Clearing Out of Mexico
June 11, 2012
How Much and How Complicated
[Editor's Note: This is a long piece and only applicable to those who will be clearing out of Mexico for the States or some other foreign country.]
Does it make a difference in terms of time and cost where you clear out of Mexico for another country? It sure does.
Scenario #1. In order for Profligate to clear out of Nuevo Vallarta for California in June, the Port Captain's office told us we needed to bring our cat to his dock, along with the boat document, passports, FM3s, crew list and clearance from the marina. The usual paperwork. If we made an appointment, he would have Customs and Immigration meet us at his dock. The total cost would be 300 pesos, or less than $25, and it shouldn't take much more than half an hour. In other words, clean, quick and inexpensive.
Scenario #2. The following is John Garteiz's Kafkaesque experience when he cleared his Alaska-based Nordic 40 Arctic Tern out of La Paz for the South Pacific in March, and it demonstrates two things: 1) The incredible range of interpretation there is of Mexican law, and 2) that you probably don't want to clear out of Mexico from La Paz, which is something we've been telling readers for years. This is John's story:
"After assessing the situation and protocol at the Port Captain's office, I asked, in broken Spanish, what I needed to do to clear out of La Paz for French Polynesia. I was given a piece of paper with the instructions in Spanish. But a woman in a tan uniform told me — in rapid Spanish with just a little English — that I only needed to do three of the things on the list. It was very frustrating, for while I was polite and smiled a lot, it was not only difficult to understand her, but I got the feeling she didn't care if I did or not.
John Garteiz found out why everyone recommends not checking out of Mexico at La Paz.
Photo Courtesy Arctic Tern
© 2017 Latitude 38 Media, LLC
"I started the clearing out process at 9 a.m. by going to a government building on the malécon. I was given a visitor's badge and was sent to a window on the second floor. After explaining what I needed, I was told I didn't need anything from that office.
"I next went to the half-mile distant Centro de Salud (Health) Clinic, for my health certificate. There were lots of people waiting to get in, but I believed my situation was different than theirs, so I went to the reception window and asked where I needed to go for the health certificate. They were confused, so I showed them the list of requirements for clearing out of the Mexico that I had gotten from the Port Captain's office. The people at the reception window told me I didn't need a health certificate.
"Frustrated by these two rejections, I walked the mile back to the Port Captain's office, where I spoke to a large man who was the supervisor of the woman I'd spoken to before. He spoke better English than the woman, and he assured me that I indeed needed these stamps and certificates to clear out of Mexico.
"It was hot, so I took the 70-cent public bus back to the government office on the malécon, carrying three copies of clearing out papers that the woman behind the window had given me during our initial meeting. I also brought along my boat’s documentation papers, passport, clearing in papers from Cabo, Mexican Insurance papers for the boat, and duplicate copies of these papers and other papers.
"Back up on the second floor again, I waited, then got to see a different lady, then a man. After they made phone calls, they decided that I was in the wrong building. They were correct in that I did not need permission to clear out from Customs, whose office I was in, but rather from the Port Authority, located across the street at the foot of the municipal pier.
"It was in the API office that, for the first time in the process, I felt that the people knew what I wanted and needed, and were interested in helping me. After looking at my triplicate copies, the man sitting behind the desk questioned the gross tonnage of my boat. I had divided my total displacement of 18,000 lbs by two because there are approximately 2,000 lbs in one ton. The man told me that 9,000 tons was way too much, as I would have to pay thousands of dollars for that size boat. I looked at my U.S. Documentation certificate, and it said my boat's Gross Tonnage was 14 tons. So I paid $7. This step took less than half an hour and seemed efficient.
"After another half-mile walk, I was back at the Centro de Salud, where an English-speaking woman explained that there are two types of health requests: one for individuals and one for boats. Looking around at all the people waiting to see the doctor, I wrongly assumed that the health certificate was for me. Nonetheless, I paid just under $7 to have my height, weight, and blood pressure recorded. I then went to another office and waited — and waited — to consult with a nurse about writing these results on a certificate.
"I thought it strange that I had to have a minimal physical exam to show that I was healthy when I was leaving the country. You'd think they'd want it when I arrived. But the woman finally put the health certificate form in her manual typewriter, banged in the results, and gave the certificate to me.
"I paid about 75 cents to take a small city bus to my next stop, the Immigration office, which was about four miles away. Immigration seemed to understand my situation, and even though I had to wait my turn, I had my stamped Immigration certificate within 30 minutes. Yes!
"I then took a small bus five or more miles back to the Port Captain's office. I turned in the three papers I needed: One from the Port Authority, one from the Health Department, and one from Immigration — even though I think the woman from Immigration had signed all three documents.
"The woman in the Port Captain's office looked at the papers and shook her head. She gave the papers to the obese man in the tan uniform with patches on his sleeves. He came over and told me my health certificate hadn't been necessary, and that what I really needed was a health certificate for my boat. When I asked him why he'd sent me to the health clinic, he said I was to get the boat health certificate there. I thought that maybe he was talking about a certificate which I received when I cleared into Mexico at Cabo San Lucas. I pulled out a stamped paper stating something about not having plants on my boat, but he dismissed it as if I was really confused. Which I was. The big man said I needed to go back to the Centro de Salud to get a health certificate for my boat. I was now six hours into the process.
"After taking the bus back to Centro de Salud, I saw a line of 100 people waiting to get into the public clinic. “Do I really need to clear out of Mexico to be allowed into French Polynesia?” I asked myself. I thought about possible explanations for not having a zarpe when I landed in the Marquesas, such as my dog having eaten the papers. But then I would have to explain what happened to the dog I didn't have. So I thought I'd better stick it out.
"Fortunately, a woman named Habsy, who was fluent in English, took pity on me. After a few phone calls, she knew what to do. It's amazing to me that officials had to make phone calls to figure out what needed to be done to clear out of La Paz. Habsy asked me if I had a car. When I said no, she said we would use hers. She took me to another clinic, which was abandoned except for an office that arranges to confirm a boat’s 'health'. Habsy learned that the Health Department needed 48 hours advance warning to schedule the health check of a boat! Saying I didn't have 48 hours, a few more phone calls were made, and I was told an inspector would be at my boat at 9 a.m. the next morning. But I had to pay a fee of $130, and at a different office, to have my boat surveyed. For what, seaworthiness? A lot of boats in the marinas needed a survey much more than mind did.
"Habsy took me to a bank to use my ATM card to get money. I was so frustrated by the clearing out procedure that I forgot to take my card out of the machine after I got my money. An honest person followed me out of the building and gave me my card back. We then drove to a finance center where I paid $130 for the inspection.
"Habsy then drove me to a copy center to make multiple copies of several papers I would need to give to the health inspector the following morning. I was so appreciative of what she was doing that I invited her, her live-in grandmother, husband, and son, to dinner that night. She and her husband and son ended up coming to my boat and staying while I served them water and chocolate chip cookies. I had no beer and they didn't want wine.
"At 9 a.m. the following morning, a nicely dressed inspector showed up at my boat, which was on the hard because I was having the bottom painted. It didn't matter, because he signed the papers without even looking at my boat! He just sat in the cockpit, wrote for 15 minutes, stamped the paper, had me sign it, and had the woman in the office sign it. I was happy to have the paper — the last thing I needed to clear out. On the other hand, I wondered what I had paid $130 for — other than to provide some income for bureaucrats.
"I took all these papers two miles to the Port Captain’s office, with the three papers and multiple copies I needed to clear out — which included the API/Port Authority clearance, the Immigration clearance, and the Boat Health clearance. I submitted my papers after waiting my turn. The same woman looked at them, showed them to her large supervisor, and then they were given to another lady. I waited and waited. After 30 minutes I asked if there was a problem. I was told no problem, just wait. After waiting another 30 minutes, I asked again, and she said something about the Port Captain not being there.
"I was getting pretty angry, at which point she said I owed them another 227 pesos — about $20. That put me over the top! I asked the big man what that was for. He said it was for something like a port clearance fee. He pulled out a booklet, flipped through the pages, and found a page where it said 227 pesos was owed for a boat of 14 gross tons. When I said it meant I was paying approximately $170 to clear out of Mexico, he shrugged his shoulders.
"When I reached into my pocket to pay the 227 pesos, he said that I couldn't pay in cash! I was angry, but with patient diplomacy, I pulled out a credit card and asked if the transaction would be secure. "Of course," he assured me. He shuffled back to his desk and I gave the woman my credit card. After receiving another copy of paper showing a receipt for this transaction, she asked me to sit down and wait.
"After 15 minutes, I stood up and asked, “When is the Port Captain going to show up, and if he isn't here, isn’t there someone else who could sign the paper?” I called the big man back to the window and expressed my frustration. He said there was nothing they could do. He said this office was following the official protocol required all over Mexico to clear out. I told him that another cruiser told me that La Paz was the only place that required a boat inspection.
"We would have continued this futile exchange had it not been for the woman who had my papers showing up saying that all was ready. She gave me copies of one-half dozen papers and an impressive looking certificate with a blue border, form written in attractive cursive print, with my name, boat’s name, date, and other facts typed in the blanks. There was a stamp and an acute-angled signature of, presumably, the Port Captain. Didn’t they just tell me that the Port Captain wasn't there?
"So after 1.5 days of this frustrating process, I took the six copies of different papers, my official-looking clearing out paper, and said goodbye."
Ours at Latitude is not to reason why a process that can be so simple and inexpensive in Nuevo Vallarta can be so complicated, time-consuming and expensive in La Paz, just report that it is.
For what it's worth, owners of foreign boats tell us that Immigration and Customs officials in the United States have, at times, been at least as ignorant of U.S. law and as unhelpful and unfriendly.
If you recently cleared out of Mexico for the States or some other country, we'd like to hear about your experience. Where did you clear from? How much it cost? How time-consuming was it? Gracias.
- latitude / richard