I know it’s been a long time…again. Sorry, life has been
challenging this past year, but it looks like things are finally under control.
Where was I the last time I wrote? Oh, yes. My unending
battle with the forces of evil, um, I mean the government, in Nicaragua when I
moved there with my family last fall/winter.
Well, if you’ve been reading my blog until now, you know
that by January, my international entrepreneurial spirit had been thoroughly
squashed. I was, however, determined to make my Internet job-finding business
work even if not from Nicaragua. With this in mind, my husband and I decided to
move back to the USA. Yes, back to the
USA. After all the heartache (and cash-hemorrhaging) of getting our stuff
through Nicaraguan customs.
You would think getting out would be easier than getting in.
After all, they WERE doing everything possible to discourage us from making any
money for or in the country, right? Oh, but that wasn’t the point. It never is.
They had identified a golden goose and they were going to squeeze every bit out
of it that they could get, even if it meant breaking the law (when has that
even been an issue?)
So, I contacted a customs broker and asked what I needed to
do to ship my things and my vehicles back to the USA. (Note that we had to
leave many, many of our personal belongings behind in Nicaragua to save money,
which was fast running out.) The answer I got was a shocking and deliberate
misinterpretation of a customs law that is supposed to help Nicaragua citizens.
You see, since I imported my things and one car using law
535, which allows a Nicaraguan citizen who has lived abroad to import their
household goods and one vehicle free of duties, customs was now claiming that I
had to pay the duties on the car. The price tag? At least $25,000.
Why, you ask? Well, because the law states that if you
import your car under this exemption, then you can’t sell it or change its
ownership for three years. That, I can understand, since they don’t want people
making a business out of importing their cars duty free and then selling them
for profit. Though how anyone would “move” back to Nicaragua from abroad enough
times to actually make any money from this, is beyond me.
However, I was NOT selling my car. I was moving back to the
USA and taking my car with me because, well, it’s mine. For personal use, you
know? But in the gross and deliberate misinterpretation of the law, the
authorities insisted, Minority Report style, that if I took it out then I might
sell it, and they couldn’t have that. So I’d have to pay duties. Which were 50%
of the value. At least $25,000 by their estimate, but they were going to
“assess it.” (You may not know it but in Nicaragua, the government adds on a
tax of between 50-75% of the cost of the car.
So if you want to buy a car that would cost $10,000 in the United
States, expect to pay $15-20,000 for the same model in Nicaragua.)
I wasn’t going to wait around for them to do any
“assessments.” I asked my customs broker if I had any other options. I should
have known the answer by now. For the low, low price of $1500, I could get a
permit to drive it out of the country.
Folks, I know for a fact that getting said permit does not
cost $1500. I’ve driven cars out of Nicaragua before for vacations in Costa
Rica and trips to Honduras and El Salvador. But, seeing as how everyone seemed
to be in league, and honestly I was just exhausted, I said ok.
Before I go on, let me stress the enormity of what had just
happened. I was desperate to get out of a country that was not just business-unfriendly,
but predatory. I had taken my entire life, my possessions, and my family (with
small children) there, and found it impossible to do what I had set out to do.
My life savings was going into a black hole, and now I was being extorted for
either $25,000+ dollars, or $1500 to get my own car out of the country. I had
three choices: 1. Pay the $25,000 to ship it out. 2. Leave it there
(unacceptable.) or 3. Pay the $1500 and DRIVE it all the way to the
Northwestern United States.
Faced with three very unattractive options, I chose the
least horrible and paid the $1500 for the permit (which was probably obtained
illegally to boot). I couldn’t leave fast enough. I’m not even going to get
into the exorbitant fees I had to pay to get my goods and my other car shipped
I rented an apartment “sight unseen” in Boise, ID (my
husband’s hometown and seemingly the best choice at the time in which to land)
and made sure that we could move in quickly. We set out at 6 am on March 10,
2011, on the most terrifying trip of my life. My faithful driver from Nicaragua
generously offered to drive us as far as Guatemala (since he can’t get into
Mexico) and then take a bus back to Managua. We gratefully accepted (and made
sure to provide him the cash to do that), strapped ourselves and our kids into
the infamous car, and took off.
As we drove up the Central American isthmus, I felt like we were
escaping (and stealing our own car.) Never in my wildest dreams did I ever
think that I would have to escape from a country that I used to love. If you’ve
never had to go through something like this, let me tell you that this is how
the Israelites must have felt when they escaped Egypt followed by Pharaoh’s
army. I kept expecting to get pulled over and have someone demand $25,000 in
taxes. Every time we crossed a border, I was freaking out. Never mind that as a
dual citizen I could freely travel Central America, Mexico, and enter the USA
without problems. My kids and husband, being only American citizens, simply had
to pay a “tourist fee” at every border. However, by that point it felt like any
government official could do whatever he wanted to us, regardless of our
rights. I worried that at the US border, they would question why we had
Nicaraguan plates. I had compiled every piece of documentation that I could dig
up to prove we had bought the car in the USA, paid sales tax on it, and that it
was legally registered in California. I had piles of papers in the car, from
multiple copies of every form of ID that we had, to vehicle registrations,
insurance cards, titles, and customs forms. I wasn’t taking any chances. I was
in fight or flight mode.
We got pulled over twice, once in Honduras (for not having
front and back plates; my car only has a space in the back for a license plate)
and once in Mexico, for “speeding.” This is in addition to the numerous times
we had to stop to have our “papers checked” or our vehicle “inspected.” Note
that in Honduras, we were only passing through about 40 miles of that country
(so pulling us over for “plates” was kind of silly), and in Mexico, as we
talked to the cop, multiple vehicles raced by at 100+ MPH. Both times we were
threatened with having our licenses confiscated and having to go pick them up
at some remote location at some later date. Both times we were asked for hefty
“donations” in order to avoid this. The cop in Honduras even had a “bribe broker”,
some random dude that came to “intercede” on our behalf and claimed that he was
working the whole “situation” out in our favor.
Of course, with the three federales holding automatic weapons behind us,
we already knew the score. Wow, what a
guy! We ended paying only $100 to the officer and everything else we had in
Honduran currency to the “broker.” The Mexican cop seemed less shady (even
asked to shake my husband’s hand), but he happily accepted a nice sum in pesos
and only lamented that he “couldn’t provide us with a receipt.” We thanked him
profusely and drove off…
All this, plus the worry of driving through potentially
dangerous drug cartel/gang territory with our two small children in the car,
AND trying to set up my Internet business and rent furniture for the apartment,
all from my iPad on the road. The data roaming charges were outrageous by the
time we got into the USA.
The roads were terrible until we reached the more civilized
parts of Mexico, but in any other circumstance, the drive would have been nice,
even fun. I wish I could have enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We passed through
forests, mountains, valleys, quaint historical towns, and even stayed at a
resort on the beach at Mazatlan one night. I was too stressed out (and my
husband was sick with fever on top of that) while we drove like bats out of
hell to get to the USA.
We finally got to the Mexico/Arizona border late on March
14, and had absolutely no issues (thank God.) No, I mean really, thank God, who was with us through the
whole ordeal and figuratively parted the Red Sea for us.
By that time I was able to relax a little, and we even
stopped by to enjoy the Grand Canyon the next day on our way through Arizona.
Finally, on March 16, sick, stressed, and traumatized, we arrived in Boise
after driving from tropics to desert to the Mountain West. The apartment and
temporary furniture I had rented, sight unseen, was um, not the best, but it
After several months of headaches trying to make my Internet
business work from the USA (job candidates in Central America were very
unreliable and would just disappear or not show up after they had committed to
a job) we abandoned that venture and decided to find other work. In this
economy, it was not going to be easy.
Long story short, we struggled, my husband working freelance
projects with his small consulting group, until he accepted his wonderful
position in Houston, again thanks to the Lord, who literally dropped the
opportunity in his lap. We are still recovering, both financially and
emotionally, from what felt like the most traumatizing experience of our lives.
Our kids, thankfully, seem to have adjusted well despite having been
transferred from Sacramento to Managua to Boise to Houston, and with all the
different schools they’ve had to attend.
So folks, we had a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving,
including the fact that we can work, live, and play in this country without
fear. Let’s keep it that way, ok? As for Nicaragua, well, if you look at their
last “elections” you can see that the situation there is not getting any
I’ll leave you for now with a question: what are the reasons
that countries like Nicaragua are so poor, corrupt, and dangerous, and are we
in danger of falling into the same trap here in the USA? My next blog post will
address this very topic.