Tuesday, March 26, 2013

crossing the border

My land lady is a creative soul.

Three years ago, she created an Easter treat out of my laundry (my easter basket).  Last Easter, she outfitted one of Jiggs's old toys as an Easter resurrection rabbit (bunny faith) -- complete with a lolli-pope she had bought to commemorate the last pope's visit to Guanajuato.  I could not imagine it getting any better.

But it did.  When I returned to the duplex this Palm Sunday, I discovered the same rabbit.  This time he was carrying a less whimsical icon.  But an appropriate one.  One of those crosses woven from palm fronds that the local women sell in front of the church during each of the Easter days of obligation.  (If that term is still au courant in Roman circles.)

When I headed to Manzanillo yesterday morning to renew my visa, I was not certain if I was joining the bunny in sharing that cross.  If you have been following any of the Mexican message boards this year, you are aware that Mexico has revamped its entire visa program.

I have been in Mexico for four years now on what was once called an FM3.  It was designed for people who intended to spend a good deal of time in the country, but were not intending to integrate into the community.

The biggest attraction of the FM3 was the right to import one vehicle into Mexico without paying the duty.  Some expatriates took full advantage of that option by driving around in foreign-plated vehicles with registrations that had long ago expired.  Knowing that the Customs agents were fully aware that as long as the expatriate's visa was good, so was the tax-free status.

The new system offered me two options.  I could renew my FM3 by leaving the country and applying for a new visa at a Mexican Consulate in The States.  Or I could apply for a permanent resident visa. 

For me, the big attraction of permanent residency was to avoid the annual visa renewal process.  But there was a psychological factor, as well.  Permanent residency just sounds more -- well, permanent.  That I actually belong here.

One of the costs, of course, is that I can no longer have a tax-free vehicle here in Mexico.  That means that I either need to pay the duty on my 12-year old vehicle -- or buy a new one.  I have chosen option number 2.  More on that later in the month.

With all of those questions laid out, I drove to the Immigration office in Manzanillo.  The good news is that everything went better than I expected -- as is often the case here in Mexico.

I arrived just before 9AM and was whisked to the desk for people without appointments.  I have heard people complain about the young man who assisted me.  "He's not nice." 

Those people are simply wrong.  His manner is professional.  And he knew his stuff.  And that is far more important than the vacant smile some people confuse with good service.

He reviewed my bank statements for the last six months and my investment statutes to ensure I met the income requirements.  He then added a copy of the picture page from my passport to the pile. 

That is all he wanted.  No utility bills or other proof of residency.  He simply verified that I still lived at the same address on my last FM3 renewal. 
And I was done with the first step.
I was then off to the bank to pay my $1000 (Mx) application fee and my $3815 (Mx) permanent resident visa fee.  (About $388 (US) if you are interested.)  When I came back with the receipt, he told me the office would notify me in three to four weeks that my card was ready.  All of that in less than an hour.

He then offered me a choice.  I could wait for 20 minutes for his supervisor to fingerprint me -- or I could set a appointment to come back in a week.  Since I was there, I decided to wait.

The wait was closer to an hour, but I was soon fingerprinted and on my way.  With a bit of confusion.  The supervisor said I could expect to hear from the office in one to three months.

And, there is my current dilemma.  I was hoping my brother could stay until I needed to drive the Escape north.  But he cannot stay three months.

Here is what we are considering.  I will drive up to Guadalajara to buy a new vehicle.  My brother ad I will then drive the Escape north -- relying on a transit letter (How Casablanca is that?) I can purchase while my visa application is pending.

Now, I know there is a lot of information floating around about permanent residency and tax-free vehicles.  I usually do not mind gambling a bit.  Even when it means putting all my chips on red.

But I need a new vehicle, and getting it done as soon as possible seems to be the best of all possible worlds.  Now and then Voltaire is correct.

So, this Easter may really be a resurrection for me.  As a permanent resident of Mexico -- with a shiny new SUV.

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