Residency papers for expatriates in Guatemala

As new missionaries in Guatemala, we needed to get our residency papers so we didn’t have to leave for Mexico every six months and still be legal in Guatemala. Here are some of the things we wish we had known when we were going through the paperwork process for residency after we moved to Guatemala.

U.S. Paperwork prep

Read on, but get the following papers together so you can impress your lawyer and get things moving quickly:

  • Complete copy of your passport
    • Yep, even the blank pages and the full cover
  • U.S. Embassy validated copy of passport at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala
    • WARNING: This may be the U.S. Embassy but validation takes time. Get there before 12 noon and you can probably get it at 2:30 that afternoon. Get there in the afternoon and you’ll have to go back the next day. Oh, and each validated copy will cost you US$50. They do accept credit cards if you don’t have the cash.
  • Criminal background check (This must be less than 6 months old when you turn it in and will require you to get things done in the U.S. so plan accordingly.)
  • These may not be necessary but are recommended to have ready:
    • Birth Certificates
    • Marriage Licenses
  • Legalize it all…

NOTE: If your US passport is going to expire in the next year, I recommend that you get to Guatemala and immediately apply for a passport renewal BEFORE you start this process. (It only takes about 10 days to get your new passport from the embassy.) I had to go back through part of the process since my passport expired shortly after we got the permanent visa stamp. Keep your old passport to show the entry date to the immigration office.

Guatemalan Residency Visa Options

According to our lawyer  and other sites there are three main long-term residency visa options (not including student, diplomatic, etc.) Since we just had our baby here in Guatemala, we opted for the Parents of Guatemalan child option. While others are available, I have listed three main options here:

Rentista (Permanent)

  • Requires you to have documentation proving financial sustenance (investments, work, bank accounts, etc.)
  • Requires you to have lawyer certified annual proof of $1000 for the first person and $200 more for each American dependent per month
  • Legal fees (depends on the lawyer)
  • Tax fees

Parents of Guatemalan Child(ren) (Permanent)

  • Requires that you have a child born in Guatemala
  • Fees/Taxes
    • Legal Fees (depends on the lawyer but usually about Q2,000 per person)
    • Tax fee (US$500 per person)
    • Renewal of US$100 every 5 years
  • Papers required:
    • Need to have your child’s official Guatemalan Birth Certificate (Here’s how to get a birth certificate from RENAP)
    • A recent black/white (Guatemalan) passport photo
    • Photocopy of  entire passport
    • Validated passport from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala
    • Certified criminal background check
  • Religious (Temporary 2yrs.)
    • I don’t have further information on religious visas at this time.


There will be a translation fee for your documents to be translated to Spanish by an offical translator. Your lawyer can help with this.

Finding a lawyer

Ask around among other extranjeros and you are sure to find someone with a (abogado) lawyer they recommend. We used and recommend Aracely de Mendieta, at Audicontables Mendieta Vargas Asociados (Edificio Geminis Torre Norte Oficina 11-13, 11 Nivel, 12 Calle 1-25, Zona 10, Guatemala City. She speaks some English but mainly Spanish, but she’s very patient and willing to work with you


After turning in all your information and signing documents with your lawyer, you’ll receive a document saying that your residency is in process. This will keep you from having to leave Guatemala or renew your visa every three to six months.

Note: If you leave the country before receiving your completed residency, you could cause yourself some trouble and have to start the process over. If you plan to take a trip before your papers are done, talk to your lawyer and get a special visa that let’s you leave without ruining your hard work.

10 thoughts on “Residency papers for expatriates in Guatemala

  1. Hello,

    Thank you for this clear and helpful information. I am in the beginning stages of applying for residency, and still need to get the police records.
    I am doing this in California, and was wondering if you might advice me how you got the authentication from the secretary of state. All I am seeing at this point is the live scan background check. It seems like this is different than what you are mentioning.

    Thank you,


  2. Aaron,
    Glad this is helpful for you!
    If you do your police report though the FBI, you can get it authenticated from the office of the U.S. Secretary of State (Currently Clinton)
    Here’s the link for the FBI info sheet on getting a background check: (Just be sure to request an authentication seal and signature from the FBI when you order your background check. ¨They don’t give this to you by default.)
    You can go through the Secretary of State for Authentication of your document. Here’s the link for this…
    Then you need to get it to the Guatemalan Embassy/Consulate for your state for authentication

    REMEMBER TO GET THIS PAPERWORK DONE WITHIN AT MOST 5.5 MONTHS BEFORE YOU NEED IT IN GUATEMALA. If you get there and it is more than 6 months old, you’ll have to re-do it! 🙁

    Hope your paper processing goes well!


  3. Michael,

    Are you saying that our background check has to be certified by the Sec. of State in addition to the state certification? We had our checks done by the Idaho State Police, and they are sending them to the Guatemalan consulate. We’ve gotten all the other papers and they also are on the way to the Guatemalan consulate. Where does the consulate send them after they have been certified there? Back to us, or to the embassy here in Guate?

  4. If they’re certified by the State Police that may suffice. Once they are certified by the Guatemalan consulate then you should receive them back (Having a U.S. address that can receive and send on your papers for you is really valuable especially if you’re not in the states.) then you’ll need to take them to the embassy here in Guatemala on your own. Hope it goes well!

  5. I just want to let everyone know that the above is correct, but doesn’t really mean much IF the Guatemalan government decides they want to prolong residency for ever!. Let me explain. I moved here 5 years ago this December, 2011. I finished and gave my final papers in June, 2007 to Guatemala Immigration. the last I heard from them was that I should wait and they would contact me. A year later I called them and they said that I just needed to wait. 2 years after that I contacted them and they said that my file was put in storage and that I needed to pay a Q10,000 fine to re-open my case. When I asked why, Immigration told me that because I didn’t finish my paperwork, they tacked on this fine. I told them that it was completed and presented the paper they sent me to prove it (it was also in my file). The manager of the department said “Oh, yes, you’re right it is here, but there’s still a Q10,000 fine.” I asked why again and he said that the fine was in my file. I asked him to look for it and he couldn’t find it saying, “That’s strange. There’s no fine in here, but there’s still a Q10,000 fine.” I have had 3 attorneys work on this in the past year, and through my Guatemalan wife’s family contacts have actually had meetings with the Minister of Immigration on two occasions. (I also have Guatemalan/American national children.) We also have some close friends that work in Citizen Services at the US Embassy in Guatemala City try to speed this along. NOTHING!!! Now they are telling me that I have to wait until Otto Perez Molina takes office before they can even begin to think about looking into my case. We are well connected here, but none of this is helping the situation. Keep this in mind when you’re applying for residency.

  6. Joe,
    Sorry to hear about your situation. I’m surprised that even with your connections you’ve been facing these lengthy challenges.
    We’ve been blessed with a quick processing of the Residency Stamp for our passports in a matter of six months. Now we’re just waiting for our DPIs to arrive at RENAP.

  7. do you have an email contact for Aracely? I’d like to discuss my residency options with her, thanks!

  8. Licenciada Araceli de Mendieta
    Tel: 2335-3357
    Edificio Geminis
    12 calle 1-25 Zona 10 Guatemala

  9. I highly recommend hiring a competent attorney to vet and present your application to Migracion. The problem with trying to do it yourself is that everyone you talk to will give you a different set of requirements that you must meet. We have just recently retired to Guate. My wife was born here but lived in the U.S. for many years. I won’t go into all the hassles RENAP gave her, except to say that after three months and several check-backs, she was told that her entire file had been misplaced and that nothing could be done. A friend referred us to Lic. William Lanuza, who, for a very reasonable fee, jarred her papers loose from RENAP and got her her id card. He also filed my app. for pensionado status, going far out of his way to oblige us and keep us informed of the progress. He speaks only Spanish, but is super-competent, knows what he is doing and is very persuasive with the folks at Migracion. What he did for us was worth many times the fee he charged. I will not mention just what that fee was, for obvious reasons, but it was a fraction of the $7,000 charge that I have seen advertised for handling permanent residency applications. He can be reached at [email protected]. I am sure he will be able and willing to solve others’ problems with the bureaucracy as he did ours.

  10. Ramon,
    Thanks for the additional information! It’s great to have some recommended lawyers for those getting their residency taken care of. Welcome back to Guate and happy retirement!!

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