Written by: Stan Gabruk

Puerto Vallarta has over six million people yearly come into our airport destined for local hotels and destinations. Mexico for the most part is an open country, but Mexico has immigration laws which for years they (Mexicans) haven’t enforced. Now you may argue with that point, I know many people who have been deported, my brother included. Normally the deportation laws are used for the worst type of offenders, like forgetting an ice cream in your hand and forgetting to pay for in a mini-super. But now it’s worse. What you think you know about immigration law is most likely from what you’re already doing and getting away with. You were told by friends, family and even Mexican Real Estate agents you had no problems of any kind. Just keep coming down, spending your money in the local markets as a blood line to the local and state economy. There are no legal issues with older retired people and travelers other than the normal tourism issues daily which are quiet common. Now for the Law abiding, “mind their own business” types. It may be interesting for you to learn, you could be a criminal in the eyes of Mexican Immigration law.

As I say this I’m sure you’re eyes are rolling and you’re thinking “I’m fine”, we have our visa and “we’re good”. My question to you is: How do you know? How do you know? Did someone tell you this is how “things work”? That you can just come and go as you please, playing visa roulette? Do you have a place you like to rent out in PV seasonally or for times when you’re not in the city? Kind of a normal thing for many people, wouldn’t you agree? Have you collected money from some small job or an AirBnB type property? Did you purchase a house on a tourist visa? If you live here in Puerto Vallarta right now and if any of those questions ring a bell, then it’s a good thing you’re reading this. I don’t claim to be an absolute expert, but the surface information I’m receiving is another Mexican “What you don’t know, WILL hurt you” story so pay attention and then go do your own research!

There are many locations in Mexico world travelers love to visit, enjoy the culture, the food and it has to offer. Most of the time these visitors go back, sometimes they don’t. At that point you are an illegal alien, the equivalent of a wet-back and that’s the hard truth. You have no rights. Legally you can be grabbed, thrown in a cell, shipped to Guadalajara and there you wait in jail until there are enough people to fill an airplane putting you anywhere in the USA or Canada they want to drop you! And you can’t come back into Mexico for five years. I’ve seen it happen.

So this brings us to what the deal is, President Amlo has set out to stop corruption. Illegal immigration and abusing the system all falls under that umbrella. In a recent speech to the Mexican Nationals Amlo stressed Puerto Vallarta by name when discussing corruption. With excessive building permits, building heights, housing cost and immigration running wild, North Americans are bearing the blame. North Americans are to blame for rising property values and lack of housing in PV along with crime of all sorts accoding to President Amlo. We could have a long conversation about that statement, but the fact remains the blame is coming down on the North Americans. For many years from President Fox to president Pena Nieto North Americans have been encouraged to bring their tourist dollars across the border and enjoy the comforts and hospitality of Mexico! So we came and the Mexicans started ignoring their own immigration laws. With President Amlo things have changed.

First, your visa. You have a huge gift of 180 days of travel and enjoyment in Mexico as a foreigner per year. Did you see that, 180 days per year, not per visit. You can’t come into Mexico for six months, cross the border and then turn around and get another six month visa. You probably thought you were safe and smart doing just that same thing. Many will live in Mexico using just that strategy, but it’s not legal amigo. You get 180 days maximum per year, that’s it. If you want to stay longer, then you need to apply for Permanent residency. But you can’t do that inside of Mexico. You have to be in your home country and apply at a Mexican Embassy and go through the process. If you want to work in Mexico, you have to have a job before you enter the country. Retired people need to have a base amount of money in the bank to get a permanent residency with a minimum income. Not too difficult to meet those conditions, but many can’t. Whatever the status on your Permanent Regristery card is, is what you have to adhere to. You can’t just take a little job selling tacos on the corner, you’re breaking the law. Insignificant yes, but technically over the line. That would be viewed as taking work from Mexicans. Ironic isn’t it? Your “job” in Mexico as a foreigner is to enjoy, consume, spend and go home to your home country. You can have no income unless it’s something like retirement income.

Now you may say I’ve been renting my house out for years, well that means you’re in business in the eyes of Mexico. That makes your house / home commercial property.  I bet you’re paying subsidized “residential” rates and not the “corporate” rates when it comes to Water and Electricity. I’m also sure you’re paying the extra 15% hotel tax plus the 16% IVA tax, not to mention tax on the “income” as I do. If not, you’ve broken the law and are subject to prosecution and then deportation. Many Mexican nationals are finding themselves in hot water for this exact thing. I also understand Mexico pressured AirBnB to give the government a list of all the AirBnB providers in Mexico or they would lose the ability to operate in Mexico and they are checking down the list. Those who declare the income in North America or Canada to get a “deduction” or to save themselves from breaking the law and going to jail for not declaring income in their home country. If they choose to ignore the Mexican taxes, this equals fraud, cheating the Mexican Govt and people.  Is this situration you have a legal tax obligation in both countries. Mexico is in the right here, they’ve being cheated out of their tax revenues. So the forign visitors abusing the system has finally caught up to the abusers.  A little “eye opening” FYI there.

But it gets worse, President Amlo now has put together the equivalent of a “task force” to begin checking tourist for their “papers”. Amlo has this task force walking up to tourist types and demanding you produce your “Papers”. By that I mean you must have your passport and current visa with you at all times if you’re in Mexico. This task force is cruising the city, walking up to North American types and asking you to prove you’re in Mexico legally. If you don’t have your “papers” then the police will go with you to your hotel or condo to review the documents you don’t have with you. If you can’t produce documents that are accurate and current, you’re off to jail. No grabbing important things or telling anyone, you’re gone. This can happen anywhere, in a restaurant, bar, or walking down the street. So make sure you have the necessary documents on your person. This will make you feel like a Jew in Nazi Germany on vacation, but they don’t care. People are afraid enough of the police in Mexico, not you’re going to tell them they will be approached by unfriendly, unpaid police types to check to see if they’re legal. You think there’s a corruption plan here or a corrupt plan? That should help tourism in PV, the sole life blood of the city.

But hey, there’s more. So you say you’ve been coming down here for years and never had a problem. In fact you may have purchased a house or condo in Mexico for you when on vacation, on a visa. You’ve had it for years and you’ve been playing the Visa Roulette game. You may have purchased your house illegally as a tourist. Your agent probably didn’t tell you, which puts that person in the picture as well. As a permanent resident you can, as a tourist no, you can’t. If you’re in that situation, then you should get that straight as quickly as possible as there could be an avenue for you to lose your property in extreme situations. Which is of course scary stuff.

I’ve also been hearing about people coming into the country being put in cuffs and taken away as they get off the plane. I’m not talking about criminal types, I’m talking nice looking tourist types. And it gets worse. If you come into the country, the customs agent has the discretion to give you as much time in Mexico as he decides, not how long your hotel reservation is. There have been some nasty reports where people come in with a two week ticket and reservation just to find the agent put ten days on the visa. These people would be breaking the law if they stayed the two weeks they paid for in a hotel. I personally know people who have had this happen. They went to the immigration office to straighten it all out and it was a nightmare which took days, not hours to straighten out. Just because the agent wanted to be as ass. I’ve heard of people showing their tickets after such a thing, just to have the agent revers the ten days to three days and by the way, don’t come back for a year! The agents have the discretionary decision ability. Maybe it’s so they can set up a bride “gravy train” and the fears from the initial enforcement horror stories will build the base for these corrupt agent types. Oh, and you can’t come into Mexico with a one way ticket if you’re not a permanent resident.

I see this as stupid on the Mexican Governments part, but it is the law and enforcing the law on unwary tourist who think they have a handle on their immigration status are finding out in a rude way they don’t. This article is not meant to scare you, but rather warn you. Now there are all kinds of horror stories out there as you would expect. Don’t believe them, don’t panic, but find and expert and discuss your immigration status if in Mexico and you’re a long term visitor or resident. Also if you have property, you should review that status and correct any errors before they become a much larger issue that results in your deportations!