Thursday, December 8, 2022

Extending tourist stay under Covid: an opaque, frustrating and sometimes impossible process

When the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020, the chaos it created threw up an unexpected roadblock for people staying in Mexico under the Forma Migratoria Múltiple, commonly referred to as the FMM, a visitor’s permit (not a visa) which allows people from many countries (including the United States, Canada, and the Schengen area nations) to remain in Mexico for 180 days as a tourist.

But with the coronavirus making many think twice about traveling back to their home countries in the middle of a pandemic, some (but not all) of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM) offices have been willing since last summer to extend an FMM for another 180 days. The process is by all accounts opaque, frustrating and, in some cases, impossible — but the requirements are fairly simple. You attest that because of Covid-19, you cannot return home.

However, not all offices will extend an FMM, warns Sonia Díaz, author of The Move to Mexico Bible and owner of a business based in Puerto Vallarta, the Riviera Nayarit and San Miguel de Allende that helps English speakers navigate Mexican bureaucracy. Some offices will tell you that with the borders to your country open and flights available, no extensions to FMMs will be granted, period.

So your first step is to do your homework and check first with your local immigration office. Some offices will refuse and advise you to overstay your FMM although that is illegal and you will likely face a fine for doing so when you exit the country.

“Even though INM is federal, each office has some autonomy when it comes to special programs,” Díaz said. “In Mexico, the greatest consistency is inconsistency.”

Your FMM should not yet be expired when you apply, she advised. However, if it has been expired for less than 60 days, some offices will still allow the extension but require you to prove your financial solvency, i.e., that you can afford to stay in Mexico. This can be somewhat onerous. See more about this at the bottom of this article.

Another option that became available last summer in some INM offices is a special one-year humanitarian temporary resident visa. However, this too is not available everywhere because it is an ad hoc adaptation of Mexico’s regular humanitarian visa — which was not meant to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

This new humanitarian visa frequently comes with a requirement for a validated doctor’s letter stating that you have health conditions that would endanger your life if you traveled outside Mexico and caught Covid, Díaz said. Again, check your local immigration office to find out if this type of visa is even offered there and what the requirements are.

This temporary visa does over some advantages over an extension of your FMM, the biggest being that it gives you a temporary CURP number, which is a federal identification number (not unlike a social security number in the U.S.) that allows you to do things an FMM does not, like giving you a card you can present everywhere as ID, getting a Mexican driver’s license and signing up for the Covid-19 vaccine on the nation’s vaccination website.

The humanitarian visa, in most cases, according to Díaz, does not require proof of financial solvency, but your FMM should not be expired when you apply.

Some things to know if you are asked to prove your financial solvency:

  • You must show evidence that you can support yourself and your family while in Mexico. The income requirements apply to each person in your family who is staying, including children.
  • Do a reconnaissance mission regarding financial requirements. According to Díaz, there is supposed to be a standard requirement: at least 35,848 pesos (US $1,715) per person in monthly salary or pension income or 1,792,400 pesos ($85,680) in assets, but your local immigration office staff hold the cards here. Ask beforehand.
  • Printouts of financial statements should be sufficient proof of your income and assets but be prepared to show up to 12 months of statements and know that INM officials may require your financial statements to be translated to Spanish.
  • If your name on financial statements and on your passport don’t match to the letter, immigration will probably give you trouble. “Names on passport and financials must match 10,000%,” said Díaz. “Larry R. Smith is not the same as Larry Robert Smith.”
    If you are caught in this position, one option may be to approach your consular office for a letter attesting to the fact that the two names belong to the same person.

Sonia Díaz’s Facebook page has more information about navigating extended stays in Mexico under Covid and other matters of Mexican bureaucracy.

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