Renewing Our Residency

From January 2012 

To avoid having to leave Nicaragua every 90 days or 180 days with a renewal, many of the expats become residents. It is not the same as being a citizen i.e. you cannot vote. But other benefits include being able to have a local bank account (though it is possible without residency), be able to be on a paid phone plan (instead of buying minutes) and not being treated as a tourist. Being a resident you must get a visa to leave Nicaragua. The choice is a one year residency or a five year residency.

Our resident cards (cedulas) expired at the worst possible time in early January. You cannot renew your cedulas more than 30 days before the expiration date and most government offices close in mid-December until around mid-January. Being our first renewal we did not get everything started until mid-January meaning our cedulas had expired which made the process even more difficult. Renewing your cedulas is much easier than getting the initial residency but there were challenges.

Immigration is handled in the city of Managua but we found you could do the renewals in Granada so I visited our local office near Sandino Park for the requirements. First, we had to buy the revalidation forms which I believe were 20 córdobas each. You have to buy all government forms here (even the government is poor). They then told us we would need the following items:

  • Photocopies of the first two pages of our passports
  • Two passport photos each
  • A police report showing we had a clean record
  • A letter from a local lawyer stating we had the means to support ourselves
    How would a lawyer know this?
  • A certificate of health from a local physician
    The physician gives this without examining you.
  • Fill out the revalidation form
  • 5,000 córdobas each (around $220)

OK, this looks doable so we started on the easiest parts. First I made copies of our passports. Amy and I then visited one of the many photo shops in town and they created four photos each of us which they assured us were perfect for cedulas. We looked quite good in our respective photos. Our physician is a friend so I made the request for the certificate of health and the next day I picked them up. Not a very formal report, in fact it was hand-written on a prescription form. We then called a lawyer friend and asked for the letter stating we were real people and had the means to support ourselves. I guess this makes sense since we do not need any more poor people moving here. After several weeks of requesting this I finally went to his office and demanded that it be done immediately. The direct approach works well here. We had no problem filling out the revalidation form.

Being a firm believer in women’s rights I asked Amy if she would go to the police station and request our official record showing no criminal activities. Like other financial activities the government agencies do not trust their employees with money. So you go to the local bank, pay for the police record then take the bank receipt to the police station. Amy has a rough time at the bank since there are a hundred people in line. When she finally gets to the teller she is told she is in the wrong line and must take a number. She takes a number but eventually notes other people are not taking numbers. Finally they tire of taking advantage of Amy and she gets the receipt.

Amy goes across town to the police station where she is told that since our cedulas are expired they cannot give us our police records and we must go to Immigration in Managua. Amy patiently explains that regardless of our expired cedulas and where we must go, we still must have our police records. The logic escapes the clerk and Amy is refused. Higher authority is required, obviously. Since I work with the Amigos de la Policia organization I went straight to the Police Chief’s office, explained the situation and asked him to intervene. He agreed but I would have to write a letter for him to sign. With the help of friends we write a letter each for Amy and me. The next day I returned to his office and he signed the letters.

Being on a roll I went to the other police station and presented the letters. The clerk agreed to do the search but Amy had to come also. A few minutes later Amy arrived, everyone agreed to do their job and they asked us to return a couple hours later. Upon our return the police record searches were completed and we were given very official forms with our pictures on them stating we were not part of a drug cartel or other nefarious terrorist activities.

With my pockets stuffed with córdobas, I went the next day to the Granada Immigration office where I was told they could not process the forms because our cedulas were expired. We made plans to go to Managua on the following Monday after calling our Managua contact that we use to assist us in such manners. He is quite expert in getting things done, handling the sometimes necessary bribes (I mean courtesy tips), translations, etc. Do not go to Immigration unless you speak fluent Spanish.

We arrived at Immigration even before they opened after practicing humility for a while. Cocky expats do not do well at government offices. Our contact reviewed our documents and discovered our photos were not the right size. Fortunately many entrepreneurs set up shop outside Immigration so we were able to get the correct photos in a few minutes. We were ready for the man.

I should mention that Daniel Ortega has greatly reduced the corruption in Immigration. When we applied for our initial residency six years ago, before Daniel became president, we were able to avoid several of the document requirements by paying some extra fees to certain people. Now they make you toe the line more.

We walked up to the correct window and presented our documents. The Immigration clerk asked for the official document stating our income to meet the minimum income requirements. No one had told us we needed that if we had the lawyer statement! We were screwed since I had applied for social security but had not yet started receiving the benefits. And everyone knows that the only government having more bureaucracy than Nicaragua is the United States. In checking with the embassy, they said I needed a statement showing my social security benefits then they would issue a letter stating so. This letter I would then take to the Nicaraguan Foreign Affairs office to validate the US Embassy signature. Then Immigration would be happy.

All of this takes time, of course, so several weeks come and go during these events. I asked the embassy to get Social Security to produce the statement but they said since I am not yet approved, they could not do so. In March I found that a large deposit has been made in our bank account from Social Security. Since I was obviously approved, the embassy agreed to do the letter. Hallelujah!

The following Wednesday we made arrangements to visit the embassy to get the letter. We arrived early and surprisingly there are few people in line. The security is very tight at the embassy and we must leave behind cell phones, all liquids (I did not know a women’s purse held so many liquid containers), keys, lighters and any other item terrorists might use to create havoc. A few minutes later we have the letter.

We then met with our Managua expediter who thought since the embassy letter was in Spanish, Immigration may accept it without being validated by Foreign Affairs. He was wrong! So we leave Immigration once again to find a bank to get the receipt for the validation (remember that government officials aren’t trusted with money?). The bank is full but there is another entrepreneur outside of the bank selling bank receipts for people not wanting to stand in line. OK, we have our receipt so we go to Foreign Affairs to get the embassy letter verified. Again, long lines but our expediter sees a friend that has the number that is next in line. Foreign Affairs actually has a computer where they look up the signature of who signed the embassy letter and verify it. Our expediter offers to swap numbers for 100 córdobas so we are out in 15 minutes and back to Immigration.

The guy at Immigration verifies all of my documents and gives me the receipt. I‘m done and now we just have to do the same for Amy. Unfortunately, the lawyer’s letter for Amy fails to say she is dependent on me so does not meet the minimum income requirement. No problem, another entrepreneur just outside Immigration is a lawyer and quickly drafts another document stating Amy is my dependent.

The Immigration clerk gives us a bill for the cedulas including the fines for being two months late. We get in another line to pay, receive our receipts and return to the Immigration clerk. He takes all of our documents and tells us to return in two weeks to get our new cedulas. Too late, I realize the government of Nicaragua has our only copies of all of these documents. We can only hope we will receive our cedulas without further fanfare.

Two Weeks Later

We returned in two weeks to hopefully get our photos taken and receive our new cedulas. I’m cynical and think there will be a new problem but Amy is optimistic. She still doesn’t understand that cynicism always wins over optimism. And if it doesn’t you can always be cynical about it.

We arrive at Immigration around 8:00 AM and are quite proud we found the place again and a parking spot. We go to the window and announce our arrival but they do not seem impressed. They actually find our files even though I have lost one of our receipts (found later). We wait a while as they review our forms for the fifth time. My documents seem to be in order but Amy’s have a problem. The police report has her date of birth incorrect and we proceed to explain how that is unimportant since all of the other documents have it correctly. The logic escapes them so we resort to begging and stating how wonderful the country of Nicaragua is and the blessing of living here. Note to readers – the patriotism attempt does not win any points.

So Amy goes outside and tries to find a “pay by the minute” lawyer that will alter the document but no one will touch a police document. There appears to be a limit to corruption even here, I guess they don’t want to make a travesty of the process. Amy resigned herself to needing to return after getting the document corrected. I am the only one still in the race.

I waited about an hour then went to the window for photos. The attendant looks up and says “Darrell?”. Yup, that’s me but by now I figure all of the immigration employees know Amy and me by our faces. After all this time, we should be on the payroll. She asked me to put my thumb on the fingerprint device then we did the other thumb. I must remember that if I ever commit a crime here not to use my thumbs. Perhaps I can put small condoms on both thumbs when robbing a bank. They then took my photo but were unhappy with it so took another one. I was then told to return in 10 minutes.

I gave them 20 minutes and they then gave me a brand new cedula. After all that, I am more proud of receiving my cedula than receiving my college degree but I was disappointed that my new cedula does not display my thumbprint. In a few weeks we will return and try to get Amy’s cedula.

Update 2

Amy was able to get her corrected police document with her correct date of birth. We went to Managua again andthey accepted her records. A week later she received her cedula. We are legal again for five years.
From the diaries of Amy and Darrell Bushnell –