Note: Though the terminology has changed since this post was written, the basic principles when applying for work permits remain very similar.
Ask no more. Yes, foreigners can legally work in Mexico, for any length of time, provided they obtain the required permission from the Mexican Immigration Office. If you are one of those souls here in Mexico for an “extended stay” or longer, you may wonder, fret, or even wring your hands in worry, as the case may be, about how to acquire that most essential of documents – the work permit.
The answer’s simple, although painstaking at times. It’s a matter of accumulating an inordinate amount of paper work and dutifully paying the fee. Over the years I’ve become quite familiar with obtaining this permit, known as an FM-3 Visa and would like to share the procedure with you. Please bear in mind that minor changes may occur and expect the entire procedure to require at least several trips to the Immigration Office; in my own experience, up to five. Also, make sure to have two photo copies of each document that you present.
Tourist Card or FMT
This is the blue and white paper issued on the airplane. It is your permission to be in the country as a visitor and when you are herded through immigration upon your arrival, you may find flying hands rubber-stamping it, accompanied by unfamiliar mumbles and little or no eye contact. Make sure you get the maximum of 180 days at this point if you intend to stay and work in Mexico. Perhaps not, but you might need that time to complete the application process for your work permit.
Your birth certificate must have a stamp of authenticity, issued by the Mexican Consulate nearest your place of birth. If you can’t remember where your parents put this precious little document all those years ago, you can order an official copy from the County Registrar’s Office where you were born. You must then send it (yes I know it is sacred, but you must do it) to the Mexican Consulate nearest your place of birth (accompanied, of course, by a letter of request). If you are handling the transaction from Mexico, I suggest that you have the consulate return the stamped document (you will provide a self addressed, stamped envelope with your request) to a friend or relative in the States, and have that person send it to you through UPS or an equivalent carrier. Expect to pay fees for any services rendered.
Professional Certificate or Degree
This document must have, like the birth certificate, a stamp of authenticity issued by the Mexican Consulate nearest the institution where you obtained your certificate or degree.
If you didn’t get one back home, it’s not too late. The US Embassy in Mexico City will issue one to you. It takes about an hour.
You must have a job offer before you apply for permission to work. This offer must; be written on the company’s official letter head, include your full name (correctly spelled), the position you will hold, the date you will begin (you may not work until you have the permission, but as I understand, the process of obtaining the visa may extend beyond the date on which you supposedly begin employment as long as you started the application process before such date), and the amount of money that you will earn. This letter must be signed by an official of the institution whose name appears on the Acta Constitutiva de la Institución, and you must include a photocopy of this individual’s identification. Start your application process no sooner than (or no later than!) 30 days before your supposed start date of work, as visa applications are not accepted before this time period.
Acta Constitutiva de la Institución
This gem is the most challenging to obtain, as it is the legal document that establishes the company where you intend to work. You need a notarized copy of this document, which can be carried out at any public notary. Most businesses prefer to do this themselves and give you the official copy.
Ultima Declaración de Impuestos de la Institución
This is the company’s most recent quarterly tax declaration. Some businesses prefer to do this and not give you a copy, but rather, send it directly to the Immigrations Office themselves.
The last, but not least, of the required items are your photos: four front and four profile, visa-size, color photographs. They may not be Polaroid. Your hair must be off your forehead, and in the profiles your ear must show completely. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. They do look like mug shots.
So now you are well armed to go into your nearest immigrations office; Morelia, San Miguel de Allende, and Mexico City to name just a few. And although flattery will not get you everywhere, remember that a good dose of graciousness and Southern charm will make this otherwise odious task more bearable.