La Serena

Serena in Spanish is an adjective. It means ‘serene’ ‘quiet’ or ‘tranquil’. Little Spanish lesson for ya there. Though you may have guessed that serena can mean serene, as it’s a cognate and all, but still, never hurts to learn something new.

La Serena is the name of a coastal city in mid-north Chile. Not quite yet in the desert, but nice and dry, except for the ocean. That’s about as wet as you can get.

I had been to La Serena once, five and a half years ago on a bit of an adventurous trip with my study abroad friend Dani and her parents. It was a whirlwind couple of days including getting lost off the beaten path in the mountains in a Toyota Yaris, and a midnight horseback ride to stargaze with Dani, our guide and three other amorous couples (third wheel, anyone?). It was my study abroad days. Studying abroad pretty much means anything goes. Just read Jessica’s blog post. She’s a gringa studying abroad that found El Oasis this semester and is a pretty hilarious writer. I get a kick out of her stories.

Well, this time around, I’m a wife, a mom to a 10 month old, and all around not very interested in getting lost in the Andes. I’m all about the comfort, 150% of the time, every time. So, Andrés and I started looking at apartment owners in La Serena renting out their apartment for the long weekend. We opted for the more expensive option, but for good reason. The beach was across the street, the complex had a pretty wicked pool and it looked comfortable and had everything we needed for the weekend.

The life

The life

The only complaint I would point out is that it is pretty far from Santiago. And on a long weekend, there is always a massive Moses-style exodus to get out of the city ASAP. Kind of like there’s an evil pharaoh chasing everyone out. So, the added amount of cars on the country-long two-lane highways clogs things up a bit. It is 470kms from Santiago. For my metric-impaired readers, that’s about 290 miles. That translates to a little more than four hours if you are consistently driving 70mph and don’t stop. Which didn’t happen for us. We have a 10 month old, remember? So, with traffic, a major construction project, diaper changes and pee breaks, we made it in about five and a half hours.

The weather was splendid the whole weekend, so it made up for the long drives.

Not too shabby. Enjoy it while you can, kiddo. Pretty soon it will be illegal for you to do something like this in public.

Not too shabby. Enjoy it while you can, kiddo. Pretty soon it will be illegal for you to do something like this in public.

Andrés has conceded to not eating fish after getting married to a seafood hater, but when we’re visiting the coast, even I’ll go to a seafood restaurant. Probably because it makes up 99% of the restaurant choices. They always have something for complicated customers like me…aka chicken. There is an area between La Serena and the neighboring city of Coquimbo called Peñuelas, and that’s where the three B’s are at: bueno, bonito y barato (good, pretty and cheap). There is a whole section of the street on the opposite side of the beach that has little restaurants specializing in the three B’s. Andrés worked his latino charm and found us the best option for lunch on Saturday. He even made friends with the lady helping people park. That’s a thing in all of Chile. Some random person stands around and ‘takes care’ of the cars on a certain part of the street in exchange for a tip. Although, I normally don’t think that they would put up much of a fight if three guys tried to rob our car…but whatever.

Joaquin is getting very interested in all of the things his mom and dad are putting in their mouths. He is a fan of bread, muffins and cereal. Staples of mom’s diet. So when we went to lunch on Saturday, we decided to try out his taste for fish and shrimp. If we put it in our mouths, he apparently convinces himself that it’s good.


Success!IMG_6499And see those little white outlines in those little baby gums? Yeah, later that day I jokingly felt around in his mouth for teeth and surprised myself when I actually felt one! It took Andrés to feel it too to believe me. I guess I’m a trickster and fool him a lot. It’s a real life ‘boy who cried wolf’ story. But we were so excited, an innocent bystander may have guessed we had just won real money.

But really, there’s really a tooth cutting through. He has them, it’s official. No baby dentures needed. Thank goodness. We’ve had a few long nights, but he’s on the upswing…until another one breaks through. The endless cycle. We’ve taught him to show his teeth like a game, because previously he would scream and thrash like he was being attacked by a shark if we tried to get a peek.

We opted to save our nice camera from the dangers of sand, so we left it in the apartment when we were at the beach. Joaquin had a very entertaining time grabbing handfuls of sand and shoving his whole fist in his mouth. He learned after about four tries that it was not very good and his mom and dad weren’t eating it, so he shouldn’t either. The waves scared him a bit, but he crawled all over the seashore and Andrés scooped him up every time a wave came up too high. I spent some time looking for pretty seashells, and then Andrés party-pooped on my parade and told me that they were probably dumped back into the ocean from the restaurants much like the one we ate at two hours prior. I chose to pretend like I didn’t hear what he said and proceeded to continue looking for pretty shells with a rich history as to how they landed on the beach in Chile.

We roamed around the row boats and pretended to be sailors. Joaquin assumed the role of Jack from Titanic and was the king of the world (with Andrés’ invisible hand behind him).



IMG_6524We spent Sunday afternoon in downtown La Serena and found a llama that was charging 5 bucks for a photo and that included a free photobomb of a badly dressed guy on his phone. Chilean life.

IMG_6541Joaquin looks ready to be done with the llama.

And…as all vacations come, they go too. We made it back to Santiago safe and sound and happy from a fun weekend.

How I Applied For Residency In Chile – But Not My Own

Part – or almost all – of my job includes following my boss’s instructions. He is not Chilean, and neither are any members of his family, so when they moved here he applied for a work and residence visa (visa sujeta a contrato) –  before I was hired.

Then I hopped on the corporate train and one of my first huge tasks was to help the rest of his family members apply for their visas. It was like trying to drive a toaster through a car wash, if I may quote Kevin Bacon in one of the greatest movies of all time.

My boss is the only member of their family that has the right to a principal visa (titular). He is the only one that has a job, and therefore his visa is subject to work contract. So, his family members had to apply as his dependents.

The application itself is pretty simple. Name, DOB, birth country, passport number, education level, current visa (in their case, tourist visa as that is how they entered Chile), etc. Then, they needed all sorts of other papers.

The huge catch is that in order for them to prove themselves as legitimate dependents of the principal visa holder, they need to attach his kids birth certificates and his marriage certificate to the application package. This is easy enough if you are married or are born in Chile, but being foreigners, it is an unlikely scenario. One child was born in Africa, the other was born in South America and my boss and his wife were married in Europe. Deep breaths.

First off, if the marriage or birth takes place in a country other than Chile, the Immigration Department requires that the original certificate bear a stamp from the Chilean consulate in the country where the certificate was issued. It would be nice if the Immigration Department put this in huge bold letters on their website before foreigners come to Chile and discover they probably need a stupid stamp 5,000 miles in the other direction. After the certificate is stamped, it needs to be brought to the Department of Exterior Relations at Agustinas 1320 in Santiago Centro for another stamp. Then, if the original is not in Spanish, it needs to be translated at another counter at the same address. The cost is per word, and the wait time is usually 10 days, or 5 days expedited and pay extra. Then and only then can you make a photocopy of all translated pages, all stamps and the original certificate to send with the visa application. Don’t send the original, it will get lost in an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole and you’ll never see it again.

Well, you can imagine my horror nearly two years ago when I discover that I need stamped birth and marriage certificates at the Chilean consulates on three different continents before I can do anything else. Mission:Impossible. On top of that, a Chilean consulte does not even exist in the African country where one certificate was issued. It had to be redirected to the consulate in Kenya or South Africa.  Head:Exploding . This was just impossible for me to organize on my own, so the company had to hire a very pricey company to get someone to do this for us, and it still took them over a month. Crown Relocations, I wouldn’t recommend them. At least not their operations in Chile. They were disorganized and our account manager left their company in the middle of the process and no one told us.

Long story long, they got their visas.

Now, here I am, almost two years later, a seasoned war-visa-veteran. Once you have held temporary residency for one year (my case) or residency subject to work contract for two years (my boss’s case), you qualify to apply for permanent residency. It takes longer to approve, but the benefits far outweigh the wait. If you are not out of Chile for more than a year, it never expires, and you only have to renew your ID card every five years, instead of having to have a new ID issued every time you renew your temporary, work, student visa.

You are allowed to apply 90 days before expiration of the current visa, so I got things in order for them early.

The translated requirements for those with a work visa transitioning to apply for permanent residency:

1. General Documentation (including principal holder and all dependents in the following order)

  • Permanent Residency Application sent by mail, completed fully and signed.
  • Background check (certificado de antecedentes para fines especiales) issued by the Civil Registry (Registro Civil) – certificate not necessary for minors under 18
  • Peruvian nationals 18 and older must attach an original, valid background check issued by the Peruvian Consulate in Chile (located on Antonio Bellet 444 in Providencia)
  • Colombian nationals 18 and older must attach an original, valid Judicial Certificate issued by the Colombian Consulate in Chile.
  • Dominican Republic nationals 18 and older much attach a valid background check issued by the Dominican Consulate in Chile.
  • Travel Certificate, original, complete and updated, corresponding to the last year of residency. This document is issued by the PDI – Border Control Police (not necessary for those who are applying as a dependent) – located at Eleuterio Ramirez 852 in Santiago Centro.
  • Photocopy of both sides of Chilean ID card (optional for minors under 18, but if one was issued for them, include a photocopy)
  • Photocopy of passport, including ID pages and all visas that give purpose to request for permanent residency.
  • Personal letter indicating motives for requesting permanent residency.
  • 3 ID sized photographs (3x2cms) in color per applicant, with name and ID N°.

2. Specific documentation required for the Principal Visa Holder

  • Copy of valid work contract and any previous work contracts.
  • Certificate of validity of work contract signed before a notary (original)
  • Copies of any contract terminations (if applicable).
  • Certificate of past contributions to your AFP (retirement) and Health insurance of your last visa year (AFP, INP, ISAPRE).
  • Certificate of marriage or birth in the case of acquiring links with a Chilean spouse or child.

3. Specific documentation required for dependents

  • If you are a spouse of the principal candidate, attach a simple photocopy of your marriage certificate
  • If you are the child of the principal candidate, attach a simple photocopy of your birth certificate that indicates the parent’s names.
  • If you are the mother or father of the principal candidate, attach a simple photocopy of the principal candidate’s birth certificate indicating the parent’s names.
  • Accredit economic support via an affidavit of Expenses (Declaración Jurada de Expensas), issued by the principal visa applicant signed before a notary public, signaling that he/she will assume all maintenance costs in Chile of all dependents that are requesting permanent residency.

So yeah, that’s it! Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right??

Now, if you’re busy like my boss is and don’t have time to go running around the country getting all of these papers, you can hire a pretty assistant to do it all for you. Enter Amy.

In order for me to get all of these things for my boss instead of him or any of his family members, I needed notarial declarations from them indicating that I was the person allowed to get these documents. It can’t just be simple and be one big letter, because at every office they keep the letters for a collection or something.

Obviously, there were certain things I could not do for them, like getting their photos taken. But the main things I needed notarial approval from them were for the Travel Certificates issued by the PDI (only required for my boss) and the Background check issued by the Civil Registry (for my boss and his wife). They needed to do the leg work getting to a notary and sending me the letters, but I suppose that takes less time than waiting in line at these offices.

Thank the Dear Lord that I had already gone through getting their marriage and birth certificates the first time, so it was just a matter of his family sending me another photocopy.

The PDI proved to be the biggest headache for me this time around. Previously, you just handed them your Chilean ID card and they printed out a certificate saying when you had entered and exited the country. This time, I get in line for a number and the extremely overdressed, extremely cranky employee handed me a form to fill out and also explained that I needed a photocopy of their passport, including all exit and entry stamps from Chile. Hello? Aren’t you guys the ones that issue that information? Why do I need to give you information that you are in charge of? That’s like a 1st grader having to hand in a photocopy of their report card back to their teacher when it’s in front their face on the computer screen.  Yeah, that’s exactly what that is like. Why do government offices in this country refuse to publish important information on their websites?  Unanswered questions for this lifetime.

So, defeated, I went into work and had to ask my boss to send me a scan of all of his exit and entry stamps. This guy is a seasoned traveller. He sent me back thirteen pages of entry and exit stamps from his passport. He’s been living in Chile for less than two years. The PDI should give him some kind of award.

I went back the next day with my notarized letters and thirteen (completely unnecessary) pages of stamps, wait an hour for my turn, and get told by the other disgruntled employee that I will need another notarized letter to pick up the certificate in five days. You simply must be joking. I tried my best not to argue while explaining the stupidity of that request.

“That makes no sense, you keep the letter, so why do I need to bring another one to pick up the certificate?”

“I don’t know, I don’t make the rules”

“You used to be able to get this certificate at the moment of requesting it, so now why are two letters needed”

“I don’t know, I don’t make the rules”

*Face Palm* I swear they install chips in these officers to automatically respond to any prying question.

So I’m thinking, this is absolutely ridiculous. I went to the counter where in five supposed days my certificate will be ready and start explaining the stupidity of the situation to another person. I guess I stumbled across the head honcho, and he wrote his name on the back of my ticket and told me to speak to him if they gave me any issues when I came to pick it up. Finally, a win.

I went to pick it up last Friday and no one said anything about having another letter, so it was all in vain.

This was the 6th time I have mailed in an application package for a Chilean visa. I’m enough of an expert to start doing this as a living. If you’re having a problem, chances are I know the solution.

Attached are some drafts that may help you out:

carta personal permanent residency

declaración jurada de expensas

carta notarial certificado de antecedentes registro civil

carta notarial certificado de viajes PDI