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Moving stuff to Mexico

Melville King

All foreigners to Mexico who apply for and receive an FM3 permanent residence document are carefully instructed by the Mexican officials that the newly documented resident has the one-time right to import his used household furnishings to Mexico without the necessity of paying import duties. This is the story of one such resident who decided to exercise that right.

Yes, of course, But no, no, no, and in no way. However...

Jerezano, an FM3-documented gringo from McAllen, Texas, decided to import to Jeréz his used household furnishings of one bedroom suite, a large armchair with ottoman, a used 15 cubic foot refrigerator, a stereo set, and miscellaneous hand tools consisting of several different hand saws, two planes, an electric jigsaw, and an assortment of carpenter levels and cement working tools, as well as a garden hose and cart. He made this decision because his son (with whom he had maintained a McAllen, Texas, residence for the past two years) was moving the family to San Antonio.

The first thing necessary was to find some way of bringing the furnishings into Mexico. Normal household movers, even at the cost of an arm and a leg, were not interested in such a small shipment. Neither could Ryder or U-Hall provide rental vans, trucks nor trailers as they would not permit entry of their vehicles into Mexico. Too, after trying for almost a month, neither Jerezano nor his son could find anyone in McAllen or the Rio Grande Valley who was interested in moving the stuff to Mexico. Finally Jerezano found in Jerez, Zacatecas a public-hire 3-ton covered truck with a driver who had a visa to enter the United States. It would cost 4,500 pesos for the round trip plus another 200 pesos to cover half the cost of renewal for an expired Mexican passport. Not bad, only $470 dollars. Was the stuff worth it? Sure. Replacement value was over 2,000 dollars. So, deal made.

Next, Jerezano went off to McAllen early so he could arrange for people to load the furniture and visit the Mexican consulate to get the necessary papers. At the consulate he was greeted warmly---even though they had closed for the day at 2:00 PM and it was now 2:30 - - - and was given a list of requirements. Surprise number one: A 130 US dollar fee for the permit. Surprise number two: a demand for proof of residence in the United States for the last two years. Requirement number three: an inventory, listing at its head all electrical equipment with manufacturer and serial number, and with estimated values for all detailed items.

Jerezano returned the next morning at 8:00 AM with all required items only to be met by a long line of people in front of one clerk (although there were four windows of which three were not manned and lots of other staff were standing around talking, smoking, having coffee and in general getting ready to go to work, but not yet). Was this the right line? Nobody would answer that question. If you were not in line they wouldn’t even talk to you).

The line went fast. It seems that most of the people were applying for visas to Nicaragua to work on the flood damage there and they had to stand in line to get an application that somebody could have handed out on the floor or put out in a pile.

Fifteen minutes later Jerezano reached the clerk who had a sour look on his face when he heard what was wanted. He picked up the FM3 and noted that it was into its second year of use (the first renewal or “prorogation” as the Mexican authorities call it). He asked one of the other clerks if Jerezano could ship his furniture. He received NO as an answer and threw the FM3 back down saying , “No, you can’t ship your furnishings. You need to take them to the frontier and pay duty. Next!.” “But, but, but....Why?,” Jerezano stammered. “You must use the importation without tax privilege within the first six months of your move to Mexico. NEXT”.

Next step, arrange for the bodies to be at the house at 3:00 PM for the arrival of the truck from Jerez, load the furniture and leave. Came 3:00 bodies there, all arranged, waiting, came 4:00, came 5:00, came 6:00, came 6:30 and a call from the frontier. “Here we are, come meet us and show us the way.” Loaded and ready to leave by 8:15, but Jerezano being a bit leery about whether the 24 hour custom service at the Mexican frontier was really open 24 hours, suggested staying overnight in McAllen and leaving the next morning. “No, we checked with customs. They will be open.”

Do you really want to read this? Jerezano drove across the frontier, swung into one of the custom stalls, pointed at the truck following him and said, “I have a load of used personal household furnishings I want to import into Mexico.” The customs official took a horrified look at the truck, grabbed a flashlight, ran over to the gate, flagged the truck down and told him he couldn’t enter there at Reynosa.

The truck had to go back to Pharr, TX and cross over on the new Pharr-Reynosa International Trucking Bridge. This involved backing up the wrong-way for an eighth of a mile against three lanes of incoming traffic. So while the truck was doing this amidst a sea of flashing stop lights and curses and horns, Jerezano swung on over to the bridge entering the United States, went through US customs explained what was happening and asked for help. The official who had evidently been through this before said “Oh, you mean that red truck over there with all the excitement!” Yeah, except the truck was yellow but appeared red with all those red lights. He then instructed Jerezano to run down a special lane, conduct the truck up that lane and park it in stall 5. Done and 4 agents descended on the truck to start the inspection.

As luck would have it the Chief of S`ection walked over to see what all the excitement was about. On hearing the story he said, “Let him go. It wouldn’t be fair to charge him duty on this.” First good news in a long day and night.

Half an hour later at Pharr, Jerezano and the truck pulled into the toll booth and crossed over the bridge into Mexico to be faced with three choices: A lane for people with nothing to declare, a lane for people with something to declare and a lane for trucks. Well indoctrinated by this time that there was a truck in the procession, lane three was chosen and the two vehicles proceeded past an abandoned inspection post and were well on their way to Mexico when a guard with a pistol and a flashlight came running up. “What the hell are you doing?” Post closed. Not open until 8:00 AM next morning. But he also advised that the next morning the truck be parked at the end of the bridge until all papers could be arranged. Thus, back again to the good old USA where sympathetic customs officials listened to the woeful tale and passed the truck without inspection.

Second good news in a long day and night.

Muy mucho activity at the customs next morning. A caravan of 15 self-contained’s and trailers was passing through to Mexico. Customs officials haggard, busy, already short-tempered, were not ready for anything unusual. Jerezano tried to enter the office for payment of duties on small importations but was shunted off to immigration, waited in line there for the official to look at his FM3, was informed that everything was OK and back to customs. There the customs official took one look at the inventory, saw the value of $5,500 PESOS, said it was too large to handle at the small imports office and sent the driver and Jerezano off to the commercial import-export brokers compound. There seven different exporters-importers were interviewed all of whom said they could do nothing without a stamp from the Mexican consulate’s office on the inventory.

On the way back to the truck a friendly traffic cop told us something was wrong. He advised one more try with the customs office. Jerezano followed his advice. This time the caravan had passed, the officer was more relaxed, read the inventory again, noted that the value was pesos not dollars and apologised for sending Jerezano off to the commercial exporters-importers, and told the truck driver to go get the truck and drive it up for inspection. Done, only to be met again with a horrified look and “Hey, you can’t come through here. You have to go through the truck lane or I will pay a fine of $100 dollars.” So back to square one, or was it twenty? It was then explained that the shipment was small enough to qualify for the small importations rule but the truck, since it was a truck and not a pick up or a van, would have to go through the truck lane, “For which it needed special papers.” Was this progress? Yes....

So off to the small non-commercial exporters-importers where the local manager was a delightful older gentleman who said yes, yes, yes until everyone was happy, settled, and content. He then called in his chief of staff, told her what he wanted and her first words were, “In no way! There’s no way he can import a mattress into Mexico unless it’s plastic.”

Patiently the boss led his administrative assistant through a series of questions and ten minutes later he got her to admit it could be done. But she was not yet ready to retreat. “What about these medications? He can’t bring those in.” Half an hour later she was convinced that yes, that could be done too. An hour later she had the papers prepared, the agent placed a rider on the truck, it went through customs, Jerezano paid 116 dollars in tax, another 10.50 in fees for the paperwork and at almost precisely noon and three ulcers, cleared customs for Mexico. Jerezano noted that in all this he had saved $3.50 over the cost of the permit from the consulate. The third good news in a long 1 1/2 days and 1 night.

Why didn’t the consulate explain to Jerezano on that first visit that he was ineligible to ship his household goods duty free to Mexico? Why did it take four hours to clear customs? Things like this are normal in Mexico. Why didn’t Jerezano and his driver wait overnight in Mc Allen and try to cross over into Mexico at a small frontier crossing such as Nuevo Progresso some 30 miles away, or even at Roma, some 65 miles away? Sheer stupidity.

Why was the broker so patient with his administrative assistant? It turned out to be his daughter. And why was Jerezano so upset by all this? He forgot to tell you that in getting his money changed on the first run into Mexico he was short changed 100 dollars by the clerk in the casa de cambio at Hidalgo, Texas. Total cost of the foray including the short change, the bodies for loading and unloading, unexpected hotels, etc. was 995 dollars and a broken high-fi set.

Was it worth it?

Financially, probably not. However, I do consider the cost as tuition fee for my first course from the "Life University of Mexico."

Published or Updated on: March 1, 2001 by Melville King © 2001
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