Monday, June 16, 2014

Ecuador Visa Requirements

We often get asked about the Visa requirements for visiting and for moving to Ecuador. What I post here is accurate RIGHT NOW. That doesn't mean it will be accurate tomorrow. Change is inevitable, sometimes hourly it seems and sometimes up to the discretion of the official (office) you are dealing with.

First, if you want to visit Ecuador you will be automatically granted a 90 day tourist visa upon entry into the country with a US passport. This is good for one year...in other words, if you enter the country on March 13th, your year starts that day and you can spend up to 90 days in the country between that date and March 12th the following year. Simple, easy and FREE!
  • Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your travel dates. 
  • A round/onward trip ticket is needed to prove the length of your stay. 
If you wish to live in Ecuador as a resident immigrant, there are several visas available to choose from. The full list is here, below are the most commonly used ones that we have heard about.
  • Pensioner Visa (Foreign Pension) 9-I
    Requires a minimum income of $800 (for life), each dependent requires an additional $100 per month income
     
  • Investor Visa 9-II or 9-III
    Multiple ways to invest, tightly restricted, minimum $25k investment
     
  • Professional Visa 9-V
    Requires graduation from a 4 year degree program from a certified college or university. There is a list of those already registered with Ecuador but if yours isn't on the list, it doesn't mean you are excluded. In addition, you do NOT have to plan to work in Ecuador for this visa to be valid. It does take longer to get than the above visas. Click here to download the list of accepted universities as of April 2013.
We opted to each get a pensioner visa, it cost us more because there was more paperwork go be notarized/apostiled, then translated and apostiled again. Plus the visa fee was double ($700 for two, $350 for one). But if something were to happen to one of us, the other still has residency without having to start the paperwork over again.

There is one caveat to the immigrant visa. We are restricted to being out of country 90 days in any given year. Our anniversary date is the date we entered the country, December 12th. So we have 90 days between then and this coming December 11th.

In our 3-5th years the requirement changes but we are still unclear as to what it changes to...we have heard 18 months over the three years, 180 days over the three years and even 18 months a year. We will see what it is when we make it to year three. For now, we carefully count our days out of country to be sure we don't exceed the 90 days.
{NOTE: November 2014- Per an immigration lawyer, Immigration Law Article 36 states that it is 18 months MAX before you must return to Ecuador.}

What happens if we do? We have to start the visa process all over again, including paying the fees again! Nope, not gonna do that.

So, you want to get a visa. How do you start? The first thing is to get certified copies of your birth certificate, current marriage license and any name change documents. For those of us women who married and then were divorced or widowed, that means more paperwork UNLESS you never changed from your maiden name. (Note: women in Ecuador don't change their names.)

We were told I only needed the birth and most recent marriage but since the marriage certificate showed a different name from the birth certificate, we decided to err on the side of caution and I got everything.

You will also need an official letter showing your documented pension/social security income. We went to our local office, told her what we needed. We could not use the form you can print out from the internet. The clerk printed out the document from her printer, then stamped and signed it (a critical step).

We also needed a criminal background check for the last five years of residence. We got ours online from TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation). That sufficed although since then we have heard the local Cuenca office is required an FBI check which requires fingerprinting. The document is also time sensitive, typically no more than a month old from your application date.
{NOTE: DECEMBER 2014: Latest news, ALL Ecuador immigration offices will soon be requiring an FBI report AND a state report. They will no longer accept a local report.}

Suffice it to say, this is a much easier process to start while still in the US. If you are already in Ecuador and need a document from the US, it becomes an expensive process and one that requires a contact to receive the document and then send it to be apostiled before sending it to you in Ecuador.

Many people complete the whole process without assistance, even without being fluent in Spanish. This is obviously the most economical way. You bring your documents with you from the US, get them translated and apostiled in Ecuador, present the whole packet (including copies of your passport pages and passport sized photos) to Immigration. Be prepared for several visits there and long waits. A good book is your friend, or a tablet for playing games. Oh, men take note - remove your hat! Eventually (hopefully), you will walk away with everything APPROVED.

In our case we opted to hire a facilitator for a turn-key package. Because our Rt 66 trip was during the two month when I would have had to been available for mailing documents back and forth, we got the all the originals and sent the whole thing to Maite Duran of GringoVisas.com. She has an office in Connecticut and is able to handle all the US side there and then it all goes to her office in Cuenca where the process is completed.

I ordered all our originals in mid-July and we sent her our packet in mid-August. We enjoyed our Rt 66 motorcycle trip and by late October received an email from her office that we could get our Visa stamps at the Ecuadorian consulate in Atlanta (the closest to us). Woot!!

Was this the least expensive route? Absolutely not. Was it the most stress-free route? ABSOLUTELY! It was the right one for us.

There are other facilitators in Ecuador who will consult and assist you as well as lawyers who can do the same but Maite was the only one who, at the time, offered a turn-key service. She continues to get recommendations from all who work with her.

So do it yourself or hire someone but do your research regardless. Requirements are know to change on a whim here! ;)
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