Saturday, December 01, 2012

Dreaded Border Crossing Mexico-Belize in Chetumal

An easy three-hour ADO bus ride took us from Tulum to Chetumal; a quick six-block walk brought us to the Mercado Nuevo station where buses leave for Belize every 20 minutes; another 15 minutes on the bus and we were in line to exit Mexico.  Over the last month, we have been reading much about the border crossing "scam" at this particular border. Namely that the 295 peso Mexican tourist tax which is already collected in our airplane ticket is attempted to be doubly collected and pocketed by an evil immigration man.

So when we walked up to the booth with passport and FMM (tourist form) and were told to pay 295 pesos, my stomach lurched nevertheless.  Then, after some reasoned resistance on our part, the man said we do not pay him, that we pay at the bank. We still refused.  At this point our bus abandoned us, refunding 20% of our fare, no less!

We had read that other travelers simply leave the annoyed immigration man behind and move on.  We tried.  Twenty yards later, we were intercepted and were "invited" into the Immigration Office.  We restated our case.  They stressed that we were not asked to pay them directly, but to pay at the bank.  They explained that the airlines are no longer collecting and giving Mexico the tourist tax.  They tried to scare us by calling in the police.  Seeing that we were unfazed by the threat of police, the lady in charge seemed to realize that there is the possibility -- the airlines are collecting the tax but withholding it.

The lady jefe let us use her computer to try to pull up our electronic receipt, but delta.com
was blocked, so was mail.google.com.  She got someone in Mexico City on the phone and was told that code "UK" listed in the "taxes and fees" details of an airline ticket indicate that the airline has collected the tourist tax.  She had an employee write down our information to draft a complaint to the airlines.  After another phone call, she sent us to an internet cafe to get a printout of our ticket.  When we came back with our printout showing the "UK" fee, she asked us to write down our story to add to her case, then apologized for the hassle. 

Needless to say, we left Mexico without paying the 2 x 295 = 600 pesos (about 45 US dollars) at the border, but did invest two hours of our time and a few pesos at the internet cafe.  Other travelers have reported being scammed, coerced, and threatened, but I did not have that feeling at all with the particular people we dealt with.  I feel they were hardworking people trying to do their job in a confusing situation. 

So if the end result is 1) Mexico gets their tourist tax from the airlines and 2) other travelers can get out of double paying by showing their airline receipt, then our time was very well spent making the world a more just place and lessening ill feelings.

John admits he is baffled by the whole experience and can't decide if
1. It is all a very elaborate conspiracy and scam on the part of the Mexican border officials
2. Mexico has ineffective and/or poorly trained border control
3. We are simply "ugly Americans"

In any case, we have had our share of border crossings, this one tops them all.

7 comments:

john said...

Karen said: Oh my word......great story on border crossing! I would have been one of those that just paid it out of fear. Were you communicating with them in Spanish I guess?

Yes! Sun-Ling was communicating mostly in Spanish with the jefe (boss). Fantastic job by Sun-Ling! A one-on-one tutoring session she will never forget! ;-)

Dayle In NC said...

Wow, I think it is great how you handled the situation! This certainly rings of a scam, given the number of people that have previously diligently explained to border officials the fee was collected by the airline...

Hey, if you go from Belize to Guatamala near St. Ignacio, be sure to make sure you get passport stamped leaving Belize AND entering Guatamala. The path through wasn't very clearly marked and I as I walked through the crossing trying to spot my options for transport, I missed the entry point desk. Then, later had a quite a bit of explaining to do when I went to leave Guatamala and immigation couldn'tfind the entry stamp. Ah, la vida de los viajeros!

Kathy said...

Congratulations! Do you think you could have managed without Sun-Ling's Spanish? Maybe showing up with the printout already in hand now we know that worked?

Crash Eddy said...

In this GM sat view http://goo.gl/maps/JkgpK there appear to be two bridges crossing the border. The western one appears to be a multilane highway but no crossing buildings of any sort. Did you cross at the eastern bridge?

Anonymous said...

exellent job, sunling!! joels wants to congratulate on your spanish. wonder how many other tourists were scamed that day. i'm surprised those two web sites were blocked at border crossing. -- weiqing

john said...

Ed, The eastern crossing.

john said...

Dale, Thanks for the tip on crossing into Guatemala, although we didn't read it until we were in Flores, GTM. ;-) We had our own minor "fun" at the border. See the next post.

WQ - SL says to thank Joel for his kind words....I guess I did not make it clear. The immigration boss let us use her official work computer workstation, which like in many work places in the US has facebook and gmail blocked along with (for some unknown reason) delta.com.

Kathy,
Not sure if more or less Spanish helps. Sometimes it's best to "play dumb" in these situations.... I've read that sometimes having the printed receipt helps, other times, the "UK" fee is not acknowledged to be the required DNI fee. Sometimes just pointing to your entrance stamp with the small airplane symbol will get you through as the fee is included in your ticket, right?....In any case it's a mess. One can spend hours reading online blogs and forums about this issue.

And a general comment from me: There was much more that happened that day, with much more nuance, than I have the skill to chronicle in a blog entry.