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ATTENTION: UW PHOTOGRAPHERS going to Baja Mexico:

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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.

Customs UW Housing charge.jpg

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You should be able to obtain a carnet - you provide a guarantee that you will take the goods out of mexico:

https://www.atacarnet.com/mexico

They may have changed laws recently or be interpreting them differently but it would be worth talking to a specialist as mentioned in the link.   Even if you are paying by card they may be siphoning this off.  If a carnet does not solve your problem then the only real solution would be to cancel citing this behaviour by customs officers.  

Depending on the value of your housing it might exceed the cost to obtain the carnet.

Many countries have laws around what you can import but I expect enforcement is not always carried out.

 

 

 

Edited by ChrisRoss

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I would like to see how the dive community responds to this high tariff before I ever go back. I paid close to $50 in fees for a 7 year old Olympus plastic housing for my little mirrorless Olympus EM-5.

I'm shooting with a Z7 now and this Mexican Photographer's tax stopped me from purchasing a housing for it for this trip. I used my old Olympus set up instead which was not ideal, but I'm not about to pay out money on high extortion fees, so the UW camera housing industry just lost a big sale. 

If you can cancel your Baja destination to go somewhere else, that would be one way to avoid the UW housing fees. If enough divers divert from Baja, it will inevitably affect the money stream. The dive industry there may take notice and plead their case to the government to cease the extortion..  

Otherwise, spend $$ on an international carry-on ThinkTank suitcase which is soft sided, and put your housing & cameras in that. As long as they do not inspect your bag at customs, you may be able to fly under the radar, but be prepared with your credit card in Cabo san Lucas or La Paz if they look in your bag.

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6 hours ago, Interceptor121 said:

What happens if you travel to Baja using an internal and not international flight?

Was just about to ask this. I usually fly into Mexico City first and spend a day there then head out to Cabo.  Haven’t had any problems this way but then again it has been a few years since I was there.

also, anyone knows if this applies for uw monitor housings as well? Could end up being very expensive.

Edited by Pajjpen

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Pro photographer Franco Banfi and his group of amateur UW photographers from Switzerland  flew into La Paz from Mexico City last week the same time I was there, and they were nailed for hundreds of dollars. They check your passport at every stop. Unless you have a Mexican passport, they KNOW where you originated from.

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This new attempt of extorsion is not acceptable. The goods will be temporarily in the country. They will not be resold in the country. The carnet they mention has nothing to do with this : " Carnets can always be used instead of the US Registration of Goods form (CF4455) to avoid import duties when returning to the US " so no, its when you are coming back to the US, not for Mexico. This is BS.

For me it is simple, I will not go to Mexico, I will go to other countries. With this extorsion they don't deserve my money, therefore I will go to plenty of other places...

 

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Is this just Baha or does it apply across Mexico? Cozumel for example?

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So potentially, if I am traveling into Cabo with:

- 2 camera bodies (OLY PEN) +lenses + housing (purchased used as a set for app. $600 five years ago)

- GoPro Hero 5 purchased for $175 a year ago.

They might argue that the housing is a camera, and therefore say that this is four cameras?  Presumably two of them are still duty free, so they may charge on two of the items?  And in theory, the value used should be something lower than what was paid originally?  Are they going to nail me on strobes, arms, etc?

No bueno.

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TravelDave,

2 camera bodies and one Go pro might be interpreted by customs as 3 cameras. If you can, dig up the old receipts, bring them and also show the depreciation over the years for the items. That is what I would do next time if I REALLY needed to go to Baja again. I think I will wait to return until Baja realizes that no vacationing diver/photographer will want to visit as long as those kinds of extortion fees are in place for vacationers.

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Tim G,

  I only know that both La Paz & Cabo San Lucas airports are stopping divers and checking their camera gear. Many European divers I met in La Paz last week were also made to pay for their housings. Your Subal housing has a big price tag, so unless you can show documentation of it's current depreciated worth, you will pay $632 US dollars or 12,264 Mexican Pesos, or 574 Euros to be permitted to enter the country with your Subal housing. It's something I hope that the large diving and UW photographer industries can influence in reversing.

  Before my trip I was ready to purchase a new UW housing for my new Nikon Z7, but I held off since I did not want to be extorted for an astronomical fee. My UW set up that I brought along instead was a 7 year old Olympus EM-5 with plastic PT-EP08 housing which I felt would not raise an eyebrow. It's plastic for Christ's sake. I had to pay almost $50 to enter Baja Mexico with it. A Nikon Z7 housing runs between $1,700-$3,600 which translates to $272- $576 dollars in fees just to use my own camera equipment for a week. This nonsense needs to stop I think. The UW camera shop in town just lost out on what would have been a good $5,000 sale with the Z7 housing, ports, etc. I'm not about to buy a new UW system if I have to keep paying for it when I travel!!

Again, I hope the dive/photo industries get onboard & raise hell about this extortion.

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I just got back from a trip to Mag Bay.  I flew into La Paz but did not have any problems because my first leg was from Oakland to Guadalajara where I cleared customs without incident.  My flight from Guadalajara to La Paz was a domestic flight therefore I did not go through customs at La Paz.  This is one work around to the problem.

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Just returned from Cabo Pulmo (Nautilus Gallant Lady) and the upshot was this:
1. Made it through Cabo Customs without getting dinged for extra gear but they were definitely fishing. Asking lots of questions in broken English with the word "housing" in there. I just kept smiling and saying "small" and "GoPro". Plus I got the green light when I pushed the button.
2. Was able to use strobes at all times in Cabo Pulmo. Turned them off voluntarily when shooting Bull Sharks but no issues from the guide or anyone else. That being said, during the three dives and 12 dives we did in Pulmo, none of the official Park "minders" showed up to observe us so maybe we got off easy.

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Just returned from Cabo Pulmo (Nautilus Gallant Lady) and the upshot was this:
1. Made it through Cabo Customs without getting dinged for extra gear but they were definitely fishing. Asking lots of questions in broken English with the word "housing" in there. I just kept smiling and saying "small" and "GoPro". Plus I got the green light when I pushed the button.
2. Was able to use strobes at all times in Cabo Pulmo. Turned them off voluntarily when shooting Bull Sharks but no issues from the guide or anyone else. That being said, during the three dives and 12 dives we did in Pulmo, none of the official Park "minders" showed up to observe us so maybe we got off easy.
Did u fly into Cabo on an international flight or was it domestic?

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On 12/18/2019 at 12:23 AM, Pajjpen said:

Did u fly into Cabo on an international flight or was it domestic?

International, LAX-SJD. (That's why I had to go through Customs. On domestic flights, you don't.)

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International, LAX-SJD. (That's why I had to go through Customs. On domestic flights, you don't.)
Right! Guess I was more sleepy than I thought I was when I wrote it

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The previously cited scuba board thread has some pretty good information on packing methods that have been successful. But it's really just a crapshoot. If you get the red light, you're toast. Also if you're caught lying to the customs folks, things can get nasty and expensive.

I was planning to go down there to Socorro in May 2020. Just changed my mind based on this fiasco/shakedown and will be going to Cocos instead. I also sent an email to the Solmar V folks advising them of my decision to pass on Socorro and asked them to do what they can to influence a change. I'm not optimistic. In the meantime all of Mexico is off my list, although it appears only Baja is affected right now.

 Last August I went through Cancun Airport on my way to a WP whale shark trip. I was asked a number of questions about my gear, but ended up getting through without a problem. I hired one of their porters to handle my cases in Cancun. That may have helped.

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I want to see representatives from The Solmar V, Fun Azul Fleet, The Valentina, The Nautilus and other dive operators in Cabo and La Paz stepping up to protest the extortion practices by the Mexican government that targets scuba divers & amateur photographers visiting Baja. 
Until Baja becomes more diver friendly and photographer friendly, I will not go there. 

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I just had a trip at the end of November and flew into Cabo San Lucas (SJD) from the US.  I have been using a carry on Pelican Case and feel they targeted the case.  I was pulled out of line for it and they demanded $400 for my Aquatica AD7100 housing and 8" dome.  After googling and determining it wasn't for sale anymore, I was charged $96US.  I was also told the value of the items I am bringing in cannot be greater than $3,000.00 or they would be confiscated.  Possibly, that's BS but is what they told me.  They also told me they are looking for underwater housings + dome port and drones.  If you have a drone, you also need to have a US FAA license to operate it.  This was not the way to start my vacation.  On my way out of the country my Pelican case was searched twice (once checking in and again before boarding the bus that takes you to the plane).  I had my dive weights, stubby screwdrivers and a selfie stick for my action camera confiscated.  The selfie stick was my fault as I didn't pay attention to Mexico having different carry-on requirements than the US.

Edited by dinwa

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COZ - Dec 4 to 21 - travelling with a flock of pelicans including DSLR housing, strobes, batteries, etc. and a 19L pony.  

Coming in:
I was near front of line all the way through. 
Had electronic visa and declaration forms (they were very short on the plane so this is highly recommended).
Dog sniff of carry-on between customs and baggage (this was done at the dogs pace).
Asked if gear was 'professional' after xray.  Said no.  Waved through.
Green Light and carried on.
Interestingly cases were unopened all the way from YYC-IAH-COZ despite the pony cylinder and other interesting things (I use unique zip ties to verify)

Leaving:
United agent seemed to think I had the wrong part of the exit form but after a few minutes of staring at it and pondering carried on.  No issues with it after that.  I think they are still a bit unfamiliar with the electronic print-it-yourself versions.
No questions on the bags (other than they usual airline ones you get anywhere). 
Had lithium in carry on, others in checked and they seemed fine with this.  All in plastic cases.
Didn't even want a look inside of my carry-on (my battery/charging case flags almost everywhere).
Bags unopened until Denver but were then opened after recheck at DEN apparently as the zip ties were replaced by the time I pulled them off the belt at YYC and had a TSA notice inside.

So, no issues at all at Cozumel.  Or maybe I was just lucky.
(I do have Precheck/Global Entry/Nexus which certainly seems to help at US and Canadian points along the way)

Edited by mwalker_mw

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Only Baja Mexico seems to be an issue so far.

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On 12/26/2019 at 3:14 PM, dinwa said:

I just had a trip at the end of November and flew into Cabo San Lucas (SJD) from the US.  I have been using a carry on Pelican Case and feel they targeted the case.  I was pulled out of line for it and they demanded $400 for my Aquatica AD7100 housing and 8" dome.  After googling and determining it wasn't for sale anymore, I was charged $96US.  I was also told the value of the items I am bringing in cannot be greater than $3,000.00 or they would be confiscated.  Possibly, that's BS but is what they told me.  They also told me they are looking for underwater housings + dome port and drones.  If you have a drone, you also need to have a US FAA license to operate it.  This was not the way to start my vacation.  On my way out of the country my Pelican case was searched twice (once checking in and again before boarding the bus that takes you to the plane).  I had my dive weights, stubby screwdrivers and a selfie stick for my action camera confiscated.  The selfie stick was my fault as I didn't pay attention to Mexico having different carry-on requirements than the US.

  Sorry you had to pay, but they are definitely targeting any photo diver they can find to extort more money. They are not just targeting Americans. They have been stopping vacationers from around the globe. If you don’t pay the extortion fees, they will not let you enter the country. 
 They basically have you where they want you. No vacationer is going to risk losing a $4,000  “already paid for trip” by not paying the extortion fee for their camera gear. 

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On 12/24/2019 at 12:12 PM, divengolf said:

The previously cited scuba board thread has some pretty good information on packing methods that have been successful. But it's really just a crapshoot. If you get the red light, you're toast. Also if you're caught lying to the customs folks, things can get nasty and expensive.

 

I was on a Nautilus charter the 2nd week of December.   After a crappy sequence of broken planes, got there 8 hours late at 11pm and hit the red button.   However, they only fixated on the bag with the dive gear and simply asked if we only had 2 sets of regulators, then let us on our way.   Not sure if time of day played into it - we were among the first to leave the baggage area.   I had a thinktank, but kept the nauticam housing for my gh4 in a carry on laptop bag, though both were put in the xray.   I opted not to bring a drone, as a mix of not wanting the extra 3lbs, and not wanting to deal with possible customs hassle for limited shot potential on the trip.  

However, 2 guests on the charter were tagged - in one case, got the green light, but the agent saw the nauticam logo on a bag.  When he presented the Mexican regs as instructed by Nautilus, they got testy with him.   Ended up deciding each of these folks was good for an $80 shakedown.  

If the worst case were under a hundred, it might be easy to ignore the concern, but it's 16% of deemed value and many have been hit for 300+.    I'm with you in thinking there are plenty of other places to visit.   

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