In rereading the last several posts, I don’t want to engage in rose-colored glasses history. There were several times things went wrong along the way, and could have derailed the whole process. Here are a few of those, to even out the story.
My employer, the US Government, required me to report all my dealings with foreigners. It never occurred to me this might include buying a foreign property. I had already put the money down on the house before asking for permission. So I submitted the request, said a prayer, and it came back approved. Similarly, I changed property managers and failed to notice my new manager was Canadian (who asks such questions, right?), so I had to go back and make another official report on that, too.
About two and a half years out, I wondered why my dear wife Judy wasn’t starting to sort things out so we could sell our townhouse and move to an apartment. Finally, I sat down and asked her about it point blank; she indicated she knew it had to get done, but it was emotionally too hard to start, so she kept putting it off. It was difficult to sort through a life’s collection of stuff, and preparing to move is never easy. That set us back about six months, and we ended up dealing with simultaneous rent and mortgage payments for several months, so we could get our house sold and get exactly the apartment we wanted.
About a year out, as I surveyed what we wanted to bring/ship to Mexico, I got the bright idea to do a trial run to Lake Chapala and take a load down in my Toyota FJ truck. I thought it would be a good practice trip, and give us an extra load of carrying capacity for the overall move. Now if you’re driving your car more than about 25 miles over the Mexican border, the Mexican government requires you to get a visa for your automobile. It costs about $400 US dollars, and you are reimbursed this cost when you drive back into the US. In effect, the payment is a bond to ensure you don’t take your car to Mexico and sell it there. [It all goes back to NAFTA. Americans will recall the “giant sucking sound” people in the US were afraid of: that US jobs would go to Mexico (many did!). Mexico was worried that entrepreneurial Americans would start driving their cars across the border and swamp the Mexican auto sales market, so they put this restriction in place.] You can get this visa, known as TIP for Temporary Importation Permit, when you cross the border, or you can apply online. Trying to save time, I dutifully went to the online site and applied for my visa in advance, and I received it in the mail a few weeks later. It all went so smoothly, I should have sensed trouble!
You see my employer, the US Government, decided it was too dangerous for any federal employees to drive across the border, so they disapproved my trip. I was irritated, but it was only a practice run and single carload, so who cares? But what do I do about my auto visa? I looked online, and the websites were unclear about what to do. It was still two months before I was supposed to travel, so I figured I would send the visa back to the office which issued it and ask for a refund. They responded a month later with a very nice, very long letter full of the most untranslatable Spanish bureaucratese. After much Google translate review, I determined that they insisted I had to prove my car was not already in Mexico. You see, in their minds, I could have already driven the car to Mexico and sold it! I could prove I did not do so by presenting my car at the border for them to inspect, or by sending them a notarized, apostilled letter from my local police department.
Meanwhile, my dear wife had found an online form to request a TIP cancellation, so I tried sending it along with a copy of my current car registration; I figured, well, it’s a government document, it shows my car is in the US, and I had it both notarized and apostilled. Most people know what a notary does, but may be unfamiliar with apostille. It serves as a second check of authenticity, and is recognized outside of a given country. In my case, the Commonwealth government in Richmond had to apostille my notarized documents. By the way, explaining to a notary what this was all about was entertaining to say the least. I guess the Commonwealth office was used to it by now, because I just mailed them the material and they returned it to me.
About another month went by, and I received a second long letter full of references to Mexican Federal law and explaining why my attempt to send them my registration was insufficient. I was NOT driving to the border and crossing it just to turn around and drive back: that would have cost more than the 400 dollars I was trying to recoup. But the second letter had a surprise in it: they also mentioned that if I did not resolve this matter to their satisfaction, they would place my car’s Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, on their list to prohibit me from ever bringing it into Mexico. AGHH! My car was now in danger of being placed on the Mexican automobile equivalent of the TSA No Fly list! I wonder if the list is called “No-Va”?
Anyway, being as how this was the SUV I planned to use for our one-load move to Mexico, things had gotten very serious, very fast. I contacted the Arlington County Police’s public outreach office and scheduled an appointment. A very polite Sergeant agreed to meet with me, and I told her my sad tale of woe. As I recounted the various letters, notaries, apostilles and Google translations, I could almost hear Arlo Guthrie describing the “27, 8×10, color glossy photos full of circles and arrows with a paragraph on the back of each one” from the classic tune “Alice’s Restaurant.” Luckily, there was no Officer Obee in sight, and the Sergeant dashed off and signed a letter testifying that on that date, my car was safely in the good ole US of A. After the customary notarization and apostille, I fired another volley off to Mexico City.
Several months past, and I received a large envelope from the Distrito Federal, or DF, which was the name of the Mexican Capital region much as the District of Columbia is for the US (they just changed the name to La Ciudad de Mexico, or CDMX). In it was another bureaucratic masterpiece, which took two pages to say “OK.” Attached was a quite stunning, multi-color Cancelation document which dwarfed the original TIP. Included in the letter was a warning that whenever I tried to enter Mexico with my FJ in the future, I would have to show this document to prove my car was not ‘on the list.’
I never found any reference to a rebate, and friends have since told me there is a separate process to get the money back: I will probably just consider it a donation to the bureaucratic gods. How will the story end? Will my car be confiscated and sent to Guantanamo? Will I transfer my carload to donkey and set out across the Sierra Madre? I will let you know in my next post.