Mexican Visas and Immigration
Mexico has a comprehensive legal and statutory Immigration Policy affecting Mexicans and foreign nationals.
This guide gives an overview of the Mexican immigration system and outlines the principal visas and options open to persons seeking to visit Mexico for leisure, for retirement, for living, working as well as those seeking permanent residence in Mexico or Mexican Citizenship.
IMPORTANT NOTICE (Updated March 2013)
The Mexican government has announced a root-and-branch review of its immigration law, with changes announced in May 2011. Changes came into force in November 2012. This guide has been updated to reflect the new permits and an outline of new laws.
What is Mexico's Immigration Policy?
Mexico's General Law of Population sets out the rights and obligations of foreigners, as well as the different statuses associated with foreign immigration.
Types of Immigrant Permits
There are two kinds of permit: Non-Immigrant and Immigrant:
- Non Immigrant Permits are for people who intend to visit Mexico for a specific purpose and then depart;
- Immigrant Permits are for people who wish to gain long term permanent residence in Mexico.
Applying for Mexican Visas
You may apply for your visa(s) in person, or you may hire a representative to advise you, make the application on your behalf and do all of the paperwork.
Please Note: The information on this page is intended as a summary of basic principles and immigration procedures in Mexico. For detailed information contact an immigration lawyer.
What are the Non-Immigrant Visas?
There are various classifications of Non-Immigrant visitors to Mexico - the main ones are listed below.
Vistante - Short Term Visits
The Visitante Visa replaced the old FMM/FMT visa and is intended for visitors (usually tourists) to Mexico on short term (six months or less) visits. For trips of longer than six months, a non-immigrant or immigrant visa should be considered—see the sections below for details. FMM visas are issued by airlines and are also available at ports of entry. This visa is valid for up to 180 days and cannot be renewed. Upon its expiry you will need to leave the country*. There is a fee of about US$20 for this visa, which is usually included in the price if your flight (under taxes and fees). If you arrive by road or ship, and travel beyond the border zone, you will have to pay for this permit separately.
*The exception to this rule is if you have close family relatives (parents, spouse, children in Mexico) or you apply for residency for humanitarian reasons: in these circumstances a visitor's visa can be exchanged for a resident visa.
Visa de Residente Temporal - Temporary Resident Visa
Mexico operates what is known as a Temporary Resident Visa, intended for people who wish to live in Mexico for more than 6 months and not longer than 4 years. The Temporary Resident Visa is a renewable long term (more than six months) permit which gives non-immigrant temporary residency status to the holder. The visa can be issued for 1, 2, 3 or 4 years (max), can give work permissions, allows unlimited entries to and exits from Mexico. This means that it gives a person the right to live in Mexico for up to 4 years under terms as set out in the visa.
There are various categories under which Resident Visa visas are granted, and these relate to the activities you intend to undertake while in Mexico. Under the terms of the Temporary Resident Visa, you are authorized to only undertake certain, specific activities which may be lucrative or non-lucrative, depending on the visa's classification.
One of the criteria that the Mexican authorities require for the issuance of a Temporary Resident Visa is that the applicant prove that they have 'sufficient funds to sustain themselves while in Mexico' and/or a proven steady income. The financial requirements have been tightened-up following the introduction of the new immigration law that was enacted in 2012.
The Temporary Resident Visa cannot be issued in Mexico, unless you are exchanging an existing FM3 visa. This is a change to the old regime, where Visitor Visas could previously be exchanged for Resident Visas if the person(s) fulfilled the criteria. There are only two exceptions to this if you are currently hold a Visitor's Visa and want a residency visa: 1) if you have close family in Mexico (parents, spouse, children) or, 2) if you apply for residency on humanitarian grounds, then you are able to change your status from visitor to resident.
The Temporary Visa itself is not issued by foreign consulates. Instead, they process and pre-approve the application and when you arrive in Mexico you have to register at your local immigration office and acquire the Visa (a plastic card) in Mexico.
Once applied for and granted, the Temporary Resident Visa may issued for up to 4 years (or yearly, with annual renewals required in Mexico) and after this four year period, it cannot be renewed: at the end of the four year period you must apply for a Permanent Resident Visa or leave the country.
Mexico's Permanent Resident Immigrant Visas
Permanent Resident Visas are issued to foreign nationals who have the intention of living in Mexico for long periods of time (over six months) AND who intend to seek permanent residency in Mexico.
Visa de Residente Permanente - Permanent Resident Visa
The Permanent Resident Visa is intended for people seeking permanent residency status in Mexico or those who may seek eventual Mexican Citizenship.
To apply for and be granted this visa, the applicants must:
- have certain family connections in Mexico, or
- apply for retirement status and prove they have sufficient monthly income (or substantial assets) to support themselves, or
- Have 4 years of regular status as Temporary Resident (2 years if legally married to a Mexican spouse or permanent resident) or
- meet a minimum score under the Points System*, or
- be granted residency on humanitarian grounds.
If your goal is to seek long-term residency in Mexico, or to become a Mexican Citizen, you should apply for a Permanent Resident Visa.
Upon receiving immigrated status, you will receive a plastic card that looks like a driver's license. This card enables you to pass through Mexico's borders as if you were a Mexican national.
*Details of the points system have yet to be announced by the government (March 2013).
Examples of the kinds of people who might apply for Permanent Resident Visas:
If you want to engage in "non-remunerative activities" and you are receiving funds from abroad (from a pension or other investments or fixed income) you can apply for a Permanent Resident Visa.
You can receive an immigration permit if you are willing to invest your capital in Mexico. You investment can be directed at industry or services, and must equal a minimum set amount—check separately for the latest investment levels required for this visa.
If you are a qualified professional, you can have your certificates validated by the Mexican Consulate in your home country and apply for an immigration visa to live in Mexico and seek permanent residence. You will need to meet the minimum Point Score requirements to be accepted.
Technical or Scientific Professions
If you are a qualified technician or scientist, Mexico offers a category of visa which enables you to live and work in Mexico under sponsorship from a foreign company. For example, if the company wants to open an office or factory in Mexico, a person or persons representing that company may enter Mexico to manage the commercial operations on a long term basis. You will need to meet the minimum Point Score requirements to be accepted.
Artists and Sports People
Artists or sports people who seek long term permanent residency in Mexico may apply for a this visa. Each case is considered individually and entry is at the Interior Ministry's discretion.
May I be granted Mexican Citizenship?
Acquiring Mexican Citizenship (naturalization) is an involved process. As a minimum you must have applied for, and been granted, permanent resident status, although exceptions to this rule may apply, depending upon a variety of circumstances: marriage to a Mexican national, for example, might enable naturalization with a shorter qualification period.
You will be asked to undertake an exam, which you must pass, in order to acquire naturalization/citizenship. The examination is of a "multiple choice" type, comprises of some fifteen questions, and is not hard—although you will need a basic grasp of the Spanish language to pass it.
Which Mexican Visa is Right for Me?
Below are some examples of situations and the type of visa you may consider applying for.
When you do NOT want to seek permanent residence in Mexico
For Vacations and Casual Trips to Mexico: Simply fill out and use the Visitors Visa permit, available from the airline you travel with or the port of entry*
For Work Placements: If you plan to live and work in Mexico for a defined period, a Temporary Resident Visa, valid for up to 4 years is probably your best option.
For Other Activities: You should apply for a Temporary Resident Visa commensurate with your activity (e.g. Student, Journalist, Scientist, Professional, etc.)
Immigrant, Economically Active
When you want to acquire permanent residency AND you want to work in Mexico:
You should apply for a Permanent Resident Visa commensurate with the economic activity you want to undertake. Some common examples of economic activities which qualify for this visa are: a company-sponsored job, or an invitation to carry out academic or scientific research. If you have several hundred thousand US dollars to invest in a Mexican company you can apply for an investor's visa under this category.
Immigrant, Not Economically Active
When you want to acquire permanent residency but DO NOT want to work in Mexico:
If you have a regular source of income from abroad (e.g. investments, savings, pension) then a Permanent Resident Visa will be the most straightforward route. By law, you need to prove that you have sufficient funds or investments to sustain yourself, and the criteria of income levels has been tightened up significantly under the new laws adopted in 2012.
If you want to live permanently but not work in Mexico, you will need apply for a Permanent Resident Visa and satisfy one or more of the requirements (family connections, minimum income/investments, points score or political asylum). As part of your application, you will need to state what you intend to do there, e.g. early retirement due to health, etc.
You may apply for Mexican visas directly, in person, or you may hire a representative to do the paperwork and administration on your behalf.
How you go about applying for your visa will depend on your circumstances, how much Spanish you speak, and how much time you have to deal with the considerable bureaucracy involved in the application process.
If you are unsure which visa may be right for your circumstances, if you are having trouble with the application you made on your own, or if your Spanish language skills are rusty, then you may do well to hire the services of an immigration lawyer in Mexico.
A good immigration lawyer will be up-to-speed on the latest legislation as well as the latest "on the ground" policies being implemented at a local level. A lawyer will also be able to assess your individual circumstances and suggest a proper course of action, based on your personal situation, that will have the best chance of leading to a successful application. A good lawyer will also advise you if it is not possible for a person in your circumstance to make a successful application.
Hiring an immigration lawyer and representative will also avoid you having to make repeated trips to the immigration office, standing in line and dealing with the bureaucracy and extensive paperwork involved in acquiring your immigration documents. If your presence is required at the immigration office, such as to sign documents or give fingerprints, your lawyer will advise you and arrange to meet you there.
The support offered by a good lawyer can save you a considerable amount of time, especially if your application is complex. If you don't speak good Spanish then you will almost certainly require representation to expedite your visa(s).