Since I live in Mexico and am the author of the best-selling book on moving abroad, I often get questions about the Mexican residency rules. The problem is, as soon as I put those current rules down in writing, they change again. The past few years were especially volatile so the changes have been frequent and confusing. Here’s an update on where things stand as we enter Q2 of 2023.
In short, since 2019 the income requirements have changed several times, the 180-day tourism permit outlook changed a few times, and the Mexican minimum wage went up twice, which impacts a lot of formulas for foreign residents as well. So basically anything you read that was published before 2023—including from me—is probably out of date. If you’re wealthy, it doesn’t matter much, but if you’re not, you may need to do some financial gymnastics to qualify.
At one point I reported that you only needed to show income of $1,400 to qualify for temporary residency because that’s what the federal government published. Unfortunately, the consulates in the USA ignored the memo on this new calculation formula and kept on doing it the way they were already used to. So when we got our own residency permits, we had to show a much higher income level than that. Since they’re continuing to use a formula tied to the minimum wage in the foreign offices, each time that goes up, so does the requirement for foreign applicants.
Since exchange rates can have an impact as well, the amount in your own currency will change regularly. If a-holes in the U.S. Congress are keeping Uncle Sam from paying his credit card bill for things he has already charged, you will pay more because the dollar then predictably falls in value. If the Canadian dollar falls with the price of oil or lumber, you will pay more in Canadian dollars to meet the Mexican peso requirement.
I have lived in Mexico on and off since 2010. Most of that time I was just on a tourist visa because you only have to leave the country every six months (well, 180 days) to renew it. As a travel writer, in normal times that was never an issue. My passport had some 40 stamps from five different airports, no sweat. I eventually got legal residency though because “normal times” disappeared for a few years and since I own a house that’s worth no small sum, with lots of my belongings in it, continuing this way was too risky.
One time when we did a two-year stint here we got temporary residency permits because we had a daughter in school and didn’t want to have to be forced to leave the country on a deadline. Plus her school wanted her to be a resident, so it was just easier. Then we let it expire though when we spent three years in the USA and had to start over.
Last time I ended up with this identity card below that I put a photo of in the post. Funny enough, that photo got blown up and posted at the Belize land border as an example. Every year or so some blogger friend would e-mail me and ask, “Did you know your picture is posted at the Mexico/Belize border?” Thankfully it wasn’t a “Wanted” sign at least. It wasn’t there when I went back to Belize in late 2021 though, probably because the design of it has changed.
If you’re not working, not a student, and not married to a Mexican, you will likely be applying for temporary residency (residente temporal) or permanent residency (residente permanente). Here’s the rundown on each.
The Mexican Temporary Residency Income Requirements
A temporary residency visa allows you to stay for one year and come and go as you please, then you can renew it again annually for up to four years. Most Mexican immigration offices will let you renew multiple years at once if you intend to stay: you just have to pay more. In the fifth year, you convert to permanent residency, usually without having to prove the old income level since you’ve clearly supported yourself all this time. Or you say adios and move on if you are still on a temporary residency visa and don’t want to stay.
All this happens within Mexico after the initial approval, so that initial approval in your own country is usually the biggest hurdle you need to clear first. That’s where you have to prove you earn enough for them to let you stay. If you’re a broke backpacker trying to get some kind of online business off the ground, you’re better off in a country with much lower entry requirements, such as Nicaragua or Ecuador, or you just bop around the world as a digital nomad on tourist visas.
The technical formulas behind the changes in Mexico’s income requirement will probably put you to sleep or make your head hurt before you finish reading it, but here’s a quick summary. Offices abroad tend to use a multiplication of the Mexican minimum wage, which has now risen to 207.44 pesos per day. That’s not much, around the state minimum wage per hour in much of the USA, but as a foreigner you need to show 300 times that amount monthly for temporary residency and 500 times that per month if you try to jump straight to permanent residency.
You don’t need anything close to 300 times the daily minimum wage to live comfortably in Mexico, but arguing that point with immigration officials won’t get you very far. If you want to live in their country, you need to play by their rules.
To make things more confusing though, the Mexican offices use a different calculation that is based on something called the Unidad de Medida y Actualización (UMA), which is a lower amount used to calculate everything from police fines to the year-end bonus for an employee. For most foreigners that is not going to matter though because the income verification part happens in your home country, not on Mexican soil.
The amount of income you had to show used to be close to $2,000 per month when I applied back in 2013 and it got up to $2,500 when my wife and I applied again in 2021. So we had to show that amount coming into my bank account and/or show a liquid savings balance over the past year of around $32,000. For a working stiff like me, that was still a fairly low hurdle, even though I did have to show more on top to cover a spouse. For a retiree though, even this old amount could be an onerous amount since it’s higher than the average social security check for an American, higher than many pensions for Canadians.
Those without sufficient supplemental income have to either show a history of 12 months of hefty savings or be able to plead their case with a local consulate. (While the embassies and consulates should all be consistent in how they apply the rules, this is not true for immigration offices anywhere in the world in practice. Some in the U.S. and Canada are known to be more liberal in their interpretation than others.)
We’ve seen a big bump in 2023. Again, the dollar amount changes with exchange rates, so hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Meaning prepare to meet an income requirement of at least US$3,300 per month, plus another $1,120 or so per dependent if the consulate plays it by the book. This could go up a little or down a little depending on exchange rates, but you need that much flowing through your bank account each month, verified with a year’s worth of statements to be safe. Some consulates will only ask for six months, but we had to bring 12, all printed out and notarized by our bank. For retirees, a pension or monthly social security payment counts as income.
Alternatively, most consulates will accept savings or investments of at least US$55,000 and that balance must be above that amount for 12-month period if you want to be sure of acceptance. That’s a high bar, but they do accent IRA/401K savings statements most of the time so those who have been socking away money for retirement for years can usually use this to qualify.
Again, you don’t need that much to live on in reality unless you have very expensive tastes. I have never come anywhere close to spending that amount living in Mexico, even in months when three of us were traveling extensively on vacation in the country and flying around a bit, eating at restaurants every night. It is relatively easy to get by on $1,000 as a single or $1,500 for a couple outside of resort areas—nearly every Mexican does, after all. You’d have to really work at it to spend what they want to see in income. Here’s what it costs us to live in Mexico these days.
In theory you can apply for residency using the value of your home in Mexico, but the calculation formula is so sky-high that it’s only applicable if you live in one of Mexico’s most expensive cities or beach resort areas. The home must be worth at least 40,000 times the minimum wage, which currently equates to $437,000 US dollars. It’s hard to find a house even listed for that much where I live (though it’s a whole different story in Los Cabos).
If you want more authoritative details on how all of this works in practice, check this post from a good resource I recommend called Mexperience.
Mexico Permanent Residency Visa Requirements
Under the long-standing rules in Mexico, you first got a temporary residency permit, renewed it every year, and then after four years you could get permanent residency. At that point, you could stop showing up and paying regularly. You were done with the immigration office and you got a few more rights and perks (though nothing to get excited about.) Some people were able to convert to permanent sooner, especially if they owned real estate and they hired some help like a fixer or attorney, though this has always been more anecdotal than official.
One welcome development upended all this though. A few years ago I started hearing from some of my All-in Package consulting clients that they were offered an option to “skip the line” and go straight to permanent residency. The people offered this seemed to meet three unofficial criteria: 1) They were at or getting close to retirement age, 2) They have proven income that was a few grand above the minimum, and 3) They were willing to pay a $100+ more each than the temporary residency process would cost.
This seemed like a no-brainer to me for anyone who qualified and although I’m still in my 50s, I went for it when we applied and got it. Maybe it was a combo of my gray hair and sweet-talking wife that did it, I don’t know, but I went straight to permanent residency.
Ask about this deal if you’re sure about your long-term plans and you’re well above the income requirement. Bring along anything that can help: home ownership docs, retirement fund docs, a house or long-term lease in Mexico, etc. And no, crypto does not count as real money in the eyes of the government.
Here’s how much income you’ll probably need to show as of 2023 though, which is a good bit more than I had to show two years ago.
Monthly income of US$5,500 (plus $1,100 per dependent) or…
Investment/savings of at least US$219,000
Gather up Your Documents
Anywhere in the world where you apply for residency as an American or Canadian, you’re going to need a pile of paperwork, often including something showing you’re not a convicted felon. That paperwork will often need to be notarized or even worse, go through an “apostille” process that is internationally accepted. You don’t want to be on the other side of the planet trying to work this out after arrival, or even in Mexico for that matter, so check and double-check what documents you’ll need. If you’re a couple and one of you is much more detail-oriented, they should take care of this part when you are divvying up the pre-moving tasks!
Always check the embassy or consulate site for a baseline and you can try calling the office to double-check or clarify. Take an important second step though and consult with people who have recently been through the process. There are message boards and Facebook groups for almost anywhere you’re going, both for the country and probably the city too. There’s a very busy “Expats in Mexico” Facebook group for example, but even where I live in a city with a few hundred foreigners, there are two local Facebook groups that are quite active. (Plus another that’s just about buying local products/services to support the home team.)
Search and scroll to find the real deal on requirements and understand that people will have different experiences from different offices. Some consulates are easier to get an appointment with, some are more lenient, some actually answer the phone while others don’t even let you leave a message. It’s not all going to match up in a pretty checklist. This should give you an idea, however, of what documents you need to bring to the office.
In the end, we were way over-prepared in some ways and not ready in others. Some of the things I brought they didn’t even want to see, but the first time we applied we had to go back home to secure other things we didn’t have. As I put in my post back then:
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.
Notarized bank statements? Who even gets paper ones anymore? Yeah I know, but those are the rules, so give your printer a workout or head to an office supply store with a thumb drive. If you’re lucky your bank branch can notarize them. If not you’ll need to find a notary who is actually coming into an office each day.
The second time we applied, we didn’t need to include our daughter, so that reduced the requirements a bit. Thank goodness I had my retirement fund statements accessible from my phone because I had to supply 24 statements from two accounts. This was after they interpreted the income requirements in a strange way I’ve never seen before, saying I had to have the minimum amount sitting in my checking account every month instead of flowing through it, even though no sane person leaves that much sitting in a checking account each month unless they’re a billionaire. I had to switch to savings to qualify.
They did look at my Mexican house information the second time and did ask questions about my travel writing in Mexico. I’m not sure it mattered, but better to bring too much than not enough.
The Local Mexican Residency Process After Arrival
Getting approved in your home country is just the first required step in this process. After you arrive in Mexico you’ll need to stay put for a while because you’ve only got a limited time to get moving and they’ll hold your passport while the paperwork is getting processed. It can take a month or two from start to finish, so don’t buy a plane ticket out for week six like I did the first time and be sweating that you’ll have to cancel everything!
A decade ago you had to make three or four visits to the embassy or consulate to get everything done and eventually pick up your passport with permit, but now a lot of offices can knock it out in as little as a day because the process is more electronic and they have card printing machines. This may not be the case where you’re going though, so plan on at least two visits.
If you’re moving to Mexico City, no big deal, but if you’re going to some small town that’s hours away from a real city with an immigration office, it can be a pain. Our choices are Leon or San Miguel de Allende. We went to the latter because there are so many foreigners there and they’re used to dealing with us.
I’m not up on the exact cost these days to go through all of this, but it’s no trifling amount. The cost in your home country will probably be $5o – $120 depending on how many of you are in the family unit, but then you’ll spend another $250 to $600 locally in Mexico depending on whether you need/want help from someone to fill out all the paperwork or act as your representative. Having help doesn’t get you out of showing up and signing papers, then giving fingerprints, but it does eliminate any confusion and can speed things up in the prep time. If there are travel costs, you need to add those in too.
We did it by ourselves this last time on the first go-round since we can speak decent enough Spanish to get by. My wife paid for help during the renewal though because her timeline was tight because of travel, it was getting difficult to get an appointment, and she wanted to renew for three years instead of one. It was worth paying a couple hundred bucks to be confident it would all get done right and quickly.
As I said earlier, spend some time doing research online, including on local expat message boards. I’m not a lawyer, immigration expert, or accountant. I’m just someone who has gone through this Mexican residency income verification process twice now and heard the stories from other expats who have done it too. Consult with others who have already been through it and you’ll be better prepared. Just understand that lots of people have lots of different experiences and outcomes. Immigration offices are run by people, not computers.
Understand that the local consulate can take months or even years to update their internal processes, plus they can make up their own rules. Dress well, smile, be nice, and tell them what they want to hear. Then you’ll be able to stay as long as you want as a Mexpat.
Strategies for Mexican Residency to Consider if You Don’t Technically Qualify
As mentioned earlier, the rules are fluid and inconsistent across offices, but if there’s any way possible for you to meet the income requirements, 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? Can you feed money from a business account to a personal account or vice-versa?
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 in full later after getting approved? 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.
You also don’t have to show any income docs when you renew in Mexico. 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.
There are probably 100 ways to make your bank balance look better on paper than it is in your head, so start thinking about ways to tap into other sources for a while so you can have the illusion of earning more or having more in savings than you really do. Even if it’s borrowed money, it’s a temporary situation.
The Mexico Tourist Visa Alternative for 180 Days
If all that fails, there’s a fallback option.
Foreigners who wish to remain in Mexico for up to 180 days without getting residency can come in on a tourist visa, also known as a visitor permit (FMM). You get this upon arrival at the port of entry, such as an airport or border crossing, and is valid for the number of days granted by the immigration official. The maximum time allowed is 180 days, but this is always up to the discretion of the official.
That last part became important after the pandemic hit and Mexico was one of the few countries in the world that never closed its borders. Nomads who had to leave the countries they were in, people who didn’t have a home to return to, ended up coming to Mexico to live because they knew they could stay for close to six months. Some overstayed their permits, some left and came back the same day to renew, and eventually some government high-up official got annoyed with it all.
So in late 2020 I started to hear lots of stories about people only getting 30 days, or even two weeks, not the 180 days that they had planned on. This was inconsistent, unpredictable, and not announced in official policy anywhere. Most people were fine, especially if they had a lease to show and a return ticket out, but it was like Russian Roulette because you never knew what was going to happen.
Thankfully things got back to normal in the second half of 2022 and I’m not hearing those stories anymore. This is partly because the whole country has been moving to an electronic immigration system (finally) and doing away with that silly piece of paper you had to hold onto the whole time you were in the country, paying a fine if you lost it. Since electronic processing requires rules that can be codified and applied consistently, everyone seems to be getting 180 days now whether they need it or not.
It’s important to note though that the visitor permit cannot be extended beyond the maximum time granted, and once it expires, you must be out of the country. Fortunately, you can start over by just leaving and coming back. Some visitors just go to Central America on vacation or head back to the USA or Canada to see relatives and return. In theory you could just nip over the border to Guatemala or San Diego and return the same day, though I wouldn’t recommend that if you can avoid it. At least get to a new date on the calendar.
When you return, you will likely get a new 180-day permit. So you could keep staying on this way instead of getting official Mexican residency. You can use the country as a base like we used to do or buy a winter home in Mexico that you only use for six months or less each year. Hundreds of thousands of people do the latter without ever getting residency.
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