Mexico was already a popular destination for location-independent workers, digital nomads, snowbirds, and backpackers before the pandemic hit. With Mexico being one of the few low-priced countries that stayed open, it saw a flood of new visitors coming who wanted to stick around a while. It also got more interest from retirees and remote workers looking for a different place in the sun to make their home. With all that came changes in the Mexico visa requirements. Some official, some not, but real hurdles to deal with either way.
Remember that the visa situation for almost any country is a fluid thing and the rules are usually not applied consistently. This seems doubly true for Mexico, a country that has consulates in dozens of locations and immigration offices scattered all over its vast country. I wrote a few years ago that the formula supposed to determine how much income you needed to show had changed, but then most of the U.S. offices ignored the directive and stuck with the old minimum wage formula.
Also, it still shows on many official websites that foreign tourists can get 180 days upon entry, but without any change to that policy from any government office (that we have seen), many visitors are not getting anything close to that on their entry form.
As I detailed in an earlier post, my wife and I got Mexican residency visas last year after coming in and out on tourist visas for all but one of the years we lived off and on in the country. The pandemic border closings spooked us, plus we were spending a solid month in the USA so it seemed like a good move to visit a consulate with paperwork in hand and get legal.
Now we’re especially glad since two Mexico visa requirements changes have come since: the stricter stance on granting 180-day tourist visas and a higher income requirement for residency visas. I think we would still be fine on the latter, but we’d probably go to a different consulate since the Orlando one seems to be living in its own odd universe in some of the illogical rules it applies.
Here are the details on the Mexican visa changes as of March, 2022. These can and will change, plus there’s no consistency you can depend on between offices and airport immigration counters. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst, with a Plan B in place if you don’t succeed at first.
Permanent and Temporary Mexico Visa Requirements for Residents
I wrote back in 2020 that the income requirement for foreigners applying for residency had gone down thanks to a falling peso and a change in the formula the consulates were supposed to use to come up with the minimums. Apparently those consulates didn’t get the memo, however, and most stuck to the old requirement of using a higher formula based on the minimum wage. Then the minimum wage increased twice–a good thing for Mexicans–but that meant that the “300X daily minimum wage” that a foreigner has to show in income got quite a bit higher.
You don’t need anything close to 300 times the daily minimum wage (30X what a minimum wage worker earns in a month) to live a comfortable life in Mexico, of course, but good luck trying to argue that point with anyone. The government apparently only wants a level of foreigner that would be in the top 5% of earners locally in their country permanently. While San Miguel de Allende started out as an artists’ colony, artists who aren’t already successful are no longer welcome. While this is a great place to run an online business from now, it’s no longer a place to go while you’re still ramping that business up.
Your mileage may vary depending on which consulate you visit, plus exchange rates will fluctuate the exact number, but expect that you will now be required to show proof of earning at least US$2,400 to $2,700 per month. That amount needs to be flowing through your account every month for the past year, illustrated by turning over your bank statements, notarized. There may be a little wiggle room there, but not a huge amount. See my suggestions for steps to take further down if you don’t qualify.
There is another way if you don’t make that much though: you can show savings of around $45,000 or more being in your account for the past six months, though some consulates (like the one I went to) may ask for 12 months of statements. So take 12 to be safe. This seems like a daunting amount, but IRA/401K retirement funds qualify and, in theory anyway, if you own a Mexican house free and clear and you can show it cost you more than that, it could squeak you through on the savings requirement if the consulate person is in a good mood. I really wouldn’t depend on that though. Real estate is better as an extra than your main basis for a savings argument.
Those figures are for temporary residency, which is good for a year. It can be renewed three times, then you can move up to permanent residency. From everything I have seen, you will not be asked to show income statements again when renewing that temporary residency visa, but I’ll know more after my wife goes through it a couple of weeks from now and will update this.
For permanent residency, the bar is much higher. Years ago, nobody managed to go straight to permanent anyway, so it didn’t matter, but the past few years many people have been able to do that, including yours truly. Some sources out there say you can only do this if you’re retired and they may be enforcing that more, but it’s hard to say because each consulate is its own little fiefdom and the only way you know what to expect is if you know others who have gone through the process there. Facebook groups have made that easier, so you can try poking around the ones that are for expats in Mexico.
While the income required for a temporary resident would put you in the top 5% of earners in most cities, the amount you need for permanent residency is 500X the minimum wage, which would probably put you in the top 2% of earners outside of Los Cabos. Again it varies depending on the minimum wage level and exchange rates, but the figure I’m seeing these days for permanent residency applications is US$4,300 to $4,600 per month. That’s not an outlandish amount for many Americans and Canadians, but it’s worth noting that this is above the U.S. median income after you subtract taxes, so you need to have above-average earnings in your home country to obtain this visa.
Again, there’s an or part of the equation: if you’ve done well enough to have $180,000 in savings socked away, which many retirees do, then you can qualify that way even if all you’re really “earning” is Social Security checks. The balance needs to be that high for the last 12 months of statements, so keep market fluctuations in mind if you’ve got it all in mutual funds. It could make sense to step out of that for a while and go into cash. (More on that in a minute.)
These requirements are all for a single applicant. If you are bringing a spouse or child who can qualify as a dependent, then add another 100X the daily minimum wage to get how much more income you will need to show for them. That’s probably going to be between $800 and $900 these days for each additional dependent, to show that you can support them. If it’s a child, you’ll need to bring their birth certificate to that home country meeting. If it’s a spouse, your marriage certificate.
Keep in mind that all of this will cost you a few hundred bucks, plus a bit more if you hire someone in Mexico to guide you through the second step. After you’ve arrived, you need to visit another office to fill out more forms, submit fingerprints, pay the cash, and get your photo taken for an ID “CURP” card.
Strategies for Mexican Residency Visa Requirements if You Don’t Qualify
As mentioned earlier, the rules are fluid and inconsistent across offices, but if there’s any way possible for you to meet the maximum possible requirement, you should do so. If you’re borderline, start planning a year out to get your finances in line with what they want to see.
You need to show that minimum amount going through your checking account OR have at least the minimum amount of savings. If you don’t qualify now, start brainstorming ways to get there on paper. Can you shift money on a regular basis from another account to your checking account? Can you split up some lump sum payments if you’re a contractor or business owner?
On the savings side, can you plop a loan amount in there that you can leave for 12 months? Can you get your parents to put some money in your savings account that you will pay back later? Can you sell something of value or close out a real estate transaction earlier than planned and move into a rental place for a while?
If you’ve got all your savings in the stock market and you’re running close to the minimum, you might want to convert a big chunk or all your market investments into cash so your balance doesn’t go down. You can always jump back in after you’ve qualified. Remember, they’re looking at up to 12 months of balances, so you need to think ahead.
You need to think creatively if you don’t qualify and remember that this is only required for the application from your own country. Once you get approved there and have the visa in your passport, you don’t need to verify checking or savings account info after you’re in Mexico. You’re done with that part. So then you can shift money back or earn less after you move. As I said, you don’t need anything close to this amount to live in Mexico, especially when you look at rental costs in central Mexico where I am.
Don’t just look at this article if you’re preparing to apply at some point. See the consulate sites, check long-running info sites like Mexperience. See Facebook groups for living in Mexico or, even better, ones for the specific city where you’re planning to live.
Living in Mexico on a Tourist Visa
In all fairness to the Mexican government’s tougher stance lately, a Mexican tourist card does not grant you residency in Mexico. It is technically called an FMM, though you’ll hardly ever hear anyone refer to it as that unless they’re an expatriate living on one. It stands for Forma Migratoria Múltiple and while nearly everyone calls it a “tourist visa,” officially it’s a permit to enter since most developed countries don’t need an actual visa to enter Mexico.
No matter what it’s called, as far as the government is concerned, a Mexican tourist visa (FMM) is for tourists and a residency visa is for residents. If you come in as a tourist, they expect you to hang around for a little while and then leave, not stay for years on end by leaving and coming back again.
Granted, they have been very permissive about this in the past and there are some snowbirds who have been coming down to Mexico for 10 or 20 years, spending close to six months in the country and then returning to some cold place to the north when it’s green again. I’d argue that this has been of great benefit to Mexico since these snowbirds and digital nomads have been spending more freely than any local does and pumping a lot of dollars or loonies into the local economy. Something, we’re not sure what, changed during the pandemic though and the government apparently felt like at least some visitors were more trouble than they were worth.
Many people are still getting 180 days for the asking, as this is technically what is promised on many pages that reference the FMM, including this one. So it’s not a sure thing that you won’t receive this. I landed in Leon/Guanajuato airport recently and asked a group of foreigners I had met on the way how much was on their tourist card; they all had gotten 180 days, even though they were staying for less than a month.
The trend seems to be, however, that most visitors are only getting that if they ask for it specifically and have their story straight when the officer asks, “How long are you staying in Mexico?” (Cuánto tiempo te quedas en México?, ¿Cuánto tiempo va a permanecer en México?, or Cuánto tiempo esta visitando México?) Otherwise, I’ve heard of people getting six days, two weeks, or a month depending on what they put on their form.
Some airports seem to be more strict than others. Based just on stories I’ve heard, Mexico City and Cancun are the worst, while people flying into Morelia, Queretaro, Guadalajara or Leon/Guanajuato haven’t reported as many problems. There’s no way to know how this will play out until it happens though, so I’ve got some advice…
Strategies for Getting Enough Time in Mexico on a Tourist Visa
If you want to stay in Mexico for a few months but you don’t intend to stick around for the long term, it’s best to be prepared with a big envelope full of paperwork. Based on what I’ve seen in Facebook groups and heard from travelers, it’s best to have your story straight, have evidence to back up what you’re saying, and tell the immigration agent what he/she wants to hear.
If you’re going to ask for anything between 60 and 180 days to go onto your Mexican tourist card, here’s what I would advise to bring to the immigration entry line:
– A return ticket. Even if you plan to come back overland, you should buy a refundable ticket or use a service that will provide a temporary reservation for a fee. There are plenty of cheap flights out of Mexico.
– A solid reservation for a place to stay. One story I heard of someone not getting the 180 days was someone who arrived with no plans because he was going to travel across the country and work it out as he went along. This is a great way to travel, but it’s not what immigration wants to see. Secure a long-term rental or two in advance and bring the proof, printed out. If you’re staying with a friend, that’s not as good, but if so have them write a letter attesting to this, dated and signed. If you own a home or have a long-term lease already, bring the proof in writing. If it’s in Spanish, even better.
– Bring some bank statements and credit cards. No, it’s not required to show you’re not broke and in the past this never would have been necessary, but better safe than sorry now.
– A decent appearance. Again, it shouldn’t matter, but you probably don’t want to show up to immigration wearing a ratty t-shirt, three days of beard stubble, and flip-flops. Look like you’re the kind of visitor they want, not the kind that’s going to be a burden.
– A Spanish greeting and a friendly attitude. You want that immigration person to like you, appreciate you, and want to help you. The last thing you want to do is project superiority, an attitude, or entitlement. For now they can’t see your smile, so err on the side of extra.
If all else fails, you can try to beg and plead, but I haven’t heard of that working. Whatever happens, you need to be sure of how many days you have been granted. If you overstay that number of days, you could be fined on a per-day basis as a result. Look closely at that tourist card you’re required to turn over when you leave and then put it in a very safe place!
As I’ve repeated several times here, this Mexican visa situation is fluid and applied inconsistently. If you ran into something different, please share it in the comments below. Others will appreciate it!