When you are accepted for residency in Uruguay, you are given a Cedula (ID card) good for one year. It is Cedula Provisoria and your status is ‘Residencia en tramite’. Usually, your application is finalized within one year and you go from en tramite to ‘definitiva’ (phonetic–sorry). I say usually because in my case, they didn’t like my salary entry so it delayed the whole thing about 3 months. Because of that, I had to rewnew my Cedula before April 28. And therein lies the problem and the story behind the post.
The Direccion Nacional de Identification Civil (the folks who handle the Cedula), had never seen this before so they told me to go back to Migracion and ask them to ‘authorize’ my request for a new Cedula… They were nice about it. Even gave me a ‘get out of jail free’ card, (a piece of paper that says I dont have to wait in line when I come back). This morning I went to migracion.
It opens at 9:15. Get there at 8:30 and stake out a place near the front door. If you’ve got the time, go there the day before and scope it out. By 9:15, there are a half dozen people there for the same thing and when the door opens, they WILL rush in. Today I was late… bad boy. Even if you’re not front of the line, you can still gain an advantage by knowing exactly where to go and get your number (see scope out above). You need a number for everything in this place. You want to dash half way to the back, slightly to the right and look for a paper ticket dispenser on the wall facing you which says, ‘Numeros. Seccion Residencia’ . Be careful when you take a ticket. If not, you’ll end up with several and everyone will hate you. If you’re one of the first 3 getting the ticket, you will probably get to see an ‘officer’ in the next 10-15 minutes. In the past, I’ve never seen more than 2 of them working but today, it was busy and there were 3 and they really were working. There were 9 applicants (or is that supplicants) ahead of me today. In the past, I was always in the first rush so I had no idea what to expect the wait time would be but I figured on average 25 minutes a person, 3 officers working 75% of the time, about 2 hours. I was pretty close.
This room handles 2 types of service. The immigration service – assuming that’s what you’re there for. And permissions for minors to travel. Not likely what you’re there for. Immigrants sit in the seats facing the back of the room. Parents seeking permission to get their kids out of the country without both parents, (or no parents), sit facing the side of the room. While you’re waiting for immigration, you are amazed at how fast the other side moves compared to yours. There’s a lot more laughing going on over there too. Not much lightheartedness on the ‘migracion’ side. Wonder why (chuckle)…
While waiting I was listening to the folks around me. Lots of different languages. Reminded me of sitting in a restaurant in downtown Toronto minus the Mandarin. Today, it was mostly Spanish followed by German and some Portugese (Brazilians I suppose). The Hamburg delegation, (no offense meant) was large. Around 5 people Some applicants had ‘handlers’ or perhaps translators.. Some wore suits and ties. Most were young ladies, casually dressed. I noticed the well dressed men took much longer to process their clients. Maybe that’s how they fund their attire…. Not sure if that’s the the chicken or the egg. There were 2 pleasant nuns and a rather impatient looking man from Russia. The locals or near locals talk to each other… It’s not the clipped, near formal conversations we have in North America with strangers. Uruguyans (and near Uruguayans) will have a real conversation with you.. as if they’ve talked with you before.. When someone gets up, it’s not uncommon for someone waiting to come up to the officer and ask them a question, out of turn. No one seems to mind. Like back home, cell phones are repeatedly going off. You can use your cell phone in this office, as you can in most government offices but you can NOT use a cell phone anywhere near a cashier. So stay away from areas that handle money everywhere in Uruguay when using a cellphone.
Photocopy everything you take with you. Chances are they will want copies. They’ll wait for you to go get one.. but the other people waiting will not be happy with you. Cedula renewal is YOUR responsibility. The government doesnt mail you a month or 2 before expiry. Call for an appointment 4 to 6 weeks in advance. Like me, you can do the ‘last minute club’ but it’s not recommended. You can call directly or go to a Red Pagos office and they’ll do it for you. There’s a fee. Not much. If you waited too long and need an ‘urgent’ appointment, the fee doubles and you may have to call for a few days. Like the airlines, cancellations are received and those become available for the ‘urgent’ appointment offering. The best place to get your Cedula renewed is at the Geant store. Once you have your appointment, you’re in and out in 15 minutes. Except for unlucky folks like myself. Once you enter the door to the facility, you have to speak/understand Spanish. They dont allow your ‘handler’ to come with you. But at that point, it’s very straightforward.. and hand signals work just fine. Cedulas are heat sealed pieces of paper which the government emphatically and fanatically manages. The first time I got mine, the paper actually had a defect. My girl looked horrified and called the manager who had to call the ‘director’ over to void it. This is a very, very serious business. Your first cedula is good for a year. Subsequent are good for 5 or 10 years. At 60 you win the jackpot. It’s for life.. At the end of the initial process, they take your fingerprints. Want to look like a pro? Bring some handiwipes with you.
When the immigration officer has finished with you, fingerprinted you, whatever, you’re not done. You or your handler has to take the paperwork to the front, on the right and get it stamped/approved and then it’s over to the cashier. This process appears different for different folks, but one way or the other, you’ll end up in both places. Except for the cashier, you need to get another paper ticket.
If you dont speak Spanish, you must have a translator with you. There is one bathroom in the facility. It’s clean, but bring your own paper. When I checked it out, in addition to having no paper, there was no paper holder. So I assume this is a permanent condition. The computers are old but function quite well. There were no disruptions today, or any other time I was there. Perhaps because so much of the process is paper, it doesn’t matter. The furniture is spartan and clearly, the government’s use of taxpayers dollars in Uruguay is not as obscene as it is in North America.
Immigration officers are for the most part, nice enough and pretty efficient. I can never figure out why they leave their desk after they talk to you for a few minutes and disappear into the back for 5-10 minutes, but they do. Depending on how complex your process is, they may do this a few times. When I applied originally, I distinctly remember them going several times. Today, they only disappeared twice. The 2nd time for quite a while.. over 10 minutes. They always come back with some kind of paper.. Today they came back with 2 papers.
By 12:30 I had my authorization to go back to the Geant mall and square one. Tomorrow we will see if that’s all I need or maybe they send me somewhere else. I’ve come to the point in my life here where I expect to be surprised… When I’m not, I’m sometimes disappointed. Not sure which it will be tomorrow. We’ll just have to wait and see.