The importance of keeping receipts in Mexico


Are your papers in order

No. Not those papers. The immigration papers that are causing such a tizzy these days.

Not that I mind countries requiring outsiders to have proper documentation to enter and stay when they cross a border. At times, I wish Mexico was a bit more proactive in tracking down people who overstay their visas.

But, as I said, today’s essay is not about those papers. It is about the other papers we daily receive in Mexico. Let me explain.

Last week, I was having dinner with friends when they informed me they had just had a conversation with our local postmaster. He had locked access to their postal box because he had no record of them paying their annual fee. The wife was certain she had paid, but she was just as positive as she had not received a receipt.

That, of course, in Mexico that translates into not having paid. Without documented proof of payment, the fact that money may have exchanged hands is a factual nullity.

I learned that lesson from a Mexican neighbor. She keeps every receipt for her purchases. She then puts the receipt in a plastic bag and tapes it to the gadget. Her living room looks like a clearance sale is underway. But she knows exactly where the receipt is when she needs it.

I felt rather smug because I knew I had paid my annual box rental early in January — even before the notice was placed in the box. And, having been well-trained by my neighbor, I knew I had kept the receipt.

All of the documents I save are placed in a large plastic bin with separate file folders. Electricity. House telephone. Cellular contract. Water, sewer, garbage. That sort of thing. There is also one entitled “Post Office.” I knew that is where my receipt should be — if I ever needed it.

Well, it turns out, I did need it.

On Saturday, I stopped by the post office to check my box. I no longer receive much mail there now that my magazines arrive electronically. I keep the box to receive greeting cards and the occasional letter I receive from friends.

As well, as my monthly copy of Imprimis, that contains excerpts of speeches delivered by some very bright people who address the students at Hillsdale College. And, then there are the occasional legal notices that require my attention.

When I stop at the post office, the postmaster usually retrieves my mail for me. But, not on Saturday. He told me he would not look until I paid my fee.

If I had not had that same conversation with my friends two nights before, I would have been taken completely off guard. I told him I had paid. He said the computer says I had not.

“I have a receipt.” I thought that would end the conversation. But I was wrong.

The postmaster instructed me to return with the receipt (his tone reverberated with that “if you have one” accusatory tone so beloved of those with power) along with my permanent resident card (and a copy of its front and back), and a copy of my electric bill showing my current address. I told him I would see him on Monday.

When I got home, I pulled out my file box. The receipt for 2018 was not in “Post Office.” That surprised me. Then, I remembered I had not done my filing for a couple of months. Maybe it was still in the “to be filed” pile.

It turns out, I have not filed for more than a couple of months. I had excavated to November 2017 without finding the receipt.

But I did not give up hope. I had another pile of documents that included the payments I make on the first of each year. Property Tax. Car registration. Water, garbage, sewer.

And there it was. I had paid on 2 January. So, I made a copy. Copied my permanent resident card. And printed out my latest electric bill.

That last point is important. Electric bills are the universally-accepted proof of residence — at least, in this part of the universe. And the rule is almost always the same. It must be the latest billing.

But, this is Mexico. I knew I was foolish not to have a backup plan.

This morning, I took my documents into the post office. The postmaster looked sceptically at the receipt. He finally accepted its authenticity. He then took my copies of my visa and the electric bill.

His eyes lit up when he looked at the bill. He told me I could not use my latest bill. I needed the latest bill in existence when I paid on 2 January.

I was ready for that. I had printed it thinking that eventuality might arise.

But, we were not done. He printed out a series of documents as if I was renting a box for the first time. That was fine. All I had to do is sign in three places.

Keeping the receipts saved me paying another annual fee of $300 (MX) (just over $15 (US) at today’s exchange rate). But I still would have spent the same amount of time gathering my documents and signing agreements.

I was prepared to answer my rhetorical question of whether my papers are in order with a resounding “yes.” After all, I found my receipt.

But, as you can see in the photograph, they definitely are not. I know where I will be spending part of my afternoon.

My Photo