Don’t get me wrong, all countries have bureaucracy.
As someone who has had to get visas for citizens of ‘developing’ countries to visit the UK, I certainly wouldn’t want to go through the same process in the UK…and although everyone we have had to deal with in Bolivian immigration, INTERPOL and the local police has been unfailingly polite and helpful (something else you wouldn’t guarantee in the UK), the process of securing a residency visa in Bolivia has started to take its toll.
So, for the unwary first timer, here’s an A-Z of navigating your way through the immigration process.
First, get one of these…
This is a Visa de Objeto Determinado, or Specific Purpose visa. You’ll need one of these before entering the country, without one you can’t apply for a residency visa. To get the Visa de Objeto Determinado go to your local Bolivian Embassy and present a few documents: passport, birth certificate, bank statements, testimonial from your employer, yellow fever certificate, proof of payment ($85), etc.
Once in your passport the Visa de Objeto Determinado gives you 30 days to complete your residency application in Bolivia. Ah, the naivety. 30 days Plenty of time, you may think. Think again.
Once arrived the best advice is head to INTERPOL and get them to start their background check on you. This, the nice but unsmiling man in INTERPOL will tell you, will take up to two weeks.
16 days, and 14 fingerprints later (no, I’m not from Norfolk, they take three sets of prints from your thumbs – perhaps most crimes are committed with your thumbs?) you should receive one of these…definitive proof that you don’t belong to an international criminal syndicate.
During INTERPOL’s lengthy investigations into your links with the ZETA cartel, you shouldn’t assume you have time for a rest. Maybe some light sightseeing and a spot of lunch but, once you’ve paid the bill, you need to get back out there and find a Notario and a lawyer, both of whom will provide you with bits of paper (50 Bolivianos per page).
The Notario will confirm you are solvent and able to support yourself financially, in our case by asking how much money you have but not actually demanding proof of this. 20 minutes later you’ll have one of these…
The lawyer seems to earn their 50 Bs by confirming you are in fact alive, you’re in the place you say you’re in and intend to be there for a year. Faster than you can say, “Why does this cost 50 Bolivianos?”, you’ll have this piece of paper…
Since INTERPOL are still trying to match your fingerprints to several unsolved international crimes, you may as well visit the doctor for your compulsory medical check-up. This has three purposes: to prove your general health is good (although health tourism to Bolivia is limited); to show you don’t have TB; and (much more ethically dubious) to reveal your HIV status to the Bolivian authorities.
Normally, a medical check-up involves actual medical tests. However, since the entire Bolivian medical community is locked in an endless dispute with the government, the doctor signed off our medical certificates without the inconvenience of doing any tests. Stating in a world-weary tone that, “The system is idiotic.” I hear you, I hear you.
Finally, with proof that you’re medically competent to remain, that you’re solvent, aren’t an international drug cartel, and that you exist, you return proudly to the immigration office in the ridiculous belief that your trials are almost over.
Only one more piece of paper immigration will tell you. Go to the local police and they will register where you are living and give you a certificate to that effect.
With a spring in your step you approach the FELCC police station. Calmly try to ignore the cages just inside the compound full ‘suspects’, and the endless arrival of police vehicles disgorging their cargo of ragged looking suspects. Approach the correct widow to ask for the piece of paper immigration have told you to get.
The nice woman inside the window will then burst your bubble with the news that immigration don’t know what they’re talking about. She’ll politely tell you that the rules have changed, and instead of one simple process, you are now required to have an additional half dozen documents before the police will allow you to stay.
First you’ll need this…
Which will need to be signed by a Bolivian neighbour stating that you are living where you claim to be living, and by a lawyer (another 50 Bolivianos). Both of these people will have to give you photocopies of their ID cards.
Then you will need this…
Not, of course, forgetting these…
I don’t even know what these are, but they seemed important at the time.
The bad news is, you can only fill these in once you have the legal contract showing you are renting the property you say you are renting. You’ll also need colour photocopies of your passport and you landlord’s ID card. Not to mention proof that your landlord has paid tax and their utility bills.
With only 8 days of your allotted 30 left, this may seem quite a mountain to climb, especially as Friday 25 May is Independence Day and a public holiday. Make that 7 days.
An important footnote to all of this, please, please, please remember to photocopy everything in triplicate, and double check which photocopies need to be in colour. The consequences of not doing so will be severe.
A cynic, and this process could turn you into one, might claim that the many photocopy shops of Sucre may in fact be giving backhanders to the immigration folks. They’ve taken more money off me that the lawyer and that has to be unique in any country.
With luck, in a few days all of this will seem like a bad dream. All the forms will be filled, signed and stamped, and you will be the proud owner of a residency visa.
Or perhaps the rules will have changed by then…