By Michael Parker-Stainback Original Print Publication: March, 2008
Recibos de honorarios are personalized, preprinted invoices you must submit to your employer or contractor’s bookkeeper, so they can record that your income taxes are being withheld. To get these, you have to register with SAT (Servicios de Administración Tributaria, the Mexican IRS) as a taxpayer. When you register, they give you a taxpayer certificate called a cédula that needs to appear on your recibos, which you then hand in like you would an invoice back home.
I confess that when I found out I had to visit government offices and get forms printed, I withered. Conversations with accountants only heightened the fear factor, bombarding me with a thousand acronyms and bureaucratic terms. The SAT website is technical and overwhelming. In general, there’s a lot of confusion about what it takes to complete the registration process and receive your cédula. You could spend hours bewailing how hopelessly bureaucratic all this is, but instead why not see it as a game, a scavenger hunt where you have to print everything in triplicate.
As it turns out, the process is one of the easiest trámites (bureaucratic procedures).
First, call the helpful (really) SAT operators who actually are standing by at 01-800-463- 6728 (though in Spanish only). They’ll tell you what you need and where the closest office is for you to “darse de alta,” the term for registering. Foreigners need the original and a copy of their FM2 or FM3, plus an original and copy of a proof-of-residence like a telephone or utility bill. If you come with these, the rest is easy. I learned three things the hard way, though:
1. Even though your FM2 or 3 has your address, it is not acceptable proof of residence. Does the state trust Telmex more than Gobernación?
2. Bring a photocopy of every page of your FM2 or 3, including the blank ones. Don’t question the logic of it: “Lo siento, es una instrucción.”
3. SAT will not make copies for you, and the lines at nearby copy shops can be beastly.
Officially, you cannot darse de alta without an appointment, which you make over the phone or on the website (again I recommend the phone). When I called there was a two-week wait, so I decided to just show up. My little angle was to get there before 9am (when offices open), dress business-casual, and most of all to smile, por-favor, and gracias-señora through it all.
Even at that early hour a scary “line” was clumped outside the office at Reforma and Insurgentes, but there was also an employee working the queue, making sure everyone went to the right office with the proper documents in hand. She chastised me for lacking an appointment, and handed me a sternly worded leaflet backing it up… and then let me through anyway.
Once I got inside—believe it or not—I found one of the most courteous and efficient government offices I had ever visited, in any country. Everyone takes a number, and there are some thirty operating service windows. There’s a comforting sense of movement, and if you get María Andrade Rendón at window seven, you may even start going to government offices for fun! We chatted about everything under the sun.
María and her colleagues handle it from there, transcribing data from your documents and asking questions. The at-window time is about twenty minutes, and you leave with your cédula. Everything at SAT is free.
Take your cédula to any printer and say you need recibos de honorarios made. They’ll know exactly what to do. As noted, you hand them in like invoices to your employer. Now you’re ready to move on to the next challenge: actually getting money from that freelance employer you so legally and properly billed!
But that’s another subject for The Fixer entirely.
Michael Parker-Stainback can be reached at email@example.com.