Retiring in Mexico: Deciding Which Residency Option is Right for You

Once you decide to live in Mexico, the next step is to determine what type of residency status best suits your needs.

Except for those folks who are of Mexican descent and can immediately apply for citizenship, you’re basically choosing between three options: 1) enter as a tourist, 2) apply for temporary residency, or 3) apply for a permanent residency.

Each option has its own advantages, disadvantages and requirements. Here’s a breakdown to help you decide:

Entering as a Tourist

If you’ve ever flown to Mexico on vacation, you’re already familiar with how this option works. When you entered the country, you filled out a form known as the FMM and you were told to retain the card attachment and turn it back in when you left the country. That card is commonly referred to as a tourist card and it allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days at a time.

If you entered by land, you may or may not have completed this form.

If you decide to reside in Mexico as a tourist, you’ll have to take a trip home or cross the border every six months. Fortunately, you can immediately reenter Mexico and the clock starts over.

One word of caution though. There are reports of Mexican immigration officials cracking down on people being perpetual tourists in Mexico — especially when entering by air — and there is always the remote possibility that they could deny you entry.

Advantages:

  1. No need to complete extra paperwork or hire an attorney.
  2. You can enter and leave the country as much as you want.
  3. 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 in many jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions will allow you to get a temporary license that expires when your tourist card does.
  3. You cannot register a car in many jurisdictions (which is bad if you want to buy one).
  4. You have to physically leave the country every six months.
  5. If you did temporarily import your vehicle into a part of Mexico requiring a temporary import permit (known as a TIP), you will have to renew the permit every six months.
  6. If you only book a one-way plane ticket, you can expect to be questioned by both airline and immigration personnel as to when you plan to leave the country.

Temporary Residency

You can apply for temporary residency status at a Mexican consulate. You have to meet the requirements and submit to an interview. If granted, you will have to go to Mexico within 180 days to complete the second part of the process, after which, you will be issued a temporary resident card that is valid for one to four years.

You are only allowed to have temporary resident status for up to four years. After that point, you will either have to apply for a permanent resident card or leave the country — at least temporarily.  Your then have two options: 1) enter as a tourist, or 2) let your temporary residency expire and then return to the Mexican Consulate to apply for a new one.

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. You can bring your foreign plated car into the country.
  5. You don’t have to leave the country every 180 days.
  6. You can import your household items duty-free.
  7. You can obtain an INAPAM discount card.

Disadvantages:

  1. You will have to meet the financial requirements.
  2. You may need an attorney to assist you.
  3. You will have to pay 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 Residency

You apply for permanent residency the same way you would apply for temporary (see above).

The biggest difference between the two is that the financial requirements are more stringent for a permanent (if trying to obtain one without having spent four years as a temporary resident) and the card never expires.

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. You do not have to renew it.
  5. You don’t have to leave the country every 180 days.
  6. You can permanently import your household items duty-free.
  7. You can obtain an INAPAM discount card.

Disadvantages:

  1. You will have to meet the financial requirements.
  2. You may need an attorney to assist you.
  3. You will have to pay 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. This will not be an issue if you plan to stay on the free zone (within 25 KM of the border), specified parts of Sonora or in the states of Baja California or Baja California Sur.

Let’s Wrap This Up

This article ran longer than I normally like them to be, but I couldn’t trim it down anymore without eliminating critical information. For those readers who like even more information, I included links to applicable articles (links are in blue).

If you have a question about something that doesn’t have a link attached to it, chances are pretty good that I haven’t written an article about it yet. My suggestion in that case would be to subscribe to the blog, so you’ll get an email notice when I post new content. I’ll eventually get around to writing about everything.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

26 Comments on "Retiring in Mexico: Deciding Which Residency Option is Right for You"

  1. So clearly written! Thank you!

  2. Paul writes a follow-up to this article where he describes in detail how to apply for residency permanente. It’s very comprehensive. Although it took us an additional appointment both in our home town and in Puerto Vallarta, we got it done without an attorney and quite timely. I’ve subscribed to Paul’s blog for two years and I still learn new things. Thanks Paul!

  3. I have temp. Permanent residency in Baja. After 3 years will I just slide right in to permanent without having to meet the current residency financial requirements? When Ku husband retires in 2 years, we will have even less income! Thank you,

    • After four years of having a temporary resident card, you will be elgible to change to a permanent resident card without meeting the permanent resident visa financial requirements shown above. This change is called cambio de condición.

      Your husband can always apply as your dependent since you’ll already have your permanent resident card. My suggestion is to talk to an immigration specialist to determine which option would be best given your particular circumstances.

  4. Great article as usual Paul – informative and very helpful, thank you! I’m two years away from retiring and will definitely make the move down to Mexico for many of the same reasons you and your wife chose. My destination will be Puerto Vallarta – I’ve been coming here for several years for my fall holiday (2 weeks) and my winter holiday (4 weeks) as a tourist (from Canada).
    The information you provided here will definitely help me a great deal in changing my status.
    Question for you: Can I completely skip the temporary residency card and apply for and acquire permanent residency immediately? I followed one of your links for the fees and it looks like the permanent residency fee is less than the 4 year temporary one. So I’m not sure if that implies I must go the temporary route first then permanent. Thanks in advance – love this blog and all it has to offer!!

  5. In your Temporary Residency description, you also can let your TR expire after the 4 year period then start a new TR application from your home country’s Mexican consulate to retain this status. My husband and I did this so we could keep bringing our foreign plated SUV and motorcycle into Mexico. We live 50/50 between Canada and Mexico.

  6. I have lived in Tulum for 5 years working in a hotel as a massage therapist. I am finishing up 4 years of temporary residency and will apply for permanent residency. About the INAPAM card, I went through a lengthy quest in Playa del Carmen to find the office to apply. You have to be 60 years old and you have to be a permanent resident. I was denied the card because I was a temporary resident. I will reapply once I have permanent residency. The nice advantage to the card is the half price tickets on the ADO bus.

    • They should have let you get it with just the temporary resident card. That’s still listed on page 43 of their manual of guidelines to sign up (Manual de Procedimientos de Afiliación) and on their website.

      We encounter training issues at many government offices, so we’ve gotten in the habit of bringing copies of laws, guidelines etc along with us. It just makes life much easier 🙂

  7. We just applied for and received our Permanent Residency cards. We did not hire an attorney, but we did use the services of a local consultant who specializes in such matters. (we got several recommendation on her first) We drove up to the US, applied at the Mexican Consulate there, and were approved the same day.
    We did not start with temporary, we went straight to permanent.This IS NOT the norm. I can only guess that it was my over the top comprehensive organization of financial and associated documents ready to present to the Consulate. (even a copy of our mirage license because we have different last names) Once approved, we returned immediately to Mexico, stopped at the INM office to get our temporary 30 day FMM (mandatory for the process – you cannot leave Mexico during the processing part of this). Then our consultant submitted out docs to the INM office in the big city near us, and we waited. About 2 weeks later she took us in for finger printing. Then another 2 weeks and our cards were ready. While I spent a lot of time in preparation, the actual process was a piece of cake – mostly because of our consultant. We live in Sonora, so we do not have to nationalize our car. If we want to travel to another state, we can rent a car, take a bus, or fly. Do your homework, prepare, and then go for it!

    • Thanks for sharing that, Judith. 🙂

    • Hi Judith,

      How did you prepare your documents for them to review? Were they in a nice folder, notebook or just paper clipped together. Did you have a set for you, and another set for your husband? Do they just ask for what they want to see or do you hand them a packet of papers. Etc… Thanks, Mike

  8. Paul thank you for the comprehensive articles you print, they are so very helpful. I have one question. We are applying for Permanente in Tucson, Arizona in a week or so and when you talk about providing Original documentation I was wondering if my print out of my statements from my bank would suffice as an original?

  9. Another informative article Paul. Unfortunately I live in a state that doesn’t have a Mex. Consulate (OK.). The closest one is four hours away in Dallas and another one about equal distance in Arkansas. I guess we’ll just have to make the best of it and make a road trip sometime. Thanks for making it easy for us gringo’s to assimilate by doing the homework for us.

  10. Ethel Merts aka Fran Clark | December 2, 2018 at 1:07 pm | Reply

    Excellent information!! You really spell it all out very well.

  11. Hi Paul,
    Excellent information and just like you I’m retired from California. My wife and I purchased a condo in Puerto Vallarta where we have lived full time since July. We have our appointments at the Consulate in Las Vegas on December 18. We made the appointments online and my wife has her appointment at 11, mine is at 12. We are applying for PR. We both have our pensions and financial req’s. Do we bring two sets of our docs – one for her and one for me, or do they let us stay together and use one set of docs? Nobody has written about those little details so anybody that has more on how it works as a married couple showing up for our back to back appointments please let us know. Also any other info on the Las Vegas consulate. Thanks.

    • Many times, the consulate official will interview you together but that’s not a standard rule. It’s a good idea to have two separate stacks of copies ready to go, just in case.

  12. Thank you for all of the important information you are generously sharing. I have a couple of vehicle questions that you may be able to help me with.

    If you have permanent residency status and do bring a vehicle down ( we are in Jalisco) how long can the car be in Mexico before you have to import it? Do you know where I can find the duty and import rates for different types and ages of vehicles?

    We appreciate all you do.

  13. Mark S Lindsey | December 3, 2018 at 10:44 am | Reply

    It may vary by state, but a few years back I was able to purchase and title a car on a tourist visa. I am now a permanent resident and the process was easy. I used an expediter to assist me on the Cozumel side of the process.

    Of note, another disadvantage of temporary is that the rules and process could change at any time. So if you go temporal, then be prepared for changing paperwork and waiting around filling out forms every year.

    If you meet the financial requirements, I would go straight to permanent and skip the yearly paperwork.

  14. Thanks for the information. I was wondering if you purchase a house in Mexico and become a permanent resident or a temporary resident do you still need a bank as a trustee and have a pay them a fee.

  15. It depends where the property is located. In locations where a trust is needed you can only avoid it if you are a citizen.

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