Ecuador’s New Immigration Law: Snowbirding Just Got Easier

Ecuador’s National Assembly voted unanimously on January 5, 2017 to pass a new immigration law called “La Ley Orgánica de Movilidad Humana.” The law (number 60 of  the 2013-2017 legislative period) has not yet been published in the official registry so we haven’t yet been able to access the full 90 page version. This post will summarize what information we have been able to gather until the law is officially published.

Ecuador National Assembly

Ecuador’s National Assembly passed the new immigration law on January 5, 2017. Photo from El Telegrafo

Some broad-sweeping points of this new law (as translated from the opening arguments from the head of the Committee who helped draft  the new law) are that it will recognize the equality of rights between Ecuadorians and foreigners and emphasizes that no human being can be qualified as illegal in Ecuador because of their migratory status. The new law largely addresses Ecuadorians living abroad, Ecuadorians returning home after living abroad, and refugees, stateless persons, and victims of trafficking.

However, there are also changes that will affect foreign residents in Ecuador, either as tourists or permanent residents.

My in-laws have been enjoying their Ecuadorian residency since 2012.

My in-laws have been enjoying their Ecuadorian residency since 2012.

A notable change that has implications for foreigners is the extension of a tourist visa from the previous 90 days to 180 days. This “tourist visa” is simply the stamp you receive in your passport upon entering the country. This extension for up to 6 months is great news for folks who want to split their time between living in Ecuador and their home country (grandparents, snowbirds, and many others will no doubt celebrate this change!). Previously, acquisition of another visa was required to extend one’s time in Ecuador beyond 90 days (for example a 12-IX visa which is fairly costly and can be time-consuming). There is apparently the option now to also obtain a special tourist visa that would be good for up to 1 year (but which will be limited to using once every 5 years).

And for foreign residents of Ecuador who are excited about exploring other regions of South America, they will now be able to do so as part of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) by only presenting their Ecuador ID card (“cédula”) instead of being required to show both their passport and cédula.

Another significant change is that proof of health care insurance will be required for tourists entering Ecuador. It will be interesting to see how this rule is actually enforced and applied; however, this change will NOT apply to foreigners who are permanent residents in Ecuador.

Once we have access to the public record of this new immigration law, we will add the link here.

Information Sources:

Getting Your 12-IX Visa: A Recent Real-Life Experience

When you first arrive to Ecuador, you will receive a T-3 tourist stamp in your passport that allows you stay in the country for up to 90 days per year. In some countries, one can simply cross a border and return with a new passport stamp to renew their stay. This is not the case in Ecuador.

If you wish to stay in Ecuador beyond 90 days you may apply for the 12-IX visa (read 12-9). Typically this visa allows you to extend your stay for an additional 180 days. If you plan to obtain your permanent residency, you are required to have the 12-IX visa when you file the application for your resident visa.

There are LOTS of online sources for how to go about obtaining this visa and once you start sifting through it all you’ll discover there is a lot of differing and contradictory information regarding the requirements, where you need to go to process the application, and if you need to hire a lawyer. It is horribly confusing.

I just went through this specific visa process this past week with an American expat couple and thought I’d share their experience.

**DISCLAIMER: Please be aware that Ecuador’s visa laws can and do change in a moment’s notice and may even differ depending upon which official or which office you talk to (and hence all the varied information online), so be sure to double check all requirements, etc. before initiating this process yourself. Here I describe a single, recent experience (September 2012).***

 

A TYPICAL EXPAT SCENARIO REQUIRING THE 12-IX VISA:

A retired U.S. couple arrives to Ecuador and decide to rent first to make sure they like it here before they make the plunge to buy coastal real estate. Their 90 day tourist stamp is about 3 weeks from expiring and they have decided they want to stay and eventually apply for their permanent residency that will be based on their monthly pension. As a first step, they need to get their 12-IX visa.

WHERE THEY WENT:

Many people are told they must go to Quito or Guayaquil to apply for the 12-IX visa or that it needs to be done at the Ecuadorian consulate in your home country. Maybe that was the case in the past, but now Manta has a Ministry of Foreign Relations office (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores) which receives and processes visa applications and can have the 12-IX visa ready for you in just a few days. That this may be done in Manta is a major convenience for expats living in this area.

DOCUMENTS THAT WERE NEEDED

Many information sources state that you will need a official copies of your birth certificate, a recent police record, a record of an HIV test (that is negative), bank records demonstrating solvency, and a marriage certificate (if applying with a spouse), among any other number of documents, all of which must be translated into Spanish and apostilled in order to be legally recognized in Ecuador.

Here is the sum total of what was needed to apply for the 12-IX visa in this particular case in Manta:

  • Passports (valid for at least 6 months prior to entry to Ecuador)
  • Color copies of the passports , including the page with their entry stamp
  • Official marriage certificate that was translated and then notarized (no apostille was required)
  • A print-out of plane reservations exiting Ecuador (this reservation was later canceled as the couple had not yet decided when/if they planned to leave the country)
  • A print-out of a bank statement showing they had money in their bank account
  • Passport photos
  • Visa application (signed by each applicant)

 

HIRE A LAWYER?

You could run all the paperwork yourself and save money on not hiring a lawyer.  Hiring a lawyer is NOT required but it sure can be useful, especially if you do not have good command of the Spanish language.

This particular couple decided to hire a lawyer who went over the requirements with them, got their marriage certificate translated and notarized, helped them get their passport photos, went to a travel agency to get their plane reservations, filled out their visa application and picked them up at their home and took them to the Manta office to apply for the visa.

THE APPLICATION PROCESS AND COSTS

The couple and the lawyer went to the Foreign Relations office in downtown Manta the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept 5. Because in this case, the couple was married, one spouse was able to apply for the visa and have the other spouse apply for the visa as a dependent which is less expensive.

More photos were taken there at the office and the paperwork including the couple’s passports were submitted.  After waiting about an hour, all of the documents for the visa application were reviewed and approved. They were told that their passports with their 12-IX visas were likely to be ready for pick up the following afternoon.

Here is a breakdown of the costs:

  • $500 Lawyer fees, including translation and notarization of their marriage certificate
  • $200 12-IX visa fee (for primary spouse)
  • $50 12-IX visa fee (for dependent spouse)
  • $60 Application fees ($30 for each applicant)
  • $20 Airplane reservation made via a travel agency
  • $8 passport photos ($4 each)
  • $4 Official registration of the visas “Empadronamiento

 

AN [EXPECTED] UNEXPECTED BUREAUCRATIC ROAD BUMP:

It is best to expect the unexpected, as always, but especially in Ecuador.

Upon leaving the Foreign Relations office, the lawyer was notified that because the couple were renting and did not have a sales agreement or a deed for a property in Ecuador, they would only grant them a 90 day extension instead of the usual 180 days.  A recent change to the law was vaguely cited as the reason.

The lawyer met with the couple and presented them with the option of accepting the 90 day extension  OR if they wanted the full 180 days, he would create for them a fictitious property purchase agreement that would be destroyed once the visas were received. The [understandably surprised and baffled] couple agreed to the latter to get the full 180 days.  The lawyer told them he would charge an additional $250 to create the necessary documents that same night, bring the documents to them to sign the following morning and then take the documents to Manta to submit them with the visa application.

They were told the visas should be ready for pick up sometime on Friday. Not too surprisingly, they weren’t, so they went on Monday, Sept 10 instead. The visas were indeed ready but despite the attempted legal work-around, the couple was still not granted the 180 days and instead received 91 days.

This scenario is probably a good demonstration of the “roll of the dice” luck involved in Ecuadorean bureaucracy: They might have received the normal 180 days had there been someone else in the office that first day or last day but as luck would have it, the “wrong” person was there instead.

Fortunately, the lawyer only charged them $50 of his whole $250 fee for his time in creating and submitting the legalized purchase agreement.

So, in the end, their final cost for both of their 12-IX visas amounted to $942 and it only took only 3 work days to get a 91 day extension. While it was not the desired 180 days it nevertheless buys them the time to gather the necessary paperwork to begin the application process for the pensioners resident visa. Fodder for a future blog.

 

A couple of useful visa links:

A good summary of different visa options summarized by International Living

Official website for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores)