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5 Tips for Getting a Mexican Visa in Puebla

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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9 Responses to “5 Tips for Getting a Mexican Visa in Puebla”

  1. Tricia says:

    I spent many a morning killing time at the INM office in Puebla, dealing with my own and my kids’ visas. Here’s my advice, for what it’s worth…
    *Take a good book with you!
    *It seems as though many folks arrive when the office first opens in hopes of getting in before the rush. I tended to find shorter waits later in the morning, actually.
    *Don’t be too frightened if the queue is moving slowly. Sometimes twenty minutes will pass without any numbers being called, but then ten numbers will fly by in just a minute or two.
    *Smile, say please and thank you, and don’t be afraid to ask them to walk you through the whole process. I found they were usually perfectly willing to write down exactly what I needed to do next, including documents I should gather, payments I should make, etc. Then when I returned, I could show whomever waited on me the to-do list I had been given, and report on what I had accomplished, or what I still had questions about.

    Congratulations on your permanent residency status, Rebecca!

  2. Rebecca says:

    Great tips, Tricia — thanks for sharing them! We had the same experience re: shorter waits; arriving mid-morning seems to be the best bet.

  3. Mindy says:

    Hi Rebecca, uncanny that we were both in and out of there around the same time! Sorry I missed you. I have come to know the INM pretty well over the last month and a half, after my permanent visa was stolen (in a pickpocketing incident), and I had to apply for a duplicate.

    A word to the wise: TAKE GOOOOOD CARE of that card once you get it; it never expires as you know, and the replacement cost me close to 4,000 pesos. Before I went, I called the INM (number is on their website), spoke to a real person as opposed to a machine, who told me what I needed to do and bring, etc. Very convenient, although, I must admit, we spoke in Spanish, so I don’t know how it would have gone in English. Had I known I would need to pay before starting the process, I would have downloaded the bank format from their webpage.

    As it was, when I got there the first time, the security guard at the door told me where I could get my pictures — right down the block, and the woman at the papelería was great! Then I went back, got my number and there was a wait … luckily, I had a good book plus my current crochet project, so I didn’t mind. When it was my turn, they gave me the bank format, and I ran to the bank to pay, getting back just in time to finish the filing process before they closed. (NOTE: BE SURE TO MAKE TWO COPIES OF THE BANK RECEIPT WHEN YOU GET IT. YOU WILL NEED THEM and the INM won’t make them for you!)

    Total time spent at the INM and running around: 3 hours. The next two visits were very fast. You get a tracking number, and you can simply find out for yourself when to go and do the other things, and on those visits, you don’t need a number. Your case is already there, and you just go to the correct ventanilla and complete your step. All of the people were friendly.

    One last interesting observation: In contrast to my last card, this one is really GREEN. So, we can really refer to them accurately as our green cards! COOL! Saludos!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Hi Mindy! Thanks for your insights. I’m sorry with missed each other too. And what a bummer about your permanent residency card. I avoid losing mine by leaving it at home. Although I suppose that legally I am supposed to the card with me at all times, I don’t: I make a two-sided color copy of it and keep that in my wallet to use as ID. I only carry the real one when I leave the country. So far, I haven’t had any problems. Fingers crossed that that continues!

  5. Becca says:

    I’d second the “ask questions” part. During my most recent visit, with a coworker who was also getting his visa, the employee who attended him told us to wait a few minutes while they processed his papers, but when they never called him back to the counter, it turned out that the empoyee was wrong, and my coworker was actually supposed to come back in three weeks.

    Another time, a lawyer told me that I wouldn’t get a fine for my visa expiring while I was out of the country, then when I had to renew it, the people at Immigration tried to fine me for it being expired (and then didn’t when I explained my situation). So it’s always a good idea to come prepared to ask questions and to double-check what you’re told!

  6. maria austria says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    I really enjoy reading your blog. Could you please help me? I’m trying to find an
    accountant here in Puebla who can help me file my IRS declaration. I am a
    U.S. citizen, retired from UAP and living on a pension.

  7. Rebecca says:

    Hi Maria,

    I’m glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks for saying so! I typically do my own taxes (or work with accountants in the States on IRS filings). However, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City may be able to recommend someone in DF or Puebla who is familiar with current U.S. tax laws. Contact American Citizen Services at acsmexicocity@state.gov or 01-55-5080-2000.

  8. Veronica&Lawrence says:

    Hi! My husband and I found your blog very helpful, educational and upbeat! We have been considering retiring in Mexico for many years and have visited a few times.. The exact spot is as yet not decided; however, Puebla and Cholula sound wonderful. We have a few questions:1)We would like to find a specialist in pain management as we deal with a neurological and muscular d/o and are happy to say we are doing much better! Is there a list of recommended physicians we could contact ahead of a visit to one of the states and cities we will visit prior to coming back to the U.S. and finishing preparations;2)We have a wonderful, intelligent, and loving assistance Golden Retriever named Molly Brown who is a big part of our life – are there apartments that will lease to someone with MB? She is kept very well brushed and she sees her veterinarian for physicals and shots every year. We are very conscientious parents to MB, and clean up after her when we take her out for walks and she only barks if she senses a threat at the front or back door. Now, we give her a verbal “heads up” by telling her someone is on their way over and she seems to just wait, anxiously, by the front door. Our vet said to let her know 7-10 days prior to our trip so the letter will be up to date; 3)Is there a listing for apartments or a small house to rent that we can review while in the area or ahead of time? One last statement requires a true or false response: A young woman at the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia,PA told me that if we flew down and found the spot we wanted to call our new home,; found our physician; signed a rental/lease agreement that when we flew back to finish up all other preparations, she could help us fill out paperwork to apply for an FM3 status, ahead of returning to our new home in Mexico. T/F? She added that we would have several documents to provide them with. Congratulations on your new and very happy and satisfying life and love! Thanking you for your help, in advance. Can we meet for coffee or lunch if we end up making Puebla one of our stops? Thanks, again Rebecca and many blessings. Veronica & Lawrence

  9. Rebecca says:

    Hi Veronica & Lawrence. I’m glad you’re finding the blog helpful and — wow! — you have a lot of great questions. I’ll do my best to answer a few of them:
    – I do not have a list of physicians, but U.S. Citizen Services at the American Embassy in Mexico City may be able to provide one.
    – Many landlords in Puebla are fine with animals. You may want to work with a local real estate agent who knows the laws regarding service animals (vs. pets). As with all rentals, you will likely need someone local (such as an employer) to co-sign on the lease if you are unable pay several months in advance. You may want to check with SAGARPA on the latest rules for bringing animals to Mexico from other countries.
    – It’s my understanding that, as of November 2013, foreigners may no longer change visa status from tourist to FM2 or FM3 in Mexico. You must do this at a Mexican embassy or consulate in the U.S.
    That’s what I can tell you, based on my personal knowledge. I invite you to join our expat mailing list. Good luck with your move!