Mexico Visa and Residency Information

Mexico is the most popular country in the world for North American expats. It has a wonderful variety of climates, the food is superb, the people are gracious and welcoming, the healthcare is great, and the cost of living is low. Fortunately, Mexico has an immigration system that is straightforward and easy to navigate, offering options for short-term tourists as well as temporary and permanent options for foreigners who want to stay long-term.

Video Guide to Visa and Residency in Mexico

If you’ve never visited Mexico, take a scouting trip first and see if this is a country where you can imagine yourself staying for months or years. Visitor permits (visitantes) are issued at any international port of entry. You will need a simple application form, the Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM), which is provided at the border crossing. It will only take a few minutes to fill it out. Present the completed FMM and your passport to the immigration officer, who will then determine how long you can remain in the country. Visitor permits may be valid for up to 180 days, but that isn’t automatic and the length of stay that is granted can be arbitrary. A visitor permit cannot be renewed or extended.

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If you want a full six months in the country, it’s best to apply for a visitor permit at any Mexican consulate in the U.S. or Canada. Visa runs—leaving the country every few months and returning with a new tourist visa—were once a popular way for foreigners to live in Mexico, but that practice is now discouraged.

Fortunately, Mexico has made it relatively easy to get visas that are valid for more than six months. The two most common long-stay visas are the residente temporal (temporary resident) and the residente permanente (permanent resident). Aside from financial requirements and length of stay, the only major difference between these two visas is that you can bring your non-Mexican registered vehicle with you to Mexico as a temporary resident, but if you’re a permanent resident and you want to have a vehicle, it will need to have a Mexican registration and license plates.

The process to obtain either temporary or permanent residency is the same, although the financial requirements differ. Either way, the first step begins by completing the application paperwork—some of it is in Spanish —and making an appointment to appear in person at a Mexican consulate in your home country. You can schedule an appointment as well as complete some of the application paperwork online. If you are traveling to Mexico with adult family members or someone else, they will also need to schedule an appointment. The financial guidelines differ somewhat from one consulate to the next. The following requirements are according to the Mexican consulate in Denver, CO.

You’ll need to present the following documentation at the consulate:

  • Your original passport, with at least one blank page, that is valid for at least six months prior to expiration;
  • One photocopy of your passport’s personal information page;
  • An original and one photocopy of another valid ID (driver’s license, ID card);
  • One completed and signed visa application form (available online);
  • One recent passport-size (1.5 x 1.75 inches) color photo;
  • The confirmation page of your consular appointment, which you can schedule online.

You’ll need to pay an application fee of $48 prior to receiving your visa.

Temporary residency visas are intended for individuals who want to live in Mexico for at least six months and up to four years. Visas are issued for one year and can be extended annually. To qualify for temporary residency, you’ll need to present two copies of the following additional documentation to the consulate:

  • Proof of a monthly income of at least $2,593.05 plus $500 for each dependent for the past six months; or
  • Proof of investments or savings of at least $43,217.50 for the past 12 months; or
  • A notarized public deed of real property in Mexico that is valued at a minimum of $345,740.

Permanent residency never expires, and this is the retirement visa of choice for people who can satisfy the financial requirements. To apply for permanent residency, you’ll need to present two copies of the following documentation to the consulate in addition to the requirements listed above:

  • A letter addressed to the consulate requesting permanent residency, including the town or city where you plan to live, your address in Mexico, and your travel date. The letter must also include a sentence stating that you are aware that you are not allowed to work in Mexico with this type of visa;
  • Proof of a monthly income of at least $4,321.75 plus $500 for each dependent for the past six months. If the source of income is from your Social Security pension, you’ll need to provide a document from Social Security that states the amount of your pension; or
  • Proof of investment or savings of at least $172,870 for the past 12 months, with account statements from the last twelve months.

When you go to the Mexican consulate, you’ll have an interview with a consulate officer. You’ll be asked a few questions about why you want to live in Mexico, and you’ll give them your required documentation. If you are approved, you’ll get a visa in your passport either on the same day or within a day or two.

You have now completed the first of two steps to get your temporary or permanent residency visa. The visa from the consulate is valid for 180 days, so you’ll need to go to Mexico before it expires. Once you enter the country, make sure that the immigration official knows that you need a canje stamp, which indicates that your immigration status will be changing. You now have 30 days to report to your local immigration office.

Because of long waiting times, it’s advisable to set an appointment online with the local immigration office before you leave your home country. Once you’re in Mexico, you have only 30 days in which to report to immigration or you’ll have to leave the country, and start the process all over again.

When you report to the local immigration office, be sure to bring all the paperwork that you were required to show at the consulate in your home country, as well as the printed confirmation page of your immigration appointment and your Mexican address. You’ll be directed to a bank to pay 4,739 pesos (about $230) for a temporary resident card or 5,776 pesos (about $280) if you’re applying for permanent residency. You’ll have another short interview and if you are approved, you’ll receive your resident card that day or shortly thereafter.

Do You Need a Visa to Go to Mexico?

How I Got My Mexican Visa

By Melissa Heisler

Los Cabos sits on a peninsula with the mighty Pacific Ocean on one side and the beautifully calm Sea of Cortez on the other. ©Jason Holland/International Living

When I moved to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in 2015, I had no idea if I would be there one month, one year, or longer. Thankfully, United States and Canadian visitors generally receive a 180-day tourist visa when they enter Mexico, so I had time to figure out how long I was staying and how the visa process worked.

Once my heart told me I was destined to stay, I looked into my options for permanent residence. I decided to apply for temporary residence (Residente Temporal) first. After that, I would be able to apply to become a permanent resident (Residente Permanente—similar to a permanent green card in the U.S.).

The immigration authorities now use a “points system,” with points added based on certain factors. The relevant ones are financial background, ownership of property in Mexico, and a strong relationship between the applicant and Mexico.

As I did not have a job to go to in Mexico, I chose to apply with retirement status. Although I was not even 50 yet, I could use this status if I could show the required retirement funds. This status allows people to come to Mexico who are not intending to work here nor receive any of their social services (with the exception of public healthcare, which is available to all residents).

One important point: The documentation process does not start in Mexico. Coming from the U.S., I needed to go to a Mexican consulate in the U.S. If I were from Canada or elsewhere, it would be at the nearest Mexican consulate in that country.

I decided to travel to Chicago to get things started. Unfortunately, because I had to gather all the documentation I needed, I wasn’t able to complete the process on that first trip and returned to Mexico without it done. Be warned that some consulates will expect to see hard copies of your last 12 bank statements (others will accept six—it varies with location). While the Mexican immigration department has its own requirements, consulates have some leeway to set their own guidelines, too. If I can give one piece of advice, it would be to talk to only one consulate for the entire process and make sure you know their specific requirements.

I returned to the U.S. a few months later, with all my preparations made. I booked a one-way ticket from Cabo to Chicago, as I needed to leave my passport at the consulate and they did not specify when the process would be complete. In the event, it took less than one week. The staff were amazing, the process was smooth, and the cost was minimal (around $40).

Once the consulate finished their process, my passport had a special sticker in it regarding my visa application. It is very important to show this to the immigration desk upon arriving in Mexico, and you must travel to Mexico within 60 days. When you arrive, there is a different immigration process for applicants versus normal tourists, and it needs to be completed at the point-of-entry immigration desk. The officer must give you an entry visa showing “Canje” and not “Tourist.” (If the immigration officer marks you as a “Tourist,” this invalidates the whole process, and you have to start over.)

Finally, you need to go to your local immigration office in Mexico within 30 days of arriving to complete the process and actually get your residence card.

Many people choose to hire a “fixer” or attorney.

I decided to hire help to complete the process in Mexico. Many people choose to hire a “fixer” or immigration attorney, since the paperwork can be complex and the process is in Spanish. It costs between $600 and $1,500, depending on your circumstances and the attorney used. Martha Sandoval, whose office is conveniently next to the immigration building in Cabo, helped me with mine. It took a few weeks, in which time I could not leave Mexico (you must stay in-country for at least a month). But at the end I received my Residente Temporal card.

Temporary resident status needs to be renewed each year, but you can apply to renew multiple years in advance. I renewed after my first year and then paid for the other years upfront, so that I didn’t have to remember to renew. Next January, I will be able to apply for permanent residence.

After one year as a permanent resident, and depending on my score on the points system mentioned above, I can apply to become a citizen of Mexico. Unlike the resident status, there is a time-in-Mexico requirement for the citizen application. In the two years preceding application for citizenship, I cannot be outside of Mexico for more than 180 days total.

To prepare for citizenship, I am also studying hard, as there is an exam on Spanish language, as well as in Mexican history and culture. If I want to bypass the history test, I can just wait until I am 60, when it is no longer required, although I’ll still need to demonstrate knowledge of the Spanish language.

For now, I am proud to be a Residente Temporal and loving the added benefit of bypassing the always-crowded tourist immigration kiosks at the airport.

International Living’s suggested immigration attorneys in Mexico are Ernesto Arrañaga in Playa del Carmen and Mérida (see: Interlexmexico.com) and Diana Cuevas in San Miguel de Allende (contact: [email protected]). Both speak excellent English.