Retiring in Mexico: Deciding Which Visa Option is Best For You

This post will only address visa options for retirees from the U.S. or Canada who do not plan to work in Mexico. If your goal is to work here, whether in your own business or for someone else, there will be additional requirements.

Retirees with Income from Outside of Mexico

The majority of the expats that I know fall into this category. This group includes people living on income from investments, pensions, savings, and/or Social Security.

If you are thinking about retiring to Mexico, you will have to decide whether or not to apply for a resident visa or to simply live here under a tourist visa. I will go through each option and discuss the advantages, disadvantages and costs.

Quick tip: if you see a word or phrase in blue, you can click on it for more information.

Tourist Visa

If you have ever been to Mexico on vacation, you are already familiar with the tourist visa or FMM. This is what you were given at the airport when you entered the country and it allows you to stay for less than 180 days. If you decide to live in Mexico under a tourist visa, you will have to take a trip home or cross the border every six months. The good part is that you can immediately reenter Mexico and the clock starts over.

I actually have quite a few expat friends who have chosen this route.

Advantages:

  1. No additional costs
  2. No need to complete extra paperwork or hire an attorney.
  3. You can enter and leave the country as much as you want.
  4. You can bring your foreign plated car into the country.

Disadvantages:

  1. Many Mexican banks require either a temporary or permanent visa to open a bank account.
  2. You cannot get a Mexican driver’s license (except for a temporary license in some jurisdictions that expires when the tourist visa does)
  3. You cannot register a car in Mexico.
  4. You have to physically leave the country every six months.

Temporary Resident Visa

This visa is valid for one to four years. The first temporary visa that you are issued is valid for one year and then you can choose to renew it for a period of up to three more years.  After that point, you will have to apply for a permanent resident visa, leave the country, or switch to a tourist visa.

Advantages:

  1. You can open a Mexican bank account.
  2. You can buy and register a car in Mexico.
  3. You can get a Mexican driver’s license.
  4. Many businesses will give you a local discount if you can present the temporary resident card.
  5. You can bring your foreign plated car into the country.
  6. You can enter and leave the country as much as you want.

Disadvantages:

  1. You have to meet the requirements and show financial solvency.
  2. You may need an attorney to assist you.
  3. You will have to pay the fees.
  4. It is a two part process that begins at the Mexican consulate in your home country and ends in Mexico.
  5. You will have to renew it.

Permanent Resident Visa

This visa is similar to the temporary resident visa, but it never expires. The other major difference is that if you have a foreign plated car, you will have to nationalize it or remove it from the country.

Advantages:

  1. You can open a Mexican bank account.
  2. You can buy and register a car in Mexico.
  3. You can get a Mexican driver’s license.
  4. Many businesses will give you a local discount if you can present the card.
  5. You do not have to renew it.
  6. You can enter and leave the country as much as you want.

Disadvantages:

  1. You have to meet the requirements and show financial solvency.
  2. You may need an attorney to assist you.
  3. You will have to pay the fees.
  4. It is a two part process that begins at the Mexican consulate in your home country and ends in Mexico.
  5. You will have to nationalize your foreign plated vehicle or remove it from the country.

Let’s Wrap This Up

As you can see, the best option depends on your situation. If you plan to live in Mexico permanently and buy a car in Mexico, then the permanent resident visa is your best bet. You have to specify that you want the permanent visa during your appointment at the Mexican consulate in your home country. They may or may not grant it depending on your particular situation.

Anytime that I write a post like this, it is inevitable that I will receive messages from people who have managed to open a bank account or register a car with only a tourist visa. I have discovered that the rules in Mexico are not enforced uniformly, and some people do successfully slip through the cracks.

That being said, I can tell you that it has been much easier for us to live here since we obtained our temporary resident visas. Prior to getting them, we tried — and failed — to buy a car and open a bank account. In fact, the first question that every car dealer and banker would ask us was, “Do you already have your temporary or permanent resident card?”

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) is a former lieutenant from the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida. During his 25-year career, he received numerous commendations to include two of the agency's top honors: a Meritorious Service Medal and a Medal of Valor. In 2015, Paul retired and moved to Mexico with his wife. He now spends his days enjoying the Riviera Maya and blogging from the beach.

44 Comments on "Retiring in Mexico: Deciding Which Visa Option is Best For You"

  1. Thank you, Paul for this information. I am leaving this comment so you can tell that people are reading your blog and appreciate the information that you are sharing.

    My husband and I live in California, on the Monterey Bay and are retiring in December. We dream of spending more time in Mexico, in the next 10 years, or so. 🙂 Though many people that we know dream of living on the Monterey Bay. Each person has their own dream. 🙂 We are very interested in knowing just how to make that happen. This blog post answered quite a few of our questions.
    Thanks again.

    Nancy Tebo

  2. Geri Anderson | July 18, 2016 at 9:16 am | Reply

    Are you sure that with a temporary resident visa you can revert back to a tourist visa? No need to hire an attorney. The rules are clear cut and easy to follow, especially since you can start in your own state. Once you take the necessary steps there, a permanent resident visa is almost automatic in Mexico, although you have to register with migracion in Mexico.

    • Yes, we have known several people that let their temporary visas expire and now live with here with tourist visas. The attorney is useful when you get to Mexico because there is still quite a bit of paperwork to fill out and it is 100% in Spanish. This paperwork includes both forms and letters that follow a specific format. We did all the paperwork ourselves but our English-speaking friends would have great difficulty completing the process on their own because of the language barrier. On the U.S. side, there is little need for an attorney for step one.

  3. Cody Duniphan | July 18, 2016 at 11:10 am | Reply

    Hey Paul! I heard that you can purchase a car in Mexico under a tourist visa. We are moving to Cozumel and have some friends out there who have been on tourist visas for 5+ years now. They actually have a couple cars they have purchased in that time. Any idea how that is possible?

    • We were unsuccessful when we tried and we were told that the common way around it is to have a citizen or legal resident register it in their name. Even once we got resident visas, they would not let us register the car without the CURP number (a Mexican population number). The government will not issue a CURP with a tourist visa. We then had to return to immigration and file a formal request to each be issued a CURP.

      When we went car shopping, the first question that every salesman asked us is if we had either a temporary or permanent resident card.

      Of course, we have found that Mexico is a land of contradictions and quite often rules are not uniformly enforced.

  4. Teresa Baker | July 18, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Reply

    Thank you for the clear information.

  5. This is very helpful and concise information Paul. Thanks for your post. If you wish to work in Mexico, do you have any information on which Visa to try and get? Or any information on how to legally work in Mexico? Thanks.

  6. A enormous advantage you did not mention is real estate ! If you want to buy property it is best to be a temporary or even better a permanent resident. If you sell your property on a tourist visa your taxes will be very high. If you buy property on a temporary resident visa you have to set up a trust through a lawyer and then pay aprox. $500.00 US a year to maintain it. As a permanent resident the tax burden is the same when selling However you do t have to set up a trust or pay the fees. Setting up the trust cost me aprox $3,300.00.

  7. What about children? Can we as parents get temp residency visas and have the kids on tourist visas or better to do everyone?

    • Hi, Kyle. If you put the kids on tourist visas then you would still have to leave every six months — well, at least they would. I do not know if that creates any other issues because we have not had to tackle that one ourselves.

  8. I own a business here in Vallarta, Navigate Vallarta, assisting people in a comprehensive manner in moving to area, so I’m quite familiar with the visa process. Great article. One point in addition to yours, you can get a Permanente visa on your first try. Income requirements are slightly higher, but not much, and then you don’t ever have to renew. This is a fairly recent change, but several of my clients have done this. Great that you wrote this. It is a lot to figure out on your own.

    • Yes, the permanent resident visa for retirees is a great option. Some of my friends here elected to get a temporary resident visa at first in order to keep their foreign plated car for awhile. Thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to comment. 🙂

  9. Hello Paul, Thank you so much for sharing all your trials and experiences with us; the information is greatly appreciated by us all! My wife and I have purchased property near Chemuyil and building a house there. We plan on moving in two years. My question is do you have any information on nationalizing a vehicle? Any leads you have would be most helpful. Cheers!

    • Sorry, I don’t have any information on that. So far, all of the expats that I know here decided it would be too much of a hassle to nationalize their cars. They plan on taking their vehicles back to the US to sell before getting a permanent resident card. The expats on tourist visas and temporary visas just get a Temporary Import Permit and then drive down to Belize every six months to renew it.

  10. Thanks for all this great information Paul. We plan to move to Ensenada within 2 years or sooner, so we too are moving to a touristy area, but not as touristy as Cancun. However, we plan on keeping our house in Las Vegas, and driving back to the states frequently as our grandchildren are in Southern California. So based on your info, we think the tourist visa will be the best option for us until we decide to buy real estate there. Thanks again.

    • Yes, the tourist visa will work as long as you plan on taking your foreign plated vehicle — and yourselves — across the border at least every 180 days.

  11. Hi Paul, just recently started reading your blog! Great information! You guys are totally living my dream!!! We have a few more years here before we make the big move! Was wondering if you know, does the status you choose in Mexico have any affect on collecting US Social security when you are of age? I haven’t found anything that really explains all that but have really just scratched the surface looking. Was curious if you have heard anything regarding this. Thanks!

    • Thanks for reading the blog. You can still collect your U.S. social security no matter if you live here under a tourist, temporary, or permanent resident visa. No worries.

  12. Great info , thanks. Do you know how the various visa options affect the payment of capital gains tax when selling a property, at what level does capital gains no longer apply. Gracias.

  13. a driver’s license question. I have an Arizona license. I no longer have or want a car. however, a license would be convenient for renting a car from time to time. Is the process for persons already licensed in another country (USA) simpler? when we moved from California to Arizona, all we had to do was provide the CA license, pass the eye test and pay the fee. no written or driving tests.

    • The DL requirements will vary by jurisdiction here in Mexico. We just got our licenses and we didn’t have to take a written or road test. They asked for our immigration documents, proof of residency at the address, and a copy of our valid Florida licenses – and of course pay the fee. Very easy.

  14. I like your blog. Please elaborate what you mean by “Many businesses will give you a local discount if you can present the card”? I don’t think stores like MEGA or Walmart will give you any “local discount” if you show permanent resident card. Could you please show some examples what businesses will give local discount to permanent resident card holder? Thank you!

    • 90% of the restaurants that we go to give us a discount of 15-20%, the medical labs, the local hospitals, the ferry to Cozumel….etc.

  15. What if I am Canadian married to a Mexican. We live in Canada now with him as a permanent resident, however one day we’d like to live in Mexico part of the year. Which visa would be best for myself under those circumstances?

    • It depends on your goal. If you would like citizenship one day etc. You should review the options with an immigration attorney to see which visa option would work best for you.

  16. Tracy and Glenn McDougall | January 5, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Reply

    My husband and I are Canadians who are planning on spending three months every year in MX; the winter months, of course 🙂 I’m assuming we don’t have to concern ourselves with visas or permits as we will be renting a house or condo and returning home to Canada.

    • You can stay up to 6 months with just the visa they issue you upon entry (FMM also called tourist). You can rent a condo etc with no issues at all.

  17. In Mexico City when I was flying to Costa Rica, they made me fill out the departing portion of an FMM, even though I am a Residented Permanente. No one told us we would have to do this and we missed our plane and had to rebook it at current prices plus spent 15 hours in the airport. Then, we had to turn in the FMM entrance portion when we returned. I have found very little on the Internet about this requirement and what I have found even says they could revoke your Residente Permanente if you have a FMM that is more recent. Others have said to write “Residente Permanente” at the top of the form. Just wanted to warn people to talk to immigration at the airport before trying to fly out of Mexico.

    • Yes, they are making card holders fill out the form at INM in Cancun as well when we leave Mexico. We check in at the INM desk and complete the FMM, Section #8 on the current form has a block where you enter the number of your permanent or temporary resident card. We have to do this each time according to INM.

  18. With a tourist visa, when you have to leave every 180 days, does it have to be to your home country? And if so, could a US citizen go to Puerto Rico? Rather than the main land of the US?

    Thanks for all the information on your site!

  19. Kathryn Hangiandreou | February 27, 2017 at 8:24 am | Reply

    Does your Visa status affect your ability to buy Mexican health insurance? TIA and love your blog!

  20. Does $110,000 in a 401k and $40,000 in a Roth account qualify me for a Permanent Resident Card? I don’t have an address in Mexico I can use because I’m still in San Diego (Any Ideas?), but want to get my card before retiring to Mexico. Thanks.

  21. Hi Paul – love your blog. This was a very interesting post but there is one error. You do not have to start the process in your home country. What you have to do is apply outside of Mexico. We are Canadians and we processed our visas in Laredo, Texas. We came in on the tourist visa and once we decided to make San Miguel de Allende our home we flew into Laredo and were on our way in two days.
    Also Canadians that enter by land must have their passports stamped to show legal entry into the US. You have to walk back into Mexico and request an entry stamp.

  22. Paul, if one applies for RP in the US, can one drive his/her US car into MX to complete part two of the process? In other words, is there a grace period for removing the car? Thanks in advance!

  23. Warren R Jorgenson | March 27, 2017 at 9:45 am | Reply

    Good info Paul. One thing I would ask is that when you prepare articles please keep in mind that we that live in Baja, the Frontier, have different rules for our area such as vehicles etc.

  24. If you have a Resident Visa, do you have to pay Mexican income tax on all of your income including US SSD?

  25. Loretta Schwartz | May 19, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Reply

    Thanks for all your info. We will be moving to PDC in a couple of months. May I ask if you have a Temporary or Permanent Visa? And has any problems occurred because of your choice. On the temporary, is the renewal difficult? LOVE your blog
    Would love to get together when we move down.

    • We have a temporary right now for the next 2 years. The renewal is not difficult, but it does require more paperwork, photos and fingerprints.

  26. George Deikun | May 25, 2017 at 6:44 am | Reply

    With a temporary resident visa for retirement does one pay mexican income tax on earnings and investments held outside of mexico?

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