After spending six weeks in Cuenca, Ecuador this summer, we decided we’d like to spend even more time here. We came up with a plan to apply for our Residency Visas so that once we finished our world travel this Fall (well, for now), we would be able to split our time between Ecuador and the US.
We had heard horror stories from people in Cuenca about the hoops they had to jump through for their Ecuadorian residency visas. Back in June, we not only took a trip to the visa office in Cuenca to ask a million questions, but we attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting (hosted by the visa office) to ask a million more questions. We went to the meeting to confirm the things we already knew from the day before, but soon realized we were getting different answers to the same questions! Whenever this happened, we diligently pointed it out until we were told a definite answer, overriding all previous answers. Good thing we went to that meeting!
In the end we were lucky. Several large hurdles we heard about are now no longer an issue. Most notably, in Ecuador they now understand that Americans are a bit more lax about things like middle names. Originally, the names on one’s documents (eg. birth certificate, passport, marriage license) had better match up, and match up exactly. Suddenly, my wild and crazy idea of dropping my middle name years ago, and omitting in from my passport application, didn’t seem so smart! But we were assured that going forward, differences in middle names (or lack thereof) would not be a problem.
Maybe this doesn’t sound so daunting, but, that brings us to a new word in our vocabulary:
A•pos•tille [uh-pos-tille] n.
The process by which a government agency makes it extremely difficult for someone to submit an acceptable document.
In reality, an apostille is like a notarization for international documents. This means that once we procured an updated official document, we then had to send it to the Secretary of State for the state in which it was issued to be apostilled. In addition, every document had to be translated into Spanish and notarized in Ecuador by a local notary.
So here are the documents we needed before we could even apply for residency:
1) A letter, in Spanish, stating why we wanted to live in Ecuador
2) An application for our visa, filled out in Spanish
3) Notarized, color copies of our passport photo pages AND the pages showing our most recent Ecuadorian tourist visa
4) A “migratory movement certificate” issued by Ecuadorian immigration police stating that we could legally be in the country
5) An apostilled copy of our marriage certificate (no older than 90 days), reissued by the state of Florida, along with a notarized, Spanish translation.
6) An apostilled criminal background check by the state of Pennsylvania for each of us, along with a notarized, Spanish translation
7) One passport sized photo of each of us
8) A notarized copy of our Certificate of Deposit that shows that we have deposited a chunk of money here in Ecuador. (This was necessary for the type of visa we selected, called an investment visa. There are others to choose from with other requirements.)
The lines at the visa office in Cuenca are notorious, so even though the office officially opens at 9:00am, we got there at 7:30. We were fourth in line. They took our passports and gave us an appointment time of 11:30. This worked out well since we needed the migratory movement certificates. We had the time, so we chose to walk the 30 minutes to the immigration police. It was halfway there that I realized that the visa office still had our passports. Fortunately, Stephanie had the notarized, color copies of our passports, which we hoped would be enough. “Nope,” said the immigration police (actually, he said, “El Nope-o”); we needed the originals. I left Stephanie there, and jogged to the nearest bus stop to get back to the visa office. Once there, I had to explain to about five people why I needed my passport back, but once they understood, it was no problem. As I started heading back to the immigration police, I realized I had no idea which bus line would actually take me there in a direct route. (The buses run in loops in Cuenca.) So I headed up the main drag, and asked every bus that stopped if they were heading my way. I finally got back to Stephanie some 40 minutes later only to find that the color copies had in fact done the trick, and she had our MMCs in hand. We even made it back to the visa office on time.
At this point we had not notarized any of our docs. We simply wanted to have them checked for acceptability before we paid to have them notarized. Our representative, Joaquin, is a notorious stickler for perfect documents. The only error he found was that we filled out the application in English instead of Spanish. He also recommended a small change to our petition letter.
Our friend and translator, Michele, had joined us by now, and she went with us to the notary to get her translations officially notarized for us. It was here that we hit another small snag. The notary had left the office and wouldn’t have our documents ready until 4:00pm. Ugh. We returned at 3:45pm to find everything was ready, and got a small happy surprise: The notarization of twelve pages of documentation ended up costing us only $35! This seemed an amazing price after hearing estimates of $10-15 per page.
We ran around the corner to submit the works, and got to the visa office at 4:02pm, only to find they closed at 4:00pm. No problem; tomorrow we would be ready.
The next day we arrived at the office at 7:00am and were FIRST in line. Woo hoo! We got a 9:00am appointment, but they called us up at 8:45. I should say they called *me* up. Stephanie had run over to a nearby public restroom, and was most disappointed to find that she missed the joys of handing in all the paperwork she had so meticulously organized for us over the last several weeks. Joaquin soon called us up to say that everything was in order, and we could expect our visas in about a month. With the pressure off, we could spend a few days in Cuenca catching up with all the people we met last time.