Que Pasa In Baja?

Ensenada city workers going back to work. After a couple weeks of being on a sit-down strike, Mayor Novelo was finally able to convince them to go back to work by promising to pay the remainder of their Christmas bonuses before January 21st.

City workers are pretty pissed off, since the city has had problems paying their salaries, and now their Christmas bonuses, which for them amounts to an extra 2 months’ salary. By law, the Christmas bonus has to be equal to at least 15 days.

When he took control of the city, Mayor Novelo announced that the city was broke; since then, we have seen the effects of it. There are almost no streets in the city without potholes, and trash pickup services have been reduced to almost once a month now.

City workers don’t believe it, though; they say it’s not so much the lack of funds, but rather the inability to properly manage the situations that are affecting the city.

It has been a tough term for Mayor Novelo. He hasn’t been able to catch a break, and most people are pretty unhappy with the crises that the city is experiencing. This is probably the reason  he announced last year that he would not be running for another term.

The amount the city owes its workforce in Christmas bonuses alone is about $3.8 million USD, and this administration alone has already asked for about $11.3 million USD in loans to cover other expenses. This give you an idea how seriously the fiscal situation is for Ensenada.

AMLO comes to Baja. Our brand-new president visited Tijuana this past Sunday in order to announce the newly created free zone for the northern border along with our state governor Kiko Vega.

The president is scheduling visits to different parts of the country on weekends in order to have time during the week to attend to his presidential duties in his office in Mexico City.

He is famous now for travelling on commercial planes and even choosing the cheapest flights for his travel.

Migrants safe from police. Alma Migrante, a local non-profit group that helps immigrants know their rights, has won a trial making it illegal for local police to send immigrants guilty of committing administrative infractions to be sent to the National Migration Institute (or INM in Spanish) in order to be deported.

Representatives from Alma Migrante are stating that immigrants can only be sent for deportation if they commit a crime more serious than a minor infraction.

Although the line could be a little blurry sometimes between the two, an easy way to understand it is that an infraction would require you to pay a fine, but a crime would require jail time.

Snow is here! The civil protection office in the city of Ensenada has announced that both of our local sierras, Juarez and San Pedro Martir, have snow and are open for visits.

As always, they are recommended to drive there in a car in good condition, preferably 4×4, and bring warm clothes and supplies, especially gas and high calorie food, in case you get stranded up there.

San Pedro Martir, which always has more snow than Juarez but is also a farther away, is only open from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm every day, and is not available for overnight stays.

Jaime Nieto, head of the office, stated that the roads are not in the best shape right now, and emphasized the need for a car in good condition if you want to visit.

We’re getting more cruise ships. During 2018 a total of 270 cruise ships docked in Ensenada, carrying more than 650,000 tourists. About 70% of those tourists descended from the ship to visit the city, and they spent an average $54 dollars per person.

Tourism officials are stating that its very likely that we will get even more cruise ships this year, since some cruise liners have already booked more dates for this year. January alone has 26 arrivals in total.

Bring your own bags. Rosarito and Ensenada decided last year to eliminate plastic bags in retail shops and the new measure has been in effect since the first of the year. Steep fines were announced for offending businesses, but at least Rosarito has said that they will not issue fines until April of this year.

It is possible for you to not even notice the change if your favorite store decided to switch to paper or biodegradable plastic bags (which are almost indistinguishable from normal plastic bags). This will still be legal and an option for businesses if they want to keep offering customers this benefit.

Welcome To the Northern Free Zone

One of the campaigns promises that gained more supporters around here for our new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (or AMLO for short), was the proposal of a new “Free Zone” along the northern border that would reduce taxes, increase the minimum wage 100% and lower fuel prices to try and match those in the USA.

Since the first day of the year, this promise has become a reality, and you are now living in the new free zone for the northern border.

So, what does this mean for you? As a consumer, this means that you will now be paying 8% IVA on most products and services instead of the 16% you usually pay. For those of you unfamiliar with IVA, that’s the Mexican equivalent to the VAT in the US. Note that I said most; I will explain that later.

If you have a business, you will also have another benefit: Instead of paying the usual 30% on the ISR (income tax), you will now be able to receive credit for 10% of that. This means that you will only be paying 20% now.

Regarding gas prices, we have already seen some gas stations lowering their prices, since they have a special benefit in that they won’t be charging any VAT on gasoline and diesel; this reduced gas prices to exactly 16%. This reduction doesn’t actually match it to prices in the US, but it definitely closes the gap a little bit more.

Minimum wage was doubled to $176.72 pesos per day (about $9 USD); the older wage at $4.50 was a joke, and almost nobody was working for that.

Since the newly created Free Zone is defined by a decree and not a law, businesses must register for it and they will have to meet certain requirements; therefore, don’t shout bloody murder if you see 16% IVA in your ticket, since there is a possibility that some businesses don’t meet the requirements or just haven’t applied yet.

In order to be able to obtain the benefits businesses need to prove that at least 90% of their total sales are from the border region. They will also be asked to prove that they have a valid address in the region for at least 18 months. These two requirements are key in discouraging mainland businesses from establishing an address in the border just to obtain said benefits.

Businesses that are already established have until January 30th to file their application, and newly established businesses will have 30 days after registering their businesses with the SAT (which is the Mexican IRS).

The free zone objective is to increase competitiveness with the US, avoid migration and make it more attractive as an investment option.

If you were here back before 2014 you might remember that we already had lower taxes here in the border, but that benefit was removed by president Peña Nieto. At that time VAT in the area was 11%. This means that taxes now will be even lower than at that time.

Several analysts say that Northern Baja will benifit the most  from this new decree, as the biggest percentage of the population in the state lives near the border, and because all its municipalities are considered part of it.

For now, the decree will be valid only for 2019 and 2020. Surely, results will be analyzed after these two years and a decision will be made on whether to extend it or not.

Watch out for those Santa Ana winds

Health authorities from Baja are recommending staying at home when Santa Ana winds are active. Problems in the respiratory tract, eyes and skin have been reported during the winds, and thus they are recommending staying home with doors and windows closed.

Dr. David Perez, chief of medical services, stated that these winds affect the health because they carry a lot of dirt with them because of the severe dryness. He also recommended to stay away from street food during this condition, as it can get easily contaminated by pathogens in the wind and can induce gastric diseases.

Perez emphasized the importance of drinking enough water and making sure house pets have enough clean water, which should be changed more often to avoid having them drink contaminated liquids.

Mexican Land Trusts, Big IRS implications

I was intrigued by a recent presentation by a Mexican bank on the subject of Fideicomisos (land trusts). By way of a quick primer, ownership of real property in the “restricted zone” (100 km from borders, 50 km from shore) by a foreigner must be done through a Fideicomiso.

As it turns out, Mexican banks have a monopoly on this Fideicomiso business. The bank’s role is to hold the title to property on your behalf. One can direct the disposition of the property; sell, give away, or otherwise encumber the property. ‘Fidos’ are good estate planning vehicles from the Mexican perspective. At death, the property is transferred via the trust, perhaps a more efficient mechanism than Mexican probate.

Some banks appear to be pulling out of the “fido” market. When I asked why, I was told there is increased emphasis on anti-money laundering compliance by bank regulators, which to me means there may be a new spotlight on this market segment.

One of the reasons I attended was to see how much awareness there was on the part of bank officials on the federal income tax aspects of Fidos.  None. Zilge-ola. That means you, the person who may need to enter into a fido to own property, must pay special attention, because the bank won’t tell you.

Here’s the rub. What may work from a Mexican perspective may be sheer disaster from a U.S. tax perspective. Properly structured fidos (meaning they meet IRS requirements) are deemed to be “disregarded entities,” and the IRS will not bother you. When they are not, they become IRS ‘radioactive’. They become reportable foreign trusts. Every time there is an IRS reportable ‘anything’ you have better had done it right from the beginning.

“Good” fidos have only one property in them.  At the presentation it seemed like it was common to add more than one property per fido. Again, ok from the Mexican point of view, but runs afoul of IRS ‘safe harbors’. In fact, bank officials later confirmed they gladly would add properties to an existing fideicomiso, for a fee.

Another trait of “good” fidos:  They do nothing but hold title to property. Be wary of the bank doing other things for the property; managing it, paying taxes or other things. The IRS does not like that.

Food for thought:  New owner, new trust, or just substitute the name? Does one inherit the federal tax troubles of the last fido owner?

Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (with a Master of Laws in Taxation) admitted to practice before the IRS, the U.S. Tax Court and other taxing agencies.  His love of things Mexican has led him to devote part of his practice to federal and state tax matters of U.S. expats in Mexico.  He can be reached at tax@orlandogotay.com or Facebook: GotayTaxLawyer.  This is just a most general outline. It is informational only and not meant as legal advice.

Dealing With An Emergency Here If You Don’t Speak Spanish

Expat911 is a smart phone app that was designed by expats for expats.  It is a service that covers you for all types of emergencies when at home, on the road or out for a night on the town.  It utilizes GPS location services which allow the operators to target your exact location.  Many of us may have the capability to say our home address to Mexico’s Spanish speaking 911 operators, but what happens when we are in an unfamiliar area?  How can you explain where you are when you have no idea what the names of the streets are in the area during your emergency?  Also, how will you explain in detail about the type of emergency you are having?

Expat911 is an app that works on Android and iPhone devices.  Within the app you have a profile with information that will speed up the process when reporting an emergency.  You have a basic medical profile which has your blood type, allergies and sicknesses.  There is also a contact area where users can add 1 US/Canada contact and 2 Mexico contacts.  Expat911 will notify these contacts after your emergency has been reported to Mexico’s 911 on your behalf.  This way your family back home will know about your situation and so will the people that you trust here in Mexico.  The Mexico contacts can be neighbors or local doctors that speak English.  Many times our neighbors can come to our aid while we are awaiting the emergency services to arrive.  The Mexico contacts can also be used for our insurance agents or medical air evacuation plans that we may have in place.

So how does Expat911 work during an emergency?  You only have to click on one of the 3 emergency buttons.  There is a button for Police, Ambulance and Fire.  Within seconds an English speaking operator will call your phone and verify the emergency.  If you do not pick up, then they will assume that this is a serious emergency and report to Mexico’s 911 on your behalf.  If you answer, they will verify some quick details about your emergency and then call Mexico’s 911 to report the emergency.  Once the emergency has been reported, they will then confirm this with the user.  At this time they will stay on the phone with you if you request them to, or they will start calling your emergency contacts.  So it is very simple to use during an emergency and all you have to do is click a button.  They will take care of the rest.  They also record all calls so that there is a record of the emergency being reported to Mexico’s 911 and the call with the user as well.

Expat911 does have a cost to use their service.  It is important to understand that this is a 3rd party service who worked directly with Mexico’s C4 and C5 offices around the country.  C4 and C5 are the agencies that handle all 911 calls in Mexico.  Expat911 has a direct line of communication with all local C4 and C5 offices nationwide.  It is also important to realize the value of this service.  An alarm in our home has a cost of 1,000’s of pesos to install.  Then we pay an average of 250 pesos per month to have the service in case our alarm goes off.  So the yearly fee of an alarm in Mexico is 3,000 pesos on average.  This alarm system will only cover your home and you while you are at home.  There is no translation services included with your alarm company and you are only covered for police emergencies.  This is why we see the huge value in Expat911 which has a cost of $ 99.00 per year.  That cost is under 2,000 pesos per year and will cover you everywhere within Mexico.  Plus Expat911 has the added benefits of being 100% English spoken and contacting your friends and loved ones during your emergency.

Expat911 has recently implemented a couples plan.  The first user pays the full amount upon registration.  They will then contact Expat911 to ask for a coupon code which will be used on their spouse or family members.  The user will be provided with a 50% off coupon code for any other family members that wish to use the service.  So it is not just limited to your spouse and can also be used for you children, brothers and sisters who may also be living here in Mexico with you.  All additional accounts have a fee of $ 49.50 which is 50% of the original rate.

Expat911 is already serving a large number of expats in Mexico.  They have active users in 11 states and are growing daily.  It is a great service for those of us who have not been able to develop a strong command of the Spanish language.  It is also great for those of us who do speak Spanish well enough, but might worry about the stress during an emergency hampering our ability to speak another language.  It is also a great aid when we are traveling to an area that is unfamiliar to us.

If you are interested in using this service, we highly recommend reaching out to the company.  You can visit their website here:  https://www.expat911.mx/ref/baja/  If you have any questions about the registration process or require assistance, then you can email them directly at info@expat911.mx.  You can also request a call from them by sending an email and setting up a time to speak with a representative.

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