It's true. America is up in arms about the illegal Mexicans flooding our lands, but there is a very large group of illegal American (and Canadian) immigrants in Mexico, and we were some of them! And we just got caught.
It's a hot topic for the cruisers infiltrating Mexico. Every person entering Mexico receives a visa for 180 days, but then you have to leave the country and come back in again to get another 180 day visa. Some visitors here opt to get an FM3 instead which takes more paperwork, time and money but it grants the bearer 1 year in Mexico before needing to be renewed. Sometimes, people let their 180 day visas lapse before they leave the country for a trip home.
For the last three years, we have been very careful to stay legal, and even paid about $700 USD for our FM3's in La Cruz since we knew we would not be going home for a long time. Our FM3's were timed to run out in February 2011 which was perfect when we were planning to be leaving for Hawaii around then. And then our plans changed. We never went back to La Cruz so we couldn't renew and we did not want to pay hundreds of dollars to go through the process again, in another town.
We knew Jack was going to be left high and dry before we were all able to get home again in August this year. I went home in December and got a 180 day visa which took me to June17th 2011. Patrick went to the States in November 2010 and May 2011, so he was good until November 2011, but Jack was completely illegal since his FM3 ran out in February 2011. We were not happy that Jack was illegal, but we figured our odds were good for not getting caught, and we knew Jack was going home in the summer on our car trip.
And then we went to Puerto Escondido on the Baja Peninsula. It's a lovely port with a large group of nice, year-round, cruising people. You would think there wouldn't be a problem, but things are a little stirred up in Escondido right now. I don't know the ins and outs of the problem, but the gist is that the management of the marina is up in arms about a situation with one cruiser and it has blown up to involve Mexican government officials. The back lash of that was that a panga full of Mexican immigration officers, marina officials, and other Mexican government employees took a tour of the anchorage and stopped at just three boats asking for immigration paperwork. And we were one of those lucky boats. It's absolutely unheard of to have immigration officials roaming anchorages in pangas, so we were truly in the wrong place at the wrong time. And we were caught, dead to rights.
Patrick was not on board, so I was left to deal with them. I handed them our passports and the 180 day visas that we had. They were mad that mine was running out in five days and that Jack didn't have one. Then they asked about our past paperwork and I told them we had expired FM3's. They asked for those and got even angrier. Evidently FM3's do not "just expire" like driver's licenses or US passports. They are supposed to be surrendered and cancelled. And if you do not comply with that, there are big fines. Evidently it is a serious offense. The main person talking, looked at me and said, "You have an appointment with me tomorrow at 10 a.m. at my office. There will be many fines to pay." I was sick.
So the next morning, we all three got scrubbed up, shiny and clean in our best clothing (that's not saying much, but we looked fairly respectable!). We got to our appointment early and promptly at 10 a.m. we were ushered back to meet with the official. And then we had the typical Mexican experience. The offical was warm, friendly and gracious. She explained our mistake about not cancelling and surrendering the FM3's and asked us about our travels and whether we liked Mexico. Then she said she wasn't going to fine us for not taking care of our FM3's. And then she asked us when we were planning to leave Mexico. We said we were planning to go home at the beginning of August and she cheerfully told us she would give extensions to Jack and me so we would be legal until then. And she wasn't going to charge us for those either!
Patrick and I basically sat there with out mouths open, just nodding and saying "Gracias". We were very lucky. You may not be as lucky. Learn from our mistake. If you do have an FM3 just be aware that you have to surrender it and have it cancelled when you are done using it. They do not simply expire. And try to stay legal. Go home on time!
3 hours ago