Welcome to our mid-life crisis! These are the chronicles of Laura and Patrick, their young son Jack, and their goofball Labrador Retriever named Evinrude (Rudy), as they travelled the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico in their catamaran. We went cruising in search of a change of pace, a closer knit family, and peace of mind. We found all three and more. The fun all started in October, 2008 and nearly four years later the Mexican adventure came to an end August 3rd, 2012. With our mid-life crisis cured in Mexico, we are excited to start a new adventure - life back in America.

Patrick has since joined the Sales Team of Marine Servicenter as a boat broker. Whether you are looking to make your dream of sailing away come true, or ready to sell your boat he can help. He can be reached at http://marinesc.com/about/crew/patrick-harrigan

Candeleros Chico

Candeleros Chico
Just another beautiful day at anchor on the Baja. 2010

Dolphins at play in the bow wake 2011

Dolphins at play in the bow wake  2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Busted! Illegal Immigrants in Mexico - Learn from our Mistake

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!


  1. when you are in the neighborhood.


    From Pago,


  2. Laura, first let me say how happy I am for you! Next, let me say that we HAVE tried to surrender our Tourist Visas when leaving the country and they have looked at us like we were crazy. They honestly didn't know what to do with our little pieces of paper. I think they ended up in the trash. But you are right... never, never, NEVER show Immigration an expired Tourist Visa... NEVER! And we HAVE been fined in the past for having an expired Tourist Visa on our person even though we had legal Tourist Visas, too. It wasn't much, though. You are the luckiest unlucky people I know! ;)

  3. Do you really think it's a good idea to announce via a public blog that a specific Immigration Official cut you guys a break?

  4. I don't think it was bad idea to tell the truth about what happened to us since the Immigration officer is the person who decides what penalties we would have to pay. It is completely in her jurisdiction, and she does not have to make us pay fines - just like the police officer who pulls you over for speeding but lets you off with a warning. We got lucky.

  5. And to Hotspur:
    Hi Meri!
    As everything in Mexico, it depends on who you ask but we were told that you are supposed to turn your FM3's into an immigration office (not the border) when they are expiring and then you will be given 30 days to leave the country. Whether it actually works that way for everyone - who knows!

  6. This is a fortunate discovery.

    I've been planning on retiring to baja on my trimaran (been down there several times over the 30 years and love it) and I was wondering about the current situation as it's been a quite some time since my last trip and even that was just passing through on the way to the SoPac.

    FM3s seem like the thing to get, however your post wasn't completely clear to me.
    Does one have to leave Mexico to renew a FM3?
    That's a key point.

    Busing back to the U.S. and leaving the boat alone (singlehander) is something I would be uncomfortable in doing. Far better if an FM3 could be renewed locally. LaPaz seems the best location as every sailor swings thru LaPaz from time to time.

  7. Hello,

    You do not have to leave Mexico if you get an FM3.

    An FM3 is applied for in any large Mexican city at the immigration office. You need to submit the application at least one day before your 180 day visa runs out. We hired an agent to help us fill out the forms since it required far better Spanish skills than either of us have! So we had a fee for the agent, then the fees that are paid to the Mex gov which all came to about $700-900 USD for all three of us.

    The FM3 gives you one year's residence. Before it expires, you return to the SAME office within a month of expiration and renew it. If you don't get to the same office, the process starts over from the beginning. The renewal is easier/cheaper. I am not sure about this, but I think if you do this correctly for five years, you are eligible to apply for Mexican citizenship which is called an FM2 (I think, but you would have to research that for sure.)

    La Paz is a central gathering place and lots of cruisers base themselves there (or become land dwellers!)

    Hope that answers your questions.
    Laura, SV Just a Minute

  8. Thank you for the reply concerning FM3s.

    By the way, I would be interested in your thoughts on your Lagoon38 in so far as compared to other multihulls you've seen up close.
    Is your boat too this, too that, just right? Ahh heck, let's include lead mines too. How things compared to them.

    Also, any anchorages down there where you've been especially happy to have shallow draft?