Saturday, June 1, 2013
Border Crossings and Customs
Crossing the border is intimidating - both sides of the border, be it U.S. or Mexico or that military checkpoint. Even though nothing bad has happened to me, it's still stressful to have someone go through your stuff when you're sent over to secondary, or you get that red light in the "Nothing to Declare" lane. Especially that because we're always coming into Mexico with way more stuff than we're allowed. However, even when we've had the red light and our vehicles have been searched, nothing's come of it, not even the time I was with a friend who had a brand new tent, paddle board, between us 3 cases of wine, etc. etc. On that trip into Mexico we got two red lights, a rudimentary search both times and sent on our way.
Not this time. This time as Pam and I approached the first checkpoint, just after crossing the border and going through the first toll booth, we did our little "green light green light" mantra. Didn't work. Red light. We pulled over and a nice young woman with braces didn't even want to go through the truck; she just asked how much those tires were worth, that chain saw, all the other stuff we had. So we followed her into the office where Pam made up some figures and I handed over my $200 receipt from Target. She estimated the value of the stuff in the truck as $1,100 U.S. At 16% tax we owed about 2,200 pesos or $200. She sent us over to the bank to pay the tax where the crabby bank teller said she couldn't take a credit card. Was there an ATM? Of course not. We didn't have enough cash between us to pay the tax so we had to go back to the U.S. to the ATM at Bank of America in Nogales. At least the crabby bank teller said they'd take U.S. dollars.
Back through the toll booth where we forked over another 47 pesos, then a half hour wait to cross the border into the States. Pam was worried about this, about crossing into the States with a truck full of stuff but I figured if she just showed the customs agent the tax form we'd be okay. No problem there. I directed her to BofA, she got cash, we crossed the border into Mexico, back through that toll booth, and stopped at the customs office to pay the tax. Pam had a near nervous breakdown when she went into the bank and they told her it was too late in the day to pay in dollars. WTF?! But the nice new teller calmed her down and said she could pay in dollars in the office.
By the time we finished there, stopped at kilometer 21 in order for me to get my visa, it was 4:15. Way later than we like because that meant we'd be making that drive from Hermosillo to Kino in the dark. Always a scary thing to do.
As I type this, four days later, it dawns on me that we could've just driven into Nogales, Sonora, and hit a Banco Santander there - not even messed with that toll booth and the U.S. border. For a couple of smart women we were not thinking very clearly. Idiotas!
So, here's what we learned:
1) Pam will definitely cut down on the big items she brings in, making sure people know up front that she will be declaring those items and they will have to pay the import tax. Of course, people were very understanding and forked over their share of the tax. The chainsaw owner did grouse a bit, saying tools are exempt.
2) In my research on what you can bring into Mexico duty free, tools are not exempt. Nowhere does it say that. Here's what it says: If crossing by land you are allowed whatever can fit in your suitcase and $75 worth of goods above that (per person). If it's Easter week or summer (which starts in July) you are allowed $300 per person. That's it. There are no exemptions. Now I guess if you have a tool box of used tools, they'd let that fly but a brand new chainsaw in a box? No way. Who needs a chainsaw here anyway? There aren't any trees.
3) We got off easy. If you do what we did - get in the nothing to declare lane with items that should be declared - they can double the tax. Depending on the value of the items you're trying to sneak in, they can also make you pay the actual cost of those items on top of the 33% tax. And if you're really bad, they will confiscate all that stuff and your vehicle. (Supposedly your vehicle will also be confiscated if you have an accident and you don't have insurance and a visa, which is why I made the trip north in the first place, to get that visa.)
The new state government is making an effort to collect all taxes owed - like that beach front property tax the people here are having to pay. I think more and more people crossing into Mexico will be given the red light. I think if you have more than $75 worth of personal items - clothes and groceries - they're not going to do much about that but big ticket items - tires, appliances - you'll get nailed.
There was a strange incident on that shuttle ride. As we got close to the border the shuttle driver and a motorcycle guy who was stopped on the side of the road exchanged honks and waves. The shuttle pulled into the Pemex station, at a pump behind the building, and the motorcycle guy pulled up next to us. The driver got out of the van. He and the motorcycle guy walked away for a brief exchange, then the driver got back in the van and we drove away without getting gas. Given that recent story about Mrs. Maldonado, it kinda makes you wonder....