Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Heads Up on the New FMM Tourist Permit


Frequent visitors to Rocky Point all know how the FMT tourist permit (Forma Migratoria Para Turista) thing works. For those who don't know, the FMT is a Non Immigrant Permit, designed for people who intend to visit Mexico for a specific purpose and then leave. You have to ask for the full legal limit of 180 days (and if you ask nicely you'll usually get it), and it allows multiple entries and exits within that period.

If you're staying in Rocky Point no longer than 72 hours (that's 3 days, bunky) you don't need a tourist permit at all because Rocky Point is in the "Free Zone". You drive across the border, no one ever asks for your FMT, rarely are you even asked by Mexican border guards how long you intend to stay. But we know (wink wink) that often your visit extends considerably longer than the permitted 72 hours-- say a week, two weeks, several weeks. As long as you don't get into any trouble, no one ever asks for your papers. And on the way out you're usually just waved through the Mexican side of the border without question.

And we all know of folks with FMTs who stay the legal limit of 180 days, drive to the border, turn around, get a new FMT and drive right back down. But you see, that 180 days is meant to be a limit per calendar year. If you're going to stay in Mexico longer than that you're supposed to have an FM3 (a renewable long term permit for 365 days, which gives non-immigrant temporary residency status to the holder).

Well, the long rumored change from the FMT tourist permit to the new FMM permit appears to be either imminent or underway (though I won't believe it till I see one), and one of the things it reportedly does is close that 180-day turnaround loophole. The new FMM will be automatically issued for 180 days, and it is supposedly computerized (or will be) and cross-referenced to the temporary 180-day motor vehicle importation permit and/or to your passport number so you can't cheat. The new database is also intended to weed out the few rowdy spring breakers who manage to get deported every year along with other blacklisted types such as foreigners convicted of drug offenses, other convicted felons and the like.

But for honest folks, the new permit supposedly has fewer actual restrictions attached to it (though the current FMT already has few restrictions) and is designed to increase the flow of tourists and foreign investors into Mexico. It is being issued to a broad range of visitor types, including tourists, business people, film crews and students, to name just a few.

At any rate, if you're planning on staying in Rocky Point longer than 72 hours you might want to get legal. For one thing, if you get caught stretching your time limit the fines you'd have to pay would be a real pain in your pocketbook and if the Immigration guy or gal is in a bad mood you might even end up in the rumored database of undesirables. These days you just never know. Be safe, and avoid unnecessary complications.

It isn't difficult to get an FMT/FMM, though some consider it a minor annoyance. When the time comes that you can catch a commercial flight to Rocky Point, the form will be given to you while on the plane; you fill it out, present it to Immigration as you proceed through the line at the airport when you land, get it stamped, and you're in.

When you are driving, you have a few options. You can pick up a form at Mexican Embassies or Consulates or travel agents and several places that sell Mexican insurance also keep them on hand. If you don't get one in advance you can pick one up at Immigration at the border. In any event, the following steps need to be followed. For Puerto Penasco, pull over to the Immigration office on the Mexican side of the border. Ask for a tourist card if you don't already have one and fill out the information requested, which includes your place of birth, your destination and the reason for your visit (you'll have to show your passport, too). You will then be directed to the bank across the street, where you will pay for the permit (about US$20, depending on the exchange rate). Then you go back to the Immigration office, where they will stamp the form and give you your copy. That's all there is to it. Get back in your car and head on down the camino!

NOTE: If you are driving down you cannot get an FMT stamped in Rocky Point. It has to be done at the border. And when the 180 days runs out, you must return it at the border and get officially stamped out. If you don't and you then attempt to get another one, well all hell sometimes breaks loose. People frown at you, scold you, refuse you entry into Mexico and just generally get all in a tizzy. Plus, it will cost you dearly to get it all straightened out. (Not personal experience, but I know people who know people who...)

Anyhow, as soon as I get more actual/factual details about the new FMM, I'll be sure to fill you in. Conversely, if you've already got more information you can fill ME in! Whatever works...