If you go look up what you have to do and what it will cost you to become a legal resident of Mexico, you will find the great pros and cons of the ole World Wide Web on display. You will find plenty of information, yes. Enough to fill a whole day of reading if you’d like. If you read Spanish, two days. You’ll soon learn too that most of what you read will contradict what you just read before.
So take all this as an anecdotal rundown of what a family of three had to go through under the new (as of late 2012) Mexican immigration laws. All this was far easier than it would have been for someone coming the other direction, but the general consensus among foreigners is that the current income limits are too high and that they’ll get rolled back because it’s affecting lots of people negatively, including those who develop and sell real estate to foreigners. For now though, the rules are the rules. But the rules aren’t really black and white, so your mileage can and probably will vary.
You Must Apply in Your Own Country
The biggest change over how things worked in years past is that you now must apply for residency before you get to Mexico. Before you could come on a tourist visa, apply after you got here, and before the former ran out you had the latter. Now you have to go to an embassy or consulate with stacks of papers, come back again because they thought of something you should have brought but didn’t, and pay $35 each to get a visa in your passport.
That visa is conditional, however. It is giving you permission to apply within 30 days of arriving in Mexico, and in that time you cannot leave the country. What did we have to show? Here’s the part that’s throwing people for a loop. We came in armed with IRA statements, college fund statements, closing papers for two houses we own, and even my books to show I was a real working writer. They barely glanced at all that though, because what the office we went to (in Orlando) really cared about was how much money was flowing through my checking account.
The way the laws are written, you are supposed to show $2,000 a month in income for yourself, $500 for each dependent if you want a temporary non-working residency visa. $2,500 if you want to be a permanent resident. But then the local consulate or embassy person can, on a whim, raise those limits on a case by case basis. They said since we weren’t retired, we had to show at least $4,000 a month in income and at a later point he said, “more than $5,000 a month.” Either way that’s an insane amount of income for someone living in central Mexico, especially since we own a house free and clear, but that’s what he wanted to see for a family of three.
We had to return a second time with documents that were not listed as required anywhere: a copy of our marriage certificate and an original birth certificate for my daughter. We had to bring 12 months of checking account statements, notarized by my bank, showing that I was making an average of that amount. Thankfully I qualified, but I hope they’re not this strict in every consulate because that amount probably puts me in the top 5% of Mexicans by income. A Canadian friend had a much easier time in Vancouver. He showed his pension check amount, his government retirement account amount, and that was it.
The Visa Process in Mexico
Once we were in Mexico, we took a trip to San Miguel de Allende down the road to get official. Once there we had to pay a notary in an office next door to generate photos, forms, photocopies, and other bureaucracy. Some $50 later, we went to a bank to pay gobs of money that goes to the government. We went back to the office, took a number, and eventually turned all that in with a receipt from the bank showing we had paid the current equivalent of $260 each in pesos (3,130 each). First step done, but we needed to return again to give them our fingerprints. No, they couldn’t just take them at the same time because technically we weren’t approved to get our visas.
We came back eight days later when they told us to but it was a wasted trip. Apparently we should have checked our status online. We did actually, but read it wrong. So we went shopping.
A few days later, we returned again, an hour and 15 minutes each way. We took a number, two hours later gave our fingerprints, and went back home to Guanajuato.
A week after that, I went by myself and picked up all three CURP cards: their equivalent of our Social Security card but more of a national ID card. Technically my daughter can’t go to school here without a CURP number, though we managed to do so for a year before no problem.
All in all we spent more than $1,100 and loads of time to get legal. A year from now we have to do the local part of this all this over again and yes, pay that $260 each again. If we were staying more than two years we could renew for longer at that point though and get a bit of a discount.
If you want to become a permanent resident, you do all this for four years and then you can go from temporary to permanent. After that you don’t have to pay every year. And of course if someone is sponsoring you to come and work, you get a working temporary visa instead of mine, which says I’m earning my money outside the country.
Once you’re a permanent resident you get more perks and you don’t have to keep visiting an immigration office. In theory you’re still supposed to meet those income requirements, but for now since it’s all done within Mexico, people seem to be getting the benefit of the doubt. After you’ve been here four years, you’ve obviously found a way to keep supporting yourself, so you’re not considered a risky burden.
Should You Bother With All This?
When we first moved down here for a year, we decided to just take our chances and stay on tourist visas. You get 180 days upon arrival. We went away to Costa Rica once on vacation in the middle, then Donna and I both had to return to the U.S. once after that for something else. So our daughter was the only one who overstayed the 180 days the second time by a tad. They waved her through upon departure, no problem.
So if you’re only coming for 180 days or less, or you can leave in the middle, just come on a tourist visa and avoid all this trouble and expense. Plenty of snowbirds do just that every year. Six months at home, slightly less than six months in Mexico. Not a bad life…
Happy Mexican Independence Day!