January 2016, Ali and I arrived in Mexico. With a lot of difficulty at Cancun International Airport at customs (we are still uninformed as to the reason) being questioned and questioned for nearly two hours we were finally allowed to leave. That was our first impression of Mexico, and it left a bitter taste.
We had seven minutes to catch the last bus to Playa del Carmen to then catch a ferry to Cozumel Island. We ran through the airport to the bus and thanks to many of the personnel that eagerly hurried us along getting the straggling bystanders out of the way; we made it with seconds to spare. The bitter taste lifted slightly.
The bus trip from Cancun to Playa del Carmen takes an hour. Ferries leave very hour from 6 am to 11 pm every day, fortunately, so we were not in danger of missing our ferry. At 10 pm and after approximately eighteen hours traveling from Ecuador we finally reached our destination.
Our intention was only to stay for six months to help our daughter with her first baby that arrived on 29 February 2016. That was our intention!
We fell in love with Mexico; we fell in love with its people, culture and their way of life, not to mention the food. That bitter taste became as sweet as honey. We decided to stay and apply for a permanent residency – as grandparents to a Mexican child we were eligible to do so.
We went to see an immigration lawyer, Mildred H Arceo (MIlly), that had been recommended to us. She took one look at our documents and informed us that applying for residency as grandparents would not be possible because our names were not on our granddaughter’s birth certificate. This was our first insight into the importance of an unabridged birth certificate. We would now apply as parents of our daughter who is a permanent resident.
There are other ways to gain a permanent residency in Mexico. If you are fortunate enough to have a pension or investment that pays out at least $3000 a month you are elligable to apply for a retiree/pension permanent visa. Another option is to invest $100,000 in Mexico or in a Mexican company; you automatically qualify for a investors perrmanent residency. These options, however, we did not qualify for.
So now the hurry up and wait started. I contacted a friend in South Africa to go to the home affairs and apply on my behalf. Everyone referred me to Doc Assist to get this done. In the past, they could get these documents for you but not anymore. You or the person that you appoint in writing must go to the home affairs office and physically hand in the form and collect the requested documents when they eventually arrive. Doc Assist will apostille them for you and courier them to your specified address. It was a pleasure to work with Doc Assist.
This process takes up to eight weeks. Having them, apostilled takes a few days and the travel time via a courier to Mexico takes up to fourteen days (if you are lucky).
We finally received our Apostilled unabridged birth certificates a week before Christmas 2016. In January 2017 our application for Mexican permanent residency was finally submitted. The process usually takes six weeks – that is if nothing goes wrong with the paperwork! (Every document has to be translated into Spanish)
But! As our luck goes, something went wrong! Because the law in South Africa when we got married was that the female take the surname or last name of her husband this meant that the name on my birth certificate and the name on my passport were not the same. They rejected my application, and I had fifteen days to get a letter from the South African Embassy in Mexico to state the person named on my birth certificate is, in fact, the same person stated in my passport. Off we went to Mexico City. I had contacted them via email and prayed that would respond timorously – they did. I was surprised as, well, we all know the state and attitudes of the homes affair’s in South Africa. We set up an appointment, and we flew to Mexico City for a weekend.
We arrived at the South African embassy and were welcomed with the South African warmth and friendliest of welcomes. As it happened the South African Ambassador to Mexico, HE Mr. S Ngoxina was at the embassy that day, and they were having a small celebration. Ali, our host Elda and I were invited to join them.
It was fabulous to meet these people, in particular, Adriaan Malan, Johanne Kleynhans, Herminia Estrada, Anthea Joubert and Edwaldo. We spent almost two hours with them. What wonderfully fabulous people they are, we connected on their expat’s mail listings as well as on personal levels. I have listed their contact details at the end of this article.
We left the embassy with my required letter, relieved and enjoyed the sights and people of Mexico City (Read here). Immediately on the following Monday, we met with Milly, and the letter was submitted to immigration. Now we waited another ten or so days to find out if anything else was wrong or required.
All was in order, Milly made an appointment with immigration for fingerprints and photos and a very short question and answer interview – basically, you confirm what you wrote on your application. After that was done, we waited another ten days and were able to collect our official permanent residency cards – fabulous!
This is where I highly recommend Milly to anyone wanting to immigrate. She is honest, efficient and such a lovely person. Her fees are also far more affordable than most.
What should have been a six-week process took seven months. If you are interested or even contemplating relocating to Mexico, I hope the do’s and don’ts below will help you. It is a country filled with history and culture, laid back and relaxed people that smile and greet you as they pass by, easy to adapt to and if you live on Cozumel Island as we do – very safe and peaceful.
I am immensely grateful that God has led us here.
Through our experiences in applying for residency, we felt it would be helpful to others if we wrote and published all the necessary do’s and don’ts;
GETTING TO MEXICO:
1: Obtain the USA B1/B2 visa. It allows you entry into the USA and all their other territories for up to 6 months at a time. Visa is valid for ten years. You can do multiple entries to USA and Mexico. This visa then becomes your tourist visa to Mexico (tourist agreement between the USA and Mexico)
2: You will be able to enter the USA as frequently as you want from Mexico our any other central or southern American country. Remember it is a tourist visa so stick to your plans as a tourist. Once you are in Mexico and you like what you see and experience you can then make the necessary plans to relocate or apply for temporary, permanent or which other visa you qualify for.
3: Your South African passport allows you to enter most central or southern American countries without a visa and some of the countries you are allowed up to 12 months without a visa. South African passports are worth more for traveling these countries than USA, Canadian and varieties of European countries, etc.
3a: Do not waste your time with a Mexican visa as you can only use it to enter Mexico. To get to Mexico, it is much cheaper to fly in from the USA than South America. If you want to enter the USA later, you will have to apply for a B1/B2 visa anyway. There are direct flights from Johannesburg to Atlanta that cuts out a lot of travel time. Stay away from SAA.
4: The only time you need a Mexican visa is if you have a job offer or been given a job in Mexico. This visa does not allow you entry into the USA. You will then also have to apply for the B1/B2 visa.
5: Ensure your South African passport is valid for a minimum of 5 years or more.
DOCUMENTATION & IMPORTANT INFORMATION:
1: ID book, driver’s license, passport/s with valid visas for the countries being visited.
2: Inoculations for yellow fever, malaria, etc. card. Need to be done by a certified clinic or doctor, and it has to be done in South Africa. The clinic will advise as to necessary inoculations required.
3: Certified police clearance/criminal record. It is only valid for three months, but it can come in very handy. (Ecuadorian residency requires police clearance)
4: Certified original birth certificate from Home Affairs. Also get a vault original. It has to be unabridged.
5: Birth certificates MUST be Apostille sealed and has to be done in South Africa. You cannot Apostille Seal a foreign countries document in Mexico.
6: If you are married (especially for females) get an Unabridged certified copy of your marriage certificate which MUST be Apostilled.
6.1: As a South African female you lose your maiden surname when you get married. In Mexico or Latin-speaking countries, the female keeps her surname. When you apply for residency, the female has to have documented proof that she is the person on her passport by her birth surname! Very import as this can save you a lot of headaches and a lot of extra monetary costs.
7: Make copies of all your documents and place it online on CLOUD or DROPBOX. If you think it is not important, think again and bring it with.
8: Medical aid it is only valid for 90 days being out of SA.
9: Get travel insurance with your credit card company. This is the cheapest and quickest.
10: Ensure your bank card/s credit cards etc. are valid for more than one year or longer. Not the easiest to get new card/s to Mexico. Capitec is the cheapest debit card to use overseas (Global One card).
11: South African life insurance policies do not cover you if you live in another country permanently. Check your policies!
12: Cut all ties with whatever can keep you back in SA or make you return at a later stage. Sell all your assets, house, etc. and only keep personal and sentimental items. This is a big step in your life, but in the end, it is well worth it. Always ensure that you still have a correspondence address in SA. It has to be a street address and correlate with all your personal information.
13: Keep your SA cell phone number if it is a Pay as You go. Roaming is very expensive overseas. Once you have settled change to a Mexican number. Add a couple of translation programs to your phone, tablet, and computer. If you cannot speak Spanish start learning now as you will need it!!
14: If you use prescription drugs get a prescription from your doctor. It is accepted in Mexico. Bring with enough medicine for one year. Medicine is relatively cheap in Mexico BUT sending from SA is a nightmare. It involves a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy.
15: Your plane ticket into Mexico will have a tourist tax charged by the airline company. The airline company pays this on behalf of the tourist. If your stay is longer than seven days in Mexico, you have to pay this tax. Keep a detailed printout of your flights into Mexico because you will be asked for proof of this payment when you leave. The cost is around 500MXN (Mexican Pesos per person)
16: Always remember you are a tourist and keep your conversations simple, polite and friendly. You must remember you are amigos from Sur Africa and not gringos. Gringos are Americans, and that is another story…
17: Search the internet and double check all your information. There are so many good websites that can tell you all the ins and outs of living in Mexico.
18: It is a big step and adjustment, but in the end, you will find the positives far outnumber the negatives. Mexico is a country with a very old culture, lots of traditions, good people, great food and is beautiful in all aspects. The east side of the country is in the Caribbean and the west borders on the Pacific.
IMPORTANT WEBSITES INFORMATION:
South African Embassy contacts;
Adriaan Du Pisanie – DuPisanieA@dirco.gov.za
Johanne Kleynhans – firstname.lastname@example.org
Herminia Estrada – email@example.com
Anthea Joubert – firstname.lastname@example.org
Immigration Lawyer – Mildred H Arceo (Milly) – email@example.com Tel: +52 1 984 157 5589