Clearing Into Mexico

Clearing in and out of every port in Mexico and the high costs involved in what became known as the “paperwork cha cha” was the biggest complaint from any cruiser that traveled there either on the Pacific or Caribbean side. At each port where a Port Captain was present, it was necessary to visit Health, Customs, Immigrations and Port Captain and pay the appropriate fees to each office. There was a clearing out procedure that must be followed at each port. Then the whole was process was repeated over again including the fees at the next port. In addition, there were many forms to provide and fill out for some of those officials. At some point, the Port Captains in many areas refused to do individual check ins and required all pleasure craft to go through a ships agent to both clear in and out. Fees to these agents varied from as little as $40.00 to as much as $200.00 and the agents sometimes did most of the clearance work and sometimes did nothing more than take your money. Many cruisers refused to travel to Mexico as a result of this and the businesses that benefited from visits by pleasure craft soon began to realize the frustrations of all of this. Tere Grossman, who is the owner of Marina San Carlos in the Sea of Cortez and the head of the Mexico Marina owners Association, began a campaign a few years ago to change these procedures and streamline the entire process as well as reduce the costs involved in multiple check ins.
As with any changes in Latin America, the process was long, slow and complicated. But Tere’s group persisted and in the early months of 2005, President Vicente Fox signed the new regulations in to law. Simply stated, the new regulation, Reglamento 69, eliminates the need for a pleasure craft to check in and out of every port. The vessel checks in as it arrives at the first port of entry and checks out at the last port of entry when preparing to leave Mexican water. The only requirement for intermediate ports is to call the Port Captain on the VHF and let him know you are there and passing through. Also, the law makes it illegal for Port Captains to require a pleasure craft to hire an agent to clear in and out. The law was to go in to affect as soon as it was signed by the President. The Director of Port Captains in Mexico City called ALL Port Captains throughout the country to a meeting in the city to explain the new regulations, exactly what they meant and how they were to be implemented. This procedure is not common when such new regulations are passed in Mexico but it shows the governments’ resolve to improve the situation to generate more interest in travel by boat to Mexico. After the meeting, the changes were implemented immediately….in the Pacific. But the Caribbean side was a different situation. Our experiences seemed to be typical of what happened to many boaters entering and clearing in to Isla Mujeres and Puerto Morelos.
We arrived in Isla Mujeres in early May of 2005. We had heard of the changes in procedures but did not know the specifics at that time. On our first day, when we tried to check in, we were told that an agent was required. We mentioned the new regulations and were told that yes the new law had passed but it would be a couple of more months before it was implemented. Not knowing better, we hired an agent and paid his fee. Later we moved on down the western Caribbean to spend several months in the Rio Dulce waiting out the record hurricane season. Our original plan was to continue south to Panama, transit the canal, and head up the Pacific coast of Central America. Our long but pleasant delay in Guatemala forced us to change plans and head back to the United States by the same route which we had come south. This brought us back to Isla Mujeres. While in Guatemala we researched the new regulations for Mexico and had corresponded with Tere Grossman several times. We also had received a well known magazine detailing the changes and how well they were working throughout the Pacific side of Mexico. On top of that, we spoke to cruisers on the SSB/HAM radio who indicated that things were going quite smoothly on the West Coast. We expected to be pleasantly surprised at how easy the new procedures would be. We also had received word through the Northwestern Caribbean Net that perhaps the changes were not yet in place in Isla Mujeres and Puerto Morelos, even though it had now been several months since they had been signed in to law.
We do not recommend that vessels bypass proper procedures when entering foreign ports since doing so can be problematic and even costly. But we decided to do just that upon our arrival in Isla Mujeres. The requirements upon arrival are to call the Port Captain to announce you are there and to begin the check in procedure. But only days before, a vessel reported that the Port Captain was still requiring the use of an agent, in violation of the new law. So instead of calling the Captain on the radio, we instead went ashore to the health inspector’s office to begin the process. The health inspector chastised us for not calling the Port Captain first but processed our paperwork anyway. Next we went to Immigrations, our passports were stamped and we walked to the next block to pay the immigration fees at the bank. The last stop was the Port Captains office. We walked in, stood at the counter and asked that we be checked into the port. The gentleman behind the counter informed us that we must hire an agent to do this. We were ready for this and since Susan speaks Spanish fairly well, the communications issue was not a problem. Always with a smiling and friendly demeanor, we told the official that we were aware of the new regulations and even quoted the regulation number. In addition we had the magazine with us quoting the changes and their implementation in other ports. Susan also told the official she did not know what an agent could do for us since the majority of the clearing in procedure was already complete. Since the official was not the Port Captain he was a little dumbfounded and said the Port Captain was off the island and would not be back until the next day. He said it would be fine for us to move around and enjoy ourselves and would we come back the next morning to see the Captain and also bring a copy of the magazine article with us? He stated that they were not aware of the new regulations. We responded that we were surprised at that since all Port Captains were called to Mexico City to have the new regulations explained. He did not have anything to say to us but asked that we return the next morning.
We knew there was an Internet Café a block down the street so that became our first stop. We had brought Tere Grossman’s email address with us and immediately emailed her and gave her an update of what had transpired. We had corresponded with her previously to let her know we were on our way to Isla. Now it was time for a little relaxation and some shopping. Isla is one of our favorite stops and we love the atmosphere. The many shops and restaurants and the colorful streets are truly what you expect when coming to Mexico. We always wish we could spend more time here. Later in the day, we checked back at the Internet Café and found to our surprise that an email from Tere had come back very shortly after we had sent ours to her. She had contacted Ing. Leonardo Lazo, the director of Port Captains and he in turn called the Port Captains office in Isla Mujeres. They were reminded of the new law and instructed to clear in pleasure vessels without requiring an agent. We did feel a bit uncomfortable since we did not know how the Port Captain would react to us going over his head. We told them we were freelance writers for different boating publications and were writing an article on the changes regarding clearing in and out of Mexico. I believe that helped in getting them to co-operate.
The next morning, we arrived at the Port Captains office just as they opened with the copy of the magazine article they had asked for. It was apparent the phone call of the previous day had been received and understood. The reception was cordial but it was obvious it was not sincere. To our surprise, the Port Captain informed us he was doing this only for us and would not do it for others. We let it go and finished clearing in. Once we finished, we again emailed Tere Grossman and informed here of how things went and of the Port Captain’s comment. Surprisingly, the next boats that came in were told they could use and agent if they liked but it was not required. We wondered why that might be and hoped we had made a difference through our efforts and that now things would change for those that came after us. Well, that didn’t happen quite as we had hoped. Very soon the Port Captain took a new tack. He stopped accepting payment for the check in and required the boaters to take a ferry to the mainland and pay the fee at a bank in Cancun. This is a hassle, very time consuming and more expensive since you must pay for the ferry to the mainland and the return. The ploy was obvious since whenever someone objected they were told that they could hire an agent and avoid the hassle. And many did just that, but not all. As soon as we learned of this new approach by the Port Captain we notified Tere Grossman, even though by that time we were back in the US. She assured us that the information would be passed on and gave us the email address of another government official that would be interested and would help correct this new situation. We emailed Captain Raymundo Mata Contreras, Deputy Director of the Mexican Merchant Marine and here is the email we received back from him.
Here is a copy and paste of an email we received from Leonardo Lazom of the Mexican government and what they are doing to correct this problem. Boaters checking in and still finding a hassle should immediately email Capt. Contreras directly with their problems. They are very concerned about the financial impact on the economy with this kind of problem. The email address is at the end of the message. Chuck and Susan, S/V Sea Trek
Asunto: Atten: Leonardo Lazom, problems in Isla Mujeres
Copy to: Teresa Grossman-Asociación de Marinas Turísticas.
With reference to the message sent to Mr. Leonardo Lazo Margain regarding your concerns with the Maritime Services at Isla Mujeres; where you express your concern about the collusion between the Port Captain and the agents; that they are making it so difficult for the boaters that they will use the agents rather than go through the hassles the Port Captain has imposed.
For the Government of Mexico, the Secretary of Transport and Communications through the General Coordination on Ports and Merchant Marine our compromise as the Maritime Administration is primarily to observe national legislation, and the International Maritime Conventions related with the guarantee of the Safety of Life At Sea, Safety of Navigation and all related activities with Ports and Waterways in our jurisdiction; this is realized through a national policy for the development of the maritime and Port System, and also in every port under the supervision and authority of the Harbour Master.
The Maritime Administration complying with IMO Conventions, specially the FAL Convention to facilitate traffic bettwen ports worlwide. We need to recognize that during the past; the Navigation Law was restricting the traffic for boaters because it was a requirement to dispatch all boat at every port during their presence at mexican waters, nowadays with the reform made to the law is only required at the first arrival port of call to the country and at the departure to international voyage.
We started a complete program to update documentation, rules and obligations for the keyplayers in the industry and eveybody needs to observe regualtions stated in the Navigation Law and Port Law.
Since, the new changes in the law we have dealing since that with differents matters regarding the boaters, and in order to promote competitiveness in the Maritime and Port Industry it´s necessary to promote a new culture to meet the customer´s needs ensuring the continuos growth of the Port operations at the Mexican Ports.
Some of the requirements were requested to the Minister of Finance who is the federal Agenct that receive all fees related with the use of federal and public services and obviously those related with maritime industry.
During last week was approved to have a bank terminal at the island in order to attend the necesities and very soon boat and customers will be informed; so all process can be completed RIGHT THERE without going out of the island.
Let me inform you that is not compulsoty to use a shipping agent for the tramitance; but that´s the only decisión of the boat owners and the Harbor Master is impeded to promote the use of agents; otherwise they will be subjected to penalization as per stated in the Responsability Law for the Public Service.
As part of the objectives of this Administration and as a Part of the Government Agenda we are combating authoritarianism and corruption.
Let me say additionally that this is part of the changes of the Country México. We foreseen ahead and promisory future for the Maritime and Port Industry, and we know that Governments needs to give the Industry a certain with the Law and with a Public National Policy in all Maritime Issues.
With that in mind we request you to inform to all boaters; that concerns regarding with these maritime incidents must be attended directly by the Harbor Master or through my office.
On behalf of the General Coordinator on Ports and Merchant Marine Eng.Cesar Patricio Reyes Roel, receive our best regards.
Capt. Raymundo Mata Contreras, Deputy Director Merchant Marine.
Av. Nuevo León No. 210 7th Floor.
Col Hipodromo Condesa. Deleg. Cuauhtemoc.
México, D.F. 06100
Phones + 52 55 5265 3222 and + 52 55 5265 3235
So this is where things stand today. Any problems can be addressed directly to Captain Contreras and he will be more than happy to assist any and all vessels still being hassled in the Caribbean. So just what are the proper clearance procedures?
You need to first contact the Port Captain on Channel 16 and let him know you have arrived. They will first send the Health Department to your boat to make sure you and your crew are healthy. They may also want to inspect your fresh food stuffs. After you have cleared Sanitario, which is free, they will stamp all your papers and you are free to go to shore to Immigration. Immigration will have you fill out the visitor form and charge you 214 pesos per passport (about $21 per). This can be paid at the bank a few doors away. From there, you take the rest of your paperwork to the Capitania and they will complete it and charge you approximately 263 pesos for a 40 foot boat of 13 gross tons. The fee is based on the gross tonnage, anchoring fee and services of the Port Captain so will be a little more or less depending on the size of your boat. If you have not cleared into Mexico before, you will need to apply for the temporary importation (Importada) of your vessel into Mexico, which is good for 10 years. We had already done this when we came down in the Spring through the agent at Marina Paraiso. It is unclear who is doing this now and you may have to go to Cancun and do this paperwork yourself. The government is also trying to set up a web site so this can be done over the internet.
Now to the paperwork. You will need 5 copies of your crew list to present to Sanitario. He will stamp each one of them and keep one for himself. You will also need 5 copies of your zarpe or clearance from your last port. (US citizens coming from home won’t have this.) You only need to present your passport to immigration. When you get to the port captain, you will need the 4 remaining copies of your crew list and zarpe, a copy of your passports, documentation, boat insurance and Importada (if you already have it). They input some info into their computer, had us fill out a form, pay the fee and we were done.
This last vestige of the old guard will eventually change but only if the boaters continue to gently apply pressure on those that resist the change. How you approach this goes a long way in how it is eventually resolved. We always use the cordial, friendly approach no matter how absurd the situation becomes. We believe that approach has made a big difference in how we are perceived and received. Tere Grossman can be contacted at and is glad to hear from boaters. She has worked hard to bring about these changes and is dedicated to bringing about compliance throughout all Mexican Ports. Since we had our experiences the Port Captain in Isla has gotten creative and still tries to put up roadblocks so cruisers will give up and hire an agent. Be persistent but polite and insist the process be done according to Mexican Law. You will eventually prevail but contact Tere Grossman if problems continue.


  1. My experience in Mexico in 1992 was so much different. I should note that I was single handing.

    A friend who had spent several years running a sailing yacht in Mexico told me that one thing the officials there really love are stamps and seals on documents. He had the name of the yacht, document # and home port on an embosser and everything a Mexican official stamped he tagged it with the embosser.

    I couldn't afford that, but I had a rubber stamp made up with the same information. When I checked in to Isla on my way south, I stamped all the customs, immigration, health and port captain's documents and they thought I was SOOOO on top of things that it was easy.

    Of course I had all six copies of everything I needed...crew list (me) and zarpe, etc.

    I also arrived there the day before my 50th birthday and everyone noticed that on my passport and remarked on it. I had asked the head immigration honcho what he considered to be the best restaurant in town because that's where I wanted to eat on my half-century celebration. That evening (my bd)as I was devouring a delicious lobster dinner the immigration honcho dropped by the restaurant knowing I'd be there and bought me a margarita for my birthday.

    On my return trip I stopped back in Isla and there were NO charges at all from anybody.

    Back then you had to clear in at every port. I listed Cozumel and Bahias de Ascension and Espirito Santos, but not Puerto Morelos. When I left Isla headed to Cozumel it became apparent that I wasn't making good enough time to make it to my destination before dark. Nigel Calder's guide book said that the Port Captain of Morelos was sort of an orge and a stickler for paperwork. Well, I had to spend the night there no matter what. As I pulled into the port I noticed that the Port Captain's Office was dark. I anchored behind the reef, ate dinner and waited to see what, if anything would happen.
    I was out of cigarettes, so I went ashore, found a tienda and scored my stash of tobacco and returned to my boat and turned in.

    I got up about an hour before sunrise and as soon as I could make out the shoreline and other important markers I beat feet and never did encounter the Port Captain or any of his minions.

    I did, however, get nailed in Cozumel with the "Agent" thing. On my return trip the only thing the Port Captain's office on the Island got was my middle finger salute as I headed back to Isla.


  2. An addendum to my first post...

    My friend explained that he had been given a bad time arriving in Isla without exit papers. While it's true the US doesn't require you to have clearance to leave the country (if you're American flagged) I went to the Coast Guard office in Key West (my jumping off point) and they were very helpful and gave me a Courtesy Clearance in a matter of minutes, so when I arrived in Isla there was no hassle with that at all.

    Any Coast Guard Office should do the same for you should you ask and no matter where you land you'll have documentation that you're not a fleeing felon who absconded with someone's yacht.


  3. Can we re-publish this blog post in

    Best regards

    Roberto Serrano

  4. Robert, Pleases feel free to publish it. Just include a link to our site. Thanks, Chuck

  5. Hi Chuck

    Just to let you know that I added a link to this excellent article on the Mexico page of the World Cruising Wiki at:

    Fair winds



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