Updated Expats Immigration Information August, 2018; VISAS, CAR IMPORTS, PETS and More

As many developed countries erect more barriers to immigration, Mexico continues to welcome new residents, especially from the U.S. and Canada. I know anecdotally through the many questions I receive from aspiring expats from around the world that there is great interest in moving to Mexico.

Drawn to Mexico by its democracy, pleasing weather, lower cost of living, easy permanent residency and citizenship policies, the number of expats in Mexico has soared to well over 1 million.

Mexico has become a magnet for immigration aspirants from all over the world. However, many do not know how to apply for temporary or permanent residency in Mexico, obtain a work permit or bring household goods or pets to Mexico.

If you are considering or planning a move to Mexico, our Immigration section will provide you with most of the information you will need for successful immigration to the country. I update the information from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) when changes are made and policies are updated. We also include links to both the U.S. Department of State and the Consulate of Mexico in San Jose, California for additional information.

However, some applicants have more complex situations and require additional legal guidance. Unfortunately, the bogus or fraud immigration agents or agencies that exist today are only adding to the problems of applicants and creating more confusion.

The immigration process and changing immigration rules often force applicants to hire an immigration consultant. However, not all immigration consultancy services are genuine and registered. There are some fake agents and agencies that mislead visa applicants to make easy money, so buyer beware! Applicants who get trapped by such agents not only lose their money but also face the delay or denial of their visa application and legal complications, in the worst scenario. Also, you should know that Border Patrol officers are NOT immigration agents.

Here is a quick primer on visas for Mexico:

Tourist Visa

The tourist visa would be the best choice for those who plan to be in Mexico for no more than six months at a time. If you hold a tourist visa, you can own shares in Mexican businesses, but you are not allowed to seek any kind of employment.

It is relatively easy to obtain this visa. In most cases, you can just submit your passport, additional identification proof, residency proof and financial statements (to show you can support your stay in the country). You must apply for this visa through the Mexican Consulate in your home country before traveling to Mexico.

Temporary Residency Visa

This visa is for those who plan to live in Mexico for up to four years or plan to acquire a Permanent Residency visa. This visa also gives you the right to work in Mexico, if you petition it. You can also leave and enter the country multiple times. Any applicant on the Temporary Residency visa can apply for a Permanent Residency visa after having lived in Mexico for four years. This visa must be obtained at the nearest Mexican Consulate in your home country before traveling to Mexico. After your arrival in Mexico, you must go to INM within 30 days to obtain your Temporary Resident Card.

Permanent Residency Visa

This type of visa is for those who plan to live in Mexico permanently. It allows you to be employed, employs workers and runs a business after registering it with S.A.T (Mexico’s IRS). It is a multiple-entry visa.

Mexico Immigration

Image credit: Charles Taylor | Shutterstock

Visitor Entry Requirements

For visitors to Mexico, you must have a valid U.S. passport or passport card (for land and sea entries only) and, if applicable, a valid U.S. Resident Alien Card (Green Card) or U.S. visa. Minors must also travel with a valid passport. A minor (under 18 years of age) traveling alone or accompanied by someone other than a parent or guardian of legal age (grandparent, uncle/aunt, school group, etc.), must present a signed and notarized letter in Spanish certifying permission from at least one parent for travel to Mexico.

The FMM (Visitante) is a multiple immigration form for stays in Mexico of less than 180 days. It is primarily used for tourists and business travelers whose purpose is non-paid or non-profitable activities. You will be given an FMM form to complete on your plane, point of entry or at your destination airport. Or you can get it electronically, through the National Institute of Migration (INM) website, print it out and present it at your first point of entry. Please note that the cost is already included in your plane ticket (if you are traveling by air). You have 30 days to make use of it, so please plan your trip timely and accordingly.  After 180 days you will need to apply for a temporary visa.

Visitors are not permitted to change their status (such as tourist to temporary resident) while in Mexico except when due to family unity (the person has a spouse who is a temporary or permanent resident or a parent or child who is a Mexican Citizen). Except for these limited cases, an application must be made at a Mexican consular office in the United States.

More information is available at this U.S. Department of State website under the tab: Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements.

Mexico requires nationals of certain countries to go to a local consulate to request a tourist card. The list of countries where a prior authorization for a tourist visa (and proof of income or assets) is required can be found at this Government of Mexico website.

Temporary Residency

The Temporary Resident (Residente Temporal) visa can be obtained for up to a four-year duration. Visas of less than four years can be extended in Mexico, but cannot exceed the maximum term of four years. Thereafter, you can apply for permanent residency or return to the U.S. and apply for a new Temporary Resident visa. Holders of this visa may leave and re-enter Mexico as many times as they wish and may apply for a Work Permit. If you are not planning to work in Mexico, you will need to show proof of your financial self-sufficiency or regular income.

You can qualify for a Temporary Resident visa if:

  • You are an immediate family member of a temporary or permanent resident or citizen of Mexico.
  • You have one of the following: proof of investment receipts or bank statements showing an average monthly income of approximately US $25,000 for the past 12 months, proof of employment or a pension with a monthly income over US$2,072 for a period of 6 months. The amount needed is tied to the minimum wage so it will fluctuate each year with rises in the posted minimum wage rate as well as exchange rate fluctuations.
  • You have a valid job offer from a Mexican employer that states the occupation, includes the physical address and provides temporary proof of the future employer ID registration number within Mexico Immigration.
  • You own real estate worth a minimum of US$93,000.
  • You have an investment or shares in a Mexican company or a fixed asset, such as heavy machinery, of US$93,000 or more.
  • You operate a business that creates jobs for three or more Mexicans.

You must apply for your visa at the nearest Consulate of Mexico office. More information can be found at this Consulate General of Mexico, San Jose, California website. 

Permanent Residency

The Permanent Resident (Residente Permanente) visa allows holders to move to Mexico and stay indefinitely, does not require renewal and includes the right to work. You can apply for permanent residency after four years as a temporary resident (no financials are required if you always renew on time) or after two years as a temporary resident is married to a Mexican citizen.

Requirements:

  • Choose one of the following options for Retired/ Pension: Proof of investment or bank accounts with an average monthly balance equivalent to approximately US$115,000 for a year or proof of monthly income from pensions in the amount of at least $2,300 USD for a period of 6 months. The amount needed is tied to the minimum wage so it will fluctuate each year with rises in the posted minimum wage rate as well as exchange rate fluctuations.
  • You can apply for a permanent visa if you have family ties to a Mexican or a foreigner permanent resident after two years as a temporary resident if you are married to a Mexican citizen. If you have a Mexican child, you can go straight from tourist visa to permanent visa.
  • You can apply for a permanent visa if you have had a temporary visa for four years without having to show income if you renewed on time the last 4 years.

More information can be found at this Consulate General of Mexico, San Jose, California website. 

Mexico also has a points system designed to attract foreign investors and people with high competence in areas such as science, technology, sports, humanities and art. Individuals deemed to have skills that will strengthen and promote the development and competitiveness of Mexico also receive strong consideration for permanent residency.

The point system is based on the following criteria:

  • Education level
  • Work experience in areas of interest to the country that have high demand and low supply.
  • Investor
  • Skills in science and technology
  • Acknowledgments and international awards
  • Proficiency in Spanish
  • Understanding of Mexican culture

While the point system was part of the original immigration law enacted in 2011, the details and workings have yet to be published. We will keep you up to date on any changes in this area.

Work Permits

If you move to Mexico and plan to work there with an existing company, the following are the basic requirements and information to obtain a Work Permit visa:

  • You need to receive a job offer before you can begin the process with the National Immigration Institute.
  • You need original documents of your birth certificate, degrees and any other titles and transcripts apostilled by the State where they were issued and translated into Spanish by an official translator.
  • Include a copy of a letter of intent to work for the company that has hired you.
  • Organizations that intend to hire a foreign national must first register with the National Immigration Institute and be registered with S.A.T. as a company that can hire foreign employees
  • In order to sponsor a foreign national’s visa application, the sponsoring organization must submit an application for work authorization to the Mexican immigration authorities on behalf of the foreign national.
  • Upon approval of the work authorization application, foreign nationals must appear before the Mexican consular office with jurisdiction over their place of residence to obtain the entry visa.
  • Within 30 calendar days of entry into Mexico, you must appear at a local National Immigration Institute office to be registered.
  • Work Permit visa applications for local hires will be subject to a quota system.

Retirement

Please see the requirements for Temporary and Permanent Resident visas. You will need to apply for the appropriate visa in person at your nearest Consulate General of Mexico office.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico has more information, including locations and contact information for all U.S. Consulates in Mexico.

Household Goods

If you hold a Temporary Resident visa, you are allowed to import your household goods and personal effects free of duty and taxes, provided they have been used for at least 6 months and consist of personal effects and furniture for day-to-day use. If you have a temporary residence, your household goods can only be in Mexico for up to 4 years. If you hold permanent residence, your household goods can be imported indefinitely. However, if you have a Mexican spouse, regardless of your immigration status, you can choose to import your household good under the status of “re-patriado” to import them indefinitely.

Also included duty-free are clothing, books, bookcases, art, scientific instruments and tools of your trade, but not complete collections for trade shows or to equip a laboratory, store, factory and other uses. Items not considered household goods and subject to duties are items with less than 6 months use before you move and items packed in original cartons, even if used.

You must provide a list of your belongings (Lista de Menaje de Casa) in Spanish and have it stamped by the Consulate General of Mexico office nearest you in order for it to be submitted to Mexican customs. You can prepare your list in English and then have it translated. If you use a moving company, they generally provide this service for a fee.

You have 6 months from the date your visa was issued to ship your goods to Mexico and they may not arrive more than three months before your own arrival. You will need to pay a fee in cash for the consular stamp. This household goods concession is provided only once in the lifetime of a family.

You will need to provide the following documents:

  • An original valid passport and five copies of the pages containing personal information, a photograph of bearer and expiration date/extensions.
  • An original visa and five copies
  • An original plus four copies of a typed itemized list of all household goods (Lista de Menaje de Casa), including those contained in boxes. Your address in the U.S. should appear in the upper left-hand corner and your new address in Mexico in the upper right-hand corner of at least the first page. Your list must be in Spanish, typed single-spaced and with columns specifying the following: quantity, description and, if electrical appliances, the brand name, model, and serial number. You must leave space for the Consular’s seal in the right bottom of each page. You must sign each page at the left bottom in front of the consular official. Please note that the consular officers may ask for additional information at the time of the interview.

Dutiable/Restricted Goods

Items being imported may not include complete equipment, industrial tools or laboratories. If you wish to import firearms and cartridges, you must secure an import permit from the Ministry of Economy and from the Ministry of National Defense.

Here is a partial list of items you cannot bring into Mexico:

  • Food (spices, canned, liquids, powder, fruits, vegetables, etc…)
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Illegal drugs
  • Pornography
  • Guns, weapons, ammunition
  • Explosives and flammables
  • Gas tanks
  • Batteries
  • Plants or seeds
  • Dissected animals (skins, horns, antlers, trophies, etc…)
  • Cleaning items (cleaning liquids, solvents, etc…

Motor Vehicle Importation

Rules and procedures will vary based on the status of your visa, whether you are importing your vehicle temporarily or indefinitely, whether the vehicle is brand new from a country with which Mexico has a free trade agreement, such as NAFTA, or the vehicle is classified as used or classic. If the car’s model is 9 years old at the time of import, and the ‘Certificate of Origen’ is from Mexico, USA or Canada, the car can be imported without further requirements.

Temporary residents and retirees are permitted to import their vehicles to Mexico, but you can only import one vehicle. All new vehicles (i.e., current or later model years with an odometer reading of fewer than 600 miles) from the U.S., Canada, and the E.U. are admitted duty free.

If you do not drive your vehicle to Mexico yourself, only an authorized customs agent can carry out the importation of your vehicle to Mexico on your behalf. It is important to note that the customs agent is NOT an officer of SAT or INM. Only a certified custom agent is authorized to do this at the border. The only exception to this is spouses and family members may temporarily import their family member’s car if they prove the relationship. Cars that are leased or financed require a letter from the leasing or financing company giving permission to be taken into Mexico.

If you wish to bring a large truck over one ton in weight, you will need a special certification. You also may bring a trailer and motorcycles with your vehicle, up to three non-road legal recreational vehicles.

The duration of the temporary importation permit conforms to your immigration document, which is up to 180 days for tourists and up to the end of the total 4-year term for temporary residents. Permanent residents may not import or drive foreign plated cars (unless the importer is in the car or the car is imported by a direct family member).

If you or a family member does not bring the vehicle into Mexico, you will need to employ a freight forwarder/broker that specializes in vehicles and is experienced with Mexican customs. This may be the same company or affiliate of the company you are using for your household move if you choose to use an international moving company.

Documents required to import your vehicle into Mexico are:

  • Registration from your country of origin did not expire more than 3 months
  • Invoice or bill of sale
  • Original vehicle title
  • Driver’s license
  • Passport copy
  • Original Temporary Resident visa
  • Permission from finance/leasing company

Pet Importation

To import your pet into Mexico, you will need a health certificate (original and a copy) issued by your veterinarian. The certificate must be on letterhead with the veterinarian’s license number printed on it. You will need to present this certificate at the Office of Animal and Plant Health Inspection (OISA) located at the port of entry to Mexico.

If you plan to travel with your pet, you must present a document issued by a certified veterinarian from your home country attesting when your pet last received its rabies vaccine, its name, age and that it is in good health. Do not bring anything else such as to toys, beds or blankets, just a day’s portion of food.

If you bring more than two pets, you must complete additional forms and pay additional taxes. For more than three pets, you will have to pay approximately US$115 at the first port of entry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides further details on requirement for importing your pet into Mexico.

Diana Cuevas

If you have questions about legal matters in Mexico, Diana Cuevas has answers. Diana’s blog focuses on a wide range of legal issues from immigration to civil law. Diana lives in Querétaro, has three master’s degrees in international law and has been a practicing attorney for over a decade. She also is licensed to practice law in the U.S. and Mexico. Email: dianac.lawyer@gmail.com.

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