The Paper Chase – Applying for Ecuadorian Citizenship

At the risk of sounding like saps or even worse, fuddy-duddies, we have always tried to follow the correct paperwork procedures in each step of our lives overseas. When we applied for Visas, we collected all of the documents according to the Consular website and our Ecuadorian attorney’s advice, and took no shortcuts or “money-saving” steps. Maybe it is just coincidence that our Visas were ready for pickup at the DC Consulate’s office three weeks after filing, but I think following the rules had a lot to do with it.

When we shipped a container here, we blithely assumed that the people whose business was international shipping knew more than us on the subject, so again, we followed all of the rules and recommendations for packing, labeling and preparing a list of contents. Again, everything miraculously arrived without delay, no extra surcharge, no loss or breakage.

Likewise when we decided to get our Ecuadorian driver’s licenses. We ignored the helpful comments about “you don’t really need it”, “just tell the Trafico you don’t speak Spanish”, and the patently false “you can continue to use your US license”, and once again followed the published rules and regulations to apply. Of course, as often happens in Ecuador, the rules changed in the middle of the process, but we rolled with it, and managed to get legal permission to drive without any shortcuts or bribes.

So now we have embarked on the biggest Paper Chase of all in any foreign country – while we were in Quito this month we filed the initial paperwork to apply for Ecuadorian citizenship.

A few words about why we want citizenship are probably in order. After all , as permanent residents we have practically all of the same advantages as a citizen. We can even choose to vote if we like. The only things we cannot do as residents is run for office, or get an Ecuadorian passport, and as citizens we will have to file an income tax statement in Ecuador.

Now we have zero interest in running for public office, and since we have no Ecuadorian income, filing a tax statement is not a big deal. However, we are very interested in getting an Ecuadorian passport for several reasons.

  • We now have the time and opportunity to explore more of Central and South America. As US citizens, to enter some countries we would need to apply and pay for a Visa, or even pay an entry fee. As Ecuadorians, we can just show our passports – some countries even accept the cedula.
  • There are advantages to opening bank accounts with a foreign passport, and it seems like a good time to maybe have some funds that are unreachable by the US government. If ever there was a time for not having all of your eggs in one basket, it is now.
  • If any conflict should arise between the US and Ecuadorian governments (i.e. mean tweets), we would not be in a position where we would have to leave or lose our property or other assets.
  • Let’s face it – there are times and places where being identified as an American is not in your best interest. Sometimes it may be much better to show your Ecuadorian passport than your US passport.
  • Lastly, it just seems really cool to have two passports. Very James Bond-y.

We are not giving up our US citizenship, we will just have both. Frankly, right now the world seems to be in a place where having a “Plan B” isn’t enough. You need to be thinking about Plans C, D and possibly E. Having citizenship in two countries will just give us more options.

Also, the more we see of this country, the more we love it. Sure, there are problems here, it is certainly not paradise. But the beauty of the country and the friendliness of its people is something you have to be here and traveling about to really appreciate.

So much for the “why”, now on to the “how”. Let me start with the normal caveat – I am not saying this is how you should do it, or this is the only way. I fully understand that the rules can change at any time (in fact, they are in transition right now), and that the procedures can be different depending on where you file, when you file, and your personal circumstances as a resident. This is just what we have experienced, your experiences may (and probably will) vary.

The first paperwork hurdle to overcome, is that to qualify for citizenship, you need to show that you have not been outside of Ecuador for more than 90 days in the first three years of residency. This is one of those changes I mentioned. When we first arrived, it was no more than 90 days per year for the first three years. About halfway through our time here, it was decided that no, that was not the correct interpretation of the rules. That was fine for maintaining your residency, but if you wanted to be naturalized, it was less than 90 days total in three years.

So we went to La Libertad to get our Movimiento Migratorio statements to count up our days before we did anything else. We had calculated that we were out about 86 or 87 days, so we thought we were good. However, once we got the statements, we discovered that the Ministerio counts the day you left the country and  the day you returned as time away. This meant that we were in the system as having been away from Ecuador for 93 days.

Fearing we had lost the race without even leaving the starting gate, we contacted our attorney in Quito (Sebastian Cordero, an excellent attorney if you are in the market), emailed him a scan of the forms, and asked if he could get a ruling from the appropriate office before we started collecting the US documents we would need. After all, about 36 of those days were spent in the US packing to move here. Also, by this point we had been residents for over three years. If you counted from the date the form was generated back three years, we had only been out 57 days.

A few days later, Sebastian let us know that they said it should not be a problem, they are more interested in a pattern of behavior rather than the exact number of days. He did warn us that the office also admitted that as the paperwork progressed through the system, it was possible someone higher up could raise an objection. Sebastian’s interpretation was that it would give them a legal “out” to deny us if they saw something shady in our background.

On the strength of this firm maybe, we went ahead and collected all of the paperwork we would need while visiting the US in March. Here are the US documents we needed. First, what we already had from our residency process that we could still use:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificate
  • For me, death certificate from my first wife; for Rita, death certificate for the first, divorce decree for the second

Then there were documents that were time sensitive, so we needed new ones:

  • FBI reports
  • WV State Police reports
  • Rita’s Social Security payment verification
  • My pension plan payment verification
  • School transcripts to verify education level (this one is not time-sensitive, but we needed them so our new cedulas won’t list our education level as “inicial”

Of course, all of these documents had to be notarized and apostilled (stamped by the Secretary of State of the state or country, depending on the type of document). This took a large part of the time we spent in the US, in fact we had to extend our stay almost a week to get everything done. Once we returned, Sebastian took care of getting certified and notarized translations into Spanish.

We were not done yet. Now we needed to collect the Ecuadorian documents required. According to the Consulate website, which had changed since we first started, we now only needed:

  • New Movimiento Migratorios
  • Certificados Bancarios (statements from the bank that we had an Ecuadorian bank account, and for how long)
  • Copies of cedula
  • Copies of Passport and Visa

So with our pile of documents in hand, we met Sebastian in Quito and headed out to file our papers. And ran into the first snag. This is typically Ecuadorian – the new law was indeed in place making the procedure easier. However, the rules for how to interpret that law have not been decided upon yet. Therefore, they are still requesting you file a document package that includes some documents that may or may not be needed now. We were given a list of what we needed, and started our version of the Ecuadorian Scavenger Hunt.

Through it all, Sebastian commented on how calmly we were taking everything. We told him we had lived in Ecuador long enough to recognize the “Rule of Three”. We have found that it takes at least three visits to get anything official done with the government or utility companies. The first visit, you do not have the correct paperwork (as just happened). The second visit, either the computer system is down, or the person who does that is not in today. The third visit, you will probably succeed.

There is also the “reverse-reciprocity-copy corollary” to this rule: If you have copies of your cedula, they are not needed. If you do not have any, you need three.

We’ve found that these rules help you to get by here without aggravation and frustration. If we get something done in two visits, it is a victory. One visit, and it is a freakin’ miracle to be celebrated.

So we calmly accepted the new rules, and went about collecting the following:

  • A statement from IESS (social security, health insurance, etc.) stating we did not owe them any money
  • A similar statement from SRI (income and sales tax)
  • A statement from the municipio that our property taxes were current
  • A report from the Ecuadorian police
  • A copy of the first few pages of our escritorio (deed for our condo)
  • A printout of the last three months transactions from our Ecuadorian bank account
  • A printout from the Registro showing basically the same information that is already on our cedulas, plus fingerprints

By the time we had everything, the Naturalization office was closed, so we arranged to try again the next morning. We told Sebastian that we fully understood if we got a different clerk, they would likely look everything over and say “you don’t need all this stuff”, but we were prepared. We did get the same clerk however, and she looked over everything carefully and agreed that we had everything – except now she also wanted three passport sized photos. Since they take your photo digitally for the new cedula, I can only assume it was for her personal collection.

Anyway, Rule of Three baby, so we calmly went outside to get the photos while she organized and examined everything. Fortunately, around government offices there are always places to get copies and photos, so we were back 15 minutes later with what we hoped would be the final requirement.

She accepted the photos, and went down a checklist with each of us verifying the papers provided, confirmed we did not have anything like child support payments, and added a cover page with colorful stamps and widgets to each of our folders. We paid our $50 each for the filing fee and she pronounced us done with the first step. We were prepared for a personal interview (en español) about why we wanted to be citizens, but either she felt like all of the discussion over the past two days was enough, or we will get asked to do so at a later date. This is one of those things that seem to vary with where you apply. For now, she just confirmed that we had everything required, and that the paperwork packets would be sent on through the system as the process now officially begins.

She also asked for a thumbdrive, and gave us copies of three study aids for the written test. One was a list of things to study, with hyperlinks to websites with more information, one was a pdf file with some “facts in brief” about Ecuador and Ecuadorian culture, and the last was a 200+ page Word document that covers history, geography, culture, and the national anthem.

Now we wait. And study. At some point, probably 4-6 months from now, we should be contacted to come in and take the written test. This will be 30 questions pulled from the material we were given to study, and of course will also be en español. We have two friends who have passed the test. One failed on the first attempt, but they were happy to print out a new one for him the same day to try again. He told me he got the impression if he had failed the second one too, they would have helped him with the third. Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.

So what else? Well, information varies. We know at some point we have to run ads in three or four newspapers stating we have applied for citizenship and inviting any objections. Eventually, we will have to pay $750 each if we are accepted. At some point after we are approved, we go to a swearing-in ceremony, and sing the national anthem along with everyone else there that day. Then we get our new cedulas (same cedula number, thank goodness) that identify us as Ecuatorianos, and from there getting a passport is very simple.

“Cautiously optimistic” best describes our moods right now. We have a ton of material to study, and there are no guarantees, but we are enjoying working on our Spanish and studying more about the history and culture of Ecuador. Hopefully by the end of the year, we will be able to proudly say “Somos Ecuatorianos!

UPDATE July 2, 2017 – I have been asked by several people about the study guides that we received. Below are links to them. Understand that I make no claims or assertions that these will prepare you 100% for the written test – this is just what we have. There’s no substitute for reading books about Ecuadorian history and culture, and even better, actually travelling around the country to learn about it first-hand.

CULTURA GENERAL DEL ECUADOR – This pdf file has general facts, and a color guide to the parts of the Ecuador flag, map of the provinces, etc.

TEMARIO PARA EXAMEN DE CONOCIMIENTOS PARA LA OBTENCIÓN DE LA NACIONALIDAD ECUATORIANA – This Word document is a general list of what you should know before taking the test. Contains hyperlinks to Wiki articles, further information.

Ecuador datos generales para estudiar – This large Word document starts with the chorus and first verse of the national anthem, some basic facts, and then a lot of information about the history and culture. Also many hyperlinks to additional information.

Test-Study – This is a list of sample questions, in theory the bank from which your 30 questions will be drawn. I have no assurance that this is all of them, however. Most answers are highlighted, some fill-in-the-blank questions you will have to look up for yourself.