I didn’t want to write too much about Ecuadorean civil-service bureaucracy because it’s somewhat painful to recount. It’s not as bad as in, say, Italy (based on what I’ve recently heard), but it can be Kafka-esque nevertheless.
You want to get a simple tourist visa? Prepare to spend lots of time; to drift from one office to another office to another; to wade through vague, disparate, and sometimes contradictory instructions; to haggle with hapless security guards who won’t even let you into a certain office for whatever reason.
At present I’m trying to obtain a visa that permits me to work in Ecuador. To do this, I must first obtain sundry legal documents, each of which often requires me to obtain other legal documents – usually notarized, apostilled, translated versions of U.S. documents (along with notarized certifications of the translations, which take time to acquire).
One of the documents I needed was a criminal background check from the FBI in the U.S. To do this, I needed to send the FBI a form with my fingerprints on it. Fingerprints are hard to take by yourself – they smudge easily. We went around to various government offices, including the police department, asking if someone there could take my fingerprints for me. They all told us, We can’t take your fingerprints unless you have a visa. But I didn’t have a visa – which is why I was trying to get fingerprinted in the first place. (Long story short: I did the prints myself.)
All of this is no surprise; every country requires you to jump over massive hurdles of paperwork and b.s. to obtain a visa. But a recent trip to the Registro Civil took the absurdity to another level.
One document I needed to obtain was a legally authenticated form showing that I am married to an Ecuadorean citizen. An earlier trip to the Registro Civil to obtain this document had ended in failure when we were told that among numerous other requisite forms, we had to have a notarized, apostilled, translated, certified copy of our U.S. marriage license. Forget about the fact that we had presented them with an ORIGINAL copy of our marriage license – Nope, we were told, that was unacceptable: It had to be an apostilled copy, not an original. So, back to Square One.
Weeks later, having attained said copy, we returned on a Friday afternoon. We waited in line for about a half hour to hand over our stack of documents to a woman behind a desk. She looked them over, made some gestures on a computer, signed one of our forms, and sent us upstairs to see someone else. We waited in line to see him. When we finally saw him, he said, “I need duplicate color copies of all of these.” (“These” included notarized copies of my passport; Katherine’s citizenship paperwork; my U.S. birth certificate – notarized, apostilled, translated, and certified, of course; a copy of my temporary visa; and migration forms, provided by a different government office, detailing how often we had traveled into and out of the country.) So we had to leave the building, go make color copies of everything, and come back. Having returned and handed in our documents and copies, we were sent to another window in the building to pay a small $6 fee for paperwork costs. Then we waited in line again to present our receipt to the same guy as before, who handed us a receipt with a number on it and said, “Come back on Thursday afternoon.”
Afternoons at the Registro Civil are pure madness. They make the DMV in Chicago look like a picnic (and I’ve had my share of absurd encounters in the DMVs in Chicago). So instead, we came Friday morning, right when the office opened.
After a 15-minute delay (because really, why would any office open on time?) we did the following:
- We waited in line to present our receipt from the previous Friday, whereupon we were given a new document with our information on it, to look over for spelling errors. (No errors, thankfully: In Ecuador, a simple typo can invalidate an entire document.)
- We then were sent to a payment counter at another part of the building, at which we paid a $62 fee for the actual document we wanted. We were given numerous receipts.
- We returned to the guy at Step 1, who took one of our receipts and sent us to another office next door.
- At this office, a woman took another of our receipts and our new document, and printed us an even newer, fancier document. She sent us to another office.
- At this other office, a woman sat down with us and filled out a bunch of forms about our marriage and biographical information. It took her a while to fill it all out on her computer, and there were misspellings and typos to correct along the way. After that, she sent us back to the payment counter.
- At the payment counter, we paid another small fee.
- Then we went back to the lady at Step 5 and presented the receipt from that payment. We signed our names to a document, then she signed one of our new documents and sent us back to the lady at Step 4.
- This lady then signed and stamped the document she had earlier printed for us and sent us back to the guy at Step 1.
- We waited in line for this guy again, then furnished him with our new documents (signed and stamped) as well as some of the other receipts we’d been collecting along the way.
- Finally, he presented us with our legally binding inscription-of-marriage document. We were now officially married in the eyes of the Ecuadorean government.
Getting a marriage license in Simsbury, Connecticut, took 15 minutes. Doing essentially the same took more than two and a half hours in Quito – and would have taken far longer had we not gone right when the office opened in the morning.