Last year, on renewal of our immigration status and with changes in the Mexican immigration law, we were required to give up our temporary residency status (old FM3 / new Residente Temporal) and switch to permanent residency (old FM2 / new Residente Permanente). We accepted that change, knowing one of the consequences was that, as permanent residents, we would no longer be permitted to drive a foreign registered car. That privilege is granted only to visitors in the country, and is exactly the same in both Canada and the USA. It seems a reasonable expectation.
We have a 2003 Toyota Sienna here in Mexico that we’ve driven back and forth to Canada several times, and more recently have left here in Mexico while returning by air. It’s getting a little long in the tooth, and the cobblestone streets have brought out more than a couple of rattles. So, this year we drove once again from Canada in our “newer” 2002 Toyota Sienna (same colour even). Compared to its twin, it has a lot fewer kilometers as well as rattles. We decided to import it formally into Mexico through the Nogales crossing, using a customs broker we had learned about online.
The process began in August when I phoned Oscar the broker from Canada. He asked me to email copies of our ownership documents and a photo of the VIN (vehicle identification number) decal on the driver’s door. A few days later he replied saying all was OK to go ahead. I needed to bring photo ID (passport or Mexican Residente Permanente card) and proof of Mexican residence (electricity bill) when I came. We arranged to meet at the McDonald’s restaurant in Nogales, AZ at 9 am on Saturday, October 19. On Saturdays, the customs office for vehicle imports (Aduana) in Nogales, Sonora opens at 10am and closes at 2pm.
Our first surprise was at McDonald’s, when Oscar said the customs policy had changed in the last couple of days. They were no longer accepting British Columbia Ownership Certificates. In Canada we don’t have a “Title Document” like in the USA, but rather a combined Owner’s Certificate and Proof of Insurance. Oscar said he would try to see if he could get ours accepted, but if not, we would need another document that he could arrange for $150 USD.
With Oscar’s assistant in the lead, we and another couple from Saskatchewan headed south through the Nogales truck crossing. We went through the normal “Nothing to Declare” lane and further south to his office. While he was checking whether they would accept our documents, the Saskatchewan couple were told to take everything out of their pickup for the next step in the process. When driving to your Mexican home, you tend to bring a lot of stuff, so the pile on the sidewalk and in the parking lot was quite big. Also, they knew ahead of time that Aduana wouldn’t accept their Saskatchewan ownership papers, so Oscar had already arranged their extra document. The recent change was apparently just for previously accepted BC and possibly Ontario documents.
So off they went to import their pickup, while we waited to hear about our documents. An hour and a half later Oscar told us that, no, they wouldn’t accept the BC papers, and I approved getting the new document. Then we waited some more. About 1pm we heard that as our document was on the way, we should start unloading our van and remove the license plates. The Saskatchewan couple had meanwhile finished the process, reloaded and were on their way.
Come 1:40pm (remember, Aduana closes at 2pm) the paper was still on its way, and Oscar told his assistant and me to go get in line. He’d drive the papers up to us when they arrived. Jeanette stayed with our van-load of stuff at the office. We were in the line at 1:55pm when Oscar arrived with the papers, and somehow we managed to inch inside the gates before they were closed at 2pm. From there we went to three different check-points to have the papers inspected and sometimes stamped. Then it was off to the vehicle inspection area, where I paid $60 US and we waited for an inspector to carefully compare the VIN sticker on the door with the photo I’d provided. With great solemnity, the inspector attached a decal to our windshield and gave us the corresponding certificate. We’d been approved!
Next it was back to Oscar’s office to pay him the balance of his fee (the $60 was included, but the $150 was extra) and he gave us our documents. We reloaded the van and replaced the BC license plates, and by 3:30pm were headed south to the Kilometer 21 Temporary Vehicle Import check-point. There, according to Oscar’s instructions, we drove first through Lane 7 which was designated for heavy cargo trucks and showed them our documents. They were duly stamped, we did a U-turn and went back through immigration and regular customs (Lane 3 or 4). After getting a green light for the second time, we were on our way.
Once back in Rincón de Guayabitos, the next step was to get license plates for our local state, Nayarit. On Monday, October 28, I took the car and all our documents to the local office of the Nayarit Secretariat of Administration and Finance (SAF) where plates are issued. The pleasant young woman there told me that, for the first set of plates for an imported car, I needed to go to their head office in the state capital, Tepic, about a 1½ hour drive away. They close at 2pm, so it was too late to start that day.
Early Tuesday I headed out and found the correct office in the state government building. There was a big lineup that moved quickly, and the official in charge, Sr. Sergio Diaz, was very efficient. He glanced through my papers, nodded and told me to go back downstairs to the foyer to wait for an hour. I spent most of the time admiring the amazing ceiling frescos in the Palacio de Gobierno.
About every 20 minutes a fellow from that office came down to the foyer with a sheaf of papers, called out names and gave people back their documents along with the required approval letter. True to his word, mine was in the batch that came down 50 minutes later.
The next morning I was back at the SAF office in La Peñita at 9am with my documents, only to be told I next needed to have the vehicle checked by the state traffic police (Transito Estatal) at their office on the highway just over the bridge in La Peñita, and that I’d need two copies of everything. So off I went, first to get the copies at the stationery store, then to Transito. The fellow there looked at my papers, glanced at my vehicle and wrote on a scrap of paper the make, model, year and colour of the van. He then stamped and signed it, and said I needed to have the vehicle verified at the municipal police office at the entrance to Guayabitos. Off I went, arriving about 10:10am, only to be told that I couldn’t have the check done until the next day, before 10am.
On Thursday, October 31 I was at the Municipal police office at 9:30am and waited until 10:10am for the correct official to arrive. It turns out he was an officer of the State Agency for Criminal Investigation (AEI). I don’t know, but I guess they were checking whether the vehicle was stolen. He took all my papers, along with the required two copies of everything. I was sent outside with an assistant to check the VIN number once again, and then back to wait. After a couple of hours I asked how much longer this was likely to take. The assistant told me 1-2 hours, so I went home. I had a water pump that needed replacing and Jeanette was without water!
At 1pm I returned to the municipal police office to retrieve my now completed papers, and was told to go back to the Transito office. Off I went, only to be told that I’d need to come back the next day. On returning at 9am Friday, my papers were perused once again. The officer then sent me to the local Farmacía Guadalajara to get two photos of the VIN decal on the driver’s door. Off I went at 9:10am, only to find that the ‘muchacho” who does this wouldn’t be in until 10am. After several strolls around the store and up and down the street, at 10:10am the muchacho and I went out to the car to take the photo. Two prints were made in a jiffy (total cost $10 pesos or about $80 cents), and I headed back to the Transito office. There a fellow took my photos, and went outside with me to the car to make an imprint of the embossed VIN plate behind the windshield. He did this ingeniously by rubbing the numbers with a piece of carbon paper, then dragging a piece of Scotch tape across the numbers, pressing it down with a wire, and gently peeling it off again. It took three tries, but it finally worked.
More forms were filled out, and I was sent back to the stationery store to get two copies of the new forms, as well as two new file folders. Once back at Transito, the copies were sorted into the two new folders, and the originals in the folder I’d brought with me. They kept one folder of copies. One final signature from the senior Transito officer, and I was on my way back to the SAF office for Nayarit license plates. There it took quite a while for the young woman to fill out the necessary forms on her computer. She especially had difficulty finding the correct code for my Toyota minivan on her list of pickup trucks! But by 12:30pm I had paid the various fees and finally received my brand new Nayarit license plates. She kept the second folder of copies and gave me the originals.
So I think our van has to be the most carefully researched vehicle we’ve ever owned. Everyone we dealt with along the way was pleasant, and evidently doing the job they had been assigned in this process. And despite the negative image some have of corruption in the Mexican bureaucracy, not one person I encountered even hinted at expecting a “propina” or tip. Having been through the process once, I think I might be able to speed things up here and there (eg having the VIN photos ahead of time), but as with everything in Mexico one seems to do best by being patient and accepting the way things are done. It’s a beautiful country that has its foibles, but what country doesn’t?
Now we just have to decide when to drive the old 2003 Sienna up to the border to repeat the process!
by Bruce Johnstone – 6 November 2013
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