Immigration & Customs
When you get off the plane in Oaxaca, first you will get in line to have your passport examined (immigration). Next, you will need to claim your baggage and get in line to have the suitcase and carry-ons x-rayed (another belt, into a machine). When your things come out, you step up to one of two stalls where they will examine your customs declaration and then ask you to push a button. If you push the button and the light is green, you get to continue through to the exit without having your bags opened for inspection. If you push the button and get the red light, you have to step over to a place where you lift up your bags and open them for inspection. There are some limits as to what you can bring in without incurring duties. One computer per person, worth no more than $4000 US, is one stipulation, for instance. More details about technology and customs are found on our packing-suggestions web page.
NEH Staff at the Airport
We will be asking you to provide us with your flight information so that we can coordinate airport runs. At peak arrival times and from about July 1st–4th, Stephanie, Ron, Jerilyn, and/or Bertha may be on call for greeting you at the airport and helping you get cash, a taxi, or, when possible, even giving you a ride into town. (Only Bertha will have a vehicle; the rest of us will be using taxis, as most of you will.) Let us know if you would like to be met. We will hold up a sign saying “NEH” so you will know we are there to greet you and provide what assistance we can.
We cannot guarantee that we will be able to meet every plane. We hope you will understand that. Please do let us know if you are particularly nervous about arriving at the airport; perhaps you have never traveled to a foreign country. We will try to accommodate you. But, on Sunday, July 56th, many of us will be preparing food for the welcome party, so it will be harder for us to be at the airport.
Getting Pesos in Cash for Getting a Taxi into Town
Just in case no one from the Institute team will be there to greet you at the airport, we want to provide here some explicit suggestions for maneuvering your way through. After clearing Customs, while still in the airport, you might use an airport ATM to get some pesos with a credit/debit card. You can usually get up to $3000 pesos at a time (~$200 USD), and the local fee will usually be a few US dollars (charged to your account back home).
Then look for the desk where you can buy a ticket for a collective taxi into town. You will tell the ticket-seller the address of your lodging, and you may also have to repeat this information to the driver. The price will vary according to the distance you will travel, but most of you should be going to the center of town (“el centro histórico”).
Authorized taxis are collective minivans, something like a SuperShuttle in the U.S. You get in with other people, and each person is dropped off randomly at some hotel or home address until all have reached their destination. This is safe and not expensive (in pesos, about the equivalent of $7.50 US per person). Once you buy your ticket, you will be shown to the minivan, and you can help put your suitcase into the back of the van (or sometimes they will do this for you). When the van has enough passengers, it will depart from the airport toward town, which is about a half-hour ride.
If you arrive at an off-peak hour and there are not enough people to share a collective minivan, and you are having to go alone or as just a pair/couple, then you might be charged the full price of the van (closer to $20 US). Just in case the airport ATMs are not working, it might be good to have a spare twenty-dollar bill in your pocket. We saw this accepted for the full cost of the minivan ride on one occasion.
More on the Airport ATM
In case the ATM does not offer an English-language interface (which used to be the case and may still be), the ATM will offer withdrawals from your checking, savings, etc., and for set amounts, up to $3000. Remember, this is $3000 pesos (about $200 US dollars). You can also choose “otra cantidad” (another amount) if you don’t like the preset amounts, and spell out how much you want. We have found it possible to withdraw $5000 pesos (about $340 US), for example, and the machine did not object. But we don’t know what the highest possible amount might be.
No matter how much you withdraw, the local fee will be the same, so you might find it worth your while to get a good amount each time. (Your own bank may be adding a conversion cost, which will go up with higher quantities — something to check on before you leave home.) If you take out a large quantity, of course, then you have to be prepared to try to keep your cash safe. (See our web page on Security Issues.)
The local ATM fee we have seen is about the equivalent of $2.50 or $3 US for each withdrawal. The machine asks you whether you agree to the fee. You have to say yes or your transaction will be cancelled. You will also be asked by some machines if you want to donate money for some good cause. You can decide that, but we just wanted you to be prepared for the questions you will be asked. You will also be asked whether you would like a receipt. That is a good idea. The receipt often gives you the amount approved (what you requested plus the fee) and it gives you a balance still available for future withdrawals. Finally, your card will be returned to you at the very end. Don’t forget to wait for that. Three things to walk away with will be the cash, the receipt, and the card.
There are some suggestions about packing on other pages on our website.
Security issues, including the use of ATMs and airport taxis are also discussed in more detail here: