While many foreign residents arrive in Mexico for a time and return to their home countries within a few years, a significant number of them do stay in Mexico long-term —perhaps for work or lifestyle reasons— but more usually when their partners and families have settled here, or when they retire.
If you’re in Mexico for the long-haul, at some stage you might choose to take your residency status to the next level: naturalization. Naturalization is the process by which you apply for and, if successful, subsequently acquire Mexican citizenship.
Benefits of acquiring Mexican citizenship
Mexican naturalization offers several benefits to foreigners. Among them (in no particular order of importance):
- you can cast a vote in Mexican elections;
- you can change address or jobs without having to inform the National Institute of Immigration (INM) of your moves;
- you can avoid having to visit Immigration kiosks at airports when you leave to check-out, and wait less time in immigration lines at airports on your return;
- you avoid having to pay to change your immigration status and/or renew your visa each year to extend you stay in Mexico; and
- you can own property situated near coasts and land borders in your own name without the need to operate a bank trust (fideicomiso) — which can save you thousands of dollars in fees over the years — although some people choose to operate a trust for estate planning purposes.
Things to be aware of before you apply for Mexican citizenship
There are a few matters you should be aware of in regard to becoming a Naturalized Mexican.
Consular protection from your home country
Following your naturalization, while you are in Mexico, you are not allowed to seek consular protection by virtue of your ‘other’ nationality; so if you become caught up in any problems with the authorities you cannot rely upon your home country’s Consulate to support you.
Surrendering other nationalities
Depending on your country of citizenship, you might have to surrender your home country’s passport —and citizenship— when you acquire your Mexican nationality. This is, however, rare: most countries, including Mexico, allow their citizens to hold dual or multiple nationalities.
Residency in Mexico
Once you become a Naturalized Mexican Citizen, you need to remain resident in Mexico to keep it. See the blue information box below for more details about this.
Land trusts and property taxes
However, your property still remains liable to any capital gains taxes when you sell it. You should talk to an experienced financial advisor about your personal and business tax affairs,
Procedures to apply for Mexican citizenship
The procedures that lead to Mexican naturalization demand a number of requirements for qualification. These depend upon an assortment of factors such as:
- your links to Mexico,
- your current immigration status, and
- how long you have been physically resident here.
Legal and physical residency requirement
Importantly, you must have at least 5 consecutive years of legal residency (temporary and/or permanent) and you must prove that you have been situated physically in Mexico for at least 18 months in the past two years preceding your application date.
History and Spanish language exams
Part of the application process requires applicants to pass a history & culture exam, as well as a Spanish language aptitude examination, tested with an oral conversation.
In years past, the history exam consisted of studying 100 “multiple choice” type questions, answering 5 and getting at least 3 correct. However, since January 2018 the exam process has been revised to test your knowledge of Mexican culture and history, and a reading comprehension exam has been introduced to test your Spanish language.
Some people are exempt from the history & culture exam, but all applicants must demonstrate a working knowledge of Spanish, tested via an oral exam.
The following are exempt from the history & culture exam:
- Minors (under 18 years of age);
- People over 60 years old; and
- Refugees and humanitarian cases under the auspices of COMAR.
Naturalization certificate, INE, and Mexican passport
Once you file the application, the procedures take about a year to complete, and may take longer in some cases. Toward the end of the process, you will be asked to sit an exam, unless you are exempt (see above).
At the completion of the journey that leads to your Mexican naturalization, you will get a handshake from an official at the SRE (Mexico’s equivalent of the US State Department), and a Naturalization Certificate.
With this certificate in hand, you may apply for your Mexican passport and your INE card (known colloquially as simply, el INE)—that is technically a voter registration document, but also serves a de facto National ID Card in Mexico. The card incorporates features such as scanned fingerprints, holograms and other security devices. It’s the size of a driving license and is thus readily portable.
Residency requirement for Naturalized Mexican Citizens
If you become a Naturalized Mexican citizen (i.e. a foreign national who applies for and gets granted Mexican citizenship) and you subsequently reside outside of Mexico for 5 or more consecutive years, you legally lose your Mexican citizenship.
We are not sure how this is tracked and enforced, but this restriction is explicitly documented in the legislation which governs ‘Naturalization’ of foreigners as Mexican Citizens. (Article 37, Part B, Section 2.)
Natural Mexican citizens (Mexicans by birth) never lose their nationality, regardless of how long they might live outside of Mexico.
Further guidance and assistance
Applications to become a Naturalized Mexican are complex, require a specific process to be followed with strict criteria being met, and take at least a year to complete. Here are some resources you may find helpful:
- Government website about naturalization
- Online search for lawyers specializing in naturalization (Google)
- Learn about matters related to residency in Mexico
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