, we did. It’s not that we don’t have a Temporary Import Permit, we have the same 20-year permit we’ve had for 17 years. It’s not that we can’t prove that we checked into Mexico, because we have that document, too.

No, our crime is that we weren’t on our boat when AGACE officials, backed by armed marines, came through the marina checking paperwork. Much of Mexican law is based on Napoleanic Law, where you are considered guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Since we weren’t around to show our paperwork, AGACE assumed Profligate was not in compliance with Mexican law (guilty), and thus is now under ‘precautionary embargo’.

It gets even more ridiculous. When AGACE officials came around a week later, Dona de Mallorca was aboard, showed them the documents. Nonetheless, Profligate is still on the embargo list.

Other boats were found to be out of compliance because of misspellings on documents made by officials in the United States or Mexico, because VIN numbers were painted over after many years, because AGACE officials who know nothing about boats didn’t know where to look for various identification numbers, and so forth.

Boats under ‘precautionary seizure’ are not allowed to leave the dock, as they are considered to be like foreign merchandise on which duty hasn’t been paid. There’s just one problem with this. Most of the vessels in question are U.S. documented vessels, and it is our understanding that it’s illegal to impede the transit of such vessels unless a crime was committed. We can’t imagine the U.S. government is going to stand by with hands in pocket if 338 U.S. boats, worth tens millions of dollars, are illegally held for any period of time.

Surely, one would think, these minor problems could quickly be cleared up. Not so. At the meeting in Mexico City yesterday, AGACE gave no timetable for embargoed boats to be “liberated”. As such, there are cruisers who can’t move their boats, and their are foreign boat owners who won’t be able to take visiting family and friends sailing over the holidays. The damage to Mexico’s reputation will be growing by the day, and right at the height of tourist season.

To say boat owners are pissed would be and understatement. Both Canadians and Americans are already starting to call their representatives to protest. If you think marina owners, Mexico Tourism, and other business interests such as real estate like this, you couldn’t be more wrong. After all, it perpetuates the image of Mexico being a scary place, where tourists and retirees can’t feel safe or believe their assets are secure. We hope this matter is resolved very quickly, as we don’t think it accurately reflects on Mexico or even Mexican government as a whole. But the damage will build with each passing day.

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