Your Mexican Home
Last Update: 5 December 2010

This article has been edited to reflect the changes in the immigrations rules.  See How to Move to México

This four part series is about finding a house or apartment for your new life in México.  After this introductory page, we'll  move on to Renting, Buying and Building/Remodeling.

In this chapter, we'll talk about:

Doing it the wrong way

Doing it the right way

Definitions you need to know

Let's begin with a reality check.

México is not for everyone.

So many times people have come to México on vacation and have fallen in love with the country.  They decide this is their retirement dream.  They go home, get a Residente Temporal have the mother of all garage sales, pack up what's left, and head for their dream land.

The next day after their arrival, the realization begins to seep in that this is not a vacation any more -- this is reality.  A little while later the picture is plain -- they fell in love with their vacation and really did not know anything about living in México.  Within the year, they are headed back North.  A few make it for two years.  Those who make it past the second renewal of their FM3s usually are here to stay.

I call the first two years the infancy years.  Unfortunately, the infant mortality rate is high.  High for the simple reason that the folks didn't do their homework -- they leapt before looking. 

And México is not for everyone.

Doing it the Wrong Way

Most of the stories we hear about moving to México are from folks who made it work.  The failures tend to slip away quietly. Let me tell you a true unhappy story in which I was one of the guilty parties.  I learned a lot from this misadventure, and I hope you will too.

I had been here for a couple of years when I got an e-mail from a couple who had seen my website. (It was a lot smaller then, just picture stories and no informational articles.)  They were interested in moving to México in hopes of stretching their SS checks.  They asked if I would show them around my area.  I agreed, so they came for a few days.  I squired them around town and introduced them to the Valdepeñas family who welcomed them warmly and fed them well.  They were sold on Lerdo.  They went home, got their FM3s,  had the mother of all garage sales.... Loaded a trailer and headed South.

They had asked me to find a house costing no more than US$200 per month. My friends and I began searching for a house within their price range.  Housing was very tight in Lerdo at that time.  We found several US$50 to $100 places which I knew where not acceptable.  Just as we were ready to give up, the family living in the town house across the street from Doña Martha moved out.  The owner agreed to hold the house for my new friends. A fairly new, unfurnished house with two bedrooms, one and half baths, a nice back yard, and secure off-street parking for US$200 per month -- a good deal.  There was a phone line, not in service.  No lease, just a verbal agreement.

The used trailer they bought for the  move was old and badly worn, not up to the long haul.  They had a lot of trouble with it on the road.  When they got to border, the guy's smart mouth offended the customs agent, so he ended up having to remove everything from the trailer in a pouring rain.  That smart mouth would see a lot of action in the next year.

When they arrived in Lerdo, they were pleased with the house until they realized the meaning of "unfurnished."  No appliances in the kitchen, no water heater, no gas tank.  Not even cabinets in the kitchen, just a sink hanging on the wall.  There was a stove, but it belonged to the previous tenant who came back for it a few weeks later.

The Valdepeñas brothers and I were able to scrounge up some things to help, but still the unexpected expenses in getting the kitchen working depleted their funds.  The phone company wouldn't turn on the phone unless they paid the past due bill from the previous tenant, which they couldn't afford to do.

Their monthly income was not enough to meet the FM3 requirement, so they had done some creative banking to produce a paper trail that appeared to meet the requirement.  That turned out to be another of their fatal mistakes.  They were continually short of  money, but the fridge always seemed to have beer.  Their dream of living better in México on their limited funds became a nightmare.

When the weather began to get hot, they discovered the A/C didn't work.  The landlord promised to get it fixed mañana y mañana y mañana...  Finally, the Valdepeñas brothers got it working, sort of.  After about six months, the landlord abruptly raised the rent by US$50.   A couple of months after that, he asked them to move out; he had sold the house.  They found another smaller place half a block down the street with an English speaking landlord who lived next door. 

By this time they had become bitter about their broken dream of life in México.  In short order they offended their new landlord with their constant fault-finding with México.  I had reached the point that I seldom came to visit them.

The final straw broke at the INM office when they went to renew their FM3s. (They were under the old rules.) They had never gotten around to registering with INM when they first came, so they were hit with fines -- US$300 each.  That was the final blow.  They left the INM office, came back to their house, packed up, and left for the USA the next day.  They left owing two month's rent and lots of hard feelings.

It's hard to imagine a couple making more mistakes.  A short list of the highlights includes:

*Poor understanding of what to expect in México, including costs

Bad financial planning, including lying on their FM3 applications

Poor preparation for the move

Disrespecting Mexican officials

*Entering into a rental without a written agreement

*Not understanding the rental law

*Not understanding the meaning of "unfurnished"

Bad attitudes, offending would be friends, not being able to adjust to the customs of México.

Not following the immigration rules

I said at the beginning of this tale of woe that I was one of the guilty ones.  The mistakes marked with * are items on which I should have been able to give them better guidance.  The informational part of this website has grown out of that bad experience.  Penitence, if you will, for my ignorance back then.

Doing it Right Way

Rent First!  Rent First!  Rent First!  Rent First!  Rent First!

Let that be your mantra for moving to México. 

Add to that the admonition to come with your suit cases, not all your worldly possessions.  Come with a Visitante, and plan to live in a furnished place for at least six months, a year is better.  That allows you to get through most of the infancy period without having had a close out of your life back home.  Remember that México is not for everyone, and often folks are surprised to realize that they are among that group for whom the dream doesn't hold up in the face of reality.

The assumption is that you have spent enough vacation time here to know, or are to be pretty sure, where you want to live.  During this trial period, since you have a Visitante, you are free to move to other cities for try outs without the hassles of dealing with INM every time you move, as you must do with a Residente Temporal

A good reason for making your trial last a whole year is so you can experience a complete annual weather cycle.  Some parts of México have very hot summers -- some have a dry heat like where I live on the desert, others near the coast are quite humid.  Air conditioning is far from universal, and it can be very expensive to operate (high electrical rates).  Some areas have pretty chilly winters, and heated homes are uncommon.  Only a few areas have natural gas; and propane, which you will use for cooking and hot water, is a very costly way to heat a house.  There are a few areas in northern México where you might have to shovel snow.  Don't fall for the line that the weather is always nice down here.

Did I mention hurricanes and earthquakes?  We even have a few active volcanoes.

I'm not trying to discourage you.  I just want to be sure you have both eyes open without rose colored glasses.

When you feel sure you and your chosen city are compatible, and you are confident of a long-term relationship with México, then it's time to find your new home -- a long term rental or purchase or building plan. Then you can go bank to the old country, fet your Residente Temporal visa, have the mother of all garage sales, and arrange for the remainder of your treasures to be shipped to your new home in México for your new, well planned life.

Does everyone do it this way?  No, some jump right in -- some make it successfully, some don't, as in the story above.  But you increase your odds of a happy landing with this slow immersion way.  Moving to another country with another language and customs is no small thing.

This family didn't rent first:

We bought a house within the first month of living in Mexico and lived to regret it. Why? Because we came to dislike the city, and because the market slowed to a near halt when we wanted to sell and move elsewhere. Now we are experiencing the joys of being long distance landlords. NOT.

There is something to be said for the cash system in real estate. Had we bought the "regrets" house with a mortgage at the usual rates, we wouldn't be getting enough rent to cover it. As it is, the rent received is at least equal to the amount of lousy interest we would be getting on our cash in a "safe" investment.

Another one who bought first and was sorry:

When we came down we bought a house. After a couple of weeks the neighbors starting having parties, the local grocery store started broadcasting his daily specials over a PA system at 6 in the morning. We were miserable. We bought another home and now can't get rid of the first home. That was 1 year ago. With this economy no telling how long it will take to sell.

With the preaching out of the way, let's get to what you tuned in for.


There are some terms and concepts that you should be familiar with before visiting the other three pages in this saga.

Condominium: This concept is the same as in the USA.  It may be high-rise apartments, or it may be a group of townhouses.  It will have a set of by-laws, a governing committee, assessments, dues,  restrictions, etc very much like in the USA.  Condos are usually for sale, but sometimes a rental can be arranged.

Gated Community:  An up-scale gated community is usually a condominium of individual homes with the same rules and governance as any condominium, but with a somewhat tighter security.  There are other gated areas that are not condominiums; they are often apartment or town house groups arranged to have a single gated access -- not unlike many such facilities in the USA.

Fraccionamiento (sometimes abbreviated as fracc) can be translated as "neighborhood association" or "development" or "sub-division."  Each translation has a different meaning which you should understand.

As a neighborhood association, it probably has rules much less restrictive than a condominium; and probably it won't be gated.  The most common purpose is to preserve the architectural integrity of the neighborhood; although there may be other goals.  This is like many neighborhood associations in the USA.

While a contractor/developer is building a new development, it will be called a fraccionamiento.  Until the project is completed and officially turned over to the city, the city usually has no responsibility for the area.  This means there might not be water, sewer, trash pickup, street lighting, or even police protection in the development.  It is important to understand this because the developer often will be selling units before full city services are available.  This limbo situation also may delay getting a title to the property.  For various reasons, the developer may wish to delay turning it over to the city.  This can, and does, cause hardships to the people who have bought and moved in.  Be very careful when renting or purchasing property in a new development because you could be in for a very long, rocky ride.

After the development is turned over to the city, it may continue to be called a fraccionamiento -- usually "fraccionamiento some name," not unlike named sub-divisions in the USA.  This kind of fraccionamiento may or may not come with restrictions.

As you can see, it is important to understand which kind of fraccionamiento you are moving into.  As always, a clear understanding at first will avoid misunderstandings later.

Restricted Zones:  The Mexican Constitution forbids foreign ownership of property within 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) of a land border and within 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) of the ocean.

There is, however, a work-around called a fideicomiso which will allow "ownership" of residential property in the restricted zones.  A fideicomiso is a trust held by a bank.  The trust holds the title to the property.  As the beneficiary of the trust, you have complete control of the property -- you can sell the fideicomiso, you can pass it to your heirs, etc.  It's ownership without holding the actual title.  The fideicomiso is usually good for 50 years and can be renewed more or less forever.  If you become unhappy with the bank, the fideicomiso can be transferred to another bank.

Of course, it's not free.  There is a fee for setting it up, and there is an annual administration fee charged by the bank.  More about fees later in the chapter on buying property.

Federal Zones:  All land within 20 meters (about 66 feet) of any permanent body of water -- oceans, lakes and rivers -- is national land.  It cannot be owned by anyone, not even by a governmental body.  The federal government does have the authority to issue conditional concessions for limited use of this land.  Sometimes this Federal Zone rule may impact your plans, so we'll revisit this in the chapter on buying.

Non-Restricted Zone:  Foreigners may own residential property with a clear title in the rest of the country beyond the restricted zones with the exception of federal zones and ejido land.

EjidosAs a part of the land reforms growing out of the Revolution (civil war) in the first quarter of the last century, the Constitution of 1917 created communal lands called ejidos.  Membership in the ejidos was given to soldiers (of the winning side) and to the former workers (serfs) of the great haciendas which were broken up by the land reforms. 

Membership in an ejido is hereditary.  Each member must specify one family member of the next generation to be in line to inherit the family's membership.  My English student, Nery, will inherit a membership from his mother who inherited from her grandfather who was a soldier under General Villa and was one of the original members of Ejido LerdoEjido Lerdo was the first one created, and for a long time it was the largest in the country, but it has shrunk as Lerdo city has gobbled up much of the original area. 

I digress because I love learning about these kinds of obscure Mexican customs.

In the beginning, members could not sell their allotted share of the land.  The law has been changed to allow the selling or renting of ejido land under certain circumstances.  The conversion of ejido land to regular property must be done in a certain manner in order for the new title to be valid.  There have been several tragic scams with ejido land that was not properly regularized. These scams have frightened buyers to the point that many prudent folks won't touch ejido land.  I know it is possible to be successful in buying ejido land; the place where I live was once an ejido cotton field.  I'll have more to say about ejidos in the Buying chapter.

Real Estate Agents are totally unregulated in México -- no special training or licensing required.  They have no obligation to tell you about defects or other problems with a property. Be skeptical of anything they tell you about the laws or requirements.  The only person you can rely on for legal information is a notario público.

Notario Público:  Don't be misled by the name because it looks so much like notary public.  They are not the same thing.  A notario is a licensed attorney who has received special advanced training in real estate law and has been appointed to the position by the government.  In addition to being a lawyer, a notario, by virtue of his/her appointment, also has certain judicial authorities.

In buying or selling property, you must use the services of a notario.  S/he prepares the title and other legal documents required for the property transfer.  In the section dealing with buying property, we will have much more to say about this very important person.

Do I need a lawyer?  Some people say a notario, which you must have, is enough.  Others content that for a high value or complicated transaction you should have your own lawyer in addition to the notario.  The lawyer may be especially important, even sometimes required, in dealing with issues in the restricted zone, and if you wish to have a Federal land concession. If you are buying in a fraccionamiento, a lawyer is going to be helpful in guiding you through the covenants and restrictions. Obviously, you should choose your lawyer very carefully to be sure he is qualified in the area of your need.

PROFECO: Procuraduria Federal del Consumidor.  México's consumer protection agency with offices all over the country.  They are very adept at resolving disputes between consumers and business -- such as a home owner with a grievance against a contractor.

With these basic concepts down pat, we're ready to move on.  I have divided the story into three parts:

Renting -- which is where everyone should consider starting their new life in México.

Buying -- which you probably should not do until you have lived (rented) in your chosen city long enough (a year?) to be sure that it is the right place for you.

Building or Remodeling -- which can only follow after buying property.

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