The Big Search

Since the beginning of 2013, the rules for gringos in Mexico have been changing pretty thick and fast.  Even our local gringo lawyer can’t keep up with them.  When I moved down here in 2008, there were basically four kinds of visas for expats:  tourist (FMM); FM3 (kinda permanent resident); FM2 (pretty much permanent resident); and immigrado (living here full time and wanting to be a Mexican citizen).  And, yes, yes, my Mexican friends, both expats and locals, I know that I am simplifying!

But generally what it meant was that if you flew or drove down on vacation, you got a tourist visa that was good for six months.  If you wanted to stay longer than that, you needed to apply for an FM3 or FM2 and pay for that for a year (proving that you had enough income or money in the bank to support yourself for a year) and then you renewed it locally annually.  After a few years on an FM3, you could move to an FM2, and after a few years on that, you could move to immigrado.

(Don’t even get me started on why the United States couldn’t do this same type of thing instead of throwing up border walls and/or attempting to enact discriminatory laws.  It might have made things a lot easier….and certainly more clear.  But I refuse to discuss that.)

But enough about that.  For five years, I had an FM3.  While my monthly income (Social Security payments from 2010 on) did not actually meet the income requirements, my rather small IRA account was more than the annual income minimum, so I was allowed to remain in the country.

Additionally, we gringos were allowed to have US- or Canadian-plated vehicles here.  We could drive them, get them insured, and as long as our visas were current, they were legal.  Most expats opted to keep their registration current in the US or Canada, but there were some who drove around with plates that had expired years before because they could.

But this year (2013), everything changed.  All of a sudden, we expats who live here all or most of the year were required to go to Permanente status (much like the immigrado status of old).  Depending on how long we had lived here, we might be able to continue our temporary (FM3, FM2) status for a year or two, but generally if we had been living here for several years, we needed to change to Permanente.

The good news about this is that while it would cost us more for the change-over, we would never have to renew our visas again.  And if we fell into a certain group, we got “grandfathered” in and didn’t have to prove we had enough annual income to stay here.  Luckily enough, I fell into this category, so on 10 June (my visa expired on 18 June), I turned in my paperwork to the immigration office in Chapala.  And now I sit and wait for them to call me in again for photographs, fingerprints, etc., so that I can become Permanente.

And as soon as that happens, I need to get my truck, Stormy, nationalized and get Mexican plates on him.  This is where it starts to get into big money (i.e. maybe $3000 to $4000 US), so I don’t want to do it any earlier than need be…..just in case I get turned down for Permanente status.

But it was to search for the place where one gets one’s vehicle nationalized that sent my friend Kathi and I off on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Guadalajara yesterday (Sunday, 28 July).  And that’s why this post is called “The Big Search.”  Kathi and her husband now have their Permanente visas and their primary vehicle was purchased in Mexico so therefore does not have to be nationalized.  But Kathi and Warner also own a classic Morgan that they DO need to nationalize.  (That’s a photo of a Morgan kind of like Kathi’s at the top of this blog.)

And that’s what sent us out on our search yesterday.  Both of us had heard and/or read horror stories about finding the place and the fact that people had to arrive at 0:dark:30 (7am or earlier) just to get in line to get a number so that their vehicle could be inspected.  Then it supposedly would take 10-12 hours to get it done.  So Kathi and I decided to take a run up to Tesistan to see if we could find the place so she would know where she was going.

Kathi’s internet was down, so she came over about 9:30am on Sunday to see if we could find an online map to the place before she had to go and/or before she had to borrow somebody’s Garmin.  After about 20 minutes of searching online, we both threw up our hands and said, “Let’s just GO!”  And off we set.

Kathi had a general idea of where Tesistan is and I was along to try to read/find street signs.  (Streets are not generally well-marked in Guad, so a co-pilot is pretty much essential.)  But we were lucky.  We made two easily-correctable wrong turns and then I noticed some small writing on a big green road sign for the name of the street we were looking for and within a short while, there we were!  I had seen the Mexican flag flying on our left in a walled and well-fenced area and was absolutely sure we had found Tesistan aduana (customs office) and so we had!

Right street; right number.

We also located a nearby no-tell motel if Kathi wants to stay the night and park Morgana the car in a safe spot, and an excellent restaurant very close thereto.  So to celebrate our victorious discovery, we dined at Karne Garibaldi ( on delicious carne in su jugo and had a leisurely trip back to Joco.

It was a good, good day!  First time in months that I’ve felt like myself!!  That cancer stuff can do very, very bad things to your psyche!!  But if you can conquer something else, it helps a lot!


About Barbara

in april of 2008, i moved from the united states to mexico. during my working days, i held lots and lots of jobs....almost all chosen because they were fun or interesting instead of how much they paid. when i started thinking about retirement (in my 40s), i realized that i would never be able to retire to a country where english was the native language. and although i had traveled to every state in the US -- and lived in lots of them -- i had never been outside the country with the exception of canada and mexico. and since you now know that i could never afford to retire in canada (even to the french-speaking area), mexico won by default.
This entry was posted in Bureaucracy, Getting Older, Lake Chapala, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Big Search

  1. Sheila Poole says:

    I heard that there is also a place in Tonala where you can get your vehicle inspected. It would be closer.

    • Barbara says:

      Sheila, Tonala is where you get your license plates, not where aduana is for all the rest of the stuff to get it nationalized…at least as i understand it!

      • Sheila Poole says:

        Okay, I hadn’t heard that. We are in the same position with Ken’s 1991 Ford Ranger. It will have to be dealt with prior to August 6th or remain gated and off the road.

  2. Kathi says:

    Yes, it was a grand day!
    Sheila, not all cars go to Tonala. You are told which place you must go to. I was told Tesistan….no choice there. As it turns out Tesistan is not that bad. Still waiting for my appointment….hope to heck it’s this week.
    Somehow or other Barb and I have amazing good fortune on these ‘seat of the pants’ excursions.
    I’m glad she’s getting the old Barb Mojo back!!

  3. Sheila Poole says:

    Yes, Kathi, Barbara sounds like her “old” self! I rely on my GPS alot to get me around Guadalajara and for the most part it works well.

  4. Love the story and you two adventurers! i remember the difficulty finding street names and am happy Kathi had Barb for a co-pilot. hope Morgana gets nationalized soon – she needs to hit the highway!

  5. I enjoyed your story very much. Love the Morgan too, My info is to Nationalize a vehicle it has to be made in a NAFTA country. Also understand that “Classic” cars (2o years old?) can;t be nationalized. Have you been able to Nationalize the Morgan. Hope so, because if so I might be
    able to get my Jag (in storage in Texas) up and going and Nationalized as well.

  6. Marilyn says:

    Glad it all went well, but mostly glad you got your mojo back, Ms. Barb!!!

  7. Miguel de Joco says:

    I’m with Sid Grosvenor; I’d like to know what happens with a classic car, especially if it isn’t made in a NAFTA country. Not that I own one or anything. This situation ought to be interesting in a country where if something’s not on the list things become very very complicated. Complicated as in expensive and time consuming.

    • Barbara says:

      Mike, check with Kathi H. about what’s going on with her Morgan (which, BTW, whether because of age or a dearth of Morgans, has a 5-digit VIN!).

  8. Karen says:

    So happy you had a good, good day!!

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