This past Wednesday, we were finally within the 30-day renewal period for our FM3s. For those that don’t know, in order for most foreigners to be legally in Mexico, they must have some sort of visa. There are short-term visas for vacationers, 180-day visas for longer term vacationers and snowbirds and then there are what used to be called the FM3s and FM2s. These were basically cards that said you were a non-immigrant resident and were good for a year at a time. This saves those of us who are down here most of the time from having to make a trip back to the States every 6 months to get a new 180-day visa.
The Mexican immigration system went through a major change last year with the passage of a sweeping reforms. In the past, one would typically have an FM3 for 5 years, then an FM2 for 5 years, and then apply for permanent residency. With the reforms, the FM3 and FM2 cards have been done away with. Now, if I understand things right, you get a Residente Temporal. After 5 years you can (and are expected to) apply for a Residente Permanente. Been lots of trepidation among the cruising community about how this was all going to be implemented since it’s not uncommon for different branch offices to interpret the rules in different ways.
Our FM3s will expire on February 22 so, 30 days before that we could start the renewal process. And so we did.
Our first move was to go to the Immigration (INM) office to find out just exactly what paperwork we needed to submit. According to various internet sources, some offices were requiring proof of residency and others weren’t, some were requiring 3 months worth of bank statements, some 6 months, and some none. We thought it would be prudent to find out just what was going to be required here.
We’ve gone through this process in La Paz and in Mazatlán so we know about “hurry up and wait”. We were pleasantly surprised when we entered the tiny office to find only a few gringos sitting and waiting. Apparently they were waiting for something to get done with some papers they’d already submitted because we were motioned to come right up to the counter. I explained to the lady what we were doing and that we wanted to know what was required. I asked if we could apply for Permanente status as I’d read that, in some cases, it was possible to go straight to Permanente without being Temporal for 5 years first. She said, no, we’d have to do two more years as temporal, this year and one more. Now, by my math that only adds up to 4 years total but who am I to argue? Anyway, she told us we needed 3 months worth of bank statements (to show we have income and aren’t indigent), proof of residency, and 8 passport-type photos, 4 head-on and 4 in profile. She gave us a slip of paper explaining the photo requirements and directed us to a photographer just up the street a bit.
First surprise: Last year we had our FM3 renewed in Mazatlán. A private agent down the street from INM took care of filling out all our paperwork, printing finished copies, making copies of everything that INM was going to want copies of, and took and printed our photos. All for the extremely reasonable sum of $150 pesos each. Here in Santa Rosalía, the photos alone cost us $250 pesos each (per person, not per photo). ¡Que difieréncia!
Back at the marina, we paid our bill for the month (which actually doesn’t end until Monday) so we could get a receipt to use as our proof of residency. Walked back to town to get a couple copies of it and decided to wait until Thursday to go back to INM.
This time, we were really pleased when we walked into the office on Thursday morning and found NO customers waiting. The lady who had helped us on Wednesday wasn’t there but there was a gentleman in an INM uniform. We told him what we wanted to do and then gave him our photos and rent receipt. He asked if we wanted to go for Permanente and I said that we definitely did if it was possible. He took our old cards, our photos and our receipt went off to the computer and did a bunch of something or other and then eventually came back with a form that we were to take to the bank where we would pay the renewal fee and return with the receipt. The amount we had to pay the bank was $3130 pesos each. However, I had no idea what that was paying for and assumed it was for Permanente status since he hadn’t said anything about us not qualifying.
We paid our money (around $250USD each) and returned to the INM office. After he finished with the Canadian couple ahead of us, he gave us some forms to fill out which were very similar, but not exactly like, the forms we’d filled out the previous two years. He took the forms and receipts and did some more computer stuff and then came back and gave us each a form that is essentially a temporary visa. We’re to return next Wednesday to get our fingerprints taken. Then, if what he told the folks ahead of us applies, it’ll be 3-4 weeks until the finished cards can be picked up. Apparently everything goes to Mexico City now rather than being done in-house. And then we got the coup d’etat… We were charged another $600 pesos before we left. He didn’t bother explaining what it was for and I, foolishly perhaps, didn’t ask. And, not surprisingly, no receipt was offered. If this payment is what I think it was, maybe we can count ourselves lucky as this is the first time since we arrived in Mexico in November 2010 that we’ve had to pay any mordita (the little bite). But it still irks me. I’m sure, had we asked, that the cost would have been explained, in rapid-fire Spanish, of course, as “processing costs”.
Oh, and even worse? Turns out that $3130 pesos only paid for 1 year’s renewal. This is a major pisser as paying for multiple years is both cheaper and less hassle. I’ve learned to never say never but I doubt we’ll get our next renewal in Santa Rosalía. Lesson learned.
Total cost so far: $3130 + $250 + $300 = $3680MX or about $294USD each! That’s a total of $588USD for us both to stay in the country legally for another year.