By Brian Kieran
Easter week and we are celebrating … along with half of Mexico which has abandoned the high elevation interior of the country to enjoy spring break at sea level.
By April 9, the beach-swarming brigades of nationals will have turned their backs on Puerto Vallarta and other coastal hot spots for the long trek back to homes and work in major interior urban centres like Guadalajara and Mexico City. And, by April 16, the ranks of 180-day North American expats will have thinned to almost nothing.
With most of our English-speaking pals back in the U.S. and Canada, the obligation to become more fluent in Spanish will increase exponentially.
We arrived on New Year’s Eve and after three months bouncing around we have settled into truly awesome digs eight minutes from the beach, 10 minutes from mini-Walmart shopping, five minutes from three or four great restaurants (including a good pizza joint at the corner of our street … thin crust being a big deal down here) and 12 minutes from a great local fish market. As well, must mention I’m just 15 minutes from one of the greatest sports bars in North America, Barchelata, where you get a five-peso discount on Pacifico cerveza if you are deemed to be “a neighbour” and where I watched my Blue Jays win their first game of the MLB season on Saturday. (The broadcast came complete with BC NDP commercials telling me what a great job the government is doing without me.)
A year ago, when we started planning this adventure we had a to do list that was second only to a NASA space launch pre-flight checklist. Two of the major components were resident visas and Mexican health insurance (for emergencies). As of this past week, we have both.
A couple of tips for other snowbirds preparing to flee the north for an extended stay here:
Having a temporary resident visa, or a permanent resident visa, means you do not have to leave the country after 180 days. To qualify for the temporary visa, applicants must meet financial thresholds that most retired folks will be able to satisfy readily. The permanent visa thresholds are somewhat more demanding. But, you can renew your temporary at the end of year one for up to three years.
For BCers, the process starts at the Mexican Consulate on West Hastings in Vancouver. The staff there speak good English and are most helpful. If you have problems, it will almost certainly be because your banking and investment documents do not look like “originals.” The consular staff do not seem to appreciate that in our online world, almost every hard copy of a document is a copy. So, make sure those bank statements and investment reports have been stamped by the appropriate institution.
Once approved at the consulate you will get a visa stamp in your passport. It costs only about $60 Cdn and is not the actual visa. The actual visa is acquired in country at a further cost of about 4,000 pesos per person (about $280).
It is critically important that you show the visa stamp to immigration officials the first time you enter the country. If you fail to do so and receive a standard 180-day tourist card, the visa becomes void immediately and you have to go back to square one. Getting the actual visa will take about one month, during which time you cannot leave the country unless you are prepared to jump through major bureaucratic hoops.
I recommend you do not even attempt to do the visa paperwork yourself unless you are proficiently bilingual. Immigration staff here do not speak English and the forms – there are a lot – are in Spanish only. We hired a Puerto Vallarta-based immigration specialist and he was worth every penny. Javier has become a good friend. He has been scrupulously thorough; he made numerous house calls; and, he was quite at home in the immigration office in Nuevo Vallarta where we had to be fingerprinted. His fees were about 3,000 pesos each (roughly $200); very reasonable.
My next post will delve into health insurance. We opted to join the state-run medical system (IMSS) for emergencies only because private insurance providers charge seniors like us an arm and a leg. In a country where pedestrians are an endangered species, you can’t risk being uninsured … even if that means going to a hospital where you are expected to bring your own bed sheets.
Stay tuned …