Fined $1,437 Pesos for Bringing This to Mexico

Source: iStockphoto

When you become an expat, you can’t help but miss certain foods or products from your country of origin. These are the items you ask your friends and family members to throw in their suitcase before they come down to visit you.

In my wife’s case, she always asks for Bush’s Baked Beans, Velveeta cheese (it’s expensive in Mexico) and a special chili seasoning from a particular grocery store chain in Florida. And, no — none of those items resulted in our friend’s temporary detention and fine at the Cancun airport a couple of weeks ago.

The item that did was Copenhagen smokeless tobacco that he was bringing for another expat. Just to be clear, it’s not illegal to bring smokeless tobacco, you just can’t bring too much of it. Our friend had 10 cans with him, which turned out to be too much.

The tobacco was discovered when his luggage was scanned at the Cancun airport. The customs official told him that the limit was six cans per passenger and he was led to a back office where he was assessed a fine of $1,437 pesos, or about $75 USD — ouch!

The fine amount wasn’t arbitrary. It was determined by multiplying the assessed value of the tobacco ($20 USD) by 373.56% and converting the amount to pesos.

The good news is that after paying the fine, he was allowed to leave with all 10 cans of his now very expensive dip.

Tobacco and Alcohol Limits

As you can see, it doesn’t take much tobacco to go over the established limits, and the same holds true for alcohol.

Here are the guidelines from Las Reglas Generales de Comercio Exterior para 2018:

Rule 3.2.3(X) – Passengers 18 years of age and older can bring a maximum of 10 packs of cigarettes, 25 cigars, or 200 grams of tobacco; up to 3 liters of alcoholic beverages and 6 liters of wine.

By the way, six cans of smokeless tobacco weighs roughly 200 grams.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Before traveling abroad, it’s always a good idea to do a little research into the Customs laws and guidelines of the country you plan on visiting.

While we’re on the topic, I’d like to point out that passengers arriving by air and sea can bring $500 of merchandise with them. And that my friends, equates to a lot of Velveeta and baked beans.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

25 Comments on "Fined $1,437 Pesos for Bringing This to Mexico"

  1. We were fined for bringing diabetes supplies (strips, meters, no needles) that were being donated to the diabetes clinic on Isla Mujeres. Even though I had receipts, there were a few that didn’t match up and we were fined $75 (which, of course, we paid). So, even if it is a ‘donation,’ bring documentation to back up the value of what you are bringing. We saw a women who was bringing clothing for children (a donation to be used at a charitable function at the hotel she was staying at in Cancun) and while we were both ‘pulled over’ at the same time, she was still there an hour later after they released us. They don’t care if your donation is benefitting their own people. They will still fine you.

  2. Your “return” grocery list, when we fly back from the States, sounds a lot like ours. Bush’s Baked Beans and Velveeta, along with cream corn and mac & cheese, are always on our list…

  3. Darn it, Paul, now you’ve got me wanting Velveeta macaroni & cheese!

  4. 373.56% is the customs charge for all tobacco products brought into Mexico to protect local tobacco farmers/producers.

  5. Rosamund Levy | September 28, 2018 at 11:02 am |

    My husband and I were lamenting the lack of Bush’s baked beans just the other day!! Glad to hear we are not the only ones 🙂

  6. I need to ask you a question about immigration. I know this post is not about that so feel free to delete this or answer by email.
    I am a temporary resident of Mexico. I left by land in April. I am returning by air. I went to INM on exiting and they stamped my passport but did not stamp the top half of my FMM. I questioned the officer. He made a call and said it wasn’t necessary. So I have a blank top portion of an FMM and a faint stamp in my passport. When I return by air should I just fill out a new FMM on the plane? I’ve never traveled like this before and I’m 1 year away from permanent residency and don’t want to mess anything up. Any advise or reassurance you or your readers can give me will be appreciated

  7. Patryka Chaves | September 28, 2018 at 11:57 am |

    I used to bring used clothing down to Mexico as a donation for a children’s home and big bags of dog food for the dog rescue lady. I was always warned that it was illegal to bring these items in even though they were to be donated. I was lucky never to get fined but decided that it was just easier to give money once I crossed to my favorite charities. It’s a shame that Mexico has put these restrictions on importations of donated goods but I supposed somewhere along the line someone was making a profit selling these things and this source had to be shut down. Just too bad…….

  8. We will be in you neck of the woods in a few days. Should I plan on packing some velveeta?!?

    • Haha, normally I would say, “Yes, bring some please.” However, we will be heading out on our next mini-vacation soon and we won’t be in the area.

  9. Cheryl Graham | September 28, 2018 at 12:16 pm |

    Oh my gosh, we are driving to Mexico via Mexicali next month. I was intending to take about 30 pairs of pre owned kids shoes for Mexican orphanage in Los Barriles. Also, was taking used and new dog collars and leads for pet rescue in same town. No receipts except on new pet items. Taking 30-40. Will we run into problems trying to do this?

    • Javier Macías | November 6, 2018 at 12:37 pm |

      Hi! How did it go? When we mexicans go to the US and buy lots of things, we´ve found out usually what customs agents look for the most is.- Alcohol, tobacco, (of course drugs and weapons are illegal) and any NEW items that could potentially be sold, so we take off all the price tags and even take out of their original boxes to make things look like ourselves´. Usually they don´t care about clothes / shoes unless you´re carrying a whole lot amount of it. Though surely bringing a large amount of anything will make them research why anyone is carrying that much.

  10. Charles Benfante | September 28, 2018 at 12:49 pm |

    I live I a small town where you cannot purchase cigars. I usually bring them back from the states. On one trip I bought back 100 of them and when asked why so many ( I think they thought I wanted to resell them) I explained that I could not purchase them in my local town – they let me through with no problems

  11. Ingrid C Royle | September 28, 2018 at 2:09 pm |

    Baked bean, alcohol, tabaco and Mac and cheese? I don’t consume any of that so that means I won’t pay any fines.

  12. Hannah Neufeld | September 28, 2018 at 2:30 pm |

    I should have know better, having traveled around the word all my life,…. BUT…. when I came to the Yucatan for the first time in a number of years (I think it was about 6 years ago when I returned), being a smoker I bought 3 cartons at the ATL airport duty free – they were SO cheap!!! I didn’t really think about it….. when I arrived in Cancun I got the red button… .they asked what I had in the bag (they already knew). I told them…. at that time the customs form did not have a place that I could see that I was supposed to report what I brought from duty free…again, I should have known better but I wasn’t thinking about it. At that time, two cartons were allowed… .I told them to keep the other one… they said no, pulled me out of line and literally hauled me to another room, demanded a $500 fine and took the 3rd carton. I threw up for 4 days, got back to the US and called Duty Free and asked them why, if they knew where I was going and they knew the law, they would sell more than is allowed. The person said “Oh, so sorry… this should not have happened.” She promised to talk with her manager. After a few days I had not heard so I called back and was told they were not responsible. So I said, “OK, I am going to call every newspaper in ATL and the TV stations… .and Clark Howard” (a US based consumer advocate who is broadcast all over the US)….. and said “Let’s see who they think is responsible.” An hour later Duty Free called back and said they would return the fine amount. Well, too bad…. I had already spoken to someone at Clark Howard’s office and they told me they thought Clark would want me on his show. And indeed, I was on the show with him the next week….. and this is what he said — “in my 30 years of doing this show DUTY FREE has had more complaints than ANY OTHER business.” He was amazed that they actually paid me back.

    I do not buy anything from Duty Free stores now. And, as has been said before…… it really is our own responsibility to know what we can bring and what we can’t…. I am just admitting to being stupid. Happens sometimes!!! LOL…..

  13. I just want to make a comment on immigration in general. We were flying to Las Vegas for a quick family get together. I am still on a tourist visit since I drove in at Laredo. As we were about to board our plane the person at the gate looks at my visa and tells me to back to immigration to get it stamped. I had paid for this in Laredo. Running through the airport to get to immigration they asked me for my receipt that I had paid. Of course, I didn’t have it with me. Ready to argue that I had already paid in Laredo but with minutes to spare paid another $1060 pesos. Ran back to the gate with seconds to spare were the last to board the plane. Long story short keep every bite of documentation or receipts you receive. If you come into the country from land and leaving by air, go to immigration even before you go to the ticket counter or gate.

  14. I have possibly a stupid question, what about buying alcohol/tobacco in the Cancun Airport after passing through immigration but before customs? Do the same rules still apply?

  15. Marjorie Ratcliffe | September 28, 2018 at 4:49 pm |

    Happened to me with 3 cartons of cigarettes. Beware

  16. Fran Clark-Fiorentino | September 28, 2018 at 4:56 pm |

    Gee, I am glad I don’t smoke and I don’t have any friends that do smoke. Unfortunately, too many that smoked cigarettes in their younger day are suffering and/or have died from all types of illnesses related to smoking. Always enjoy reading your Blog.

  17. David Reynolds | September 28, 2018 at 8:37 pm |

    I am totally surprised at this. I bring back 3 rolls of Copeignhagen every time I come back from the U.S. and have never been questioned or shaken down for it. I’ve been chewing this stuff for many years and this is a first for me hearing about this. Their is a pharmacy down the road from where We live in Merida that sells regular Copenhagen that I can get at same price as this U.S. but they dont have my flavor so when I go back to the U.S. I will grab 3 rolls of my favorite and throw it in the suit case. Interesting.

  18. It should be pointed out that if you DECLARE merchandise in excess of the limits you will only pay a tax on the excess (I beleive 15% of the value) rather than a huge fine for NOT declaring. It is also very difficult to find current, accurate information on the limits. A few years back I got fined $300 for having 20 packs of cigarettes and not declaring the NEWLY excess 10 packs. Declaring would have cost only about $12

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