Since we began this blog more than six years ago, we’ve been asked this hundreds of times:
“Can I do my own residency paperwork – or do I have to use a lawyer?”
The short answer is yes. You can do your own paperwork. Lawyers aren’t needed. You will likely need translators and a notary – but the government doesn’t require use of a lawyer.
But maybe a better question is: Should you apply for residency without a lawyer?
The Ecuador Residency Legal Process
With immigration offices in (at least) the three largest cities in Ecuador (Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca) many expats are located close enough to these offices to present their applications – and ask any questions. Some friends and many readers have successfully navigated the requirements and received their permanent Ecuador residency visa.
As a result of doing the applications themselves, they have saved hundreds, even thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Note: I know that this next section is going to get a segment of expats fired up. For some reason, they have taken the approach that lawyers are useless and are playing a shell game with incoming expats. Some of these expats troll Ecuador forums and groups, just waiting for someone to mention “residency” or “lawyers” so they can attack the concept of hiring legal help. Sorry guys, but this post is for you. 🙂
4 Challenges to Presenting Your Own Ecuador Residency Application
If you are low on funds, not using a lawyer might be a good idea. Here are some of the challenges you might face:
- Language: Not knowing Spanish can be tough. Navigating new government rules in a foreign country in an unknown language is about as hard as it sounds. Of course, speaking Spanish will eliminate this challenge. I understand that some government agencies are preparing limited paperwork in English. And while some government officials speak some English, you must remember that you are responsible for any translation errors / misunderstandings.
- Changing Rules: The requirements for residency can be a moving target. You could be working for weeks, even months, to get certain documents and the requirements can then change at the last minute. You will then have to start over. Without quality legal advice, this one factor has sent numerous expats home. A number of soon-to-be expats tried to do this themselves and ran out of time because of the frequently changing rules. They ended up moving to another country – or just returning to their home country. When we applied years ago, the departments were in re-organization mode and changes were happening a few times a week. Without help from our lawyers, I don’t think we could have done it.
- Cultural Differences: If you just arrived, you might find certain cultural differences hard at first. Waiting rooms, lines, wait times, fees, photocopies, notarized everything, and “una consulta” confuse and frustrate many new expats.
- Not “knowing someone”: While I’m not used to preferential treatment, we’ve seen the benefits of working with a connected professional. We couldn’t get a business bank account opened – a quick phone call by our lawyer and it was all good. In a bizarre game of residency status, the Canadian government needed confirmation that our daughter lived with us since moving to Ecuador. Our lawyers were the only professionals in Ecuador that knew us since arriving and could vouch for us. This saved us almost $8000 in taxes (from just one year). Not sure what the total bill would have been for multiple years.
Why Do You Want to Do It?
While there are many things that can be done, it doesn’t mean you should do them. Back in Canada, for example, we hired someone to put new siding on our house, install our dishwasher, and fix our car. Lots of people know how to do this and enjoy it – I couldn’t be bothered.
My time was better spent either working (something I was good at) or playing with my family (something I would rather be doing).
You should ask yourself: Why do I want to prepare my own paperwork? Is it to have control of the process? To save money? Or for the challenge?
What’s Your Time Worth?
It seems that many expats tackle the Ecuador residency process because of costs. They don’t want to pay a lawyer for something they can do themselves.
That’s fine – but it’s important to evaluate what your time is worth – and what the whole process really costs.
While saving money (or getting something for free) is great, you must look at the real cost – not just the price paid. How much time did it take? What was sacrificed (time, attention, energy) to get it?
Last year there was a comment on the Ecuador Expats Facebook group that caught my attention:
“Whoooo Hoooo! Got my cedula today! Been here 2.5 months, if I can do it you can do it! I did it myself, other than the $72. for the translation. Mine was basic paperwork, though. But… I could not have done it without the months of research, support, encouragement, and advice from you Expats! Thank you all SOOO much…I can hardly believe it…pinch me!!”
Don’t misunderstand me: this is a big accomplishment – to get residency is huge. I remember how we felt 4 years ago.
But you need to take into account the “months of research” it took to get it. If you are retired, then you might have the time and I think that’s great. But if you are working or have other things to do with your time, maybe it’s time misspent.
And what about the quality of information that you will get for free? We’ve been asked for specifics about the law, but we refuse to give immigration advice. The laws (and their interpretation) change too frequently to be able to give accurate information. Beware of well-intentioned expats that share their experience. The odds are that your application will have different requirements than theirs did.
Why We Used Ecuadorian Immigration Lawyers
When it comes to certain legal processes, it’s wise to use a good lawyer. In my opinion, legal status in your new country is one of them.
As you might of guessed, we are in favor of using immigration lawyers. Call me old fashioned, but we also used lawyers when we bought/sold our home, sold our businesses and created our wills. It just kind of made sense. They were the legal experts. As I mentioned, we had some significant challenges with our process. I am thrilled that we used immigration lawyers.
In my opinion, the risks are too great and the rewards are too small to navigate foreign immigration law alone.
For some reason, an opinion has formed among some expats that it is ludicrous to hire a lawyer to handle your residency application. They will mock and sometimes attack expats who use a lawyer. Don’t listen to them! Do you own paperwork if you want – but don’t be ashamed for hiring a professional.
Are you planning on using a lawyer when you arrive? If you are all ready in Ecuador, did you get residency on your own? Or use an immigration lawyer? Please share your thoughts below.