It’s that time again.
My student visa is quickly expiring. In order to stay in Colombia, I have to do something – quick.
My next best option is filing for a business visa of the “independent activities” variety. This enables me to be in Colombia to explore business opportunities.
I decide to take care of this on a trip to Florida. I schedule an appointment several days in advance through the Colombian embassy’s Miami site.
On the day of, I scramble around to get all my documents together.
Passport copies? Check. Letter of intent? Check. Business references? Check. LLC docs? Check. Horrid passport photos manually cut by Walgreens’ staff? Check.
I arrive early for my scheduled appointment. I’m directed to a plastic chair filled waiting room.
After a few minutes, a smiley blonde waves me over to her desk. I take a seat across from her and slide my folder over to her side of the table. She flips through my documents, her eyes roving between me and my papers, sizing us both up, determining whether we are in order or not, whether we are legit or not.
She doesn’t speak. Her smile doesn’t falter once.
When she comes to the end of the stack, she says, “Oh, you just registered your business last month?”
Gulp. I confirmed, though I elaborated that I’ve been working for myself for several years now.
She slides an empty application form over to me. Apparently the one with typed responses wasn’t sufficient.
As I begin to fill it out, she tells me I need to show proof of my income and that I have enough to support myself in Colombia. She says come back in three days.
(Did I mention I’m only in Florida for eight days total? And that three days would bring us to a Sunday, the following day a holiday, and then I’d have only two more days left before my flight?)
I ask her if there’s somewhere close by I can print out my bank statements, and if I can bring it back to her right away.
She exchanges sidelong glances with her assistant and looks back at me, the smile never leaving her face. “Come back in three days. Your visa will be ready. Just don’t forget to bring proof of your income.”
I decide not to press my luck. I smile back at her and get up to leave, dejected. I guess I’ll come back after the long Memorial Day weekend.
The day of my flight back to Colombia, we rent a car from West Palm Beach and drive it back to the office on Biscayne Boulevard at the beginning of the work day. Up to the 25th floor we go again, to the waiting room with the plastic chairs.
The lady’s assistant and a man who looks just as young and intern-y as she does sit behind her desk this time.
This isn’t good.
I’m called over. I explain my situation to the pair, placing proof of income on the table. The woman rummages through some folders and finds the one with my name on it.
Should be easy right? They’ll just pull out my new, shiny visa and paste it in my passport, right?
She flips through the folder and says to me, “OK come back later. We have to get it authorized by Bogota first.”
“No,” I say. “I was here last week, they told me to come back this week and that my visa would be ready. I’m flying back to Colombia today.”
She picks up her cell and calls someone else (the original woman?). I hear her say my business name and my line of work. Then she confirms the length of my visa with the person on the other end. Six months.
Six months? Business visas are supposed to be for a year, sometimes even 18 months. But definitely not six. Six is for tourist visa extensions, not business visas.
I am a victim of circumstance.
Had the woman in charge been there, had I known to bring proof of my income, had I even taken care of this in a different embassy, I would have gotten more time.
That’s how it goes when you have to deal with immigration. Like a game of poker, getting the outcome you want is part strategy, part luck of the draw.
For getting a visa in Colombia, I recommend Alan Gongora of Langon Law Firm. Check out their guide to getting a visa here.