One of the most frustrating parts of planning a major life event, especially one (like expatriation) that involves a massive amount of change, is the wasted effort involved in evaluating options and making decisions.
In our case, we’re planning an international move (with 2 dogs) during a global p*ndem*c and technocratic lockdown. The information available online is thin and unreliable; not to mention that many of the online resources are in a language I can only partially read.
The Mexican government is inefficient and unhelpful at the best of times. Mexican consulates in the US (and especially here in Dallas) are no better. Their policies and processes are entirely…well, foreign, to us; as obvious as that sounds.
Which is why I’ve been avoiding certain, sticky issues (like dog travel planning) for months; partially in the hopes that C*V*D-related restrictions and policy changes would lift or revert, creating more options -and partially out of dread mixed with laziness. I hate paperwork and immigration is full of it.
When we started the escape planning process I wanted to apply for temporary residency immediately, knowing that it would provide a greater amount of security and accessibility in terms of travel (and especially travel during emergency circumstances). Lockdown culture in Dallas (home to the unlovable Judge Clay Jenkins) has had the Mexican consulate here closed for over a year now with no end in sight. It turns out that Mexican consulates operate with a great deal of individual latitude and just because Dallas’ stopped providing visas didn’t mean Houston’s consulate did as well. Sadly, it would be awhile until I realized this.
I had a pretty decent plan otherwise: Fly to Mexico on a tourist visa for 180 days while we get our bearings, hop the border to reset our tourist visas twice a year, and then fly back to the US for a few weeks to apply for residency when the consulate reopens for business.
The avalanche of complexity I brought down upon us when I started looking into flying our dogs to Mexico quickly buried us under a mountain of stress. My preliminary research earlier back in 2020 ran into brick walls at every turn, but I just assumed I’d figure it out along the way. In March (2021) I attempted to secure our puppy travel plans once again, to no additional success, panicked, and called a (clearly expensive) pet relocation service.
You see, my boy Fritz is just too big to fit under the airplane seat and, even if I wanted to stuff him into cargo (I don’t), only a few airlines are even offering that right now. Heidi, Sarah’s doxie mini, might fit under an airplane seat; but getting one dog to Mexico doesn’t help.
We actually called three pet relocation services and at least three travel agents that specialize in dog-friendly vacation packages. I even called a flight chartering service and tried not to spit-take when they priced the one way flight at roughly $20,000. Pricing on the pet relocation services that were our last line of defense…about $6,000 for both pets or only $5,000 for one.
Jesus…what the fuck were we going to do? The whole plan was crap.
For months I’d been reading articles about the land border between Mexico and the US being closed to all but essential traffic, like this one and this one and this one.
These articles are written to make you believe you can’t cross (or return from across) the land border -that flying is your only option. For example, USA Today describes the recent extension of this closure, from the end of March to the end of April, as, “…bad news for people planning spring and early summer trips”, and cites, “America’s land borders with Canada and Mexico will be closed to nonessential travel until at least April 21,” as the reason.
The only problem is that this is provable and patently false. Thanks USA Today…
I was chatting with my contractor around this time and his granite guy is from Mexico, but also a US citizen, and travels across the border regularly. After we speaking with him for a few minutes, we quickly realized that driving -not flying- was the solution to our dog travel dilemma.
Spending your nights scouring forums for information about traveling the roads in Mexico is a good way to inspire From Dawn Till Dusk themed nightmares, not to mention talk yourself out of a road trip. But the desire to live in paradise is strong and the need to bring our puppies with us is unavoidable. So we committed to driving the dogs and felt satisfied for a brief moment that we’d made decisions and progress.
The elation, and the plan, lasted about a day. 24 hours later, up late researching again, I discovered (in this article) that the temporary import permit (TIP) issued by the Banjercito department at the border is tied to your visa and expires when you exit the country next. This means that if we were to drive a car into Mexico and then fly back to the US, for any reason, we’d invalidate our TIP and our car could be impounded at any time. It also meant we’d have to drive the car out of the country within six months. The trip is a 40 hour / 5 day adventure –not something you do on the regular.
This was an absolute show stopper. I laid awake in bed for a long time trying to solve the puzzle and couldn’t. I was left with only one real option, the same one I’d wanted to pursue all along, to apply for temporary residency visas. Possessed by an urgent need for some possibility to cling to, I checked the consulate’s website again, to see if we could apply for visas yet -to no avail.
But this time I didn’t stop there. I dug deeper, played with options in the appointment scheduling tool, and discovered that the Mexican consulate in Houston was accepting visa applications. Halfway through scheduling an appointment I started feeling like a fool and realized that if it had taken me so long to discover the Houston office was open for business, I could hardly expect to navigate the confusing visa application process on my own.
In a fit of frustration I threw money at the problem. I contacted a Mexican immigration assistance service, Mexlaw, that specializes in helping expats get their residency visas and other legal documents. A couple of emails and a quick phone call later, 90% of our questions were answered and we (in theory) have a plan to address both the consulate on this side of the border and the immigration office in Mexico.
Tremendous feelings of relief washed over me initially, but I spent the following several days frustrated with myself for not having taken this approach sooner. Now though, after retracing my steps and connecting the dots, I’m convinced that it was most of that effort was unavoidable. The emotional distress, however, need not be…
The journey we’ve undertaken, researching and planning our escape, has been a dizzying ride; and the whiplash from its twists and turns caused no small amount of emotional trauma, especially in recent weeks. But as a result of this process, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to reflect on how I might do better in the future, when in the throes of another initiatory experience.
After beating myself up for overcomplicating matters (overthinking and over-planning), and doing switchbacks with our plans, I eventually realized that most of the process was unavoidable. We had to evaluate every option, run down every lead, and dig deeper into our research to understand enough about the situation to make the right choices for our family.
To counter the trauma caused by planning such a major undertaking from a point of total ignorance (as I’m sure will happen again), in the future I’ll need to try harder to allow myself to be wrong -or to simply not know the answer.
If I hadn’t been wrong about so many things, I wouldn’t have learned as much either. I’m better off with more information and everything we need is coming together for us in the end anyway.
Getting it right meant “getting right” with being wrong. Emotions continue to cloud my logic when I want the outcome this badly. But it’s not detachment that I need; passion drives the magic. It’s the “lust for result” that needs to be forgotten -left at the crossroads without looking back.
This isn’t about keeping emotion in check, it’s about reining in the ever present ego; bent on figuring everything out and being the hero of its own story. It’s about it being a lonely story that way -it’s hard to build community by yourself.
It’s time to let the universe meet us halfway. It’s ok not to know.
Believing this is a spell…
Featured image: Lost In The Cursed Forest by Iduna-Haya