Be prepared for a very dry blog post. If you already have a visa, back away!
If you plan on staying in Ecuador for more than 90 days, you're going to need a visa. This will be a helpful guide if you're looking to extend your stay to 6 months or planning to stay in Ecuador indefinitely.
I am going to use the terms notarize and apostille quite a bit, and given that I was clueless as to what a notarized or apostilled document was before going through this process, here are my definitions of the two:
Getting a document notarized is the equivalent of certifying the document or signature on the document as a legal copy by a public notary. Public notaries are ubiquitous. Most banks and shipping stores like UPS or FedEx provide public notary services. Many documents that come from the government already come notarized. All documents that need an apostille have to be notarized first.
An apostille is very similar concept to a notarization but goes one step further. An apostille is an additional certification that renders a notarized document internationally recognized. Most, if not all, legal documents you present to Ecuadorian authorities need to be apostilled. From my experience in Virginia and D.C., there is only one legal authority per state that can apostille documents. The apostille services are housed in the Office of the Secretary of State, so if you don't live near the capital of your home state, be prepared to factor in some mail delivery time to this process. I'm going to use apostille as a verb going forward, which isn't grammatically correct, but you get it.
The Temporary Visa (12-IX)
Obtaining the 12-IX visa was simple. You still have to jump through some bureaucratic hoops, but it's relatively painless. This visa allows you to stay in Ecuador a maximum of 180 days, or 6 months.
- Financial solvency for the length of time you plan to stay in the country. The minimum wage is $350 per month. So you will have to provide printed bank statements that show you have enough money in your account(s) to stay for X months at the current minimum wage, e.g. if you plan to stay for 6 months then your bank account balance must be at least $2,100.
- Up to date color picture, passport size with a white background. Bring multiple copies of these headshots to the consulate and with you to Ecuador.
- US Passport that will be valid for at least 6 months.
- $50 application fee. $400 visa fee. Must be paid in cash or via money order.
Go to this website. Create a username and password. Once in the system, input your information and go through the steps to apply for the visa. The Consulate will email you once you have completed each step and to let you know once you can move on to the next step in the process. The system is all in Spanish but self-explanatory. Use Google Translate and Spanish-speaking friends when necessary. Eventually you will be able to schedule a meeting at one of the Ecuadorian Consulates. Once you have set up your appointment, make sure you have all of the necessary documents prior to arriving at the consulate (see requirements 1-4 above). Bring two copies of your passport just in case. Note that nothing needs to be translated into Spanish for this visa.
Boom! You now have your temporary Ecuadorian visa. They'll give you a piece of paper that you need to take to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Movilidad Humana to register your visa once you arrive in Ecuador. You'll need to register your visa within a month of arriving in the country. The Ministerio is located between Francisco Orellana and Colón. See the map:
The Professional Visa (9-V)
The Professional Visa, or 9-V Visa, allows you to stay in Ecuador indefinitely, with a caveat. You cannot leave Ecuador for more than 90 days per year in the first two years you acquire the visa nor for more than 18 consecutive months beyond the first two years.
If you plan on acquiring the Professional Visa, my biggest piece of advice is to get all of the documents you need before moving to Ecuador. This will take some of the work off of your parents or friends (THANK YOU DAD). I didn't have all of my documents ready, and heavily relied on my dad to get the majority of my documents notarized, apostilled, and shipped to Ecuador. Also, shipping costs are not cheap. See the bottom of the post for shipping advice.
It's tough to dissociate the requirement from the respective process, so they are all in one list. I'll sum it all up at the end.
National background check. Known as an FBI background report for Americans. I highly, highly recommend going through a certified FBI Channeler to obtain the background check. This is a private intermediary that expedites the process. If you go directly through the FBI, it will take 16 weeks to receive your background check. Compared to the FBI Channeler, who gets you the documents in about 5-10 days. I went through a channeler called National Background Check . The website is self-explanatory as to what exactly is required for the background check. Regardless of whether you go through a channeler, the FBI requires your fingerprints. If you are still in the states, go to your local police station who will take your prints for a small fee. If you are already in Quito, then you can get your prints taken at the Office of Criminalistica for free. See the map: You need to print and bring your own blank fingerprint papers. Note: you need two original sets of fingerprints taken! Once you have your fingerprints taken, send in both copies of the prints and the other required information to the FBI Channeler. The FBI report can only be sent to a US address. The report only needs to be apostilled once received from the FBI, as it is already notarized. Once you are in Ecuador, the document needs to be translated by an official translator and that translation needs to be notarized by an Ecuadorian notary.
State background check. You need a state background check from every state you lived in for the past five years. I think the current state you live in suffices, but I provided both of the states I lived in within the past five years just to be safe. Each state has a different process to obtain background checks, so do a google search like "Virginia state background checks" to find out your specific state(s) requirements. It was simple to acquire both the D.C. and Virginia background checks. The background check needs to be notarized if not already notarized by the background check authority. Then it needs to be apostilled. Once in Ecuador it needs to be translated by an official translator and that translation needs to be notarized by an Ecuadorian notary.
Minimum of a Bachelor's degree. To prove this, obtain a notarized copy of your diploma from your university. Choose the institution where you obtained your highest level degree, as this will be noted on your ID card. This copy should be notarized as a certified copy by a university official. Then get an apostille of this notarized copy of your diploma. Once you arrive in Ecuador, get the apostilled version notarized by an Ecuadorian public notary. (Note: If your diploma is in a language other than English or Spanish, e.g., Latin, you will need to get it translated into Spanish and then notarize that translation.) Once you have the notarized copy, you need to register your diploma in the SENESCYT system. Check to make sure your university is on this list of accepted universities. If it is not on the list, contact SENESCYT for next steps. If it is on the list, go to the SENESCYT office to register your diploma. It is located at Ed. Delfos Whymper E7-37 y Alpallana, see the map: Bring the entire packet of copies and originals of your diploma as well as your passport to SENESCYT. It used to take a few weeks to register your diploma in the system, but now it is registered in real-time once you apply. Bring a printout of your record in the SENESCYT system with you when you apply for the visa. Here is the link, you just have to put in your passport number.
US Passport that will be valid for at least 6 months. Bring a copy of your passport. Also bring copies of the 12-IX visa and stamp.
$50 application fee. $500 visa fee. I suggest paying in cash. The website doesn't list payment options, and I noticed that everyone in the Ministerio was paying in cash.
You can then apply at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Movilidad Humana once you have the following documents ready:
- Notarized, translated copy of apostilled FBI report
- Notarized, translated copy of apostilled state background check
- Print out of your information registered in SENESCYT
- Copies of your passport and current visa
Put all of these documents (except the passport and $50) in one of those paper folders with a two-pronged fastener. They won't accept papers if they aren't in this specific folder. There are vendors who sell the folders and punch holes in your documents outside of the Ministerio for you.
Once at the Ministerio, get in line to get a number. Tell them you're there to apply for the Profesional Visa. Present all of the information at the window once your number is called. They will tell you to wait for an email that will come in about three weeks. Once you receive this email, which I received about three and a half weeks later, you can go in to retrieve your visa! Give them your $500, and you now have the legal right to stay in the country forever (sort of).
Once you receive your visa, you can then apply for your cédula, or your Ecuadorian ID card. Grab your visa, then get back in line where you got your number. Ask for el certificado de empadronamiento, tell them you need to register this document to obtain a cédula, and grab another number. Fill out the certificado de empadronamiento (or census form in English), wait until your number is called, and present the filled-out certificado de empadronamiento to the attendant in the window. They will tell you to wait about 15 minutes. Retrieve the document once they call your name. This costs $10 or $15.
The next day you can go to the Registro Civil to obtain your cédula. It's located at Av. Río Amazonas N37-61. See the map:
You will need:
- Certificado de Empadronamiento
- Original passport and valid visa, bring copies of each as well
- Printed out information from SENESCYT
- Some sort of proof of address like an electricity or water bill, or a receipt that shows you paid rent (they didn't ask for this when I applied, but I would bring it if you have it)
Once you get to the Registro Civil, they look over your documents, you pay, you receive a number, and then someone inputs your information in the system and takes your picture. You can pick up your cedula any time after 3 hours. I picked mine up the next day.
Some extra tips
Never use USPS when shipping documents to Ecuador. Always use DHL or a similar private courier. My FBI background check was stuck in New York customs for three months before arriving in Quito. Thankfully, I had ordered two copies of my FBI report and my dad shipped the second via DHL. It arrived within 5 business days. It's definitely more expensive, but isn't exorbitant.
Get two copies of your FBI background check, just in case something goes wrong with one copy. There is a box you can check on the Channeler’s form.
Get all of your apostilles done at the same time.
The state background checks only last 180 days, so worry about those last.
Make sure the original diploma and background checks are accurate, down to the minute details. You don't want to be stuck at the last step of the process dealing with minor inaccuracies. The date on one of my background checks said 2016 instead of 2015, so I made sure that the attendant provided me with a revised copy before I left the police station.
When you go to get the translations notarized, be sure to have up-to-date copies of the translator's cédula and papel de votación. The translator will know exactly what you mean if you ask for copies of these documents.
If you have criminal offences on your record, I can't consider myself qualified to know how this affects your chances of getting the visa. I would check with an immigration lawyer.
Ecuador is amazing and worth it. Buck up, deal with the bureaucracy, cry a little bit if you need to, listen to Adele, file some paperwork, and get that visa!
Enjoy some pandas for making it through to the end.