January 14, 2018

Securing our Mexican boat permit (TIP) in Ensenada

Jessica and I departed from San Diego at 5 am. We would spend the next 20 days slowly sailing our Newport 30 down the Baja peninsula and into La Paz harbor.

dropping the dock lines in Mission Bay before sunrise

The run from San Diego to Ensenada is about 75 nm.
Around noon, we passed between Tijuana Beach and Las Islas Coronados and then slowly dropped south into Ensenada around 6 pm. 

The approach from outer Ensenada bay into the inner harbor takes a long time and is a bit stressful in the dark. It’s a bit challenging to discern between lights from land and boat lights. 

We had made reservations at Baja Naval. I highly recommend this marina. They are primarily a dry dock shipyard but they maintain 2 slips and it seems to be a favorite for cruising sailors. 

They charged 35$/daily, but make sure to make a reservation in advance. The final approach into the Baja Naval docks is a bit sketchy at night. Depth goes down to 9-11 feet and shoals out at 4-5 feet in some sections in front of the docks. We did not find the navigation lights very helpful in this process. I would say, just monitor your GPS and depth-finder and advance slowly.

The Alize resting after Day 1 in Baja Naval, Ensenada. 

The harbormaster at Baja Naval is a good guy and speaks English. 

Carmina is an incredibly sweet and helpful women at the front desk of Baja Naval. She will help you prepare your papers before you approach the Port Captain and Customs officials in Ensenada. This is immensely helpful. She will prepare photocopies of important documents and will arrange them exactly how the officials like to see them. She will also identify problems for you before you walk over to the officials. If you own an old boat, make sure the previous owner never acquired a TIP for that boat. Apparently, that can screw up your chances of getting your own TIP for the boat. 

In theory, you can apply for your TIP online. I tried this and was rejected. I have no idea why I was rejected. In fact, I was never even notified I was rejected. So, I prepared all my papers to acquire my TIP when I arrived in Ensenada.

The process of acquiring a TIP boat permit is not fun or easy. 

However, you need a TIP permit if you plan to keep your boat in Mexico. Even if you only want your boat in Mexico for a few days, you technically need a TIP. There are well documented stories of US boats being impounded from marinas after it was determined that the boat didn't have a TIP

We had all our papers in order but still found the process stressful. But, if you have all your ducks in a row, you should be done with this business in a few hours. It helps if you speak Spanish as only half of the officials we transacted with spoke English. Bring lots of pesos in small denominations as each official wants some small amount of cash for some paper or transaction. All in, I think I paid about 100$ (US) for the TIP permit and other related fees.

You want to arrive early at the Immigration/Port Captain’s office. Everything is done in the same building. They open at 9 AM and close at 1PM. We only saw 1 other gringo getting a TIP and there were only small lines at each window. The whole crew should join the Captain on this adventure. It doesn’t work if only the Captain shows up for this process.

You need to:
  • show (or buy) your FMM tourist visa
  • show your boat ownership papers (title)
  • show current registration (US boat reg.)
  • show insurance policy in Mexican waters
  • present passport

Also be prepared to report your Hull number and the number on your engine. You will be asked to pay a peso amount based on the tonnage of your vessel. My boat is 8,000 pounds. When I told them this info, they then wrote 8 tons on the paper and asked for about 25$ equivalent in pesos. If my math is correct, 8,000 pounds is about 4 tons but I didn’t complain. I have since learned that 8 tons is the minimum amount to report.

There are about 4 different windows in the Port Captain’s building that you move through in a series of steps. Carmina at Baja Naval mapped out my movement through these windows for me ahead of time. While you are moving through this series of windows/transactions you are also submitting your crew list papers and your arrival and departure from Ensenada papers. Yes, you need the Port Captain’s formal permission to depart from Ensenada. This is ridiculous, but it’s how things are done.
There is a little office outside the building where a friendly guy named Jonathon makes photocopies for you. Getting all your stamped papers photocopied is part of the process. Make sure you bring many peso coins to give Jonathon for these photocopies. We went nuts and made lots of photocopies of everything. Jonathon was easily the coolest and nicest guy in the entire building. Plus, he is a handsome devil, so my girlfriend enjoyed lingering in his office.

Anyway, about 2 hours later, if everything goes well…then you pass to the TIP window. Here, a very surly woman begrudgingly presented us with our TIP. She was mostly focused on watching a reality TV show. She turned up the volume on the TV while simultaneously asking us for papers. But, we have nothing but love for this women, because she gave us the shiny TIP permit that is now hanging in my port window. If I choose, I can now keep my boat in Mexico for 10 years. We handed her about 65$ (US) for the permit.
My TIP permit

At this point, we thought we were finished…but nope – we were then sent to the Customs window (aduana). This was easy. We filled out a document saying that we did not bring infectious material into Mexico and then an older man stamped some papers and that was it.

Then, we thought were done again, but we were told to return in 2 hours because some other Port Captain officials needed to sign off on our departure papers. They needed a few hours to stamp and approve a stack of papers. When we returned, they looked at us like we were crazy. They had no idea what had happened to our departure papers. They assumed we had done something wrong and implied that we could not depart the following day. After a confusing conversation, we just sort of said ‘Okay, well….bye.’ In our minds, we already had the TIP permit so this long, awkward bureaucracy dance was over, regardless of the stamped departure papers. Then, as we were walking away - a women ran up and said she had forgotten to pass the papers over to someone else and actually everything was fine with our departure. We laughed and said thanks and then went straight to Hussong’s Cantina and drank many margaritas.

Other resources for acquiring a temporary import permit for your boat in Mexico.

If you are preparing to get a TIP at some port in Mexico, I would consult multiple resources before you head south. The Baja Ha-Ha website always has updated info on this process. Baja Insider is also a good resource. Or you can go directly to the Banjercito page (they handle this transaction). Also, if you are looking for advice on historical food from Mexico, I recommend this page, it shows what the Aztecs once ate.

Hussongs, the oldest and best bar in Ensenada

Those were some strong margaritas.

The following day we sailed south to anchor at Punta Santa Tomas.

No diesel fuel dock in Ensenada Harbor

It should be noted that, as of December 2017 – there is no diesel fuel dock in the main harbor of Ensenada. 
Strange…but true. 
You need to stop at Coral Marina to fuel up. Coral is 4 miles north of Ensenada harbor. So, on the morning of our departure, instead of backtracking to Coral, we took a cab to a BP station that sells diesel. We topped off our 5 gallon jerry cans and carried them from the trunk of the cab back to the Baja Naval dock. Yes, this is a hassle. Also – keep in mind, not every gas station in Ensenada sells diesel. So, you need to ask around to make sure you cab it to the right gas station. Also, Uber worked well for us in Ensenada. When I say cab, I mean we hailed an Uber ride. This was more efficient time-wise then waiting for a cab.

The TIP sticker hangs in your window. This way officials can verify you are legitimate in your absence. 


SaltwestCo said...

Thanks Cpt. Curran! Mucho Gusto, this information will definitely help us smooth out the wrinkles for when we first bring our vessel into mexico :) We'll see if you're around for drinks when we do!!

Captain Curran said...

Great to hear!!

Bien viaje!

2pinkflamingoes said...

Thanks for all this info,much appreciated!

Unknown said...

Bad ass thanks