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Nautical Tourism to Mexico Dealt a Major Setback

Mexican customs authorities are cracking down on foreign privately owned vessels in their marinas to ensure proper documentation.  

By Stephen White

Mexico is a popular retirement and vacation destination for Americans and Canadians alike.  Retirees and vacationers take advantage of the lengthy Mexican coastlines and numerous marinas to enjoy their own private cruise, or in some cases, to live aboard their boats during retirement.  

However, before setting sail, American and Canadian boat owners may need to obtain the proper documentation. 

Before taking a privately owned vessel to Mexico, the boat owner usually must obtain a visitor’s Visa on the internet.  The visitor’s visa costs $23.00.  Save the receipt and present it to the Mexican immigration at the first port of call in exchange for a 180 day visitor’s Visa.

Even more important than the tourist visa is the Temporary Import Permit (TIP).  Without it, Mexican authorities can consider your boat to be imported foreign merchandise upon which the import duty has not been paid.  They may seize your boat and refuse to allow you to leave port.  The penalty could be up to 25% of the boat’s value or its auction.  The TIP fee is $70 and it typically arrives in 10 days. However, it is good for 10 years and it is required to confidently and legally sail Mexican Waters. The TIP must also be on file in the Mexican marina’s office.

Recently, the Mexican government has decided to more closely inspect American and Canadian boats found in Mexican marinas to ensure proper documentation.  In November, Mexican tax officials and armed marines descended upon 12 marinas along the Mexican coastline to inspect more than 1,600 foreign vessels located in Mexican marinas. 

After this unusual display of force and intimidation toward foreign boat owners, the Mexican Treasury Department announced that it had seized 338 boats that lacked the $70 permit.  The department also announced that it intends to take up to four months, as provided by law, to decide the fate of the seized vessels, while their owners bide their time in a Mexican marina. 

Of the 338 seizure orders, many of the boats actually did have the required permit.  However, their owners were not aboard at the time of the inspection and could not personally present their credentials.  Others had minor technical defects in their TIPs, such as a V.I.N. that was incorrect, painted over, or just couldn’t be found. Their boats were seized.

At a time when Mexico should be attempting to promote nautical tourism, such self-defeating actions by its own government have black listed Mexico as a nautical destination.  Drug trafficking is already a deterrent to a leisurely sail into Mexican waters, and now the government’s own actions are discouraging visitation and the revenue it can bring.  Retirees and others visiting Mexican ports, even with the correct documentation, cannot feel secure. 

Time will tell how this recent crackdown plays out. However, in the short term, these developments are discouraging to potential visitors, and could drive away the boat owners already in Mexico (and the dollars they would otherwise have spent). 

It would be good advice to make sure the marina office has all of your required documentation, and to post the TIP in a window or other prominent place on your boat where it can be readily seen in the event you are not aboard your boat when the inspectors and their heavily armed escorts arrive. The problem is – no matter what you do, your boat may be seized.

For more information, please contact Stephen White at WCS Law. 

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