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US Border Crossing Information for Homebuilts-Mexico
By Flight Log
Planning For The Trip
In the operating limitations of your aircraft, you will find the following or a similarly worded statement: "This aircraft does not meet the requirements of the applicable, comprehensive, and detailed airworthiness code as provided by Annex 8 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation. This aircraft may not be operated over any other country without the permission of that country." In order to get permission, contact Mexico’s Embassy in the United States:
Mexico’s Embassy in theUnited States’
Address: Embassy of Mexico, 2829 16th
St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009
Telephone: (202) 728-1600 Embassy
Consulate (202) 736-1000, 01, 02, 03
Military Attache (202) 728-1740
It is suggested that you receive permission in writing. Be sure to document your request by registered mail, should the lines of communication break down and you do not receive a response. Allow 30 days lead time for this process. However, five days in advance is required.
Before departing, use this checklist for the pilot, plane and passengers. Most of these are things you already have and will normally be carrying with you on any flight, but double check to make certain everything is with you and current.
Pilot: license, medical; passport or notarized statement of citizenship (birth certificate, baptismal certificate or military discharge papers work, but a passport is the easiest); radiotelephone license (technically, this is required in all international operations--in reality, we've never seen anyone asked for it. If you're going to fly in Baja often, it's probably worth the few minutes it takes to fill out the form. Call your local office of the Federal Communications Commission and ask for a copy of Form 735.)
Plane: Airworthiness certificate; permanent registration certificate (pink temporary is not acceptable); weight and balance data, radio station license; if the pilot is not the owner, a notarized letter of permission from the owner(s); foot-high N numbers (temporary numbers applied with tape or water-soluble paint are O.K.); data plate mounted on the outside of the plane giving make, model and serial number of the plane; Customs decal showing payment of the $25 annual inspection fee (this may be purchased in advance or at the time you make your first border crossing of the year back into the U.S.; valid liability insurance issued by a Mexican insurance company (we recommend Terry Burkhart at Thaddeus Smith and Assoc, Garden Grove, CA (714)938-9469.
Passengers: passport or notarized statement of citizenship (other forms of ID will work just fine); if a child is not accompanied by both parents, a notarized letter of permission from whichever parent(s) is not along.
All border-crossing flights must be on a flight plan. Even if you never file a VFR flight plan, you will when flying to Baja. For areas other that Baja, file a Flight Plan with your FSS, taking you to the airport of entry in Mexico. They will also have weather into Mexico available.
Current security levels in the USA call for all flights crossing international borders to follow special procedures. These procedures are spelled out in NOTAM’s (Notices to Airmen). It is imperative that pilots understand and follow the procedures called out in these NOTAM’s. NOTAM info can be obtained by calling Flight Service at 800-WXBRIEF.
The Evening before your departure, call Flight Service:
San Diego County-800-992-7433,
Anywhere else in California 800-439-3422, Anywhere in US or Mexico 619/277-33493,
and tell them you want to file a border-crossing flight plan and a return customs notification. (NOTE: This information was confirmed 1/18/96) You can originate this round-trip arrangement only by calling San Diego FSS directly. Other Flight Service Stations are unaware of the procedure.
Technically, the return portion isn't a flight plan, because they can't accept a flight plan that originates in a foreign country. That's why it's called a "return Custom's notification." But placing this "non-flight-plan flight plan" on file is both helpful and important. It's helpful because on your return all you have to do is contact San Diego FSS from the air and tell them you have a return Customs notification on file. They call it up on the computer, ask for an updated ETA on the S.S. airport and you're done. The reason this return flight plan is important is because of a U.S. Customs requirement that you give a minimum of one-hour advance notice before penetrating U.S. airspace. If you have filed a return flight plan in advance, then at 6 a.m. on your departure date, the FSS files a list of everyone who will arrive that day with Customs. Be certain and give as an ETA a time, at or later than, you think you will actually arrive. Then when you get within radio distance, call and give FSS the correct time. Even if it is less than one hour when you cross the border, Customs will be satisfied because they were notified at 6 a.m. that morning.
At the Border, Southbound
Going south, your first stop must be at an official Mexican Airport of Entry. That means Mexicali, Tijuana, San Felipe or Ensenada for most single engine airplanes. San Felipe is a relatively recent addition to the list of Airports of Entry; it now can handle arriving international flights and it has fuel. When going into Mexico from points other that Baja, contact the closest Mexican Airport of Entry, where you will be crossing the border, at least 24 hours in advance. Some northern border entry points are: Nogales, Sonora; Hermosillo, Sonora; Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua; Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila; Piedras Negras, Coahuila; Nuevo Laredo; Tamaulipas; Reynosa,Tamaulipas; Matamoros, Tamaulipas; Chihuahua, Chihuahua; Guaymas, Sonora. Some southern border entry points are: Tapachula, Chiapas; Chetuman, Quintana Roo; Cozumel, Quintana RCO; Cancun, Quintana Roo; Merida, Yucatan.
Those with fuel and bladder endurance can file directly to Loreto, La Paz or Cabo San Lucas. Be aware that if you file for these airports and then encounter any mechanical problems and must land, you are in Mexico with an undocumented airplane. This will be very complicated, at least somewhat unpleasant, and will take a lot more time to resolve than you would have spent clearing Customs and Immigration at the border. FLIGHT LOG strongly recommends stopping at one of the border or near-border airports on the way down.
Save yourself a trip back out to the plane by taking in the registration and airworthiness certificates from which the officials will take some of the information needed to fill out the General Declaration. Present these, along with your pilot's license and Mexican liability insurance. Passengers will be issued tourist cards, and the pilot will be issued a tourist card for himself and a General Declaration, a tourist card for the airplane. It is very important, and must be shown whenever you file a flight plan in Baja.
This paperwork is minimal and will take only a few minutes. Many pilots, when asked why they've never flown to Baja, say they're afraid of the paperwork. YOU WON'T DO ANY! Just present your documents and stand back. If you can answer a couple of simple questions("where are you going?") and write down your passengers' names correctly, you've got it made. The officials will do the rest. The people you encounter while doing the official forms speak English decently, if a bit haltingly, and will do everything they can to help. A tip of $1-2 each, delivered with a smile and a genuine "gracias," is very much appreciated. This is a tip, not a bribe. It is not mandatory, but rather a means of showing appreciation for the assistance.
Mexican Flight Plans
Before departing the Airport of Entry, you will file a flight plan (plan de vuelo), which is similar in form and content to a U.S. flight plan. Probably no topic causes greater confusion for Baja pilots than the Mexican flight plan.
Departing the Airport of Entry, you file a flight plan to your next intended stop. If that stop is NOT a tower airport (and there are very few), you will not be able to close the flight plan upon arrival. NOBODY CARES. You haven't done anything wrong. You will not go to jail, and they will not come looking for you. In fact, you could fly for weeks in Baja without closing the original flight plan. Unlike the U.S., a flight plan does not have search-and-rescue implications. You will close the flight plan when you next land at a tower airport, and you will file a new flight plan the next time you depart a tower airport, whenever that might be. That's it. In between, you're O.K. on whatever your last flight plan was.
Not being able to speak Spanish is not a problem for pilots in Baja, as long as they use a bit of common sense mixed with an ample dose of courtesy.
Every tower airport is staffed by at least one person who speaks English. Remember that you are a guest in his or her country, and the tower is helping you out by speaking your language. Do your part by speaking slowly, clearly and being patient. Acknowledge all transmissions, don't use slang and save the clever turns of phrase and requests for an overhead break pattern for your next trip in the U.S.
Your first call to a tower airport should be just the tower name and your I.D. Don't tell them your life story before establishing contact. Because the volume of traffic is often very low, the controllers may not be standing right by the mic as they are in the U.S. When they reply, they expect you to give them your aircraft type (i.e. Cessna 172), point of last departure ("Departed Punta Chivato"), position and intention to land ("20 miles north of 5,500 ft, landing Loreto").
The tower will normally come back with the runway in use, the wind and a request to report "10 miles out", five mile final" or some other specific point.
A frequent query from the tower is "What is your DME? This often leads to long, futile exchanges in which pilots try and explain to controllers that they don't have DME, and the controllers keep asking "What is your DME?" What the question really means is "How far out from the airport are you?" There is no radar anywhere in Baja (with the exception of Tiajauna Approach), so the tower can only locate you visa-a-vis other traffic by asking where you are. Answer with your best estimate; whether you actually have DME on board or not is irrelevant.
Departing a tower airport, you will generally be told to "report 20 miles south". Be courteous and stay with the tower and make this report. At that time they will say, "Cleared to leave this frequency," and they may give you the frequency of the next tower airport, if that's where you've filed to.
Fuel and Oil
Fuel (100 and, sometime, 80) is available, at a government-fixed price at all tower airports. The days of giveaway fuel prices in Mexico are, unfortunately, gone. Expect to pay around $2.20 a gallon. The price fluctuates slightly with the daily valuation of the peso. There is now a landing fee which includes certain charges which were previously bundled in as part of the fuel charge. Tis will be in the range of $7-12 at each tower airport.
All fuel transactions in Baja must be paid for in cash. No credit cards anywhere. Bring plenty of small bills, since you can't count on receiving change, at least not in dollars. The current exchange rate is just a bit under 3,000 pesos to the dollar.
Fuel is usually, but not always, available at private airports such as Punta Chivato, Serenidad (Mulege), Alfonsina's (Gonzaga Bay) and Guerrero Negro. The price at these airports is uncontrolled and will be higher than at the tower airports.
Distances are long in Baja and we strongly recommend filling up whenever and wherever you have an opportunity to do so.
It's unlikely that the airports will stock the oil your plane is used to, although what they have will generally do the job. The best bet is to take along what you anticipate needing for the trip. Remember to include it in your weight for weight and balance.
The standard aviation chart for the Baja peninsula is the WAC CH-22, available from most major sources of aviation charts.
We find that the current Auto Club Baja map is a very helpful adjunct to the aviation chart. It has more detail, is frequently more accurate and is updated more often.
There are only a few VORs in Baja, so much of your aviation will be by pilotage.
Time To Pack Up The Souvenirs
All good things must end (sigh), so eventually you start back. Heading north, your last stop in Mexico must be at an Airport of Entry and your first stop in the U.S. must be at the U.S. Airport of Entry nearest to the border.
It is possible to file out of the country from Cabo, La Paz or Loreto, but you do so at the risk of having a lot of explaining to do if you have to set down for any reason. The more prudent course is to check out of Mexico at Mexicali, San Felipe, Ensenada, or Tijuana.
The checkout procedure is even faster than check-in. Immigration (Migracion) will take back the tourist cards, Customs (aduana) will wave at you and the Mexican equivalent of the FAA will take back the General Declaration. Then you file your final Mexican flight plan and you're on your way.
The only two options for entering the U.S. in California are Calexico or Brown Field (San Diego). Make certain you either filed a return flight plan in advance and confirmed its existence by contacting San Diego Radio in the air, or that you air-filed the entire thing and that a full hour has elapsed. If it hasn't, sit tight until your ETA.
Try and hit your ETA within 15 minutes. If you will be off more than that, call the FSS and have them update the info with U.S. Customs.
Upon arrival at Brown or Calexico, stay with the airplane until the customs inspector comes out. It helps to obtain in advance Customs Forms 178. If you fill in all the routine blanks (pilot's name, address, N number, time of departure, etc.) for them, it will greatly speed your trip through Customs. The form is available from any U.S. Customs office.
The inspector will normally look at people's passports, ask a few questions such as how far south you went, whether you have any fruit on board, whether you have anything to declare for Customs purposes, etc. Then you will go inside to complete some paperwork and purchase a decal for your annual $25 Customs inspection fee if you don't already have one.
• Aircraft which you do not own must have a notarized letter from the owner authorizing it to be operated in Mexico.
• You must have liability insurance issued by a Mexican company before departure. U.S. aircraft liability insurance is not acceptable in Mexico.
• Private aircraft with a seating capacity of more than 16 must comply with commercial aviation requirements and obtain a permit 5 days before entry.
• You must be able to present your pilot and aircraft logbooks on demand.
• For international flights the aircraft must be equipped with two-way communications along with a valid FCC Radio Station License. The PIC must have a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit, FCC Form 753.
• All occupants of your aircraft must have proof of citizenship. Passports or birth certificates are preferred.
• VFR is 1500 feet and 5 miles.
• No night VFR flight is allowed.
• Firearms are strictly forbidden and a felony offense with a Mexican permit!
• Pets must be at least 3 months old, and you must show all pet immunization records.
US Customs information can be found at http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel. Download the document titled “Guide For Private Flyers”
THE ADMINISTRATOR HAS ISSUED A CEASE AND DESIST ORDER AND NOTICE OF ENFORCEMENT:
EFFECTIVE FEBRUARY 29, 1996 ANY PERSON HOLDING A US AIRMAN CERTIFICATE AND OR OPERATING US REGISTERED CIVIL AIRCRAFT SHALL COMPLY WITH FEDERAL AVIATION REGULATIONS PROHIBITING UNAUTHORIZED OPERATION WITHIN CUBAN TERRITORIAL AIRSPACE.
UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY INTO THIS AIRSPACE WILL SUBJECT THE INDIVIDUAL TO ENFORCEMENT ACTION TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, INCLUDING: REVOCATION OF PILOT CERTIFICATE, MAXIMUM CIVIL PENALTIES, SEIZURE OF AIRCRAFT, AND JUDICIAL REMEDIES. FURTHER, ANY PERSON ATTEMPTING TO OPERATE AN AIRCRAFT AFTER REVOCATION OR WITHOUT A VALID CERTIFICATE IS SUBJECT TO CRIMINAL PENALTIES OF UP TO 3 YEARS IN PRISON AND OR FINES.