Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Great Move South: Part 1

What is it about telling someone that you're moving to Mexico IN A CAR that prompts them to gasp in horror? I'm here to tell you that we did it and WE'RE STILL ALIVE! I knew my biggest headache was going to be getting across the border into Mexico with the correct paperwork for two dogs, one vehicle, and 3 humans. If you think the US has a lot of red tape, try doing anything with the Mexican government!

We selected a 2001 GMC Safari passenger van as our moving vehicle. Everything we held dear to us had to either fit inside, on the roof, or strapped onto the back.
The girls are lucky I left room for them!
Saying goodbye to Grandma Joni
We didn't end up leaving behind our beloved home and getting on the road until late afternoon on Wednesday January 8th. Everyone was trying to help me clean and pack up the house and I was simply overwhelmed. In the end, I just started throwing stuff in boxes and putting them in the garage to deal with in June when we fly back for our planned summer visit. Erika was extremely upset about leaving Grandma and cried the majority of the day and wouldn't leave her side in the days leading up to the move. The van was completely loaded to the brim, I had a rooftop carrier with 8 boxes in it and two huge duffel bags full of shoes and clothes strapped on top, and the girls bikes lashed onto the bike carrier in the rear. The tires looked like they were about to burst under all the weight. In my sheer desperation, I unloaded the Big Daddy fryer and my roasting oven <sob>. And then we were off....

The first day was Bend, Oregon to Modesto, California where my cousin June lives. We made it, albeit pretty late at night and fell right asleep. Jose had his consular appointment Thursday morning and I couldn't get back on the road until he finished up and called me. This appointment would decide our future for the next 10 years; eligible to apply for a waiver or not. We stayed at June's for almost 4 hours waiting for the phone call and it only gave us more questions than answers. The agent marked down that he was eligible to apply for the waiver but that he also had an additional charge of human trafficking for bringing his infant son across the border with him, normally a lifetime ban unless it involves an immediate family member for the sake of family unity!? My head was spinning but we had to get back on the road.

The second day drive was from Modesto to La Mesa, CA which lies just minutes from San Diego and the international border. We had a great evening chatting with my cousin Barney and family that I haven't seen in some time. At the same time we are relaxing, Jose was flying from Juarez to Mexico City to see his family for the first time in more than 10 years and I'M MISSING THIS REUNION. My scrapbooking soul was just screaming over the lost photo opportunity.

The third day is when the adventure truly began! The girls and I woke up bright and early to make the biggest leap of faith in our life. Jose's flight was set to arrive at 9:30am and I had wanted to surprise him at the airport. And I would have made it too but I had to pull over on the side of the highway and search for the dog's certificates of health and I lost a good half hour before I found them in the glovebox, right where I put them for safekeeping! I passed over the border into Mexico and pulled into the lane for autodeclarar (voluntarily declaring my goods) and parked the van. I walked into the building and located the aduana (customs) office and advised the female at the desk that I needed to declare all of my belongings and pay some import taxes so that she could give me a written receipt. From previous experience, I learned the hard way that can't ship anything from Tijuana without a customs receipt with a list of the items you want to ship and customs taxes paid. The girl walked out, had me open all the doors on the van, unload the bikes to look in the back and opened up a few of the large plastic totes. She cleared me and charged me 600MXP/$46USD and gave me a receipt that would allow me to ship all of my household goods and electronics. The only thing you are barred from shipping is used clothing. As long as you have a receipt for it, you can ship new clothes and shoes, etc but you have to pay a 16% IVA importation tax on the amount you paid. After that, I walked farther back in the building and presented my passport and temporary visa. She stamped it and gave me the temporary visa that I have to present within 30 days at my local immigration office in order to get my permanent visa. I did most of the work at my local Mexican consulate in Portland, Oregon but that will be a completely different post.

Jose called me while I was taking care of the paperwork so the surprise was gone. I told him that I was clearing immigration and to stay put. You have to circle back and drive through the regular customs checkpoint where a traffic light will either flash red or green. Every fiber in your body begs for a green light and your sphincter muscles begin to spasm when it flashes red.  And I got a red light... I pulled over to the inspection stall while the agents approached my passenger window and signaled for me to open the doors. I advised them that I had already declared, been inspected, and showed them a copy of my receipt and they waved me on! I even managed to find the airport in Tijuana and I only took out one sidewalk with the running boards on the van. The van was so tall that I was afraid to venture into the parking garage so I just parked on the ramp leading up to the second level. I couldn't describe to Jose how to find me because I was turned around myself. Thanks to cell phones, he finally found me.
Our next hurdle was finding a paqueteria (shipping service) and trying to unload a bunch of stuff out of the van. It was riding so low that the tires were rubbing the fender wells with every bump and that could only equal disaster on Mexican roads. It took us quite a bit of bumbling around and taking the wrong road before we found Castores. They set a pallet on the ground and we started unloading all of the totes and misc boxes. Then they wrapped everything on the pallet in plastic wrap and charged us 1900MXP/$146USD to deliver it to their office about 30 minutes from our house. It will probably even beat us there since we have a couple rest days built into our schedule.

Then we had to link up with the guys who were assisting us in legalizing the van so it can stay in Mexico permanently. If you enter on a tourist visa, you can pay a deposit and drive your American vehicle as long as your visa is valid. Once it expires, you have to take the vehicle back to the US border and turn in your permit in order to get your deposit back. It also means that a Mexican national can not drive the vehicle unless they are your spouse. We had already emailed down copies of the title and VIN number and identity and proof of Mexican address. Now you can do all of this on your own but we were trying to use a service in order to save time. The guy gave us directions that led me straight into 4 lanes of traffic headed BACK to the US border and I wasn't about to attempt that with my husband in the car so I just put it in reverse and backed up about 3 city blocks out to the streets. There are street laws in Mexico but they are a little more flexible. We met the guy, we drove to two different places, and our van was legalized within an hour. Then it was food, gas, and get on the road.

The Great Move South: Part 2


  1. Congrats! You are now getting seasoned and are no longer a tenderfoot!

  2. Agh for the RED LIGHT ! That sucks, but you guys made,it through and that was pretty cheap!

  3. omg loved reading this!!!! can't wait to read the rest. I'm never going to get any work done today



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