When I entered Mexico early January this year I was surprised to get to know that I could stay in the country with my motorcycle for six months. Up until now such a long stay in the country could only be possible in the United States. So I was pleasantly surprised but at the same time I smiled and thought, “Well, I won’t need that much time in Mexico anyway…”
As one funny saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans. And now the legal six months of my stay are coming to the end, I am still in Mexico, and there are no opportunities to leave the country in the near future due to the pandemic.
Well, the pandemic is a pandemic, but no one cancelled the necessity to renew my visa and motorcycle permit and to legalize my prolonged visit to the country. Though I had a hope that due to the current situation in the whole world the procedure for documents extension would be simplified. In other circumstances, I would have to travel to the border with another country, cross it and return to Mexico.
I like to be law-abiding wherever I am, so when it became clear that the U.S. border would not open at the end of June, as I expected, I decided to go straight to the immigration center and try to renew my visa. In the morning, there was already a queue outside and it was hot enough. But nothing to do, I had to stand and wait. I liked the fact that from time to time employees of the immigration center were coming out to people waiting in the line and checking what was an issue they came with. It made the whole process much easier and faster. So when they came to me and I said that I needed to renew my tourist visa due to the closed borders, I was redirected to another queue with only one person in front of me.
Soon I was in a nice, fresh room and I was handed the documents I needed to fill in, one by hand and another one online. So I will have to come again the next day, but the second meeting will be scheduled to the exact time and there will be no need to wait in a queue. Good thing that upon saying goodbye and being almost at the exit door, I was asked to show my visa … The visa was valid for another week or so, and it turned out that it can be extended only the day after the previous visa period expired. Well, it saved me an extra trip to the immigration office. But now it was clear what the procedure was and what to do next.
So if you are in a similar situation, you need to come to the immigration center in any city or town next to you, get the documents to fill in, and then come again the day after your visa expires.
But this is only half of the problem resolved if you arrived in Mexico on your own vehicle, like in my case. The temporary import permit for your vehicle is valid the same six months as your visa. Accordingly, you’ll have to renew that permit too. And for some reason I thought, based on my own logic, that the procedure for renewing this permit would be the same as for renewing a visa. Well, I was wrong…
As you’d expect, renewal of the vehicle’s import permit is handled by the customs office, not the immigration office, and it is located near the airport in Merida. Since there was still enough time left before the permit expired, and I expected it to be extended on the last day, as was the case with the visa, I took my time. However, I was a little more concerned about this permit than about visa. The thing is when crossing the border with Mexico on your vehicle, you are required not only to pay the official road toll, but also to leave a bank deposit, which guarantees that you will leave the country with your vehicle at the designated time. In this case, this deposit will be returned to you. But if you do not leave the country in time, your deposit will be smoothly moved to the Mexican treasury. For my bike I left the deposit of no less than 400 USD, and I did not want to lose them.
I had a feeling that I shouldn’t wait till the last day, and it’s better to go to the customs office in advance and make sure that my thinking about renewal procedures was correct. That was a right decision…
It turned out that I did not have to go to Merida, as there was the customs office in Progreso, a small port town near Merida, where I was staying for the quarantine. What was said was done, and I was on my way to the customs office in the port. I was riding in the most favorable mood, thanks to all these documentary procedures I was able to get to the restricted area, long bridge in the bay leading to the port and other official buildings. But soon a kind of disappointment was waiting for me…
I was nicely welcomed, but it turned out that they could not help me there. In order to renew the motorcycle import permit, I will have to go to the nearest border and re-register everything there. The nearest border with Belize is about 450 km from Progreso, and according to the customs people, it is now open and I can go there. But in order to cross into Belize, I need a visa which I do not have… well, I was told that I do not even need to enter Belize. I can just enter the free zone between two countries and then come back to Mexico. Well, I didn’t expect this to happen, but to be honest, I wasn’t too upset. It gave me a legitimate excuse to ride a motorcycle a little further than I’d been able during the quarantine.
The next day I was determined to go to Chetumal, city next to the border with Belize. But when I told my friends in Merida about it they did not really like the idea of crossing the border. What if they let me out of the country, but then won’t let me in? Especially since they found one article in the law, according to which a temporary import permit for a vehicle is automatically renewed on the basis of the visa extension. Which made sense to me, too.
We discussed this issue long enough and finally decided to go the next day to the customs office in Merida and insist that according to the law my permit should be automatically extended and I don’t have to go to any border.
The customs in Merida did not help much either, it even turned out that the customs are not even responsible for the deposit, but Banjercito, official military bank of Mexico, which collects and returns the deposit. And actually I did remember that when I was crossing the border with Mexico, the motorcycle papers were indeed processed at the Banjercito office right at the border.
So we went to the Banjercito office in Merida, but in that office they didn’t deal with the temporary imports of vehicles, we had to go to the office in Progreso. At least here we were able to talk to a person who was very competent and explained to me all my options. She confirmed that indeed I can extend the import permit at the customs office in any city on the basis of my visa extension, but in this case I will lose my deposit of 400 USD.. If I want to keep the deposit, I still have to go to the nearest border and re-register the papers at Banjercito bank there. So the decision is up to me – not going anywhere and losing money, or going to the border, re-registering papers and saving my deposit.
I chose the last option. I didn’t want to give up the money in favor of the government, and I didn;t mind to ride either. So the same day, even though it was already about 4 pm, I started riding on the way to Chetumal. I realized that probably I would not get there the same day, especially if it starts raining at some point, but even if I had to spend the night somewhere along the way, I would save some time the next day anyway.
It started raining as soon as I left Merida, the rain was heavy and very soon I was soaked wet as I didn’t have my raincoat. I even thought I’d turn around and go back to Progreso… But after a while it stopped raining, and I thought that since I started doing something, I wouldn’t go backwards.
That night I stayed in the town of Peto, about halfway from Chetumal, and continued riding to the border early next morning. I arrived around noon, and then all the interesting things started.
It turned out there are two checkpoints, one behind the bridge and another one under the bridge. I went to the one behind the bridge where I was actually guided by GPS. Here I was told that, first of all, the border with Belize is closed, so they can let me out of Mexico but I can’t go back. I can extend my visa at any immigration center in any city, and as for the temporary import I have to go to the bank Banjercito at another checkpoint. Well, another checkpoint was only three kilometers away, not a big deal, so I was there a couple of minutes later.
It was deserted there, with only a few guards and officials at the entrance, checking out the purpose of my visit. Well, my visit purpose didn’t raise any further questions.
When I entered the Banjercito bank, I headed straight to the first counter I saw at the entrance and hit the spot. There was a lady there who was aware of the matter, and I sighed with relief. I finally got to my final destination where I could be helped. Especially since that day was the last day when, according to the papers, I had to leave the country or otherwise finalize the papers in order not to lose my deposit.
But this permit could be extended only on the basis of an extended visa, and it could be done right here, in the premises in front. I was glad that everything was going so well. So I will be able to extend not only my import permit here, but also my visa!
But it was too early to rejoice, because from that moment on a series of complications started. If I paid about 50 USD for my visa when I entered the country, I had to pay about 150 USD for the visa extension, and only in cash. I did not expect that, I had only half of the required amount in cash. In fact, before getting to the border, I withdrew some money from ATM, but first, I do not like to carry a lot of cash, and second, when entering the country, I paid for everything by card, and there was no problem with it. But there was nothing to be done… I had to go to the city, which luckily was not far away, about 10 km, and come back. While I was riding back and forth, looking for an ATM which would give me the cash, it was already about 3 pm, and suddenly it hit me that Banjercito banks only work until 3 pm! I rushed into the immigration office, quickly paid, got a visa extension stamp in my passport, and ran to the bank. Fortunately, they worked here until 4 pm, so I had the whole hour left.
All procedures, new paperwork, taking pictures of the VIN number of the motorcycle took some time, and finally it was time to pay. Again, I had to pay for a new import permit and leave a new deposit. That deposit, which was valid until today, will return to my card within a few days, and they cannot transfer it to a new paperwork period. I didn’t quite understand that, but at least there was hope that I would get my money back.
And at this point I heard frustrating words… This deposit could be paid by card but the payment didn;t go through. How come? I just paid one of the fees with the same card, and everything was fine… Another attempt, unsuccessfully… The third unsuccessful attempt will block the card, and they warned me that they will not be responsible for it. I didn’t understand what was going on, there was no notification from my bank… The third attempt was unsuccessful, too. I was shocked, but there was nothing to do. The only option was to talk with my bank, withdraw cash, come back tomorrow morning and pay. I didn’t expect such a turn of events at all, so I’d have to stay in this city until tomorrow. And besides, I’ll have to exchange pesos into dollars, as they only accept dollars for the deposit. My frustration was hard to express…
But I tried to distract myself, found a hotel, had dinner, and went to bed early in order to have all my strength in the morning to solve all these problems and bring this quest to an end.
I managed to withdraw cash from ATM, even though not at the first attempt. But that’s another story. In the meantime, the next stage was waiting for me. Now I had to exchange Mexican pesos into dollars to make a payment in Mexico. That sounds a little weird, doesn’t it?
This mission turned out to be completely impossible, and it almost made me cry. The banks that had currency exchange didn’t have enough dollars, those banks that had dollars could not sell them to foreigners, those few exchange kiosks I could find could buy dollars from me but not to sell. I checked probably every possible place and realized that no matter how many circles I rode around the city, there would be no success. And I don’t want to stay here another night. So I decided to go back to the border and explain that I have enough cash in the national currency of Mexico, which I am willing to pay, but it is not possible to exchange these Mexican pesos into dollars, at least not in the first half of the day in the city of Chetumal. I really hoped for understanding from the officials. Well, I was bitterly mistaken.
Not only did I not find any understanding, moreover, I was told that I did not try hard enough and that other foreigners somehow found the opportunity to pay in dollars, and I am not the first in this situation. It was very uncomfortable to hear it, and now I had a lump in my throat. Probably because of frustration at the lack of understanding and unwillingness to even try finding some solution…
In despair I suggested trying to pay with my card again. And the miracle happened, it worked! The documents were reissued, and as an incredible irony, or rather two ironies, in the new permit the deposit amount was written down not in dollars, but in pesos, and I was asked to fill in a feedback form on my satisfaction with their service.
When I was planning my ride to Chetumal, my friends asked me if I really wanted it, or it might be easier just to forget about the deposit money. All the stress associated with this experience could get much more expensive. Now I knew what they meant. Well, I wanted to try it, and anyway I got what I needed.
So if you are in Mexico for the quarantine with your vehicle and want to renew your import permit, you can go two ways.
The first is to renew your visa, go to the nearest customs office with the extended visa and your vehicle papers and renew the vehicle temporary import permit. In this case you lose the deposit you left in the bank when you entered the country.
The second way is to go to the nearest border and go straight to Banjercito Bank, preferably with a working payment card or dollars in cash.
And a few more conclusions I made, or rather confirmed to myself, as a result of this story.
When you are going to deal with any issues related to the documents, their registration, re-registration, extension, etc., always have enough extra time, and do not plan anything immediately after that. You never know what might happen or how long it might take.
Never rely on your own logic and sanity, and do not expect it to be shared by people around you, and even official authorities. They may think quite differently, and if you’re not ready for that, you’ll just unnecessarily frustrate yourself, just like it happened to me. Sometimes the logic in our understanding may not exist, or rather everyone has their own logic and their own truth.
And finally I could see again how handy it was to have a few payment cards. I can’t say that having one card has often failed me, but when it does happen, it happens at the most inappropriate moment. But are there any appropriate moments for that?
I want to say that the last stage of what happened during all these procedures, though spoiled my mood for a while, did not spoil my attitude to the country as a whole. And in no way did I have a goal of turning your attitude into negative. In most cases, wherever you ask for help in Mexico, you will experience kindness and willingness to help, so probably that’s why those cases when it doesn;t happen are so painful because they are rare. But of course, you need to be ready for everything, and stock up on patience, politeness and perseverance, trying the best you can in order to achieve your goal.
Well, if it doesn’t work anyway, tears and stress won’t help either, which means it’s better just to let go and forget… : )
Which I wish to everyone, and first of all, I wish to myself.