This is our third visit to San Miguel de Allende. The first two visits were typical vacations. The third visit was meant to be a more extended two or three month visit. Like so many before us, somehow our visit has transitioned into temporary residency.
When it comes to travel, we are very lucky to have US passports. We have permission to enter 172 countries and territories without anything other than a tourist visa, which is automatically granted on arrival. Just jump on a plane and head to your destination of choice. More than likely all you need to do is fill out a little form on the plane and show your passport to the folks in immigration. It’s that simple.
Our passports generally allow us to stay legally in a foreign country anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months (1 month being the most common). However, there are a handful of countries where we can stay up to 6 months without any special paperwork or permission required. These include Canada, the UK, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean.
When we arrived in Mexico on this most recent trip, we knew that we could stay up to 6 months before we needed to either move to another country or make a visa run. The latter option simply means that we must leave the country for at least 24-hours before returning and then we are approved for another 6 month tourist visa.
Many people that decide to stay in Mexico long-term do so on nothing more than a series of renewed tourist visas. It’s perfectly legal to do so, but you are required to leave the country temporarily every 6 months and that can be costly and annoying. For those that want the option to stay put or that want to take advantage of the benefits offered with other types of visas, you can go through the process of becoming a Temporary Resident or a Permanent Resident.
A Temporary Resident has permission to stay in the country for up to a year at a time and the visa can be renewed for 3 more years. After 4 years you become a Permanent Resident. A Permanent Resident is exactly what it sounds like. Becoming a resident simply means that you live in the country legally. It does not mean that you are a citizen of Mexico and you don’t lose citizenship from your home country.
Being a resident does offer some other benefits such as the ability to open a local bank account, eligibility for government run medical insurance, permission to work (or ability to apply for permission), eligibility for various senior citizen discounts, and permission to drive a foreign plated car.
It’s possible to find information about the process online and many people navigate it on their own successfully. However, for those that are looking for a little help (or a lot), there are people more than willing to walk you through it. Here in San Miguel, two of the most popular providers are Sonia Diaz and Silvia Cadena. You’ll find a plethora of helpful information on their websites.
For us, the biggest challenge was the pre-approval process. Not because it was difficult or complex, but because it was challenging to get clear and definitive information about the process and requirements. The pre-approval process needs to happen at a Mexican consulate or embassy outside of Mexico. As it turns out each consulate or embassy in the US has a certain degree of autonomy to define their own process and documentation requirements, and it’s subject to change. Therefore, any information that you find online may or may not apply to your situation.
Ultimately, we decided to go to the Mexican consulate in Laredo, Texas because we’d heard from multiple sources that they tend to have the most streamlined process and lenient requirements for pre-approval. After many hours of online research and several failed attempts to reach the consulate by phone to clarify exactly what documentation was required, we gathered what we thought we needed and boarded a 12-hour bus ride from San Miguel to Laredo. Fingers crossed.
We arrived in Laredo late on a Sunday morning, checked into our hotel right next to the border crossing. Our plan was to be the first in line on Monday at 8am. Luckily, we’d made an appointment online before we left San Miguel. The Laredo consulate had not required appointments until very recently and not everyone was aware of the change in rules. A man waiting in line with us was unpleasantly surprised when, after driving all the way from San Miguel the night before, he discovered that you can’t apply for a visa without an appointment.
We had two mishaps during our application process. First, we learned that not only did Andrew and I need individual appointments, but our son needed his own as well. We’d assumed that he would just sit in with one or both of us during our appointments. Fortunately, we were allowed to make an appointment for our son on the spot. Second, we realized that the passport photos that we brought along with us were the wrong size. Luckily, we were allowed to run across the street to a photography studio where we could have the photos remade in the correct size. Both issues had the potential of derailing our applications and requiring us to try again another day, but it all worked out.
Here’s what we learned:
- Make an appointment online *before* you arrive at the consulate and request an early time slot
- The consulate is open from 8am to 1pm Monday thru Friday
- We were able to complete all 3 of our appointments and get our pre-approved visa in one day
- Each person applying for a residency visa needs their own appointment
- Bring your passport and a color copy of the photo page
- Bring credential size passport photos (or have them made across the street)
- If you are married, bring an apostilled copy of your marriage license + a copy
- If you have a child/dependent, bring an apostilled copy of their birth certificate + a copy
- Each person needs to provide financial statements for the past 12-months that prove sufficient savings or investments
- Sufficient savings or investments are currently defined as either $22,000US or a consistent monthly income of $1,320US for Temporary Residency – OR – $88,000US or a consistent monthly income of $2200 for Permanent Residency
- You need to provide an “original” and a copy for all required documents, the original can be a computer print out in the case of bank or 401k statements
- The immigration office at the border closes at 3pm, so if you want to cross back into Mexico get there by 2:30 at the absolute latest
- When you go through immigration be absolutely sure that you show them your passport opened to your pre-approved visa AND that when you fill out the FMM form you check the box “CANJE”. Do not check the box that says “TOURIST”. If you accidentally enter Mexico as a tourist, you will need to start the process all over from the beginning.
Once you are back in Mexico, you need to begin the real visa application process. If you are going through the process in San Miguel, then I’d recommend hiring either Sonia Diaz or Silvia Cadena. They complete all of the paperwork for you, tell you when you need to meet them at immigration to submit the documents and to get fingerprints, then they deliver your residency card to you in person. Although we experienced a few hiccups and had a little frustration gathering information for the pre-approval process, it was all surprisingly easy. Buena suerte!