Thursday, January 24, 2013

VISA PROCESS IN CUENCA - PART 1 OF OUR VISA ORDEAL! A day of dust turns to diamonds.....

We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto!

We have been in the process of getting our investment visa since the day we arrived here seven weeks ago.  We landed with all the necessary documents apostilled.  All we had to do (we thought) was to get the documents translated into Spanish and notarized here in Ecuador, open a bank account to transfer the necessary funds to get a CD as security for the investment visa and submit the paperwork to Immigration for the necessary approval and badda-boom badda-bing, we get our visa!

Things began swimmingly as all our documents were in order and the solicitor who was helping us got them translated and notarized in the first week.  Now all we had to do was open a bank account so we could deposit the money and get the CD.  In America, this is a 15 minute interaction that gets you a cheap pen, a free cup of coffee and a handful of dusty candy. Not so in Cuenca!

The second week, our solicitor took us to what is the equivalent of a Credit Union called Coopera to open an account so we could begin the process of transferring some money from Oregon to Ecuador.  All the discussion and all paperwork were in Spanish, so I am not sure what I signed, but thus far my Oregon bank account and my first born are still intact.  After this roughly 1 ½ hour ordeal, we were introduced to the bank president.  He was educated in the US and spoke perfect English, so I was feelin’ good.  When I asked him how long it would take to get the money down here and into a CD so I could get my investment visa going, he informed me that Immigration does not nor has ever recognized their CD’s as an authorized investment for this purpose and they were working on it (whatever that means!!!).  BOOM!  Two hours wasted and we’re no closer to getting a CD account. (Strike One!!!!)

Outside of the (not) bank our solicitor told us that this must be a new regulation because in the past a Coopera CD was recognized as legitimate collateral for an investment visa. (Um, mixed messages here??)   Now that it was apparent that this institution was not going to be able to help us with a CD, we queried our solicitor as to what bank would be best. Without any hesitation she said Banco Pichincha and gave us the name of a banker that would help us breeze through the process. Weary and frustrated from the day’s events we galumphed home and buried our sorrows in a plate of pasta.

We arose the next morning from the ashes of the previous day’s disappointment with a renewed sense of purpose. Steeled with strong black coffee and the American “can do” attitude, we marched off to Banco Pichincha to set up our new account. When we arrived at the bank, we were informed that the person to whom we had been referred was not in and may not be back for hours but the other individual who did the same thing could help us. We obliged and entered her burrow.

After going through the preliminaries she assured us that we had picked the right bank and she could open the account for us.  All we needed were two pieces of ID and a form from Immigration and we’d be set to go. Needless to say, we weren’t terribly happy since no one had told us about this government form that we needed.  As is the case in the US, when dealing with the government bureaucrats things can only go south from here. And they did!!!

The Immigration office was on the other side of town about two miles away.  Just far enough to warrant a taxi ride. Darn! More time and expense. So off we went, Linda trying to keep my spirits up with pithy aphorisms like, “Remember, this is Ecuador not the US.”   We arrived at Immigration just in time for the customary Ecuadorian LONG lunch break. We were informed by a rather dolorous-looking guard that the person who would service us was out for lunch and would return in an hour.  Resigned to the fact that yet another day was shot, we went in search of the perfect “almuerzo" ourselves.

We returned from our lunch just as some of the pencil-pushers were re-inhabiting their cubbyholes. One particularly officious-looking desk jockey ogled us coolly and then quickly averted her eyes, fearing no doubt that a longer stare might incite us to actually engage her in conversation. For the next half-hour she roamed the lobby, doing nothing in particular as far as the untrained eye could define, when suddenly with a great flourish, she whirled on her heels and aimed straight for us. “This is it,” I thought. “Here she comes to help us.”

But, alas, she was either rehearsing the newest step in the civil servant shuffle or suffering from the incipient manifestations of St Vitus’s Dance as she executed an haute ecole that would make a Lipizzaner green with envy on into a vacant cubicle not two feet from us where she plunked herself down and ceremoniously began a phone conversation. Since her nickering was in Spanish, I was uncertain as to what she was saying, but I did manage to hear the phrase “los dados (to dice)..... papa.”  I wasn’t clear as to whether she said el papa (the Pope) or la papa (the potato), so she was either instructing someone on how to prepare her favorite potato recipe or she was going to chop the Pope into little pieces.

Finally, nearly an hour after her arrival from her long lunch break, she inquired of the woebegone security guard, who had helped us several hours earlier, as to what our needs were.  He gave her the Cliff’s Notes on our concerns and she beckoned us hither. After much quacking with her cohort in the next compartment over, it was determined that the paperwork we needed could only be secured if we had (of all things) a visa. We tried to explain that we needed this form so that we could open a bank account so that we could GET a visa. This nattering nabob of negativity was not the least bit moved by the Catch 22 in which we found ourselves and refused to budge on this point. Her parting words of wisdom were “Find another bank that doesn’t require this form.”  (Strike Two!!!!!)

At this point, none of my loving wife’s words of comfort could soothe the savage beast within me.  I decided that it was best for all involved (including our Ecuadorian Ambassador who would have to clean up this international embarrassment if I tarried any longer) that I retreat, regroup and retool.  We called our solicitor and informed her of the quandary in which we found ourselves.  She assured us that she could get things handled and asked that we meet her next week at the Banco Pichincha branch just a few blocks from Immigration.

The following week (we are now in the second week of trying to open a simple bank account) we trudged a mile and half walk to meet our solicitor at a another branch office of Banco Pichincha.  After roughly an hour of waiting, discussing, waiting again, discussing again, it was determined that only our solicitor’s contact at the first branch at which we started this whole process could handle opening our account.  So off we went!!  Another cab ride back to the branch office that was only six blocks from our house and another hour wait, and we finally got in to see our contact. After much bantering back and forth between our solicitor and her contact it was determined that we did indeed need the form from Immigration, but because she had sent so many people to the bank to open accounts there they would temporarily waive this requirement until we actually got our visa (by putting a piece of paper in our bank account file stating the form was missing!). At that point we could go to Immigration, produce our visa, get the form and deliver it back to the bank and they would insert it into our file.

We took the paperwork with us realizing that we still had the laborious process of filling them out later. Still needed were two notarized color copies of our passport, a second color ID (not notarized), a utility bill from the address at which we lived and a letter of recommendation from someone who had an account at the bank. We left the bank, got copies made and walked eight blocks to get them notarized (More $$).   Another hour passed and finally we had our notarized papers. Now all that was left was to fill out the forms, get a utility bill and secure a letter of recommendation.

Neither of these were small things. We were in a country where we do not know anyone and living in an apartment where we paid no utilities, hence no utility bill. The next few days we asked the few people we did know about getting a letter of recommendation, but none of them had an account with Banco Pichincha. We emailed our solicitor and asked if she could help. One hour later an email showed up informing us that she had asked around and no one could help us. We advertised on the local expat website, GringoTree, stating specifically our situation to see if anyone would help us with a letter of recommendation. We did get some positive helpful responses and also lots of free advice. “Use a different bank” “Pay a lawyer”. “Get a different kind of visa”. Blah, blah, blah. 

We also implored our solicitor to help us with this since afterall, we were paying her to help us get our visas and time was a-wastin’. Miraculously she was able to pluck someone out of the woodwork who was willing to oblige, and she told us to meet her at the bank the following day at which time she would produce the letter. (Mind you we are now in our third week of trying to open this account.)

The next day we met with her, got our letter of recommendation and took it along with all the other papers to see our contact at the bank, overjoyed that we were finally going to open our account after three weeks.  Joy turned to sorrow when we realized that we had to get our Oregon wiring documents notarized.  So off we went to try to accomplish yet another step required by the bank.

Well, we realized no one in Cuenca would notarize our wiring documents because they were in English. As fate would have it, our solicitor happened to be at the notary office we were at helping some other clients.  We asked her if she would get the notarization papers translated into Spanish so we could get both the English and Spanish versions notarized. She seemed reluctant but said she would get it handled. Two days later and more money spent, we got the papers back. In the meantime, our banker told us we could write a check and that way we would not need the wiring papers notarized.  We wrote the check, whereupon we were informed all we had to do was show him our current bank account statement and then he could get the account approved. Another delay!!!  Who carries a current bank statement with them?  Might this be a piece of information that we could have been informed was going to be necessary when writing a check. In America don’t they just wait for the check to clear? (Nearly strike three!!!)

We had to go home, access our Oregon bank account, copy the statement and burn it onto a hard drive to take to get printed. The print shop could not open it (don't ask me why), so no copies. Finally, I just sent it off via email to our bank contact with a note that I would be down in one hour to answer any questions and pick up my receipt. Another hour wait in the office to see him and finally the account was opened! We are now waiting for the check to clear so we can set up the CD (approximately another eight business days). Start to finish, we are looking at almost seven weeks to set up a bank account and get money into it. We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto!!!  Will keep you posted.


Some days are diamonds and some days are dust (literally)!

The ordeal at the bank left me disliking Ecuador and everyone in it. It seemed like every blast on the tinny horns of those smoke belching puny cars bypassed my ears and went right into my soul. On the way home from the bank as we passed what generously could be called a feed store, the proprietress was cleaning out a cage full of dried chicken guano that had turned to dust and managed to blow it right in our faces. I was ready to pack my bags and get the first flight back to the States at this point.

Linda was able to calm me down and we decided that it was best to simply head home and relax. which we did for the lion’s share of the day. All day long we kept hearing music and loudspeakers blaring away, but did not give much thought to the loci of this “ruido”. Having been cooped up much of the day, we decide after dinner that it might be a good idea to go for an evening walk. As we slowly strolled through Parque Calderon near our apartment we noticed an ever- increasing swarm of people gathering along the sides of the streets. Additionally, a number of streets were cordoned off. We figured that it was yet another of the multitudinous parades that Cuenca has and decided that we should belly up to the curb and see what this one would have to offer.

In the distance we could hear the same music and loudspeaker we had been hearing all day. Suddenly a stream of cars honking their horns appeared filled with jubilant votaries of one of the political parties of Ecuador. Flags were waving, cars were honking, young adults were squealing and police on motorcycles with sirens blaring were clearing both sides of the street. There truly was magic in the air!  A large truck, the kind they tote vegetables on, appeared and lo and behold standing atop of it surrounded by a bevy of jubilarians was Raphael Correa, El Presidente de Ecuador.  Not five feet from us was El Hefe himself!  Apparently he had heard about my troubles with the bank and he had come to Cuenca to personally expedite the process. NOT!!!

Both Linda and I were amazed at the lack of security surrounding him and the incredible accessibility the people had to him. No secret service, no sweep of the area, no security of any kind really.  Just the leader of Ecuador surrounded by the people who elected him.  We lingered for awhile amidst the President's cheering fans as he delivered his promises to the devoted crowd through the blaring loudspeaker, and after he passed by and the excitement was over we headed home.

As we neared the entrance of our apartment we decided that we would go get an ice cream. Our friend Senor Diaz was closing up his little shoe shine shop, ready to crawl into his kiosk home for the evening,  so we stopped and chatted briefly with him.  We told him we were on our way to get an “helado” and asked if he would like one.  "Seguro," he replied.  What kind we asked?  “Whatever you bring me will be fine and appreciated,” was his sweet reply.

When we returned we spent a lovely time chatting with Senor Diaz and lapping our ice creams.  As we turned to leave he thanked us and then asked if we could do him a favor.  He wanted to know if we would give him two dollars so he could go visit his wife who has been ill and confined to a care facility.  His inquiry was so sweet and loving.  We pressed the money into his palm with the words “Que Dios te bendigo” (that God would bless you).  We said our adieus and parted for the evening. What had started out as a day of dust (literally) ended as one of diamonds.


  1. Another great post - it's nice to hear about the real side of all this. We will be doing a pensioner's visa so that should be a little easier. It's the figuring out what documents we need, where we get them notarized and apostatized (something we'd never heard of) and then getting them translated and apostatized (is that a word?) all over again.

    Keep up the great work and LOVED the positive end to the day.

    1. Hi Donna,
      Just bring lots of patience with you when you come - and big smiles! Mostly, this is a very loving and helpful culture - they just have a "way" of doing things that we are adjusting to and figuring out along the way. Remember, every ex-pat will have their own personal experience - so we're just sharing ours.

      The process we did for our documents was to get State-certified documents and have them apostilled by the Secretary of State of origin, and then we brought them here to get translated and NOTARIZED. Just make sure you get the proper documents (for example: some birth certificates need to be a LONG form not short form). I'm sure you will research this and figure it out - if we did, anyone can (LOL). You can always call the Cuenca Immigration office and talk to someone there to get accurate updated information (there are bi-lingual staff there).

      Keep in touch.
      We look forward to your arrival and meeting you.
      Linda (and Bo)

    2. Hello Linda! I was told to contact you by a friend of yours and I'm not sure how else to do it on here other than leaving a "reply."

      I was recently accepted into a 7 month long permaculture program on the coast of Ecuador. I am in the process of applying for my volunteer visa which should be valid for a year total. But I have called the Embassy, etc. and keep being referred to websites.

      Everything I have read online states that if I enter the country on a "tourist" visa then I cannot apply for a different visa without first leaving Ecuador, but several people I have spoken to have assured me that I should wait to apply for the visa after arriving in Ecuador.

      The thing is that I will be arriving and almost immediately will be needed on the farm for my internship and I feel like anything that would make the process speed up that can be done from within the United States is what I would like to take advantage of.

      Here is my email: ericaesham at g mail .com

      I would really appreciate it if we could speak. Thank you for your time.

  2. What a nightmare!!!!! You have a lot of quickly learned wisdom to share with others thinking of expatriating. Both of you are super writers! And your readers feel like we are getting to be friends of Senor Diaz.

    BTW, my new email address at the top of this page is correct, but this was delivered to my old email address. I don't want to start missing these!!

    1. Yes, Shadley,
      We are learning as we go - and our personal journey as ex-pats is teaching us patience and wisdom for living here with a smile! We hope to learn to go through the process of life with joy and peace - we just haven't arrived YET! I think we're both doing quite well though! Most legal and government dealings are an ordeal no matter where one lives!

      I'm not sure, on my end, how to change your address. I have it in my personal file. I think you have to go into Google and change it yourself. Let me know.

      Glad you're enjoying our writings and story.
      More to come....

  3. Hi Linda,

    My oh my, this is scary. I was so hopeful that at least putting money in an Ecuadorian bank would be easy! After all we're not taking anything out, we're bringing it in!

    Could you tell me what you used as 2nd form of ID? Do they accept US drivers license?

    Thanks, and keep blogging please!!

    1. Hi Kathy,
      Remember, we're just sharing our personal visa experience. Perhaps opening an account will go swimmingly for you. So don't come scared, but come knowing there is going to be a process for obtaining your visa. Yes, they do accept a driver's license for a 2nd ID, but that is today. Things change all the time here, and one never knows what tomorrow's requirements will be.

      Glad you are enjoying our journey and blog.
      More to come,

  4. Hi Bo and Linda,

    I'm sorry for your troubles but of course, the rest of us benefit because we will know to expect every delay that could happen and then add a couple more. Thanks for making your unfortunate story entertaining and well written. We look forward to the final chapter of the Expat Best Seller "Opening a Bank Account" or also known as "Dancing with the Civil Servant Shufflers". Mara

    1. Love your comment, Mara!
      Bo always calls these challenges we face, "Opportunities to Grow!" Are we ever growing - in patience, acceptance, and AMAZEMENT! We will definitely update our Visa saga - and we will cheer if and when we finally obtain them! You are wise to arrive here knowing there will be challenges and detours along the way.
      We'll let you know when the Expat Best Seller is on the shelves (LOL).

  5. Dear Linda (and Bob)

    Thank you very much for your great blog... very interesting information and experiences.

    We (from Europe) are moving to Cuenca by the end of September. We will also apply for a Residency Visa with the USD 25'000.-- CD.
    Just wondering what you meant with: nobody wanted to notarize our wire document?
    Do you need any "wire document" notarized?
    What kind of wire document?
    If we initiate the wire by Online banking, do we still need to show any account statements?
    Sorry I am a little bit confused.
    Would be nice if you could send me more details: orr2 (at) gmx (dot) net

  6. Hi, Just wanted to know if someone can tell us how much do the lawyers in Ecuador charge us as a fee for the full CD Residence Visa processing.

    1. Welcome to our Blog, S Kumar,
      There are many facilitators/lawyers charging different fees - depending on each individual situation. Some people choose to get their visas processed and received in the USA before coming to Ecuador. This facilitator has only 5 star recommendations for accomplish this - http://www.gringovisas.com. Others do it once they get here. You can go to GringoTree under the recommendations column to see who other ex-pats used and recommend. I've heard fees that range from $300 all the way up to over $2,000. So, you will want to research this carefully and make sure you hire someone who knows what they are doing and who will work timely and efficiently for you. We ended up firing our facilitator (not without a cost) and doing the process ourselves in the end. Other testimonies have been that they have had great success with hiring a facilitator or attorney and it was worth the money not to have to deal with it. I hope this helps, and that you find the person you are looking for. Again, look at and/or post your question on GringoTree.


Leave us your comments and I will respond with any questions you may have. Enjoy our Blog! Linda (y Bo)