……the hard way, by ourselves, without expert help. Never again, no way, no how.
We started this process in 2017 when we went to the Mexican consulate in Tucson with all of our papers, including financials. We met the qualifications for permanent residency immediately but opted for the 4 year temporary residency so that we could take our motor home south of the free zone.
The most western and northern part of the state of Sonora is referred to as the free zone, in that we are allowed to keep our US plated vehicles here. But we can only take them as far south as Empalme, about 20 miles from here. However, as a temporary resident we can get a 6 month vehicle permit for our car and drive it south or better yet, a 10 year temporary import permit for our motor home. Unfortunately, once we become permanent residents we can’t obtain a vehicle permit at all.
Getting temporary residency entails multiple visits to the immigration (INM) office in Guaymas, 14 miles from our home. Initially, only a one year temporary is given. One year later, people can get either the 2nd year by itself or apply and pay for three years altogether. The process requires pictures, fees paid at a bank, and multiple visits to the immigration office.
Our four years will be over December 6th and we have been sad about that because it means we can’t take the motorhome to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and anywhere else in Mexico. I went back and forth on whether to give up on residency and run to the border every 6 months for a visitor permit but decided against it.
Therefore, a few weeks ago we went to a photo shop to get pictures to begin the process of applying for permanent residency. Application cannot be started more than 30 days before the expiration of temporary residency. We had to go to Tucson two weeks ago and so we waited until Monday, a week ago today. A few days before that I read some comments on a Mexican Expat forum that going from temporary to permanent is very easy, requiring just one visit to the immigration office and people walk out with their permanent card. Not in Guaymas as we were soon to learn!
So we made the 28 mile round trip to the immigration office last Monday. Office closed. No reason. It wasn’t a holiday.
Tuesday – Back again except we arrived there at 1:15 and they don’t let people in after 1:00 because it takes at least one hour for each person. But the guard spoke to someone and made an exception since she had seen us there the day before. Take a number and wait and wait on the most uncomfortable benches imaginable. We thought we were ahead of the game because we found the appropriate form online to complete. Wrong. There were more forms to fill out to be returned the next day. Also, we had to go to the bank and pay the permanent residency fee of about $260 US each and bring back the receipt. Steve couldn’t get into the bank across the street it was so busy, so he walked 3 blocks to another bank and returned an hour later. Wait again. Back to the counter and the official made many copies and stamped everything.
Wednesday – Back with the other forms. Then the immigration official said it would be two weeks before we got our card because all the paperwork goes to Hermosillo. And since they took our temporary card away I mentioned we had to go to Tucson in a week and what would we use. Oh no! Big problem! We can’t leave the country while the process is ongoing. But, they would issue an exit letter for us and to return Friday to pick it up.
Thursday – Thanksgiving with friends listening to the ocean waves.
Friday – Long long wait again until our turn. I tried to horn in and get our letter but no, now it’s not possible to get a letter. Why, I don’t know. Instead they would speed up our paperwork for permanent. We were to return on Tuesday, do some more paperwork and then drive to Hermosillo to pick up our card. From there we would just go to Tucson a day early. Came home. Phone rang. Immigration. Sorry, but the immigration offices will be closed the entire following week because the officials have been called to fly to Guatemala in the morning for migrant processing at the southern border. Come back and we will give you an exit letter. That was another process that was just as involved and complicated as getting the initial temporary residency. First we needed photos. Aha, we have those that we thought we needed but then we didn’t need them but now we do. Go to the bank again with their form and pay a fee. This time it took 90 minutes until Steve got back. Wait our turn again. Then the letter and paperwork to go along with it took us until well past closing time. The INM official smiles and says the next time he sees us it will be easy. He will just hand us our card and say goodbye.
But it was a very worthwhile wait because I met the lady many people in San Carlos use to get their residency and do other legal matters. I told her our problem of now not being able to take the motorhome farther south in Mexico. She said we can because we already have the 10 year permit and it’s not expired. That this is what boaters also have that are residents. She is sure of it. And we just went through 4 years of temporary residency and didn’t need to!
Monday (today) – Immigration calls again and says sorry but they forgot to get the initial application fee from us and please return right away. The lady on the phone repeated several times that the fee is 114 pesos. About $5 US. I quickly looked in my wallet and had more than enough. Even though the INM office is closed, the guard was expecting us to pick up the form to take to the dreaded bank. Except the forms said 1410 pesos each. I didn’t have the cash. No sweat. The bank has an ATM. But Steve doesn’t like the bank across the street so we drove the 3 busiest blocks in Guaymas to the bank he does like. But their ATM was out of money. On to another bank, the one we northerners normally won’t use because they charge a very high commission and processing charge to buy pesos with our US debit card. The line was out of sight for their ATM’s. Long wait. I see Steve through the window leave the ATM machine with his credit card in hand. No money of course. He was so frazzled he tried to use a credit card instead of his debit card. Back in line. Just to get $200 dollars worth of pesos cost $8.50 US in fees. Then back to the other bank to pay the fee for INM. That took 45 minutes. Back to INM. This time the lady says that after we return from Tucson to come back and get fingerprinted. I said we already had fingerprints 4 years ago. It doesn’t matter. We must do them again. Also she looked in our file and said she doesn’t need those extra forms. Back home and phone is off the hook so we can get ready to go to Tucson day after tomorrow.
One last note: Other than the back office lady who called us, not one person spoke one word of English and we don’t speak Spanish, Everything had to be done using the translate app on our phones.