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The permanent tourists: when will they ever learn?

2 September 2017

Via one of the “expat” sites:

 A couple, which has been “coming and going on 180 day tourist permits[FMM: technically not a “tourist permit”, but permission to be in Mexico, but not to work in Mexico, for a short period of up to 180 days] for several years” got off the plane recently, “they were then asked to step into the interrogation room and  to hand over their phone and laptop, along with the password for their email.  They hold an on-line job from outside of Mexico. They were questioned about where they live, how long and what was their source of income. The agent then discovered an email on the computer that was an exchange regarding a VBRO email. It was a rental confirmation for a house that they manage for a Canadian friend. The money went into a Canadian account but as far as he was concerned they had income in Mexico. The lecture they got included three main points. They had been residing in Mexico on FMMs intended for Tourists. They would need a Resident Visa to stay in Mexico. They were not permitted to work in Mexico. ´Managing´ Mexican property is a lucrative activity. Lastly they would be responsible for paying tax on the rental income. [Although given a 30-day tourist permit, if they wished to return, the immigration officer said they would need “to visit a Mexican Consulate and apply for residency.”

A lively thread followed, most comments coming from people with residency permits of one sort or another, most of them not particularly sympathetic to the couple.  I’ve been hearing more and more stories like this, and — at the same time — more and more posts from people planning to look for work after they arrive here.  While working “on-line” remains a possibility, or so far is overlooked by the authorities (how to tax income earned abroad is always problematic) I see a few trends developing.

The assumption that one is “entitled” to stay up to six months simply because you cross the border isn’t a given.  Mexico is not some technological backwater, and … although slow to do so… is updating and installing better software.  They can see where a person is continually coming and going as a “tourist” and is rightfully suspicious of those tourists whose entries indicate that they live here.  The Mexicans expect those foreigners living here are not likely to become public charges, and … as US and Canadian (and every other country’s immigration officers) … interrogate the would be visitor about their financial resources, intended destination, purpose for visiting the country, and other matters.  I haven’t heard of anyone denied entry (yet) as happens with some regularity at the US and Canadian borders, but I have run into people given shorter stays when their responses were inadequate.

A few years ago, when after our former employer’s business in Mazatlan had closed, and we had moved to Mexico City, my now spouse inadvertently overstayed his temporary residency permit (which permitted him to work).  It was a complicated situation, and at the advise of our attorney, he  returned to the United States for a few days, then flew back to Mexico expecting to receive a 180 day FMM, which would give ample time to resolve the problem. Not something easily explainable at 2 in the morning.  The 20 days he was given were a little hectic, and we’ve been told the immigration officer overstepped her authority, but that was an unusual situation.  And one we were able to resolve.

The couple in the post, and those “permanent tourists” who are working in Mexico in some way (which would include pet and house sitting… and, obviously, managing rental property) aren’t in some bureaucratic twilight zone, but are clearly violating the laws.  Giving them 20 days to make arrangements to either regularize their situation, or at least wrap up their affairs in the country (and, as supposed tourists, staying less than six months, there wouldn’t be much to wrap up) is relatively humane.  Most other places would just tell you to buy a return ticket on the next plane out.

Of course, having been an “illegal alien” at one time myself (working on a tourist visa, and not even bothering to renew it, to boot) I’m not going to say that this couple were “bad hombres” and — for all I  know — they may have just been victims of bad advise.  After all, the internet (and travel guides, and other foreigners) too often give bad advise. I have no idea if a FMM holder who is paid abroad for on-line work is considered working in Mexico (it would seem NOT YET) but they probably should avoid those jobs meant to earn income within Mexico, like property management, or sales of Mexican goods and services… including language lessons.

There are political considerations in all this, as well. Not so much in some “left/right” argument … between those who see the couple’s woes as some kind of “karmic payback” for mistreatment of less well heeled migrants to wealthier countries, or as some “hypocrisy” for the demands of justice for Mexican migrants who have run afoul of US immigration laws… but in the sense that the comments suggest that the more settled migrants (and expats) are less sympathetic to the “permanent tourists” than I’d thought. Perhaps it’s a feeling that having “gone through the channels” the resident visa holders see themselves as belonging, and the “permanent tourists” as interlopers on their community.  And, perhaps, the Mexicans are starting to agree… that the “tourists” are welcome to visit, but if they plan to stay, at least say so.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Gail permalink
    2 September 2017 1:50 am

    Work permits are easy and quick to obtain, at least in my experience, and are provided for a very small fee. Has anyone actually had difficulty obtaining one?

  2. mexicomystic permalink
    2 September 2017 2:23 am

    When Diaz Ordaz and Echeverria were Presidents I had to live by my wits… My wife who was born and raised in Puebla even lost “Rights” by being married to me, She wasn’t allowed to buy a house in her name. Everyday back then I’d see very leftist comments in the papers. Then things slowly smoothed out, Women became equal, Machoism started fading into the background. Now it’s more of a question of money.

  3. Allen Manana permalink
    2 September 2017 10:36 am

    AS Sr. Grabman points out, many people come to Mexico, get a 30 day visitor visa, and go directly to work. When, andif they leave, they “lost” their visitor visa. They don’t pay income taxes, rarely buy health insurance, and occasionally end up in the slammer. Most of those, that I met, were in Puerta Vallarta. Some complained that their cars were towed away, because of expired foreign plates.
    It is a growing problem. Difficult to be sympathetic, especially when a person has followed the rules.

  4. Lionel permalink
    7 September 2017 7:16 pm

    This allegation of email invasion sounds iffy to me. What was the source?

    • 7 September 2017 11:25 pm

      E-mail invasion? Not sure what you mean, other than mention of a report of aduana looking at the unnamed couple’s emails. Of course, I have no way of verifying that report, but it’s common enough at most border crossing to look at electronic communications. Perhaps it’s an invasion of privacy, but I’m not aware of any country in the world where you would have an expectation of privacy at a border crossing.

      • Lionel permalink
        8 September 2017 12:52 am

        Do you know where that report came from?

      • 8 September 2017 12:00 pm

        I think it was the facebook page “Foreigners in Mexico”, but there are a couple similarly named ones, so I won’t swear to it. But like I’ve said, I’ve heard of this happening more and more.

  5. Lionel permalink
    8 September 2017 12:39 pm

    Couldn’t find it anywhere, but Facebook doesn’t have the greatest search interface.

    I’d sure like to see a credibly-documented case of this kind of interrogation (with all due respect, this one isn’t). You realize a number of forums are pointing back to your article as a reference to this incident?

  6. Rebecca Ore permalink
    29 October 2017 10:23 pm

    Nicaragua is telling the perpetual tourists that they need to apply for residency or leave the country. One of the real estate hustlers is advising people that they don’t need to do this, and some of the perpetual tourists are blaming the recent warnings that people need to start a residency application before they make another visa run on local officious border officials, not policy. Same as in Mexico, the expats who do have residency or even nationalization consider the perpetual tourists to be problematic. A fair chunk of them have been wanted back in the US. Another chunk of them don’t have the minimum for two people to live on; some are working as “volunteers” for some of the sleazier hostels, bars, and hotels.

    One other person said that when his wife renewed her residency, they got a glance at her file and the Migracion folks were printing out things from their blog and from her Facebook posts.

    Someone doubted that the Nicaraguans had this all computerized (they’ve had it all computerized for quite some time) and didn’t know how they could see how many trips anyone had made over the years (in the passport, and on the server in Managua).

    I don’t think my income qualifies me to live in Mexico, but I have thought about making extended visits there from Nicaragua. Did a short trip to Mexico City last year, really liked it.

    Costa Rica apparently isn’t cracking down yet, but other countries here do appear to be a bit tired of. North Americans treating Latin America as a extension of their own country.

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