Below are some examples of situations and the type of visa you may consider applying for.
Temporary Visitor: When you do NOT want to seek permanent residence in Mexico
For Vacations and Casual Trips to Mexico: Simply fill out and use the Visitor’s Visa permit, available from the airline you travel with or the port of entry*
For Work Placements: If you plan to live and work in Mexico for a defined period, a Temporary Resident Visa, valid for up to 4 years is probably your best option.
For Other Activities: You should apply for a Temporary Resident Visa commensurate with your activity (e.g. Student, Journalist, Scientist, Professional, etc.)
Immigrant, Economically Active: When you want to acquire permanent residency AND you want to work in Mexico:
You should apply for a Permanent Resident Visa commensurate with the economic activity you want to undertake. Some common examples of economic activities which qualify for this visa are: a company-sponsored job, or an invitation to carry out academic or scientific research. If you have several hundred thousand US dollars to invest in a Mexican company you can apply for an investor’s visa under this category.
Immigrant, Not Economically Active: When you want to acquire permanent residency but DO NOT want to work in Mexico:
If you have a regular source of income from abroad (e.g. investments, savings, pension) then a Permanent Resident Visa will be the most straightforward route. By law, you need to prove that you have sufficient funds or investments to sustain yourself, and the criteria of income levels has been tightened up significantly under the new laws adopted in 2012.
If you want to live permanently but not work in Mexico, you will need apply for a Permanent Resident Visa and satisfy one or more of the requirements (family connections, minimum income/investments, points score or political asylum). As part of your application, you will need to state what you intend to do there, e.g. early retirement due to health, etc.