Nearly three years and many thousands of dollars later, I’m officially a dual citizen of the the United States and Mexico.
When I decided I wanted to write this post sharing my experience with you I wanted to write a very detailed and thorough guide to how you could go about getting a second passport for yourself.
Three years later and after suffering a decent hit to my bank account, I realize that my experience wasn’t typical and that your path likely won’t look anything like mine.
Making me not at all qualified to write the internets new go-to guide on how to become a dual citizen.
What I can share with you is my experience, some takeaways that I learned that will hopefully save you time and money and give you a glimpse of what the process is like.
But first, let’s cover some basics and background.
Why I wanted to be a dual citizen – what is even the point of all this?
Since I began traveling I have always wanted a second passport. There are lots of reasons, some practical and also just because I thought it sounded cool. Having multiple passports and being a dual citizen is a pretty good travel flex.
On the practical side, I would be able to easily enter countries like Cuba and Turkey which are difficult but not impossible for Americans to enter.
I would also be able to visit Iran without a guide, which is strictly forbidden for Americans.
Many South American countries operate on a reciprocal fee for visas, meaning they charge Americans the same as what it costs for them to enter our country.
For example, my visa to Argentina would cost me $160 on my American passport. Were I to enter on my Mexican passport I would pay $0.
Also, there are times when you need to mail your passport off when you apply for a visa, as part of the processing they need your passport in order to stamp it.
Having a second passport would mean I could send one passport off for processing while I continued to travel with the second one.
Also, if I wanted to purchase property in Mexico it’s much easier if I’m a citizen rather than purchasing as a resident or foreign investor.
And, if you’re not a Mexican there are rules about not being able to purchase property near the coastline. Many foreigners get around it by placing their purchases in a trust that has to be paid to maintain annually but obviously not having to do that saves a lot of time, money and paperwork.
I could also get a second passport for my daughter or sponsor my moms retirement Mexican retirement visa.
Additionally, and I promise I’m not going to get overly political on you guys, but it’s pretty apparent that with the state of the U.S. at the moment having a B plan might not be the worst idea.
Before the pandemic, the U.S. had one of the strongest passports in the world. This past summer I couldn’t even travel to Europe to spend the summer as I had done every year since I started traveling.
In fact, this would have been my seventh consecutive summer to spend the summer in Europe but that clearly didn’t pan out this year. Sure there were some workarounds and I could have entered two or three European countries and rolled the dice on being able to maybe/hopefully travel on but that’s not the point of this post.
If you’re thinking that maybe having a second passport would be great for you here’s a great article that weighs the pros and cons of having dual citizenship.
How I qualify for Mexican citizenship — how is this even an option for me?
There are several different ways to go about obtaining dual citizenship- by heritage (your parents or grandparents were born there), naturalization (usually you come as a resident, stay a certain amount of years and then become a citizen), marriage or investment (usually a large investment, I believe 350,000 euro is the smallest investment that I’ve seen). Here’s a great article that goes more in-depth about the different paths to citizenship.
While researching it online I found out that I’m eligible for a Mexican passport as both my grandparents on my father’s side of the family were born in Mexico before
illegally immigrating to the United States.
I emailed the consulate to enquire about my obtaining a heritage passport and was quickly told no, that since my father had not taken his passport from his parents before he passed away that I was not eligible. Full stop, no way for it to happen.
Yes, because my grandparents were born in Mexico I was technically eligible but citizenship is passed from parent to child and since my father had died without taking his I wasn’t legally eligible.
But, since at the time I had just moved to Mexico, I thought I’d try it again. I emailed a local attorney my friends were working with on a visa issue, explained my situation, and awaited a response.
He replied the next day and verified that I am, in fact as I suspected and have been told all my life, a Mexican.
So, how to proceed? – or, here comes the drama
Next, I needed to begin gathering paperwork. A lot of paperwork.
The paperwork that would have been easier to collect if I was in the U.S. that I had meant to collect and never got around to doing. Fortunately, my sister wanted to obtain dual citizenship as well so she could help me track down documents. This meant a lot of calling family members that we hadn’t spoken to in years and asking for favors, etc.
The local attorney was asking for birth and death certificates for every person involved- my grandmother, grandfather, father, and birth certificates for both me and my sister.
Much of this would need to be done by mail, with certified copies and proof of ID, etc. And all of it would involve government agencies and you know how fast they operate.
After we gather the paperwork we’ll need to bring it into the local attorney.
So, we spend nearly two months and hundreds of dollars obtaining all of the paperwork, my sister ships it to Mexico and I make the appointment to deliver it to the attorney in person.
I take him the paperwork and he goes over each document telling me “yes this is exactly what I need, except you have the wrong version. I need all of these documents apostille certified.” Why tf did you not tell me that in the beginning?!?!?!?!
Now I have to ship all of these documents back to the states and have them sent to the Secretary of States offices (in two different states, no less) and have them apostille certified and returned to Mexico.
If you’re not familiar with apostille certification, it’s an additional seal or document for items so that they can be used internationally. Major takeaway #1– get all of your foreign documents apostille certified. Meaning that for submitting documents to Mexican agencies (courts, consulates, embassies, etc.) you would need your American documents apostille certified but not your Mexican documents.
I could spend another 1,000 words going into what an uphill experience I had with this first attorney but just rest assured knowing this was a typical exchange with him.
He swore up and down that he knows all the people that will process the paperwork, he personally knows judges, that he does this all the time, this is no big deal- we are not asking for citizenship that we are owed citizenship, this is just a matter of paperwork etc etc etc.
“And it’s not a problem that my dad died without taking his citizenship?”, I asked?
“No, definitely not, the law says you’re Mexicans and entitled to citizenship. We will not have any problems.”, he guaranteed as I slid his half his payment upfront, in cash.
My sister set to work quickly gathering the correct versions of the documents before our next meeting, which she would have to fly to Mexico to appear in person for. We were so down to the wire for the last set of documents that we were waiting for that she ended up having to fly to Texas two days before her flight to Mexico to receive documents in person, as we couldn’t wait for them to be mailed.
So, documents in hand, we meet the attorney in Cancun to submit paperwork to become dual citizens.
Turns out, there was a problem. You see, since my dad had died without taking his citizenship, we had an issue. You know, the same issue I clarified when he was being paid that was supposedly a non-issue. Now that he had been paid, it had suddenly become an issue.
Thankfully, he knew all those judges and court officials and they could help us….
So, he submitted the paperwork and, we had another problem.
You see, my father’s name was Fermin Aguilera Jr., no middle name. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Mexican culture but they take middle names very seriously here as they don’t actually consider it a middle name but more of a second last name, which is ancestral, combing the fathers last name and mothers maiden name.
My father didn’t have this (as my Mexican family was likely trying to assimilate) so his birth certificate reads:
Fermin (None) Aguilera Jr.
the (None) of course signifying his lack of a middle (or second last) name. These four letters, set into parentheses, would become a major roadblock because now, in Mexico, his paperwork didn’t match. They were treating (None) as part of his legal name and expected all paperwork to reflect his full name of Fermin None Aguilera Jr.
None of these supposed great friends in the government offices could be of any assistance. We needed to petition the Department of Vital Records in Texas to reissue my father a new birth certificate with his corrected name and follow up.
So we did. And we waited, and we waited. And we followed up and were told to wait more.
And one day, we receive a letter from the Texas Department of State Health Services telling us the could not locate my father’s records.
This was extremely frustrating as we know we gave them all of the correct information- name, date of birth, parent’s name, etc. We even had a photocopy of his county birth certificate but they couldn’t’ locate his state paperwork.
Also, my dad had a really
ugly unique name so he shouldn’t be that hard to find. How many Fermin Aguilera Jr.’s can there be anyway?
We were stuck. We didn’t have the correct paperwork to proceed nor could the state locate the paperwork, even though we know it existed as they had previously supplied us with it.
I won’t even go into some of the creative/ridiculous solutions that were offered to me by this first attorney and a couple of more that I spoke with as they were likely illegal. But, catch me for a beer sometime and I’ll tell you about the plans they were trying to hatch. It’s pretty good comedy.
The case stalled. I went off to Europe last summer and it kind of fell off the radar.
This year, back in Mexico and with a lot of free time on my hands because of the pandemic I followed up with the first attorney on it and had my sister follow up with the state of Texas. Nothing, no movement. Most government offices in both the U.S. and Mexico were operating with reduced hours if they were even open at all.
Enter Attorney #2 — drama, but more efficient drama.
This year my mom retired to Merida. Because of the coronavirus, she was unable to leave Mexico when her visa was set to expire. A friend was working with an attorney in Playa del Carmen, a beach town about three hours from Merida, where we were living. She referred my mom to work with the same attorney and while working together my mother explained my situation to the attorney.
“You should contact her, she said she does this all the time”, my mom told me.
I reached out to her, cautiously optimistic.
“Yes, I can do this for you. I do it all the time. I know all the judges and everyone that works in all of the government offices. This is just a matter of paperwork”, she told me.
“Even though my dad died without taking his citizenship?”, I asked of her. “Yes, of course, no problem. I just did one of these last week.”
The words felt oddly familiar.
“But what will this cost me?”, I asked. As I had actually already paid another attorney to do this for me, for all the good that it did.
Warning sign #1- “I can’t discuss the fee over the phone. I can only discuss it in person”, she said.
Meaning I would have to rent a car and pay for hotels to drive to Playa just to sit across from her to hear what this was going to cost.
I’m pretty sure this is what phone calls, text, Whatsapp, instant messenger and even smoke signals were for but for some reason I was going to have spend almost 7 hours roundtrip to get a figure out of her.
“Oh well, might as well see what she says. My mom needs to go for her visa extension anyway.” I figured.
Hotels booked, rental car secured, we made the trip. And her fee? I won’t say exactly how much but it was high, higher than we had anticipated it would be but worth it to us. She offered a discount if my sister and I did ours together.
But, we would have to pay the entire fee, up front, in cash.
Given my previous experience with the attorney in Merida I was justifiably hesitant but if we didn’t pay in full, upfront she would not offer us the discount for processing the applications together- a $1000 USD discount.
We nervously went ahead with the transaction.
And that’s when things started happening, and when the real drama began.
Within one week my sister and I had our Mexican birth certificates. They’re known as birth certificates but they are more what I would call lineage certificates. They are the papers saying we are the children of Fermin Aguilera Jr, who is the child of a Mexican citizen. They establish our link to Mexico.
These papers were the key to getting everything else and we had them in hand, within a week of meeting this new attorney!
We then began setting appointments for the other documents but unfortunately all passport offices in Mexico were, at the time, closed indefinitely for Coronavirus.
This attorney had gotten more done for us in the week that we had known her than the last attorney had gotten done in three years. She also charged a lot more but I guess you get what you pay for.
What I didn’t pay for was all the drama that went along with the transaction. I could, again, spend another 1,000 words going into all of it but it doesn’t really matter.
I’ll just say there were tears (hers, not mine- she cried more than once), missed deadlines (her), rage texts (both of us), arguing (both of us), unprofessionalism (her) and plenty of nickel and diming (again, her).
Catch me on my second beer and I’ll give you that entire saga. It was a lot of stress in the moment but now it makes for a good story, one that I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of.
I’m of two mindsets with the second attorney.
Did she get the shit done that she said she was going to get done? Absolutely, and for that, I will be forever grateful to her.
Did it have to be as complicated, frustrating and dramatic as it was? No, absolutely, for sure not.
I was a legal assistant in my previous life before I started traveling and let’s just say that none of the offices I ever worked in operated like this. But hey, if I want to be a Mexican maybe I need to get used to the way things work down here.
I won’t give her name and contact details here because I’m not sure I would actually recommend her but if you’re wanting to go through this process and happen to be looking to do it in Playa del Carmen reach out and I’ll provide it to you directly.
A Last Minute Trip to D.C.
When we had our lineage certificates in hand I was going to continue the process to receive my INE (voting card) and passport here in Mexico but my sister wasn’t going to pay to come here (again) as she didn’t need hers immediately. So, I mailed her her documents.
She was then able to take those documents to the Mexican embassy in Washington D.C. (she lives about 45 minutes outside of D.C.) and get her Mexican passport on. the. spot.
I had been spearheading the effort for almost 3 years and now my sister had her Mexican passport and I didn’t.
This wasn’t acceptable!
I immediately set an appointment at the embassy and booked a flight to D.C.
I took everything, even papers I knew I wouldn’t need. After all the time and money I had spent (including another $600 for this last-minute flight) I didn’t want to get turned away for not having something.
And then, within an hour of entering the embassy, this happened:
All the time and money invested and boom, I finally had it.
It almost seemed too easy.
I told my sister I wanted to rush out of the embassy before they realized their mistake.
The big takeaways and my best advice:
First, let me say again, get your foreign documents apostille certified.
Then, get official, certified, government copies of the documents that link you to the country you’re applying to become a citizen of. Even though we had copies from the Mexican government of my grandparent’s birth certificates at one point we were told we needed more recent copies.
And then take these documents to that countries embassy in your home country.
The embassy in D.C. was doing everything under one roof. Birth certificates, printing passports, even the voter registration cards that I’m still waiting on back in Mexico- they were doing it all there.
It’s likely that whatever country you’re applying for has a similar setup. Contact them first, save yourself a lot of time, money and drama.
I assumed I would need to do this entire process in Mexico but that was not the case.
We calculated that we’ve spent more than $5000 USD on this, much of it unnecessarily it would seem. Not cheap but way less money than the 350,000 euro to get a passport through investments.
Not to mention the nearly three years we spent on this. Had we just gotten our Mexican birth certificates in Mexico and then headed to the embassy I think we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, money and stress.
So what next?
Well, now that I’m officially a Mexican I really should learn to speak Spanish. My Spanish is basic, at best.
I’m sponsoring my mom’s retirement visa with my status as a dual citizen and I’m returning to Mexico tomorrow (as an actual Mexican for the first time!) to spend two weeks in Tulum with my best friend where we are going to look at some possible investment properties, now that I can buy property as a citizen rather than a foreigner.
Also, I just learned that using my Mexican passport there’s the possibility of getting full Spanish citizenship after two years of residing in Spain. Meaning I could possibly have an EU passport, which has been the real dream of mine forever.
So, I may be getting ready to do this entire process all over again in Spain. We shall see. Apparently, I’m a glutton for punishment.