Operation: Devolución

Most other Quebecers I speak to who have seen how things are done in other provinces are quick to agree with me when I complain about how overburdensome procedures are, how apathetic is the civil service, and how corrupt the provincial government is in general. When I planned to move to Mexico and people would tell me how “bad” it was here in terms procedures being burdensome and corruption being rampant, I thought that there is no way Mexico could be as bad as Quebec.

Today, I continued to be proven correct on this point.

I was really unhappy at my last visit to INM when I was told I could not get my refund for their error until I got my new card, which is not happening until the end of this month or the beginning of next month. I resolved to go back ASAP to speak to a different person. I didn’t have time until today to do that because, you know, I’ve been working double overtime to compensate for that serious crimp in my cash flow.

Yesterday was a federal holiday so I had a feeling that INM might be very busy today. I decided to arrive around 10AM to let the initial opening throng get through, figuring that things would have slowed down a tad by that point, but still be sufficiently busy to put Operation: Devolución into action.

I was only about fourth in line despite the waiting room being very full — likely folks with appointments. I got to the head of the queue in probably no more than 10 minutes.

My first step was to get through the initial checkpoint, where you say what you want to do and then are funnelled to the correct window. INM wasn’t busy last time I came and I was not able to get by this point. When INM is hopping, this woman has to process a lot of people quickly and doesn’t really want to deal with them so I thought I might be able to slip through on a busy day.

She was busy today — the Cuban in front of me had an odd scenario and her phone would not stop ringing. After asking me three times what I wanted (“To speak with the lady at window 2 about a refund,”) she finally gave me a ticket to put me in line there. Step one was a success!

The lady at window 2 was not the lady I’d spoken to on the day I’d been advised about the steps to get a refund. In fact, not a single person I recognised was working today. I was very worried because I didn’t have a single piece of paper about the refund — everything was taken from me on that second to last visit.

I took a deep breath and recapped the situation for the agent. She said that I was misinformed by the front desk person last time (when I went to get an appointment for the fingerprints) and that I should have been funnelled to her window. *sighs* But better late than never, let’s get the ball rolling. She started to put my ID number into her computer when I had a niggle. “When I was here last time, I had to handwrite a letter asking for the refund, which the lady kept.”

The agent stopped typing, went, “AH!” and jumped out of her seat, returning momentarily with a huge binder marked “Refunds – Window 2.” She went through several bundles of papers in it and could not find my application for refund. My heart was pounding by this point, but as she was putting the papers away, I saw my picture on the last page of one of the packets! I pointed that out and she gave a sigh of relief. She went through the paperwork, checked my passport, and then passed me two pieces of paper to give to SAT, Mexican CRA/IRS, to request my refund.

That was as far as she could advise me. It was now up to me to go to a SAT office to see what they wanted so I could finally get my money back. I thanked her profusely and, clutching my precious documents, I hightailed it to Starbucks for a cold coffee to enjoy while looking up locations of SAT offices in Mérida.

I was delighted to see that there was one just north of home within easy walking distance since I knew I’d likely have to make a couple of visits. So I got on a bus and rode it about 1KM past my normal stop.

There was low-key checkpoint to get into the SAT office — I just had to open my purse for the guard on duty. I then went into a building that felt incredibly chaotic. There was so much activity — hundreds if not thousands of people waiting or being served at dozens of different “modules” and desks. I took a second to orientate myself and found an information desk. The lady there told me I had to register online and to wait for help at module 1, which was a computer lab where people were registering online for tax services and completing various types of returns (from what I could gather based on conversations I was overhearing).

I waited there 10 or 15 minutes and was finally sat down at a computer with no idea what to do. After a further 10 minutes and being told twice by an attendant that he was going to help me, he finally came to check what I wanted and took off for a further 10 minutes with my documents after I told him I don’t have an RFC (Mexican tax ID number).

He finally came back to say that this office isn’t used to dealing with this scenario — foreigner without an RFC needing a refund — but the centro office is. Since my Spanish was good enough for this gentleman to deal with me, his supervisor had given him permission to call the centro office for advice rather than just telling me to go there. I remain incredibly grateful for how kind and helpful just about every Mexican official I’ve dealt with has been.

So finally, the agent had an answer for me. He said I had to come back with a letter for SAT asking for the refund, but he had a template for me that I could reproduce in Word and just fill in the missing info (THANK YOU). I also have to bring my last bank statement (so that they know where to refund the money. They don’t want 50 billion copies, but they do want me to bring all my documents in PDF form on a USB key. And because I don’t have an RFC, I can’t make an appointment to come back on another day — so I have to face the massive queue and funnelling and massive queue again — but I was given the exact phrasing to tell the info desk so that I get funnelled to the correct place next time. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have been sent to module 1 and there was nothing for me to do on the computer.

I’m going to work late tonight and will hopefully have time to go back tomorrow first thing. Who knows how long it will take to actually get the money back into my account so I definitely don’t want to leave this to next week.

It’s been a Day, but a good one. I am eventually going to open a business here and so dealing with SAT at some point was an inevitability. It’s nice to have the ice broken in a context like this.

Now, on to work. But first, maybe a nap?!

In Which I Do Something Really Stupid

The big project I was waiting for this week got postponed to next week and I have a schedule for it, so that was a lot of stress off my plate this week what with my having to make two trips to aduana in Progreso. I did get one of the jobs to be due mid-afternoon today, but I was able to work late last night to do it and then proofed and sent it before leaving for Progreso. I still have other work to do this afternoon, but no deadlines for today, so there was no time pressure. Thank goodness for that…

The drive to the pier took a bit longer as there was more traffic today, plus I had to stop for fuel. I pulled into the guard entrance, presented my license, and stated my business. The guard then threw me for a loop when he asked to see my proof of insurance for my truck. Not a problem, I keep all that in my folder that I always take in the truck with me. So I start to go through the folder to find my policy when I realise that I had taken a bunch of stuff out yesterday to sort it out and… didn’t put the pile back into the folder. First time ever in Mexico being asked for my proof of vehicle insurance and I didn’t have it…

I was told to pull over and wait for a supervisor.

By the time the supervisor came to me, only a few very short minutes later, I had a plan. He greeted me with, “You don’t have insurance on your truck?”

I corrected him. “I don’t have the proof that I have insurance.”

I then presented him with option one of my plan. Option two was to offer to leave him the truck and keys, get in a taxi, go home, get the paperwork on my credenza, and come back in a taxi.

Option one was to show him a contact in my phone for my insurance company, the policy number in the notes, and to suggest that we call them so they can confirm that I do have a policy that is valid until next week. He considered that for a few seconds and said that was good enough, but to never do that again! *sends a thank you to the customs gods*

I hate to leave copies of documents like that in the truck, but I will from now on since the truck is parked 99% of the time in my secure driveway.

I made it to customs at about 9:20 and the lady was obviously waiting for me as I barely had time to sit down. She gave me the expected paperwork, but the unexpected instruction to come back in late May/early June with my new card and photocopies of it. She said it’s not worth asking people to do that for the first year, but it is for the three-year card. So I have one more trip to the end of the pier to do.

Now that I know my truck is legal for the rest of my time here as a temporary resident, I can get to work on scheduling the repairs she needs (*sends prayers to the AC gods that I can get it working again*) and also renew my insurance policy for another year.

I can’t believe it’s not even 11:00 yet. The morning has felt so long since so much happened. But it all worked out and for that, I’m very grateful!

Renewing/Extending a Temporary Import Permit for a Vehicle in Mérida/Progreso

Now that my immigration status is squared away for the next three years, it was time to do the same for my truck with customs (Aduana). I could not find any current information on doing this in Mérida/Progreso. One thing I had really hoped was that I could do the renewal/extension at the Mérida airport, but information a couple of years old said you couldn’t then. I really didn’t have time to waste today so going to Progreso felt like the safest bet. Finding opening hours was difficult, but once I ascertained that I was looking for the hours of operation for SAT Aduana Progreso, I knew what to Google and came up with a page that had them opening at 9AM.

Going to Progreso was going to be a pain since there are detours around the Periférico bridge that goes over the Progreso highway. I didn’t want to give myself a ton of extra time as I’m on a super tight schedule this week, but I also wanted to get there and back as soon as I could. So I left around 8:20 and arrived at the very end of the pier at precisely 9AM!

The detour going north was no big deal — take the service road to the first roundabout and turn around to take the service road in the other direction. I knew the best way to get through Progreso and to the entrance to the pier. So with traffic being surprisingly light, I made record time. At the entrance to the pier I only had to give them my driver’s license for ID (they do not accept a passport).

When I went last year, the customs lady made two packets out of all the paperwork I had brought and gave me one for my records. So I replicated that packet exactly today and had three copies just in case. The packet had:

  1. A letter to Customs asking them to renew/extend my temporary car import permit to match the date on my new residency card. This letter also has a list of the attachments to my request and my contact information. The customs lady today was the same as last year and like last year she told me my letter was perfect. So if anyone wants a TIP renewal letter for customs, I have a template for sale for 5USD. Contact me for more details;
  2. A copy of the official permit page that originally had the windshield holograma stuck on it;
  3. A copy of my passport ID page;
  4. A copy of my letter from immigration granting me my visa renewal (for good measure, I added to that the letter confirming my appointment for fingerprints as proof that there is no way I could have met Aduana deadlines had they asked me to wait until I have my new card);
  5. Proof of residency (I brought internet, water, and power and they wanted the power bill).

There, I was asked to fill out a form as a cover letter, which just needed my name and address. The customs lady filled out the rest, including the purpose for the packet.

That was it! She told me to come back this Thursday for my “resolution,” which I expect to be like last year, a letter confirming that my renewal/extension is in the queue and how to check the progress of it over the next few months. I really don’t have time this week for a second visit to Aduana, but needs must!

Like last year, I did the whole process in Spanish, but unlike last year, the last thing the lady said to me was, “Please come back Thursday.” Yes, like that. In English. So reports that Aduana on the pier in Progreso do not speak English and are unhelpful are false. Arrive with your paperwork in order, make an effort with the local language, and I’m sure you’ll have as easy and pleasant an experience as I did.

The drive home wasn’t quite as simple. The detour at the Periférico bridge was messier and I ended up zig zagging through my maze of a neighbourhood rather than trying to get back to Calle 60. I arrived without any wrong turns — a huge victory!

Once I know that the renewal/extension is granted, I’ll renew my truck insurance for another year and get the quote for the muffler and AC work since I’ll know for sure that I’ll have my truck here for three more years. About this time in 2020, I’ll be contacting an attorney specialising in vehicle temporary import permits to determine the best and most convenient way to get Moya out of Mexico legally that doesn’t involve driving her all the way back to Canada. Bringing a vehicle in Mexico is a huge pain and I wish I’d had the budget last year to have things shipped here while I flew and bought a new vehicle in Mexico, but things were what they were. I’ll figure it out when the time comes because I always figure “it” out when the time comes!

Two Months with a Mexican Bank Account

I was able to get a Mexican bank account with HSBC on September 27th. Frankly, I thought it was going to be a headache managing three bank accounts (two in Canada, one here), plus two PayPal accounts. So far, there’s been nothing but positives even if there is a lot of account juggling involved.

First of all, fees. HSBC only charges me about $40 ($35 + tax) per month for the account. The only other fee I’ve had so far was to do an initial cash deposit. So having the account is not a huge additional monthly expense.

Furthermore, I fund the account through transfers from PayPal. I have several semi-regular clients who pay me smallish amounts that I use for my Mexican budget. They pay directly into my PayPal account tied to my HSBC account. This way, I save one currency fee. Instead of having to go from USD to CAD to MXN, I go straight from USD to MXN. PayPal is less than transparent about currency fees so I have to do some digging to see how much I’m actually saving, but whatever it is, the amount will add up.

The hiccup is that I don’t yet trust that PayPal account. I’ve been getting some concerning messages about my transactions getting extra attention, probably because I have two PayPal accounts. This is because PayPal has to follow various banking laws around the world and can’t adequately serve a clientele that lives in different countries. They’re the ones who advised me to open the second account and are now being cagey about what’s up with those messages. It’s a shame — I’ve been using PayPal for a very long time and had nothing but praise for it, but it’s turning into one of those big corporations now where you can’t easily reach a real person.

So that’s why I only transfer in small amounts (less than 2,000 pesos). For anything really significant, I still send the money to my Scotiabank account to withdraw cash there. If a worst case scenario were to happen and I suddenly am no longer able to fund my HSBC account through PayPal, I’d go back to my old method of withdrawing cash at Scotiabank and then depositing it at HSBC for a reason that is explained below.

So what advantages do I get having a a Mexican bank account? I’ve identified a few so far and I’m sure more will come up.

The big one is I now have a debit card. Most stores here accept debit and that has been my preferred method of payment for decades because it makes it so much easier to keep track of my budget (no need to hang on to receipts — just check my statement at the end of the month).

I also don’t have to worry about carrying large amounts of cash, with both the fear of getting robbed or losing it and also of simply not having sufficient cash on hand when I need it. It happened once in Chelem that I was heading to Mérida when I realised that a) the fuel gauge was much lower than I remembered and b) I only had $200 on me. Instead of putting that $200 in the gas tank and then having to stop at a bank to get more cash and then go to another gas station, I was able to use my debit card to fill up.

The debit card also allows me to make online purchases. I have trouble with some sites (like TelCel) not consistently taking a foreign credit card, so that solves that issue.

(But TelCel has a new app now that lets you top up in a few much easier steps — if you have a PayPal account tied to a Mexican bank account!)

Another perk of having a debit card is that I can ask for a cash withdrawal at some store checkouts, saving me from having to find an ATM.

Unlike the Canadian Interac system, the debit card here works more like a credit card as it takes days for your transactions to post rather than having the money come straight out of your account. The amounts that are due to post are tallied up and except for upcoming PayPal withdrawals, your available balance is correct. So that’s not an issue for me.

The HSBC website is a bit of a pain to get through as it has three layers of security, but it works as expected. I have not been able to get into mobile banking and need to make a phone call to sort that out. This is going to have to be done because I can’t pay some things online without a code that I can only get from a functional mobile banking app.

Another useful feature of having the card is that people can make payments against it at many locations, including Oxxo convenience stores or right at HSBC. This is nowhere near as convenient as Canada’s Interac e-transfers, but it comes close. So whenever I start a business here, clients could, for example, pay me at an Oxxo or bank near them instead of coming to my house. Or let’s say I was selling something on the garage sale site but the buyer couldn’t come straight away to me or wanted me to deliver, they could pay me a deposit in advance.

Today, I discovered another perk of having my HSBC account. I went to pay my rent at a nearby branch and there was a long lineup for folks who weren’t clients of HSBC and no lineup for folks who are clients of HSBC. Being a client, I got out of there in record time!

Having a Mexican bank account was a huge piece of the puzzle that is slowly migrating myself over to Mexico and I definitely wouldn’t be without it now.

Keystones

A keystone is something on which everything else depends. I first heard of the concept when it comes to homemaking on a forum I used to belong to. I used to have a hard time keeping a tidy home until I found out my keystones. Now, as long as I can deal with those, the rest comes together.

It was much of the same with setting up my new house. I was having a hard time moving forward until I could get the kitchen set up and I couldn’t do that with the existing sink and faucet. Both were disgustingly crusty and the tap was loose. I bought a new faucet a full month ago, but was only able to get it changed today. That meant that that was it for grunt work in the kitchen and that I could properly clean it and start setting up.

As a point of reference, here’s what the old faucet looked like:

The plumber got the new tap in in record time, but things looked worse when he left:

I would have like to have removed the old tap myself to have plenty of time to clean all the crusty bits under it, but one of the shut off valves was seized so I wasn’t able to do that. It’s really wasn’t pretty!

Well, I got in there with a scraper, steel wool, Bar Keeper’s Friend, and a green scrubby and greatly improved things. It’s still not perfect, but I left paper towels soaked in vinegar over them and that should further loosen things. But even so, I made a real improvement. Behold a sink I would actually want to use!

I then cleaned the counters really well and set up the microwave.

It’s really not a great place for it, but it’s the only three-pronged outlet in the room and was specially wired for it, so I’ll have to live with it there. I went out to Oxxo at one point to get water and to pay my power bill and ended up coming back with a decent ham and cheese croissant that I was able to heat up in the microwave. It worked well!

I can’t believe how much I look forward to spending time at that sink thanks to those windows!

I still don’t have all the storage I went for the kitchen, so for the time being, I set up my plastic table. Eventually, I want a stainless steel island, but I’m glad I waited because I don’t think I would have bought the correct size.

I’ve been pricing stoves and I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy a brand new one. I’m always nervous when it comes to gas appliances and would have to hire a professional to install a used stove anyway. So I figured I might as well check the sales and buy from a store that will install for me. I’ve actually seen stoves that meet my strict criteria for less than $5,000 so this could easily be a November purchase for me. In the meantime, it won’t kill me to keep cooking on my hot plate.

I’m glad I turned the fridge on the other day because I’m able to do some tests. I put a bottle of water in it this morning and within less than an hour, it was forming ice! I’ve lowered it a tad and hope that my water will be liquid when I return on Saturday!

Once the plumber was gone, I put another coat of paint on my dressing table (spoiler: it looks amazing) and then did the kitchen cleanup. I then had to head out to run a few errands. I needed to pay the rent, the internet and water bills, and get some food. Rent needed to be paid at HSBC, internet at the Izzi store, and the water bill could be paid at a Comercial Mexicana. So it made sense to go to Gran Plaza as it had all three businesses I needed, plus a food court.

Gran Plaza is always a bit of a nightmare to get to, but I’m starting to learn my way around.

If you go the way Google suggests, you get caught in this spiral where you inch your way to towards Gran Plaza, but have to make a lot of turns and really go out of your way. I figured that if I took Calle 9, I could shoot straight over to Prolongación Paseo de Montejo and then easily get to Gran Plaza with no detours. Worked like a charm!

I did the bank first and learned that I can only take out $7,000 per day when my rent is $9,000. Thankfully, I had other cash! I just had to give the teller my landlord’s name and account number to do a direct deposit. Easy peasy.

I will pay my CFE (power) bill at the bank next time as well because Oxxo charged me $6 to pay it there. I know that’s not much, but fees add up! My power bill for the house being empty was just under $50 (yes, about 3.40CAD!). I can’t wait to see how much it will jump when I’m living there. I’m billed every two months for power.

Next, I went to the Izzi store and just had to give them my account number to pay with cash.

After that, I went up to the food court to buy what ended up being a ginormous “salbute de pavo,” (link goes to a picture) which is a fried masa base topped with shredded seasoned turkey, tomato, pickled onion, lettuce, and avocado. I couldn’t believe the portion for just $21! I have a feeling the stand where I get them won’t be there much longer, which is a real shame since their food is always consistently good. 🙁

Final stop of the day was Comercial Mexicana for a few groceries, a new mop for the cleaner, and to pay my Japay (“high pay” — water) bill. Unfortunately, their machine could not scan the bill, which was delivered to me super crumpled and dirty. So I have to find the actual Japay office to pay there.  The bagger explained to me that it’s near Chedraui, but I really didn’t have time for an extra stop as I had to get back for the cleaner. So I think I’m going to be a couple of days late paying that bill. 🙁 I could not believe how high it was — $249! That is the standing rate for two months with no water used at all. I have a sinking feeling that my water bill is going to be a bigger deal than my power bill…

I don’t think I’m going back to the house until Saturday, which is desk moving day! I’ve advised my clients that I’m basically off from Friday night to next Thursday morning, so I’ll be able to pretty much set up my office. The movers are also going to bring my dressing table upstairs. I measured and it should fit absolutely perfectly where I want to put it!

Also Saturday, my landlady is sending me help to light my water heater (I officially have a water heater curse). While he’s there, the guy is going to check to see how much gas I have, so that could be another bill coming up soon.

There was a bit of miscommunication with the cleaners in Chelem and they are having to come on Monday to prepare the house for the owners’ return, not Tuesday. So I think that I’ll bring the rest of my things on Saturday and keep in Chelem only a few clothes and my computer equipment so that I don’t have to rush Monday morning. That will really just leave me Sunday here in Chelem. I’ll still have to sleep here on Monday night because of Puppy, but I can spend Monday at home getting set up and be there for good by midday/early afternoon Tuesday, as planned.

I can’t wait for the dressing table to make it up to the bathroom so that I can start setting up that room. I need to figure out a fixed home non-travelling lifestyle earring storage solution, so I think I’ll spend part of this evening on Pinterest. 🙂