Do I Really Need a Visa To Live Here?

Only if you want to have legal status

The exact number of foreigners living in Baja is high, but there is no way to tally them accurately unless they are registered with INM, the National Institute of Migration. Perhaps as few as 10 – 15% of foreign residents possess a valid visa. INM is equal to the United States’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), except for customs issues that are conducted by SAT, the Tax Administration Service.

Ninety-million people cross yearly at Tijuana/San Ysidro. Last year, Tijuana registered two million visas; many who cross have long-term visas and don’t need to register, but not THAT many.

In 2016, 219,000 Mexican Nationals were deported from the United States to Mexico, 60,000 of them directly into Tijuana. Most of them did not cross illegally, but simply overstayed their visas. The same is true for foreigners currently in Mexico. Many Americans have held, at one time, a six-month visitor’s visa or temporary residential visa, but these documents need to be renewed!  You are in “fiscal jeopardy” if you continue to renew free or six-month visas if you are living in Mexico permanently.

Many officials can help you renew your temporary residential visa, and Visitor Visas may be obtained or renewed at the Chaparral/San Ysidro border crossing at the customs building, located at the far side of the southbound crossing lanes. It’s a simple and hassle-free procedure.

There is no “border free zone,” although border workers downplayed the legality of visitors needing a visa. It only takes about 15 minutes to stop and apply for a visitor’s permit (six months / $25) and about the same amount of time for a free seven-day visa.

To legally sign any document or agreement, your status must be valid and legal, including the signing of notarized documents, including  Mexican wills.

There are many reasons to possess a valid visa, other than legal status here. It provides for rights that are diminished without proper documentation. Your US-issued Mexican auto insurance may not pay off a claim if your residency is unclear. Medical insurance claims may also be at risk without proper documentation. In order to buy and sell property in Mexico, or to enter into a rental or lease agreement, you must have a valid visa,   Signing a contract illegally is akin to having no contract at all, leaving you at the mercy of unscrupulous landowners.

The number one concern for registering foreigners is personal safety. Registered visitors and residents, temporary or permanent, are monitored by the Mexican government and American Consulate. It is beneficial to you for these entities to know where you are in Mexico. Should you be the victim of an accident or other misfortune, proper documentation will be your best insurance of receiving the necessary assistance from either government.

Any obsolete visa or FM3 or other documents must be updated. Keep those documents with you at all times, in the event you are queried by authorities.

It’s your choice as to whether to procure permanent or temporary residency…well, almost: Most immigrados opt for the temporary residential visa, which may be issued for one, two, or three years. The fee rises with the number of years. Generally, a resident is allowed to obtain a permanent residential visa after three or four years of uninterrupted temporary status. A full time, or permanent residential visa incurs a one-time cost and never needs to be renewed, unless one’s physical appearance drastically changes. Then a simple replacement may be ordered, using a new photo. It IS possible for one to go straight to a permanent resident’s visa without going through temporary status. It doesn’t happen often, and one must show a higher level of monthly income or a sizeable bank account in order to be considered.

A super-important detail when traveling within the country is that the US passport alone is not always sufficient. A temporary or permanent visa is helpful, but also having a Mexican passport is advised.

If you enter Mexico and use your US passport as official ID at customs, your Mexican visa will no longer be valid, so you have to start your visa process all over again…from scratch! Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Remember how fun your visa process was? That will get you to bury that passport in the bottom of your luggage….

Why? Because you cannot legally have two different residency statuses in Mexico at the same time. You are either traveling as a Mexican resident (permanent or temporary) OR traveling as a US citizen. In Mexico you can’t be both. One’s permanent status is in danger of being voided, but temporary status will definitely be cancelled.

What about “dual citizenship”? It IS possible to be both a citizen of both countries, and legally in possession of two passports; citizenship changes at the border. While in Mexico, you have the rights and responsibilities of a Mexican citizen. In each country you have the rights and responsibilities thereof… totally legal! If you’re not too old, you may be conscripted into military service; with rights come responsibilities.

There is no amnesty, however. There is a periodic regularization program, the last being implemented in 2012. The current program is valid for those who arrived on or before January 9, 2015, and have never had a valid visa of any kind. The applicant must prove they have been living in Mexico since January 9, 2015, continuously, without ever returning to the US.

For more information, go to www.inm.gob.mx, or, in Rosarito, visit the office on the third floor of the government building; in Ensenada the office is located in Lopez Mateos St. #2025 (better known as first street). The FRAO (Foreign Residents Attention Office) in Rosarito can also answer most of your questions: www.Facebook.com/FRAO Rosarito; 01-661-614-9600, ext. 1080. They are located on the first floor of the government building. Just look for the twin flags of Mexico and the United States.

Ren Drake

Author: Ren Drake

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