We THOUGHT we were prepared…

While planning our trip, we went to the consulate office in Santa Ana, California, to get the information needed to legally travel and live in Mexico. We needed to make sure that we had proper paperwork, including visas, permits, etc. This was easy enough for Nat, since she’s already a Mexican citizen. Different for me though, since I have never lived anywhere except for California.

I made my way to the consulate and let them know our plan. They gave me a list of paperwork I needed to come back with in order to start the visa process. This included things like a birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport, and more. I went home to put all these together and come back another time.

A few days later, we headed back to the consulate office to get things rolling. Our representative looked through the papers quickly, then let us know that we could visit a local immigration office in La Paz instead, if we choose to. She said we can get visa paperwork in motion there and also begin the process of importing our car. This sounded perfect! We were going crazy, running around, packing, selling our things, contacting our banks, and planning our trip. Not needing to take care of immigration paperwork right away definitely relieved us a little. We decided to take everything with us and take care of it in La Paz with better focus.

On January 20th, 2017, we crossed the border and made a 3-day drive down to La Paz, Baja California Sur. It took us a few days before we made our way over to an immigration office there, otherwise known as an INM office.

(Side note: Laws in Baja (the peninsula of Mexico) are different than mainland Mexico so this kinda saved my butt!)

At the INM office, we let the representative know that we just drove down from San Diego and that we wanted to import our car and apply for my citizenship. He replied by saying “Great, let’s start with seeing your passport and your FMM form.” I had my passport handy but no FMM form… What’s an FMM form?? An FMM form is an immigration form that they provide you when you come into Mexico from a foreign country. You can get a hold of this form by A. taking a flight in, B. walking across the border, or C. visiting a INM office in the Frontera Zone (the Frontera Zone is the area in Mexico that hugs the US border). Currently, Mexico does not have a system in place to provide you this form if you drive in, and unless you KNOW to stop at the INM office on your way in, you don’t get this form. The lady at the consulate in Santa Ana DID NOT TELL US THIS LITTLE DETAIL!

When they asked me for my FMM form, I didn’t have one to show. I was immediately notified that I was an illegal alien in Mexico! Ironically, I border hopped in the opposite direction! Luckily, in Baja, it’s not such a big deal, but if I was in mainland Mexico without this form, I could be detained. Unfortunately, there is no way to get this form except in the Frontera Zone. The representative also let us know that you can only import the car at the Frontera zone!!! (Thanks for nothing, Santa Ana Consulate Lady).

I mean seriously! Come on! We went to the consulate twice and we were advised that we could do everything in La Paz. We drove 3 days, 1000 miles, and we were basically being told that we have to go back just to get 2 pieces of paper! You can imagine the frustration we were feeling, but as we walked out of the INM office we thought “Oh well, it’s Mexico!”.

It was time to figure out two things; can I get this form any other way and can we import the car without driving back to the border?

After contacting a couple of importation and insurance agents, we found out that unless we drive the car back to the border and get paperwork there, there is no way to import the car. We can drive our car in Mexico with our US plates for up to 6 months at a time with a permit from the Mexican Government. So long as the car exits to a foreign country and comes back, the permit can get reset for another 6 months. Great but, the 6 months starts and ends with the date on the FMM form that I DO NOT HAVE! So not only am I an illegal alien, but the Natmobile is also in Mexico illegally!

We didn’t want to drive back 1000 miles, and then another 1000 miles to go back to La Paz. Unwilling to accept this, we decided not to import the car. In regards to getting the FMM form, I decided to fly instead. I called Volaris Airlines and asked if I need to have this FMM form to fly back. They let me know that I would definitely need it for international flights to avoid problems, but for national flights, I only need a form of ID. So I bought a ticket from La Paz to Tijuana ($67 round trip). The Tijuana airport has a border express crossing bridge that allows you to get off your flight, pick up your baggage, and walk right into the US, all within 15 minutes (cost to use this bridge is $16).

A few days later, I said bye to Nat, I got on a plane in La Paz, flew 2 hours to Tijuana, used the bridge to cross into the US, then walked back into Mexico so that I can get this FMM form and sleep early with peace of mind, wake up the next day to fly back to my wife and dogs. And fish (yes Spidey the Beta is still alive and loving Mexico).

Well, I made it back to La Paz, safe and sound, FMM form in hand ready to start my process into becoming a Mexican Citizen! As for the car, we got a 6 month permit from Banjercito in La Paz ($400 deposit that will be returned when you take the car over international borders, and a $59 fee), and auto insurance as a tourist vehicle (approx $350 for 1 year, which is actually cheaper then getting insurance for a Mexican car), so we’re ok for now. Somewhere along our Wandering Road, we will have to drive the car across the border (maybe in Texas?) to restart the permit for another 6 months.

This is all a learning process and we are happy this happened without any serious complications. It’s going to take some time getting used to the Mexican ways, which are so different than what we know back home.

Thanks for reading this! We hope we were able to share some good info so if you decide to drive into Mexico on day, you will be better prepared and not have to go through any of this! Stay tuned as The Wandering Road continues…

-Sam

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