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Heading USA to Mexico? Important Information

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 21, 2013 02:38 PM

Published: 2012-07-16 22:50:00
Countries: Mexico , USA

Warnings about Zarpe Requirements for American Cruisers heading to Mexico, should be taken seriously.
Published March 2012 -
see updates and comments from cruisers at the bottom of this report.

A very sad lesson was learnt recently by a US cruising couple who didn’t do enough research before setting off from Key West, FL for Mexico.

Before departure from the States, the couple asked around to see if anyone knew for sure if a Zarpe was required on entry into Mexico. Most people they spoke to, including the US Coastguard, told them it wasn’t necessary and anyway – was a real hassle to get hold of. So, as they freely admit, they took the easy route and left for Mexico without a Zarpe.

Over a month later and the same couple are now trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare, their boat having been confiscated and themselves having to live in the cheapest hotel in Cancun with just a small backpack of belongings whilst they fight to get their boat back.

Their Story - Posted 26 March 2012

A month ago, the couple arrived in Islas Mujeres to find the Port Captain’s office was closed, so hung on until the next day to start clearance procedures. They ran into difficulties in the first office – Sanitation – due to not having a Zarpe, and then again at Immigration. Immigration declared that the crew were formally rejected entry into Mexico and had 5 days to leave. By this time, the Port Captain’s office was once again closed.

At 0100 the following morning they were boarded by Customs and the Navy. They didn't explain what was going on, only that they had to confiscate the boat AND its documents and that the crew should talk to the Port Captain in the morning.

Oddly, the Port Captain was very nice to the crew and was unsure as to why their boat had been taken. He tried to get their documents back, but could only check the boat in. After 5 days of being given the “run around” with Customs, the couple had to leave the country, remain outside for 4 days and then return to receive clearance visas from immigration.

On their return, the couple hired a Mexican lawyer recommended by the U.S. Consulate list. (The U.S. has been unable to help them beyond that.) He filed a few motions to get their boat back, but is unable to reach anybody in charge of the case, which is apparently stuck in a "process" that needs to run its course (anything from 3-8 months). The couple are currently waiting for a response to their request to "exchange" their boat for a deposit of money, as the boat is the couple’s only home and income. More problems may well occur if they have to remain in Mexico for up to 6 months through hurricane season.

The crew member that wrote to noonsite said, “I wish I had looked more closely at the information about the Zarpe that you have on your website. We have been patiently and quietly going through their process, and cannot do it much longer. The only thing I can think to do now is to get our story out there and hope something will come of it. If nothing else, our story will be useful as a warning to other cruisers”.

Documents for Mexico

Whilst obtaining a Zarpe for Mexico can be difficult, it is not impossible and just takes a little forward planning.

The US Dept of Homeland security use CBP Form 1300 for a Zarpe. Use this link http://forms.cbp.gov/pdf/CBP_Form_1300.pdf to access the form, print it out and fill it in. Get it stamped at Customs (any Airport or Customs Port) or notarized before you leave the USA.

Some cruisers have had problems getting Customs to stamp this form as it's for commercial vessels. Cusotms do not have a form for non-commercial vessels, as there is no US requirement to have a Zarpe to leave US waters. However, it IS a requirement of all countries for cruisers to have a Zarpe from their last port of call and Mexico in particular enforce this. Sometimes, it may be easier to use a notary for the whole procedure.

Before departing the United States, be sure you have your Boat Papers, Crew List, Zarpe (vessel clearance and exit statement), and Passports.

Update: 19 April 2012
(Written by a friend of SV Judy Ann)

The motion to get SV Judy Ann back on a deposit was denied. It does not seem that Customs cares to make any exceptions despite the fact that the situation is unprecedented, complex, and questionable in its fairness. Customs has 4 months to respond to their request, and the couples' lawyer is almost sure that they are going to take their allotted time.

Even more disconcerting than this, however, is a recent set of demands by Customs that the couple will be required to meet. First, as I may have told you, Customs wants to move the boat out of the custody of the Navy in Isla Mujeres, and into their own custody at their facility in Puerto Morelos...about 30 miles away. They have made it clear that they will not consider any pleas until they have the boat in their possession. At first, they wanted to TOW the boat there, over open water, over reefs, in potentially large seas, obviously without the knowledge required to do so safely. The couple politely but firmly protested, and offered to take the boat there themselves. Luckily, the Navy (who would be doing the actual towing) is on their side in this matter. (This illustrates the cause for worry though...the people making these decisions are sitting in an office with the paperwork, and far away from the reality of the situation, and the fact that they are dealing with a sailboat, which is different than anything they have dealt with before.)

Also, Customs wants to put the boat on land, "in a building where it will be safe", but the boat has a mast, there is no Travellift in Puerto Morelos, no haulout yard (only a shipyard with a crane), and the Customs facility is not on the water and does not have a dock. So the couple may be permitted to pilot Judy Ann there, but they are worried about what will happen when they get there. They are worried about what measures may be taken to put their boat on land and in a building, or how it will be stored....if they DO figure out a way to transport / lift / store it through a third party, the couple will get the bill... and if they decide to drag it on to land on its side or pick it up with a crane, or something destructive like this, (even though they are supposedly liable for damages)..well, again - they are dealing with the federal government, and the couple is worried that such liabilities do not actually exist. They are also worried that Customs will not be anymore willing to negotiate after they move the boat, AND the couples' lawyer is now even worried about an unfavorable answer at the end of the 4 months (the next stage after that would take 8 more months), SO they may need to start taking preemptive legal actions to prepare for that possibility. However, we are all terrified of what damage can be done before they get their boat back.

Anyway, this is what is going on right now. Thanks to you and a few friends, the word is getting out. I hope to contact the Sol de Sol Regatta. Someone has written with the contact for the head of the Marina Association in Mexico. A few people have posted comments on the internet that they are worried to bring their boat to Mexico now. Hopefully something will come of all this.

I may start a blog page soon as a forum for further updates..I will keep you posted. Thanks again..so much.

Further Reminder about Mexico

Just a reminder that the Mexican government prohibits cruisers from bringing in any firearm into Mexico. There have been horror stories of cruisers landing in jail for trying to declare a firearm when clearing in with Mexican Customs and Immigration.

Posting taken from the Cruisers Network Online - April 2012

Isla Mujeres: We stayed at Marina Paraiso and had Chepo, the dock master help us with clearing in to Mexico after arriving from the Florida Keys. A small tip to him and the requisite fees for the various government departments and everything was handled very efficiently. All the officials came to the marina so it was a painless process.

We did not have a zarpe from departing the US. We did have a marina receipt. The process would have been easier if we had managed to get a zarpe from the Coast Guard. If you are heading to Mexico from the U.S. try to get a zarpe and failing that make sure you have proof of your presence in the U.S. just before your departure date, such as a marina receipt.

Comment from Jim Hansen - 21 May, 2012

I unfortunately dealt with the customs representatives in Isla Mujeres and I can tell you that they are the most dishonest and incompetent people I have ever dealt with. They charged me with "introduction of a gun into Mexico and bullets" (2 non-bailable felonies). You are guilty until proven innocent so I had 6 days to have a judge rule me innocent or I was going to wait up to 2 years in prison for a trial. $3,000 and 6 days later I was released saying Mexican Customs (Adwana) had made a mistake.

The Mexican Navy protected my boat (during this time). When I got it back there was a hole in the side where they had launched/rammed my boat and my $200.00 chart plotter chip was missing. Nothing else missing except someone had done some drilling on my deck and there were many rust marks.

The Mexican court misplaced my passport, gun permit, I.D. card and passport. Nothing was ever returned. I asked for my gun back but the prosecutor was going to file an appeal so they were keeping that for evidence.

My advise for the people who have lost their boat to Customs.

  1. You have to have the right lawyer or you are wasting your money. The firm I used was terrific. I found them completely by accident but got my boat out and me out of the prison. There are many lawyers in Mexico that are not competent to handle your case.
  2. Be prepared for a long process (as much as 2 years and a fine or perhaps $20-30,000.00 as Mexico is a bureaucratic nightmare (nothing is fast and lots and lots of paperwork).
  3. If they let you move the boat yourself to another port, which I doubt, and you are not escorted by the Mexican Navy - sail away and just go East. You can explain in Cuba why you do not have a zarpe. They will understand. I would just leave and not look back.
  4. If your boat is worth less than $40,000 I would consider leaving it, because when it's all said and done, you will be out thousands.
  5. Hire the legal firm I used. Jose at email: jrlopezvilla11@yahoo.com.mx They worked a miracle for me and my case was far more serious.

Comment from Richard Spindler, Latitude 38 - 13 July, 2012

With all due respect, your report that having a zarpe from the U.S. to clear into Mexico being 'ESSENTIAL" is wrong, wrong, wrong! At least when sailing south from the west coast of the United States. Speaking as someone who has taken his boat to Mexico something like 27 of the last 35 years, and who has lead over 2,500 boats to Mexico as part of the Baja Ha-Ha from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, neither we nor any of the Ha-Ha boats have ever needed a zarpe. But don't take my word for it, call the folks at Marina Coral and Cruiseport in Ensenada, Bob Hoyt at Mag Bay Outfitters, or Victor or any of other ship's agents in Cabo. Ensenada, Mag Bay, and Cabo are the three big ports of entry for boats from the west coast of the United States.

Some potential southbound cruises have also been getting their knickers in a twist about the Mexican law passed in January requiring offshore or fisherman's visas, supposedly for anybody coming within 24 miles of the coast of Mexico, and needing to be purchased before you arrive in Mexico. These visas are for fishing boats fishing in Mexican waters but never going ashore. These do not apply to sailboats that will be calling on Mexican ports. Again, you can get this confirmed by calling Marina Coral or Cruiseport.

Relations between cruisers and officials have been very, very good on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. That has not always been the case on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, where some rogue officials have caused some serious problems for visiting mariners over the years..

Comment from Dan and Kelly Freeman, SV Papillon - 17 January 2013

I have to second Richards remarks.

We have had nothing but positive experiences with the officials on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Having sailed from San Diego in one of the Baja-HaHa rallys we did our first check-in at a temporary set-up in Bahia Santa Maria. While there was a bit of a mix up concerning our immigration paperwork and we had to wait until Cabo San Lucas for that part (a grand adventure in that!), the boat check in was accomplished with so little issue as to be anticlimactic.

The paperwork shuffle, especially for those new cruisers with little experience in the controlled chaos of check in procedures, can be a little intimidating. Not only the process but the language barrier.

The best advice I can offer is to learn just a little of the language before arrival, even if it is only enough to apologize for not knowing more!

Dan and Kelly Freeman
SV Papillon

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