Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Today was the day I was going to ease myself into my Mexico move.

I have decided to apply for an FM3 visa to live in Mexico. It is effectively a resident visa that will allow me to stay in Mexico for a year, and is renewable for a total of five years. The visa is designed for retirees (among others) who intend to stay in Mexico longer than the six months allowed by a tourist card (FMT).

There are two primary ways to obtain an FM3: enter Mexico on an FMT and convert it to an FM3 in Mexico -- or get an FM3 at a Mexican consulate before entering Mexico.

I have heard enough tales about the frustrations of getting or renewing an FM3 in Mexico that I decided to at least initiate the process at a consulate -- because the bureaucracy would certainly be easier to deal with in the States -- that was my presumption.

The Mexican consulate in Portland has a helpful web site in Spanish -- and an even more helpful bilingual telephone recording. From the recording I learned that the consulate provides FM3 services on limited weekdays from 12 non to 1:30 PM.

On Monday, I started my day leisurely and arrived at the consulate. There was no missing the place. In addition to the national symbols of the seal and flag of Mexico, a large number of Mexican nationals were milling around the entrance.

I soon found out why so many people were outside. What I took for the lobby was packed with people holding piles of papers. And there was absolutely no order to the mass of people.

I did a quick room scan and found a counter with three signs: "Información," "Uno," and "Dos." Even with my limited Spanish, I knew what the signs meant, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do.

I asked several people in the lobby where I should start. They pointed to the "Información" sign (that made sense) and then pointed to a queue that snaked into another waiting room.

Waiting in the queue would be futile. The "Información" counter was the closet to the door. Each new arrival simply squeezed into the line right there. And the people who made it to the front of the line continued to stand there after being helped.

Because I had arrived at noon, I thought I had hit a busy period. So, I wandered off to lunch.

Two blocks from the consulate, I had my choice of Lebanese, Indian, Persian, or Japenese. (At moments like this, I wish I worked in Portland.) I chose the Lebanese -- and had a great meal. (When the bill came, I realized why I enjoy living in Salem, instead of Portland).

Refreshed, I went back to the consulate around 1:00 PM. The crowds were worse. Some of the people who were blocking up the queue on my initial visit were still blocking it.

Like William Wallace, I conducted a tactical withdrawal knowing I could fight another day.

On the drive home, I ran it all through my head. How could the process have beat me down? I was merely seeking information to apply for the visa. The fact that I could not even get near the information counter -- nor figure out a way to get there -- was the problem.

I have decided to give it another try later in the week. Maybe Mondays are simply busy days.

Or I could wait until I get to Mexico. I have my passport (and copies), my passport photos, my application, and my monthly bank statements (for a full year -- and copies). According to the web site, that should be all I need.

I have learned, though, that I am certainly not ready to deal with the vagaries of Mexican bureaucracy. I still have no idea what the "uno" and "dos" counters were supposed to be. Maybe I will find out later this week. (I can hear several of you now: "What makes you think they stand for anything at all?")


Laurie said...

Start the process in the US. If you think the process seems bewildering there, just wait until you are on the other side of the border. I waited in a line that snaked outside of the US Consulate in Tegu for 1/2 a day with a friend once. The line was measured in blocks not in yards. And lots of people were holding places for someone else who were waiting in cars or coffee shops. Don't put it off.

Bob Mrotek said...

Take some advice (for a change). The only thing you will get from the Mexican Consulate is a Visa sticker that you glue inside your passport. It is good for one year and it is worthless if you want a renewable FM3. You will still have to go through the entire FM3 process in Mexico. The process in Mexico requires nothing more than lots of patience. You can do it yourself and it will be a good learning experience. Just remember to disconnect the "logical" circuitry of your brain and lower your expectations a bit. Don't worry about it either. Everything will turn out alright...eventually :)

Calypso said...

Welcome to the fray! Anita was able to get her first FM3 book in 3 hours from start to finish (in Denver).

I know you have read enough about it.

This last time a few weeks ago, a renewal, went pretty easy save showing up a few days late (cost an extra 254 pesos).

Getting an FMT and then the FM3 in Mexico may be the way to go - there certainly will be a lot less people to deal with.

By the way you latest bank statement is probably enough. I screen captured mine and then used Photoshop to delete the acct. numbers and convert values to pesos - looked like it was made that way and was accepted no problemo ;-)

The fun is just beginning. The most important thing here is to have the patience of a saint. Getting your blood pressure up will only make it tougher.

The key to survival in Mexico is tranquility.

Babs said...

Sorry it didn't work out. Strange that there would be that many people there.
In addition to the things you are planning to take, you must have a bill (Telephone, cable etc.) with your name on it OR your lease of the house in Melaque to prove that you intend to live full time in Mexico.
You can renew your FM-3 forever, not just 5 years. I've had mine 9 years and have no intentionof changing to an FM-2 ever.
Good luck on your next visit.

Islagringo said...

I about peed my pajamas reading this post! All I can say is, welcome to Mexico and how we live!

Gary Denness said...

Welcome to what will probably be a recurring feature for you in Mexico! Well, I speak for DF of course - it could be easier where you will be.

You will come across so many bureaucratic shambles and general craziness in Mexico that will have you asking 'Why?'.

The answer is 'This is Mexico'. It is the simple explanation for everything.

Larry Prater said...

Steve, when I was living in Oklahoma I was able to call the Mexican Consul in Kansas City (where I was required to go) and get information and also make an appointment about my FM3. I notice on the web page for Portland Mexican Consul there is a phone number, and also an application form for a Visa that you could print out and fill out and take with you. If you call there, they surely have someone who speaks English to talk with you. It would certainly be better to have an appointment before you go.

Larry Prater said...

Steve, now I remember that I actually only had to go to the consul in KC once, and that was to pick up my FM3. I did all the application by phone and mail. This may not be allowed in Portland, but you should check on that possibility.

Larry Lambert, Mazatlan said...


Consider anew what Bob and Calypso said about getting your FM3 here. Within 30 days of your arrival you're going to have to go through the process again anyway. And it's going to be quite different from what you might experience in Portland.

Most people I know who got their's up north realized how difficult and confusing it can be. This is compounded by each consulant using a different procedure. And different people on different days have different requirements.

Down here the confusion factor varies by where you live, but getting it in Mazatlan (for example) isn't difficult at all. And less paperwork is required here, anyway. Do you know where the office is at your new home, and talked to anybody that's been through the process there?

As Babs pointed out, your FM3 can go on forever. It's just that in five years they replace the visa book you will receive. Also, consider taking three months' of bank statements and utility bills, just in case they want to see a pattern. CFE seems to be the most universally accepted, but telephone or cable should work as well.

Remember, "go with the flow!" Make it your mantra, and even driving is easy here. Well, almost.


Theresa said...

Steve, we got our FM3 in sacramento, it was really easy. My advice is to bring everything you think you need and start the process, it doesn't make sense to go and get information since it's available on the website.
Also those lines may not pertain to you. Sac has a big Mexican population and there were hundreds of people doing transactions but only about 3 other people were getting visas! We didn't have to stand in any line for very long. I advise that you go early and bring a book, if you bring music there is a chance you may not hear your name being mangled over the PA.
You can also get your truck importation sticker at the same time (we didn't do it but I have heard that is possible) one less thing to have to do at the border.

Steve Cotton said...

I thought this post would elicit some comments. And thoughtful they are.

Laurie -- I am going to give it one more try. Now that I know what I am facing, I am going to see if there is an alternative process at the consulate. If not, I will not worry about it.

Bob -- The problem with following advice (as you can see) is that everyone has very god advice -- even when it is contradictory. What I need to do is turn off the lawyer side of my brain. Logical problem-solving is not going to get me through this. Faith and patience will.

Calypso -- One piece of information I wanted to get was about bank statements. I will be applying for a retirement FM3. But all of my bank statements indicate my current salary -- because I am not yet retired. My Air Force retirement is adequate for FM3 purposes, but I have had only one deposit -- and it was for only a partial month. That may be reason enough to wait until I get to Mexico. But I was hoping to get some guidance in Portland.

Babs -- We have a very large Mexican national population in Oregon and a large American citizen population with a Mexican heritage. But I did not expect that they would all be meeting on the same day in one place. Thanks for the reminder on the housing agreement. It appears nowhere on the list of documents. But I had picked up that hint from other posts.

Islandgringo -- When I was writing the post, I thought of you -- and what details to include.

Gary -- I have had my experience with international bureaucracy, but yesterday was a real eye opener. It made Brazil look like a model of German efficiency.

Larry P -- Thanks for the suggestion. On the drive back to my house, I decided to do exactly what you suggested. Unfortiunately, I cannot get a real live person to answer the telephone. I suspect they may all be on that counter trying to help people in the office. In the 1960s, the consul was a dentist. Getting anything done was as simple as setting up an appointment for an extraction. I think that is what I was expecting.

Larry L -- One of my blog correspondents lives in Melaque. He has volunteered to accompany me to the Manzanillo office to work through the process -- whether I get my FM3 in Portland or start afresh in Mexico.

Theresa -- I am going to give it one more try (with a bit of telephone preparation, if that is possible). Otherwise, I will just wait to do it all in Mexico. I would like to get my vehicle permit ahead of time. It will be one less thing to worry about with Jiggs in the truck.

Larry Lambert, Mazatlan said...

Steve - You can get your sticker online as well, and have it delivered to your house.


Gary Denness said...

Bob, I did try and find a contact email for you, but couldn't see one. I was going to divulge a little more info on this subject on the QT. If you get the chance, send me a mail.

Brenda said...

Here our bank statements must have the banks stamp on them. They will not accept a printout from the computer as they say it could be forged. Don't know how that lines up with anyone elses experiences; but it is what it is here.
Our power bill does not have our name on it and that is fine, they just want it to verify your address, I think. Who knows!!!

Babs said...

Don't forget Mexican car insurance before you cross the border!!!

Michael Dickson said...

Six months is the maximum on a tourist visa. You do not automatically get six months. The immigration guy can give you whatever he feels like giving you. Better pay attention before you slip it into your wallet.

Boy, I sure had far less trouble getting my FM3 every year (back when I had to mess with visas) than the situation you describe there in Portland. I'd get it down here.

Steve Cotton said...

Larry L -- Online? Really? Do you have the site? That type of frustration I can withstand.

Gary -- If you want to share this way, try srcotton AT comcast DOT net.

Brenda -- The logo is another reason I wanted to handle the transaction up here. When I move down, I will no longer have hard copy bank statemets.

Babs -- Car insurance is on my list. Unfortunately, I will also have to pay insurance on my truck in Oregon. No way around the double payment.

Michael -- I felt as if I had wondered on to the set of a war refugee film. Maybe it was simply a bad day. I will watch the days on the FMT.

Larry Prater said...

www.banjercito.com is the site for car permits by mail. Why would you have to pay car insurance on your vehicle in OR if your vehicle is in Mexico?

Anonymous said...

Steve, the acronym and gesture you need to get through this and anything else thrown at you later is a slight shrug of the shoulders with your hands slowly turning to palms up out in front of your body as you say TIM

This Is Mexico and you will never forget it for as long as you live here. Each year I pay my Mexican accountant to do my FM3 renewal...I figure it saves me from apoplexy and possibly saves the life of some pompous immigration official.

By the way, getting your temporary vehicle importation permit at the border with or without Jiggs is easy...I have done it multiple times.

Brenda said...

Steve, it is not the bank logo that they require, it is a bank stamp with a date on it, showing that it is current within a few days. We do not get hard copy statements either, we went paperless on everything before we moved. What we did is this: we arranged with our bank before we moved that we could do business with them by email or phone. So when I need this I call or email them and they print out a statement of all our banking stuff, put their stamp on it with the date, they then fax it to my accountant who then scans it and emails the scan to me. I print it off and take it with me to migration. I know it sounds rather convoluted but it works or has so far. I tried just printing the info off of the internet as Calypso said he did; but they would not accept that here, saying that it could be forged if it didn't have the banks stamp on it.
Here they are also requiring that you have a mexican bank account, it doesn't have to have much in it; but they want you to have one.

ken kushnir said...

Welcome to Mexican life!
Everyone's experiences are correct, but.....it changes every time and person you see. Get use to it! And take it easy! The sooner you understand and go with the flow and do not let anything bother you the happier you will be.

Theresa said...

We got our actual FM3 in Sac, plus the stamp in the passport. We didn't have proof of where we were going to live, they didn't care, when we arrived and registered the visa we brought a comprobante (I think).And turn off the lawyer brain,pretend you are in the military, just do exactly what is asked, to the letter, don't read more into it. You don't have to mention that the money in your acct is from your job, for all they know or care you will continue to receive that money, you can however bring a statement saying that you are qualified for the pension. We have something like that for Husband. Also if you have enough funds for a year, they accept that too. Every place is different including the consulate.
Also an FM3 doesn't restrict your moment in and out of the country, they don't care if you come and go every week, so you don't have to prove you are staying in one place. If it was an FM2 then you need to stay put, but you are obligated to report your address every time you move. We have had 3 address changes in our books.

glorv1 said...

Brother, you got a lot of comments on that subject. Heck I don't have any comment other than, it sure does take a lot of worry, fretting, anxiety, to just think about moving to Mexico. By the time you get there, you'll have ulcers. Enjoy yourself.:))))
Take care Steve. Buena suerte!

Joanne said...

If you get your FM3 NOB you will have to go to an immigration office down here to get it stamped. So you may as well do the whole thing in Mexico. Unless it suddenly gets easy to do it now.

We brought 3 months of original bank statements and they had our salaries too as we were still working, but that didn't seem to matter. I wouldn't bring that up, just hand over the statements. And no online printouts, either, they insisted on the originals. (Tough to do now as we get everything online.) They also wanted a CFE bill, but we didn't have one, so we used someone else's. They didn't care, they just want one.

And as you already know, logic doesn't enter into the equation.

jennifer rose said...

You're making this more difficult than it needs to be, Steve. Let's not muddy the waters with your military retirement documents. If you've got sufficient ingresos in your monthly bank statement (and I know you do), that alone is enough. You've been a lawyer long enough to know the business about only answering the question you're asked and not volunteering what's not asked.

Portland's Consulate is among the easiest consulates for getting an FM-3. Simply march yourself in there, armed with the requisite documents (originals and copies). You will not need a comprabante de domicilio for your abode in Mexico, but you will need to provide a good address of where you'll be living in Mexico. Now, even if you enter Mexico with your FM-3 in hand, you will need to register it with INM when you arrive. While I'm an advocate of getting the FM-3 ahead of time, perhaps in your case it would be just easier to get it once you're living here.

While you can obtain your car permit ahead of time, you will not be saving yourself any time by doing so.

Steve Cotton said...

Larry P -- Thanks for the web site address. The insurance situation is a real irritant to me. If I knew I was never going to take the car back to the States, I would not have a problem. But to have a car properly licensed in Oregon, it must also be insured in Oregon. There is an option of suspending insurance. But my insurance company will then double the premium when I lift the suspension because the vehicle has not been constantly insured. I have tried several companies -- and get the same answer. It may be worth a post of its own.

Kathe -- In most circumstances, I am rather laid back. Yesterday's episode surprised me. I simply decided there was nothing I could do that day. I was too busy at work to try calling the consulate. I will try again tomorrow.

Brenda -- Of course, the "official stamp" -- the ultimate resort of every bureaucrat. I guess the bureaucracy never thought of the possibility that someone just may have a $1.25 rubber stamp made somewhere. Good grief!

Ken -- I actually started writing a post on the "who is correct" syndrome in Mexico. But it quickly spinned into a rant. I may pull it out of the archives to see if I can salvage part of it.

Theresa -- My mistake is that I was a military lawyer. You can just imagine what that does to the brain. It made me believe that all of life is (or should be) orderly and rational. Not quite the life lessons that will serve me well in Mexico.

Gloria -- Glad to have you aboard the comment-fest.

Joanne -- As Jennifer says later, I will follow your advice on simply providing documents without the unnecessary commentary.

Jennifer -- Good advice. We witnesses always want to clarify far too much that does not need clarification. There is a fellow in Melaque who moved down from the Northwest recently. He has volunteered to help steer me through the registration process. The nice thing about all this is if I crash and burn here, I can always pick up the process again in Mexico.

Larry Lambert, Mazatlan said...

Hi Steve

Back again. Had to go take in the second Carnaval parade. This whole thing is a six day party.

I noticed somebody already gave you the online info for the vehicle sticker. If you drill down a little further, this is what you reach in English:

Regarding U.S. car insurance, talk to your agent. We have State Farm, which allows us to drop down to only the comprehensive to stay on the "insurance books" at a cost of around $8 USD per month. If we should need to drive north, a call to our agent brings the full insurance back into force for as long as we need it.

You can buy your Mexican car insurance online before you leave, and all transactions will be by email. Take a look at Lewis and Lewis out of California. It doesn't really matter where you buy the insurance because the policy will be with a Mexican company, who can be reached by an 800 number anywhere in-country. Be sure to include the legal assistance rider, because Transito lockups are no fun.

The local requirements vary from place to place for FM3 applications. Brenda's is pretty extreme. Here, a photocopy of your bank statement is fine, and it doesn't need any special stamp. Also, there is no need to have a local bank account. In fact, as of November 2007, you can't get a local bank account without an FM3.

The processes are really not all that difficult; only different.


Steve Cotton said...

Larry L -- I will talk to my Farmers agent to see how low I can get the rate. I thought she had gone as low as she could. Butu we shall see.

I have looked at Lewis and Lewis. I had planned on doing what you suggest. I was going to call, as well, to ensure I end up with the policy I need. Thanks for the advice.

Paty said...

I got my FM3 in Portland--what a nightmare that wtas!! Senor Crabby-pants waas there then without a speck of Mexican hospitali ty only hostility. Here's not longer there thank heavens. If you want to try it again the correct office is located off the second waiting room. As you enter the front door turn right into the second waiting room, then rigfht again into the opening of a hallway running east/weest. The first door on the hallway is the correct office. If the door is closed just knock and enter. Have your application, 3 months of bank statements, your passport (which they will take and treat with a caviliar attitude (I about had a heart attack when Senor Crabby-Pants threw my passport into the back of a file drawer--I knew I'd never see it again when he slaammed the crawer closed!) with proper pictures, your Menaje de Casa, if you need one, but I'm not sure you need proof of a place to live in Mexico. IMHO, enter on a FMT and get your FM3 here. Ass haas been said before, you will have to go thru essentially the same process when you get here anyway. Although using the PDX consulate will certainly be an exercise for your patience quota which you will need in Mexico. And remember, Mexicans were born without the "logic" gene. Eeeessss Mexico!!!

please forgive my computer--honestly , it's not mee!!

EEEd de Casasa if youiss

Paty said...

Try googling MexPro.com. They have a comprehensive webvsite and will quote you with several companies and levels of coverage. As said before, it doesn't matter who you buy your coverage from, just compare apples with apples.

As for your US insurance, askk your agent to suspend your coveraage (some require that you keep some insurance in effrect) My agent charges me $120/yr and I email him the day before I cross the border in either direction and whalla I have insruance--or not.

Paty said...

I'm not sure if you've been given this webvsite, but it is absolutely the final word on any question you may have about Mexico. This guy is awsome!!


Steve Cotton said...

Paty -- Thanks for the tips. I just learned more from you than I did on my trip north on Monday. I thought about driving up today, but we are having an uinusual snow storm. I will try on Friday -- or later in March.

I have managed to get my insurance down to $200 for a six month period. It still seems awfully high for essentially not getting any real advantage of coverage.

Someone else had recommended MexPro.com. I found a quote on there that I can live with.

Rolly Brooks I know. His site is in my resources list. He has passed along a lot of handy tips for me.