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No more “special rights” for serial tourists?

27 October 2021

Immigration consultant Pedro Luis Alvarez posted recently on some changes in Mexican immigration policy meant to correct the assumption that one can “live” here, or work from here indefinitely, and still be considered a tourist.

For years, people entering the country (especially those from Canada and the United States) with very rare exceptions, had permission to freely move about the country for up to 180 days. While this is reasonable for leisurely tourists, or “snowbirds” who spend a few months in a resort or rental cottage every winter, or academics on sabbatical, it’s become a standard in sales pitches to buy property in Mexico suggesting one can, without establishing residency (and, perforce, paying taxes) live out their lives here, only returning every six months or so to visit their “old country” for a day or two, return “home” paying a modest fee ($595 pesos… about 30 US$) each time.

That’s changing: the assumption being that if you WORK here (and that includes the so-called “digital nomads”) or for all practical purposes LIVE here, you are a resident. And, doing both makes you (as I was for a time), an “illegal alien” … though I prefer the much politer term, “mojado inverso”.

No one is going to claim the people taking advantage of the quirks in the immigration/tourism regulations were trying to pull a fast one (though, admittedly, many were), most never gave a thought as to what that moderate entry fee had to cover… the “normal” expenses the state racks up with any person living in their country… infrastructure, public security and safety, etc. That 30 dollars a pop probably doesn’t cover all the costs any individual tourist might casue a community to incur, though tourism in general as a revenue stream and “job creator” probably evens things out if one is talking about “ordinary” tourists, staying a week or a month or two at most. Whether the “job creation” (overwhemingly low paid service jobs) really is a route to “sustainable development” is another story.

Where there is a problem is when “tourists” are de facto residents (or income earners) and not contributing like they could… or should. Dividing the federal budget by the population (my calculations done literally on the back of the envelope), everyone in Mexico … citizen or not… needs to kick in about 18,500 pesos (or about 915 US$) a year.

Obviously, I am not suggesting raising the 180 day tourist fee to half that 915 dollars and, obviously, not everyone in Mexico pays anywhere near 18,500 pesos in taxes every year. However, what the government is “suggesting” is that those who are here, and stay here get with the program.


Cracking down on the misuse of tourist visas… not to punish travelers but to educate and inform… INM (the immigration service) agents are asking for more proof of travel itinerary when entering the country: hotel accommodations/dates, return flight tickets, length of stay, etc .

**Regular tourists ( typically planning to stay one to three weeks) are being given the appropriate time of 30 to 180 days depending on their itinerary.

** “Snowbirds” (based on their age and whether or not they are retired) would also be given “normal” visas up to 180 days as required. HOWEVER… if the “snowbird” owns rental property in Mexico, they will be expected to apply for residency. At least temporary residency until they can regularize their situation.

**Remote Workers and so-called “digital nomads” … which tend to be younger travellers… might just be temped to blend in with your normal everyday passle of tourists, but if INM agents suspect… based on your age, accomoation plans, requested lenght of stay, return ticket, etc., the screening is likely to be more intense than for other tourists. Agents are more likely to give shorter visa stayssituation based on age, accomodations, length of stay, return plane ticket, income source, etc. ).

**Border-Jumpers or Serial Tourists may be SOL if they thought their situation would last indefinitely. Updated computer software and equipment means INM records are synchronized and up-to-date. One’s trip history available to INM agents, and the agent can quickly idenify those who misuse tourist visas. Any one who stays for 180 days, leaves and comes back for another extended period within the same year is obviously living in Mexico and not their native country. Border-jumpers are now being flagged by agents and given short periods or simply denied entry. They can come back when they apply for residency (something they need to do back wherever they came from).

I expected something like this for years now, and I know this will hurt some people who never saw themselves as doing anything wrong (and are rightly upset). I don’t think I would have been able to establish myself here had these regulations been in effect 20 years ago. Nor, given the ridulously tiny social security pension I receive, could I have qualified for an income based visa today.

On the other hand, my stint as an “illegal” was long ago, and I just applied for, and received, a working visa, working for a Mexican employer, later becoming an “assimilated immgrant” (a classification that no longer exists), and a permanent resident. I’ve always thought that if I expected the same rights as anyone else in the country then I have the same duties… including the duty to at least say where I live.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 October 2021 8:23 am

    I had a similar history, I was an eternal tourist for years. Although I talked yo INM about citizenship, it was 1968 and the USA and Mexico were in turmoil, Echeveria and Diaz Ordaz were hostile and antiAmerican. Then things slowly calmed down towards tourists. The thing that made me decide to try again was 9/11, I sensed a change in the way things were going, INM was more friendly and since I had a Mexican wife and kids I suspect they let some things be more flexible. So I started working on documents I needed and after 6 years I became a citizen. I don’t think I could do the same thing over again now.
    Now it looks like they will get stricter, It’s all about money anyway…disenfranchisement of the underclasses. Echeverria passed a 30 day only visa for all tourists and Chapala started leaving in caravans until the Merchants screamed and it went back to 180 days. let’s see what happens this time.

  2. mexicomystic permalink
    27 October 2021 3:07 pm

    Another thought crossed my mind…. Because of political unrest in the USA. Maybe the Government thinks too many Gringos are coming in, Just like happened in Texas in the 1800’s. Especially Gringos that can’t assimilate or want to change Mexico into little America.

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