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Buying a Boat in a Foreign Country

I head down to Mexico today from Tucson, Arizona to inspect the 1993 Gemini Catamaran that we have under contract.  We knew that there would be new and different hurdles to overcome buying a boat in a foreign country, despite the proximity to Mexico.

I’ve found that there are several factors to purchasing a boat in Mexico.  If the boat is registered in the US, the closing transaction must be handled by US firm or else there will be a 15% VAT fee charged on the transaction.  If the boat is NOT registered in the US, there can be a import tax as high as 27% the value of the boat.  Obviously that really screws up the valuation of the vessel and it begins to make sense to pay more for a sailboat closer to home.

Normally, we’ve handled the re-documentation of the vessel and only had to pay to make sure the title was clear.  I’m not buying $250,000 boats, so we typically do not carry full coverage on the boat.  That’s certainly an advantage of owning a cheap boat, you don’t worry yourself to death about hurricane insurance and hull coverage.  Because this boat is located in Mexico, the documentation company said they would only handle the transaction if the did the documentation.  You’re kind of between a rock and hard place.  As a result, the costs jump from $250 to $750.  Nothing major, but in our case it comes to approximately 2% of the boat value.

We’re ‘planning’ on bringing the boat back to Georgia by truck.  That’s one advantage of the Gemini.  It’s only 14′ wide and weighs 8,000 lbs.  It is considered a wide load, but the weight means a 2500 or 3500 truck can pull the load and you don’t need a tractor trailer.

Because we plan on hauling the truck, the Nogales Port of Entry has forms that must be completed and  other documents provided before you can bring the boat across the border into Arizona.

We haven’t found out yet, but we might also have to file for a Mexican wide load permit.  I’ll be researching that tomorrow when we can talk to a shipping company.

Arizona is possibly the strictest state when it comes to wide load transport.  The actual permit is pretty simple to acquire, but you’re required to have a state registered escort vehicle.  You can apply for a license to be registered as an escort vehicle but the approved classes are only offered once every few months.

Luckily, we only have to travel about 150 miles through Arizona before we hit the New Mexico border on I-10.  We can hire an escort vehicle at about a $1/mile to get us through Arizona.

Each state that we intend to drive through requires a separate wide load permit and they each have different regulations and requirements.  Some require an escort vehicle and some don’t.  Some require a liability insurance policy naming the state and the insured and some don’t care.  After pulling out my hair trying to wade through each states requirement I gave up and contacted a wide load permit company and for a fairly reasonable price they would handle filing all the permit applications and gave me a list of required documents and the escort vehicle regulations.

The other fees are pretty typical of buying a boat anywhere.  We have the survey (if you choose) expense, the haul out expense, and rigging expenses if you want to pull the mast to ship the boat.

It is a lot of work but I’m interested in learning about the process for three reasons.  The first and the most obvious is the cost to pay another shipper to bring the boat from Mexico to Georgia.  Best costs are coming back at $2,400 to get the boat from Mexico to Tucson and another shipper picks the boat up and it would cost $6,500 to get it from Tucson to Brunswick, Georgia.  That’s about $9,000 and equates to nearly 25% the purchase price of the boat.

The second reason is a little more gypsy.  If I can build a trailer and work out the kinks to move the boat across the country.  We would LOVE to be able to spend time on the east coast and then MOVE OUR HOME to the Baha Peninsula in Mexico and spend 6 months plus there.  For the purist sailor, that might be considered cheating, but we have family in Tucson and we are broke and I still need to work.  It would take our entire seasonal sabbatical period to GET the boat down to the Panama Canal much less sail against the current UP the coast to Sonora.

The last and most financially compelling reason is that I wouldn’t mind turning transporting Gemini Catamarans into a business.  If I built a dedicated special trailer for the Gemini, handled taking down the mast and hoisting the mast when we arrived at the destination I think there could be a market for the 1,000 plus existing Gemini owners plus the new boat being ordered from the factory.  Everyone knows the best education is from first hand experience.

I recognize that for most people, this whole endeavor would be considered absurdly risky.  We’re going to hedge and insure the boat for fair market value (not purchase value) in case of an accident.  We are also required to have a $1m liability insurance policy in addition to our standard auto insurance policy.  We’re only seeking the additional insurance for the actual trip time, so it ‘should’ be affordable compared to the risk.

Nogales is about an hour south and then we’re in Mexico.  San Carlos is another 5 hours down the road.  By tomorrow we’ll be taking a good look at what will potentially be our new home.

You know an ICE COLD draft beer in Mexico is a very affordable price of approximately $1.25! Click Here to Buy Us a Beer.

5 comments to Buying a Boat in a Foreign Country

  • big cheese

    I guess it all depends which country you buy the boat and which country your coming from…

  • Thank you very much for your help, this site has been a great break from the books,

  • I found your blog very interesting. I will check back often to read your updates.

  • Will Stelzer

    Just found this blog. If you are interested I have built a tri axle trlr with a ford F450 and I tow my 1994 Gemini 3400 around western Canada. Build trlr tower with atv winch to self step may mast. 1hr to launch and aprox 2hrs to lower mast and move forward to mast supports. Another 1hr to set up wide load signs and off we go!!.
    All the best Will.
    Would love to know if you purchased a boat in Mexico and what you went through to purchase the boat. Tnx Will