Sunday, September 09, 2012

Mexico Border Test: Passed

It's a bit of Mexican travel knowledge that has passed into infamy. At the Mexico/Belize border crossing, the Mexican Government charges a MX $200 departure tax, averaging out to U.S. $20, give or take. It's been standard practice for many moons, and hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists pay it each year.

Except it's got nothing to with the government and you don't have to pay a thing. But only if you know what to say.

The ADO bus - a clean, large, and modern coach - that runs from Cancun to Belize City makes the run overnight, smacking anyone on it with a rude awakening at about 4:30 a.m. when it arrives at the crossing. A genteel old Mexican official invites everyone off the bus and over to a window where a not-so-genteel stoic man asks for your passport and the exit half of the immigration document you receive upon arrival in Mexico.

I'm leaning against a wall behind five other people, sleeping with one ear open when I hear confused European accents at the window. The couple didn't know the "tax" existed and aren't sure they still have 400 pesos. They step aside worried and confused to talk while a trio of Brits gives it a go.  I can hear the immigration officer's voice demand the MX $240 each. The fee's gone up since the last blog I read about the scam was written. I was expecting this. No one else knew about it.

The more vocal of the three British argues with the man: they paid the tax to the travel agent when they bought their flights into Mexico, she's sure of it. She thinks the fee is legitimate; just that Mexico is trying to double up on it.

After some heated words, the stoic officer gives the woman her passport back, but without a stamp, and she didn't know if she was supposed to get the immigration document back or not. The three also step back from the window to powwow.

I approach them and tell them that, so far as my research took me, there is no such tax either on the federal or local level in Mexico and that what the officer is demanding is time-honored extortion. Open corruption that bullies busloads of people into coughing up $20-$25 dollars on a routine basis for fear that they will not get back into Mexico. I'm casual in tone, but within earshot of the stoic man's window.

I hand him my passport and document. He asks me if I'm returning to Mexico? I say no, then the magic words "I'm in transit" with a smile. The British pack's jaws hit the ground when he stamps my passport, nearly cracks some sort of smile and hands it back to me. No word of a departure tax whatever.

I thank him kindly en español, grin at the English, and wander back to the bus. So remember the magic words: "No, I'm in transit." If your final destination is outside Mexico and you don't let them know if you plan to come back across the border, you keep your Piña Colada money. And in Belize, that's a lot of rum. 

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