Friday, May 26, 2017

Mexico Visa & TIP Process at Chetumal/Belize Border

I had not been looking forward to this but since we only have a month left on our visa and we are as close to a border as we are going to be for some time, we headed to Chetumal (Belize border post town) to try to 'renew' our visa and TIP (Temporary Import Permit for the car).  When we originally got our TIP back in December, we never got the sticker for the windshield but it hasn't been a problem for us except that it has been concerning me for the 'renewal' process.

We arrived at the border post and spoke to a man in a booth, explaining that we want to renew our visa and TIP and he told us to go into the building where Banjercito is (that is the bank that handles all the immigration and other such government money matters).

When we went to the 'immigration' window and explained again what we wanted, we were sent to the Banjercito window.  Another explanation and the lady there took our papers, kept our existing TIP and started making a phone call. They explained that they cannot renew our visa, we had to go to the Immigration window - the immigration window lady told us that they cannot renew it and waved vaguely outside (all of this was in very broken English and very broken Spanish - we just kept trying to communicate with each other as best as we could).

Outside, we realized that we needed to go back to the man in the booth at the roadside - his English was much better and I dropped my attempts to speak Spanish and told him quite clearly that we wanted to renew our visa (once we have a new visa, we can get a new TIP) but that I did not want to have to go into Belize first.  We were then invited to step out of the road and to come into his booth. He carefully explained that the process (the legal process) is that we have to leave the country (go into Belize in this case) for 72 hours and then when we come back into Mexico we can apply for a new Visa.  I asked him if there is no other way of doing this because we just want to spend more time visiting places in Mexico and we don't want to go to Belize - he almost blushed I think and then quietly and slowly told me that there are always choices.  My first choice is to leave the country and return after 72 hours but that I do have another choice, so I asked him what the other choice was.  He told me that I could get an exit stamp and then we could proceed with a new visa application but of course that would cost - I told him that I understand that there is a fee as nothing is for free, how much does it cost.  The cost of this alternative process costs 2,500 MXP each and asked me if I understood and if I wanted to follow this other process and so it would cost 5,000 MXP for the two of us.  I made it very clear that I did understand and wanted to do it this way - Gerald looked into his (carefully pre-arranged wallet) and said that he only has a little over 2,000 MXP.  It was very obvious that this was not an acceptable offer but the official told us that he understood our situation and did not want to hurt our wallet so he could get this done for us for only 4,000 MXP.  I asked Gerald where we could get more money and come back and he magically found this other 2,000 MXP.  I gave the official our visas and passports with the money below the paperwork and he rolled back the date on his date stamp, stamped our passports and made a call to his supervisor to bring new visa forms.  We were invited to take seats and wait while the visa forms were brought to us, we completed them and they were quickly finalized and returned to us.

Once we had the new visa forms, it was back inside the main building to the immigration counter where we spent a few minutes getting our passports stamped for re-entry and the last step of the visa finalization.  Once we had our new visas and stamped passports in our hands, it was off to the Banjercito window where the very helpful lady there worked through cancelling our previous TIP (and saying that the Piedras Negras people had made a mistake and given us the wrong part of the form so we just had to sign a declaration about having lost the sticker).  We were told that the deposit will be automatically returned to our credit card on Monday (first business day after today/Friday) and we were then charged for the new TIP and it's associated costs on our credit card.

Fortunately there were very few people there at this time - we had chosen to go to the 'new' border post which can be found just north of Laguna Negra between the actual town of Chetumal and the southern town of Chetumal that is around the actual border.  If you look for 'border crossing near Cheumal' on Google maps you will see both the new (northernmost) an the old (more south) border posts.  The whole process took us only a little over an hour.

Unfortunately I walked out of there feeling a bit like a villain but very relieved that this process is now over for the next 6 months - I also get a nice warm feeling and a smile every time I see that hologram sticker on our windshield because I knew that we were meant to have that all along.

For now, I am going to try to let go of the fact that we are going to have to do this again in November and try to enjoy an evening in Chetumal.  We drove back the way that we had come in because we just had to visit Bacalar while we are in the area, it is a beautiful little funky town with lagoons all around and we had a lovely little lunch in a very local restaurant several blocks away from the main tourist zone.

Arriving at our hotel in Chetumal was quite easy and we got checked in and drove round the block to the hotel parking behind the hotel -  The internet connection here is very, very frustrating as it keeps dropping and disconnecting every couple of minutes but we managed finally to make a booking for a couple of nights in Palenque for tomorrow night and Sunday night. Another item off the list and we are now confirmed for somewhere to sleep for a couple of nights.  It is really humid here and even with the air conditioner on I am feeling horribly sticky and concerned about sleeping tonight - I still remember the feeling of the sheets sticking to me and waking up every time I turned over during the nights and the sheets moved with me.. think that was back in Zihuatanejo several weeks ago.  For now, we might as well go out and explore town and be damp outside in the warm air as be damp in the cool air conditioned room - lets go and explore and get some supper. :)

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