Invest and Reside in Mexico: Which Immigration Status is Right for you?

Many foreigners come to Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit every year, attracted by its tourist attractions, excellent quality of life and work and investment opportunities, which often lead them to consider acquiring a property, either to vacation for long periods or to settle in the destination as residents.

According to Article 52 of Mexico’s current Ley de Migración (Immigration Law), foreigners can stay in the national territory as visitors, temporary residents or permanent residents. Any of these three immigration statuses allows the purchase of real estate. So, one of the main questions when considering buying a property is which immigration status is the most appropriate.

To clarify this issue, we interviewed Marco Fernández, in charge of the immigration area of MexLaw in Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit, who works closely with Mildred Pallares, general manager of the firm’s immigration area. This company, operated by licensed American lawyers and associated with Mexican attorneys, specializes in immigration matters such as temporary and permanent residency procedures, as well as naturalization.

Why is it advisable to apply for residency?

According to the latest census conducted by the Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística (INEGI) (National Institute of Geography and Statistics), the number of Americans living in Mexico with irregular immigration status has increased by 37.8 percent since 2015, the number of Americans living illegally in Mexico rising from 673,866 to 934,698 today. The reason? Most Americans are retirees and simply get their visitor’s permit for 180 days, then decide to stay longer without applying for residency, since the fines are not stiff.

The experts at MexLaw comment that, since applying for temporary or permanent residency is a relatively simple procedure and having such an immigration status provides tranquility and some benefits, applying for residency is the best option for those who wish to live in a stable manner for medium- and long term-periods (beyond the 180 days allowed by the tourist visa). These are the characteristics of the different residency permits:

· Temporary Residency: It is for those foreigners who wish to be in Mexico for more than 180 days up to a total of four years. The first temporary residency card is granted for one year and then can be renewed for one, two or up to three years. If you want to work while here, you need to apply for a temporary work permit. The requirements are different, but the benefits are the same.

Some of the benefits of temporary residency are obtaining a Clave Única de Registro de Población (CURP) (similar to a social security number) and, therefore, the ability to open a Mexican bank account, register a vehicle with foreign license plates and use it in the country (as long as it is registered along with the temporary residency permit upon entering Mexico). Temporary residency also allows unrestricted travel within and outside the country. After four years with this immigration status, foreigners can apply almost automatically for permanent residency.

· Permanent residency: This type of residency is the one MexLaw experts recommend mainly to retirees and those who wish to reside in Mexico for life or for extended periods.

The benefits granted by permanent residency are, among others, the right to work without having to apply for a permit, obtaining a CURP, applying for social security, as well as unlimited entry and exit from the country. Unlike temporary residency, permanent residency grants rights similar to those of the Mexican citizen, except for voting. Permanent residency does not require renewal (only minors), since it is obtained only once and is a step prior to Mexican naturalization (which allows you to acquire real estate within the “restricted areas” without a fideicomiso; however, it does not allow having a vehicle with foreign license plates).

Who applies for this type of residency and what are the requirements?

Any foreigner who wishes to be in Mexico legally can apply for residency. “The immigration status varies with the conditions upon which they wish to enter: offer of employment, student, family bond or economic solvency, among others. In the case of MexLaw, we work more with American and Canadian retirees, for whom we usually recommend permanent residency,” says Fernández.

Regarding the requirements for applicants, the expert lawyer comments, “The criteria used by the authorities to determine the type of residency that will be granted to the foreigner is very ambiguous. In the case of American and Canadian clients who are not interested in working in Mexico but just want to be legal residents in the country, we recommend that they go to the nearest consulate abroad, request an appointment and see what is required to apply for temporary or permanent residency, since all consulates have different requirements. In practice, the requirements are simple documents to obtain.” In broad strokes and with variations, they are usually the following (the economic data are approximate and vary depending on the consulate and fluctuations of the exchange rate):

Those who own property in Mexico are asked for an original and a copy of the notarized deed, to show that the interested party owns a property with a value greater than $174,000 USD. On the other hand, for an investor, requirements include notarized documentation of the Mexican entity or properly certified documentation that proves that the foreigner participates in the capital of said Mexican corporation, in addition to verifying that investment exceeds $90,000 USD, as well as a document that certifies the ownership of real estate of a value greater than $90,000 USD or documents that support the development of said economic activity in Mexico.

If the interested party does not intend to make investments in Mexico, they can either demonstrate financial solvency through financial statements (original and copy) that demonstrate a monthly balance of at least $25,000 USD during the last 12 months or documents (original and copy) that show after-tax income from work or pension that exceeds $1,500 USD per month during the last six months.

What is the process?

As Fernández explains, the process of obtaining residency is divided into two steps, starting with an interview at the Mexican Consulate in their country of origin and ending in Mexico with the exchange at the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM). The exchange process is usually very fast, from one to two months for retirees and three to four months in the case of an offer of employment.

“The foreigner attends his appointment at the Mexican Consulate in his country. After having received the documents and other requirements, the consul gives the foreigner the visa, which he must show when he enters the country. Once the foreigner is here, he has 30 calendar days from the day of entry to exchange that pre-visa at the INM office for his temporary or permanent residency card.”

Finally, Fernández recommends carrying out this kind of procedure through professional service providers, since specialists in the field can help in case of any issues that result from this process. “Generally, if a foreigner does not have knowledge about laws and requirements, he can have many problems. The specialist knows the laws, the resolutions that the immigration authority can reach, and guarantees that the process is successful from beginning to end,” he concludes.