Clearing in at Cabo San Lucas

Following the final leg of the Nada, we had made plans to stay at the marina in Cabo San Lucas while we cleared in to Mexico and re-provisioned before quickly continuing on into the Sea of Cortez. Since we had signed up for the Nada early on, we were near the top of the list for available slips when the fleet arrived. The protocol with the Nada (as well as the Ha Ha in past years) is that the marina assigns available slips based on the order in which you signed up for the Nada. Since we planned on clearing in to Mexico in Cabo, it was important to us to get a slip for a day or two, even though the marina in Cabo is relatively expensive (over $100 US per night for us). In past years the Ha Ha had a dedicated clearing agent that would take care of the paperwork for any boats that needed it, but because of COVID and extra clearance procedures we had to do it on our own this year.

As we were arriving at the marina Patsy on Talion hailed the fleet to let us know she was going to bicycle to the immigration office to clear in as soon as she got tied up at the dock. The immigration office opened at 9 and unless you’re one of the first in line when they open you can expect to spend most of the morning waiting to get your visa. I answered back that I would join her so I can follow her lead as she figures out the DIY clearing in process.

Prior to leaving San Diego we had obtained the first, probably most critical, document which was the Mexico Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for the boat itself. In previous years the Ha Ha organizers discouraged people from getting their TIP online as the site was confusing and could cause a boat’s application to get stuck in limbo if not done correctly. Fortunately this year Neil Schroyer of Marina de La Paz posted an instructional video which made the online process a breeze

We had made critical preparations in advance though. When we bought Sonrisa we knew that she had been in Mexico and therefore had a TIP. We also (correctly) assumed that the previous owner had not canceled the TIP after leaving Mexico. This presents an issue for the new owner (us) because a TIP is valid for ten years, a boat can only have one TIP, and a TIP can only be canceled by the original applicant. Many boats have been delayed in entering Mexico as they had to visit a Customs office ALL of with their boats paperwork to cancel a previous TIP. I had foreseen this issue and in 2015 when Latitude 38 announced that there would be officials at the Mexico Consulate in Sacramento for a day specifically to cancel TIP’s, I tagged along with Kristin on her commute and got the TIP canceled.

Arriving at the marina I called the harbormaster on the VHF and confirmed that we were arriving and had our slip number (Patsy had radioed the fleet earlier with slip assignment numbers from the marina). The conditions in the morning were calm, making for easy maneuvering into our slip. The marina had a staff person waiting for us at the dock to help us into the slip. Very nice!

The moment the docklines were tied I left Sonrisa in Kristin’s capable hands to put things away and finish setting up at the dock.

I grabbed the boat documentation folder which had a copy of our new TIP (as well as the receipt for the cancelation of the old one), our USCG Documentation, copies of our passports, insurance, and crew list. I saddles up on the folding bike, ready for our “great race” to clear in!

I found Patsy from Talion and Eric from Gladiator on their bikes outside the marina office and the three of us quickly pedaled to the immigration office. Once there we waited our turn only to find out that since we were arriving by boat and clearing in our crew, we had to go see the immigration officer in his office downstairs, which was actually a blessing. He gave Patsy the details on all of the offices and documents we needed to complete. First stop was the Minister of Health whose office is next to a small hospital in Cabo San Lucas. There we were instructed that each captain needs to provide a letter to the Minister of Health declaring all crew aboard are free of COVID. He said it was supposed to be typewritten, but he would let that pass this time but it should be a clean letter with no other writing on it (ie. we can’t use the back of a copy of our documentation).

This presented the first challenge in our “great race” to clear in. Between the three of us we had one pen and no paper. I remembered that the binder I keep our ships documents in had some blank pieces of paper in the clear vinyl partitions. Rummaging through the binder I found enough paper for 3 letters. Patsy, Eric and I took turns at a small metal table outside the hospital crafting our letters and one at a time getting our temperature checked, hands and shoes sanitized and once in the office presented the letters to the Minister of Heath who stamped and filed it and in exchange returned to us an official health clearance document. Ivan, the Minister of Health, spoke very good English and was very helpful and understanding as we figured out the process.

Next we pedaled back to the immigration office with our Health Clearance. We went straight to Ramón’s office where we were presented with another set of forms to fill out for immigration. These were the typical forms you often get on an airplane when you arrive in Mexico. You fill out your personal information, nature and duration of your visit, ultimate destination, etc. for each person on your boat. Another bonus was that Ramón had a credit card machine in his office, so we didn’t have to make a trip across the street to the bank to pay for our crew’s visas.

While we were waiting at immigration Eric’s partner on Gladiator called to let him know that Customs and Agriculture were at the dock and were going to inspect the boat. This was when we noticed that earlier that morning Customs had emailed each boat instructing us to check in at the fuel dock! Eric reported that Agriculture required that they dispose of their fresh fruit and meat, but they could juice what they could.

We had pretty much consumed all of our meat products on the trip down except for a package of sausages (which might have been OK since they are cooked) and a package of chicken, but I knew that Kristin had a bunch of limes onboard.

I quickly texted Kristin:

Sounds like agriculture is making rounds taking produce and meat. Juice the limes.

Oh my. I guess I’ll just have to give it to them?

If you juice the limes we can keep the juice. The sausage might be OK since it’s cooked.
My battery is low.

This is when I noticed that since we were on alternating watches all night, I never fully charged my phone and now it was on low battery. I made a mental note of how to get back to the marina in case it completely died.

We waited our turn at immigration nervously wondering what was going on down on the docks. I realized that I had all of the boat documentation and both of our passports with me, so if Customs comes around to our boat Kristin will have nothing to show them. They have the list of boats arriving and the marina knows our slip assignment. Plus my phone is going to die any minute. The worry set in.

Finally it was my turn to process our passports at immigration. Ramón was very friendly and we managed a broken conversation in Spanish and English as his young assistant worked on organizing the papers and passports. He gave me our 6-month (maximum allowed) visas, stamped all of my paperwork, and welcome me to Mexico!

So now we had the boat cleared (TIP), the heath clearance, and 6-month visas in our passports. All that was left was a visit to the Port Captain’s office.

I raced back to the marina to find our how Kristin managed and if Customs and Agriculture had arrived. First I had to check in at the marina and get a gate key to even be able to get back onto the dock where Sonrisa is tied. Once I got the gate key and finally got back to Sonrisa I called down to Kristin below in the cabin.

“Did Customs come by?”

“No, no one has been by. I juiced the limes like you said.”

“Oh good. I was worried they would be by and you’d have no documentation for them. I think they visited the other boats because they are tied next to the fuel dock. We’re a bit of a hike away so they probably don’t know we are over here.”

“Did you get us checked in?”

“Yes, we have 6-month visas for Mexico!”

“Woo hoo! I’ve never had a 6-month visa for anywhere!”

“We just have to check in with Customs and the Port Captain. Let’s hike over there before they come find us.”

We walked over to the fuel dock on the other side of the marina and found Customs had set up a table and tent and had a list of vessels due to check in. I gave them our vessel’s name and the agent asked for our TIP. I gave him our printed TIP and he asked, “Is this a copy I can have?”

I hesitated as it was the copy I was going to use for the Port Captain, but then realizing that they have no copier it would be best to let them have it, “Yes, that’s a copy.”

The agent quickly checked the numbers against the ones on his list, “That is all then.”


And that was that. Round 4 of DIY clearing in compete! Unfortunately I had to use my last copy of our TIP to get through this round, so we had to hike back over to Sonrisa to fire up the printer and make some more copies. By the time we got to the Port Captains office it was after 2:30 and they had closed for the day.

The next day we arrived early at the Port Captains office brimming with confidence and a stack of stamped documents with extra copies of everything. After a short wait I took my turn at the window and handed over our papers.

Greg standing outside the port captains office building

“Velero desde San Diego. Mañana depart a La Paz.” I said as I handed the stack of signed and stamped papers. I could make out that the agent asked if this was our first port of entry in Mexico. “Si. Entrada a Cabo.” The agent seemed to understand what I needed and after an excessive amount of clicking and punching of keys on his computer and a small fee, out came the final stamp and blam, blam, blam, we were officially cleared with Sonrisa into Mexico!

Having trailblazed the DIY clearing in process in Mexico, Patsy has since shared her write-up in Latitude 38 which sums up the process for others to follow.

The Nada is proving to be breaking new ground on multiple fronts. I expect that in future years more boats will get their TIP online and some may opt to clear in themselves in Cabo!

Note to self for the future:

  • Bring your own pen (or two).
  • Bring extra copies of everything, especially your TIP. Everyone seems to want a copy of your TIP.
  • Bring some blank paper in case you need to write a letter or declaration.
  • Make sure your phone is charged. You’ll need it for directions to offices, translations, and communicating with your crew back on the boat. Plus you’ll likely be waiting in line for quite a while at some point.