It is confusing to those wanting a Mexico visa to learn that the country has different ways for people to get one. Getting a 180-day tourist form, for example, is different than getting a temporary or permanent resident visa. The application process, which (for the most part) still needs to be started in your home country, is different depending on numerous factors.
Here is the super-duper quick version with official INM immigration website links for more information:
The 180-day tourist visa is free and is issued at the border without any documentation beyond your passport.
A temporary resident visa must be applied for (starting at a Mexican consulate office in your home country), costs money and requires a lot of paperwork, not to mention an INM officer. Once approved, a temporary resident visa can be issued for 1, 2, 3 or 4 years, but normally the visa is issued for one year. You will then need to return to the local INM office 30-days before you expire to reapply for additional time.
If you want the other three years (to gain the four needed for permanent residency), you can make that request at the time of renewal, however, it is up to the agent what you are granted.
If you want to work in Mexico, you will need to apply for a work permit — best to do it at the same time. Ask your consulate INM officer for details on what you need to apply. There is also a separate fee for the application.
A permanent resident visa must be applied for at a local INM office unless you’re applying under retirement status — then you apply from your home country and by-pass the temporary resident process. The permanent resident process costs money and requires a fair amount of paperwork. It can be applied for in Mexico if you 1) have completed your 4-year temporary resident status or 2) you have been married to a Mexican national for two complete years.
Living Mexico: INM and You, going on your own
There are many other ways to gain residency for Mexico such as professional, retired and humanitarian grounds, but as I mentioned, this is the super-duper quick (and mainstream) versions of residency.
You can go directly to the government website for more information on Immigration, Visas and Passports. This is where you can find the appropriate tramites (forms). Just as a note, there are not separate websites or webpages for Mexican nationals and foreigners. This is the ONE website with the list of tramites (forms) used for everyone in Mexico.
When applying for residency, something expats do not realize is 1) just because you apply for a resident visa or a work permit does not mean you will be granted one. The fee is required regardless. Two, the completion of a 4-year temporary resident visa does not automatically entitle you to permanent resident status as many people believe.
If you do not meet the qualifications, if you have a documented history of causing trouble in the country or have a police record in your home country, you can be denied residency, temporary or permanent. If denied, you can ask, but INM is not obligated to reveal the reason for the application refusal. Just something to keep in mind.
If you’re taking one of these routes, all the best of luck in your process!