About the visa … and the three plane tickets to Phoenix

I said I would write about the Ecuador visa experience. So, I will, now that I can laugh about it (sort of). As the title of this post suggests, getting my visa involved three plane tickets to Phoenix – and also a fire-red Ford Mustang. What does that have to do with anything, you ask? Let me just say it was the only perk in the whole process.VisaPhoto1

More specifically, getting my visa involved (in addition to the three tickets to Phoenix) three hotel bookings, two car rentals, a number of unanswered emails, and well over $1000 in expenses, as well as a special trip to the bank in the middle of the visa paperwork to make a $50 deposit in the Consulate bank account. But I HAVE MY VISA.

It’s not supposed to be that difficult. But sometimes life throws curve balls. The consular office in Phoenix opened up a couple of years ago. With no Ecuadorian consulate in Denver, Phoenix was my best option for obtaining a visa. I know that every country is different – and every visa is different. Some countries simply ask that you mail in your passport with an application, and it’s returned with a pretty stamp. But my particular visa required that I visit a consulate. Ok, no biggie. Trip to Phoenix.

In early November, once I had all the necessary visa paperwork from Fulbright, I emailed the consulate in Phoenix for an appointment. Ecuador has recently moved all of it’s visa solicitation requests to its online platform, Consulado Virtual – and I was told to conduct all my business there before making an appointment. So I scanned and uploaded all my docs, while using spanishdict.com to make sure I clearly understood all the directions on the Spanish-only website. When I had everything loaded up, the Consulado Virtual let me make an appointment.

So far so good, right? I was eager to get things taken care of, so I booked my appointment for the second week of December – of course, I also booked a flight, a car, and a hotel. In Phoenix, the rental car company gave me a fiery red Ford mustang (is this normal when you ask for a subcompact?) I had power on those Phoenix freeways. Again, so far so good – right?

photoImagine my horror when I showed up at the Consulate’s office and they told me it was impossible for me to have an appointment – that the online system should not have allowed me to make an appointment because the Consulate General himself was in Atlanta. Apparently, he actually has to sign the visa in my presence. The two guys working in the tiny office didn’t have a clue how I could’ve scheduled a appointment for that day.

I made another appointment for the following week. Then, deflated, I spent the afternoon moping around Phoenix (in my fiery red Mustang, of course) until my flight home. That night, at home, I booked another flight, another hotel, another car.

Two days before my next appointment, I became miserably ill. Not just a sniffle. This is the kind of illness that required IV fluids and antibiotics. Joy o joy. When I was well enough to call the Consulate’s office again I asked if it would be possible to visit in early January. I got a big NO (I guess they all take all of January off). The ONLY day I could get my visa was the following Monday, December 22. This required a major reshuffling of holiday plans to travel to California.

But I found that if you shell out enough money, you can fly pretty much wherever and whenever you want. Phoenix became a stopover on the way to San Francisco. My rental car was a Ford Focus (ok, not so much power, but having been a Focus driver in a former life, I was pretty happy). No real hitches to this trip – just a lot of time waiting around in airports and lobbies.

Overall, I probably made things a bit more difficult than they needed to be. Here’s what I’ve learned (A few handy tips for those seeking a visa – or trying to live life in general):

  1. Be insistent about clear communication – especially on the phone. If you don’t speak Spanish, have a Spanish-speaking buddy nearby to translate. My Spanish is decent, but not easy on my old cell phone (I have one of those old flip phones – sometimes it’s hard to understand people in English)
  2. Purchase airline trip cancellation insurance. I had none on my 2nd canceled trip. I hope Frontier airlines appreciates the donation. I’m not expecting a thank you card.
  3. Have everything you need, and everything you think you really don’t need, including your bank account number, your Consulado Virtual password, divorce decree or marriage certificate (apparently, if your significant other is going with you, there’s a lot more that needs to happen – like a translated, notarized copy of your marriage certificate, birth certificates for kids, etc). I was missing some obscure document that Fulbright told me I didn’t need. The consulate guys were NOT happy with me. Fortunately, they found a copy of said obscure document in their own files, and reluctantly made a photocopy for me.
  4. Don’t try to get your visa during the holiday season. Insanity.
  5. Always empty your bladder before sitting in a waiting area of the Consulate’s office for an undetermined period of time – especially if someone else has your passport in hand.
  6. Expect all of the above to be completely irrelevant to your situation. (Most every other piece of advice I’ve found about getting a visa has been completely irrelevant to me.)

Now I just need someone at Fulbright to buy my ticket to Ecuador! My grant officially begins February 1st.


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