From the day we arrived in Ecuador we knew we’d need longer than 90 days. Though small compared to its neighbouring latin American countries, Ecuador has everything from adrenaline-filled Andean Adventures, to quaint fishing villages dotting the coast, to lush tropical rainforest, Amazonian rivers, and mysterious Pacific Islands offering wildlife experiences most have never even dreamed about. For slow travellers like us, 90 days was never going to do. Most people (and even immigration consultants) advised overstaying the 90 days and simply paying a fine when we leave, if customs so chose to incur one upon us.
We were okay with that. But when we got the opportunity to move to the Galapagos Islands for several months and wouldn’t be leaving until AFTER our primary visas had expired, we knew we had to find a way to extend our stay legally as Galapageño border control is pretty tight.
We were staying in Canoa when our decision came about so we were dealing with the immigration office in Manta as opposed to bigger cities like Quito or Guayaquil. I’m going to lay out exactly what we did to obtain an extended 6-month visa (on top of our initial 90 days), known as the 12-IX 180-day non-immigrant visa.
For anyone wishing to obtain residency as a retiree or investor, it is first required to get the 12-IX visa in order to apply for those.
In all the research I did looking into this, I found a lot of conflicting information and people saying different offices require different papers and so on and so forth. This may have been true before but the specific requirements are laid out on the official government website, and in my experience that is exactly what was required—though the actual process was frustrating as hell and didn’t always make sense.
First of all, let’s debunk a few myths about Ecuador and visas:
- You CANNOT simply do a visa run as you would in Asia or other developing countries. If you want to stay in Ecuador legally you MUST get an extended visa, otherwise you are only allowed in the country for 90 days per year. If you leave, you won’t be allowed back in until one year after you first entered.
- You do NOT need a lawyer to apply for visas. They will cost you a lot of money and the result will be the same.
- You can apply for the visa in your home country or once you are here, it’s up to you.
I really love Ecuador and think it has a lot to offer so I want people to know that there is an option to extend your stay for six additional months. It’s actually quite easy if you know what you’re doing and avoid a few of the mistakes I made. That’s why I created this 10-step guide to getting a 12-IX visa in Ecuador and staying longer, here goes:
Step 1: Get a file folder
You can buy this from a supermarket/tienda for about $0.25—just a typical card-stock, regular, old-joe folder. The ones in country have metal binding in them, you want that. You need to present all your papers in this folder, they will punch the holes and bind it for you.
Step 2: Fill out the visa application form
You can find the visa application for on their website, here. Just print it out and fill ‘er in. I went in with the wrong one and they gave me the right one on site to fill out.
Step 3: Write a letter stating your intentions (in Spanish)
Don’t fret if you don’t speak Spanish, I used Google Translate and they didn’t care about my obvious lack of Spanish skills. The letter is short, simple and to the point. It must contain your name, passport number, visa you are applying for and amount of days you will be staying in the country.
Here is exactly what I wrote in my letter (also put your home address in the top right corner as you would in an official letter):
Señor Ministro de Relaciónes Exteriores,
Yo, [your name] de [your country] con número de pasaporte [passport number], gustaría solicitar para la visa de turista no imigrante de 12-IX por ciento ochenta días para que me puedo visitar el resto del país. He viajado por toda la costa, pero quiero visitar las montañas, las ciudades y las Islas Galápagos durante los próximos meses.
Un cordial saludo,
[Contact phone number]
Step 4: Photocopy your passport
You need TWO colour photocopies of A) your passport picture page and B) the page containing the stamp from the day you entered Ecuador.
Step 5: Print a copy of your online bank statement containing at least $2000 (in Spanish)
If you’re bank is American, you may be lucky enough to have a Spanish translation option within your online banking. If you’re not (like me), here’s how I translated my bank account:
- Download the Google Translator extension for Firefox
- You will see a red T at the top right of your browser, click the arrow to select preferences
- In preferences, change the translation language to Spanish
- Open up your online bank statement in your browser
- Highlight a small section of text and click the red T to translate the text into Spanish
- Don’t highlight the entire page as it will mess up the formatting of your bank statement, you must do it in small sections as to not disrupt the layout.
- Repeat section by section until the page is translated (it’s tedious but cheaper than a translator!)
- Print the page to PDF to save it on your desktop (file —> print —> print to PDF)
- Don’t worry about small discrepancies, as long as the majority is translated you’ll be fine
Step 6: Get a plane ticket home (or somewhere else)
You need to have proof that you’re going to leave the country before the 180 days is up. I find this a little bit strange—what if you buy a plane ticket for 5 months from now and you’re application doesn’t get approved?—but that’s the rules, so get a plane ticket or find a way around it.
There are a few options here. A) buy a plane ticket, B) fake one, or C) make a reservation (but don’t actually pay for the ticket). I chose “C”. There’s an option on some airlines to book a ticket without paying, it’s usually only valid for 24 hours so I would do this the day before you apply. You can also go see a travel agent and have them reserve you a ticket that you’re going to pay for later. There’s no travel agents in Canoa so I did it online. If you don’t want to be shady, buy the ticket. I simply don’t know where I’ll be headed after Ecuador so didn’t want to book anything.
I didn’t translate my itinerary into Spanish and it wasn’t a problem, though you never know, one day it could be. If you have the time/energy I’d suggest doing so, or book your ticket on the Spanish version of the site to avoid the hassle.
Step 7: Smile and say “cheese”
You need ONE passport photo, which they will glue to your application form. They will take another picture of you when you go in to apply and fill out another application to put it on which all seems a little bizarre and unnecessary (it’s literally the exact same form but filled out on the computer) but hey, it’s Ecuador.
I got Rory to take a photo of me with our camera, cropped and resized it to 600 x 600 pixels, then brought it to a photo printing shop in Manta (a block from the visa office) and told them I needed passport-sized photos for a visa application. It cost me a few dollars for 6 of them and was ready in a few minutes.
Step 8: Apply in person at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
You MUST apply in person, you can’t mail your papers in—we tried, they denied us—so make a trip to the closest city. You pay $30 for the application, go make a photocopy of your application they filled out on the computer (I don’t know why they don’t have a photocopy machine), then go enjoy all the splendour that your application city has to offer.
If you do not speak Spanish there is one English-speaking staff member available by the name of Juan Carlos, ask to speak with him. He does not work on these visa applications but can translate and explain anything you don’t understand. Or at least try to tell you what’s going on.
Manta Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores office location (where we applied):
Mezanines 1 y Avenida 2 (see map)
Hours: 8:30am- 4:00pm, M-F
Phone: (05) 262-8629
Step 9: Wait 3+ days for your visa to be approved
The visa takes at least three days to process. We met one guy who said he got his the same day, but I’m thinking I may have misheard him because we pleaded for faster results (even offering a propina) but no dice—it takes three days. Or in our case, ten.
This is where the dysfunctional system comes into play. They gave us a phone number with our application number on it and told us to call them in three days to see if it had been approved. We did, they said they hadn’t gotten to it yet (this was a Friday). We called on the Monday, they said it had been approved (yippee!) but that we couldn’t come until Wednesday to pick it up (booooo!). We showed up Wednesday at 10am (as they told us to), and were told after an hour and a half of waiting that it wasn’t ready yet, come back the next day. We went back the next day, no dice. Their coordinator needed to sign the papers and she was currently working in another office 2 hours away. Why they couldn’t tell us this before, I don’t know. She came back that afternoon and they told us to come back at 4pm and they would for sure be ready. We went back at 4pm to find that their office closes at this time (DOH!). We were ready to call it quits at this point, there is no reasoning with them, you just have to wait. We went back on Friday, waited an hour and half again and then finally sat as more papers were filled out, we paid $4 for God knows what, and then another $200 for the visa, they stuck a big green sticker in our passports and we were on our merry way.
Step 10: Celebrate with a cerveza!
Sha-wing! You now have 180 additional days of Ecuadorian adventures ahead of you. Get out of the city and enjoy the beach, climb a mountain, learn Spanish, eat some guinea pig, or paddle down the Amazon. Ecuador is an amazing country with so much to offer, embrace it!
A few extra tips and additions:
- Try to apply with at least 2 weeks left on your 90-day visa to ensure you get it on time.
- Your 90-day visa must still be valid at the point of applying.
- Your passport must be valid for at least 6-months from date of application.
- Your 12-IX visa will be valid from the day they issue it, not from when your 90-days runs out.
- Having stayed in Manta for 10 days instead of the planned 3, I would say: don’t stay in Manta. Drop off your application and go stay in Crucita, Bahia or Canoa until your visa is ready then make the journey back to pick it up. Ten days is a long time to spend in Manta, especially if you get sick like I did.
- The taxi drivers in Manta don’t know where anything is—always bring the address of the visa office, where you’re going or where you’re staying (even then they sometimes don’t know where to go).
- A lot of the information you will find on the internet is out-dated. They used to have a different system for visa application but changed it (and their website) in order to employ more people.
- If you’re married, you’re spouse can apply as a dependent for an additional $50. We’re not and had to pay the fees twice.
Have you applied for this visa recently? Did it take more than 3 days? Less? Let me know in the comments if you’ve had any different experiences or horror stories!