Ever wonder how I get my ideas? Easy, someone asks me a question. Bingo! New blog topic. Anyway, I got an e-mail from someone thinking of retiring here in Los Cabos from Australia. She mentioned what a hardship it would be with the visa requirements and I realized that, although I’ve mentioned immigration documents in other blogs, I’ve never really done a blog specifically on the topic. So here it is…
There seems to be someone out there putting information on the internet about your visa only being good for 180 days. That’s very misleading.
There are three levels of visas. The Tourist Card, or FMT, is the most basic and easiest. This is the card passed out on the airplane or at the border which allows you to be in Mexico for a period of up to 180 days. You are allowed to be a tourist. Period. And at the end of 180 days you have to go home. You can, if you wish, turn right around and come back the next day, using a new FMT that is good for another 180 days. This is where the person who asked the question got her mis-information. However, since she is going to MOVE here this is not the kind of visa she’ll need.
If you are going to reside in Mexico (as opposed to being a tourist) you will want to get a permanent resident visa. These are called FM-3 or FM-2. These visas allow you to be in Mexico for an indefinite period of time. Because they are more formal documents they are more difficult to get, but well worth the effort. For one thing, Mexico wants you to get one. It seems to me if you’re going to be living in a country you should try to abide by their wishes. On a more practical level you will need a permanent visa to sign a lease, open a bank account, contract for utilities and just about any other basic necessity of life.
If you are retiring to Mexico the FM-3 is the document of choice. You will need copies of various papers establishing your identity and copies of checking account statements going back three months showing income of at least $400 USD per month. This is so that Immigration can be sure that you will have the funds necessary to support yourself and not be a drain on the system. Because the list of required documents changes frequently, and the process is tedious at best, most people pay a service to do all the standing in line for them. However it is possible to process your own if you are patient. You will also need to provide several photos of yourself and fill in a lengthy form. Finally you will receive your FM-3, which is a green booklet similar in size to a passport. This is your permanent resident visa. Whenever you enter or leave Mexico it will be stamped by immigration. It is issued for a period of five years, but must be renewed periodically. Some are renewed each year, others require renewal every six months based on a judgment call made by the person processing your file. At the end of five years you may upgrade to an FM-2 or stay with the FM-3 status (best for most retirees). At the end of that five years you may apply for migrado status, which means you have officially immigrated and you won’t need to visit immigration again. You’re in for life!
You can apply for an FM-3 non-lucrative at any Mexican Embassy or Consulate in your home country, or you may apply in the area you plan to live. If applying in-country you’ll surrender your FMT when you pick you your FM-3.
If you want to work the visa is more difficult to get. In this case you must apply for your FM-3 in the area in which you plan to reside. The head of immigration for your area has a great deal of autonomy in regulating the influx of foreign labor. So, they may decide that Los Cabos has too many foreigners selling real estate and simply stop issuing new work permits for a given period of time. The permitted activity is very specific; you are not allowed to sell real estate but allowed to sell real estate for Realty Executives Los Cabos at their office on L. Cardenas. Every time one of my non-Mexican executives renews their FM-3 or FM-2 I have to sign a letter stating that they are still working for me and that I will be responsible for them while they are in Mexico. If a foreigner working for another firm decides to work for me their former broker must release them through immigration, I then agree to pick them up, and then the permit is revised to show their new workplace. The first five years you will have an FM-3 Lucrative, you may then move up to an FM-2 which allows you to perform more activities (two businesses). Occasionally FM-2’s are issued before the five year mark, one of my executives was automatically upgraded when he married a Mexican national. I guess they figured with a step-daughter at University he was going to need to moonlight!
Just as with retirees, at the 10 year point you can opt for migrado status.
One more point: you do not need an FM-3 or FM-2 to do volunteer work. HOWEVER, if you will be on the board or perform as an officer of any organization including non-profits such as home-owner’s associations or charities, this must be on your FM-3. That change is quite easy to make.
So that’s the skinny on visas. My best advice? Unless you are completely fluent and have the patience of a saint, pay someone to help you out. Your realtor can suggest someone who will do this with you, and their fees are well worth it.
Carol Billups is Broker/Owner of REALTY EXECUTIVES Los Cabos. A Certified Home Marketing Specialist, she has enjoyed working with both buyers and sellers for nine years and still thinks hers is the best job on earth. She is also the real estate columnist for Los Cabos Magazine and the real estate co-ordinator for the Los Cabos Now program on CaboMil FM (www.cabomil.com.mx). You can read more of her articles on www.reloscabos.com. You can reach her from the U.S. or Canada at 1-760-481-7694, or in Cabo at 044-624-147-7541.
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© 2010 Carol S. Billups