Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Immigration - Year 2

What a lot of build-up for such an easy morning!

This morning we had our appointment with immigration to renew our cédulas, and it couldn't have gone any smoother.

The build-up:
  • Last year, immigration was so backed up, they gave everyone amnesty on their residency renewals. That was our first year.
  • This year, we went through ARCR. We called in September (the month our residency was approved) to get an appointment with immigration. This is when the officials check that we met all the requirements for maintaining our residency: stay in Costa Rica for a total of 122 days (or more) and convert $12,000 into colones - all within the calendar year (for us, that is September to September).
  • It was clear that immigration was already beginning to back up again - just one month before, people were able to get appointments within a month. Our appointment was 4 months away. I kept watching others - by the time January rolled around, appointments were nearly a year away!
  • Because our first year went unchecked, ARCR recommended that we bring our proof for both years.
  • We anxiously kept our airline boarding passes and exit tax receipts as additional proof of the days we traveled. Our passports were our main proof, but these are not always sufficient.
  • This year, we also had to renew our passports - this meant that our old passports had to come with us as well, since they had all the entry and exit stamps.
  • The week before our appointment, we went to our bank to get a statement - our proof that we converted the proper amount of money. We got the form letter from ARCR, showing the dates that applied to us, walked it over to the bank, and the fellow typed it up, stamped, signed, and we're done! Well, almost... We double-checked the dates, and they were not exactly right. So, several more passes (our poor bank guy seemed to take it ok after a little initial embarrasment - just how *do* you avoid that?!?), we left with our proof.
  • At ARCR, we made copies of our passport pages and bank letter, and paid our attorney fees and immigration fees.
  • The day before our appointment, I got a bit nervous - did we need to do anything more? Were our papers ok? I called ARCR, and all was well (tranquila, Julie!).

The Appointment:
  • The morning of our appointment, we took the bus to ARCR. Our immigration appointment was for 8:50, and our appointment at ARCR was for 8:00. We got there a bit early... While we waited, we had a nice chat with some of the other residents who also were renewing. We always seem to meet the nicest people!
  • ARCR took care of paying the immigration fees and organizing the proof. We all piled in a couple of cars and went to the immigration office, where someone had been saving our places in line. And what a line! People were *everywhere!* We killed a little time sipping coffee in the cafe, chatted some more, then our "line-stander" came and got us. Talk about feeling a tad guilty - I felt like we just waltzed past all these dedicated people; like we had a great big blinking neon sign on our heads saying "we're special, we get to cut." I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time, and people are used to it, but that didn't stop the twinge...
  • For our renewal, we didn't even talk to an official. I thought for sure we'd have to point out the dates, maybe even show our back-up stuff (those ticket stubs, you know). But noooo! All we did was go to the desk with the camera and fingerprint machine. I'm guessing (but who knows?) that ARCR handled all the discussions with the officials - they *must* have looked at our carefully prepared proof, right?!?
  • We got our pictures and prints taken, signed the forms, and got our temporary cédulas. This is a piece of paper with my picture and information, stamped and signed by the official.
  • We got an appointment to pick up our "real" cédulas. On or after March 16, we can go to a different window at immigration, get them, and we're done! We could also have arranged for them to be sent to our local post office. But then we would have to pick them up within a week of their arrival there. We prefer the flexibility of picking them up at the immigration office.
Some advice and benefits:
  • Immigration has just now implemented a new policy (probably because of the increasingly long back-up, but I'm not going to question it) - we paid an extra c11,500 and got an automatic extension on our cédulas! Yipee! Our cédulas are good for an extra year! Fortunately, we had the extra cash on us (and still some left for the bus ride home) :-D.
  • Speaking of buses, we caught a new one! There is a green bus that goes to immigration from either downtown San José (just North and West of Fischel and Banco National on the pedestrian boulevard) or from Paséo Colón (this one says "pista"). It is c185. We caught the "pista" bus to Paséo Colón, then switched to the Periférica - we were home by 11:15 (but dog tired, since we had gotten up at 5:30)!
  • When it is time to pick up our cédulas, the best time to go is between 11-2. This is when the line is at its shortest, but the window is still open.

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