By David Morrill
When I got my new U.S. passport in December, it also meant I needed a new Ecuadorian residency passport visa stamp. How hard can this be, I wondered, since I’d already been vetted by the immigration folks during the original visa process. The answer was that it’s harder than you might think, but not insurmountable.
Though I’ve lived in Ecuador for 11 years and I should be used to the bureaucracy by now, the truth is, I’m not. I’m still amazed, frustrated and sometimes amused at how complicated relatively minor procedures can be, especially at Immigration. As always, it boils down to patience, lots of muchas gracias, and not even wondering why the system is set up like it is, let alone saying it out loud.
An important thing to know at the outset of the visa stamp transfer process is that the stamp in your old passport is good for six months after your passport has expired. So you’re not under any deadline gun to get the stamp transferred by your passport’s expiration date. You can travel in and out of the country on your new passport, while showing the stamp in the old one.
The staff at the Extranjeria counter at the immigration office provides you with a list of the items you need to transfer the visa stamp.
This includes the following: the Certificado de Movimiento Migratorio, which you fetch from Immigration’s satellite office off Gran Colombia near Good Affinity (note that the Certificado is good for only 30 days, so once you start the process, it’s best to complete it as soon as possible); color copies of the face pages in the old and new passports, plus the page with the visa stamp in the old passport; and either proof of $800 monthly income if your visa is based on that (I printed out pages from my Bank of America account, showing three months of Social Security deposits), or proof of a CD or a real-estate deed if the visa’s based on an investment.
There’s also an application that has to be filled. Note that even though the application instructions are both in Spanish and English, the form must be filled out in Spanish.
It’s a good idea to get extra copies of the passport pages and income statements just in case (immigration misplaced one of mine, so it saved me a trip to the copy shop when I could hand over an extra).
The Extranjeria checks every entry and exit stamp in your passport against the Certificado de Movimiento Migratorio and it’s not uncommon for them to find a discrepancy between the two, especially if you came and went before the computerized immigration system was launched five years ago. In my case, an entry in the passport wasn’t on the Movimiento Migratorio but, since it was in the passport, they let me through after a sign-off by a supervisor. If the discrepancy or omission is in both the Migratorio report and your passport, it could mean major headaches, including a trip to Quito.
Once the paperwork has been reviewed and found to be in order, Immigration gives you an appointment, usually within a week. At this point you surrender both old and new passports. On the appointed date, you pay the cashier $60, take the receipt back to the Extranjeria counter to pick up your passports, and you’ll see your new stamp in the new passport.
A few random tips.
First, bring a book or Kindle when you visit the immigration office. There’s a lot of sitting in the waiting room (I did four or five hours).
Second, if you speak passable Spanish, but don’t understand something, don’t be shy about switching to English. Most of my conversations at the counter were in Spanish, but I had to fall back on English a couple times when I became confused and needed to understood what was being said. This is no time to practice your Spanish, since the staff speaks English.
Third, private bilingual facilitators are available to help you through the process, just as they are for the original visa application process, if you need guidance through the red tape. Be sure to understand their charges if you decide to hire one — and get references.
And finally, if your passport is within two years of expiration when you apply for your residency visa, you should consider getting a new passport before you receive your residency stamp. Otherwise, you’ll be back at the immigration office sooner than you need to be, having to repeat parts of the process again.
Disclaimer: As all long-time expats know, one person’s experience with the bureaucracy does not necessarily equal the next person’s. Use the above as a reference only; your mileage may vary.