The most prized possession of all expats is home country citizenship, but we found an expat who discovered the benefits of having dual citizenship in Mexico.
Nearly 4,300 Americans gave up their citizenship in 2015, according to U.S. government data, a rate 18 times higher than 2008. The record number relinquishing their citizenship last year was a 20 percent increase over 2014 and the third year in a row of record-breaking increases, according to an analysis by CNNMoney.
But not all are simply trading a U.S. passport for one issued by their adopted country. An increasing number of expats – Americans and other nationalities – are opting instead for dual citizenship.
A case in point is Londoner Sarah Elengorn, who put her roots down in Puerto Vallarta over a decade ago but only recently became a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Mexico.
Born and raised in the United Kingdom’s capital city over 35 years ago, Elengorn graduated with honors from the University of Bath with a degree in European Studies, intent on working for the European Union in its Brussels, Belgium headquarters.
While at the University of Bath, she studied French and Italian and acquired fluency through one-year university programs in Montpellier, France and the British Institute in Florence, Italy.
“You need at least four languages to be seriously considered for many European Union positions,” Elengorn explained, “so I decided I needed to learn Spanish, and that’s what initially brought me to Puerto Vallarta.”
She looked for an opportunity to volunteer with a non-profit organization in a Spanish-speaking country and soon narrowed her list to Peru, Ecuador and Mexico. Elengorn chose Mexico because she liked that project best.
“I found a volunteer position in 2003 with Outreach International to work with street youth,” she told us. “I was working with street kids and enjoyed it so much I extended my assignment an additional two months beyond the initial four-month assignment. It was a great way to learn Spanish.”
When her assignment was over, she moved to Washington D.C. to work in the public relations department of the European Delegation to the U.S. for a short period of time, but it could not compete with her love for Puerto Vallarta.
Elengorn returned to Puerto Vallarta – or PV as local expats call it – as project manager for a U.S.-based non-profit organization working to improve education, health and sanitation in the international resort city of over 300,000 people.
She found the quality of life in Puerto Vallarta to be much more appealing than London or Brussels and decided to make the crown jewel of the Mexican Riviera her home.
“The focus is so different here,” she said. “You don’t need a lot of money to have a good time. It’s more about spending time with family, friends and just hanging out at the beach. The quality of life just really appealed to me.”
She found a new job in 2005 working in the local real estate industry as an assistant at Cochran Real Estate to learn the business before leaving for a sales position at Applegate Realtors. After advancing to sales manager at that company’s downtown branch, Elengorn decided to start her own real estate firm in 2014. Her new company – Elengorn Realtors – handles sales for a new 44-unit condo development in the Old Town section of the city.
With business booming, she decided to apply for Mexican citizenship, which she believed would provide her with many business and personal benefits.
“I had been thinking about it ever since my daughter Olivia was born in 2011,” she said. “Because she was born in Mexico, she is a dual citizen of Mexico and the U.K. I thought it was about time for me to apply for Mexican citizenship, also.”
As the mother of a Mexican citizen, Elengorn was able to fast track the citizenship application process, completing it in just five weeks.
“Getting my original British birth certificate probably took the longest, “ she said, “because I had to have my dad do it England and it had to be notarized and translated.”
The process also required that she get certificates (No Anteciedentes Penales) showing she had no criminal record from both local Puerto Vallarta officials and federal authorities in Mexico City.
The procedure for Mexican citizenship requires applicants to study 100 questions on Mexican culture, history and language prior to appearing in person at the Secretariat de Relaciones Exteriores in Mexico City. Applicants must present their paperwork to the examiner and then answer five questions chosen from the 100. To pass, you must answer at least four of the questions correctly.
“The oral exam is in Spanish and done standing at the examiner’s desk,” Elengorn said. “No special room is used. They just want to know that you can converse in Spanish and have an understanding of the country.”
Mexican citizenship allows her to own property outright in Puerto Vallarta instead of having to go through a Mexican bank to secure a 50-year trust that is held by the government, as all foreign residents must.
Another big benefit of Mexican citizenship, Elengorn said, is less red tape in setting up a business or changing a business entity.
“When you set up a business in Mexico, you need to go to a notary to determine your type of entity, file the name of your company and other things,” she said. “When you do that as a foreigner you need to notify the federal government that you are setting up a business and go to Mexico City to register your business. As a Mexican citizen, I don’t need to do that.”
She also finds that having Mexican citizenship helps make her personal life a little easier.
“When you carry a Mexican passport, you don’t have to stand in those long lines at the airport with all of the tourists coming to Puerto Vallarta,” she said. “Olivia and I just cruise through the Mexican citizens line by waving our green passports. It is just so much easier!”
Elengorn is separated from Olivia’s father but lives close by the house they built together in the Cinco de Diciembre area of Puerto Vallarta so Olivia can spend time with her former partner, Sergio, and attend the same school.
“I have lived in Puerto Vallarta for a long time,” she said, “and this city and country have given me a lot. I wanted Mexican citizenship more than anything as a way to show Olivia that, although I am from England, I belong here as well and I want her to belong here, too.”