I’ve been working in Mexico for 6 years now, and much of my job as both a TEFL course instructor and employment advisor revolves around the issue of the work permit. I work on a regional basis, for the entirety of Latin America, but this post will focus on Mexico.
The most important think to remember about this issue in Mexico was best summed up by Melee – a Dave’s Cafe poster and EFL instructor in Oaxaca:
In Mexico, what was true yesterday may not be true today. What is true today, will not necessarily be true tomorrow. What is true for me, is not true for you. There are multiple truths that can coexist.
Let’s talk about the varieties of truth here…
First, let’s start with what the Mexican government says, officially. The Mexican Consulate in New York has an English website that offers approximately what the Mexican Immigration and State Departments say.
Here, we see that there is a variety of FM3′s issued by type of status or employment sought in Mexico. They are grouped as:
- Business (further divided by whether you are paid by a Mexican entity or a foreign one)
- Technicians (scientists, researches, and the like)
- Journalists (carefully monitored category)
- Sports (foreign soccer players mostly0
We will focus on the business class for the moment. These visas depend on which country you are from. It would seem simplest for Canadians and Americans, likely because of NAFTA.
For English teachers, it is far less clear as to what is required. We are not foreigners employed and paid by foreign organizations. We are likely not tied to a foreign business operating in Mexico. By that, the Mexican employing entity (a school one should assume) will have to meet the needs of the immigration department in their city and state. Here is where things become fuzzy.
Another poster on Dave’s had this checklist:
1. A copy of every page (including covers) of your passport and tourist visa.
2. A copy of any marriage licenses or divorce decrees. (if applicable)
3. A letter to the local immigration office applying for the FM-3 (this is mysterious because each office has a different format and they give you no format as a guide). Plan on writing a letter, in Spanish, requesting the FM-3 to teach English. Call the local office and inquire as to whom the letter should be addressed. Part of the process will be having your letters rejected for improper format/information. When this happens, ask the immigration official to add the necessary information to the letter for one of you many return trips
4. Letters of reference from two Mexican citizens including a copy of their voter identification card. See comments in 3 above regarding the format of these letters.
5. A letter of moral support (apoyo moral) from a Mexican citizen with a copy of his or her voter ID card. (See comments in 3 above about the format of these letters)
6. A copy of the letter from the school offering employment along with a copy of the owners’ voter ID card and proof of his or her current payment of taxes.
Be careful because some owners balk at giving you this letter because they worry it may constitute an employment agreement you could use against them later. Nail this down with your school in advance. Coordinators play good guy/bad guy and may pretend they have to refer you to the school lawyer who may never meet with your or give you this letter. I have known teachers who were promised this letter but it never materialized leaving them stuck with immigration later.
7. A copy of 6 blank SAT payment forms. This is how government fees are collected. The forms are available at any stationary store (papeleria). Immigration will eventually fill these out and return them to you to pay at a bank. The annual FM-3 fee is about 1,700 pesos per year. Many good schools will pay this for you as a part of your offer.
8. Go to the local immigration office early (wait in line as early as 8 AM) and sign the register to wait your turn. Do not get angry or show annoyance if those later on the list get a hearing before you. It’s part of the system. Plan on waiting up to 4 hours on a busy day. You may have to return 6 to 8 times so patience is the key. Do not offer or pay a bribe for faster or more expedient service. Do not contribute to the corruption this way. BE PATIENT.
9. On the first visit, immigration should give you a copy of your application (good as your work visa for 30 days) and a letter to take to your local municipal (or state) government. Take this letter to the local government (try to get an address and directions from the immigration officer). You will fill out another form there and get a letter back in two or three days at most. Take this letter back to immigration. Try not to show your annoyance that the immigration department is thoroughly enjoying making you wait many hours and return many times – be polite and persistent. They have 30 days to process your application.
10. Ask for the SAT forms to be filled out by immigration so you can go to the bank and pay. You may not be able to get these forms filled out the same day but may be told to return mañana which does not mean tomorrow.
11. Take the SAT forms stamped paid by the bank back to immigrations and politely ask if there is anything else you need. Do not be surprised if you now need something else or if something you thought was OK now needs to be revised or needs to be an original copy. Keep your cool.
12. Eventually, after the game is played out, you will be told when to return to get your visa. If your application has expired, ask immigration to renew it for another 30 days while you wait for your visa.
13. Return to get your visa. Thank God and the immigration official you finally got it and relax for 11 months until you go through the process again. (I have actually seen grown men from other Latin countries kiss the official in joy and relief when they finally completed the process. I would not recommend this for an “extranjero” from an English speaking country)
This is the most extensive list I’ve seen and covers all the possibilities you may encounter. However, this is primarily for a renewal of an FM3 from within Mexico. At the initial application, the rules state that you are also to provide:
- A valid passport
- A valid FMT (the Mexican tourist visa issued to you)
- A letter of invitation of employment from the sponsoring school
- A letter from you, in Spanish, outlining your desire to work in Mexico and your qualifications for the job
- Your university degree, apostilled (more on this down below), and relevant to the teaching position you are applying to
- University transcripts
- Proof of residence (not always, but sometimes they ask for a phone or light bill)
Here is where the actual needs in applying for the FM3 differ, state to state and city to city within Mexico. Some immigration offices or agents go by the book. Others will shift the burden of proof to the employing school, so, the school tax documents and business license (for private schools) or SEP (Education Ministry) license become more important. Other locations require little more than the letter of invitation and the letter from you, along with the fees and application forms.
I’ve sent countless TEFL graduating students around Latin America for jobs, and the majority of those have chosen Mexico for a job placement. It’s rare that I’ve seen an immigration department go by the book to issue the visa. Mind you, we have a shortcut that is a great time-saver and benefit. The TEFL course diploma is issued in Mexico, by what is a Mexican entity (Teachers Latin America). This simple little detail negates the need for the apostille or foreign government certification of authenticity. We’ve had most of our TEFL course graduates who chose to stay in Mexico reporting back that the only requirements for the FM3 were:
- The TEFL certificate
- A passport
- Valid FMT
- Letters from both the school and the teacher
As well as all the requisite documents on taxation and licenses from the school itself, but that doesn’t involve the teacher.
So what is an apostille?
The PeoplesGuide offers an explanation:
The Apostille document is a special certification document which is accepted by countries who are a party to the rules of the 1961 Hague Convention. You can view a list of these countries at the State Department web site: http://www.state.gov/www/authenticate/apostill.html
The Apostille document enables you to bypass further certification from the U.S. Department of State and immediately send or take your documents to the country of intended use.
Not only are notarized documents apostilled, but also any public document. Certified copies of court records require an apostille.
Essentially the apostille is a super-certification, warranting to the receiving forum that the notary real is a notary, that the clerk of court really is whom she or he purports to be, obviating questions of authenticity.
The apostille is issued by the secretary of state in the State in which the document was issued. Go to the web site of the relevant state, and you’ll likely find the information that you need. The fee for each apostilled document is $5-$10 USD.
So what should you do? How to know what documents you’ll need and if they need the apostille or official certification?
First, check with the employing school. They should have experience dealing with their local immigration department and will know what peculiar variety of requirements they have. Be prepared to go through all the official steps, but know that you most likely won’t have to.
Also, you can check with your TEFL course provider in Mexico, if you are planning to enter Mexico and work via this type of training or job placements.
Either way, remember the golden rule:
In Mexico, what was true yesterday may not be true today. What is true today, will not necessarily be true tomorrow.