Today, we completed the process to be issued an Ecuadorian National I.D. card or Cedula. For expats like Diane and me, it’s a huge accomplishment. We are now card-carrying residents of Ecuador (well…we actually get the cards in two days) and our passports are now stamped with resident visas issued by Ecuador and they are in our pockets!!
Today’s process began at 8:30 when we met 3 members of the Paz-Horowitz legal team at the prescribed office. Two were lawyers, bi-lingual, and the third, Ellie, was an Ecuadorian woman whose expertise was knowing the Quito system/process and all supervisors in the office. This woman spends 8 hours per day, five days per week, assisting the Paz-Horowitz lawyers in moving through the immigration system. I wasn’t sure of the importance of the third person….at first!! Throughout the day, her expertise became apparent as she and the lawyers repeatedly consulted with each other and Ellie scurried from one floor of the building and one office to the next, shuffling documents and making additional copies and generally keeping our paperwork moving without unnecessary delays.
We arrived a few minutes early and walked in to find a very large multi-level building filled with hundreds and hundreds of people. Customer Service staff wearing gray vests were everywhere, acting as traffic cops telling folks where to go for what services. We were promptly greeted, even before we had spotted our lawyers, and personally escorted downstairs to a particular window after we described the purpose of our visit. We were given a number and asked to wait. Hmmmmm…we seemed to be in line and still hadn’t connected with our lawyers who had all our documents. After a quick pow-wow, Diane went back upstairs to try to find our lawyers and I remained in line, downstairs praying my number wasn’t called!
In just a few minutes, we all found each other and we said hello once again to one of the attorneys assisting our case, Rebecca Rangle as well as another Ecuadorian Lawyer named Gabby and the third woman named Ellie; three experts working on our immigration issues. The three woman team sorted through all our documents with much shuffling and discussion for the next 15 minutes and then our number was called. The team delivered our documents to the first window and after a few minutes of animated conversation, returned to declare that as our birth certificates did not contain the birth dates and birth places of our parents, an additional document would need to be provided. This new requirement, by the way, went into effect on Monday without notice.
The team contacted their office, the new documents were drafted by lawyers at the Paz Horowitz team across town (one set each for Diane and me) and were emailed to the office of a Notary. Now is a good time to tell you that Notaries here are MUCH different than notaries in the U.S. They are lawyers who have legal authority to draft, certify and approve a variety of legal documents regarding the purchase and sale of property as well as all licenses and permits and of course, immigration documents. The team left one person behind to keep our process warm while we joined the two lawyers in their car and drove to the office of the Notary.
The Notary’s office was jammed and extremely busy but our team forged past the throngs, found Diane and I a comfortable office to wait and proceeded to spend the next 1.5 hours extracting the correct documents from the notary process. We signed, resigned and then signed again until all appeared in order. Now, load back up and return to the immigration office.
Now, this is where the mysterious third person came into play. Rather than re-entering the process from the beginning, the third person had already prepared the processors for our arrival. Blackberry texts between the three women on our team were flying fast and furious and all Diane and I had to do was watch in wonderment. Our papers were re-reviewed and found to be in order by the initial clerk person who entered our information into the computer system. The next step was to take another number and visit the final station which was to have our pictures and fingerprints taken and have our documents reviewed one more time by an additional person and supervisor. Our number was 499 and they were “now serving 224”.
The mystery third person had a pow wow with the two lawyers and then disappeared for about 15 minutes. She returned and said to follow her. She took us to two adjoining stations where we were next in line for photos and fingerprints and the final document examination. Apparently, we didn’t have to wait an additional 3 hours after all. Diane was at one station with one lawyer and I was at the adjoining station with the other lawyer. As each document was reviewed, there was inevitably a question which the lawyers answered even before the question was finished. These women were ON IT!!! In a few minutes, we were each asked to review the information showing on the screen to be sure it was correct. Then, our pictures were taken along with fingerprints which also showed up on the screen as a “mock up” of our I.D. cards. Hot damn!! We are almost there!!
Next thing I knew, I was standing and shaking hands with the final examiner and his supervisor as we stepped away from the desk and the next person took our place. We stood for a moment as I thanked the team for a long day of hard work on their part. Perhaps in some other immigration offices in other parts of Ecuador, things are handled differently but here in Quito, the national capitol, the crowds are huge and the pace is quite brisk and extraordinary detail is paid to each line on every document. I actually watched as one examiner pulled out a magnifying glass to look as something on one document.
I asked the three women who had spent nearly an entire day on our immigration issues to join us for dinner as our guests. It was then that we realized we hadn’t had lunch and it was 4 o’clock. Rebecca and Gabby, our two lawyers joined us for a late lunch and a debriefing. We were all happy. It was a long day and the legal team had to deal with a couple of curve balls right at the finish line but they got it done. Diane and I walked out with our Visas in hand and our cedulas will be picked up by our lawyers on Monday and sent via DHL to us on the coast.
Any of the Ecuadorian expats who have endured this process…and some whose process was much worse in months and years past, remember the joy of finally completing this most important step. Diane and I have read, from time to time, the stories of expats who have negotiated this process alone, without assistance. To them we offer a grand salute! Good for you!! There is no way in hell that we would ever want to tackle this process without top-notch legal assistance and we cannot say enough good things about the immigration team at Paz Horowitz. (I’m certain that others are also quite capable but I’m just relaying our experiences here.) Oh…in conversation with Gabby toward the end, we learned that there are truly significant differences in the application process for each type of visa requested. We sought (and did I mention have been granted) residency visas under the retirement guidelines. Other types of visas, we learned, are issued for shorter periods with frequent renewals required where ours are “IDEFINIDA”. We are now retired and legal residents of Ecuador…Indefinida! And you wanna’ know something? This Does Not Suck!