You must have a valid passport to travel abroad. The process and cost associated with getting a passport can be high so start the process at least six months before you plan to leave. Different countries have different processes for obtaining a passport so contact your local government to find out the process.
Passports must be valid for at least 6 months after entering the country. If the passport is set to expire before then, arrange to have it renewed at your embassy. If you are traveling by car you will also need a valid passport.
Mexico has become the home of a myriad of ethnicities and is home to the largest number of U.S. citizens abroad. Other significant communities of foreigners are those of Central and South Americans, most notably from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Belize. Throughout the 20th century, the country followed a policy of granting asylum to fellow Latin Americans and Europeans (mostly Spaniards in the 1940s) fleeing political persecution in their home countries.
Most U.S., U.K., Canadian and Australian citizens are free to stay and volunteer as tourists for no longer than 90 days. Sometimes it is required that visitors show proof of a return ticket to the visitor's home country and/or proof of financial solvency (this can mean any amount of money from $400 to $5000, depending on length of stay and cost of living in your host country).
These mechanisms are in place to ensure that you will not be: a) taking jobs that Mexican nationals could otherwise have and/or; b) ensure that if you don't have an immediate income, you have the means to support yourself without relying on the Mexican State in any way.
You do not have to surrender your natural citizenship to be granted full resident status in Mexico, nor to become a naturalized Mexican. Full resident status or naturalization entitles you to all rights and benefits of a Mexican National (live, work, claim state benefits and to pay taxes) but you cannot vote in Mexican elections.
For an overview of some common visa types:
There are two basic kinds of permit: Non-Immigrant and Immigrant:
Tourist Permits (Also used for Temporary Business Visits)
These are the equivalent of the "Landing Card" in the EU or "Visa Waiver" in the US that non-nationals need to fill out and have stamped when they enter to visit. Tourist cards are valid for up to 180 days and can be acquired from airlines or at the border upon the presentation of proof of citizenship. The Mexican Tourist permit is known at the "FMT" and it is very simple to fill out, and available from airlines and ports of entry.
You can use a FMT permit to enter Mexico for leisure and also if you plan to scout for and/or invest in Mexican real estate. When you are closing a real estate deal, you will need to show evidence to the Notary Public that your stay in Mexico is legal and a FMT is a valid document for this purpose. In recent years, real estate developers, for example, El Dorado Ranch in San Felipe, have been providing assistance and advice for their clients who need help with acquiring their Mexican residency visas.
The latest version of the FMT also contains a section for business travelers, who are entering Mexico temporarily to conduct business there. If you are traveling on business, complete the second half of the FMT. Business travelers are usually given 30 days entry as standard, although you can ask the immigration officer for more or extend it afterwards to maximum time allowed (180 days).
If you should lose your permit, it is possible to get a replacement through the immigration office (INM), although the procedure can take a lot of time. If you lose your tourist permit call the SECTUR tourist office in México City (5250-0123) or your embassy or consulate.
FM3 - The Long-Term Non-Immigrant Visa
Mexico operates what is known as a FM3 Visa. The FM3 visa is a renewable long term (more than 6 months) permit which gives non-immigrant temporary residency status to the holder. This means that it gives a person the right to live in Mexico (under the terms set out in the visa) but it does not lead to, and cannot be converted to, a visa leading to permanent residency.
There are various categories under which FM3 visas are granted, and these relate to the activities you intend to undertake while in Mexico. Under the terms of the FM3, you are authorized to only undertake certain, specific activities which may be lucrative or non-lucrative, depending on the visa's classification. This includes studying and behind a student in Mexico
One of the criteria that the Mexican authorities require for the issuance of a FM3 Visa is that the applicant prove that they have 'sufficient funds to sustain themselves while in Mexico' and/or a proven steady income. There is no official minimum or maximum amount -- every application is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Proof of fund and/or income is usually requested by means of bank account statements, proof of investment income, credit cards, or a combination of these.
Once applied for and granted, the FM3 may be renewed for an additional four years (for a total of five years). After this period, a new FM3 may be applied for and, if granted, will serve for another (max) five year period, renewable annually.
You may apply for a FM3 visa while in Mexico and in possession of a short-term FMT (Tourist/Business Visitors Visa), or directly from your home country via a Mexican Consulate.
FM2 - The Immigrant Visa
FM2 visas are intended for people seeking permanent residency status in Mexico or those seeking Mexican Citizenship. There are various categories under which FM2 visas are granted, and these relate to the activities you intend to undertake while in Mexico. Under the terms of the FM2, you are authorized to only undertake certain, specific activities which may be lucrative or non-lucrative.
You must hold an FM2 for a full consecutive five-year period before you may apply for "immigrant" status or Mexican Citizenship.
You do not need to have held an FM3 visa before applying for an FM2, and any years you may have accrued while living in Mexico under an FM3 permit do not count towards your five-year FM2 qualification period.
If your goal is to seek long-term residency in Mexico, or to become a Mexican Citizen, you should apply for FM2 status (or request a change of status from FM3 to FM2) so that your time starts counting towards the qualification period as soon as possible.
Upon receiving immigrated status, you will receive a document that looks like a Mexican Passport (called a "FM2") -- newer versions look like a driver's license -- which enables you pass through Mexico's borders as if you were a Mexican National.
If you stay outside of Mexico for longer than 2 years, or for 5 years in any 10 year period, you will lose your permanent resident status in Mexico.
Applicants may apply for their visa in person, or hire a representative. 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 and be able to assess your individual circumstances and suggest a proper course of action, based on your personal situation, that will lead 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.
For a more detailed listing of visas, go to Visa Types
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