Santiago, paperwork inferno.

Saturday: We are happy. The sun has risen and illuminated the smog of Santiago. Serkan just boarded his flight back to Punta Arenas. My flight doesn’t leave for another couple of hours, but the airport just reopened, so I have a seat inside, alongside cracked beams and 2x4 bolsterings, beneath the cracked ceiling with missing patchwork squares. We're going home. Where everything is simple and quiet, where things might not work but they are simple in their non-functioning.

It’s been a long week to say the least. We arrived to Santiago on an “overnight” flight after zero sleep, around 6.30 a.m. Monday morning. Our goals in the capital: legalize our marriage in Chile and submit the petition for Serkan's immigrant visa to the U.S. The embassy accepts petitions from Americans residing in Chile continually for at least the previous six months before filing the petition. I came armed with evidence of this, as I was advised to do in my various email correspondences with the embassy. The week went pretty much like this…

Monday: Our hostel reservation turned out to be a sham, as the owner quoted us a more expensive price when we arrived and I wasn’t having any of it. We headed directly to another place we’ve stayed before, wasting precious errand-running time, stuck hostel-searching in the morning crush of traffic. After we got settled we ran out.

Went to Ministry of Foreign Affairs office to translate some official documents for the visa. There are no simple translation services in Chile, not even in the capital. (Anyone willing to get certified, willing to actually work at a decent pace and charge a reasonable rate would make bank!) Anyway, we had read that in order to legalize our marriage, the marriage document must be translated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself. But in order to translate any document, it must first be “legalized,” (stamped and signed by some important fingers) by two different authorities, in two different places, then returned back to the translations department, where, for example, a document with about 10-15 words on it will take 5 days to translate. WTF?

When you say, you need it faster, the woman there will charge you double or more and proudly tell you how much more difficult the process used to be. After some pressing, she did direct us to another place, which realizes certified translations. Here’s how our conversation went with them:

Us: We need to translate a couple of documents. I show them the documents. We also need you to write and sign something at the end of the translation, stating that you are fluent in Spanish and English and that the translation is correct.

Dude: No. I will translate, but I will not certify anything.

But you are certified, right?


Well then we just need you to demonstrate that you are certified to do the translation somehow. You know, stamp the document afterward and sign it. We just need to show that the translation is true and correct and that you are capable of doing it.

No, I will not certify anything. I only do the translation.

(Boss comes over.) Yeah, we will stamp it and sign it.

OK, the stamp shows where the translation is coming from, right? I think that will be good enough.

Let’s see how many pages (gets out calculator), 7 (unfull) pages. Ooh. That is gonna set you back quite a bit. It’ll cost you 145.000. (Almost $300. Incidentally, I just finished translating a book of 80 pages for less than that… not for the money obviously, more for practice, so this makes their estimate seem even more outrageous.)

What? And when would it be ready?

It will take at least a week or longer.

Really? That long? We are leaving on Saturday.

Well, this stuff can’t just complete itself overnight. It takes time.


I decide to do the translations myself. And even though I am not certified, I can certify that I’m fluent in said languages and that the translation is correct. The embassy only accepts petitions on M,W,F so I have all day Tuesday to work on it. Or do I…?

Tuesday: Yesterday we’d found out what is necessary for the marriage document. First we need to get it legalized from the Turkish embassy, so we go there when it opens in the morning and the ambassador translates our marriage document, signs it, certifies it, makes it official and legal in Chile. Serkan takes care of a couple other embassy errands while we’re there and honestly it takes less than half an hour. We leave there applauding the Turkish work ethic, practically high-fiving each other, it was so easy.

Back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we get our legal translated marriage document legalized by the powers that be in Chile. Then we stop by the translator’s desk to see if they will accept the translation. Seems to be no problem, she tells us to go to the Registro Civil to inscribe the marriage.

OK! Walking walking, coffee, metro, walking, line waiting. Registro Civil tells us we need to get a paper from the International Police saying that Serkan’s permanent residence is vigente. But how would he have this ID if it wasn’t? We run around in some loops to get this little paper. It takes us about 1.5 days. We continue to run-run around to do some other paper-wasting errands, then I sit down to start translating and changing the cover sheets for Serkan’s visa forms, finishing up the last minute printouts, etc. My friend Laura says I can send her a page to translate, which is super helpful (thank you!!!) so we all work the rest of the night on that.

Wednesday: Early morning printouts of the translations and new cover sheets, before heading to the American embassy fortress. No, we could not file, but yes, it looks like all of our documents are correctly filled out and the process will go smoothly when we can file. When can we file? Probably another couple of months…

Run around until we finally make it to the Registro Civil around 1 p.m. Here the super rude woman proceeds to tell us that our marriage document is not legal. This is how our conversation with mean woman goes, mas o menos...

MW: Why is it titled an International Marriage and Family Booklet if it is a certificate?

Us: Because that is what the marriage document is called in Turkey. And it’s international. It’s been legalized by your country and by the Turkish embassy. What can be illegal about it? (This conversation lasts much longer than I write it here. And the attempts to be nice, smiling and calm were many and varied.)

The ambassador of the Turkish embassy needs to legalize the signature of the original marriage certificate.

How could it have been legalized by the Chilean government if it wasn’t already a legal document?

Normally you must do this in the country where you married.

So you’re telling us we have to travel to Turkey to legalize an already triply legalized document?

Yes, or see if the Turkish embassy and verify this other guy’s signature. And come back.

Today we feel ruined. Utterly. Exhausted and sad. Not just by the constant stream of No’s that we are receiving, but mostly by that woman’s meanness.

I should also mention here that after we got back to the hostel, I decided to venture out to get my hair "trimmed," and the "stylist" completely butchered it. I haven't had hair this short since high school, and I did not ask for it, but I'm starting to be positive about it.

Thursday: A new day. Back to the Turkish embassy, where we meet the ambassador as we step out of the elevator, right as he is walking out to run some other errand. Serkan explains the situation to him, and the ambassador rolls up his sleeves. He essentially says what we are all thinking: She has no right to refuse this. We all walk inside the embassy. After many phone calls, he gives us the name of someone to talk to at Registro Civil. The ambassador superheroed through all the little “no”-mongers, to find us the route to a possible yes. He might be the most helpful man in all of Santiago.

Off to Registro Civil again to talk to another woman. She takes our marriage booklet and its ├╝ber-legalized translation from the Turkish embassy and talks to a few other people. After a while, she says that she will try to call us by Monday after she talks to the head jefe. We say we are leaving on Saturday. She says she will try to contact us by Friday then, or maybe even later this afternoon.

We leave, walk almost all the way back to the hostel and sit down for a coffee. Serkan’s phone rings and we are called back to the Registro Civil already. We still have time to make it before it closes at 2 p.m. It sounds good. We go, we sign, we are officially married in Chile! (Oh, and remember the silly note we needed from the International Police? We tried to give them that piece of paper several times. Each time, they said, no, we don't need it. We have your carnet. Hmmm.) A man sitting next to us for some other errand with the mean lady chats with us and congratulates us several times. Mean woman refuses to look in our direction.

Friday: American embassy again, to set up and pay for the name change to my passport. It’s a smooth process. I’ll send my passport to them on Monday and they’ll send it back to me mid-April. Around the same time, we should have received the Chilean marriage certificate at the Registro Civil office in Puerto Natales. With these two things, we’ll stabilize my Chilean residency. If all goes well, it should only take about two months, at which point we’ll return to Santiago to file Serkan’s U.S. visa petition and wait another several months for it to be approved.

Not-so-interesting public service announcements coming soon!

1 comment:

Dayle said...

Oh bummer, so sorry Heather, I was hoping it would all go smoothly. Also sorry that I didn't get back to your e-mail of a couple months ago, have to admit your question re your status had me a little stymied and I haven't ever gotten an answer from former colleagues still in the field, so think that it had them stymied too. Please let me know if I can do anything to help. Or if you need me to send you some real peanut butter. :-)


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