Just along for the ride..
Joined: Nov 2003
Location: Petersburg, Virginia
Part Four: Special Notes by Country
BY COUNTRY, SPECIAL NOTES:
Mexico: (US$1=about 10 pesos) Mexican is a particularly unique country. You need to get it right up front or it gets expensive later.
Mexico is one of the few countries that do not rigidly control their borders, at the physical location of the border. (Along the US border is the 20 miles economic zone where you do not even need to do any administrative paperwork at all to visit.) But once you are about 20 miles into the country, you will hit the checkpoints. If you havenít properly done Immigration and Customs before being stopped there, then you get hammered.
I will offer this advice, even though it may not be completely legal. You can decide if you wish to follow it. Legally, you must export yourself and your vehicle when departing Mexico. However, if you are enroute to Panama, and plan on returning to the USA thru Mexico, you can avoid having to pay the visa and vehicle import fee twice, using this technique. We failed to do this and it doubled our fees for crossing Mexico. Pilot showed us this technique, and had no problems.
When you enter Mexico, you must specify how long you will be in Mexico. You visa will be annotated with this number of days. So will your vehicle import paper work. You do not tell them you are transiting in a week and then coming back, or they may give you a 7-day visa to transit. A 7-day visa costs the same as a 180-day visa.
You want your visa issued for a period to cover both your entry into Mexico, your eventual return from Central America, and exit from Mexico back into the USA. This means you should tell the officer that you are entering Mexico for six months of vacation and touring. Your vehicle importation paperwork should be for the same six month period. Then, when you depart Mexico and head south, you simply DO NOT stop at the border and out process. Carefully store all your Mexican documentation in a safe place. Several weeks later, when you return from your trip, you simply ride thru the border into Mexico and keep going. When you are stopped and have your documents checked, do not mention that you have been out of the country. If you are still within the valid dates on your visa and vehicle import paperwork, you should not have an issue unless they see the stamps in your passport that youíve been outside the country. Then you might have some explaining to doÖ. Only you can decide if this technique is worth the several hours of border work and approximately $60 it will save you in fees. I know what Iím going to do the next time I go back. I will always tell them I am vacationing for the 180 days.
The other unique issue is that your tourist fee must be paid at a Mexico Bank, sometime during your stay, and prior to departing. These banks ARE NOT at the border, so make sure you find one, pay the fee and get the appropriate stamped documents before you head to the border to depart Mexico for the last time.
Now for your vehicle importation. Remember the Vehicle registration validity period is tied to the visa period. You will have to pay the vehicle importation fee to a special Banjercito that will probably be several miles from the actual border (remember that free trade zone?). On departure, you MUST remember to find the Banjercito office at the ADUANA that will out process you. They will take back your vehicle importation sticker (the one you placed on your fairing), annotate in the computer that you have exported your vehicle, and give you a receipt that shows you have exported your vehicle from Mexico. Put this documentation somewhere on the bike for the next time you visit Mexico. If for some reason their computers tell them you failed to do the proper paperwork on your last visit, you can pull it out and prove to them you did.
The important thing to remember is that Mexico will NOT stop you from exiting at any border. There is no mandatory checkpoint to depart the country. So if you do not take the time and effort to stop and do these procedures, you will be fined eventually, and refused entry to Mexico the next time you try to go there. It is all your responsibility to do the required documentation on entry and exit.
Guatemala: (US$1=about 7 Quetzal ) Avoid the main crossing points. We liked La Mesilla to and from Mexico. Fees total about $15 to enter Guatemala.
El Salvador: (US$1) The US dollar is official currency of El Salvador as of 2001. Just like Panama, we used US dollars the entire time we were there. All prices are in US dollars. El Salvador has a special visa which is valid for 48 hours, if you are in transit. The transit visa is FREE if you stay less than 48 hours in the country. If you stay longer you have to pay a fee. Ask for it if you are just zipping through. El Salvador is quite efficient, and the roads are great.
Honduras: (US$1=about 17 Lempira ) Honduras takes all the prizes for imaginative bureaucratic complexity. You get fumigated, have to pay a customs fee ($32 in local currency) this fee is payable at a special bank office (if it is open) which requires you to go to that additional office and you must pay another fee to the Ministry of Transport ($10 in either $ or local currency) at yet another site. The special bank branch does not do foreign exchange but they require local currency to pay the fee. Thus either you got currency in advance or you buy it from the money changers. That is right. No nearby bank in the border zone. And then the copies!! Read below about copies.
Nicaragua: (US$1=about 14 Cordoba ) Ensure you get the liability insurance document valid for long enough to cover your return, but do not mention that fact to the border officials. 30 Days costs US$12. The insurance sales people are usually young women with clipboards, who are standing alongside the road a few hundred meters past the border. If you miss them, there will most likely be a police checkpoint 2 miles down the road where they will stop you and demand to see the insurance document. If you didnít get it before, they will sell one to you on the spot.
Costa Rica: (US$1=about 377 Colon ) US dollars acceptable at some upscale places, ATMS give choice of dollars or Colons, but Iíd suggest getting colons because you get a better rate) Of note, CR has a very good relationship with Panama. Because of this, when you depart CR, they have an option to hold your vehicle importation paperwork at the Aduana. Then, when you return from Panama you simply pick it back up. This saves a lot of time and effort at the border. If you are going to continue on to South America, you will still have to export your vehicle from CR. CR also has liability insurance you buy at the border.
Panama: (US$1= 1 Balboa) Their currency is linked to the US dollar and US paper money is used, but there are some Panamanian coins) Panama has a tourist office separate from customs and immigration but nearby where you need to purchase a tourist card for $5. Also there is a small municipal tax. Panama crossings are a breeze.