Trámites: Elusive Carrots on Strings (Part 2)

Carrot on string

I have finally procured residency.

As you’ll remember from Part 1, we went in circles for quite some time before we figured out what was required for me to get residency as the spouse of a Chilean.

This post is about the second round of blunders, which eventually results in obtaining residency.

First stop…

Departamento de Legalizaciones del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores

After a couple of phone calls, we were told that these folks could do all the paperwork to get our marriage certified for us.  So we headed to Agustinas 1320.

The woman we talked to first told us that it wasn’t possible to do what we were trying to do.  But we had already confirmed that this department could do all the paperwork to legalize our marriage in Chile.

She then told us, “Well, yes, you can; but it is a complicated process and will take between two and four months.”

We opted to do it on our own and called up…

Uncle Paul and Phil at the Chilean Consulate in Boston

Paul and Phil Garber are honorary consuls that operate out of their house’s basement in Brighton, Massachusetts.

I called and explained my situation.

“Let me get this straight,” came the snarky Bostonian voice, “you just showed up in Chile without a visa and hoped for the best?”

I paused and muttered some sheepish affirmation.

“That was a good idea.”

He went on to explain that I needed to get the certificate signed by my state and then brought in—in person—for them to sign the certificate.

Vermont’s Secretary of State Continue reading

Trámites: Bureaucracy’s Blue Screen of Death (Part 1)

Don't Enter: Residents OnlyWarning: This post should be used mostly for entertainment.  If you want to know more about the right way to marry a Chilean, I will soon post more information.

I have returned to Santiago and want nothing more than to begin my life as a professional.  Unfortunately, I still don’t have residency.

I know, we all thought it would be much simpler—I am a gringa, after all.  And I married a Chilean.  Isn’t there some privilege that goes along with being a white, American professional that magically ushers me into all things good?

My many privileges aside, it turns out that paperwork is still paperwork.  Bureaucracy remains the same.

Registro Civil sign in Rapa Nui

Translated into Rapanui for your enjoyment

Fortunately, there exists in Spanish a word that very aptly describes what I’m going through: trámites.  (For you newcomers, check out Intro to Trámites.)  And I’m not really surprised that such a succinct way of putting it doesn’t exist in English.  It means you’re in the process of something, the formalities; it means you reel about from one building to the next, waiting in line after line, taking number after number, filling out form after form, and always thinking the end could be just one little slip of paper away.

The process that we’ve been through so far is longer than was necessary because we didn’t have the right information before moving to Chile.

So here is what we have done so far:

1.  I showed up to the country and paid $160 for a three-month tourist visa.

2.  We headed to the Departament of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.  We thought we had all the necessary documentation to be considered married and to apply for residency. Turns out our marriage was not valid in Chile (kind of obvious, I know).

After waiting in a line that extended down six flights of stairs just to take a number, we waited three or four hours in the waiting room for our number to be called.  The woman who assisted us told us not to worry!  We could get married again here in Chile.  Simple.

Window at the Civil Registry

Graffiti at the Civil Registry

3.  We braved our first attempts at getting a marriage appointment.  There was a three-month waiting period.  That wasn’t going to work.  I had a job offer, and my visa expired in three months.

4.  We decided to take a trip with my in-laws to see Edwin’s grandfather in the south of Chile (See also: From Lake to Sea and Tractor Crossing).

We would take advantage of a pituto, which is Chilean for a connection or an “in” with someone, in the registro civil in Valdivia; we’d be married by the time we got back to Santiago.  Unfortunately, the pituto was on vacation.  And the waiting period was too long for us to tie the knot before returning home.

Looks promising...5.  Back in Santiago, we decided that we simply had to make an appointment at the registro civil in Maipú.

After waiting in the wrong line for an hour, as there were virtually no signs or indications of where we needed to be, we were directed upstairs.  There were a couple of people there staring at an empty number dispenser.  (The dispenser has since been removed, as shown in the picture to the right.)  The frosted glass doors were closed and unlabeled.

A woman would periodically pop out of the door to hand us numbers, but then she proceeded to call numbers out of order, asking people, “What are you here for?  Oh, no; you have to wait.”

Broken windows

A little run-down, I guess…

When it was finally our turn, we explained our situation and what we had been told to do.  Her response was, “What?  You can’t get married again.  You’re already married.  Someone will find out, and it will get back to me.  They’ll come asking why I married two people who were already married.”

But just to make sure, she called someone else and put us on the phone with them.

Finally, we had some of the information we needed.

Stay tuned for the thrilling details of the actual process we needed to go through…

Please Take a Number: Introduction to Trámites

I am back in Chile.  I love Chile.  The ever-present mountains, the mote con huesillo on a hot summer day, the sopaipillas on rainy winter days, the impossibly infectious timbre of Chilean Spanish, and the impossible abundance of quirky Chilean-isms.  It’s great.  There is, however, one aspect of Chile that I cannot stand.  The red tape, the paperwork, the processes and processing…bureaucracy.  While there is no one word with which we as Americans can so ubiquitously identify the experience of processes, paperwork, and proceedings, in Chile the word is trámites.  And it’s all too common a word.

TAKE-A-NUMBER-LG

I expect that over the next several years, I will have quite a bit to say about trámites.  But before I take out my machete to cut through all this red tape, I’d like to provide some brief ground rules to give you a basic understanding of trámites in Chile.

  • Everything closes at 2pm.  The banks, the government offices, any building you would need to be able to successfully get through trámites closes.  And not for lunch and a siesta.  For the day.
  • Get there early.  Find out when the building opens and get there either early or during a time when there won’t be many people.  Sometimes it’s good to get there about a half hour after they open so that you don’t have to deal with the people that rushed to get there as soon as the doors opened.  But regardless…
  • Bring something to read.  Or a game to play.  Or someone whose company you enjoy.  Because you’re going to be there for at least a couple hours.  Which also means that when they send you to another building, you will have to wait for another day, because it will already be 1:30pm.
  • You must take a number for everything.  If you think this might not be the case because there is no number board and the number dispenser is empty, think again.  A woman with a roll of numbers might just pop out of that closed office door to hand out numbers to the few people waiting.  And then she will call the numbers out of order.
  • In spite of the very long processes described above, face-to-face interactions are often the fastest way to get an answer.  For example, if you want to know the price of sending a letter to your family back in the United States, the post office’s website probably won’t give you the answer.  If you call the number provided on the website, they will probably direct you to another number.  If you call that number, it probably won’t exist.  When you call back, you will be told that you will simply have to go into a local branch.  By the time you get there, the branch will probably be closed.  With the post box inside the building.  Hypothetically.
  • Pitutos: the express tickets.  Pituto means having an “in” with someone.  It means you can show up and have that person give you all the information you need and rush you through the process in a much more expedient fashion.  Which is probably why the rest of us without pitutos have been staring at a number board that has changed six numbers in two hours.
  • You might get the wrong information.  If someone doesn’t know the solution to your problem, they will either send you somewhere else, tell you it can’t be done, or advise you with whatever solution occurs to them as a feasible possibility.  They also may do all of these three things in one conversation.  Also, they might tell you something is impossible when really it’s only complicated.  Even if you know the process already and you’re just looking for them to give you the go ahead.

I think you’re now basically ready for your first trámites.  Remember:

  • Call, but don’t expect them to answer.
  • If they answer, don’t expect them to know the information you’re looking for.
  • They are going to send you somewhere else.

I hope these guidelines serve you well.  Knowledge is power.  More specifically, possession of what the culture of power deems to be knowledge grants you the cultural capital to be able to play the trámites game well.  But really, you’re just better off knowing someone on the inside…social capital ftw.