When Covid-19 hit Mexico in mid-March, many foreigners in the country were unprepared to stay for the long haul. But with case numbers still on the rise months later, they say it’s unlikely they’ll leave anytime soon.
For those who are in Mexico on a tourist visa, however, their visit is only supposed to last 180 days, which can be problematic due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Because of this conundrum, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM) is offering visa extensions – to those who know how to get it.
Several foreigners who spoke with Mexico News Daily mentioned a frustrating, opaque system that led to multiple visits to INM offices.
“It was difficult, it was absolutely awful,” said Petra Autio, a Finn who obtained a new tourist visa after making five trips to the immigration offices in Mexico City.
Arriving too early, not having enough copies or not filling out forms correctly were common themes among those who had difficulties. This information is nowhere to be found on the INM website, and Autio, who called ahead of time, says one of her visits was wasted because an INM agent gave her incorrect information over the phone.
Here, then, is a comprehensive guide to obtaining a new tourist visa, or FMM, based on the experiences of several foreigners who have gone through the process themselves.
Wait until your visa expires
While it sounds counterintuitive, waiting until the last minute might be your only option here. Because of the high number of requests for new visas, the National Immigration Institute has a limited capacity to process requests each day. You’ll most likely have to wait until the day before your visa expires, or later, to request a new one.
Request a humanitarian visa
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, Mexico is offering the tourist visa extension for “humanitarian reasons.” This means you’ll have to request a humanitarian visa, though INM will reject the request to give you the tourist visa. Confusing, right? To apply for the humanitarian visa, fill out this form online. Make sure every field is filled in correctly, and select these options:
In the “comments” box, write why you are not able to return to your home country. In Spanish, it would look something like this: “Me gustaría solicitar una extensión de mi visa, ya que por motivos de Covid-19 no me es posible regresar a mi país natal” (“I would like to apply for an extension to my visa because due to Covid-19 I am unable to return to my home country”).
Now, print out the form that you should have just received – the Formato para solicitar trámite migratorio de estancia – but don’t fill it out just yet. You’ll also need to write a letter explaining why you’re requesting the visa. Here’s the form Australian Gina Nero used to request hers, after seeing a similar letter in a Facebook group.
Also make sure to take copies of your passport and tourist visa. There are plenty of places to make them near the immigration offices, but you won’t be able to proceed until you have everything.
Once the day arrives, get to your corresponding INM office early. For those in Mexico City, visit the office on Avenida Ejército, not the other one several blocks over. If you’re in México state, you’ll have to go to the office in Toluca, even if you’re closer to the city. For everyone else, find the closest INM office here.
Offices open at 9 a.m., but it’s a good idea to arrive around 8:30 to line up – only a limited number of applications are processed each day. An employee will check over your forms, and you’ll be handed a number to wait in another line, called informes.
Soon after, you should be let in (after a temperature check, a bag search and a squirt of hand sanitizer) and you’ll be passed off to a waiting area. Once there, an INM employee will review your documents, have you sign the forms you’ve brought, and ask you to return at 5 p.m. that day or the next.
For Autio, who had her Mexican fiancé accompany her, a language barrier added to the difficulty. While her fiancé sorted out what she needed at the entrance, he wasn’t allowed inside the building. She ended up having to wait longer for an English-speaking employee to help her, but said he was “nothing but pleasant.” It was the employees outside, however, who she says treated her poorly.
“They were absolutely awful,” she said. “The whole system is very badly organized, I hope they make improvements to the process.”
Moral of the story: your English may not be enough to get you in the door. Plan what you’ll say in Spanish ahead of time.
Pick up your visa
After leaving your forms at the immigration office, you should receive an email later that day advising you of an update to your case. Log on to the INM website using the number and password sent to you, and you’ll be able to read the update – this will be the letter saying that your humanitarian visa solicitation was rejected, but that you’ve been approved for another 180-day tourist visa.
Great! Just head back to the same office around 5 p.m. to pick up the visa. You’ll be asked to sign several other forms and fill out a new FMM, and that’s it! You’re safe to stay in Mexico for another six months.
We hope this guide has helped. Although this process can easily be done by anyone, some may choose to use a lawyer to avoid the hassle. This is also an option, though it comes at a cost. For those looking to renew the tourist visa on their own, remember that there is no fee involved: nobody at INM should ask you for money at any time.