Thursday, April 19, 2018

Checking into Mexico!


*This photo of Bahia Chac Chi Hotel is courtesy of TripAdvisor

After raising the yellow quarantine flag and getting some rest from our passage to Mexico, we needed to check into the country. Let me tell ya, this isn't near as easy as flying into Mexico! But, with a little information & preparation, it's not worth paying an "agent" $75 to handle it. I've put together some basic info that I hope will help others check into Mexico themselves, and save that money for some authentic margaritas!

The first thing you need to do, and this is important, is obtain a Zarpe form BEFORE sailing to Mexico. El Zarpe (Form 1300 from US Customs) is the first thing the Port Captain asked for in Mexico, and he said it's the most important. When researching the check-in procedures, I often read conflicting information .. some saying the Zarpe form is needed, and others saying it's not. I did read that if you don't have a Zarpe form, gas receipts from last port may work. But, take it from me .. you need this form! Just print it, fill it out, and get it stamped by Customs at the port you're sailing from. Note that the form is for commercial vessels, but this IS the form to use for recreational as well. We were in Key West, so Charlie went to Customs located in the airport while we explored Key West. We had given Charlie our passports, and luckily the Customs agent stamped the form without us being there. We didn't realize we were supposed to be present when getting the form stamped .. whew! 

Another thing to do before leaving .. make a lot of copies of your passport and boat documentation/registration! The check-in process requires at least 5 copies of each.

Once in Mexico, the three of us took the dinghy to visit the Port Captain in Isla Mujeres. The port captain is located just left of the Bahia Chac Chi Hotel, and the dinghy dock can be easily found by looking for the white 4-story Bahia building (photo above). The Bahia building is just North of the anchorage & across the street from the dinghy dock, so when you see the Bahia you'll also see a vacant building on the water that once was the Justicia Social restaurant. The dinghy dock is located here, and be sure to dock to the right, as the left is reserved for the port authority. Also, do NOT lock your dinghy, because the port authority will cut the lock off if they need to move your dinghy.

Once docked, just walk across the street to the Port Captain's office. This is where you need to have patience! The check-in process isn't difficult, but the guy behind the desk is in no hurry! When we first walked in, a lady sitting at a table instructed us to knock on the glass, which we did. After Charlie informed the man that we wanted to check-in, he looked at our copies & Zarpe form then told us to have a seat. We waited about 30 minutes, then were told that we needed to take a cab to the hospital to meet the doctor. Thirty minutes for that?! We needed some pesos, so we walked to the bank then grabbed some lunch before catching a cab.

We arrived at the hospital around 1:00 in the afternoon, and after trying to communicate (none of us speak Spanish) with a few folks, we were finally able to find a lady that understood why we were there. After waiting a few minutes, she came back to tell us that the doctor had waited an hour for us, and that he was now gone for the day. He only works until mid-day, and we would need to come back tomorrow. What?! If only the guy behind the glass at the Port Captain's office had communicated with us! He never told us the doctor was waiting for us, nor that the doctor only worked mornings. After another cab ride back into town, we went back to the Port Captain's office & told him that the doctor had left, and we didn't know he'd been waiting on us. He said nothing, except to come back again in the morning. We were pretty frustrated that nothing got accomplished, but we made the best of the day by having a few beers on the beach and exploring the island for the rest of the day.

The following morning we arrived back at the Port Captain's office, and again the woman at the table instructed us to knock on the glass. I wondered what that woman does, as all the times that we spent at this office she just sat at the table .. no company phone, no papers, no nothing. She just sat there at the table looking at her cell phone .. looked like a really boring job! Anyway, Charlie knocked on the glass & told the guy we were back. After waiting a few minutes, the guy told us that the doctor was coming to meet us .. that was a pleasant surprise. No cab rides!

After about a 20 minute wait, the "doctor" arrived. He looked like an average guy .. no white lab coat or stethoscope around his neck! In my research, the "doctor" was often referred to as the "sanitation guy". Anyway, the "doctor" asked each of us if we had a fever recently, were ill recently, etc. He then stuck a thermometer in each of our ears, then determined that we were healthy enough to check into the country. He stamped some forms, told us we needed to reimburse him 50 pesos (around $3) for his cab ride (fair enough), then instructed us to take everything down the street to the immigration office.

After a short walk, we were at the immigration office. Here, we provided our paperwork again & were told that we each had to pay an entrance fee of 600 pesos (about $33 USD) per person. There was also a fee for the boat, which was 545 pesos (about $30 USD). These fees had to be paid at a bank around the corner, then the receipt had to be brought back to the immigration office. So, we walked to yet another building & after about 20 minutes at the bank we had our receipts. After getting our approval from Immigration, we were told to walk back to the Port Captain's office to meet the Custom's agent. Back at the Port Captain's office, another knock on the glass, and more waiting. After about 15-20 minutes, the Custom's agent arrived .. a lady in navy fatigues & black combat boots. The agent asked Charlie where his boat was, and he told her it was in the nearby anchorage. She said that she needed to see it, so Ken & I stayed behind while Charlie & the agent headed to the dinghy dock. About 10 minutes later, they were back. That was quick! As it turned out, after the agent saw the dinghy, she told Charlie everything was "okay". She wasn't going for a dinghy ride!

Now for the last step .. the Port Captain! After another 20 minute wait, the Port Captain arrived and reviewed our paperwork. He was glad to find our Zarpe form, and said that while this has not always been required in the past, it is now. He went on to say that the Mexican Navy is now involved, and therefore it's mandatory. He also mentioned that we'll need a "fumigation certificate" in the near future. I had read about this, and we figured we'd take our chances and not get it. According to the Port Captain, the Navy will be making the fumigation certificate mandatory soon. Basically, an invoice from a pest control company at the port you left will suffice. If not, then you'll have to get it while going through all these other procedures .. and pay a fine of some sort. We were glad we didn't have to bother with all of that .. what a pain! We also had 5 copies of a crew list that we had written, but although it had been reviewed many times by the guy behind the glass .. the Port Captain said there is an official "Crew List" form that needs to be completed. Where do we get this? From the guy behind the glass! Okay, another knock on the glass .. hate to bother the guy from whatever he does behind there!

The Port Captain was friendly, as was the "doctor", the Customs agent, the folks at the Immigration office, and the lady sitting at the table at the Port Captain's office. The only guy that wasn't friendly was the guy behind the glass at the Port Captain's office. I don't care about being friendly as much as communicating. All those times we'd sit and wait .. we had no idea how long we'd be waiting or what to expect. All the times he saw our "crew list" and didn't provide the one required! Although it took two half-days, it really wasn't bad .. it was just not knowing that was frustrating.

With $75 saved on an "agent", we were now officially checked into Mexico. The yellow flag could come down! In retrospect, the check-in wasn't bad, and in fact it was kind of interesting to take part in the process.

One other thing that we didn't have to deal with, but Charlie did after we left .. obtaining a temporary permit. The permit is $60 USD, and it is obtained at the Customs office in Cancun. If you're going to be in Mexico for 2 weeks or more, you need this permit. If you prepare at least 60 days in advance, you're supposed to be able to get the permit online here. *Note that if in Spanish, just click the tab at right corner of page for English (Ingles). If you need to go to Cancun, the office is in Puerto Juarez. The ferry ride to Cancun is only about 20 minutes, which is pretty fun .. the water is gorgeous! The permit is good for 10 years, but while in Isla we heard folks on the VHF having problems with checking into Mexico because they had an expired permit .. something to look into.

Since Ken & I didn't check out of the country by boat, I'm not sure of the check-out process by boat. Ken & I kept our immigration receipts in case we needed them when flying out of Cancun to Louisiana, but we were never asked to show them. Everything seems to be a lot easier when flying!

So to break all of this down simply .. have at least 5 copies of all passports, boat registration/documentation, and crew list (can get at Port Captain's office). Obtain a Zarpe form from the port you're departing from. Once anchored, visit the Port Captain's office to meet with the sanitation guy (doctor), followed by the immigration office, a trip to the bank for payment of fees, another visit to immigration office to show receipts, then back to Port Captain's office to meet Customs agent & possibly have boat boarded. Once that is done, back to Port Captain's office to finally meet the Port Captain for review of all paperwork and approval. Within 2 weeks of arrival, be sure to obtain the Temporary Permit (TIP). The total fees at the time of our check-in were (in pesos) 545 for boat, 50 for sanitation, and 600 for each crew member. That equals about $66 US dollars (includes one crew member), plus another $60 USD if you need the permit.

Hope this helps .. now you're ready for a Mexican margarita!


Hasta luego .. until then. Mid-Life Cruising!
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