I wrote this a few years ago about my experience of getting my temporary residence card – I still have flashbacks. I hope this will help you avoid the same mistakes I made…
Last Thursday we received a message from our lawyer that DH´s paperwork had come through for his temporary resident visa. This was good news indeed, because residents, even temporary ones, can do all sorts of things that tourists can’t – like get drivers’ licences, access the health care system, and sign up for cell-phone contracts with new phones. The card itself is also a generally-accepted form of official ID, and so having one means that you can finally tuck your passport away somewhere safe and sound, rather than having to carry it around with you every time you leave the house in case someone for some reason wants to see it. Which is all the time.
The process is a fairly drawn-out affair and I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say that Mexico, like other countries, is careful about who it lets stay, and on what terms. It took DH a while to get to this point even with the backing of his company, but from here the end is in sight – hoops must be jumped through, but there isn’t anyone potentially saying “no” anymore. (Some academic puffery just floated through my brain about Foucault and power, but I let it just…drift…away…)
My process is a bit different because I am not applying with a job offer from a Mexican employer in hand – I am the wife/dependent of such a person, and so my application hinges on his application.
The next step for both of us, then, once DH received his approval was to leave the country, go to a Mexican Embassy to get the visa, and then come back to begin the final process of exchanging our tourist visas for resident visas. Because as a dependent my approval hinges on his approval, it was important to make appointments for both of us at the same time so that our visas could be processed at the same time, and our lawyer recommended the Embassy in Guatemala as the best place to get this done. Ok, no problem.
But – the instructions that came with the approval specified that DH had 15 days from the date of the letter to get out, get the visa, and get back – failure to do so causes the process to expire, and we would have to start all over again. This was a problem. Our kids were set to arrive less than a week after DH got the approval. And he actually received the approval several days after the date of the letter. This meant that on Thursday, we were facing the prospect of having to get out, get visas (which required getting appointments at an Embassy), and get back all before the kids’ arrival 6 days later.
A frantic call to our lawyer calmed us down for just a bit – she told us that we should be fine as long as we make the appointment within the 15 day window, even if the appointment itself falls outside of that window. This sounded promising, but in the process of making the appointments with the Embassy in Guatemala, we were told that this was not the case, and that we would need to actually attend the Embassy within the 15 day period.
Our lawyer seemed surprised by this because this was not her own experience. Mexican bureaucracy, we have come to understand, is quite idiosyncratic and with specific reference to the visa process it is doubly so because the entire immigration regime was changed last year and the new rules are not yet well-understood or evenly applied. And so, let me impart the following wisdom:
Always call the Embassy to confirm they will do what your lawyer says they will do.
Our lawyer advised that we should call around to other Embassies. We considered that, but this isn’t such an easy thing to do – first off, this would have meant calling long-distance all over the place, trying to get someone to answer and trying to get that person to connect you to the person who might know the answer. It also would have meant hoping that the Embassy gave us the answer we wanted, then hoping that they had appointments at a time we could manage, then trying to coordinate that appointment with flights that we could afford, and on and on. So, in the end, we decided to just get ‘er done in Guatemala as the flights were cheap and we could get appointments on Tuesday morning, and they would process my visa at the same time. As an added bonus, DH’s cousin and his wife planned to drive to Guatemala City from San Salvador to meet up with us (this actually happened, and ended up making the whole thing worth while) So, we booked it.
I had followed the first rule of getting a Visa (‘Always call the Embassy to confirm they will do what your lawyer says they will do’), and had confirmed in writing (corollary to the first rule) that they would process my visa at the same time. We left on Sunday so as to make sure that would not be cutting things too close with our 8:30am Tuesday morning appointments, and so as to leave time for a bit of hanging around with the cousin. Between Thursday afternoon and our flight, we ran around making arrangements for doggy-daycare, visa photos, and various copies of this and that as specified in the instruction letter and as confirmed by a previous call to the Embassy (viz. Rule 1)
Fast-forward to the morning of our appointment. DH and I showed up early – a good thing, because, consistent with the second rule of getting a Visa (‘Always assume that you will need more than they told you you would need’), we needed to hustle out to get copies of something that no-one told us we needed copies of, and then get back to make our appointment.
By the time it was our turn, we had been in and out of line a few times to get things, fill things out, and so on. When we went up the window, DH explained what we wanted to do, and that is when things went sideways. The Embassy would process DH’s visa, but they would not process mine until DH’s process was complete and he was a bone fide resident and allowed to sponsor his dependents. In other words, until he returned to Mexico and swapped out his tourist visa for a residency visa.
One of the most frustrating things about the still-lame state of my Spanish is that I can’t effectively rant at or about whatever injustice (perceived or real) has pushed me over the edge. I am forced to rant indirectly through DH, who (being better practiced the ways of getting things done in Latin America), quite reasonably edits my rants before passing them along. A typical exchange goes like this:
Me: “Whhhhhhat? Seriously?? En serio?? How on EARTH can they POSSIBLY expect that that makes any sense at ALL? Why didn’t they TELL us that in the first place? YOU tell them that I am SERIOUSLY PISSED OFF about this. And TELL THEM that I will be on their front steps with a SIGN warning people about their CRAP! And TELL THEM that I will tell every expat I know to STAY AWAY! TELL them that THIS IS NOT OK!!!”
DH (to them, in Spanish): “Ah, my wife wishes you could fix this problem for us.”
In this instance, my rant focused on the fact that the guy was simply WRONG, was clearly not up to date on the new immigration rules, moreover was telling me something different from what the Embassy had told me when I called, and in an email.
So, when DH conveyed the fact that I had confirmed things by email, the guy asked to see it. It goes without saying that I could not access my email because our Mexico phones don’t have any service in Guatemala. We could not call our lawyer because, although DH’s Winterland phone was picking up cell service, we could not figure out how to dial the lawyer’s number. (Sounds lame, I know, but we were trying to call DF on a Winterland phone while in Guatemala. Couldn’t figure out what country codes to use, and so on). So I just seethed with impotent fury, while DH asked the guy if he could check again about our request.
Guy disappears for 10 minutes, returns and says that his boss has said that they would process my visa if DH can provide a letter – in original – from his employer confirming his income. No, a fax won’t do. Of course, we did not have such a thing handy. No visa for me. Period. My own fault, really, because I had neglected the third rule of getting your visa: “Always call the Embassy that you just called to make sure that they will do what they said that they would do, and get it in writing.”
(DH’s cousin is a lawyer, and as I was decompressing afterwards, he told me that he tells his clients applying for visas to bring virtually every document they have to their interviews, including tax returns for the past 3 years. You never know, he says, what some Embassy guy might decide to ask for.)
So, we returned to DF with one visa, and without the other…at this point, a few days after the fact, I have reverted to my normal ‘glass-half-full’ perspective on life and my previously over-the-top emotional reaction to the turn of events has dulled to a ‘Meh.’ I now see the whole experience as pretty funny, actually. But at the time, I was convinced that the universe was out to get me. So, when it started to rain so hard at the Guatelmala City airport that the power went off in the whole place, I wasn’t surprised in the least. While we waited for our luggage in DF, my fatalism was only confirmed when the entire luggage process was held up because a dog sniffed something, and the Feds literally shut down the luggage system and searched the bag. We waited and waited, along with everyone else, for the affair to conclude. Of course, when the luggage process resumed and we heard our names called out over the PA system, I fully expected to be told that our luggage was still in Guatemala – and I was not disappointed. I didn’t even bother to rant all that much.
Besides, this gives us an excuse to go back, reconnect with the cousin and his wife, and explore more of what looks like a beautiful country – volcanos, lush vegetation, and lovely people.
So there’s that.
Any images that are not my own are used with permission according to the terms of their Creative Common License – click on the image to go to the source.
“Rejected” photo by Sean MacEntee
“Screaming Wonder Woman” by Narcisticthinker
Mexican Embassy in Guatemala City, Google Maps