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How Do Mexico's Immigration Laws Affect Expats?

November 13, 2013

Mexico's Ley de Migracion is probably one of the most asked about 'situations' in Vallarta today. Tropicasa Realty's Grace Ramirez explains what these laws mean for expatriates living in Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - This is probably one of the most asked about "situations" today in Vallarta by all of our Ex Pats and the immigrating community in our Bay: "How do I get a resident visa?" or "How do I get my expired documents actualized?" or "Now that I have my Permanente Residente status, what do I do with my foreign plated vehicle?"

Inmigrante, Inmigrado, FM-2, FM-3, FMM, FMT, Residente, Turista; the immigration laws have changed in Mexico over the last few years and there are all KINDS of information circulating regarding what foreigners can and cannot do here in Mexico. Before we delve into this subject, please keep in mind the following:

Lawmakers make the laws but are not the ones enforcing the laws in most cases. Enforcement can vary depending on location, criteria and interpretation.

Laws are often modified without contemplating their effect on related laws or subjects. For this reason there are often modifications made after the fact for the purpose of clarifying certain scenarios and concepts.

Mexico's laws are not made to offend any certain race, class or culture; remember, we are guests in another country and we must respect their laws as we expect that they respect ours.

Let's look at what we have:

In May of 2011 there was a big reform in the immigration law in Mexico. In many parts of this law, it referred to its corresponding Regulation, or Reglamento, regarding how to apply the new law. This Regulation was not published until November 8, 2012, so there was a period of time where we were sort of in limbo. Those of us with FM-3 and FM-2 (the big green books) were converted to No-Inmigrante, Inmigrante or Inmigrado status and given the small white cards. Those that used to come into Mexico with a Tourist Visa (FMT) were now given the generic FMM (which incidentally was also used by those of us with the small white cards).

Prior to the issuance of the November 2012 Regulation, foreigners were able to apply for the No-Inmigrante, Inmigrante or Inmigrado (small white cards) here in Mexico, converting from Tourist right here at the local immigration office. As of November 9, 2012, the immigration office no longer renewed or issued No-Inmigrante, Inmigrante or Inmigrado cards.

In the case of renewals, the local office DOES do renewals, but the old No-Inmigrante, Inmigrante or Inmigrado are now being converted to either Residente Temporal or Residente Permanente. Please see the link below or visit your local immigration office for information on requirements.

In the case of new applications or tourists wishing to change their status, the local office can NO LONGER begin this process and the process MUST begin at a Mexican Consulate abroad. Again, please see the link below or contact your local Mexican Consulate for information on requirements.

By November 8, 2013, the old No-Inmigrante, Inmigrante or Inmigrado (small white cards) will all expire and therefore we will all fall under the new Regulation.

Let's talk cars:

For those of you without cars or with Mexican-plated cars, you can stop reading now and go enjoy a margarita. For those who have temporarily imported (TIP) or plan on importing, temporarily or definitively, a foreign-plated vehicle, here is what you need to know.

The law that governs the importation of foreign vehicles is not the same law which governs immigration. For this reason (and many others!) the information on who can, and who cannot, have a foreign-plated vehicle in Mexico can be pretty confusing.

Although the immigration laws regarding the types of immigration status have changed, the mention or definition of those characteristics in the customs laws has not. The customs law, when discussing the requirements for temporarily importing a foreign-plated vehicle, still refers to FM-3 and FM-2 which effectively makes the procedure now obsolete.

This news just in (thanks to Luis Melgoza)

The guidelines for vehicular temporary import permits (TIP) used by Banjercito (Mexico's Armed Forces Bank, the TIP's issuing authority), were just modified to allow everyone - except Mexican citizens residing in Mexico and foreign Permanent Residents of Mexico - to temporarily import foreign-plated vehicles into Mexico exclusively through the expiration of the immigration document used to obtain the TIP.

In other words, Visitors for business or pleasure purposes (Tourists), Temporary Residents (Lucrativa, No Lucrativa or Students), Foreign Diplomats, people in transit through Mexico to a third country and Mexican citizens who are legal residents of a foreign country, may temporarily import a vehicle into Mexico.

However, prior to applying for a TIP, you must get an Immigration pre-authorization, which is available online, HERE. (The form is in English.)

The spouse of a TIP holder, regardless of nationality or immigration status - as long as s/he is legally in Mexico - may drive the spouse's vehicle covered by a valid and current TIP, whether the TIP holder is on board or not.

Regarding expired TIP: Only No Lucrativa (Rentista) Temporary Residents may apply for a TIP extension, which will be approved or denied on a case-by-case basis, within 15 days of the change in status from FM3 to Residente Temporal No Lucrativa.

Driving a foreign-plated vehicle in Mexico on an expired TIP or expired license plates and registration is illegal; the vehicle is subject to confiscation as contraband - not just of being impounded - and the driver may be subject to criminal charges.

I want to thank Maria O'Connor, Tropicasa In-House Legal Council, for all of her input and her support on this very important and delicate issue.

The following links contain more helpful immigration information:

If you are thinking about moving to Puerto Vallarta or purchasing vacation or investment property in the greater Banderas Bay area, contact Tropicasa Realty Agent Grace Ramirez at 322-294-1816 or grace(at)

Since 1997, Wayne Franklin and his team at Tropicasa Realty have been a trusted name in Puerto Vallarta real estate. Tropicasa Realty is the region's representative for "The Leading Agents of the World" and with over 100 years of combined experience in real estate, all agents of the company are affiliated with AMPI. Wayne Franklin or any member of his knowledgeable team can be contacted in-person at their Romantic Zone Office - Pulpito 145-A at Olas Altas or in their San Marino Office - San Marino Hotel at Rodolfo Gomez 111-4. While in PV they can be reached at (322) 222-6505 or by calling 866-978-5539 (Toll-Free) from the U.S.

Click HERE to learn more about Tropicasa Realty, or visit