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Getting a Mexican work permit as a digital nomad

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

This is written by Dave, Karen's husband. I know that a lot of people who watch the channel are in a similar position so I wanted to share my experience.

It seems that the majority of people who contact us about moving to Mexico are either ready to retire or working online. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to retire just yet so I'm selling my services online as a freelance developer and all of my clients are located outside of Mexico. Although I'm not moving around too much at the moment, I'm pretty sure I qualify as a digital nomad.

When we came back to Mexico in November 2020, getting residency was relatively straightforward for me. As I am married to Karen - a Mexican citizen - I'm entitled to apply for residency through family ties. I paid the money, submitted the paperwork, and received my 2-year residency card. This residency card, however, lacked one crucial element, the words PERMISO PARA TRABAJAR, permission to work.

Most of the people I see online asking about gaining residency in Mexico seem to qualify for temporary residency because they are able to prove that they have the necessary funds to support themselves. In these cases, the residency card also doesn't allow you to work in Mexico.

So where does that leave a digital nomad if they don't have the right to work in Mexico but they have an online job? Honestly, I don't know. I'm not a lawyer. What I can say is that if it is illegal to work online in this position, a lot of foreigners in Mexico are breaking the law, flagrantly.

I checked with my immigration lawyer and my wife's accountant and they both told me the same thing - if none of my money goes into a Mexican bank account, I'm technically not working in Mexico and therefore I don't need a work permit or to declare taxes in the country. I'm not sure if this follows the letter of the law or if it's more a case of not being likely to get caught - I suspect the latter. In any case, judging by the advice offered in expat groups online, this approach is extremely widespread.

In any case, something didn't sit right with me. Even if there is no chance of finding myself in trouble, I'd prefer to have everything in order. If I'm living in Mexico, it seems to me that I should be contributing to society here, rather than in the UK, especially since Mexico is a country that could use the public funds.

Getting my Mexican work permit

When I worked in Mexico as an English teacher, I had permission to work in the past, but I was concerned that as a self-employed person, the process may be more complicated. After looking into the requirements for getting a work permit and speaking to my immigration lawyer, everything seemed fairly straightforward.

I was required to present the following:

  • Print out of online form requesting a work permit

  • My residency card

  • Proof of payment for MX$3,314 (paid into a pre-defined bank account)

  • Letter explaining my activities and where they will be carried out

  • Proof of registration in SAT (Mexican tax authority)

In order to register with the SAT, you will need an RFC, which is your tax-payer ID number. Fortunately, I already had this from when I had worked in Mexico previously. If you are new to Mexico, you would need to make a visit to the SAT office to get your RFC and register before you will be able to begin processing your work permit.

The procedure itself was very simple. Fortunately, my lawyer had already meticulously prepared all of my documents and my time at the immigration office just involved nodding to confirm different pieces of information. I was not grilled about what I would be doing or even asked much at all. The whole process took about an hour (lightning-fast by INM standards) and I was presented with a brand-new residency card with the magic words PERMISO PARA TRABAJAR.

As I left immigration, I passed my lawyer my RFC so that he could invoice me for his services, excited to have my first deductible business expense within the country. I was told that if I wanted an invoice, he'd have to add the 16% IVA to his bill. The irony didn't escape me that after going through this entire process to be able to pay taxes in Mexico, my own lawyer was trying to avoid paying his. His bill came to MX$6,380 (including IVA).

Final thoughts

While the process is quite long-winded and expensive, it seems that Mexican immigration is not reluctant to give out work permits to residents. I listed my activities as "administrative services to businesses" in order not to limit myself to anything too specific and apparently this was sufficient. If this was the case for me, I'm sure other online workers would be able to do the same.

Please bear in mind that I am not a lawyer and I am in no position to offer advice on this topic. I'm just sharing my own experience in the hope that it is useful for others in my position.

If you are thinking about moving to Mexico or you are already living in Mexico, you should check out the YouTube channel La Karencita. It's full of cultural insights and information about living in Mexico which I'm sure you will find useful. You can see one of the videos below:

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