This has been the worst week we have spent in Ecuador so far. Mostly due to my extreme levels of stress (and work) but not great nonetheless. On Monday we went to the Visa office. When you arrive in Ecuador you are automatically issued a tourist visa good for 90 days. When we came in 2007 a few days before our tourist visas expired we went to the same Visa office, filled out a one page form, paid the fee, and got a stamp in our passport. Easy! This year we already knew that a few more papers were required (per their website) and also knew we had to apply 30 days or more before our visas expired, but thought it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Right.
Our first trip was the worst. After a 20 minute wait (not so bad) we got to see the man in charge of accepting visa papers. I don’t know if he was having a case of the Mondays, hated really cute (but loud) children, his suit was too tight, or maybe the lady right before us spit in his eye, but he did not seem to like us. He quite rudely informed us we didn’t have all the necessary papers, and acted like we were insane for even trying to apply. To be fair I did have all the papers listed in detail on the agency’s website, but apparently there were 17 or so new ones I was missing. Maybe I am exaggerating and it was only 4 (each, so that really is 16). At any rate, he told us that not only did we each need all these new papers, but that we couldn’t apply to be a family unit unless we had translated the birth and marriage certificates and had them notarized, and that we would instead be paying $230/person instead of $50 as dependents. GREAT! Needless to say I cried a lot at home because I thought my head would explode.
I spent the rest of Monday getting the required papers, then spent Tuesday translating the documents from the US, and then back to the notary to get them approved. First thing Wednesday morning we took back our one million documents back and hope for some sort of miracle. I joked that there would be a really nice lady who loved adorable children working, and after waiting for a long while we found that indeed this lady existed and was working! She was very nice and Harmon did a good job of flirting with her, but she then decided we were missing yet another paper that also needed notarized. On top of that the translations were not actually what they were looking for (oh, how awful for all the time/money I spent translating them and getting them certified…), to be a family unit we needed apostilles. Oh what, you have never heard of an apostille? Yeah, me neither. In case you care to read more about it you can do so here. The short answer is it a certification that means that whatever document you have is valid and recognized in any of the countries that accept apostilles according to the Hague Convention of 1961. (This blog is so informative!) A huge problem would be that we currently live in Ecuador and to get the apostilles we need to take or send our certificates to Olympia. And then wait for them to get returned. The time this would take would be approximately two or more weeks to get from Ecuador to Olympia, 5-7 business days to get processed, then another 2 or more weeks to get back to Ecuador, if it arrived. The lady overcome by my distress and the sweet faces of my children decided that she could go ahead and accept our papers as individual units, and if the apostille by some miracle showed up before our current visas expired then we could be a family unit, she could just change it in the computer and save us a significant amount of money. Bless her. I should also add that at the end of our interview with her the guy from Monday came over and was like “what are you doing??” She explained to him what was happening and he miraculously said “oh, good idea!” Phew.
We left still in possession of all our million papers and still stressed (me). At best they would accept our paperwork the next time we tried and maybe by some small chance the apostille would come in time. We came home and I immediately called my mom and left her a message begging her to do my 40 errands for me. I spent Wednesday afternoon back at the notary getting what I hoped would be the last of our missing papers notarized.
Thursday we went back to the visa office again. This time we were there before the office even opened, eager anyone? We went to the usual waiting area, and after 5 or 10 minutes we were escorted into yet another office with another man. This kind man told us the lady from Wednesday had explained our situation and he would be receiving our papers. He explained to us to either come back with our apostilles before the very end of March, or just to come back and he would accept our visas individually. He took all our paperwork, but the pointed out that if we were applying for an 180 day extension (you can ask for between 91 and 180 days more) that we should have tickets for the very end of September, not June. We had originally bought return tickets in June because we thought it would be easy to get a 90 day extension like in 2007 and that would have fallen under the limit. He asked us to get a reservation for the end of September and bring it back before the weekend. I asked him what I should do, because to change the tickets costs $200 each ticket, and what if they didn’t approve our visas? He assured me they would approve it, and told me I could just get a reservation online, and that I didn’t need to have them paid for. I was skeptical, but glad that he was taking our papers and just waiting on that one. And that I could come back alone to deliver it to him. Not that I don’t love my kids, but anyone who has tried sitting in chairs waiting with small children trying to keep them quiet will understand how difficult this is. We were overjoyed that our process seemed to be done (for a month) and that he was so kind and helpful.
I came home and found that you can in fact make a reservation (on American Airlines at least) and it will be held for 36 hours online. I quickly did this for the new date and printed it out. I jumped in the first taxi I could flag down and 15 minutes later I was again welcomed into the visa office. The man took my papers and said they were good. Whew! Finally I could breathe again. Upon returning home I received even more good news, my mom had taken care of all my papers and they were on their way to be processed. Thank goodness for her!!!
So now we wait. Wait for the apostilles to arrive (both in Bellevue and then Ecuador), wait until the end of the month, and hope that everything goes smoothly…
Amid all of my complaining about the ridiculousness of the process Aaron reminded me that it is just like that in the US for anyone trying to come. I thought about my sweet Ecuadorian friends who a year ago had tried to apply for a visa to visit all the volunteers they have served with in the past 10+ years and how after hefty application fees, travel to the embassy, and other ridiculous measures they were denied. Nevermind that at the other embassy in the country other friends were granted visas because they had friends who worked there. It makes me angry, but at the same time inspires me to be a little more fair, a little more understanding, and a little bit more patient. The world is not fair, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything about it.
This was the longest boringest post ever. Sorry. If you are still reading.