Well, it’s official. I am now a permanent resident of the beautiful country of Mexico, and I have the card to prove it. No longer will I have to make the annual trek to the immigration office with my passport in hand and my copies of copies. No more sitting for tiny photos that make me look like I need to be holding up a card with a series of numbers. No more fees to budget for, and no more fears that they just might change their minds this time and send me away. I can now just sit back and relax. But, before I go and do just that, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with the legal side of living in Mexico. Who knows? It could be helpful, or at least good for a laugh since I’ve certainly made a lot of mistakes along the way.
I first moved to Mexico back in 2008. I’d originally thought that Isla Mujeres would be the place for me. It wasn’t, but that was purely a personal choice. That island is lovely. But, I was a single woman, traveling alone, and such a newbie that I think I wore a neon sign that read “please scam me.” And let me tell you why I say that. I’d been in the country for about four months, and my tourist visa was only going to be good for another two, so I needed to get started on the process of obtaining what was then called the FM3. Just around that time I was sitting at a cafe one morning and met a lovely couple who began to talk with me. Somehow the subject of applying for the FM3 came up and they suggested a guy they knew who did all the work for a great fee. According to them he was wonderful and made the application process seem like a “walk in the park.”
Well, that certainly sounded good to me and I agreed to meet with him a few days later. He was a lovely, well-spoken man. Fluent in both English and Spanish, he proceeded to tell me all that I would need. It sounded a tiny bit complicated, but he certainly seemed to know what he was talking about. A few days later we met again and I had all the paperwork he’d asked for, and his fee. I never saw that man again. Nowadays, with all the technology of Blackberries etc. at our disposal, and all the information sites where one can ask questions, I don’t think that scam would work quite as well. That is, unless you are anything like I was at that time, naive, uninformed, and eager to please.
After that experience I looked around for someone who was recommended by a variety of folks from different areas on the island. Once I met someone who’d been recommended by quite a few people, I then accompanied her to the immigration office in Cancun, checked to see how well she was known, and only after all that did I agree to make an appointment with her. But, due to my former experience, and subsequent hesitations, the time had come to renew my tourist visa since it was about to expire. So, once again listening to the well intended, off to Belize I went with just enough money to stay for a few days, get another stamp, and then return to Mexico. I was savvy now, not to be messed with, and figured that if I didn’t have much money on me, then I couldn’t lose much.
So, I took the ADO bus to the border, grabbed a cab into Belize and, as soon as we crossed the border, I saw a hotel with a casino attached. What luck! I love to play the slots and, since I had to stay for two days anyway, it looked like a match made in heaven. In my best, broken Spanglish I, once again, asked the taxi driver if I was, indeed, in Belize, he assured me I was, so I ate, drank, and gambled a bit until it was time to head back to the border two days later. So, two days later, there I stood at the immigration checkpoint. I hand them my passport only to discover, after much confusion due to my lack of language skills, that I’d not actually been to Belize. What? No, I’d only been in the so-called “free zone,” which meant I hadn’t actually fulfilled the requirements. I hadn’t gotten the necessary stamp. Problem was, the new savvy me hadn’t brought enough cash to do anything about it. I was out of options. And that was when it all hit me. My inability to communicate, my complete lack of street smarts, my total ineptitude caused me to do something I don’t like to do, ever. I started to cry. And, not just a couple of tears. Nope, there I stood, holding up a long line of folks with their passports in hand, sobbing like the world was coming to an end. The immigration officer just looked at me for a moment, grabbed my passport and stamped it, hard. I got renewed for 180 days. I’m thinking he would have given me longer if only to guarantee he wouldn’t have to see me again, ever.
Once back on the island of Isla Mujeres I gathered up the paperwork asked of me, gave my new representative half of her fee, and waited. Over the course of the next six weeks I had to appear at immigration four times for questions, fingerprints, and various other requests that I’d thought I’d paid the rep for, but, finally, I was approved and received my little booklet. Oh, and if it sounds like I’m complaining about a simple trip to a convenient location, let me mention that going to the office in Cancun took two hours of walking, taxis, and ferry rides one way just to stand among a crowd of people herded like so much cattle through a maze of lines. I swear it felt like I’d spent more time in their office than I’d spent in high school. But, you see, they don’t have an office on Isla Mujeres, not enough traffic. And, the total cost of everything, including the scam artist, the trip to the free zone, the rep, and my FM3? $24,000 pesos. It was a learning experience. Sort of a trial by fire, if you will.
Now, if you are reading this and considering moving here, please note that the process has not only changed, it can be much easier and way less expensive. First of all, in those days you could simply come on a tourist visa, remain in the country, and then apply for the FM3 while still here. And, that was great for the young girls who came, fell in love with the scuba master, and decided to chuck it all and never go back (I’ve met a few of them, it happens). However, now, if you want to live here and have never done so, you need to apply while still in your country of origin. Let me repeat that. Folks now need to apply in their country of origin for a “residente temporal” card before they can live here. People visiting still get a tourist visa, often good for 180 days, but then, if they want to live here, they first have to go home to apply (so much for that spur of the moment decision). Secondly, to save a lot of money, please get information and recommendations from reliable sources before spending a dime, or, in this case, a peso. Let me recommend a few sites and a wonderful representative. “Cozumel My Cozumel” is an online forum packed with information by the people who’ve seen it all and are willing to share their experiences. “Cozumel 4 You” is a Facebook site that can be invaluable for any and all questions you might have that are, again, answered by those who know what they are talking about. And, finally, Monica Sauza, that’s her on the left, is the woman I worked with to obtain my permanent residency and she actually did make the process “a walk in the park.” I’d learned about her on the forum, “Cozumel My Cozumel,” and I couldn’t be happier with the recommendation. Here’s how easily the process went along, when working with someone who knows what they are doing, that is.
First Monica made me aware of the fact that the laws pertaining to expats and residency requirements had changed. As of November 9, 2012, the old system of FM3 and FM2 cards had been abolished. Then she told me that it would be best if I applied for the permanent residency status since I had been here the required five years and had complied with all the old laws pertaining to my FM3. For example, I had never filed for my renewal late so I had a “clean record” as far as immigration was concerned. Next she explained that I needed to show that I was able to comply with the income requirements, although there are still a few gray areas, but that meant that I had to show six months of bank statements that proved I had the required income, or investments. In addition to those items I also needed a letter from my landlord to verify my residency, a utility bill, passport sized photos, and the fees, which were $1,000 mx for the application, $3,815 mx for the card if approved, and her fee. Add those items to copies of my passport and I was good to go. Sounds like a lot, but it only took me a day, or so, to get it all together.
That was when we met at her house and chatted a bit. What fun! She’s a nice woman with a wealth of knowledge and a great sense of humor and she made me feel comfortable at once. We sifted through my stuff, she made a few copies, I signed my letter of application, we talked some more and then she explained that it would take at least a couple of weeks before I’d know if I was approved. If so, then I would need to go to the immigration office so they could take my fingerprints. Monica also made a point of explaining to me that, if I needed to travel during the process, I had to let her know and I could not leave the country for more than 55 days. It wouldn’t matter what the reason might be, if I was gone longer than 55 days they would rip up my paperwork and the process would have to start from scratch. And that meant I would have to leave the country, go back to the U.S. and apply for a “residente temporal” card. I assured her I wasn’t going anywhere, we talked a bit longer, and then I came back home.
About four weeks later Monica emailed me and told me the good news. I’d been approved and all I needed to do was go to the immigration office for fingerprinting and then, about a week later, my card would be ready for pickup. Off I went to the office, smudged my fingers, took some pics of the girls who helped me while there, and came back home. Just like she said, about a week later my card was ready for pickup. Now, that was when it was raining here, and raining hard. But, with an umbrella in hand I headed down to the office, wading in some water up to my ankles in a few places. I wasn’t taking any chances that someone, somewhere, might change his mind. Oh, and when I got the card I had to giggle. Sure as heck, it’s green. Being from the US, where the term “green card” has many implications, I’m thinking somebody has a sense of humor.
So, now it’s time to just sit back and relax. I am a permanent resident of this beautiful country and I couldn’t be happier. To think just eighteen years ago is when I first set foot on the island of Cozumel for a vacation. A lot has changed, but one thing certainly has not. I still think this is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen, and now I can call it home for as long as I would like. It just doesn’t get much better than that. Salud!
p.s. I never receive compensation, but I do like to share good experiences. Also, this is not meant to be an informational piece, only my experience. If you have questions pertaining to immigration, please talk with an expert in Mexican Immigration, or check out an informational page online.