A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Paperwork Seems Never Ending Part II: "There's a light at the end of the tunnel!"

For the Yazells, The Phoenix Ecuadorian Consulate Office
was the light at end of a very long tunnel! 
Good news:  there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

More good news: it's not an oncoming train.

Those statements reflect some of the emotion of the past few weeks in getting our paperwork together.  It's been a real roller coaster ride as it probably has been for most people going through this experience.  We can't emphasize enough:  do your homework, research as much as you, ask questions and when you think you have all the answers, start the process all over again.  Just when you think you've got it down pat is usually when you discover...ooops, here's something we didn't know or here's something we misinterpreted or here's something new that we simply didn't uncover.  I'm sure it's happened to just about everyone whose gone through this process.

Let's begin by correcting a couple of miscues from our previous blog where we listed the necessary items for the 12-IX and 9-I visa:

I mentioned that the we were using the social security benefit statement to cover the financial security requirement for the 12-IX......WRONG.....we needed a current bank statement showing access to enough funds to support us during the term of our visa...thank goodness we found that out before we came to the consulate for our final visit and application approval process (again you can't ask too many questions and the only stupid question is the one you FAIL to ask!)

The other erroneous item in the previous blog concerned our process for the 9-I.  I mentioned we had to get notarized legalized color copies of passports from the consulate to send to attorneys in Ecuador.   WRONG again...the consulate office here does not do that.  Those color copies have to be legalized IN Ecuador.  We will be sending color copies of the first two pages of passports to our attorneys, in fact, two sets, one with a notarized statement from us that these are true and accurate copies.  However, they will have to legalized before a notary in Ecuador (our lawyers will handle this and be able to do it without us being present due to the power of attorney we placed with them before we left.

As a point of education to our readers, notaries in Ecuador are very different from notaries in the USA. Here in the US a notary serves to witness and document signatures, verifying that they were signed in their presence by the actual person signing the document.  In Ecuador, a notary is actually an official of the judicial system who is empowered to attest to the proper form and legality of a document presented to him.  It is two entirely different processes and it is very easy for us gringos to confuse them but the distinction is critically important in getting your proper documents filed.

OK, is everybody scratching their heads yet over all the details?   Well trust us, we did a bunch of that but it was all worth while  because on the 23rd of November we walked into the the Ecuadorian Consulate in Phoenix with our stack of documents in hand.  After thanking Gabby for her patience during all our phone calls and presenting our carefully prepared pile of "stuff", it was wonderful to hear her say "Your documents are just what is needed...I'm very proud of the work you did." Our only "glitch, as it were, was bringing a money order for $400 instead of the $450 that was really required.
(Note: the Phoenix consulate ONLY accepts money orders for payment, some consular offices may accept cash, as well,  but there are no payments of document fees  accepted by credit or debit cards, personal or even certified checks..again, another of the many questions you may need to ask, what fees and how is payment made?)  In any case, while our work was being reviewed and the documents prepared and stamped, Suzanne waited in the consulate while Roger ran for a supplemental money order.

Here's a breakdown of the fees we paid at the consulate office:

Roger's application fee:                                                              $   30
Roger's 12-IX Visa fee                                                                  200
Suzanne's application fee                                                                 30
Suzanne's 12-IX Visa fee   (spousal rate)                                         50
Certification of Roger's police report                                                50
Certification of Suzanne's police report                                            50
Certification letter for Roger's Social Security benefit statement       40

Total paid to consulate:                                                                 $450

In addition to the above fees, we've paid $10 each for police record searches, no charge for obtaining social security benefit statement, $25 for certified copies of marriage license,  $4 per document for apostillization in Illinois,  $ 10 per document for apostillization in Arizona plus some miscellaneous fed ex fees and  $150 for certified translations.  Expenses yet to come include about $1500 in lawyer's, visa and application fees.     For readers who have inquired about cost, we recommend budgeting roughly $3,000 for the process.  You may get by for less (some people don't necessarily go for the 12-IX) or you could conceivably spend more if you don't do it right the first time!

The office space on the other side of that door and window
is legally considered to be part of the nation of Ecuador!

Bottom line, we walked out of the Ecuadorian consulate with our 12-IX's and stamped passports in hand plus the final items we need to send to our attorneys for the 9-I application.   We will still need to register our visas  and obtain our censo cards when we arrive in Ecuador in January but after a year of work, it seemed a very special day indeed and we celebrated afterwards at one of our favorite Phoenix wine bars.

One hour after arriving, Roger and Suzanne proudly
display their passports and their 12-IX visa certificates.

As we gather on on Thanksgiving Day with some of our friends here in the Valley of The Sun, we will be giving thanks not only for their fellowship but for the bounties of life that enabled us to complete this  important step that enables us to continue....juntos en el camino de la vida!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Paperwork Seems To Be Never Ending!

Roger and Suzanne earlier this year in Cuenca,
the city that they soon will call "home".
For the past few weeks, we've been back in Arizona.  While we've taken time to visit old haunts and friends, the principal reason for being here is preparing for our return to Cuenca, the city we now think of as "home".

Our projects center around three important tasks:

1. Getting our paperwork together for a 12-IX visa.

This will be reviewed and finalized at the consulate office in Phoenix and will be needed to get us back to Ecuador for our final home search and prep for our immigration papers.  For this task we needed to obtain:

       A statement of assets or income covering our stay.... (for us a statement of  Roger's social security benefits does the job).

        A statement of police record for both Suzanne and Roger covering our locale of residence for the past 5 years.  This was obtained from the Mesa police department (the city in which we had resided for twelve years) We then had that apostilled at the Arizona Secretary of State's office.
Certified marriage certificate for Roger and Suzanne.  We were married in LaSalle county, Illinois so we got that from the county clerks office and had mailed to a friend's home in Arizona.  It arrived shortly after we did but we discovered it can't be apostilled has to be apostilled by the Illinois Secretary of State's office.  Onto the internet we went to discover how and where to send the certified copies (we also need this for the other set of documents).  Because of time we sent that off via FedEx with a prepaid FedEx return but discovered a few days later that mail requests for apostillization aren't processed for 2-3 weeks after receipt.  A few pleading phone calls later,  a helpful supervisor managed to cut some of the red tape and it 's only taking a week to 10 days (note our crossed fingers, here).  We hope to have that in hand shortly.

      A formal request to the Consul General for the visa stating the purpose of the request.  Since we will be applying for immigration status as part of our stay under the 12-IX, the normal requirement to have attached copies of a return airline ticket should be waived (or so we are told by the helpful lady at the consulate office here in Phoenix!)

      Four passport quality color photos of each of us are also required for the 12-IX.

2.  Getting our paperwork ready to apply for resident status:

      We actually began this process when we were in Ecuador earlier for our 2 month stay.  We had retained lawyers in Cuenca and had given them notarized powers of attorney to handle and begin our application prior to our return in January.   This will get our applications in before January, the typical time when all sort of changes in procedures occur in the government offices in Quito.  As long as the documents and our application are submitted before those changes (if any) occur we shouldn't be delayed.

Passport photos of us (in this case, only two) were need with this application and those were done in Cuenca and left with our attorneys along the power of attorney paperwork and photocopies of our passports.

      In addition, we will shortly be sending to our attorneys the following:

Just some of the many documents we've prepared and gathered .
       Legalized color copies of our passports.  These have to include a statement from each of us that the copies are true and accurate representations of our passports.  They have to be notarized and legalized at the consulate office here.

      The same statement of income from Social Security, duly apostilled  We hit one little hitch in getting that apostille done as the State of Illinois can't apostille an original federal agency document.  However, a helpful lady at the Arizona Secretary of State's office knew how to tackle that technicality...she simply prepared a notarized certified copy of the original and was able to apostille that.

 In addition, the letter from Social Security has to be presented to and certified by, a consular official here and his statement has to be attached.

      More copies of the police reports for Roger and Suzanne (by the way, this is a new requirement added this past year for the immigration application)  These are, of course,  apostilled.

      The apostilled certified marriage certificate is also required here (so yes, we have two copies in our FedEx packet en route back across the country...we hope!)

       In addition, translations of the above documents en Espanol have to be prepared, certified as to accuracy and then those are also apostilled and attached to the original documents. (Note: the translation of troublesome certified marriage certificate was actually apostilled HERE in Arizona, not in Illinois.  You see, the translation itself and its certification of accuracy occurred here in Arizona and not in really do have to pay attention to the nitty gritty details).

We're taking the added step of scanning our key documents and emailing PDF's of them to our attorneys in Cuenca so they can review them and assure that they are in order before we send them off.  Again, you can't pay too much attention to details.

3.  Preparing our personal property for shipping to Ecuador:

As if we didn't have enough to keep us busy, we've been at our storage unit here in the Valley of the Sun, revisiting our property we've had stored in anticipation of our eventual move.  We've re-examined all of it in order to determine that, yes, we do want to take this stuff.  We also had to repack some items based on consultations with our shipping agent as to how to best prepare the items for loading onto an overseas container.  Most of our boxes had pretty good inventory lists attached but we had some additional inventory to do and we have to separate our inventory listing from the actual physical boxes themselves.  (It is advisable to NOT list your contents on your shipped cartons in order to reduce the possibility of petty theft losses during shipment.)

Items in storage, numbered and inventoried, ready for the container!
We also revisted our items, based on having lived in Ecuador for 2 months and discovered that we needed to add some stuff  (we also disposed of a few items and yes, adding items means a little shopping is thrown in here on our "to-do list", as well).

 Our lists are being incorporated into an excel spreadsheet that will list each shipping unit by number, list the contents and estimated value.  This will provide the basis of a shipping list for our shipper, as well as a list for insurance purposes.  (Note, we are insuring for loss en route but not damage to contents.  Our shipper advises damage claims are very difficult to process and even more difficult to recoup.   However, the loss of an entire container, while not overly common, certainly can and does occur. This kind of loss is easily verified, the claim seldom contested if you have documented contents and value correctly and should be insured for prior to shipment.)

Oh, did we mention that the aforementioned shipping list has to be translated, as well?   It's critically important to have that in the same format and style as the English version as this will help avoid headaches and questions when being received and inspected at customs in Ecuador.  Having the numbers both large and visibile from multiple sides of your items is also important.

We owe a lot of thanks to our friends, both ex-patriate and Ecuadorian, who visited with us, gave us tips and advice on what to expect, how to prepare and on how to do some much needed homework.  The best advice we could give to anyone starting this process is that it is simply impossible to do too much homework and too little preparation.  It is, however, easy to overlook what appears to us as minor details that might cause headaches later on.  By all means, getting a good attorney is absolutely essential from our point of view.  If you are in the USA, taking time to make an exploratory visit to your governing Ecuadorian consulate office is well worth the investment of time, as well. Plan your visits to both well and come prepared with plenty of questions.

In addition to all of the above, we've arranged with friends here in Arizona to be on hand to supervise our container loading (by the time it occurs, we will be either en route or actually back in Ecuador).  We also have an experienced Ecuadorian friend lined up to help us with the transport of our items from the Port of Guayaquil to Cuenca and clearance through customs in Cuenca.  We were advised by by parties both here and in Ecuador that clearing in customs in the Cuenca is much preferable in case any questions or issues arise. Having an experienced Ecuadorian agent on hand at custom clearance to handle translation and help tackle any issues is also one of the greater investments in assistance you can make.

During the midst of all this work, we have realized that our recent return to Arizona has marked the one year anniversary of when we sold our home here and began this adventure of deciding how, when and where to retire and live overseas.  It has been a long, always exciting, sometimes daunting, journey but we remain full of happy and excited anticipation about our future.

We're looking forward soon to a short break from these tasks to celebrate the holidays with our family and then it will be time to move on to Ecuador and our next round of tasks in "settling down" in our new home.

We are, indeed, blessed with good fortune and happy to be continuing our journey: "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cuenca, on earth did you choose there?

"I have two other friends interested in retiring in Ecuador. When you have time, can you share how you chose this country and this city?" 

A friend sent me a Facebook message a few days ago and posed this really thought provoking question.  Over the past year, Suzanne and I have chris-crossed the country twice, spent a week in Mexico, two months in Ecuador and a month in Thailand and came to the decision that Cuenca, Ecuador will be our retirement home.  Some of our friends think we're a little nuts, some are envious of our adventuresome spirit, some simply say "great for you, but not for me".    On this blog we've shared snippets and photos of our process and our experience.  What we haven't done is really answer the question my friend Debbie just posed...maybe it's about time we did:

Cuenca, Ecuador as seen from the Turi Overlook
We have always been travelers and also have moved many times for occupational  reasons in our forty years together.  As a result,  relocation is not a daunting prospect to us.  We first commented on living overseas during a 30th  anniversary trip to the Greek Islands. We even took a picture of a run down bungalow  with a for sale sign on it and sent it to our son with a note that we were contemplating "moving overseas".  It was an April Fool's joke at the time.   During our twelve years in Arizona, the prospect of ex-pat living actually became serious when we discovered San Miguel and the central highlands of Mexico.  We began taking 2-3 jaunts per year to this region, each time exploring a little different area as a prospective retirement locale. We began reading and studying everything we could on retiring out of the country.  That launched the possibility of other locales and led to more research.  Nothing we read about the myriad places there are to retire to distracted us, however,  from Mexico until we stumbled onto an article about Cuenca, Ecuador.  Countless articles and internet searches later, it became a contender.  It offered many of the things we loved about central Mexico,  colonial architecture, Latin culture, an abundance of handicrafts and art, a simpler lifestyle, etc. There appeared to be added conveniences, as well...having the U.S. dollar as a currency was attractive, healthcare appeared to be both affordable and of high quality, it was much easier to work part time in Ecuador, and Ecuador, as a country, offered some great diversity in climate and geography.  All of that made us decide we need to visit.  The decision to visit turned into a trial run, complete with preliminary preparations to pull our retirement trigger.  (We figured if Ecuador didn't work, we were set to go to our original choice: San Miguel).   Our biggest concern was altitude adjustment.   

Once we arrived, recovered our breath (both literally and figuratively) and had spent the first three weeks in Cuenca, we knew this was going to be home.   It met all the expectations we had going in, the  inevitable negatives  that arose were easily adjusted to to and dealt with.  Most of all, we discovered a climate of  friendliness and sense of neighborhood among both the ex-patriot as well as the Ecuadorian people we met.  

Roger and Suzanne in Cuenca, Ecuador
What made us pick Cuenca?  Here's the quick list of the things we really like:
      Friendly people
      Old fashioned Values
      Colonial architecture
      Beautiful scenery
      Personal, quality, affordable health care
      Public transportation
       Parks and plazas
       Moderate climate
       Abundance of community and cultural activities
       Beauty and diversity of country    

That's why, today, we are back in Arizona, USA making the final document and personal property preparations for our permanent return.  One more cross country trip. a holiday visit with family and then it's off to Cuenca to make it our home.
This kind of retirement isn't for everyone and it can be absolutely overwhelming in scope for those wanting to try it, so let me finish my answer to a friend's question by offering some tips on how to decide if retiring overseas is for you and how to choose a spot.

1.  Know what you want to do in retirement.   
     If your priorities are fishing, golfing, long walks in the park, etc.; then there's plenty of great spots here in the USA for that.  Despite what the idiots are currently doing in Washington, this is still the free-est and most prosperous country on the planet.   But if you enjoy, desire and can handle a real change in lifestyle, go hunt for it and find your heart's desire.

2. Run the numbers, do the logistics:
     Lots of people look at ex-patriate retirement because they hear it's cheaper.  It is in many areas, but there are also hidden costs most of us don't think about . It's also seldom as affordable as those mailers and magazine cover headlines lead you to believe.  Also realize that more affordability only comes with some adjustments and/or concessions in return.  You can't find suburban Scottsdale, Arizona living for 25 cents on the dollar anywhere on the planet.  Do some realistic financial planning for your retirement.  Be sure to include how you can accommodate relocation (and a possible return back to the US, if needed). 

3.  Go to school and do your homework!
      Learn everything you can about any locale you're considering.  You need to know about the cuisine, the customs, the culture, the geography, the economy...everything you can.  You are going to have to adjust and adapt to a new and different environment,  because that environment is NOT going to adapt to your expectations.  Make sure the expectations you have are realistic ones.  There's lots of resources for information ranging from the library to you tube videos from google earth to bloggers. (Debbie,  tell your friends that is a great source for exploring the Ecuadorian blogosphere and they list a number of good reference sites, as well)

4. Visit, if possible, do a trial run:
     Nothing beats mixing with the people, walking the neighborhoods, attending a social function, shopping for groceries, etc. to see if a new land might be suitable for home.  If your visit is a short one because of budget, be careful to NOT make it a typical cram as much sightseeing as we can and take all the tours we can, vacation kind of trip.  While you will need to satisfy some of the  tourist in you, remember that the purpose of the trip is to discover if you can live  daily life there, not just enjoy yourself.  I can have a great time in the Big Apple but I sure wouldn't  do well living there full time!

5.  Finally, enjoy the process!
     Preparing for retirement can be daunting but it shouldn't be!.  This is a special time of life.  Make it special by enjoying the process of getting ready for it.  Treat each and every day, each and every task during the preparation as a significant step on what is probably one of the most important journeys you'll make in life.  It's not always where you are going, but with whom you travel and how you travel that makes the journey exciting and fun.

I hope that helps and hope each of you can have as much fun as we do, juntos en el camino de la vida!