5 Tips for Getting a Mexican Visa 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.