Getting residency in Mexico is a pretty straightforward process. Yet, I see so many people who either think Mexico’s immigration laws are non-existent. Or I see people who know they exist but don’t obey them. I’ve read reports that said as much as 91% of Americans living in Mexico, are there illegally.
I hear stories all the time about people either overstaying their visas or simply leaving the country every six months to avoid having to get a residency visa. Then they are surprised when they get caught and fined or turned away at the border. And the Mexican National Immigration Institute (aka INM) is starting to crack down on perpetual tourists.
If you are thinking about moving to Mexico, you should really understand that you can legally get residency. If you are coming in as a tourist to check it out before moving here, you should also know how long you can stay. Either way, the following information should help you decide what to do to be here legally. That’s why I created this COMPLETE Guide to Resident Visas in Mexico.
But first, let me explain some of the terminologies for tourists vs. residents because it matters in your understanding of the process.
Learn how to get your residency in Mexico the right way. We cover the process for Temporary and Permanent Residency. And get access to our directory of Immigration facilitators across Mexico. In ourCOMPLETE Mexico Relocation Guide.
Tourist Visa or FMM
You might be coming to Mexico to check it before making big decisions. That’s a great idea! I suggest taking your time to explore this beautiful and large country before going through the process of getting a residency visa in Mexico.
And why not? You can stay in the country for up to 180 days as a tourist if your passport is from one of the “no visa required” countries.
But keep in mind that even though you can be given up to 180 days, there is no guarantee you will actually get the full 180 days. There have been many cases where tourists have come to Mexico and were given 30, 20, or even 15 days on their tourist visas.
And many people are caught by surprise when they come to Mexico with plans of being here for more than a few weeks or months and are given only days on their tourist FMM. Some people may have brought their pets, some of their household goods, or something else that they assumed could stay longer. Or maybe you’ve made reservations at an Airbnb for five months and may lose out on some of that expense.
So if you plan to be in Mexico for more than 180 days, or if you can’t risk getting less than 180 days’ permission to stay in the country, you should consider a residency visa.
Flying Into Mexico
Some of you will be flying into Mexico to finish your residency visa process.
The fee of an FMM is usually included in your ticket. Most likely, an agent will give you this form to fill out before entering Mexico. You’ll need to fill out a declaration form before arriving in Mexico, and you only need to fill one out per family.
If you’re coming in to finish your residency visa in Mexico, you’ll need to let an agent know they need to mark you as “canje.” It’s super important, and I cover that in detail further down.
If you’re coming in as a tourist, an immigration officer will stamp your passport and issue you a slip with the amount of time you are allowed to stay in Mexico.
Remember that you are not entitled to or automatically guaranteed 180 days as a tourist. This is up to the immigration agent to process your FMM upon arrival. You must check the amount of time they write into your FMM when you arrive in Mexico so that you don’t accidentally overstay your visa permit.
In some airports, you will be given a paper FMM. Whereas in some other airports, you will only get a stamp on your passport. Changes are happening daily- for more info, go to this post
Driving Into Mexico
A lot of people moving to Mexico decide to drive across the border. Makes sense to me. You might have pets. You might have household goods. Or, this vehicle may be your transportation in Mexico. And if you decided to get your residency in Mexico, you might need a car.
If you decide to drive to Mexico, you’ll still need to get an FMM. An FMM costs 638 pesos or roughly USD 32. (as of Jan 1st, 2022)
If you’re coming in as a tourist, you might read online that no one checks this while you’re driving in Mexico. And while it may be the case most of the time, it is required by law for you to get one upon arrival. If you get caught without one, it could cause trouble for you while you’re in the process of getting your residency visa in Mexico in the future. And no one at the border in Mexico enforces you to get an FMM. So it’s your responsibility to either buy one online ahead of time or get it at the border when you cross.
If you’re a resident coming in for canje, then you absolutely need to get an FMM at the border crossing you drive on. Make sure they mark you as Canje and not as a tourist.
Where to Get An FMM On The Land Border?
When you drive across the border, there is usually an INM office for you to get your FMM. They will need to see your passport, at least six months before it expires. Usually, an immigration officer will give you an FMM for up to 180 days if you are from one of the “no visa required countries” and coming in as a tourist.
But if you’re coming in as a resident, it’s extremely important that you let an agent know you are coming in as a resident and not a tourist if you are in the process of getting your residency in Mexico (also known as “canje”). If they mark your FMM as a tourist, your residency visa will no longer be valid, and you will have to start all over again. So don’t let an INM agent brush you off.
Getting a TIP permit for your car
Assuming you drive your own car across the border, you’ll also need to apply for a TIP. (Temporary Vehicle Permit) A TIP allows your foreign-plated vehicle to be driven while you are in Mexico.
The cost of a TIP is MXN 1,130.65, or roughly USD 52.
You can ONLY apply through Banjercito, but I found the process on their website to be really easy!
And if you like to plan ahead, you’ll be pleased to know that you can get your TIP permit from 7 and up to 60 days before travel. Usually, a TIP is good for up to 180 days.
Stays Longer Than 180 Days
If you’re planning to stay in Mexico for more than 180 days, you must apply for a temporary or permanent residence visa. And yes, you can get deported if you’re caught overstaying your visa. If you only want to be in Mexico temporarily, you must leave by the 6-month mark and surrender your FMM.
The most popular visas for ex-pats are either the temporary resident visa (residente temporal) or the permanent resident visa (residente permanente).
Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for one or both. I’ll explain how you can determine the right one for you and how to apply.
Temporary Resident (Residente Temporal)
The most common visa in Mexico is a temporary resident visa. To qualify for a temporary residency visa, you need to:
- Demonstrate monthly income of approximately USD $2,600 monthly for the past 6 months. You must provide at least the last 6 months of bank statements.
- Demonstrate a minimum balance in investments or savings of approx USD $43,000 for the last 12 months. You’ll need to provide at least the last 12 months’ bank statements.
- You can also submit official documents issued by a Mexican Notary proving the ownership of a property/company/business and one photocopy with a minimum value of $320,000 USD
Permanent Resident (Residente Permanente)
A permanent resident visa is less common because to qualify; you need to prove a higher amount of savings or income. *In some cases, you also have to be of retirement age. I’ll go over that further down. To qualify for a permanent residency visa, you must:
- Demonstrate a minimum monthly income of approximately USD $4,350 for the last 6 months/
- Demonstrate a minimum balance in liquid assets of approximately USD $170,000 for the last 12 months with bank statements showing this minimum balance each month.
- *It is worth mentioning that some consulates require you to be a pensioner or of retirement age (over 60) to apply for the Permanent Resident VISA without having the Temporary Resident VISA first. However, different consulates in the USA have different rules. It is best to check with your immigration facilitator.
For most expats you’ll have to start the process for a permanent visa in the country you live in. Once you are granted a permanent resident visa you have to go to Mexico to finalize the process.
Same as the temporary visa, it is valid for up to 180 days and once you arrive in Mexico you have up to 30 DAYS to exchange it for a permanent resident card. This is known as CANJE.
Your permanent visa is valid indefinitely. You don’t have to renew it as you do with a temporary visa. You’re also allowed to work without having to apply for a work permit. However, you do need to tell INM if you have taken a job offer in Mexico.
Residency For Family Reunification
You may qualify to apply for residency without having to leave Mexico.
You qualify if you are the:
- Parent of a Mexican citizen/permanent resident
- Child of a Mexican citizen/permanent resident
- Sibling of a Mexican citizen/permanent resident
- Child of the spouse/common-law partner of a Mexican citizen/permanent resident
Instead of starting the process in a Mexican consulate/embassy near you, you would start the process at one of the immigration offices in Mexico.
Plus, a residency visa comes with a few perks too!
But what if you’re not sure if you plan to live in Mexico full-time? That’s ok! You don’t have to live in Mexico full-time to remain a resident of Mexico. The only caveat is, that if you become a temporary resident, you will have to come back in person to renew it. So, if you think retirement or living in Mexico might be in your future, I encourage you to look into residency sooner rather than later.
There are some additional perks of being a resident in Mexico such as:
- You can come in and out of Mexico as you’d like
- The ability to open bank accounts
- You can import your foreign plated car free of import taxes (Temporary only)
- You can bring your household goods to Mexico free of import taxes
- You have access to Mexico’s low-cost healthcare through IMSS
- Many private healthcare insurance companies require you to be a resident
- You can apply for a Mexican driver’s license
- You can work in Mexico or run a business in Mexico
- You can register/nationalize a vehicle in Mexico
- Retiree discounts available through INAPAM
- No capital gains are paid when you sell a property in Mexico
- Discounts for locals only
- The cost of getting residency is very affordable compared to other countries
- You can bring pets with you long-term
- And so many more!
Should You Hire An Immigration Expert?
Getting an appointment at the Mexican Consulate in your country of origin might be impossible these days. Appointments are scarce, and you might have to dedicate a few days to calling and checking online every few minutes just to see if you can get one.
You also might not feel comfortable going to an immigration office in Mexico especially if your Spanish isn’t strong. Or you might not know if you are filling out the paperwork correctly. And trust me, you want to fill it out right the first time. It’ll save you multiple trips back and forth.
So hiring an immigration attorney or facilitator might be a good idea. We have a list of vetted and very affordable immigration facilitators around the country. All of them speak Spanish and English. They have dedicated staff just for the sole purpose of making appointments at Mexican Consulates for your initial interview. They’ll prepare you with the right kind of paperwork. And most importantly, they’ll know the best immigration offices in Mexico where you can do your residency exchange in a day or so.
It’s worth every dime.
How To Decide Which Immigration Attorney Is Right?
Not all immigration attorneys are the same. They vary a lot in costs and services provided. And in some cases, they’ll never deliver what they promised to do. Leaving you unsatisfied and having to hire a different person.
When you hire an immigration attorney it’s a good idea to interview them to know what’s included. You should ask questions like:
- Will you translate the documents for me?
- Are government fees included in your price?
- Will you provide an official translator?
- How long can I expect the process to take?
- Will you schedule my Mexican Consulate appointment for me?
- If I process two resident permits, are your fees the same per person?
You can expect reputable and efficient immigration lawyer fees to be around $400-$600 USD per person. However, your final cost may depend based on your specific situation and the amount of paperwork they may need to arrange for you. But I’ve heard stories of expats being taken advantage of and paying thousands of dollars to scammer immigration lawyers who didn’t deliver. All because they didn’t do their research.
We only work with the best and most reputable immigration contacts around Mexico. And we only work with immigration lawyers whose fees are reasonable. Want to learn more about working with our recommended immigration lawyers.
Get More Info About Our COMPLETE Mexico Relocation Guide
Common Mistakes or Misconceptions
Here are some of the most common mistakes I see or hear about. Sometimes the consulates are the culprit for giving you wrong information. Get the facts:
- There is no guarantee that if you qualify for Permanent residency, you will get Permanent residency. The consulate has the final say on what residency visa you will receive. Don’t get upset- you can always get Permanent residency after 4 years as a Temporary resident.
- If you are applying as a married couple, some consulates require each one of you to qualify independently. If only one of you qualifies, don’t worry. Get residency, and once you are in Mexico, you can petition your spouse without having to prove additional financials.
- When you are approved at a Mexican consulate, you will receive a stamp on your passport. You have up to 180 days to come to Mexico and finish the process. This is known as Canje. Canje is the process by which you exchange that stamp in your passport for an actual card. You are not done with the process until you receive your residency card.
- From the time you enter Mexico, you have 30 days to at least start the process in the immigration office. If your appointment at INM for canje is past the 30 days, don’t worry you are not going to get in trouble. But it does mean you cannot leave Mexico unless you get permission from immigration. Otherwise, you cancel your whole process.
- If you are driving to Mexico to do your Canje, it is YOUR responsibility to stop at INM at the border and ask for your FMM. Without this, you cannot get your residency card. And it would be a bummer to have to drive back to the border.
- You might get asked to bring financials with you when you renew your temporary residency at INM. Doesn’t mean you have to prove the income requirements again. In fact, I’ve never known anyone to get denied for not having a specific amount. But be prepared that you may get asked for money in the bank when you renew your Temporary residency at INM. And not every INM office requires this.
- What you get in the Mexican consulate is what you get in Mexico. This means if you got temporary, you can’t request permanent residency once you go to INM (immigration) in Mexico.
- All Temporary residencies are for one year initially. After the first year, you can renew for 1,2 or 3 additional years. You can only be a temporary resident for up to 4 years. After which, you will either have to become a permanent resident or start over again.
- Once you get your Mexican visa stamped on your passport, you need to finish the process in Mexico the next time you enter. You can’t come as a tourist while you have the visa in your passport and come back later to the country to finish it.
Mexican Bureaucracy Is Challenging
Ask any local or foreigner living in Mexico what they think about Mexican bureaucracy, and I guarantee you will get a few eye rolls. It’s one of the most frustrating things you will have to deal with when you move to Mexico, but trust me, once you learn to accept that nothing will be super easy, you will live a happier life.
Mexican government offices are sometimes very old school in their way of handling procedures. And immigration is no exception.
And while doing the process on your own isn’t impossible, knowing and hiring the right people to help you can save you time, frustrations, and money.
Just to give you an example, in March 2022, all immigration offices in Mexico stopped taking online appointments. Now, all appointments must be made in person. Which automatically made all INM (immigration in Mexico) offices have long lines and long wait times to get anything done. From renewals to canje to family unification processes. Many people don’t realize this. And they might come to Mexico thinking they might be able to finish their residency process in a matter of days. But come to find out, they need to invest about 2-4 weeks. But what happens if you have a job you have to come back to? Or pets or family?
It’s also not uncommon for some immigration offices in Mexico to run out of plastic. So what could have taken 1 day to complete might now take 3-4 days.
Knowing the right facilitators and having access to the right information can help you avoid some of these surprises. You have to keep in mind they do this for a living. They are at the immigration offices daily. They know what’s happening in real-time. Plus, they can help you shorten your processing times and help you avoid unnecessary frustrations.
That’s what your paying for when you hire a good immigration facilitator. Someone who can help guide you. Someone who knows the local procedure. What’s your time worth to you?
But not all facilitators are created equal. And if you don’t know what to look for, you could end up getting scammed. I see it all the time. “Reputable” immigration facilitators who are recommended by other “experts” end up wasting that person’s money or time. Not sure which is worse? I’ve seen people lose money because their facilitator made a crucial error and can’t fix it but won’t give them their money back. I’ve seen facilitators take payment and not return phone calls.
That’s why hiring the right people can make all the difference. In our COMPLETE Mexico Relocation Guide, we only give you access to the immigration facilitators we know are trustworthy and professional. That way you have one less thing to worry about.