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.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Moving to Ecuador: Do I Lawyer Up or Not? - Part 2

Finally, readers, here is the promised Part 2 in our examination of needing a lawyer's help in establishing ex-patriate residency in Ecuador. If you haven't yet read our first entry on this subject, I heartily suggest you stop reading this entry now and head to the archives for a review. Today's blog will be of more value for you if you do.

O.K. You either have already read Part 1 or you're back from the archives, so here goes: At the end of part 1, we Yazells had been approved for residency and had received our passports back with the appropriate visa stamp but had not yet obtained our formal cedulas. Part 2 begins with travel to Quito for that process. Getting a cedula typically begins with getting a censo at the local or provincial level. However, nearly all government offices have been out of the special paper to print the censos since December. It has been hinted that proposed changes may eliminate usage of the censo and that may be why there hasn't been a sense of urgency to obtain replacement paper, but that's speculation. It may be just be a simple lack of urgency, period. Ecuadorian bureaucracy is sometimes like that.

In any case, a lack of censo necessitated that our first bureaucratic visit in Quito would be at the central censo office where we would be issued a certificado de censo and then an instructional memorandum would be couriered by messenger to the Civil Registry office advising them to consider our application for issuance of cedula despite not having a formally issued censo. (I hope you're not confused yet because, in our case, it going to get a lot stickier!) An employee of our attorney picked us up bright and early Tuesday am and off we headed to the censo office to begin our task. They had already obtained a service number for us and made arrangements to have our stuff reviewed (You need stamped passports, more photos, copies of utility bills to show where you're residing and be sure you are aware of what your civic sector and church parish is). We were prepared and it looked as those things were going well until the agent handed back all our documents, wagging a disapproving finger and saying, "no permite certificado de censo". It seems even though we were approved for permanent visas and our passports were so stamped, they also contained a stamp for a temporary 12-IX six month extended visas which had not been formally cancelled. Adriana, our attorneys' employee, instructed us to wait at the censo office and headed out across town to a different office which would handle that cancellation. She also had three more sets of clients enroute from Cuenca to the Quito airport with the same six month visa stamp as well as permanent residency stamp as we had. They were expecting to follow right behind us in the bureaucratic process and would undoubtedly hit the same obstacle we had just encountered. Anyway, we settled into the waiting room and watched as scores of Ecuadorians and others got their numbers, waited and then exited with certificado de censos in hand. After an attempt or two at contacting Adriana failed we called back to Cuenca to make sure we hadn't been abandoned (all the while, the old Kingston Trio song about Charlie being stuck on the Boston MTA kept repeating itself in my brain..."did he ever return? no he never returned...."). After a couple of hours, we finally advised the Cuenca office to let Adriana know we were headed to the mall across the street for a needed restroom break (the bano in the censo office was down for repairs) and much needed nourishment.

Well, three steps out of the mall restroom toward the food court came the urgent call to return. We needed to be picked up via cab to join Adriana across town. It seems we had to be there in person to "apply" for the cancellation of the temporary visa and have yet more photos taken and, of course, pay the required cancellation fee. This was a "new" procedure but definitely one that had to be followed (As of the Thursday prior, our attorney had clients in Quito obtain their cedula without the "special" cancellation procedure on their 12-IX).

So across town we go, joining Adriana and the other sets of clients (who had fortunately been diverted from the airport prior to joining us at the restroom-less censo office). Into a upper floor waiting room we climbed. After about ten minutes, Adriana hands me our folders, says "quatro mas" and points to the number sign and then departs down the stairwell. I wait for four more numbers, then I grab Suzanne's hand, the files and head to the nearest empty chair where after a bright smile and cheery buenos tardes, I get the agent to smile and discover she does indeed speak a little English. After a few minutes that seemed hours long, we get photos taken (still haven't discovered why?) and I'm handed a bill, instructed to go downstairs, pay the cashier and come back with a, I won't have to get a number and wait again...just return with the receipt when I have paid. On the way out, Suzanne is told to wait upstairs while I go down to pay. After 4 flights, I turn a corner and see a solitary sign "CAJA" (CASHIER) and, surprise, no line! That would be because there is no cashier on duty! "Almuerzo" (lunch) says a security guard in response to my puzzled, pained expression and then points to an empty chair at the end of a row of people holding slips of paper that looked similar to my "cancel your temporary visa fee" invoice. "Tiempo?" I queried as I headed toward the empty chair. "Posible uno, uno-media hora!"(maybe one to one and a half hours)came the rely from the guard, who by this time was headed back to the CAJA sign where a dozen or more people were lining up, all with slips of paper that looked just like mine.

Four flights above, Suzanne had no clue as to my status and I couldn't call (cell phone usage is not permitted and is often blocked in most governmental offices). Luckily, the Bolivian gentleman next to me spoke about the same amount of English as I did Espanol. It only took five minutes to get across that I really wanted a banos trip and could he save my seat until I returned? Getting a broad smile and cheery "claro" (certainly)in response, up the stairs I headed to advise Suzanne of our status. Mission accomplished, I then headed back downstairs (adding a real stop at the restroom, just in case)and reclaimed my seat in line.

Eventually, the fees were paid, I got the receipts and returned to our agent to get claim checks. We needed those to get back our passports the next day with the needed cancellation. "Si" the agent advised, someone could use those claim checks to pick up the passports for us! So that became the plan, Adriana would get our passports the next day, call us when all was in hand and then we would all head back to the censo office and get the ball re-rolling and get back on track again!!!

What we didn't count on was that the cancelado stamp has to be signed by the department head as authentic...only his inital or signature would do. Would you care to guess who was playing in a golf tournament that next morning? (Honest, folks, I'm not imaginative enough to make this kind of stuff up!)

Wednesday morning came and passed and so did our opportunity to get back on schedule. It was Thursday am before we headed to the censo again, this time successfully getting certificados and then headed to the civil registry to wait in line with literally hundreds of others applying for cedulas. Adriana managed to expedite our wait and at last (we're now into Thursday afternoon) I sat down, with great expectations, in a chair across from an agent. I tried my best not to be anxious as he went through the ever growing file on expadorian wannabe Roger Yazell. "Naciamento?" came the question. I replied in my best broken Spanish as to my birthday (I was born on St Patrick's Day...too bad this wasn't in Ireland...I might have gotten extra points for that!) My heart skipped a beat as I saw the dreaded wagging finger once again..."no cedula, Senor, a retorno tres semanas!".!!!!!

It turns out the inter-agency memorandum sent by courier from the censo office to the civil registry listed my birthday as March 11 while my passport listed March 17 (the clerk preparing the memo obviously misread and/or mistyped the date!). Because the two documents were NOT in agreement, my cedula application was denied and I could reapply in three weeks (which by the way turned out to be one week past the time allowed to apply for a cedula after receiving approval for residency). Talk about a real Catch 22! While the rest of the entourage went through their turns (Suzanne, by the way, got accepted, fingerprinted and photographed and was told her cedula would be ready the next afternoon), Adriana advised me the new plan was to head to the office of the head of censos and get a new instructional memo correcting the previous one and requesting an immediate re-review of my application.

OK, boys and girls, get ready for yet another I can't possibly make this kind of stuff up scenario: It turns out by the time Ariana got to his office, the director (the only person who could untie this Gordian knot we had encountered) was gone for the day. Adriana, therefore, planned to camp on his doorstep the next morning until she obtained the necessary error correction memo...she also made special advance arrangements to have an expedited courier deliver it as a priority to the civil registry once it was ready. (Our maximum day and a half process was preparing to enter day 4!) What she didn't know was that this official was newly appointed from a position in another governmental department and he was in transition, covering his old position in the morning and then coming to his new desk at midday. So it became noon hour before my very important memo could even begin to be drafted. By this time, Suzanne and I decided that if we were to have a chance at success, it would best if we met Adriana at the civil resistry (we certainly had become familiar with the location of the governmental offices over the previous three days!) Shortly after our arrival at the civil registery came a cell call from our attorneys office in Cuenca. Adriana had managed to get the messenger to allow her to read the correction memo and had discovered a different typo error had been made!!! Back to the office she immediately went to discover that he had left for (insert drum roll, here) Almuerzo!! (that would be lunchtime)$ Double aaargggh!

I'll skip a lot of details but suffice it to say, at this point we had pretty much abandoned hope of making our Friday evening flight back to Cuenca. Here's a quick summary of what happens next: Adriana with messenger in tow finally shows up in the plaza in front of the civil registry. It's before the end of the business day but 10 minutes after the building entry doors are closed and locked....the messenger uses his government badge to gain admission through the exit doors....convinces guard to allow us to go in with him. About 40 minutes later, same agent as before finally gives Roger a thumbs up and then photographs and fingerprints him for his cedula. (Huzzah!) Suzanne, meanwhile went to pickup her cedula which wasn't ready because someone questioned her being born in Peru, Illinois. It seems a supervisor in the registry thought she was trying to claim two birthplaces (It probably didn't help that Peru and Ecuador have had a recent war with each other!) Much explanation and a minor meltdown later, Suzanne actually gets her cedula!

We vainly attempt an airport run hoping to still get home to Cuenca and then, exhausted and battle weary, we discover our B and B can accomodate us for one more night. We head back there for dinner, a much welcomed bottle of wine and exhaustedly crash for the night!

This is a long and convoluted tale and it is certainly not a very typical one, but then again, one that can and probably will be repeated again in some fashion or another. We can almost laugh, now, at the incredulity of it, but it was a very stressful four days at the time. Our point to those who follow us is this: the sublimely ridiculous can and does unexpectedly happen in Ecuador. If you aren't fully bilingually, fully culturally aware and if you don't have the patience of Job, you will be in need of an extra resource to help you cope and get through the process. Even if your resources are excellent as we believe ours was... be aware they can also be caught unprepared and unaware. Hiring a lawyer and/or an Ecuadorian epeditor does not give you a guarantee there won't be problems. You have to, as we said in part 1, still do your own homework. Be prepared to deal with the unexpected, with contingencies and to assume ultimate responsibility. We know of another Cuenca couple who were in Quito at the same time we were who only spent about 4 hours in government offices as opposed to our 4 days. That how it goes in Ecuador. It can be simple and smooth one moment and terribly complex and frustrating the next.

There are numerous changes coming in the year ahead to the residency process including moving the governance of it from the department of the interior to the department of foreign affairs. It is even said that by year's end, application for residency will be able to be made in Cuenca. Eventually the process appears to be headed for needed improvement. However, the reality is that change is never easily accomplished in Ecuador. Be aware that either of the two scenarios, 4 hours or 4 days, could easily happen to anyone now and in the foreseeable future. It is entirely appropriate to ask if you are fully prepared to deal with either contingency all by yourself? In hindsight, I thought my legal aid in the Quito phase could have been handled better. I certainly and candidly, shared those thoughts with my attorneys as was my perogative as a client. However, in the end, I was still very grateful that I had retained them as a resource and I would not fared as well without them.

As I said can't make this kind of stuff up. It simply does happen now and then. You might as well be prepared for it. We lived through it and we are now, happily, bona fide permanent residents of Ecuador. The saga of how it came to be will make for some good future story telling with our friends as Suzanne and I continue our journey, juntos en el camino de la vida!


  1. You mentioned a time limit after approval to get cedulas. Can you share how long that is?

  2. Matt: With the changes being undertaken, that time limit may change so rather than take what I say which may NOT be the case when you apply, be aware that there will be one and make this one of the many questions you'll ask as you enter the process. This whole business of procedural changes can be one of the most frustrating parts of establishing residency. Some folks have hit the right window of opportunity where all was as expected. However, you simply can't always count on that. That was actually the point of my long demonstrate how a simple last minute procedure change can combine with a few other glitches to allay the best laid plns of mice and men.

  3. Roger and Suzanne,

    Just a note to thank you for detailing in such an enjoyable way all your adventures in expat-land; I've really enjoyed reading them. I'm also happy to see by the most recent posts that you both seem finally to have cleared the last hurdles to becoming residents. Congratulations, and thanks again for allowing your readers to share in your adventures.

    Tay (in Texas)

  4. Hi Roger, I know why the glitch with your birthday being on the 17th and they wrote is because they write "ones" here like "sevens." They write sevens (of course) like the one BUT with a cross as in 7 with a - . They don't just write one like 1, but they put that horizontal top on like a seven. Thought you might like to know that! And of course.....onward bound with the bureaucratic ecuatrocities! Good luck! Sounds like all is working out alright.