ATTENTION AMATEUR & PRO UW PHOTOGRAPHERS planning a trip to Baja Mexico:
Now that I have returned from Baja California, Mexico, here is what I know 1st hand. If you fly into Cabo San Lucas or into La Paz, Mexico, expect to pay a fee if the Customs agents stop you and notice that you have an underwater housing. The agent will Google the housing to see it’s worth, then demand that you pay 16% of that price. Many new DSLR UW housings are $4,000 or more. You will pay $640 US dollars to use that fancy new housing in Baja Mexico. The customs agent will also show you an official document in English that states you may bring in 2 cameras and the accoutrements involved, but the underwater housing is a fee by Mexican law.
I ran into a pro photographer I know who happened to be staying in the same hotel. He was leading a small underwater photo tour in La Paz. The vacationers were all from Switzerland and they all told me that they had to pay exorbitant fees for their camera housings and their video housings at La Paz airport even though they were all amateurs themselves.
Customs officials are targeting underwater photographers at the airport in Cabo San Lucas and in La Paz. If you have a hard-sided protective travel case for your gear they will stop you. The customs agent said I was allowed 2 cameras and the things that go along with that, BUT an underwater housing must be taxed by Mexican customs laws even if you are not a professional. He showed me the document in writing about this customs law.
I told the officer that I was NOT a pro photographer, but the document he showed me specifies underwater housings as a taxable item. I told the officer that my housing was old and maybe worth $200 which is true since it is about 7 years old. He got out his cell phone and looked up the model name and number (Olympus PT-EP08 UW case for E-M5) and said it was worth at least $300. In order for me to enter the country and use MY OWN underwater camera case for personal use (I do not earn a living by photography nor do I sell my photos online or in another way) I had to pay $50 US dollars to keep my housing with me.
FYI: Customs officers in Cabo San Lucas airport take credit cards for this "Photographer's Fee".
Even though Cabo/La Paz is the nearest warm water diving destination to my home, this will be my last vacation here for underwater photography. If you have a nondescript, soft-sided carry-on suitcase that you can carry all of you underwater housings in, then do it. If you have to check your underwater housings through with a hard case and your dive gear is packed in a bag with a diving insignia on it, they will stop you. If they find an underwater camera housing in you luggage, the Mexican authorities will nail you for 16% of the value of that housing at the price that they find online.