If you’re an American or other expat headed south of the border with plans to stay awhile, then you’ll be needing an FM-3 visa, also referred to as a temporary residents’ or residency visa.
As someone who has gone through the process of acquiring the FM-3 visa (and renewing it, which is a whole other hoop-jumping ordeal), I’ve got a few insider’s tips to share:
*Suck it up and hire a lawyer: I’m a big penny pincher and tend to do things the hard way rather than fork over the dough to pay for expert help. I did not, however, extend my spendthrift habits to the visa acquisition process and you shouldn’t either.
Although you can renew your visa on your own (more on that in a bit), you will save time, energy, and even money by hiring a lawyer to prepare and submit your initial FM-3 application. Immigration lawyers in Mexico City practically live in the immigration office, often know the agents personally, and have developed very useful networking relationships with the people who will review, approve, and expedite your application.
Without a lawyer, you are far more likely to see your application end up in a foot-tall stack of papers, not to be seen for months. Aren’t sure how to look for a lawyer? Feel free to e-mail me for some advice.
*Got a lawyer? Get a contract: You’ve got your lawyer. Now, you need to make a contract regarding the terms of service that he or she will be providing. Do NOT pay the full amount requested up front. Indicate your willingness to pay in installments as each step in the submission and approval process is fulfilled. Pay only when you receive confirmation (in the form of an official document from immigration, for example, that your application has been submitted) that the task has been fulfilled. Be certain to ask if the quoted price is fixed or whether additional charges are possible. If you are told that the price is fixed, be sure to write this on the contract and emphasize that you will not pay additional fees without prior authorization.
*Detail methods of contact: You’ve got your lawyer, you’ve got your contract. Now, make sure you have your lawyer’s contact information: phone, cell, e-mail, and fax. If you’ll be interfacing with your lawyer from another country, be sure you have a reliable means of communication to be in touch with him or her. Ask when you can expect to receive updates and follow up if you do not receive them.
*Smile and say cheese: For some reason I fail to understand, the world’s governments refuse to accept photographs for official documents that are of a uniform size. The photos you will need for the FM-3 visa have very strict specifications and you will save yourself time and money by having them done in Mexico. There are numerous businesses around Mexico City’s immigration office that offer photo service. And spring for an extra set. You never know when you’ll need them.
*Make copies of everything. When traveling or living abroad for an extended period of time, it is always a good idea to have at least two sets of copies of all of your important documents: passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate (if applicable), three months’ worth of bank statements, last year’s taxes, and proof of employment or economic solvency. You will also need copies of your rental contract or property deed and copies of a utility bill (though not the light bill; take several different utility bills, just in case). Always keep one set of these documents handy for your own reference, and have an extra set prepared to submit upon request to immigration.
Also, any time you submit a document, be sure to make at least one copy (two copies=better) for your records. And be sure to carry coins with you if you’ll be visiting immigration; copy shops are next door and despite your preparedness, you will inevitably need another copy of a document.
*Celebrate and notate: Once you’ve received your FM-3, kick back and have a cold Corona. But be sure to make a copy of your new residency visa and to note your residency number in a separate place.
RENEWING YOUR FM-3
The FM-3 must be renewed each year. You can do this without the aid of a lawyer, if you have observed the process carefully the first time, have maintained impeccably organized records, and are willing to negotiate the whims of bureaucracy independently. Do NOT wait until the last minute. Ask for information about the documents necessary for the renewal at the information desk inside immigration, and document each step (date, name of person to whom you submitted your documents, the number of your application) as it occurs. As of this writing, you’re likely to be quoted a 30 day turn-around time; however, due to corruption and a cleaning out of the agency, processing times are often much longer.
Photo: Lucy Nieto (creative commons)