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The permanent tourists: when will they ever learn?

Via one of the “expat” sites:

 A couple, which has been “coming and going on 180 day Tourist permits[FMM: technically not a “tourist permit”, but permission to be in Mexico, but not to work in Mexico, for a short period of up to 180 days] for several years” got off the plane recently, “they were then asked to step into the interrogation room and  to hand over their phone and laptop, along with the password for their email.  They hold an on-line job from outside of Mexico. They were questioned about where they live, how long and what was their source of income. The agent then discovered an email on the computer that was an exchange regarding a VBRO email. It was a rental confirmation for a house that they manage for a Canadian friend. The money went into a Canadian account but as far as he was concerned they had income in Mexico. The lecture they got included three main points. They had been residing in Mexico on FMMs intended for Tourists. They would need a Resident Visa to stay in Mexico. They were not permitted to work in Mexico. ´Managing´ Mexican property is a lucrative activity. Lastly they would be responsible for paying tax on the rental income. [Although given a 30-day tourist permit, if they wished to return, the immigration officer said they would need “to visit a Mexican Consulate and apply for residency.”

A lively thread followed, most comments coming from people with residency permits of one sort or another, most of them not particularly sympathetic to the couple.  I’ve been hearing more and more stories like this, and — at the same time — more and more posts from people planning to look for work after they arrive here.  While working “on-line” remains a possibility, or so far is overlooked by the authorities (how to tax income earned abroad is always problematic) I see a few trends developing.

The assumption that one is “entitled” to stay up to six months simply because you cross the border isn’t a given.  Mexico is not some technological backwater, and … although slow to do so… is updating and installing better software.  They can see where a person is continually coming and going as a “tourist” and is rightfully suspicious of those tourists whose entries indicate that they live here.  The Mexicans expect those foreigners living here are not likely to become public charges, and … as US and Canadian (and every other country’s immigration officers) … interrogate the would be visitor about their financial resources, intended destination, purpose for visiting the country, and other matters.  I haven’t heard of anyone denied entry (yet) as happens with some regularity at the US and Canadian borders, but I have run into people given shorter stays when their responses were inadequate.

A few years ago, when after our former employer’s business in Mazatlan had closed, and we had moved to Mexico City, my now spouse inadvertently overstayed his temporary residency permit (which permitted him to work).  It was a complicated situation, and at the advise of our attorney, he  returned to the United States for a few days, then flew back to Mexico expecting to receive a 180 day FMM, which would give ample time to resolve the problem. Not something easily explainable at 2 in the morning.  The 20 days he was given were a little hectic, and we’ve been told the immigration officer overstepped her authority, but that was an unusual situation.  And one we were able to resolve.

The couple in the post, and those “permanent tourists” who are working in Mexico in some way (which would include pet and house sitting… and, obviously, managing rental property) aren’t in some bureaucratic twilight zone, but are clearly violating the laws.  Giving them 20 days to make arrangements to either regularize their situation, or at least wrap up their affairs in the country (and, as supposed tourists, staying less than six months, there wouldn’t be much to wrap up) is relatively humane.  Most other places would just tell you to buy a return ticket on the next plane out.

Of course, having been an “illegal alien” at one time myself (working on a tourist visa, and not even bothering to renew it, to boot) I’m not going to say that this couple were “bad hombres” and — for all I  know — they may have just been victims of bad advise.  After all, the internet (and travel guides, and other foreigners) too often give bad advise. I have no idea if a FMM holder who is paid abroad for on-line work is considered working in Mexico (it would seem NOT YET) but they probably should avoid those jobs meant to earn income within Mexico, like property management, or sales of Mexican goods and services… including language lessons.

There are political considerations in all this, as well. Not so much in some “left/right” argument … between those who see the couple’s woes as some kind of “karmic payback” for mistreatment of less well heeled migrants to wealthier countries, or as some “hypocrisy” for the demands of justice for Mexican migrants who have run afoul of US immigration laws… but in the sense that the comments suggest that the more settled migrants (and expats) are less sympathetic to the “permanent tourists” than I’d thought. Perhaps it’s a feeling that having “gone through the channels” the resident visa holders see themselves as belonging, and the “permanent tourists” as interlopers on their community.  And, perhaps, the Mexicans are starting to agree… that the “tourists” are welcome to visit, but if they plan to stay, at least say so.

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economy & Business, Tourism, Uncategorized

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The permanent tourists: when will they ever learn?


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