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.