Thursday, January 12, 2012

The fun that is bureaucracy !

One of the joys of living in a "developing world" country is the incredible amount of bureaucracy that one must deal with just to live day to day.   As we have worked our way through our legal residency paperwork we continue to be amazed (even after 10 years of living here) by how confusing/frustrating the government offices are.  The following is a play by play of our last few days in Quito working through what we thought were the final steps in this process.  I'll give you a lot of credit if you even can read through the whole thing.  Think what it's like to live it!!

I'll start by explaining what we wanted/needed to do.

1.  Cancel our old missionary visas, now that we have our resident visas (still not sure why that can't be done  automatically when one gets a new visa)
2.  After cancelling old visa, apply for new censo based on new visa (a censo is a foreign registration card needed by all foreigners living in the country)
3.  After getting our censo, apply for cedula. (a cedula is a citizen i.d. card also needed by legal residents, something we have not needed until now)

We figured we could do these three things in 3 days.  Sounds reasonable right?  If you're smart you might read a touch of sarcasm in my words.  We (Chad, Andi, and Josiah) departed Shell at 6:00 am on Monday morning, planning to arrive in Quito around 10:00 or 10:30.  Olivia stayed with Andi's parents, who are here for two months, as she already has dual citizenship.   The trip went well and we arrived on time with plans to get started right away.  We headed to the first government office to cancel our old visa.  This office is also where you apply for non-resident visas.  We arrived at the reception desk and after explaining several times to the receptionist what we wanted to do, were given a ticket/number for our meeting.  He also informed us that we needed a signed letter stating that we wanted to cancel our old visa.  You see, you just can't personally tell someone what you want to do, you also have to have a letter stating it.  So, I ran next door to the internet cafe and typed up a, poorly written(I'm sure), letter stating that we wanted to cancel our old visas, because we had new resident visas.  We then proceeded upstairs to wait our turn.  Since we arrived so late (10:30 am) we were given the last ticket of the day.  The room was full of folks from all over, trying to get visas.  It is always comical for us to sit and watch the circus that is government offices.  Although we all have tickets with numbers, there are always a few (usually nicely dressed women with their noses in the air) that somehow get in front of everyone else.  Go figure.  We were called about 12:30 and the lady we met with seemed efficient, but not overly friendly.  We explained what we wanted to do and why and she filled out several forms and took pictures of us.  She then told us we could pick up our passports the following afternoon at 4:00 pm.  That meant we would be sitting in Quito an entire day, doing nothing but waiting to pick up our passports.  We turned on the charm a little and explained we lived far away and that we only had three days to get through this entire process.  She softened a little and told us to come back at the end of the day. She said she couldn't make any promises, but she would try to get the documents signed that day.  We thanked her and went to grab something to eat.  We returned at 4:00 pm and waited until 5:00 when we were told that the paperwork wasn't ready, but she would have it for us at 8:30 am the next morning.  We thanked her and were happy to know we have the next day to move on to the next step.

Here's a photo of the new hummingbird display.  You'd think we were sight-seeing - but really just walking from one office to the next!

The following day, as promised, the documents and passports were ready.  We picked them up and headed out to get our censos (foreign registration card).  We arrived to an almost empty office and thought that this would be easy, as there was hardly anyone waiting.  We were then informed that they couldn't do censos for the next two weeks.  The reason...they didn't have any of the cards to do them on.  This is a continual problem here.  When we were in Quito in December they said the cards would arrive on January 3.  Since it was the 10th of January we thought that they would have the cards for sure.  Wrong.   This bit of paperwork is done with the police and the guy at the front desk was anything but helpful.  He almost wouldn't even look up at us as he explained that there was nothing he could do about it.    In a little bit of a panic (we only had 30 days to do the censo after receiving our new visas) we called a few people and then headed back to the Department of Foreign Affairs, where we got our visa.  The girl at the front desk informed us that if we didn't do our censo within 30 days our visa would no longer be valid and we would have to start the process (which took 7 months the last time) over again.  With a little more panic, I (Chad) called my boss, while Andi and Josiah prayed.  My boss said to try to talk to someone else and see what they say.   We succeeded in getting through to talk to someone and were informed that we could get a certificate of censo, which is basically a letter saying we had done everything we could do, so as not to be penalized for not doing your censo in time.  Why the kind police officer couldn't tell us that this was an option, I don't know!!!  We returned to said police officer and explained what we needed.  He kind of shrugged his shoulders and told us to make three copies of a form and fill one out for each of us (forms are never given to you, you always have to go and make copies yourself).  We returned with the filled out forms and were given a number.  We waited about 15 minutes and notice that there was no one in the cubicles with the officers that do censos.   I decided to go and ask and they said they didn't know anyone else was waiting.  I just smiled as I thought "then why do I have this ticket in my hand?".   The police officers were fairly efficient and we had our documents in about 30 minutes.  They told us to come back in two weeks for the real censos.  No big's only a four hour drive each way, a night in a guest house, and several meals to buy, all for a document that I would have in hand now if it weren't for lack of planning on your part.

With our documents in hand we headed to the "Civil Registry" which is where you do all kinds of paperwork like birth and marriage certificates and also cedulas (citizen i.d. cards also carried by legal residents like us).  We knew it was too late in the day to do the paperwork, but we wanted to find out if we had all the paperwork in order and what we needed to do the following day (we had heard the lines were really bad).   Miraculously it seemed we had all the paperwork in order.  I asked what time I should arrive the next morning to get a ticket/number.  She told us that people start lining up as early as 4:00 am. but we could arrive as late as 6:00 am (really sleeping in???) and still get a number for the day.  Thankfully she said that only one of us had to stand in line.  So, the next morning Andi dropped me off at about 5:45 am.  There were about 200 people already standing in line outside the door.  Thankfully there were several guards (Quito is not exactly the safest city, especially at that time of day) who kept things fairly organized, but line jumping was rampant.  At 6:15 the doors were opened and were were corralled into turnstiles like you see at an amusement park ride.   The line led to a payment center (which is really a bank located at the Civil Registry, as no one can be trusted to take money at these places) which opened at 7:30 am.   Again it was almost comical, I guess as comical as anything can be that early in the morning, to watch people trying to line jump.  What made it not so comical, is that there are only so many tickets for each day so you don't want too many people jumping in line in front of you or you may find yourself without a ticket.  Thankfully the guards were on high alert and actually threw out several people who had tried to jump in line.  After the payment center opened it only took about an hour for me to get to the window and pay and get a ticket.  The ticket said I should come back in 1 hour and 6 minutes for my appointment.  I called Andi and told her to head down with Josiah as we only had an hour wait.   Well that 1 hour wait turned into about 2 hours and 30 minutes before our number was called.  No big deal, we were just happy to get in.  As they called our number they wouldn't let us all into the same cubicle so Andi had to go to the one next to mine.  My process went pretty smoothly until they tried to find Decatur, IN (my birthplace) in their system.   Of course Andi's and Josiah's birthplace (Van Wert) wasn't in the system either.  They told us they would have to manually enter the cities and it would take 30 minutes to get into the system.  So we went back to wait.  Eventually they got the cities in the system and were back in the cubicles filling out the forms.  The other problem we had was that several of the forms we brought with our visas had incorrect or misspelled names on them.  We told the people when we got the visas and they had us write down all the information and assured us it would be corrected in the system.  Well....guess what, it wasn't all corrected.  Eventually I was able to finish my paper work, but Andi's and Josiah's had misspellings that would take a week to be corrected and back in the system.  We tried everything we could think of, but in the end they told us there was nothing we could do but come back in a week!

Taking a Coke break!

By that time it was almost 2:00 pm and we hadn't had lunch and we didn't know if we were going to go back to Shell or not.  We decided to run back to the guest house, throw everything in the car and grab something to eat on the way out of town.  We arrived back in Shell safely at about 7:00 pm.  We didn't have  a lot to show for our efforts, but we were thankful to know what needed to be done when we go back in a couple weeks.  The great news is that we don't have to stand in that line at 5:00  in the morning, as the ticket we have is valid for 20 days.  So we'll be headed back to Quito in a couple weeks to do it all over again.

The purpose of this post was primarily to vent a little of our frustrations and maybe to help you not be as stressed the next time your at the DMV and have to wait.  If you are still reading, then you must be bored silly!  Maybe our trip didn't go as planned, because we forgot to tell you all to pray!  We'll be sure to let you know when we head back so we can have a little more prayer cover and hopefully get everything accomplished.  We kept praying for God's timing and we'll trust Him to help us finish things on time.


  1. Wow! I guess we really shouldn't complain with the waits that we have. Thanks for sharing part of your week with us.

    Harold and Cheryl Holcomb

  2. What a crazy deal! It's not much better over here.

    I admire you two for doing your best to exhaust ALL of your residency options before just throwing in the towel. I'll be praying for you all as you finish this process.

  3. My stomach was in a small knot after reading this. We appreciate the work you do EVEN MORE now!