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Emigration: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

By: Marygwen Dungan | Thursday, November 15, 2012

Emigrate Now, Avoid the Rush: Part Tres

Emigrating isn't always about escape. It's just as often about a better quality of life and sometimes it's about adventure. If you live in the US, what would motivate you get up and go? And if you did, what about your children's education, if they're school age; your job and your spouse's job; and learning a new language? Over the next few articles, we'll discuss the pros, cons and, especially, the how-tos of moving to another country.

Ants in Pants

Anytime there's a major upheaval, like economic collapse, war, your political candidate lost, or whatever, people will be tempted to hit the road. Although some are realizing dreams of retiring in a tropical paradise, more likely these days, it's the disgruntled who are threatening to leave in a fit of pique over things like the growing police state, unconstitutional impingement on civil liberties and confiscatory taxation, among other gripes.

The owner of a Nova Scotian B&B I stayed in during my Move-to-the-Maritimes phase a number of years ago had immigrated to Canada from England. I asked him why, and was he still happy with his decision a few decades on. The "why", he told me, was Because Of the Suez Canal, like, how could anyone not know this! The "was he still happy part", he wasn't sure, but hey, he had made a stand against British foreign policy circa 1956, one that defined the rest of his life. What I'm saying here is if moving to foreign shores looks like greener pastures today, think through what life may be like ten years on.

Where to go

It may come as a surprise to those who think all they have to do is throw a bathing suit into a carry-on, hop on a plane and start their new life, that few countries welcome immigrants. One way or the other, newcomers are going to put pressure on a country's infrastructure in terms of housing, medical care, schools and use of public services and utilities, even if they're paying full boat. And keep in mind, these are hard times. The Secretaria de Turísmo may want your vacation dollars; however, local authorities and the hombre on the street may not feel the same way. How do you like sharing public resources with foreigners? Just sayin'.

Generally speaking, it's going to be hard to get into a (formerly) First World, Anglo-centric country. It helps if you're young, have a skill set crucial to that country's current needs that will carry you through to qualifying as a permanent resident, have been offered a job a local can't do and will never be able to do, will start a business and, of course, have some money. Look up immigration requirements for countries you'd like to move to and see if you qualify. For all others, there's Mexico¹, Central America and parts of Asia.

All Countries have Rules; Rules Change

Contrary to what Sovereign Man or the writers for International Living and Escape America say, legal immigration leading to permanent residency--and you don't want any other status--entails more than entering a country with the tourist visa you're given on the plane and checking into a beach resort paying off-season rates.

I'm going to focus on moving to Mexico from the US; most of the information will hold true for Canadian expats, as well. Well over a million Anglo-Norte Americanos are in Mexico already and this is an easy move, relatively speaking.

Residency Visas: You will need a residency visa to stay in Mexico for more than 180 days. Regardless of which visa you choose--or are qualified for--you will have to provide proof of income/net worth via financial statements, and prove your identity with a birth certificate and passport. You'll also have to show a marriage certificate, children's identity papers and fido's health certificate good no earlier than five days before border crossing. You will have to obtain an apostille for all of these documents (required by countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention--the US and Mexico are; Canada is not. Canadians must obtain an apostille-equivalent.). There is another list of requirements if you want to move household goods and/or a motor vehicle duty free. I won't even start on how to find a place to live, turn on utilities, find a school for your kids, doctors, places to shop and all the rest.

Rules change: Keep in mind that most of the world is in a depression. Countries are also preparing for war either as combatants or innocent bystanders. Both mean a lot of refugees and émigrés and, consequently, immigration policies are becoming more restrictive. Both Mexico and Cost Rica (another popular destination for Americans and Canadians) have recently upped minimum-income requirements. In Mexico, it was raised 30% as of November 2012 to approximately US$1,950/mth from US$1,500/mth. Those in the country who are not already permanent residents and cannot meet the new minimum-income requirements may have to go back where they came from. This is why you should go for permanent residency status from the get-go. At the end of the four-year period you will no longer be subject to yearly visa renewal and proof of income. Mexico is mandating other rule and loophole shape-shifting changes, which are just being published now.

How to get there

Driving: I know, or know of, many people who have driven from Canada, through the US and to their destination in Mexico, even all the way to the Yucatan, without incident, and have been doing it for years. Over the last few months, this includes one woman who drove alone, two women who drove with their cats and two men who drove with a cat and dog in a Mercedes filled with luggage. The worst I've heard from people on the Moving forums is being stopped for a traffic violation and "choosing" to pay a "reasonable fine" on the spot. Not all make that choice, though, and at least the ones I know of have continued on their way. I wouldn't drive, but that's partially because I don't like to.

For the most part, the area around the US/MX border is the most dangerous. Before you head out, it's important to know which crossings are undergoing the heaviest fighting. In addition to drones, which have been there for years, helicopters patrol and occasionally fire on motor vehicles and people on the US side. I don't know how often this happens at the US/Canadian border, which is also manned by drones and militarized security forces. You won't have to contend with this if you fly.

Moving with Physical Precious Metals

I'm going to jump right to what I consider to be a Huge Consideration: transporting physical precious metals across borders. I have not been able to find any official policy or guidelines on this subject or even anything written by others, including personal experiences. The only case I know of--and it didn't go well--was that guy who was arrested in the Mexico City airport a few years ago, who was changing planes on the way to Panama with the equivalent of US$120,000 in gold coins. According to the newspaper report, he was detained because he appeared nervous, was taken into custody and his undeclared gold was confiscated.

The bottom line is, DON'T travel with precious metals. That's the advice I've received from both a Customs Broker and Immigration Attorney in Mexico.

Consider that first that you'll have to go through screening at the disembarkation airport. If you are travelling with cash or equivalents, including jewellery, in excess of US$10,000, you must declare it. TSA recommends that you request a private screening when carrying valuables. If you call them, they will want your name and phone number before answering questions, just so you know. As far as what happens at your foreign destination, TSA advises that you contact the State Department to coordinate with customs there. You should also contact the American Consul in the destination city, which you are advised to do anyway. So, at this point, the cat's out of the bag big time: the TSA, State Department, foreign-destination authorities and their employees and friends know what you're carrying, how much it is worth and where you will be living.

This isn't personal, by the way, even though it may feel like it; you're just collateral damage. Border agents are looking for drugs leaving Mexico and entering the US and for money leaving the US and entering Mexico.

What's Left

There's plenty more to consider. In the next article I will address macro subjects like currency controls, both current and in the works, efforts to restrict foreign travel of US citizens and confiscate passports without a judicial hearing, and personal issues such as moving household goods duty free and finding a customs broker and immigration attorney.


*Warning: find out what the laws are --in both the country you plan to leave and the one you plan to enter --and obey them all of them. Really.

¹ I'm just kidding. I ♥ México. Viva México!


Author: Marygwen Dungan

Marygwen Dungan

Marygwen has worked in banking and securities for 25+ years. Her first job after the University of PA undergrad and Wharton grad was as an investment banker at Paine Webber. After a stint in international commercial banking, MG returned to Wall St. as a risk-arbitrage sales trader, initially working for Merrill Lynch.

For the last ten years MG has been a supervisory analyst and editor of institutional equity and economic research for several multi-national financial firms including Banco Santander, Credit Lyonnais and Fox-Pitt, Kelton, a subsidiary of SwissRe. She currently writes for BlownMortgage and contributes to other top-rated blogs. Personal interests include historic restoration and organic farming.

Copyright © 2009-2012 Marygwen Dungan