Choosing a Place to Visit or Live in Mexico
This article, to some degree, assumes you have already done your research on places to retire/live/visit in Mexico and are already at the moving stage of your journey. Nonetheless if you haven’t already chosen a place to live in Mexico you should do that first! And this is no simple task. Mexico is a large country with immensely diverse areas. If you want to move to Mexico you are going to need to determine what type of lifestyle you want. Different areas bring different cost of living, different culture and food, different climate and different activities. It would be the same thing if someone decided they wanted to retire in the United States, Florida is very different to New York City which is hugely different to a small town in Maine. Someone who enjoys golfing probably would not retire in New York City and someone who loves Broadway musicals wouldn’t retire in Florida. The same analogies hold true in Mexico, but maybe even more pronounced. A beach in the Yucatan is very different to a beach in Baja. They have different climates, different cuisine, different levels of tourism, and so on. Maybe you’re not looking to retire, maybe you are looking to live and work in Mexico and require a thriving economy, an airport, and fast stable internet. There are far too many possibilities to outline everything in an article and you should really make a list of the things that are important to you and start to research the different options. Maybe plan a few weeks in a few of the places on your shortlist and see if they are right for you. Things that you may not have thought of may end up being deal breakers for you, for example; too much traffic and slow internet or too touristy, or not touristy enough, too expensive, too hot, too cold… the combinations are endless. You could start by looking at the most popular places to retire in Mexico and see what they have that makes them popular. Make a shortlist of those places and then go check them out. For example if you know you don’t want to live on the Ocean you can already cross a bunch of places off your list.
There are a ton of articles and top-10 lists on the internet of “best place to live, retire or visit” in Mexico so I’m not going to try and reinvent the wheel. Your best bet is to actually go to these places and settle in for at least a few weeks. Maybe go in high season so you get a feel for how crowded it might be, how’s the traffic, how’s the strain on the local infrastructure, and so on. You want to see the place at it’s worse so you aren’t broadsided with surprises later. Talk to locals and other visitors and try and get a feel for the area and see if it suits you. You’re never going to find the perfect place and only you know what your level of comfort is – so actually going to the place and immersing yourself in it is really the only way to find out what’s right for you. Everyone has their own level of what a “deal breaker” is for a particular place. For someone it could be mediocre choices of restaurants, for someone else a place may be too hot or crowded and so on. Only you can decide what is right for you. Here’s one example of list of “best places” in Mexico in US News of the 10 best places to retire in Mexico, check it out and start making your shortlist!
Things to do while still at Home
If you are serious about moving to Mexico you should do a lot of the planning before you move.
One very important thing to consider is your visa. There are 3 types of visas for foreigners in Mexico:
1. Tourist Visa (FMM)
It’s a bit of a misnomer to call this a “visa” it is actually called an FMM and it’s a tourist card though many people call it a visa. This is the card they give you on the plane when you are getting close to landing and it acts like a visa while you are in Mexico. It is good for up to 180 days but there are many restrictions with this “visa” such as you cannot work or get a drivers license or import your furniture. Because of these restrictions this is not a good option if you are moving to Mexico. But if you were just going to check a place out, look at real estate or just get a general lay of the land then this option is a great temporary solution as it’s free and you don’t have to do any work to get an FMM. But keep in mind if you plan to get a more permanent visa such as the temporal or permanente you need to start the process in your home country (more on that later). If you are driving into Mexico things get a little more complicated but not to worry we will explain the process so you are fully prepared.
If Driving into Mexico
As well as the FMM (Mexican tourist card or “visa) you will also need a permit for your car. If you were simply crossing into Mexico to do some shopping at a birder town you wouldn’t need a permit for your car but seeing as this article is about moving to Mexico we assume you will be taking your car into further into Mexico than the Mexico Free Zone. The permit required is called a Temporary Importation Permit. Notice the word “temporary” this is not a long term solution and if you plan on keeping a car in Mexico for a longer period of time you should do your research so you understand all the rules regarding owning a vehicle in Mexico. But for now let’s move on to the other types of visas.
2. Temporary Resident Visa (Temporal)
A temporary visa allows you to stay in Mexico for periods longer than the 180 days and less than 4 years. You will need to fill out an application form, and complete an interview in person. In the past you were able to enter Mexico on a tourist visa and then start the process of applying for your temporal (temporary resident visa) from within Mexico, this law has changed and now this process needs to start in your country of residence at a Mexican consulate. There are many Mexican consulates throughout the US and Canada, we have compiled a list for your convenience. Although there are many criteria that allow you to apply for a temporary resident visa such as scientific research, religious activities, and family reunification just to name a few, by far the most likely requirement you will be applying under is economic solvency. At the time of this writing that would amount to a bank balance of $22,000USD and monthly income of $1,300USD. These numbers are based on calculations of Mexican minimum wage so they are here as a guide, if you want exact numbers check with your local Mexican consulate. It is our understanding that the criteria can differ from consulate to consulate so you may want to shop around. Apparently the consulates at Loredo Texas and Phoenix Arizona are two of the “easier” ones and may accept lower monthly income. Either way you will need 12 months of bank statements to back up your numbers.
3. Permanent Resident Visa (Permanente)
Should you want to stay in Mexico indefinitely you need to apply for a permanent resident visa. The application process is similar the temporary resident visa however the income and financial requirements are higher. The application process must be started in your country of residence though there are some exceptions. If the process gets confusing you may want to contact an immigration lawyer to help you.
In terms of financial solvency you will need to provide 6 months of bank statements showing an minimum monthly income of $2,000USD. And if you have investments you will need to show an average balance of $80,000USD at the end of the month. You can read more about the requirements for American applicants here and Canadians here.
Other things to Take Care of Before leaving Home
Your current drivers’ licence is accepted in Mexico, however it will be somewhat inconvenient if it expires and needs to be renewed. For this reason make sure your current licence is up to date and not about to expire soon. Depending on the issuing country of your current licence (or even different States or Provinces can differ) it can be a real nightmare if you let your licence expire. They may make you do your drivers test over, your insurance premiums may go up and who knows what else. In some cases you may be able to renew your licence online but in many cases this will not be possible so keep your licence up to date!
Mexican Drivers Licence
If you plan to live in Mexico permanently you may decide to get a Mexican drivers licence. You can get a Mexican licence with as little as tourist visa (FMM) but drivers licence rules in Mexico are different from state to state so you will need to research which states allow this. In Jalisco you will be required to take both a written (computer) test as well as a driving test (the driving test is only required if you don’t have a valid licence from your home country). There are English versions of the written test but you should do your research. Here in Chapala Mexico there are services that will assist you every step of the way including driving you to your exam in Guadalajara.
What you will Need
- Valid Passport
- Your Mexican Visa
- Current Licence
- Comprobante de Domicilio (proof of your current address. This can be an electric bill, phone bill, etc.)
- CURP (Clave Única de Registro de Población)
- Blood Type
- Fee of $633 pesos (fees are subject to change so you may want to research before you go)
- Note: bring original documents AND copies
For the same reasons as your drivers licence you want to make sure your passport isn’t set to expire in the near future. Although you can renew your passport at a consulate in Mexico it can be a bit time consuming and may be easier to take care of this before you leave your home country. A valid passport will be your only official ID before you get your Visa so it’s important to have it up to date when you arrive to Mexico.
Credit and Debit Cards
Depending on your bank you may need to alert them to your travel plans so your account doesn’t get flagged while you are making transactions in Mexico. Some banks will suspend your card if they suspect it is being used fraudulently. This can happen if suddenly someone (you) is using it in a foreign country. Like your drivers licence and passport, make sure all your bank credit and debit card aren’t set to expire soon.
Misc. (marriage certificates, original birth certificates…)
It’s a good idea to have official original copies of your birth certificate, marriage licence and any other official documents. These may be needed when applying for certain services in Mexico and would be a pain to have to try and acquire them while you are out of the country.
Yet more things to consider…
If you plan to bring a pet with you make sure you have a certified health certificate stating that the pet is in good health and all shots are up to date. But before we move on it’s good to know that in Mexico a “pet” is either a dog or a cat. So if you have a ferret, hamster, turtle, snake or any other animal you can bring those too but you must send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if it’s aquatic animal. You need to get International Animal Health Certificate for the importation of live animals and of courde there is a cost for this. Also, depending on the animal, you may need an export permit from your country as well.
Importing your vehicle
If you plan to enter Mexico farther than the 35km you will need a Temporary Import Permit on your car. This is not to be taken likely. You can run into real problems if you fail to get this permit and are pulled over. The TIP (temporary import permit) must be attained at the border – there is no other place to get this permit. And the rules are different depending on what type of visa you have. If you are entering on a tourist visa (FMM) your car is legal for the duration of your tourist visa which has a maximum of 180 days. If you have a Temporary resident visa (Temporal) the car will be legal as long as your visa is legal. If you are entering on a Permanent Resident Visa (Permanente) you are NOT permitted to import a foreign vehicle. So if you entered Mexico on tourist visa (or temporal) and plan to get a permanent resident visa you need to think about what you will do with your vehicle because the moment you switch to the permanent resident visa your car will become illegal. You will need to get it out of Mexico.
Schools for your Children
If you are moving to Mexico with children then you will want to consider what school they will attend. As a general rule public schools in Mexico are not recommended. For this reason you will likely want to find a private school for your children. If you are moving to a small town it may be difficult to find a good school so you should do your research before you move. Just because a school is private doesn’t mean it’s good. You will want to visit the school and see it first hand. Try to meet the director/principal and discuss the curriculum. Also consider where your kids will be going to University. If they plan to attend university in their home country then make sure the school is internationally accredited. Internationally accredited schools are somewhat rare in Mexico especially in small towns so you will need to do your research.
If you have any pertinent medical records it would be a good idea to bring them with you. For example MRI images etc. These types of records could be useful if you seek medical attention in Mexico as they will give the doctor an idea of your past history and any changes that may have happened since your last checkup or procedure. Having your past records can speed up the process of any future treatments not to mention reduce the cost.
Vaccinations, you may consider
Whenever you plan to travel to a foreign country it’s a good idea to research what vaccines are recommended for that area. The CDC recommends certain vaccines when travelling to Mexico. For example hepatitis A & B, typhoid, malaria, and measles just to name a few. You can get more information on the CDC website
There are many Facebook groups relating to traveling or moving to Mexico. These groups are a fantastic way to get firsthand information from people already living in different areas of Mexico. Some of the groups are broad such as Expats Living in Mexico and others are more specific such as Gringos Ajijic and Lakeside which specifically relates to expats in the Lake Chapala area. It’s a great idea to join a few of these groups and field any of your questions there. You will get firsthand information about what you are looking for and this can save you a lot of research and future headaches.
Buying or Renting Property in Mexico
Because you’re reading this article I assume you are pretty serious about moving to Mexico. So obviously if you are moving somewhere you will need a place to move to! If you already have a place then you can skip over this part. If not, then I would like to look at the options of renting or buying a place in Mexico.
Benefits of renting
If you don’t have a couple hundred thousand dollars lying around then renting may be your only option. But that’s OK because there are many benefits to renting but mostly they all boil down to flexibility. By renting a place you are not committing to an area for the rest of your life, or even the same neighborhood.
How to find rentals
I think by far the best plan is to find a rental agency or property management company. Although you can do this work on your own, a company or agent will have a better understanding of current prices, what areas suit your criteria, renting laws, and so on. An agency will take a lot of the stress off and who needs more stress!? Also if you aren’t fluent in Spanish an agency is even more important. This being said should you decide to go it alone your best option is the internet. Facebook pages are a great way to start. For example if you are moving to ajijic you want to join as many “expats in Ajijic” or “gringos in Chapala” type pages you can find. Simply do a search on facebook for these types of groups and then join them. Usually there’s a day or two wait to be accepted into the group but once in you will have access to literally thousands of people who live in the particular area you are interested in. You can start in these groups by asking if anyone knows of a rental and then take it from there. Of course you can also ask about the differences in the different areas of the town/area as well as what the going rates are for the type of property you are looking for. Most members of these groups can be quite helpful and it can save you hours of headaches.
What you will need to rent a place
You will need to sign some sort of lease or rental contract. These can vary in the length of the term but usually they are a year. They will require a rental/security deposit and this is generally one month’s rent in advance. For short term rentals the process may be easier but for longer terms you may need a couple of references.
Buying a place
Buy real estate in Mexico is going to be a lot more complicated than renting and for sure I would suggest a real estate agency. A good real estate agent will make the entire process much more enjoyable. He/she will know the area, and know the market and what prices should be at. But a real estate agent can’t read your mind so you will have to some of the major points worked out ahead of time. For example, price range, type of home – gated condo, house, etc. amenities (close to shops, outside town, and so on).
You can buy a house in Mexico without being a permanent resident so you don’t need any special visa to do so. There are a couple restrictions about buying property as a foreigner though. For example you cannot buy property within 100km of any border and within 50km of any coastline. It is still possible to do so but it becomes a bit more complicated. You will definitely want the help of a good real estate agent and notary.
Now that you’re ready to move it’s time to get into the actual process of moving. Let’s take a look at what items you can and cannot bring with you as well as what you will need to know for the physical move.
Permissible Goods (Goods you are allowed tio bring to Mexico)
Assuming you already have one of the above mentioned visas you are permitted to bring used household goods. Anything newer than 6 months old may be subject to import taxes. Household goods include things like furniture, clothing, appliances, artwork, books etc.
Prohibited Goods (Goods you are not allowed to bring to Mexico)
There are many items you cannot bring into Mexico legally such as firearms, certain medicines, illegal drugs etc. You can read a full list of items and more information here.
Household Inventory Certificate
In order to move your household goods into Mexico you will require a Household Inventory Certificate. To obtain a Household Inventory Certificate you will need to fill out an application as well as take certain documents to a Mexican consulate in your country of residence:
- Valid passport with four copies of all pages containing data
- Your Mexican temporary or permanent resident visa (with 4 copies)
- A passport size photo
- A typed inventory list of the goods you are importing (must be in Spanish) and 4 copies
- The first page must have the name of the person who holds the visa as well as both their current address and the address they will be moving to in Mexico
- The last page of the original list must be signed by the same visa holder
- The current fee is $127USD
Here's a list of Mexican consulates in the US and Canada
HERE’S A LIST OF MEXICAN CONSULATES IN THE U.S. AND CANADA
IF YOU ARE MOVING TO MEXICO YOU MUST START YOUR VISA APPLICATION PROCESS IN YOUR COUNTRY OF RESIDENCE. YOU CANNOT DO THIS FROM WITHIN MEXICO
1201 F Avenue, Douglas, AZ 85607
Tel: (520) 364-3142
Fax: (520) 364-1379
571 N. Grand Ave., Nogales, AZ 85621
Tel: (520) 287-2521
Fax: (520) 287-3175
1990 W. Camelback, Suite 110, Phoenix, AX 85015
Tel: (602) 242-7398
553 S. Stone Ave., Tuscon, AZ 85701
Tel: (520) 882-5595
Fax: (520) 882-8959
331 W. Second St., Calexico, CA 92231
Tel: (760) 357-3863
Fax: (760) 357-6284
2409 Merced St., Fresno, CA 93721
Tel: (559) 233-3065 * Fax: (559) 233-4219
E-mail: consulado (at) consulmexfresno.net
2401 W. Sixth St., Los Angeles, CA 90057
Tel: (213) 351-6800 * Fax: (213) 389-9249
201 E. Fourth St., Suite 206-A, Oxnard, CA 93030
Tel: (805) 483-4684 * Fax: (805) 385-3527
1010 8th St., Sacramento, CA 95814
Tel: (916) 441-3287
Fax: (916) 441-3176
293 North D St., San Bernadino, CA 92401
Tel: (909) 889-9837
Fax: (909) 889-8285
1549 India St., San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: (619) 231-8414 * Fax: (619) 231-4802
E-mail: info (at) consulmexsd.org
532 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94105
Tel: (415) 354-1700
Fax: (415) 495-3971
540 North First St., San Jose, CA 95112
Tel: (408) 294-3414 * Fax: (408) 294-4506
828 N. Broadway St., Santa Ana, CA 92701-3424
Tel: (714) 835-3069
Fax: (714) 835-3472
48 Steele St., Denver, CO 80206
Tel: (303) 331-1110
Fax: (303) 331-1872
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Washington (Embassy of Mexico)
1911 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20006
Tel: (202) 736-1000
Fax: (202) 234-4498
5975 S.W. 72nd. Street Miami, Florida 33143
TEL: 786 268 4900
FAX: 786 268 4895
100 W. Washington St., Orlando, FL 32801
Tel: (407) 422-0514
Fax: (407) 422-9633
2600 Apple Valley Rd, Atlanta, GA 30319
Tel: (404) 266-2233
Fax: (404) 266-2302
204 S. Ashland Ave. Chicago, IL 60607
Tel: (312) 738-2383
World Trade Center Building
2 Canal St., Suite 840, New Orleans, LA 70115
Tel: (504) 522-3596
Fax: (504) 525-2332
20 Park Plaza, Suite 506, Boston, MA 02116
Tel: (617) 426-4181
Fax: (617) 695-1957
645 Griswold Ave. Suite 1700, Detroit, MI 48226
Tel: (313) 964-4515
Fax: (313) 964-4522
1600 Baltimore, Suite 100, Kansas City, MO 64108
Tel: (816) 556-0800
Fax: (816) 556-0900
3552 Dodge St., Omaha, NE 68131
Tel: (402) 595-1841-44
Fax: (402) 595-1845
1610 4th Street NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102
Tel: (505) 247-4177
Fax: (505) 842-9490
27 East 39th. St., New York, NY 10016
Tel: (212) 217-6400
Fax: (212) 217-6493
P.O. Box 19627, Charlotte, NC 28219
Tel: (704) 394-2190
336 E. Six Forks Rd, Raleigh, NC 27609
Tel: (919) 754-0046
Fax: (919) 754-1729
1234 S.W. Morrison, Portland, OR 97205
Tel: (503) 274-1450
Fax: (503) 274-1540
111 S. Independence Mall E, Suite 310
Bourse Building, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Tel: (215) 922-3834
Fax: (215) 923-7281
200 E. Sixth St., Suite 200, Austin, TX 78701
Tel: (512) 478-2866
Fax: (512) 478-8008
724 E. Elizabeth St., Brownsville, TX 78520
Tel: (956) 542-4431
Fax: (956) 542-7267
800 N. Shoreline Blvd. Suite 410, North Tower
Corpus Christi, TX 78401
Tel: (512) 882-3375
Fax: (512) 882-9324
8855 N Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, TX 75247
Tel: (214) 252-9250 ext. 123
Fax: (214) 630-3511
300 E. Losoya, Del Rio, TX 78841
Tel: (830) 775-2352
Fax: (830) 774-6497
140 Adams St., Eagle Pass, TX 78852
Tel: (830) 773-9255 * Fax: (830) 773-9397
910 E. San Antonio St., El Paso, TX 79901
Tel: (915) 533-3644
Fax: (915) 532-7163
4507 San Jacinto St., Houston, TX 77004
Tel: (713) 271-6800
Fax: (713) 271-3201
1612 Farragut St., Laredo, TX 78040
Tel: (956) 723-6369
Fax: (956) 723-1741
600 S. Broadway Ave., McAllen, TX 78501
Tel: (956) 686-0243
Fax: (956) 686-4901
127 Navarro St., San Antonio, TX 78205
Tel: (210) 271-9728
Fax: (210) 227-7518
Salt Lake City
230 West 400 South, 2nd Floor, Salt Lake City, Utah 84047
Tel: (801) 521-8502
Fax: (801) 521-0534
2132 Third Ave., Seattle, WA 98121
Tel: (206) 448-3526
Fax: (206) 448-4771
710-1177 West Hastings St., Vancouver, B.C. V6E 2K3
Tel: (604) 684-1859
Fax: (604) 684-2485
Ottawa (Embassy of Mexico)
45 O’Connor Suite 1500, Ottawa, Ont. K1P 1A4
Tel: (613) 233 8988 * Fax: (613) 235 9123
199 Bay St., Suite 4440, Commerce Court West
Toronto, Ont. M5L 1E9
Tel: (416) 368-1847
Fax: (416) 368-8141
2000 Mansfield St. Suite 1015, Montreal, Que. H3A 2Z7
Tel: (514) 288-2502 * Fax: (514) 288-8287