Monday, June 24, 2024

‘Fixers’ make life in Mexico easier

If you’ve lived in Mexico for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced your share of frustration when dealing with the country’s many layers of bureaucracy. I have personally spent countless hours and made multiple trips to various government agencies, banks, and utility offices trying to accomplish what I thought would be a straightforward process – like transferring internet service from one account holder to another (it turns out I needed my passport and a signed statement from the previous account holder) – and more complex processes like applying for permanent residency.

Luckily, there is a network of professional facilitators who can help. Facilitators, or “fixers” as they are sometimes called, are people with the expertise, connections, and Spanish-language skills who can help you navigate Mexico’s various administrative and bureaucratic processes. Most are also highly-trained professionals such as lawyers, accountants, former government employees, and healthcare workers.

My husband and I had been living in Mexico for eight years before we finally broke down (more accurately, Mexican bureaucracy broke us down) and hired a government facilitator (we have used a medical facilitator for years, but more on that later.) Since we speak Spanish reasonably well and had already navigated lots of bureaucratic processes on our own (not that any were straightforward), we assumed we could handle getting our RFCs (Registro Federal de Contibuyentes), or tax ID numbers, which we needed for a purchase of a condo, without outside help. At some point, everyone hits a wall dealing with Mexican bureaucracy. This was our moment.  

We thought we had it all figured out. We made our appointments on the SAT (Servicio de Administracion Tributaria) website, waited a few weeks for our official confirmation, and then drove the two hours to our nearest SAT office. We arrived at our appointed time with our confirmation letters and correct documentation in hand — only to be turned away at the door.

It turns out we were too young to get our RFCs at the time. Nothing on the SAT website indicated there were different timelines for different ages. We had entered our birthdates and ages on the website when we registered, so why did SAT give us appointments in the first place? We may never know. But we did know that next time, we were hiring a facilitator.

Our real estate agent put us in touch with Dave Conrriquez, an independent tax accountant and RFC facilitator. Dave took care of the whole process from start to finish. He made our appointments, met us at the SAT office, translated everything for us, and even held our place in line so we could sit on comfortable chairs in an air-conditioned waiting room. A few hours and $200 dollars later, we had our RFCs.

Hiring a facilitator can save you time and hassle. (Unsplash)

“When clients work with me, they have nothing to worry about. I prepare the paperwork and appointment and accompany them to the SAT office. We arrive with everything done and ready to go,” said Conrriquez, who has been an RFC facilitator for two years.

Professional facilitators often specialize in more than one service. Conrriquez also helps people set up and transfer utility services and open bank accounts — surprisingly challenging tasks in Mexico.

Eden Davis, a U.S. immigrant who has lived in Mexico for six years, has used the same facilitator to help her with everything from replacing and renewing residency cards, handling the formation of her hotel business, and filing taxes and insurance claims.

Davis says hiring a facilitator has saved her time and hassle and has been worth every peso.

You have to decide what your time and patience are worth. If you are content to sit in an office all day waiting for your turn with a book in your lap, great. But I have 47 things to do and I don’t have that kind of time or patience. It’s worth it to me to spend a few thousand pesos to have someone else get it done in one shot,” she said.

Davis advises newcomers to Mexico to establish a relationship with a trusted facilitator early on. “At some point, you will need assistance with some process, or something unexpected will happen where you need an inside track – like a car accident, a robbery, or a lost residency card. Already having someone you trust who can help is a valuable tool in your immigrant toolbox,” she said.

Handling medical needs is another time when having a facilitator can help. Pamela Thompson is the International Services Coordinator at Joya Hospitals in Puerto Vallarta and founder of HealthCare Resources, which offers English-speaking assistance for finding physicians and hospitals, scheduling diagnostic services, and other healthcare needs.

I do everything from air evacuations to assisting someone who has just had a family member die, to preparing insurance claims to making doctor appointments and 1,000 things in between,” said Thompson. “I never have a boring day.”

I can personally vouch for Pamela as she’s helped our family find excellent English-speaking doctors in the Puerto Vallarta area and arranged countless medical screenings. Best of all, since Pamela is a hospital employee, there is never a fee for her services.

“I enjoy making a tourist or newcomer feel more comfortable in a foreign place,” she said.

While you might hope you’ll never need one, facilitators like Pamela and Dave are invaluable friends for the foreigner who can take the stress out of stressful situations and ease your transition into life in Mexico. 

Looking for a professional facilitator? Here are some tips for finding and working with one:

  • Hire someone local. Every government agency, utility office, etc. has its way of doing things, and requirements change frequently. Hiring a local facilitator who knows how things work in your area, is up to date on the latest requirements, and has existing relationships with local agency/office staff is key.
  • Don’t rely solely on Facebook: Not everything people share on Facebook is up to date or accurate, and there have been instances of people getting scammed by false fixers they find online. It’s best to do your research, ask local friends and fellow foreigners for fixers they recommend, and ask for references of any fixer that someone recommends to you.
  • Prioritize what you pay for. If you live on a tight budget and speak a little Spanish, things like opening a bank account (which you must be physically present for anyway) and renewing residency cards for children can usually be done in one day. Save your pennies for hiring outside help with more complicated and less common processes, or ones that require faster turnarounds.
  • Plan ahead and be patient. Always account for more time than you think it’s going to take to accomplish whatever it is you are trying to do. Even when working with a fixer, there could be hiccups. But rest assured there will be far fewer if you hire one!

Debbie Slobe is a writer and communications strategist based in Chacala, Nayarit. She blogs at Mexpatmama.com and is a senior program director at Resource Media. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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