Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Paper Chase (by: Mike)

You can travel to Ecuador for up to 3 months within a 12 month period.  All you need is a valid passport that does not expire within the next 6 months.  If you want to stay longer you have to apply for one of the extended visas.  If you meet the requirements you can stay up to 6 months within a 12 month period.  If you want to stay longer than 6 months within a 12 month period you need to get residency.  Once you have residency you can come and go as you wish.

We're planning on spending more than 3 months in Ecuador so we decided that we would apply for an extended visa.  The visa that we felt like we qualified is called a Non-Immigrant 12-IX Visa.  According to the Ecuadorain Consulate's website here are the requirements:



    • Tourists
    • Professional players
    • Students
    • Scientists
    • Artists
    • Businessman


    1. “Aplicación de Visa” Visa Application completed and signed
    2. “Certificado de Visación” completed and signed
    3. Original passport, which should be valid for at least six months beyond the departure date.
    4. Doctor’s certificate and HIV test, indicating that the person does not have any communicable diseases
    5. Police certificate indicating that there is no record.
    6. Copy of round trip ticket to Ecuador.
    7. Bank letter stating that the person has good economic standing and can support himself/herself.
    8. Two recent photographs in color, passport size, and white background.

    For more than 3 months and up to 6 months May be granted only once a year.
    $200.00 US dollars + APPLICATION: $30.00 US dollars. (total: $230.00)
    Methods of payment: cash or money order
Not totally ridiculous.  At least on the surface.  What the website doesn't mention is that you need an apostille for most of these documents.  If you are like me you've never heard of the word apostille before.  Here's some of what Wikipedia has to say about apostille:
An apostille, or postil, is properly a gloss on a scriptural text, particularly on a gospel text; however, it has come to mean an explanatory note on other writings. The word is also applied to a general commentary, and also to a homily or discourse on the gospel or epistle appointed for the day. The pronunciation of the word “apostille” can vary, but most U.S. apostille offices pronounce it “ă pŏs tēēl”.

is also a French word which means a certification. It is commonly used in English to refer to the legalization of a document for international use under the terms of the 1961 Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents. Documents which have been notarized by a notary public, and certain other documents, and then certified with a conformant apostille are accepted for legal use in all the nations that have signed the Hague Convention.
Okay, interesting. Doesn't sound too bad.  All I have to do is pull out a copy of my birth certificate and send it to the Secretary of State's office for New Hampshire, pay a small fee ($10 each), right?  Sort of.  It turns out that birth certificates come in several flavors.  I have a "Copy of Certificate of Live Birth" which I got from the Town Clerk in the town I was born.  I found out that you cannot get an apostille for this document.  Then there is the Certificate of Birth which I received by going directly to Vital Records.
Sounds pretty official, but doesn't cut it.  I guess this document holds a little bit more weight for doing some things, but you cannot get an apostille for it either.  It has to be a certified copy that is notarized.  What does that mean?  It means another trip to Concord, N.H. to visit Vital Records and pay another $12 for a certified, notarized copy.  Then I can bring that over to the Secretary of State's office, pay them some money, and they will apostille it.

What exactly does the Secretary of State do?  They look at the name of the person who notarized the document and verify that they are a Notary that is in good standing with the State of New Hampshire.  Then they scan the document into the apostille database and assign it a number.  I didn't verify the scanning part, but I know I can go online with my apostille number and (for a fee) look up the document.  It's my understanding that businesses do this a lot.  The apostille is an official looking letter that says the notary is valid and it has a nice gold seal from the Secretary of State's office on it.  They attach it to the document with a rivet so that they cannot be separated without tearing one or both of the documents.

There's another catch.  Not only do Vital Statistic documents (Birth/Death Certificates, Marriage Licenses, etc.) have to be notarized, you can only get an apostille for them in the state they were issued.  That means Nani has to get her's done in RI where she was born and we had to get Declan's done in CA where he was born.  And with all the money issues CA is having...nothing gets done quickly nowadays.  I found out later that not all vital records have to be notarized in order to get an apostille.  Apparently it depends on what state you're in.  Nani was able to get an apostille from the State of CA for Declan's Birth Certificate (where he was born) without it being notarized.

Now, you may have noticed that there are other documents required for the extended visa.  The passport is no big deal because you just send it in (and hope it doesn't get lost - knock on wood).  The copy of the round trip plane tickets is no big deal either.  Nor is the "Aplicación de Visa" or "Certificado de Visación" because you just download these from their website and fill them out.  But, the letter from you doctor, you police record, and you financial letter all need to be notarized and then you need an apostille for them.

This might not sound like a big deal, but if your doctor's office doesn't have a notary things get a bit more complicated.  First we called the Ecuadorian Consulate because what does "Doctor’s certificate and HIV test, indicating that the person does not have any communicable diseases" really mean?  What is a Doctor's "Certificate", can I use an HIV test I had done a couple of years ago when I had a bunch of blood work done, and which "communicable diseases" are we talking about.

This sent me to the phone to call the Ecuadorian Consulate in D.C. which we did several times during this process to better understand the requirements.  I want to say that everyone we talked to was extremely pleasant.  The only problem is that the information seemed to change when we called back to clarify a few things depending on who we talked to.  Our friends Nate & Dova have lived in Costa Rica for almost two years and they told me that this is pretty typical of a developing country.  I refuse to use the term "3rd world country - what the hell does that mean?  And what is a 2nd world country anyway?.  Things change and things don't always happen when they're promised.

In the end we had to get blood work done to prove we don't have HIV and our doctors were nice enough to say that based on the examine that we don't have any communicable diseases.  Then our doctor's had to write a letter and get it notarized.

We weren't really sure how to go about the "police certificate".  Again, "Police certificate indicating that there is no record" is a little vague.  I called out local Chief of Police.  He wrote a letter for each of us, had them notarized right there in the office because one of the staff is a Justice of the Peace, and called when they were ready to pick up.  All for free.  Nice.  Hope they meet the "requirements".

The financial requirement is just as vague.  We called our CPA and asked her to write a letter showing how much money we reported on our tax returns over the last five years and asked her to have it notarized.  They have a notary in their office, so it was pretty easy for her to get the letter done for us.

Once we had all the notarized letters I drove up to Concord, NH and went to the Secretary of State's office.  I talked with a very  nice lady there who said it would take a few days to get the apostilles done.  She charged me $10 X 17 documents = $170.  We decided to have extra apostilles done for documents that we know (think) we'll need once we get there and apply for residency.  We also included a self-addressed U.S.P.S. Express envelope so we could get them back quicker.  Then I went home and we waited.

Three or 4 days later we received the documents.  We pulled the string to open the envelope and pulled everything out.  We reviewed all of them and they had all been apostilled (I am not sure apostilled is a word, but it sounds right, so I am going to use it.)  Cool.

This is from N.Y. but N.H.'s looks similar.

We filled out the Visa Application and the Visa Certificate which we downloaded directly from their site.  We packaged all of this up along with our passports, a copy of our round trip tickets, and $200 X 3 = $600 for the visas and $30 X 3 = $90 for handling, and put it in a U.S.P.S. Express envelope (we have since learned that I should have only paid $50 for the visa fee for my dependents rather than $200 - oh well, live and learn).   We also included a return U.S.P.S. Express envelope with a stamp on it.  Dropped it in the mail and waited.

A few days later we got a call from the Ecuadorian Embassy.  We inadvertently filled out the wrong Visa Application.  The gentleman who called us was very nice & helpful.  We downloaded the correct Visa Application, completed it, and sent them in a U.S.P.S. Express envelope.  And waited.

Three or 4 days later we received our extended 6 months Visas.  Actually what we each got was a stamp in our passports.  We also received the visa applications back with official looking stamps on them.  Nani was curious and (thankfully) called the Ecuadorian Embassy and asked them what we should do with the applications.  They told her that once you arrive in Ecuador you need to register your visas with the Ecuadorian government.  It turns out that it says so right on the document - in Spanish.  A bunch of running around and about $1,000 later we had our extended visas.

Excellent.  Now we have 6 months to figure things out and decide how to apply for residency.  From what I've heard from those who have applied, it can be a bit challenging.  We shall see...

Warning - Visa requirements change constantly.  Please do your own home work.  This blog is just for the fun of it.  Please don't trust anything I am saying!

P.S. Now that we've arrived we found out that registering you visas cost about $100 each, depending on how much your lawyer charges you.  You can do it yourself, but you have to do it in the capital of Quito and they don't speak English.  We figured letting a lawyer do it was the way to go because he knows the (ever changing) system and speaks fluent Spanish.  3 X $100 = $300.  It's a good thing we sold the car.

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