Friday, October 17, 2008

pardon my permit

I love the internet. But my love is often unrequited.

There is no better source to answer a question that to google and sort. But, we all know the danger. For one moment of true love, there are 99 lies and a cornucopia of infidelities. It is like seeking truth from a politician.

My issue today is cars in Mexico. I know that it is possible to bring a car into Mexico in conjunction with a tourist card (FMT) -- as long as the proper formalities are followed. I also know when I leave Mexico, my automobile must leave with me, and the permit for the automobile expires when the FMT expires. (For the moment, we will leave the possibility of converting to an FM3 visa out of the hypothetical because the answer is too easy. Coming and going with an FM3 is easy -- or, as easy as coming and going can be in Mexico.)

So, here is the question. If I drive my truck to Mexico in early May and enter with a 180-day FMT, can I fly out of Mexico (say, for an emergency in Oregon) and leave my truck there -- as long as I return while my FMT is still valid?

It would seem to be a very simple question. But I have received varying answers from what should be reliable sources. And I know there is a possibility that all of the answers are correct. That a random official may disallow my departure without proof that the truck is out of the country. That my return on a new FMT when I return to Melaque will set off paperwork problems when I try to cross the border in late October.

Can any of you direct me to a definitive site?


Calypso said...

You have my total blessing and permission to sneak off sans coche. Not having flown in or out of here for many years (over twenty actually)I can't say for exact (when can you where the Mexican laws are concerned), but I think you can pull it off without a hitch as you describe it. I know I am no help here because I can't give an absolute answer - but then who can - as I always say - Just Do It! And by all means let us know if you get away with it.

How's that for a helping hand?

Anonymous said...

Your FMT is not valid when you leave the country - you leave it at the border and get a new one when you return. Your truck is a separate issue - leave your truck in a safe place and you can drive when you return. Making it legal is still another issue. By far the simplest option is sell it there and but one here.

Tom and Debi said...


I brought my car to Mexico on my FM3. I have left the country to return to the USofA several times, and returned with no problems whatsoever.


Croft Randle said...

I thought I had it figured out until I read your Blog! We are Canadians and will be in Mexico for the winter on 180 day FMT's. Our son will be in Cuba for a couple of weeks in the middle of Winter and we are planing to fly over from Mexico to join them. I assumed we could simply fly to Cuba and then re-enter Mexico using the same FMT's. Now I am wondering...

I will watch to see if you solve this problem.

Steve Cotton said...

John -- I suspect you are correct that the only way I will find out is to try it -- and then, all I will know is whether it worked or didn't work that time.

Anonymous -- Thanks for the reminder. An FMT is not a visa; it is merely a tourist card. That is why they are collected at airline checkin or on crossing the border. And that is one of my concerns. In my hypothetical, when I return, my FMT information would no longer match up with the truck information.

Debi -- I think you have the solution. I should just go ahead and get my FM3 and avoid all of the tourist-oriented problems with the FMT.

Jonna said...

ahh grasshopper, this is but one in many steps you will take towards the zen of living in Mexico. The true answer is that anything is possible but you must find the path to it.

There is no definitive answer, there are many answers and you must find the one you like.

On a more practical note, here is what we have done. Go to the aduana at the airport and explain that you must make an emergency trip to the US. Of course it is an emergency, otherwise you would not be doing it. Show your round trip ticket. They will give you a solution of their choosing. In our case, in Cancun, it has been to put the original FMT in your pocket and they give you a new one, as if you had lost yours. They then advised that we use that to turn in to the airlines in order to leave. When we returned we should get another new FMT and throw that one away once we were back in Mexico, continuing to use our original that had the car attached.

Of course, that follows no rules or regulations but it was the easiest for the aduana guy to do, more paperwork was involved to do it correctly. There is a correct way, he just didn't want to bother with it.

Your aduanero may come up with another solution. The key thing is to remain calm and smiling and leave yourself sufficient time before the flight. Or, you can simply use this same scenario but devise it yourself. Go to the aduana at the airport and confess that you have lost your FMT. Get new one and continue as above. You could even do this days in advance to speed your departure. Say nothing about leaving, just that you lost your visa. Oh, and pay a small fine no doubt ;)

The key is not to get hung up on finding the one correct solution, or in even understanding how the solution proposed works or the rationale behind it or, god forbid, asking for the actual rules and regulations that allow it.

There is always a solution somewhere if you remain calm and go with the flow. May the force be with you.

Steve Cotton said...

croft randle -- See Jonna's comment. I suspect she is absolutely correct. My lawyer gene and your order gene are seeking a solution that probably does not exist.

Jonna -- Thanks for reminding me that it is the journey, not the detination, that I seek. Or some such. It is times like this that I pull out my favorite Lincoln quotation: "People who like this sort of thing are going to find it is the sort of thing they like."

Babs said...

Hi Steve - This subject has been discussed, ad nauseum on the San Miguel "Civil list". The discussion has been resolved by Ed Clancy, the Consul General here.
When you leave and turn in your FMT, your car sticker at that moment expires and is therefore no longer "legally" in Mexico. IF you have an FM-3, your car is legal for as long as your FM-3 is legal and when you renew it, your car is automatically renewed.
With all of the above said, even if you're stopped returning to the states with a new FMT, after your flight in and out, there is no way the Federallis could determine that your car is no longer valid. (They do not have a scanner or anything like that). So, when you go out of Mexico, and turn in your sticker, IF they were to question it, you just say you lost your FMT and had to get a new one. They might fine you but chances are very, very slim about that.......BE sure when turning in the sticker that you get a receipt! Muy importante. Because if by some chance they have a computer glitch and charge you for not having taken the car out, you have documentation. That DID happen to a friend. THAnkfully she had a receipt..... Why not get an FM-3 and avoid all this hassle?

Croft Randle said...

I am wondering if Jonna's solution would leave a FMT with my name attached in their system that was never turned in? It may make for problems in the future... Why is such a simple thing so complicated? Oh yes, I remember, it is Mexico!

Steve Cotton said...

Babs -- Your assessment is similar to Joanna's. And right on the money. There is a possibility that I may not be able to get my FM3 in order before I leave. But I will try.

Croft Randle -- I chose to move to Mexico for an adventure, and I am getting it in spades -- and hearts -- and clubs -- and diamonds. I hope you enjoy the trip down.

Anonymous said...

The rule is if you lose your FMT you have to pay for a replacement : It once was $45.00 or so. You worry too much - just do it. More conflicting advice will not help. It is quite easy, especially if you have had experience doing really messy things.

Steve Cotton said...

Anonymous -- My professional life is little more than dealing with messy things. I will just need to hone my negotiation skills and realize that in my new home the rules are fluid.

Jonna said...

That's it, the rules are always fluid.

I like Babs solution with one caveat. If the airline personnel are on the ball they could notice that the visa you turned in to leave had a car attached. For that reason, I would go to the airport early enough so if that happened I still had time to find the aduana and a solution. I believe you hand in the visa when you check in although I could be wrong. At any rate, I wouldn't wait until the last second as I was boarding the plane to see if they noticed.

Visas are always collected when you fly out. When you drive out it is much more haphazard. Sometimes they stop all cars and ask for them, sometimes you just drive on out of the country without seeing anyone. So, I don't really think that they could easily catch that someone had not turned in a visa. If they did, the answer is simply that no one asked for it. Never forget you have a built in 'gringo pass' in that if you do something stupid it is because you are a gringo and thus perhaps a little slow.

Calypso said...

In Brownsville/Matamoras crossing we have never been asked to turn in our FMT forms - we always check the truck out - this happens at a different and unrelated station in the same area of the border control.

before 911 we could get into Mexico to theoretically go no further south than about 60 miles with no pass whatsoever. We used to drive all over Mexico crossing over the border with no permits - oh for the good ol' days ;-)

glorv1 said...

I definitely did not know what it entails to do certain things when going to Mexico. I sure did learn and wow!! I can't believe all that is involved. I will stay home, thank you. Good luck Steve.

Steve Cotton said...

Jonna -- Thanks for the clarification. Another detail to watch.

John -- I know what you mean. My libertarian spirit longs for the days when I was stationed at Laredo for flight training. Zipping across the border was as easy as driving to San Antonio -- easier.

Gloria -- Flying in and out of Mexico is a breeze. The system works far better than trying to get back into the States. The trouble arises with vehicles -- when you want to leave Mexico temporarily, but your vehicle is not taking the trip with you.

Michael Dickson said...

Get rid of all your possessions save what fits in a couple of suitcases. Fly into Mexico and catch a bus somewhere. Walk around with your phrase book and find a place to rent.

Move in. Enroll in a language school.

Take it from there.

This question about your car is just one example of the picayune but perpetual annoyances a Gringo car will present you in Mexico. Leave the car in Oregon.

Leave most everything in Oregon. Start fresh and light with a smile on your pink, cherubic face and a lilt in your stroll.

aighmeigh said...

I am absolutely no help here. All I have to say is oy vey! why can't this stuff just be a bit more straightforward!?! Red tape and bureaucracy tend to give me nasty indigestion ;)

Steve Cotton said...

Michael -- I have been considering a version of that option, as well. I will not need a car all the time in Mexico. I could fly down and rent a car when I need one.

Aighmeigh -- We all live with the vagaries of bureaucracy. I will simply need to learn to swim new seas.

Anonymous said...

In 2004 I was traveling in a motorhome in Mexico and a new grandchild arrived on the planet. We left the motorhome near Mexico City, went to the airport, got on the plane, stayed two weeks, returned to Mexico City and never even thought about any of this.

I tend to agree with the reader suggesting that you sell your car in Oregon and buy a new one in Mexico. Insurance is not expensive, the small compact cars are inexpensive and get great gas mileage, and the annual license renewal is no big deal either. I love my ATOS!!!! 38mpg!!!!

Steve Cotton said...

Kathe -- On my first trip down, I may do a version of the advice you and Michael have offered. When I need a car, I will rent one.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Michael. The whole car thing sounds like an INCREDIBLE nuisance. I might drive my U.S.-registered car down a few times, but if I were going to live there? Sell the darned thing!

Why not rent a car in Oregon if you have to return there? Keeping a car insured full time in Mexico is a LOT cheaper than keeping a car insured full time in Oregon. Just look at Michael's recent post on costs. His total costs including homeowners insurance, property taxes, insurance on two cars, etc., is less than it costs me here to annually insure ONE motorcycle, never mind the rest of my fleet.

And if you are going to actually live in Mexico (as opposed to wintering or spending extended visits), the car rental in Oregon then makes much more sense.

Fond regards,

Kim G
Boston, MA
Where insurance costs rival mortgage payments

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- Yours is a good suggestion. I will hold on to the Escape for this first trip down. I will stay through November, come back to Oregon to take care of some business, and head back down -- permanentlt, I hope in early 2010. By then, I should not need any further connections up north.

Ric Hoffman said...

If you leave your car here while you depart, it is subject to be confiscated, if found. If you do a work-a-round with the FMT, I would guess it could also be confiscated on a whim. Apply for a FM3 prior to your departure, ask for an exit letter for your emergency, leave the car guilt free. Pickup your new FM3 when you return.

ken kushnir said...

What is the big deal about getting an FM3? My wife and I are on our 3rd new one, (each one is good for 5 years) other than going to the immigration twice, once to fill out the new paperwork, and then 2nd to pickup the completed FM3 it takes about 2 hours. We drive back and forth, several time a year, sometimes leaving the car at our home in Mexico, with never an issue. Doing the tourist cards is a bigger pain unless you only come to casually visit otherwise if you return each year, go for an FM3.

Steve Cotton said...

Ric and Ken -- I will probably come down on an FMT and get my FM3 while I am there. I will have to visit the Manzanillo office in any event, even if I get the FM3 in Portland. All of this may be moot, though. I will only bring the truck down if the dog is still alive, and he has started slipping again. I will have plenty of time to think about it.