Archive for the ‘Expats’ Category

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5 Tips for Getting a Mexican Visa in Puebla

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

A sign at the INM office in Puebla.Dealing with “public servants” in any country, under any circumstances, can be a hassle at best. Applying for, or renewing, an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa* in Mexico rarely disappoints on this front. Two or three trips to the Instituto Nacional de Migración office in Puebla are pretty much a given, and if anything is amiss, four or five visits aren’t unheard of. Chalk it up to federal bureaucracy.

If that sounds like a pain, keep in mind that you, a foreigner, are asking for permission to linger in a country for which you do not hold a passport. For Americans, the process in Mexico is relatively straightforward and inexpensive — and generally far less intimidating than — what most Mexicans must endure simply to set foot in the United States.

The INM this month granted my request to reside in Mexico permanently, which means no more paperwork, fees, or trips to the immigration office for me (unless I lose my green card). Hooray! But running the gauntlet one last time and commiserating with other expats got me thinking about how frustrating, even intimidating, it can be to navigate the system. So, I thought I’d share a few basic tips based on my experience, in the hopes it makes applying for a visa in Puebla easier for others.

1. Enlist help. The first thing you need to know is that the INM does not make much useful information available in English, so it’s a good idea to get someone you trust who speaks Spanish fluently to assist you. Be wary of the English-speaking lawyers who linger around the INM office. Our friend Lewis hired one to help him and, after six weeks of doing very little, he says, the lawyer’s colleague tried to charge him double the original quote of 2,500 pesos. Another friend relied on her employer’s legal department to stay on top of her visa’s renewal, which proved to be an even costlier error. Don’t make the same mistakes yourself. If you haven’t broken any rules, such as overstaying your welcome, you probably don’t need a lawyer, just a reliable translator.

2. Visit the INM. Ample information about Mexico’s visa requirements is available online in Spanish on the INM’s website. (There’s even a goofy video tutorial.) General information about migratory documents is available online in English from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. However, you may save yourself time (and potential headaches) by going directly to the INM office in Puebla. Staff and volunteers at the Information Window can explain what you need to do given your personal situation. Simply tell them what you aim to do, such as renew a visa or petition to change your status, and politely ask for a list of the documents you need to submit to complete the task. Note that you do not need to take a number and sign in to visit to the Information Window; you only do so when you come back to turn in all of your paperwork.

3. Ask questions. Take your time at the Information Window. If you don’t understand what’s required of you, keep asking questions until you do. During my most recent visit, a volunteer even walked me through the online registration process on a computer in the waiting area, so I could go home and repeat the process, print out my completed forms, and make copies of them. Currently, most of the visa application process must been done online in Spanish; if you don’t have access to a computer, you can go to one of several Internet cafes nearby, rent web-browsing time, and print documents for a fee.

4. Obey the rules. You are required to submit your application and payment to the INM before your current visa expires; once you’re in the government’s system, you’re on record as being in the country legally, even if you don’t receive your new visa until after the old one expires. (That said, I wouldn’t try to leave the country without the new visa in hand.) To formally apply for a visa, take everything that’s required of you — your original documents, receipts, and copies of them, plus color photos of yourself — to the immigration office, get a number from the security guard at the front door, sign in, take a seat, and wait to be called. If everything’s in order, you’re done. If something’s amiss, you’ll have to address the issue as directed and come back later.

5. Follow up. Once you’ve met all of the requirements, your case will be entered into the system and assigned a number. You should follow its progress online, where you’ll be notified when to come back and pick up your visa. The process typically takes two weeks, but this may vary based on the volume of requests the INM is handling at any given moment.

The INM office in Puebla, located at Avenida Reforma #1907 in Col. Barrio San Matías, is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Would you like to share your tips for making the visa-application process easier (or recommend an English-speaking assistant in Puebla)? If so, please leave a reply below.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

* U.S. citizens are typically allowed to stay in Mexico as tourists for 180 days at a time without a formal visa; the allowances for visitors of other nationalities vary. The number of days that you, personally, may remain here are written on the paper tourist card you received when you entered the country. You must leave — or go to an INM office to request an extension — before this time period elapses. If you are a citizen of a country for which the INM requires a tourist visa, you must apply for one at the Mexican Embassy or Consulate nearest you before traveling to Mexico.

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Finding the Right School for Expat Kids in Puebla

Friday, August 9th, 2013

This is a guest post by Patricia Patton, who lived in Puebla with her family from June 2012 to July 2013. She wrote it to share their positive experience at the Instituto Mexicano Madero with other parents who may be considering a similar move.

Instituto Mexicano Madero, photo by Patricia PattonOur family headed south from Pennsylvania to Puebla in the summer of 2012 with a few goals for the school year. Developing our children’s fluency in Spanish was high on the list. So, instead of sending them to the Colegio Americano (aka the American School), which caters to English-speaking expats, we wanted to enroll them in a local school where they would be fully immersed in the language and culture.

Our boys—who were 7, 11, and 14 years old at the time—were understandably nervous about spending the entire school day in Spanish, a language that they struggled to understand and speak. Enrolling them at the Instituto Mexicano Madero was our compromise. As a private bilingual school, IMM would offer them some instruction in their native tongue. However, the fact that almost all of the other children were Poblano ensured that, in addition to taking their classes in Spanish, our kids would almost certainly have to speak Spanish with their new friends outside of school.

The structure of the school day was somewhat similar to school in the United States. Our two younger sons, who attended primaria (elementary school), had two teachers—one who spoke English and one who spoke Spanish. They spent half their day with each teacher, with a lunch/recess time between. Students usually pack a lonchera, or light lunch, but there is also a “cafeteria” that offers snacks for sale. As in almost all Mexican schools, students wear uniforms to class each day.

My oldest son was in the third year of secondary school (equivalent to ninth grade in the States). He was assigned to a group and a room, with teachers who rotated in and out with each new period and subject. Students in secundaria were given two breaks a day of about 20 minutes each to eat and relax with friends. The IMM has basketball, soccer, and volleyball courts available to the students along with plenty of open space. (With as much energy as young teens have, I think that twice-a-day recess for junior high students would be a great idea to adopt in the U.S. as well!)

Instituto Mexicano Madero, photo by Patricia PattonOverall, our experience with the IMM was amazing. The academic standards were impressive and challenging. The English portion of the day was more than an extended language course: It was content-based with grade-level classes in specific subjects, such as health and computers. The lessons were interesting and varied, and the teachers were kind and caring. Perhaps most importantly, everyone at the school, from the front office staff to the parent organization, was ready and willing to help us and our kids figure out how to succeed in a Mexican school. Administrators answered our endless questions — mainly in Spanish, but they brought in the English coordinator to help my husband (whose Spanish is spotty at best) understand when I couldn’t be there. They even accompanied us to the Secretary of Education (SEP) offices to register our children.

Of course, we also experienced our share of challenges along the way. Often this involved situations in which we understood all the words in Spanish but couldn’t figure out their intended meaning. The school supply list asked me to send in a bolsa de alegrías—a bag of happiness—and I had no idea what that could possibly mean. (Turns out, it’s a popular candy made of puffed amaranth seeds.) The teachers reminded me to add dots to my youngest son’s notebooks. Dots? What kind of dots? Where? WHY? We made not one, not two, but three separate attempts before my son’s science fair poster was completed correctly. At times, the cross-cultural challenges were slightly overwhelming!

In the end, we had an incredible experience that was well worth our extra efforts. My kids are now fluent in Spanish, and we experienced Mexican culture in a way that never would have been possible if the boys had been homeschooled or had attended a U.S.-style school for expat children. I would highly recommend IMM to any parent considering bringing their children to Puebla.

—Patricia Patton

The Instituto Mexicano Madero is located at 19 Poniente #503 at 7 Sur in Puebla’s historic center. It also maintains a satellite campus, known as Zavaleta, on the Camino Real a Cholula. Both offer classes for children from preschool through high school. As with most Mexican private schools, the IMM requires children to complete a series of admissions and placement exams before enrolling. These comprise questions in both English and Spanish, with parts that focus on knowledge as well as aptitude and learning style.

Want to read more about the Patricia’s experiences in Puebla? Check out the Patton family’s blog at ourmexicanyear.tumblr.com. There you’ll find a post about IMM’s graduation ceremonies, its spelling bee, and a science fair. (The photos depict the elementary school’s science fair (top left) and the sixth-grade color guard (bottom right) performing the national flag ceremony at an assembly.)

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