Mexico Visa and Residency Information

As you go through the process of country shopping, perhaps the most important criteria (above cost of living, climate, and medical care) is understanding the visa/immigration options for that country and what it takes to qualify as well as what benefits, restrictions, and exclusions are on the table. And as important as it is, too many folks pay scarce attention to it in the beginning.

For our purposes, we will concentrate on the two types of visas sought by the vast majority of expats; Temporary Residency and Permanent Residency. To be completely legal, hopeful expats will need to apply for one of these two types of residency visas. The process is not difficult but does require a bit of paperwork (often beginning online and the forms will be in Spanish), participating in an interview with a consulate officer, and the ability to prove economic solvency that meets the requirement for the visa you seek.

This is probably a good time to acknowledge that a fairly large number of expats are living in Mexico on the frayed edge of legality. They entered as millions do each year as legal visitors/tourists with only a passport and no visa.

Tourists/visitors can legally remain in Mexico, holding only a valid passport, for 180 days and must then leave. This generous policy allows large numbers of Snow Birds to seek asylum from frigid winters north of the border and spend months in the warmth of Mexico. But some take advantage of the intent of this policy and the Mexican government has taken note. Perhaps the government recognizes the positive economic impact generated by these folks and have been slow on enforcement…until now.

A number of tourists/visitors have avoided the visa application process by simply moving their lives to Mexico with no residency visa. They enter as tourists and then exit the country right before their 180 days expire, quickly reentering for another 180 days. They must repeat these border runs every six months. Although this process has worked for a large number of tourists over the years, Mexico is now moving toward stronger enforcement and some who have built lives in Mexico are now being denied reentry without proper documentation. This is a gamble that may result in the inability to return to Mexico. Further, the current state of U.S. and Mexico relations (at the time of this writing) could see the situation at ports of entries change on a moment’s notice.

Begin your Visa process by visiting the website for the nearest Mexican Consulate in your state. Find the section regarding immigration and complete the application. The form will be in Spanish so utilize an interpreter if necessary. Once your basic form has been processed, you should receive an email assigning an appointment date and time. The website should also provide you with a list of the required documents to bring to your appointment which will include a passport photo.

A Consular Officer will review your documents, verify your economic solvency, and ask a few questions regarding your current status and why you want to live in Mexico. Decisions can be made on the spot and your visa could be processed that very day or maybe a day or two later, if all is in order.

Once your visa has been granted and placed inside your passport, you have completed the first step in Mexico´s three step immigration process. Your visa is good for 180 days which means you must arrive at a Mexican Port-of-Entry before it expires. Your entry into Mexico completes the second step in the process and starts the clock ticking. Your new visa is only a temporary document that permits a one-time entry into Mexico as a resident.

The third and final step must be completed within 30 days of arriving in Mexico by visiting a local immigration office and applying for your official residency card through the canje process. It is the issuance of this residency card that makes your residency legal, not the possession of your visa.  If you fail to meet this deadline, your visa will become invalid and you may be directed to leave the country and begin again.

Temporary Residency Visas

Temporary Resident Visas are granted to those who want to stay longer than six months but less than four years. After four years of temporary residency, you can apply to convert to Permanent Residency status, which is normally quite painless. One of the primary reasons that folks initially apply for temporary residency is that the income requirements are significantly less than what is needed for permanent residency. At today´s exchange rate, the income requirement for temporary residency is about $1,620 per month. Add an additional $540 for a spouse.

Temporary Residents can:

  • Purchase and register a Mexican-plated car
  • Open a bank account
  • Import household goods without duty
  • Temporarily bring your U.S. plated vehicle into Mexico
  • Have unrestricted/unlimited entry and exit at borders
  • Obtain permanent residency after 4 Years
  • Prove income of at least $1620 per month plus $540 for spouse or savings of $27,000.

Temporary Residents cannot:

  • Vote
  • Cannot directly own land close to border or beach (Must be placed in trust)
  • Must inform immigration of local employment who will then grant permission
  • Initial issue for one year with renewals available for 1,2, or 3 years
  • No renewals after 4 years. Become a Permanent Resident or leave.

Permanent Residency

Mexican Consulates will collect a $36 fee per visa, upon issuance. When obtaining your residency card, you will pay a fee equivalent to about $265.

Permanent Residents have:

  • All rights of Mexican Citizens except voting
  • No need to renew residency. This is a permanent status
  • Unlimited border crossings…come and go as you wish.
  • Maintain legal employment or self-employment without consent
  • Must prove income of $2,700 per month plus $540 for spouse or show savings of $108,000.

Permanent Residents cannot:

  • Personally own land close to borders or beach (Must form trust)
  • Cannot import foreign plated vehicles.