by Mari Pintkowski
Last year, we were so proud of ourselves for completing the renewal of our FM2 visas without the help of an attorney in only four visits to Immigration. We felt like we had finally learned how to maneuver our way through government red-tape in this newly adopted country of ours. But, last May, many of the laws in Mexico were revised and this included the renewal of FM documents. We were told it would be easier and faster with the use of modern technology, the Internet. That should have been the first clue that we were going to have a few topes (bumps in the road) to traverse.
Being a retired couple in our 60s, learning a new language has not been an easy process, but we are determined to become more proficient, poco a poco (little by little). We have always tried to tackle each step along our journey with a minimum amount of help from lawyers and other professionals, so we figured this was no exception. Before we paid the Immigration authorities a visit in Playa del Carmen, we checked the Web site www.inm.gob.mx to be sure we were using the appropriate words when we made our request to begin the process. The attendant at the Immigration office was helpful, showing us on the computer screen just what we should be looking for. I even took a few notes on important words that he pointed out on the screen. He then handed us a typed form "Refrendo" with the instructions clearly stated in Spanish. We headed home with confidence that we could complete the first step on our own. Photo:
Once in our little house in Macario Gomez, I sat down with the Refrendo and my Spanish/English dictionary. It all seemed pretty clear:
1. Fill out the form for Tramites de Estancia found on the Internet site www.inm.gob.mx
2. Present your original and copy of your passport (the attendant told us to copy the picture page only)
3. Present your original Immigration document. (They will keep this and give you a new laminated card in its place at the end of the process.)
4. This one stumped us. We asked a few of our Spanish speaking friends the meaning of : Escrito bajo protesta de decir verdad en el que manifieste que subsisten….and was told that we needed to go to a lawyer and have a letter written in Spanish declaring that we would abide by the conditions stated in our immigration document. It looked like we would need the services of a lawyer, after all. We e-mailed our lawyer and she said she would need our FM2 in order to complete the letter. (No copies are needed of this letter.)
5. Finally we would each have to pay 2,801 PESOS in a bank using a special form that we could pick up at Immigration. The other 2 items did not pertain to us since we were presenting the documents ourselves.
We found the Web site and looked for the words: Formato migratorio para tramites de estancia, and extender estancia and found the form we were to complete. You will need a CURP card number to complete this form, and we were feeling very smart that we had already gotten this. This can be obtained at the town offices in Playa del Carmen or Tulum. We also needed information that is on our passport to complete the form. Be sure to copy it exactly as it appears on your passport. Your Mexican address and telephone number are also required. You no longer need to submit an electric bill, or copies of your bank statements for the renewal. We could not believe after having to have the US Bank statement translated last year that they would not require some documentation, so we brought along copies of our bank statements and letter we had written in Spanish at our US bank, just in case. They were never requested because the letter written by the lawyer verifies that you have sufficient funds to live in the country.
We returned to Immigration with the items requested above and took our place in line. After submitting our documents, we were told that we would have to pay a fine because we did not apply for renewal before the expiration date of Oct. 24 and this was now Nov. 23. We protested saying that in the years past we were given several months to renew our visa after the expiration date, so we did not hurry to get the renewal taken care of. She said not to worry; we could pay the fine at the bank along with the renewal fee when the documents were ready, not now. We signed a paper saying that the data submitted was correct. They kept this and gave us a paper with the date we had registered our request and a special "NUT" number and a password that we would use to follow the process online. She said that in a few days we would see that our documents were ready and we could then return to the Immigration office to proceed. (Favor de presentarse a una oficina del INM) We were told to bring a copy of the form with our file number with us when we returned for the next step of the process. That seemed simple enough.
We checked the NUT number every few days and after several weeks we kept getting the words: No se encontro la pieza ingresada. Finally we went back to Immigration, but the offices were now closed. The sign on the door indicated that they close at 1 p.m. rather than 2 p.m. that we had grown accustomed to. We decided to talk to the Immigration lawyer in the office next door about the requirements for becoming a dual citizen. After our meeting, she checked the Web site to see if she could tell why it was taking so long for our application to be processed, and speculated that the delay was perhaps due to so many people applying at the same time.
We continued to check the Web site and again weeks passed. We decided we needed to go back to the Immigration office to see if there was some other problem with our submission process. This time when the agent looked up our records, we were told that our process had been halted because we had NOT paid our fine for late renewal. He assured us that once the fine was paid we would be notified on the Web site within a few days to return to their office. We were given a blank form and told to fill in the amount of the multa (fine of 1,724 pesos, about $150 USD each) and take this to any bank to pay and return with the original and three copies within five days. There was a little slip of paper stapled to the form that said: Nota: Este format debera llenarse con sus datos personales exactamente como aparecen en su passaporte. This tells us that we need to use the exact wording for our name and other requested information as it appears on our passport. We did just as we were told and returned to the Immigration with our receipts. Now the adjustment was made into the electronic system and we left with a new form with the same password and file number and felt confident that we were now heading in the right direction for completing the FM process. We simply needed to check the Web site in a few days for the notice indicating it was time to return to Immigration to continue the process.
We returned to Immigration, took a number and waited to speak to an agent at a desk, instead of at the counter. We grimaced as our appointment was with the gentleman who always gives us a hard time for not speaking Spanish well enough. He looked at our papers and said, "Vientiocho de febrero." I could not understand that he was telling us to return on Feb. 28 for another appointment. This time we were to bring three frontal photos and two of the side profile. He gave us a sheet of paper with our appointment day and time written on it and the instructions about what to being, besides the photos, to the next meeting. He said we could pick up the form to take to the bank for payment of the annual fee of 2,801 pesos. The amount of the payment was already printed on this form. We had almost two weeks to make the payment and return.
One busy day the following week, my husband kindly offered to fill out the forms we received at Immigration and go to the bank to make the deposit. When he was finished, he tucked the receipts safely in the plastic folder waiting for the day of our appointment. We felt confident, once again, that the process to receive our new FM2 cards was getting closer.
On Feb. 28, we arrived at Immigration. Surprisingly we were not given a number this time, but told to sit and our names would be called soon. Within five minutes, I heard my name called and approached the woman sitting at the desk for my appointment. The kind lady looked at my bank receipt and copies for payment and softly said that I would need to redo the payment because my name had been written incorrectly on the paper. It did not match the exact order that appears on my passport, so the funds would not be credited to me. She could tell I was distraught and tried to be as gentle as possible. My husband approached and she looked over his documents and said they were correct. He would be able to proceed with the renewal process and his new FM2 card would be ready tomorrow. She took both of our fingerprints, and had us sign our FM2 cards. Mine would also be processed, and completed the following day after I returned with the new payment information. She said that we could go to Hacienda, a government office, to redeem our money for the double payment in about a week.
Now for the instructions to fix the problem that had been created by making the bank payment reversing the order of my three names. She said I could get a new form at the front desk to take to the bank for the deposit. She gave me a copy of a short letter written in Spanish and said after I paid the deposit at the bank, I would need to go to one of the copy places outside of Immigration and have an identical letter typed substituting my information where it was needed. I could then bring my bank deposit slip and two copies, a copy of the picture page of my passport, and the original typed letter and drop them off at the desk and my FM2 would then be ready the next day to pick up.
Lou, my husband, has an obsession for finding the shortest line at a bank, so we drove all the way over to Centro Maya shopping center and checked each of the banks along the front of the mall until he found the one with the shortest line. I waited while he ran a few other errands. Before long, 2,801 PESOS was deposited into the Immigration account, this time under the name of Mulrooney Maureen Durack, rather than Maureen Mulrooney Durack. We rushed back over to the copy store to have a letter written, and a few items copied. On the door of the copy store was a sign that said for 350 PESOS, that is about $30, I could have had the electronic letter, manifest letter (the one I had completed by our lawyer), photos, payment form and copy of passport completed by them. The office across the hall charged 800 PESOS, and this included submission of the documents to Immigration. I walked away wondering why Lou and I are so determined to struggle through these things when help seems so close. I walked up the steps to the front door of the Immigration office and knocked, the attendant said the offices were closed and I had to return tomorrow. I pleaded, he checked with his superiors and still I would need to come back to submit the papers. This time I was not feeling so confident, instead doubting my ability to function in our adopted country.
Lou was passing Playa the next day and submitted my paperwork and picked up his FM2. A few days later, I returned and the kind lady who had helped me earlier in the week greeted me with a smile. After only one signature, she handed me the laminated copy of my FM2. This simple, faster modern electronic method to renew our FM2 visa actually took 14 weeks, compared to the few days we had been told it might take. In spite of the time we invested and all the stress we endured, we learned a little more about dealing with the Mexican government that will be useful in the future. I smiled and on my way out of Immigration, I stopped to buy myself a pair of earrings to celebrate this milestone.
Sitting here at my computer, I wonder if we will do the renewal next year all by ourselves, believing we NOW know how the system operates, or will we just take the help that is offered and pay the fee. We know, for a fact, that our way did not save any money in the long run. I am also wondering if there will be another chapter to this story that will recount our visit to Hacienda offices to redeem the money for the first payment made with the incorrect name.
Mari Pintkowski lives in Macario Gomez with her husband, Lou, where they operate their #1 rated B&B, La Selva Mariposa. To read more about their life in Mexico go to www.laselvamariposa.com or read the many archived articles on www.sac-be.com.