¡Bienvenidos a México! So you want to be a resident?

Hola todos. Bienvenidos (Welcome).

Our aim here is to provide a comprehensive library of FAQ’s about moving to Mexico. Not opinions or stories, just facts. Facts that you can rely on.

I have lived in Mexico full time for over three years and spent many more researching, learning and traveling. As you may have guessed, this is my first real post in this blog, and it’s aimed at “newbies”.

If you’re thinking of moving to Mexico either part time or full time, sooner or later you’re going to have to find out what is required of you. So let’s talk about that. And trust me, this is only a high level discussion. In the weeks and months to come, we will provide much more in-depth information.

Some countries are known by Mexico as “non-visa” countries. Canada and USA are among them. What that means is you don’t need a pre-approved travel visa to enter Mexico, as you would if you were coming from say, Colombia or Korea. A travel visa is required of visa countries whether you plan to visit or live in Mexico. Since our audience is primarily North American and travel visas have nothing to do with obtaining residency when coming from the USA or Canada, that’s the only mention I will give it.

There are basically 3 types of visas to enter Mexico. The first is actually not a visa at all but many people (even some in the government) call them a “tourist visa”. It’s real name is Forma de Migratoria Multiple, or FMM for short. It’s the 2-part green/white/red form you are handed on the airplane and serves as your permission to be in the country for up to 180 days, depending on how many days the immigration officer marks on it. Usually they give you the full 180 days but not always. You MUST keep your FMM (or a copy) with you while in Mexico and you must turn it back in when you leave.

If you intend to stay longer than 180 days we have two basic types of residency visas, the temporary resident (formerly called a FM3) and permanent resident (former FM2) visa. By the way, if you ever find websites referring to FM3/FM2/FMT visas, consider their information out of date, since those visas disappeared during immigration reforms in 2012. Both types of resident visas must be applied for at a Mexican Consulate OUTSIDE of Mexico and require you to qualify financially. Essentially, Mexico wants to see proof that you can support yourself and your family and won’t be a burden on the state. Every family member has to qualify. Although the Consulate taking your application has to be located outside of Mexico, it does not have to be in the area you call home. Any Consulate can accept applications, even in another country.

A temporary resident visa is initially granted for one year, and is renewable for up to 4 years in total. After the first year you can renew for 1,2, or 3 years while inside Mexico. At the end of the 4 year period you are required to convert to a permanent resident visa or leave the country. You can bypass all this by applying for a permanent resident visa at the outset, provided you meet the higher financial requirements. Many people can’t qualify financially for a permanent visa, so they get a temporary and then after 4 years you automatically qualify for permanent based on your 4 years of residency, without further financials.

If your initial application at the Consulate is approved they will place a full-page sticker in your passport. This is a 30-day interim visa. It is valid for 180 days, meaning you must enter Mexico within that time to complete the process. You will get a FMM card upon entry and it is very important that you do not mark “tourism” as the purpose of your trip. Instead you should choose “other” and also ensure the immigration officer marks the card for a 30-day entry and checks the box labelled “CANJE” (meaning exchange) in the USO OFFICIAL (official use, not for you) section. Do NOT leave the immigration area if this is not done. For this reason you should not try to obtain a FMM online; you must attend the immigration office at the border or Port of Entry (airport) in order to ensure proper processing.

But wait a minute. You mentioned I’ve not completed the process, you say? Nope. Not yet. Part 2 begins when you enter Mexico with your 30-day stamp in your passport. From that time, you have exactly 30 days to initiate (not necessarily complete) the final proceedings with immigration (INM) in the office nearest to where you will be staying. INM will look at the information you presented to the Consulate, have you fill out some more forms, submit photos, fill out more forms, go to the bank and pay for it all, come back with your paid receipt, and ultimately be fingerprinted before signing one more set of forms. Phew!

None of these processes requires a lawyer but if you don’t speak Spanish, there are facilitators available in Mexico that will help with the process. We used one and he did all those trips on our behalf except for the fingerprinting. Sometimes it’s worth the small fee they charge, but do compare fees if you’re considering this. By the way, the photos required by INM are “infantile” size, not the same as passport size, and they have other very specific requirements, so don’t bother trying to get them at your local Walmart. There are photo shops near every INM office in Mexico, they are very inexpensive, and they know exactly what is required.

So now you’ve done all this, what’s next? Well, this is Mexico…. you wait. And while you wait, you are not allowed to leave Mexico or you will nullify the whole process! There are exceptions made if you have to go back for something urgent, but do NOT do that unless you first get a clearance letter from INM giving you permission. What you are waiting for is a little green wallet sized card that declares you as a permanent or temporary resident of Mexico. During this second phase, INM will provide you a link to a website where you can monitor the progress of your application and be notified when it’s time to come back to their office.

Once you have your card you are free to come and go as you please. But one more caveat…. do not EVER declare yourself as a tourist when coming and going. It’s easy to do, especially if you’ve made frequent trips as a tourist in the past. All it takes is ticking the wrong box on that FMM form and the result is your resident status will be revoked! You will have to leave the country and re-apply from scratch!

By now you’ve probably realized, residents still use FMM cards, but you do it in reverse as compared to a tourist. Tourists get the form on entry and return the bottom half on the way out. For residents though, you get the form before you leave Mexico, then when you come back through immigration, you return the other (larger, top) half along with showing your green resident card. To get your FMM you will visit INM at the airport or other port of entry before you leave Mexico. You show your green card and fill in the form, marking “other” as the purpose of the trip (not “tourism”). Sometimes they only ask you to fill in the bottom half because you may not have your return trip information yet for the top half. The INM officer will write RP or RT in big bold marker on the top of both halves of the form, meaning “Residente Permanente” (or Temporal) and you will retain both halves of the form. When you board your plane they take the bottom half from you, same as they do for tourists. Make sure you keep the rest of the form for your re-entry. It’s simple really, but muy importante!

This is a very long post and if you’ve managed to stay awake to the end,congratulations! I hope you find it helpful. There are many more details and I will post more details to the best of my ability and time to do so.
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