Pros and Cons of Mexican Citizenship for Expats Living in Mexico
When it comes to expats living in Mexico, particularly those hailing from the US and Canada, statistics reveal a surprisingly low number opting for Mexican citizenship. On average, only 172 Americans and 36 Canadians take the plunge each year, out of the hundreds of thousands residing in the country. This figure begs the question: Why are so few expats choosing to naturalize?
The decision to naturalize is a deeply personal one, often influenced by a range of factors from political interest to employment opportunities. Here, we dive into some of the key pros and cons of Mexican citizenship for expats.
- Increased Stability and Security: Having Mexican citizenship can provide a more profound sense of stability and security. As a citizen, you're not tied to visa regulations and aren't at the mercy of policy changes that could affect your right to live in Mexico. There is no threat of being reported to immigration by an aggrieved party for malicious reasons or accidental violations.
- Freedom to Work: If you face unexpected changes in your income source, you have the freedom to find employment, freelance, or even start a business in Mexico without worrying about immigration restrictions.
- Right to Express Political Opinions: Article 33 of the Mexican constitution restricts foreigners from participating in political affairs, and the interpretation of “participation” can sometimes be vague. As a citizen, you have the freedom to voice your opinions on national and local issues without fear of legal consequences.
- Easier Access to Mortgages and Property: Citizens have easier access to Mexican mortgages and the right to buy property in the restricted zones without a bank trust.
- Less Bureaucracy: As a citizen, you're spared from certain immigration and bureaucratic hurdles. This can be especially beneficial in situations where minor oversights can lead to violations of visa conditions. For example, a simple favor for a friend could be a violation of visa conditions if it could be construed as a lucrative activity, even if it were not directly remunerated, and this activity is not registered with immigration authorities.
- No More Reporting to Immigration: Temporary and permanent residents are required to report changes of address, civil status, employment and other things to immigration within 90 days. Naturalized citizens have no requirement to report anything to immigration.
- Quicker Entry and Departure: Naturalized citizens do not need to report to immigration before flying out of the country, and are able to use the Mexican citizen lines upon return without question. At most land borders, Mexican citizens can leave and enter freely without any immigration procedures in either direction.
- Easier to Replace ID: Temporary and permanent residents are required to carry their resident card at all times, but replacing a lost or stolen resident card can be difficult. Many report the process to be just as time-consuming as obtaining the original document. Mexican citizens can identify themselves with a number of documents, some of which may be much easier to replace than a resident card, such as a local driver's license.
- Strength of Mexican Passport: Depending on which passport you currently hold, a Mexican passport may be more powerful and allow visa-free entry to more countries. As of May 2023, the Mexican passport ranks 22nd on the Henley Passport Index. In some cases, Mexican passport holders may have easier access to some countries than US or Canadian passports. For instance, Brazil, which has reciprocal visa policies as a retaliatory measure.
- Loss of Embassy Protection: Naturalized citizens have no right to notify their birth country's embassy upon arrest, and the embassy's ability to help in extraordinary circumstances is much more limited.
- Physical Presence Requirement: Naturalized citizens will lose their Mexican citizenship if they do not step foot in the country for 5 years. On the other hand, there is no clearly defined physical presence requirement for permanent residency.
- Use of Foreign Documents is Prohibited: Naturalized citizens must use Mexican documents at all times within Mexico. Although Mexicans by birth may be able to use foreign documents such as drivers licenses in some cases, naturalized Mexican citizens risk losing their citizenship for doing so.
- Tax Residency: While many temporary and permanent residents never file a tax-return in Mexico if they do not have Mexican income, it may be harder to fly under the radar as a Mexican citizen.
- Restricted Government Employment Opportunities: Employment opportunities in the foreign service of your birth country may be limited after attaining Mexican citizenship. Consular and diplomatic roles may be not be open to dual-citizens, and obtaining a security clearance in your birth country may be much more difficult.
- Renunciation of Birth Citizenship: Naturalized citizens are required to renounce their birth country citizenship in a document signed at SRE, on the day they receive their Mexican citizenship certificate. Some countries such as the United States and Canada do not recognize this renunciation, and the naturalized citizen effectively remains a dual-citizen outside of Mexico. Other countries do not recognize dual-citizenship, and attainment of Mexican citizenship may cause the loss of citizenship in another country.
- Loss of Pension and Social Benefits: Some expats report that the primary reason to not pursue Mexican citizenship is due to the loss of their pension or government benefits. Some pension and social security benefits from the birth country may not be available to a dual-citizen living in the country of their second citizenship, or if they are not tax-resident in their birth country. For working age expats, benefits such as social security contributions may not accrue in their birth country if they do not maintain tax-residency, which becomes more of an issue after attaining Mexican citizenship.
- Limited Political Participation: While you have the right to voice your opinions as a citizen, most expats might not be interested in participating in Mexican politics and do not perceive this to be a benefit. Involving yourself in political issues in Mexico can be very dangerous even for citizens, and it may be wise to just stay out of it, even after becoming a naturalized citizen.
- Questionable Legal Fairness: The perception that citizens might be treated more favorably in legal disputes remains debatable. Whether it's a contractual, property, or labor dispute, it's unclear whether being a citizen offers substantial benefits over permanent residency in any legal disputes.
- Perception as a Foreigner: Regardless of citizenship status, some expats might still face situations where they're treated or perceived as foreigners. While this is gradually changing, it's a reality that some might find frustrating.
- Second-Class Citizenship: There is a clear distinction between Mexican by birth, and Mexican by naturalization in the Mexican constitution. In many ways, Mexicans by naturalization are second-class citizens, and many employment and political roles remain restricted even after attaining Mexican citizenship by naturalization.
- Right to Bear Arms: Mexican citizens have a constitutional right to posses firearms for the defense of their home. Although firearms permits may be available to all legal residents, it may be easier as a Mexican.
- Restricted Careers: Soldier, president, senator, member of congress, airline pilot, ship captain, and drone operator are all examples of positions in which Mexican citizens by naturalization are discriminated against. At municipal and state levels there may be many other civil servant positions which legally require Mexican citizenship by birth. This has been challenged in the Supreme Court with some success, but the number of naturalized Mexican citizens is very small relative to other countries such as the United States and Canada, and there are very few people defending the rights of naturalized citizens in Mexico.
- Collecting Passports: Naturalized Mexican citizens may lose their Mexican citizenship if they subsequently attain citizenship in another country through naturalization. A digital nomad, for example, could not reside in Mexico for the minimum time necessary to get Mexican citizenship, apply, then leave and repeat the process again in another country and retain their Mexican citizenship.
As an example of how Mexican citizenship can reduce bureaucratic hurdles, consider the process for registering a vehicle in Yucatán state. A temporary or permanent resident must first get a letter from the vehicle registration authority requesting the foreigner's official address from immigration, take the letter to immigration and wait for immigration respond to the letter a few days or weeks later, with the foreigner's official address on file, and take that letter back to the vehicle registration authority, ensuring the foreigner's official address is in the state. They could very likely be required to provide a notarized rental contract or title to their home in order to prove their residency in the state. A Mexican citizen could simply show their INE voting card with an address in the state, and skip the trip to immigration or having to provide a notarized rental contract.
Despite these challenges, Mexican citizenship offers numerous benefits that can enhance an expat's life, particularly for those who see Mexico as their long-term home. Many have found that Mexican citizenship affords a sense of belonging, security, and freedom that makes life in this beautiful country even more enriching.
Ultimately, the decision to naturalize is a personal one, guided by individual circumstances, priorities, and experiences. Whether or not you choose to pursue it, one thing remains clear: Mexico's rich culture, warm people, and vibrant landscapes make it a wonderful place to call home.