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The Era of Visa-Free Living in Mexico is Over

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Buenos días everyone,

If you’re thinking about spending a significant amount of time in Mexico or even making multiple trips over the course of a year, you should be aware of a change in practice by Mexican immigration authorities.

For many years, it’s been very easy for U.S. citizens (and certain other nationalities) to spend a virtually unlimited amount of time in Mexico. Visa-free entry with a tourist permit (the cost of which is automatically included in your plane ticket) is granted for up to 180 days (six months) and for years the standard practice has been to grant virtually everyone a 180 day entry permit regardless of their trip plans and travel history. (Land border crossings have different rules if you’re staying in the border area.) As a result, it was common for foreigners living in Mexico to just travel to the US or Guatemala (or another nearby country) at least once every six months and live in Mexico indefinitely without a resident visa.

This has changed in the last few months. Mexican immigration authorities have reportedly upgraded agents’ computer systems to make it much easier to see a visitor’s travel history, and agents have become much stricter about ensuring that the length of your stay is in line with the stated purpose of your trip and with the arrangements you’ve made for your travel. I’ve heard many reports of people who have entered Mexico expecting to be able to stay for 180 days, and then have only received permission to stay for 60, 30, 14, or even 7 days.

On top of this, Mexican immigration authorities have stepped up enforcement, instituting checkpoints on federal highways and requiring intercity bus companies to verify foreigners’ legal status before selling a ticket. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico is receiving phone calls on a daily basis from U.S. citizens who have been detained by immigration authorities for overstaying.

This shouldn’t present a problem for anyone visiting Mexico for a weekend or a few weeks. But if you plan to spend an extended amount of time in Mexico, use it as a base to visit other countries in Latin America, or make repeated trips, it’s wise to consider applying for temporary residency through the nearest Mexican consulate. As a bonus, you’ll save about $30 on every plane ticket to Mexico, which can offset the cost of applying for residency.

While the process is relatively easy and straightforward if you meet the income or savings requirements, it does require getting an appointment first with the Mexican consulate and then with the local immigration office in Mexico – and once you’ve entered Mexico with a residency visa, it’s difficult to leave (without having to apply for another visa) before you’ve completed the process at the immigration office. On the bright side, the in-country process has been streamlined so most people should be able to get their resident ID card the same day – in the past it has taken weeks or even months to process applications and renewals.

Have you had issues traveling to Mexico in the past few months or will these changes impact your future plans? Let me know in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “The Era of Visa-Free Living in Mexico is Over

  1. DaninMCI

    So I assume if you are coming into Mexico in large groups from Guatemala or even Belize that you will be stopped at the border and not allowed to enter or transit Mexico without proper identification and fees paid?

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  3. Stephen

    We used to need to bring our passports to travel from Playa Del Carmen to Cancun on the bus.

    They dropped that requirement last year.
    Now this?

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