The Ministerio de Relaciones (Immigration) office was recently closed for over a week due to computer upgrades and changes, and they finally reopened yesterday (Monday). During that time, we had all of our documents re-translated and notarized because we decided to take on the process ourselves and start over fresh - hoping for more competent translation help and knowing we would do a better job with our visa process than what we were getting from our hired not-so-helpful helper - and we were right!
We had our finalized documents by Thursday afternoon, and this weekend we began to question, "Should we go down to immigration on Monday, the day they reopen? It's going to be crazy crowded!" We finally decided to get this over with and just go for try #2. So, yesterday we rolled out of bed at 4:30 am, showered, had breakfast (last time we didn't eat and almost fainted standing at the counter for over two hours!), grabbed our document folder, and headed out the door by 5:30 am to hail a taxi. We were dropped off and sitting on the cold steps of the locked door to immigration by 5:45 am - ready to be first in line. Goal accomplished! We were in the dark indoor lobby by 6:30 am, took a seat and began our tiresome wait. By 7:30 am, the lobby was packed and buzzing with others who braved coming in on re-opening day.
To make a long story short (I'm trying!), we were denied acceptance AGAIN for the second time due to three small translation errors and the missing Certificado de Movemiento Migratorio form that they had run out of two weeks ago, which they were now bogus producing and handing out (for free - it's usually $5 each) at the Policia Nacional office two blocks away. It took from 9 am to 10:45 am for the non-smiling winky-blinky behind the counter to fine-tooth comb letter-by- letter, word-for-word our efficiently translated documents and yet so cleverly find those minor non-essential errors. Before getting ready to walk away an hour 45 minutes later, we both asked her (Bo in English and me in Spanish so she'd get it!) if we could be an "only check their corrections return" the next day so we wouldn't have to go through this long and grueling process again. She looked right at us winky-blinked a couple of times, and said in broken English, "It's fine. It will be okay." WRONG ANSWER! So, we both repeated again hoping she would understand us, "Can we JUST have our corrections checked when we return tomorrow......" She wasn't getting it. I finally began to gather our papers and said to Bo so she could hear us, "Come on Bo, she's done with us." SUDDENLY, she points to our folder and says, "Give me, please." I hand her the folder and she begins to enter our names and passport information in the computer, and then she begins to go through the documents one by one and entering information. It now looks to me like she's making notes of our visit and the specific errors to be corrected. She finally finishes, hands me the folder and says, "Okay." Nothing else! Not, "I just entered your information so that when you return tomorrow we can keep this simple and just review your corrections." So now I quietly ask her, "Did you just make note of our needed corrections in the computer?" She winky-blinks, smiles (barely) and replies, "Yes." I return the smile, we both say thank you to her, and Bo and I turn around and leave. Could she not have explained to me what she just did? There was absolutely no clear communication or practical responses from this blinking somber robot.
It was now Bo and Linda "make-it-happen quickly" time. We hurried over to the police station. Immediately upon entering, we were motioned by an intensely rude Sr. Policia to have a seat in the crowded TV blaring waiting area. No way. I wanted him to know why we were here. So, I walk over to him and ask, "Are the Movemiento forms in, because we are here for this reason." He scowls at me (and I mean scowls) and nods as if to say yes then says (again, every word is in Spanish), "The system is down." Now, to me, that means there is no way we are getting anything today because the system is down. Right? Apparently NOT! So I ask, "Can we get our forms today?" He repeats, "Yes, the system is down." I'm not hearing what I need to hear so I'm not backing off until I am clear. I now glare back at him and repeat, "Will you be giving us the forms if we wait?" He double-dare-glares at me and says, "Yes." Now I can sit down. The big 54" HD TV in the sitting area is LOUD and blaring an intense army action movie, and several Ecuadorians who are seated and waiting seem motionless and hypnotized. I begin to quietly laugh at this entire scene before me, but Bo doesn't think this is funny. He's not happy! Finally, Sr. "Rude" Policia calls us over to his desk and impatiently asks for our passports. He then says, "How many do you want?" How the heck should I know? Do I need one for both of us or one for each of us? So, I ask him. He repeats "How many?" I just stare at him for about 10 seconds, and he gets overly-impatient and repeats again, "How many?" Still staring I respond slowly, "I'm thinking! I'm also here so that you can help us. How many DO we need?" Now he senses my frustration with his rudeness, and he backs off (a smidgen) and asks, "What's it for?" I tell him it's for our Investment Visas. He says, "Two," and quickly begins to enter the info and finally prints two forms out, hands them to us and waves us out. We slowly leave, and now I'm not happy!! Uniformed rudeness pisses me off! I worked hard to let this upset go by the time we boarded our bus to El Centro.
I had called our translator earlier, and she was waiting and ready for us when we arrived to her office. She fixed the three errors in less than 15 minutes, and then we met at the notary to finalize the corrections. There was no charge (she took financial responsibility for her mistakes and gained more credibility with us for her efficiency and fairness). We thanked her, left, and walked back to our apartment, where I ended up sleeping the rest of the afternoon until 5 pm (waking up at 4:30 am is not in my retired living schedule). We were now prepared with our corrected documents and required forms to tackle a third exhausting visit to immigration, of course with no expectation that we would be accepted. Would it be Strike 3?
It's Tuesday today! We were up again at 4:30 am. We showered, made breakfast, grabbed our documents and backpacks and were outside by 5:30 am hailing a cab for immigration visit #3. Once again, we were sitting in the dark on the cold steps outside the closed immigration office doors - it seemed like another Groundhog Day! We would again be #1 in line. Who else in their right mind would get up this early and wait this long just to be #1? No one, obviously since we seemed to be the only ones there both days at this ridiculous hour - but it was well-worth it to us not to have to sit and wait all morning with all the other late stragglers. Bad enough having to be there two hours once they called us forward. By the time they opened the doors and we waited another hour inside, the lines once again became crazy long. We both were in good spirits this morning and we were beginning to feel like real pros at this. You can tell the Cuenca visa newbies because they walk in late and gasp when they first see the lines, then look confused and usually stand in the wrong line (there are lines for passports and one for visas). I would think that the line with the tall, fair light-skinned retirement-aged people would be quite revealing of which was the residency visa lines instead of the other lines with the Ecuadorian dressed and panama hat attired short dark-skinned people wanting passports, wouldn't you? Hey, but that's just me figuring it out. Or, I would ask someone instead of standing there with the "now what do I/we do" look on their faces, wouldn't you? But, I digress.....
They finally herd the people in by 8:45 am, after taking each individual's passport, one by one, writing the name and passport number on their clipboards in the order of arrivals (early birds deserve to be #1). At 9 am we hear someone call "Longood." It was "Winky-Blinky" again. This was a good sign. We were getting the same person who had entered our information in the computer yesterday and who clearly knew our case. We walked up there prepared. Last night, I had also decided to write a letter in Spanish pleading our case. I asked whoever would be looking at our documents today to please look at the attached translation pages that were circled with errors and to check them against the new translations now being presented with corrections. I also asked to please consider that this was our third visit and could they kindly help us become approved for our visas today. I signed it, "With Gratitude..." This was on top of the pile, and Winky-Blinky begins to read it as she shuffles our papers.
To make another LOOOOONG and boring process short (honest, I'm trying), this woman seemed to have gotten it. She only checked the documents I had attached with the circled errors she had found, and she went through our folder without redoing the letter-for-letter, word-for-word two-hour recheck system. Now our victory seemed just around the corner. She finally looked up, blinked and asked me politely if I would go and buy another folder outside in the lobby (where they have a copier and supply place conveniently accessible). You have to present your documents in a folder, and this one was showing some wear after so many visits back and forth shoved inside Bo's backpack. I knew at that moment (Bo too) that we had passed the long-due inspection. I brought back the 50 cent folder and she began to sort and punch holes in our stack of documents, carefully putting them into the perfect new folder. She then sent Bo to the back to pay our $60 ($30 each) for the visa processing fees. When she was done with her folder feat, she explained to us that we would be notified in two months by phone and/or e-mail when we were to return for our visas (and to pay the $320 x2 fee), and that we are not able to leave the country until we have our residency visas. We gathered our remaining papers, and Winky-Blinky finally cracked a sweet smile, I gently squeezed her hand and thanked her. Bo also thanked her, and we walked away smiling - YES! We immediately headed to the back area to let Mr. Passport Extension Giver (who made me cry last time) know that we did not need to keep the March 4th, 11 am appointment for our 90-day Visa Extension stamp which we had applied for, and I was more than relieved to know I did not have to return to this unhappy office on my birthday, or any time soon!
So, we don't have to report a Strike #3 to our Cuenca friends, or to our blog readers. We are victoriously happy, relieved, and a big weight is lifted. I must say, having gone through this process now, we can look back and see what we would not have done, and we can also say that it could have been a less expensive and a fairly simple process. Here is why and how:
1 - We hired a very incompetent facilitator. Because we arrived here exhausted from two long months of moving and purging preparations, we thought it would be best to have a helper who could take care of things for us. We trusted our facilitator to completely handle our visa process. This was NOT the case. Inefficiency, and wrong information caused many delays, and had we known what we do now we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, stress and money by doing this ourselves.
2 - We were misinformed as to the best bank to open an account for our investment visa CD. Today, we have three bank accounts here (not by choice). Had we known that we could have first gone to JEP Cooperativa, a recognized bank by immigration for our investment CD, and opened an account easily in less than 2 hours (with a much higher interest rate), we wouldn't have wasted time opening an account at Coopera nor a month at Banco Pichincha jumping through their ridiculous hoops, thus delaying our visa process and causing one of our document to expire by ONE DAY (more time, stress and money).
3 - We now know that applying for a residency visa is not a difficult process. It's only having gone through the misinformation (now we have accurate information), the delays (now we know that we should have opened a bank account first thing upon arrival - and at JEP), the expired document (that was only because of the facilitator's failure to keep us apprised of timing and the bank account fiasco, not because we came with old documents), having had our documents translated inefficiently and not signed properly (again, our facilitator's choice and lack of knowing the change in immigration requirements - all translated pages MUST be signed by the translator, not just the back page), filling out the immigration application in English when it should be in Spanish only (Geesh! Another facilitator failure), and on and on and on (too many things to list - but you get my drift).
4 - We know that if you want to be first in line (trust me, it's worth it), ya gotta get up EARLY and suffer. We are glad we got there before 6 am, and being first in line made the process easier for us - quickly in and finally out, while fifty or more faces sitting and waiting to be called stare back at you when you walk away to leave. Long waits!
5 - We know that eventually the application process will be accepted! We had to return three times, and the third time was our victory! I believe it would have been only two times, had we not gone the first time with the not-so-helpful helper, with so many errors occurring all the way around. As we think back, eliminating that hired help experience would have saved us having to start all over and also over $800 in extra expenses and aggravation. I cannot stress enough that if we could do this all over again, we would not have hired ANYONE, but would have gotten accurate information by someone well-informed, reliable and competent who just went through the process and knows the current requirements (like us!!!). We would have interviewed them thoroughly asking the right questions, discerning if we were getting the right answers, and we could have sailed through this without the added expenses and disappointments.
Again, everything you are reading is my (our) personal journey and experience. What worked (or didn't work) for us may not be what works or doesn't work for you. What I do know is that this is what was real for us, and this is how we had to go through it to learn every lesson we were supposed to - especially patience and a complete trust in God's perfect will for the outcome. I heard today that a couple who applied for their visa and were accepted had to start all over because immigration LOST ALL THEIR DOCUMENTS! Should this happen to us, I would take that as a divine sign that the door has closed, and we'd be heading home for the states - really! All this to say what?
1. If you're coming here to start the visa process, be accurately informed. There are a lot of well-meaning people who want to help, but well-meaning is different than well-informed. Ask the right questions several different ways until you are SURE you have the updated and correct information. Go to the source!
2. Be careful who you hire! After experiencing incompetent as well as competent help, know that there is COMPETENT help. Make sure you check it out thoroughly before leaping. (Don't trust every ex-pat recommendation!)
3. DO NOT release any of your original documents to ANYONE you hire. They can work from a copy. We did not know this, which is why we had to tread lightly until we had all our documents back in hand, before unhooking from incompetency and starting all over and doing things on our own. We've heard horror stories of ex-pats who had to pay large sums to get their documents back from a hire-gone-wrong facilitator.
4. If your documents are pretty straight-forward, know that you can accomplish this process yourselves. We didn't have any complicated name changes, out-of-country birth certificates, etc. Our application process could have been quite simple.
5. Get your certified apostilled documents very close to the time you are ready to leave for Ecuador. They are time-sensitive and you never know what will delay your visa process here. It is expensive and sometimes difficult to get new documents if the ones you bring in expire (trust me!). Our documents were acquired within weeks before we left Oregon, and one still expired because of hired incompetency - Grrrrrrr!!!
6. Make sure you know the exact documents you need to bring for your particular situation and the type of visa you are applying for. Get a current update on what immigration is requiring, not what every "I think" nor "this is what I needed" answer you get says. Go to the source. CALL IMMIGRATION. Be clear on the answers your hearing!!! (See number 1 above)
7. Get your documents translated and notarized here. Having them translated to Spanish and notarized here is not a difficult process, nor expensive if you find someone trustworthy, fair and competent (we did, finally!). If there are errors, you then have that person right here to go back to who can make corrections, sign and re-notarize the corrected pages expediently.
***Again, this is not a difficult process if you do your homework and come prepared!****
This is to thank everyone who supported us when we were struggling and needed friends to make us laugh, when we felt hopeless and needed encouragement, when we were clueless and needed help, when we lost faith and needed prayers (thank you, thank you), and when we were frustrated and venting and just needed someone to listen to us. In the short time here, we've made friends with a few couples and Ecuadorian friends who have truly been there for us. This alone has made it all worthwhile.
Here we remain for the next two months waiting for our final visa call, then it's Cedula application time. To be continued.........