Importing to Mexico doesn’t always need to be a headache

Mexico’s economy relies on a positive trade balance to maintain growth and social peace.  Limiting importations remains at the heart of its global policy and dodging the World Trade Organization rules has become an art form.

Protectionist measures range from the obligation to go through a registered import company and a customs broker to making sure that the product is not limited by “quotas” or verifying that your item doesn’t need certain certificates to meet certain requirements, such as sanitary, FTA country of origin, label approval, etcetera.  Even if your paperwork is correct you may also discover some obscure specific fiscal or para-fiscal taxes apply to your item, or that its importation is prohibited or only permitted by a few select importers on an undisclosed list.  It may also need to be submitted to a previous authorization of importation by the “Competent Authority.”

Such complications make it easier for you to start your importation project with a customs broker who always happens to know someone who has an import company (comercializadora). Once you’ve agreed upon the price for their services, you will give them all the required documentation, a down payment (if not a full payment) and you will receive in return a promise for an expedient customs clearance of five to seven working days.  Fast forward six weeks and your imported orthopedic bed is somewhere in Nuevo Laredo, most probably in one of the open-air customs lots, with three security guards sleeping on it every night. This is when you decide to take things in your own hands, placing your 17th call to your customs broker whose answer remains the same: “todavia no sale el pedimento de importacion” (“your customs entry document hasn’t been released yet”). More accurately this should be interpreted as, ”I have a friend who can help but it will cost an additional 500 pesos.”  At this point you discover that protectionism is not only about positive trade balance and you start contributing to the informal economy growth in the state of Tamaulipas. Several thousands of pesos later, you are seriously considering killing your customs broker who just announced that his office will be closed for two week over Easter. Your telephone rings. It’s him again and he has good news:  his wife’s cousin knows the new head of operations at Nuevo Laredo’s Regional Customs Office. “I can arrange something. Of course you won’t have a ‘pedimento de importacion,’ but what’s more important is that you’ll spend the night of Good Friday in an orthopedic bed and when you see what Jesus had to endure, you should consider yourself lucky!”

You might think this scenario is an exaggeration but it is not. Most attempts at importation by individuals end up this way because it requires the same amount of work from a customs broker to clear one bed as it does for 1,000 beds.  The implementation of a simplified customs clearance procedure in 2012 (ventanilla unica) did improve the system but hasn’t helped individuals who still have to go through an importer and a customs broker.

Solutions to personal importations do exist, however. For small low-value items (less than 3,000 dollars) border crossing service providers  exist and can do a great job.   It is a simple, relatively fast and effective way to import goods for personal use.  Similar procedures exist in many countries and are sometimes known as “pacotilla.”  The total cost of these services – including reception of the goods at the border in the United States, border crossing, customs clearance and transportation to final destination – generally range between 40 to 50 percent of the declared value (which can differ from the commercial value).

For importations over 3,000 dollars, either for personal use or resale on the Mexican market,  import logistics companies (comercializadoras) offer a great service to individuals, covering the full chain of the importation procedures: international freight, customs clearance, domestic freight, warehousing (regular or in-bond). The general cost of the services is a percentage (3 to 5 percent) of the total of declared value, plus freight, customs duties, taxes and warehousing cost. It is the way to go if you want to import big and high-value items (i.e. solar panels, construction material, professional equipment, etcetera). If you are considering importing goods to sell on the Mexican market, these same comercializadoras can also do the invoicing of your customers, the collection and the transfer of the proceeds of your sales to your company outside Mexico, helping you avoid the creation of your own legal structure in Mexico.

Finally, as an important reminder, the Mexican Tax Department (SAT) does not charge any duty or tax on the importation of personal goods for an individual moving to Mexico. This waiver of charges, however, does not relieve you from the obligation of declaring your goods and presenting a customs declaration through a customs broker. This type of importation is called “menaje de casa.” You can obtain the authorization for a second or third importation as long as they take place no more than one year after the first one. 

More information on importations on the SAT website at

Hugo Coude du Foresto holds a Master’s degree in economics and has 30 years of experience in international trade. He is  co-owner of Sol y Luna Logistics in Ajijic.