Memorial Day Weekend: Do You Have Your Passport?

I can always tell when three-day weekends are coming up like this one for Memorial Day. Like clockwork,  I see a spike in blog traffic as people who are thinking of heading to Mexico by car or foot start worrying about whether they will be stranded at the border if they try to cross back into the United States without a U.S. passport.

As you may recall, it was ok for many years to cross the border at the land ports of entry with a flick of your state driver license. A few years ago, the U.S. government outlined a passport “requirement.” Enforcing this hasn’t exactly been practical, and I continue to hear back from people who say that they are making it back just fine without their passports.

Now I personally think everyone should have a passport, just in case you have an itch to pack your bags and go to…who knows where. However, at the border I don’t use a passport (I have a frequent border crosser SENTRI card),  so I rely on readers to share their own border crossing experiences. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest comments people have left on the blog about crossing without a passport:

Here’s one account from reader Rick, who seems to have an affinity for writing in haiku:

“just cross the mexico us border last wekend for the 2nd time no passport only my nevada dl birth certificate ss card no problem only sugested to get my passport soon.”

Here’s a recent first-person account from JLo (you mean, THE JLo? Ok, probably not…)

Hello people well I just cross the border April walking Tijuana border. Yes they do ask for a passport and ask why I didn’t have it. I told them I didn’t have money and they just let me pass. Now they do have a special line for the ones that don’t have one. The funny thing is that a cross the border in 5min and the ones that did have a passport had to wait 2hours . Remember something I did have my *Birth Certificated and my *California ID….. oh another information i have is that children are not asked to have a passport. My littles sister is 10 and they NEVER ask for one. Remember this is only my experience ! hopes this is helpful.. have a nice trip.

And NRod, who is getting a bit grumpy about those long border line waits, reminds us all to update our passports:

People…the lines at the border would go a lot faster if everyone would have either a passport book/passport card, certified birth certificates for travellers under the age of 16 with their school IDs.

If travelling by land, pay the $55 to get the passport card. It is well worth it! It gets frustrating when we have to sit in line for 3 hours to come back to the U.S. from an outreach work weekend because people don’t have the proper documentation.

Happy travels south of the border this weekend!

Pets at the border: A Tijuana dog’s cross-border tail, er tale

Tijuana dog

This is my Tijuana dog Lucky. She has a home in Tijuana, and I see her frequently when I spend time south of the border, but recently we decided to take her across the border to visit the promised land of San Diego where pets like her, who are typically kept for practical purposes like guarding a home, are pampered with pedicures and trips to the beach.

I haven’t done this sooner because I was a little nervous about what  might happen to Lucky at the border. The information I had found on the Internet seemed to be more tailored towards U.S. dogs being allowed to cross back into the U.S.  with proper veterinarian documentation, and Lucky is from Mexico.

I found this line, from one U.S. government publication, somewhat alarming: “Pets excluded from entry into the United States must either be exported or destroyed.” I was a little worried that her nationality and lack of U.S. veterinarian papers might land her in quarantine for 30 days. The thought of Lucky locked up like that was enough to keep me from daring to cross with her for quite a while.

Lucky is a Rottweiler mix of some sort, and she is aptly-named. She was rescued several years ago as a puppy in Tecate, Mexico by some onlookers after her owner was seen kicking and dragging her through a muddy road. Turned out she had dysentery, which could have killed her. We got her on some medications and she survived, learning to get along nicely with a poodle (who called the shots) and to put up with a Chihuahua (who yapped, and yapped and yapped). Later, when we had her sterilized at the Tijuana “Perroton” – a weekend mass sterilization of Tijuana dogs – Lucky’s heart stopped midway through her procedure and the volunteer surgeons said they almost lost her.

For Lucky’s first trip into the United States I got her paperwork in order –  the Tijuana veterinarian records in Spanish that show all her vaccinations are current – and hoped for the best. Turns out that all the worry was for naught. When we pulled up to the Tijuana border, the Customs guy asked us what was in the crate.

When I told him it was a dog, he turned to Lucky, barked “Arf, Arf!”  – – – and waved us through.

From my one experience, it seems as if common sense seems to be prevailing at the border in regards to pets:  But, in case you want to know, here is an excerpt from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection publication of what the U.S. government says you should do if you want to bring your pet across the border from areas “not free of rabies” (apparently, that includes Mexico). The 20-page document talk about “importing” a pet though I’m not sure if that also means “taking your pet for a visit.”

  • “A valid rabies vaccination certificate should accompany the animal. This certificate should be in English or be accompanied by a translation. It should identify the animal, the dates of vaccination and expiration, and be signed by a licensed veterinarian. If no expiration date is specified, the certificate is acceptable if the date of vaccination is no more than 12 months before the date of arrival. NOTE: Some certificates say the vaccine is good for three years. Dogs should not get re-vaccinated if they are within the dates of the certificate.”
  • “Dogs not accompanied by proof of rabies vaccination, including those that are too young to be vaccinated (less than 3 months of age), may be admitted if the importer completes a confinement agreement and confines the animal until it is considered adequately vaccinated against rabies (the vaccine is not considered effective until 30 days after the date of vaccination). The confinement agreement (form CDC 75.37) can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dq/animal.htm.”;
  • “If the vaccination was performed less than 30 days before arrival, the animal may be admitted but must be confined at a place of the owner’s choosing until at least 30 days have passed since the vaccination.”
  • “Young puppies must be confined at a place of the owner’s choosing until they are three months old, then they must be vaccinated. They must remain in confinement for 30 days after the vaccination.”

Do you have a pet-at-the-border story? What’s your experience been like?

Time out, but have a seat & keep chatting

I haven’t been able to update this blog lately because I’ve been in the middle of getting a new job and home – and moving into a new home and job.

Both major life events are happily bringing me back to San Diego after a two year absence. During that time I was in Los Angeles where I  got a master’s degree at USC, and worked full time at the university. It was a great experience, but I am glad to be returning closer to the border where I am starting a new career as social media director at Tree.com (parent company of LendingTree and a bunch of other loan and home-related sites).

With so much going on, I want to let readers know that I am putting things on hold –  for now. But please continue the interesting conversations that have developed around a number of blog posts, in particular the one about the passports. I will make a point of checking and updating the comments to allow for contined information exchange.

Happy border travels and let me know if you are in the area!

Photo credit: Benches.com

Results from my survey on police bribery of tourists in Mexico

During my master’s program at the University of Southern California (specialty on online communities), I designed a survey as part of my research practices class on the topic of police bribery in Mexico. It was inspired by a story I wrote once when I was a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune about how the tourist shakedowns were hard to quantify because so few are actually reported.

I finally got around to releasing the survey on SurveyMonkey and collecting the data a few months ago when 113 had filled it out.  

First of all, some context: The majority of the people who completed  the survey (78.7 percent) were between the ages of 31 and 65, with most of these skewing towards the older age range of 46-65. They were predominantly male (85.8 percent), and predominantly white (85.8 percent).  Eighty percent had crossed the border 20 times or more over their lifetimes.

Here are some survey highlights:

Of the total surveyed, 40.2 percent said they had never paid an officer in Mexico a bribe.

However, 46.4 percent said they had paid a bribe at least once or as much as three times.  12.5 percent said they had paid such a bribe between 4-10 times.

for 62 percent of those who paid bribes, the total amount paid was between $1 and $25.

32.4 percent of those who paid bribes paid between $26 and $50.

14.7 percent of those who paid bribes paid between $51 and $100.

Only 4.3 percent of survey respondents said they had ever filed a complaint to report the incident.

When evaluating the perception of bribery as a problem for  tourists in Mexico, 20.2 percent of respondents considered it to be a “huge problem” but 16.5 percent of respondents didn’t consider it to be a problem at all. The majority of respondents – 27.5 percent – considered policy bribery to be a moderate problem.

Thank you to all who participated in the survey. I will release additional highlights in future blog posts.

ICF Survey finds that many U.S. retirees in Mexico live comfortably for less than $1,000 a month

This month, the National City-based International Community Foundation released findings of a survey they conducted of more than 840 senior retirees in coastal areas of Mexico who are over the age of 50. I’m republishing here portions of the Foundation press release that was posted on their web site: 

  • U.S. retirees in Mexico are relatively young and well-educated. Nearly 53% are under 65 years of age (and, in fact, 80% are 69 years or younger), perhaps indicating that Mexico may not be as attractive for older Americans that require additional medical care. In addition, almost two-thirds have at least a college degree, and another 28% had attended at least one-year of college.
  • The respondents chose Mexico for retirement due to its proximity to the United States and its affordability relative to other U.S. retirement destinations.
  • U.S. retirees residing in Mexico continue to maintain strong ties to the U.S.: 50% consider the U.S. their primary country of residency, and almost 22% return to the U.S. on a monthly basis. 85% remain in contact with friends and family in the U.S. through the internet, 64% used the telephone, and 33% used Skype.
  • Retirees living in Mexico are worldly and world-wise. Of those that had considered retirement locations other than Mexico, 41% considered retiring in Central America or the Caribbean; 19% considered other non-U.S. destinations as possible retirement locations. Should quality of life decline in Mexico, those that are financially able could begin to look elsewhere.
  • Mexico may become an alternative for those U.S. retirees facing economic challenges in the future. While survey results and focus group participants clearly express that economic reasons were a major factor in leading them south of the U.S.-Mexico border, the potential is likely greater than is being realized. In 2007, the California Elder Economic Security Standard Index (a financial measure that indicates basic financial needs for seniors in California) ranged from $21,000-$27,500 as the minimum needed for major California cities. The survey results show that nearly 44% of U.S. coastal retirees in Mexico live comfortably on less than $1,000 per month – an amount which underscores the potential demand for retirement options for low and middle income retirees in Mexico.

For more on the survey, go to the ICF website or read this story by San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Sandra Dibble. 

To get an insight into the life of senior citizens retired in Mexicali, go to MexicaliMaryAnn’s blog:  http://www.mexicalimaryann.com/

About the ICF (from their web site):  International Community Foundation is a public charity working to foster lasting philanthropy to benefit under-served communities throughout the Americas and Asia. With over 70% of International Community Foundation’s recent grantmaking benefiting charitable causes along the Baja California peninsula, International Community Foundation is committed to assisting US donors with charitable giving needs from Tijuana to Los Cabos.

At the SXSW conference…

Just a quick note to let readers know I will be out of town through next week at  SXSW (Interactive)  in Austin where I will be immersing myself in all things social media. I will try to promptly update the comments section during this time,  but I may not be able to provide immediate responses. Hopefully, the power of collective intelligence and crowdsourcing will allow you to help each other out with your travel questions.

Surfing along Baja: The Big Wave at Todos Santos

Let me begin by saying that I have not been to Todos Santos,  a pair of islands about 12 miles west of Ensenada, and that I don’t surf.

But surfing is a big part of Baja’s appeal  to sports-minded travelers. So I was glad to come across a recent travelogue posted by Nathan Gibbs on his blog – Nathangibbs.com -  of the  the Todos Santos Big Wave Event. Apparently, surfers wait out the appropriate wave conditions during the month of February until someone makes the call that the contest is on. In this case, the event took place Feb. 28 after forecasters predicted waves would get between 18-20 feet high.

I once interviewed some surfers (when I was a reporter) about what draws them to Baja California. Several told me it was the ruggedness and isolated atmosphere – the sense of what California must have been like before the urban sprawl and the knotted shoelace freeways.  The chance to have a wave all to themselves.

Or, as in this case, to simply ride some pretty impressive waves. To get a sense of the Todos Santos area’s alluring waves,  I’ve embedded a video (above) that Nathan made of his ocean excursion. But to get a more comprehensive sense of the event, do check out Nathangibbs.com to see some amazing shots of the surfers and waves that day.

And feel free in the comments section to suggest links to other videos or photos taken from that day.

YouTube video from NathanGibbs.com