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divrndeep

ATTENTION: UW PHOTOGRAPHERS going to Baja Mexico:

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12 hours ago, calbeardiver said:

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.   

Fellow divers I know from Switzerland, Spain, USA, United Kingdom, etc were slammed with over $600 fees since they had nice camera gear with them. Some divers flew into La Paz, others flew into Cabo, One man who responded to my post on another website stated he was extorted by customs when he drove a car down to Baja to dive. He was quite irritated that he had to pay $300 for his own personal, amateur photo gear. 

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On 11/10/2019 at 5:22 AM, Pajjpen said:

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.

Flying into Cabo or La Paz via Mexico City does not guarantee you immunity from Customs camera fees. Some of my friends were charged over $600 on their UW housings in order to be allowed to enter Baja Mexico with their gear. They flew into Mexico City from Switzerland, so they were a captive group that had to pay or go back home. It is truly bad business for Baja and the dive industry needs to take notice and take action!

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Back in the 90s in Cabo a small group of us where run thru the dive photo shakedown-we had reciepts and detailed gear lists on value and had signed some forms that gear was not for sale in Mexico and was to be returned to US. They hasseled us but in the end let us go without fees. WE where on a private charter (6 of us) to the San Benedicto and Roca Partida on a trimaran which was transiting from Santa Barbara to the Caribbean. Spent two weeks shooting sharks and mantas-really great trip back then before fishing wiped out much of the sharks 

My suggestion is get all your paperwoork in order and be prepared for the shakedown-keep your values low and of course all your equipment was bought used right.

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The 90's was a long time ago. Baja has gotten tougher in the past few years. If you are stopped, you will pay 16% of the value that the Customs agent researches on his smart phone for your camera gear. The limit for tourists is $3,000 worth of camera equipment for personal use. Most UW housings ALONE are worth more that $3,000. If you show your actual purchase receipts you will most likely pay 16% of that retail value to use your own gear anyway. It is not worth it for me. Until the dive industry takes action against the Mexican customs extortion fees, I will not dive there.

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Time to start e-mailing the Mexican tourist board it sounds

darn stright the 90s was some time back-but its when the life was there big time-Like Palau in the 80s-way better than Nowdays

Less trash in the pacific as well.-I'm still diving the planet its just further away to get to the good stuff

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Certainly - while I did get away unscathed in Coz I have no intention of returning to any part of Mexico for any reason until they get their house in order on the shakedowns and fraud (that includes the taxi drivers...).

So many other amazing places to go.  

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On 1/1/2020 at 10:08 AM, divrndeep said:

The 90's was a long time ago. Baja has gotten tougher in the past few years. If you are stopped, you will pay 16% of the value that the Customs agent researches on his smart phone for your camera gear. The limit for tourists is $3,000 worth of camera equipment for personal use. Most UW housings ALONE are worth more that $3,000. If you show your actual purchase receipts you will most likely pay 16% of that retail value to use your own gear anyway. It is not worth it for me. Until the dive industry takes action against the Mexican customs extortion fees, I will not dive there.

It's best if you stick to facts and not make such absolute statements.   You keep repeating the worst case as the norm.  Helpful as it is to know how bad it can be, repeatedly counting these individual events over the signal of anyone else just distorts reality.   Ideally we'd be seeing reports from all Baja travelers on WP.   But as a rule, the internet is much better at reporting the bad events than the normal ones.  

On my charter, the majority did not get hit, and the two that did got a smaller grab, despite having quite nice equipment.  I was inspected, yet did not pay, despite the $1900 nauticam housing, the 4 and 6" domes, the dual D2 and spare D1 strobes.  

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Respectfully, my heads up warning to photo divers was not one "individual event".  Also, it is easy to minimize the surprise financial "hit" experienced by multiple divers I spoke to from different countries on varied flights, and separate tours when it did not happen to you. 

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On 12/31/2019 at 11:08 PM, calbeardiver said:

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.   

What airport did you fly into?

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20 hours ago, divrndeep said:

Respectfully, my heads up warning to photo divers was not one "individual event".  Also, it is easy to minimize the surprise financial "hit" experienced by multiple divers I spoke to from different countries on varied flights, and separate tours when it did not happen to you. 

It's not clear how many events you're reporting, but you did it everywhere on the internet, and repeatedly (just count the number of times in this thread alone).   Before the trip, I saw your posts, but your posts representing the majority of reports I could find, making it extremely difficult to quantify the extent of the problem, and how severely to react when the trip was occurring in a week regardless.  

Tursiops - I flew into SJD, but due to delays, did not arrive until 11pm on a Saturday.  

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calbeardiver: looking at this thread and the thread on scubaboard, it is obviously a problem beyond a couple instances. Nautilus has posted information on their site on how to handle it and a suggested form in Spanish to give the custom folks. They certainly are reacting to situations their customers have found going through customs at SJD and perhaps La Paz. I believe that dirvndeep is doing us all a favor in highlighting the situation. I, for one, will be avoiding Mexico for the foreseeable future until this situation is resolved.

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Is this just happening at airports? I'm going to a cruise, leaving out of San Diego, and am told there will be diving opportunities at the ports in route and I would like to plan ahead as best I can.

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I'm suddenly, and sadly, and grumpily, very interested in this topic. I heard about it a week or so ago and we're going in 4 weeks.
I'm gutted! Have e-mailed the liveaboard and asked for their suggestions to manage this. My concern is that if we get a big fee at the airport we will struggle to afford the tip for the liveaboard crew. Not so fair at all.
Had we known in advance I don't think we would have booked to go to Socorro at all.
Thanks everyone who has posted packing advice etc.

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Having traveled through SJD in August and been hit with the housing tax I've done a bit of a writeup on the current state of affairs as well as some thoughts in the hopes it might help others.

Crosspost from ScubaBoard

https://www.scubaboard.com/community/threads/camera-housing-tax.587789/page-3#post-9161020

-------------------

Ok - as promised.
I've been a bit busy though so not as fresh as I'd hoped....

Anyways:
Yes, when I traveled through SJD in mid August I was forced to pay an import duty on my camera housing.
I, being curious and not in a particular hurry, spent more than 90 minutes debating with them as to whether a duty was appropriate.

My conclusion: The front line officers have been instructed to tax housings and provide the reasoning of 'professional equipment'.
They appear to have no discretion in this.
This is most curious as it is a 'shakedown' but not by the officers.
Rather I would speculate it is to hit a quota.
The proceeds are collected by credit card and they do log it in a seemingly robust computer system - it looked like government software: ugly, bloated, hard to use and plenty of tracking data. It's not going in the pocket of anyone local.

I should note that I had priority bags so I was one of the first hitting them. They asked what was in the cases and I answered honestly. Did not feel like experiencing a Mexican jail nor like having $10,000 worth of gear confiscated before a long dive trip. They would have Xrayed them anyways.
I did note that they first asked if I had a camera and then afterwards specifically asked if I had a housing. See below for thoughts on this.

Some observations:
1) The officer I encountered spoke perfect English (hence my willingness to debate for 90 minutes), plus he was very patient and polite. He even made a really good effort to justify the situation but, as I was quite thoroughly prepared, it did eventually reduce to 'either you pay or you don't get into Mexico' when I'd poked holes in most of the 'official' reasoning he appeared to have been trained to promote.
2) They are being very specific about housings now. They saw all my other gear (lenses, ports, etc.) it was just the primary housing they wanted duty for. And they knew just how much to charge (though they made an effort to google it for confirmation). This is, of course, very targeted. To argue that the housing is for professional use while none of the other items related to the camera, nor the camera itself was for professional use was absurd. You can't have one without the other. In my mind this was clear evidence that this was chasing a quota - make it a small enough value to minimize arguments (~$180USD) but collect it enough times to make it worthwhile. I even went so far as to gamble and point out that if they were taxing one thing they should tax the rest - they largely ignored this line of reasoning.
3) I had the letter from Nautilus' Mexican lawyer. They didn't appear to have seen it before as they took a while to read it, however, they basically laughed at it and refused to accept it's validity or reasoning. Additionally they refused to comply with any of the demands in the letter/recommended procedures other than providing an official receipt. Reasoning was it was not part of their standard procedure.
4) I repeatedly asked for permission to contact the lawyer for clarification. This was denied (it is a 'no cell phones' area).
5) I also had a print out of the actual law allowing for two cameras plus accessories. They refused to accept the housing as an accessory though everything across my entire rig was.
6) They focused in on 'professional'. To which I pointed out that for it to be 'professional', by definition in English or Spanish, it needed to be used for a profession. This caught them up and they eventually decided to ignore that path of reasoning as it was inconvenient for their narrative. "How do I know you're not using it to make money"
7) The agent brought up the example of a GoPro and it's housing as an example of 'not Professional' with the justification being that the housing was also sold by GoPro. I pounced on this as absurd - this line of reasoning was also rapidly avoided after that. "If it looks professional to me it is professional and I will tax it"
8) They would only allow me to 'escalate' to the front line supervisor - no further. Her English was much more limited (and my Spanish is useless) so this was pointless. She also wanted nothing to do with the discussion or debate - just "it's professional - you have to pay".
9) They did offer me the path of holding it while I got a Carnet established. This, of course, is completely impractical for a vacation traveler both on cost and time frame. They knew this.

I do think that how busy they are drastically affects how much this is enforced. I had arrived just before lunch and part of my strategy was to try and wear them out until they got hungry and gave up. This did not work.

They did allow me to write 'under protest' when singing the acknowledgement. What I was being charged for on the paper was also quite generic. I suspect there might be a path to a credit card chargeback if one were so inclined. I am not going down this path as based on what my time is worth vs. the cost I would not win even if I won. I believe it has been calibrated to ensure this. Additionally, I've not been prompt in chasing this and I've had to do a lot of chargebacks recently related to airlines and some business matters. I don't want to get flagged by the card issuers for abusing the process over a measly $200 cost.

I did receive a very official looking document as 'my copy'. I intend to keep this on file and present it in the future if they attempt to tax me again for the same equipment.

That being said - this sort of activity makes me hesitate to spend any more money in Mexico. Corruption disgusts me - particularly when it is so brazen and officially sanctioned/mandated. They are ignoring their own clearly written laws to bite the hand that feeds them.

I do appreciate that the officer was patient and cordial through the process. I also appreciate his effort in trying to come up with a justification. But, it was pretty clear he knew what he was part of and they've done a good job of making it essentially unavoidable.

Ultimately, this is just a glorified tourist tax. If they'd just implement a $200 Marine Park Fee and ensured the funds actually went to the parks I think most would be happy to pay it. Instead there is this twisted workaround and I'm certain the money collected is not funding anything of value to either tourists or your average Mexican citizen.

Anyways. Those are my thoughts on the matter. Hopefully helpful to those travelling in that direction in the future. 

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