1. This is not intended to be taken as actual advice.
2. We are privileged. So privileged. I recognize that. We speak the language here. We have the ability to pay the fees and eventually absorb the burden of unexpected costs. We have flexible schedules to wait for things. We are applying for a visa in a country that is happy to have us. If things didn’t work out here for some reason, we could leave at any time. There are many, many more things I could list. I wrote this partially as catharsis and it’s meant to be ironic, but maybe take just a minute to think about what this process, or any immigration process, would be like if none of the privileges listed were true.
Step 1: Get a job, preferably one with an institution that will help you through the process of getting your temporary residency. Assume that, like the state run university where Nathan got a job, it will offer no such assistance. Instead, it will act as if no one in the history of the country has ever had to go through this process. It will struggle to even tell you what your salary will be.
You’ll next want to contact the immigration office to find out exactly what you’ll need to do for temporary residency. Don’t bother calling because no matter how many times you call or how long you let it ring no one will answer the phone at any of their many offices around the country. There is information on the website, but the immigration office advises against trusting it. You’ll need to go in person. One hundred appointment numbers are given out per day starting at 9am, but only a fool would show up at 9am expecting to get a number. No, to get a decent number you’ll want to arrive by around 6:30am, unless you can afford to pay a professional placeholder. Once inside, you’ll wait until your number is called. The room is not uncomfortable, which is good because the wait will likely be long. Finally, you’ll get a list of the required documents. Congratulations, but don’t get too excited because chances are that by the time you gather everything that list will no longer be valid and up-to-date. Either way, you will definitely be asked for something that’s not on the list.
Step 2: Gather original copies of your birth certificates and marriage certificate. Look up apostille. Find out that no matter how much it sounds like it should involve a religious body, it doesn’t; though it is essentially getting your documents blessed. It’s form of international notarisation for countries participating in the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization. Send the original documents back to the state of issuance to get them apostilled. At this point you may, like us, realize that in order to get your documents back in a reasonable amount of time you will need to pay through the nose for registered mail, fedex, tracking numbers, and fast-tracked services. There is no other way. Suck it up. Get fingerprinted for FBI background checks and then get the background checks apostilled by the State Department.
Step 3: Go to Uruguay.
Step 4: Get the birth certificates, marriage license, background checks, passports, and apostilles translated into Spanish by an approved translator. Take the apostilled and translated birth certificates and marriage license to the Records Office where they will be Uruguayanized, registered in the system and then hand copied onto another form. Sure, you may gain or lose a last name in the process, but it doesn’t matter what your passport, the original document, or you say. This is now your name. Get documents from the University confirming you are employed. Get them again when they realize they didn’t put the correct salary. Get them again when this happens again.
Step 5: Schedule medical exams for everyone in your family. Of course, these will need to be done at a specific facility, which will not be anywhere near your house. If you are a woman you will need to also provide proof of having a pap smear in the last three years. If you’re over 40 you will also need proof of a mammogram. Side note: Uruguay now provides pap smears, which are mandatory, to all women free of charge every three years. They also require that employers provide women with a day off in order to get their pap smear. The medical exam requires that you fast for six hours, but because they’re not barbarians it’s definitely ok to drink mate or water. It also requires that you provide a urine sample. You can pick up the sterile cups at your local pharmacy and fill them at your leisure at home. Try not to do what we did and schedule the appointment for the week your child decides to potty train. As if getting a family of four up and out without the luxury of food weren’t complicated enough, I spent twenty minutes chasing a willful two-year-old still not fully in control of her bladder around the apartment while holding an increasingly unsterile cup. It wasn’t until she was finally peeing into the cup that she and I realized she had no idea how to stop, so we both watched helplessly as the cup filled and filled with urine. For the medical exams you will be shuttled through a series of increasingly smaller rooms to have your blood taken, teeth checked, and general health observed. For added excitement try like I did to forget your required photographs at home. This will send your spouse scuttling back home to retrieve them while you try to cram yourself and your hungry, exhausted, and overwhelmed children into the previously mentioned tiny rooms. At the end you will get a laminated card with your photograph showing you have passed the exam. If you’re lucky they will get your name wrong and you’ll have to wait for them to print it and laminate it again. Go to the police station to get your proof of address. Take your favorite two witnesses with ID cards, about 20 pesos, and your address to a police station. It took us longer to find parking than it did to get the form completed.
Step 6: Go back to immigration with all your precious documents. When they tell you that you are missing some previously unmentioned document (like, proof of school enrollment) remain calm and remember it may be that you have more to do and it may be that it is never mentioned again. Sign and pay and sign some more.
Step 7: Wait for six to eight weeks. Eventually a phone call will come saying you’ve been approved. You’ll get an actual appointment to receive your residency. It will feel exciting. It will feel like a celebration. You’ve been approved! It will be an utter let down when you realize that this appointment earns you only a piece of paper that allows you to begin the process of getting your national ID card, which gives you your ID number, which actually allows you to do things like access health insurance. You’ve been approved to stand in another line.
Step 8: Get original copies of your Uruguayan birth certificates and marriage certificate. Get twenty if you can because you can’t have too many. Take your residency paper. Get some money. Head to the Cédula office. Here you will make an appointment for an approximate time of day. They will say the process will take twenty minutes. It will definitely not take twenty minutes. It will not take twenty minutes times four. It will take hours. You will get in line at the appointed time in a building that smells of waiting and resignation. You will do just that and be just that. You will be fingerprinted and photographed and questioned about why you don’t have the right number of last names in the right order. You may be re-fingerprinted and renamed and you will wait again. At the end of the day you will not get a card. There is a law that gives immediate numbers to those under three. You can’t get a number because a newborn might need that number. You will get a piece of green paper that tells you to come back in five days. You will then go back to the beginning to repeat the process for your children because they can’t get ID numbers until you have an ID number, which you don’t have yet, but you kind of do, even though you don’t.
Step 9: Wait. Maybe get a phone call telling you that when they gave you back the photocopy of your passport they didn’t mean to and your only choice will be to drop everything and trek back to the Office of the Ministry of Waiting and Resignation to give them the copy again.
Step 10: Get your cards. Love your cards. Love that you can now get health insurance. You can get direct deposit (eventually). You can put your ID on credit card receipts. You can order tickets online. You can get the kids’ rate at the movie theatre. Accept that, for better or worse, you are now wed to the unrelenting and confusing Uruguayan bureaucracy. Mazel tov.