Tramites: Mexican Paperwork—-ouch!

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Melville King

Episode 1. How weakness and overconfidence can lead to bad decisions.

Spring fever got to Jerezano in early May of 2001. In that weakened condition the new car bug stung and stung hard. Jerezano mused to himself, “It’s time I got a new car.” Zang went the stinger: “My old one is being beaten to death on these Mexican roads, the shocks are gone, the electrical alarm doesn’t work any more, the paint is beginning to peel and the car is already 18,000 miles over its planned death. And then Jerezano made a big mistake. He mentioned all this to his Mexican friend Wili at lunch to hear the quick cry: “I’ll buy it.

“But I can’t sell it. I’ve got to take it back to the United States.”

“Doesn’t matter. Every chocolate down here was brought in by somebody who had to take it back to the United States and then left it here. You can do the same.” ¿Chocolates? Yes, the Mexicans love their illegal, smuggled cars so much they call them “chocolates.”

“But even if I do, Wili, you can’t legalize it. There’s no way you can Mexicanize it.”

“No, but you can. If you do it, I’ll buy it.”

And being the adventurous, bold, cunning, devious and utterly stupid person that he is, Jerezano accepted the challenge. At the Chocolate factory he read the bulletin board to find that since his car was not a Rolls Royce, a Lamborghini, a Jeep, a Cadillac (listed in that order) nor any other luxury car, he had a GO. Ah! Models 1992 and older another GO. So off to the counter where he saw his friend Roque and got a list of requirements:

  • 1. Are you a resident? Prove with rental receipts, telephone bills, or water bills.
  • 2. Prove birth and nationality: Birth certificate preferred, passport OK.
  • 3. Prove legal permission to reside in Mexico: FM3 OK, FM2 OK but FM1 (Tourist) not OK..
  • 4. Original of the car’s title.
  • 5. Original of the temporary import document.
  • 6. Prove that the entry was at least two years in the past. (The entry document had the date).
  • 7. Three copies of all the above.

An hour later Jerezano returned, handed in his documentation and was told to wait. And he waited, and he waited. An hour and a half later he was given back all his originals and told to go see the cashier. There he met a bill for $4,500 pesos which he didn’t have but was told sweetly: “It’s OK. You can go to the bank and I’ll hold everything right here for you.” Jerezano didn’t want to pay $495.73 US dollars just to legalize the darn car, but Wili would pay it in the end. So, a half hour later Jerezano was handed a sheaf of documents, told to keep them handy and bring them back in 8 days. (For newbe’s in Mexico, 8 days is a Mexican week, counting today, which is a day we gringos don’t count)

A week later Jerezano, complete with unneeded papers, was told his application had been approved and to return the last week in August for his plates and documentation. Three whole months! Yep, this is Mexico.

Now that he was committed, Jerezano had to figure some way of getting his temporary import documentation cleared away. Legalizing the car should clear away the temporary import document, shouldn’t it? Well, that is anywhere but Mexico.

Let’s see… He could get the car mexicanized, but not change the plates—-nobody bothers with changing the plates—-run it North, stop in at the aduana (Customs office) and ask for his free clearance. If anybody noticed the legalization sticker he could say he had legalized the car but then decided to replace it and was on his way North to sell it and buy a replacement. Would this be a lie? Yes? No?

Episode 2. Trámites pile up and become more confusing.

The final week of August, Jerezano checked in at 8:00 AM. His plates were in. He was taken outside by Roque, walked a block away, shown a line of cars and told to hurry and put his car in line. “There are only five of them, so it won’t be long.” Jerezano hurried and got there in time to be number 8 in line. Then the wait began. People going in and out with files, checking cars and carrying off license plates with proud grins. Everybody moving except Jerezano. Finally, after an hour or so Roque showed Jerezano the number 23 which he put on Jerezano’s file, and said, “Pretty soon now.”

How number 8 turned into number 23 was not explained, but such mysteries are pure Mexico. Jerezano looked over at the girl who was handing out the plates, checking the list of Tenencias (the yearly tax paid on Mexican cars) and putting final touches on the files before giving them to the girl on the computer to type up the documentation. She was working on number 12. Pretty soon, didn’t look so pretty nor so soon. Another hour and a half passed and she was getting close, closer, yes she had the file. Yes she was checking Tenencias. But what happened? She quit, put the file down and picked up 24.

Finally after finishing number 26, she called Roque and said something. He came over to Jerezano and said they had to go check the car, as they couldn’t find a station wagon in the Tenencias list. A check of the car and its documentation showed nothing new. Back at the office the girl said that she would have to wait for the Jefe (the boss) to come back to work so he could set the tax. That would be in “un momentito—perhaps another hour or so.” So Jerezano went home and checked Tenencias on the Internet to find that in Guadalajara they were charging $724 pesos for a four door, 1992 Cavalier. No station wagons listed. But that was her problem, she needed to know how many doors the car had. Why didn’t she ask that?

Back to tell the young lady now working on file 35 that the car was a four door model. She looked it up, said OK and that the Jefe had set a price of $770 pesos for the Tenencias. Not to argue over 46 pesos, Jerezano said, “Bueno”, got out of the way of the crowd, and waited some more. At 2:00 PM the normal closing time, Jerezano got up and asked if they wanted him to come back the next morning only to be told: “No, don’t go away, we will have it for you in ” un momentito. We are working overtime.” In Mexico? Unbelievable!

That momentito became another half hour while the lady at the computer was talking, reading, and generally killing time, so Jerezano walked over and asked if the computer was down.

“Yes, the intraoffice net is busy and I can’t get on the line; but as soon I can I’ll print your document.” At 3:00 PM she finally got on line, printed out Jerezano’s document in five seconds and sent him off to the Cashier. There he was presented with a bill for $1,260 pesos: $770 pesos for Tenencias, $440 pesos for state license plates, and $50 pesos for some unspecified mandatory contribution to the University of Zacatecas. Another $145.00 US dollars which Wili would pay in the end.

Jerezano was then told to drive his car up to the front door, park it in the no parking zone. There he was met by Roque’s replacement (Roque had gone to lunch) who slapped the Legalization decalcomania on the windshield, then the Tenencias decalcomania below that, and handed Jerezano his plates and documentation with a cheery ” Que te vaya bien.”

Episode 3. Simple things get really complicated, Jerezano stumbles into a morass. A real problem is created.

Jerezano finds this episode hard to write: Partly because he is writing about his own stupidity; partly because he encountered deliberate ill will from a Mexican bank official.

This is a rare event.

At about 3:00 PM on the 3rd of September Jerezano hit the aduana office in Reynosa. He went to the aduanero on duty and told him that he needed a document showing he was taking his car back to the United States. The aduanero without really listening said get copies of all your documents and come back. Two copies of the passport, the FM3, the page of the FM3 showing the latest próroga (extension), the title of the car, the driver’s license. No, they didn’t want to copy the original temporary importation permit. No, they didn’t want to copy the Mexican insurance papers.

The aduanero looked at all the papers, he did not look at the car, listened this time when Jerezano said all he wanted was a Comprobante (Certificate) that the car was being taken out of Mexico and then sent Jerezano off to the line in front of the bank tellers. “But that line is for getting permits to bring a car into Mexico.”

—It’s the same line.

Fifth in line before the only working teller, Jerezano finally got into third place when the friendly aduanero moved him over to a different teller just returning from a long lunch. There he told the teller that Jerezano needed a Comprobante to prove return of his car to the USA. Jerezano told the teller the same thing just for back-up and handed the guy his original temporary import permit from way back in 1996. The teller said: “Where’s the decalcomania?”

—“You don’t need it,” said the aduanero.

—“Yes I do,” said the bank clerk.

—“Well, if you do, you can go get it,” said the aduanero. And Jerezano snickered before he could stop himself, then tried to cover it with a cough, but it was too late. No one with any brains ever laughs at a minor, macho, Mexican official. The damage had been done!

The bank clerk did not go and collect the decalcomania from the car but with a sour look on his face asked Jerezano for his passport, compared that passport line by line with the first Xerox copy, then with the second copy. Same with the FM3, the car’s title, the driver’s license. After 45 minutes of this, all in slow motion, he finally entered some data into his computer, asked Jerezano for a credit card, presented a charge for $240.60 pesos for signature, all at the same slow pace. A charge for a free document? But a chastened and by now very antsy Jerezano signed and said nothing. Then the clerk entered more data into the computer and out came a beautiful, green and yellow document with a big silver seal in the center.

He presented it to Jerezano for signature on the front. Jerezano scanned his name, the car’s identifying serial number, the car’s description, all of which were correct. So he signed, then he signed the two copies. Next were two more signatures on the back, both on the original and each of the two copies. The teller stamped something on the front, turned the document over, signed and dated the back, stamped the office seal on it, and slid it out to Jerezano still face down. Now acting as if the long ordeal was finally over he quickly picked up the original temporary import permit, wadded it into a ball, threw it in the wastebasket and said, “OK, it’s done.” It was now almost 5:00 PM.

A happy trip to Jerezano’s apartment in Harlingen; hurried shopping where his Mexican companion got lost in three different department stores; a pleasant and restful night. What worry-free bliss to have ended the long ordeal. On the 4th, he removed the Texas plates from the car, installed the Zacatecas plates, scraped the controversial import decalcomania from the windshield and threw it away. By some happy guidance from his guardian angel he retained the Texas plates.

Returning to Mexico, at the aduana and migración checkpoint (kilometer 30) out of Reynosa the car was just waved through without inspection of anything, not even Jerezano’s FM3.

While recovering from the hurried trip, nagging doubts began to assail Jerezano. After all, everybody who had ever gotten a Comprobante told him it was free. He checked the Internet. All and sundry told him the Comprobante was free. He finally looked at the damn thing. Just as he was beginning to fear it was a brand new, beautiful, green, yellow and silver permit to bring the car into Mexico. The silver seal in the center was the windshield decalcomania. The stamp on the margin in front was in half inch letters and said, “IMPORTADOR”. It was now Saturday the 8th of September.

Sunday, Jerezano left in a re-plated Texas car for Reynosa where he overnighted at a luxury hotel since he needed to rest for any potential battle or long delays at the bank. Reporting directly to the bank at 9:00 AM Monday the 10th, he told the teller he needed a Comprobante for the car he was taking out of Mexico, gave the teller the hateful thing of beauty, waited 5 minutes and was presented with the needed Certificate. Free of charge. Again, nobody looked at the car from less than 30 feet, although he was asked to position the car in front of the teller’s window. Jerezano stopped at a remote location in Reynosa, replaced the Zacatecas plates and returned gratefully to Jerez that same day, again passing through the Reynosa check point without a documentation check of any kind.

Cost of the “free” Comprobante: $261.37 US dollars for tolls, gasoline, hotel charges to cover the special trip (meals not included since Jerezano would have had to eat anyway).

Lessons learned:

  • One, never trust any Mexican official.
  • Two, never be overconfident.
  • Three, never, ever laugh at a macho Mexican official of any type.
  • Four, never be careless in Mexico.
  • Five, reinforcement of the old “never sign anything without reading it” fundamental early lesson of life.

Episode 4: Closing in on a happy ending to an eventful six month period of leisurely retirement in beloved Mexico.

October 27th was a beautiful Indian Summer day. Sunny, cool with an autumnal tang in the air. Crossing into Mexico in his new car on the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios, Texas, Jerezano found no long lines of cars. He was the third person in line at the Banjercito car import permit office. There a very friendly, very pretty, very efficient lady teller looked at his passport, his FM3, his latest próroga, his Texas driver’s license, his application for Texas title, refused to look at his Mexican insurance papers, asked for one copy of everything, and handed Jerezano his beautiful green, yellow and silver Permit in five minutes. Then she told Jerezano where on his windshield to put the decalcomania, wished him a good day and thanked him for coming to Mexico. She did not ask about previous cars imported into Mexico, and Jerezano didn’t volunteer.

What more could one ask for?

Episode 5: Happy ending finally here.

On the 29th of October Wili gave Jerezano the bad news: he was not yet done with Mexican Trámites. To divest himself of responsibility for the Cavalier, Jerezano had to go the municipal vehicle office again and ask for a ” Baja de Responsabilidad” which would then allow Jerezano to sell the car, abandon it on the street, give it away, or crash it into a canyon. So the 30th Jerezano was back in familiar office surroundings asking for the “Baja”.

—Sorry, the computer is not functioning. Come back tomorrow.

—What documents do I need to bring?

—None whatsoever. Just bring the license plates off the car.

Plates in hand, Jerezano presented himself at 9:30 the next morning. Computer still not functioning. Returned at 10:30. Not functioning. Returned at 11:30, not functioning. Returned at 12:30. YES. The computer was functioning and Jerezano handed his plates to his old friend Roque, told him he needed a “Baja” and Roque immediately asked: “Where’s the Tarjeta de Circulación?” Jerezano stammered that the young lady behind Roque had told him no documents were necessary, Roque reached over and picked up a Tarjeta de Circulación which showed itself to be proof of payment of the licensing fees and Tenencias taxes, said not to worry, that they could issue a “Constancia” or statement that the fees had been paid, but that the Constancia would cost an additional 30 pesos.

“Done”, a relieved Jerezano cried, and the plates and a note were entered into the bottom of the pile at the computer operator’s desk. An hour and ten minutes later, the necessary documents spewed out of the computer, were taken over to the cashier’s desk and put on the bottom of a pile of license applications that she was working on. Jerezano resigned himself to another hour. But guardian Roque came over, looked through the pile, pulled out Jerezano’s documents, reached in front of the cashier, picked up a stamp and stamped the document in four places. He put the stamp back, picked up another, turned the document over and stamped the back in four places. He then initialed the document at the eight stamped places, tore off one quarter of the document at its perforations, asked Jerezano for 68 pesos, waited for the cashier to finish her present transaction, gave her the money and the other three-quarter page document and when she had rung up the money he gave Jerezano the quarter page and wished Jerezano a pleasant day.

The next day Wili came by, signed the transfer papers, deposited one half the sale price of the Cavalier, and promised to pay the rest in 15 days.

Happy days are here again. Jerezano is again a relaxed, happy gringo living the good life in Mexico.

Any plans for future adventures? No, no, and NO.

© 2001 Jerezano

Published or Updated on: November 23, 2007 by Melville King © 2008
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