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Can I Apply for Ecuador Residency Without a Lawyer?

Posted in: Everything Expat, Living in Ecuador

ecuador-residency-lawyerSince 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Read more about living in Ecuador

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.

Your Turn

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.

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Travel.

22 comments… add one
  • Jim Mar 19, 2018, 1:03 pm

    We did the border trip to Huaquillas and over into Peru 3 times for visa “extensions”. I couldn’t seem to get my tourist visa renewed for 3 more months. Turns out, I was in Ecuador illegally for a few months and didn’t know it. The immigration official that stamped my passport in Quito got his computer entry wrong but didn’t tell me. It took my third border run to Peru and back into Ecuador with my Ecuadorian lawyer on the phone to fix it. I would never do a major immigration application without a lawyer. But that’s just me. I did get to experience the classic immigration officer bribe attempt. Thankfully we had a good friend with us who know how to deal with that issue.

  • Juani Oct 5, 2015, 11:17 am

    The main thing you must do is to get the requirements you need for the visa you are applying (what residency visa you need). It’s better if you do it at the immigration office (ministerio) because their web site doesn’t have the complete requirements or information about papers you need..
    For those that are not in Ecuador yet, it’s a good idea that first get all the papers that are needed in their own country.
    I am Ecuadorian and my husband from USA, he got his residency about 15 days ago, the process to approve the visa takes about 20-30 days if you have all your papers. My husband had problems because he didn’t have the FBI report and to get it from USA and then the apostil took near 4 months. We didn’t need a lawyer. All papers have to be in Spanish, to me that’s not really a problem , you can find places where translate documents and sometimes they also knows where you can notarize the translation. Just remember to have all papers ready it’s important. If you don’t have them, try to apply for an extension of your visa, it will give you time to get the papers. My husband had to do that too

  • Gary Jones Sep 19, 2015, 9:50 am

    Brian, as you so correctly note, nothing stirs up more controversy than the issue of obtaining your residency here in Ecuador. One’s opinion is based on your own personal experience and anecdotal comments from well meaning others. Much of the discussion centers on going it alone or using an immigration lawyer; however, many people, such as me, use those who are referred to as facilitators. This can often be the proverbial minefield.

    The worst case scenario is discovering that you are using an unlicensed, unscrupulous person who is working with organized crime. After arriving at Quito airport you are shuttled to a shady area of the city, robbed of anything of value, and dumped. One couple from Canada suffered this fate, losing three thousand dollars in cash in the process. The only way to avoid becoming a victim is to thoroughly research who you are dealing with. Pay attention to the referrals Expats who have been through the process give and ask lots of questions. Make certain you clearly understand exactly what the facilitator is going to do for you and don’t pay any money to them until they actually do the work for you. Some are frankly inept and not up-to-date on the ever changing immigration laws, so be careful. One well known facilitator published an article that Canadians now required an FBI criminal record check, a clear example of someone who has no clue what they are doing.

    As a Canadian hoping to relocate to Ecuador my best advice is to you is to first deal with the Ecuadorian Embassy in Ottawa, who are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, something lacking at the consulates in Toronto and Vancouver. Another important issue is where you file your application for residency. There are vast differences in what documents they require and in how long processing takes. Although I was closest to the Quito office, my facilitator told me that they are the most strict on following the most up-to-date laws and the most difficult to deal with. Processing at the Cuenca office can often take hours, whereas it can take mere minutes at the Guayaquil office, as it did in my case.

    President Correa knows that many of these facilitators take advantage of people wishing to obtain their residency and he has proposed changes, such as reducing the number of visas from eighteen to four, to make things easier. I have been trying to learn exactly what these four visas will be, but have been unsuccessful. Maybe someone has some information to share on this subject?

    For me, most regrettably, my time in Ecuador has come to an end, despite having been approved for my cedula. The falling Canadian dollar has made it impossible to be able to afford to live even in a country with a much lower cost of living. I have also had some major challenges with getting my diabetic medications, primarily insulin, through IESS, stemming from delays in obtaining my cedula. I hope to return to Ecuador someday and hopefully obtaining my residency will go alot smoother now that I have learned so much more.

  • Vera von Weltin Aug 30, 2015, 8:41 pm

    First, let me say that I cherish this website as an unbiased and honest one.
    I knew from the start that I would need legal help with my German origin, a Canadian passport, and having lived and worked in Taiwan for 13+ years especially as Taiwan has no official connection to Ecuador.
    Nevertheless, even if my situation had been simpler, I would have used an Ecuadorian authority like a lawyer to facilitate my visa process.
    My time in Asia showed me how important the acceptance and respect(!) of cultural differences are. In Asian countries as in Latin American ones relationships are much more important than is generally the case in North American and northern European countries. Therefore, using a lawyer for the visa application is for me (having lived and worked on 3 continents) not just about using local knowledge, but much more about relying on existing relationships in this situation given that I would have not have had the time to build them myself.
    For anyone interested: through careful research I found the best lawyer for me: Marcos Chiluisa from EcuaAssist, who was the only one who was willing to explore my complex situation further before sending me the first bill. We had a long SKYPE talk and decided to go ahead. I am very satisfied with our progress and even have with him and his assistant (both speaking excellent English) trusted companions along my way.
    I have been in Ecuador now for 3 weeks and are very happy to have taken this bold (or as some of my Asian friends said, stupid) step as everything is working out as planned so far.

  • Bartek Aug 16, 2015, 4:40 pm

    I have gone through the whole process of getting residency without any help of any lawyer. In my opinion it’s pretty straightforward, although it takes time and money. To be honest, I cannot imagine why would anybody with some level of Spanish pay to an attorney.
    I hope it will help you all.

  • Isabel Knappett Jul 23, 2015, 11:52 am

    Just got our residency ourselves, no Lawyer and minimal Spanish skills, but……
    did our research properly, made sure all paperwork was properly done RC MP fingerprints and check (we are Canadian) long form birth certificates were ordered, everything translated into Spanish and signed off at Ecuadorian Consulate in Ottawa.
    Made a few trips to Guayaquil to get paperwork handed in and processed, but it was accomplished quicker and with less issues than we thought we might have….

  • Jim Jul 12, 2015, 11:23 pm

    I went through a lawyer and am very glad I did. My primary reasons I went through a lawyer were because of the language issue, my lack of patience for losing time to the process(standing and waiting) and simply, I did not have time to do it on my own. But something else came up that made my lawyer very useful. Upon arriving in Ecuador they input 3 months into their computer system before realizing I had already gotten a 180 day VISA prior to leaving Canada. Once it’s in the system it either cannot be corrected by the official processing you or they neglected to correct it. To make a long story short, it took 3 trips across the border into Peru to resolve the issue, never getting a proper answer why on the first 2 trips. We took our 3rd trip with a bilingual friend and my Cuenca lawyers phone number. After getting with the secretary at the old office in Huaquillas and having him chat with my lawyer, our 3 month VISA was issued. And that gave us time to get our residency. It was well worth it for us to have a lawyer. As a side note, this was the trip that an immigration officer tried to get bribe from us. We are thankful we had our experienced friend with us who resolved that issue rather rapidly.

    • Andre Aug 14, 2015, 5:39 pm

      I used Gabriela Espinosa in Quito, I gave her a power of attorney before I headed home in 2013 and when I was ready I got the paperwork together and sent it to her. I applied while still in the USA selling all my stuff. It was easy as pie. Once paperwork submitted in Quito, took one week and then picked it up at the Chicago Embassy on the way out. Total Cost was under $1500. When I got here, took about 7 business days to register the Visa and get my Cedula.

  • Max Jul 10, 2015, 8:21 pm

    Hi again, Just a quick note to Leone…………don’t see why you wouldn’t have gone the CD route. Where else are you going to get deposit rates on savings that range from 6%-8%? Also, my residency permit only took a week and a half once the fingerprints and CD were done.
    Once again I highly recommend Maite Duran at GringoVisas.
    best regards,

  • Max Jul 10, 2015, 8:11 pm

    Hey Bryan, hope you are well. When I applied for my six month extension I had a friend help me with the paperwork as she is a Spanish speaker. However, after the back and forth trips to Quito to get that done I decided to use a facilitator for my residency. I used GringoVisas and they got the job done. Because I was already living here I needed to use a company in Ottawa to get the fingerprints and to do the necessary there with the Ecuador embassy. However, it was GringoVisas that gave me the name of the company in Ottawa as they deal with them on a regular basis. There is a lot involved time wise if you were to do all this work yourself. I would certainly recommend using a facilitator like GringoVisas but I would not use a lawyer. Some of the prices I’ve heard for using a lawyer here would rival New York law firm prices.

  • Lourdes Alfonso Jul 5, 2015, 8:42 pm

    Hello Bryan,

    Thank you for sharing this very important information, well noted.
    Also thanks to Gary Jones, for his information on “Visa Angles”, the organization which assisted him with his
    Visa documents. I have noted it for future reference.



  • Bob McBride Jul 5, 2015, 11:26 am

    I did my own visa and the only thing I see here is a whole lot of rationalizing from people who didn’t.

    verb (used without object), rationalized, rationalizing.
    to invent plausible explanations for acts, opinions, etc., that are actually based on other causes:
    He tried to prove that he was not at fault, but he was obviously rationalizing.

    • Bryan Haines Jul 5, 2015, 4:08 pm

      Glad to hear it worked out for you. Not all expats have such an easy ride.

  • Lourdes Alfonso Jul 5, 2015, 12:03 am

    Hello Bryan,

    Thanks for sharing this very important information. Also thank you Gary Jones for the information and name of the organization that assisted you – “Visa Angles”. I have noted their e-mail address for future reference.



  • Amalia Bartoli Jul 4, 2015, 10:12 pm

    No, you don’t need an attorney, but you’ll need a Spanish translator, if you don’t speak the language, someone who is knowleadgeable about the visa requirements. I’m fluent in Spanish,, and after all the money we spent and all the time it has taken to get the visa, I wished we had hired one. I’m talking by experience: Hire an attorney, it’s worthwhile!!

  • Leone Jul 4, 2015, 10:00 am

    We have just received our residency four days ago. It went through in 5 1/2 weeks.

    Too true that I spent the previous 6 months getting documents apostiled and sent to our lawyers. But they saved us many thousands of dollars by recommending that instead of coming in on a Certificate of Deposit residency we come in on my Professional qualifications. They also applied to registered my university testamur with the government before we arrived here, all of which made our transition to residency here seamless. Yes, we have paid money for all of this, but we cannot recommend highly enough our esteemed friends (yes, I just called them friends even though I didn’t know them before this process) from Manta who guided us through. They speak fluent English and Spanish and have been a fountain of information for things we have needed to do, where to go, what to take and what to say.

    We have expressed our desire for them to guide us through various legal processes required here in Ecuador, e.g. for purchase of property, etc. Of course they are happy to accept this work, but we are also happy to have built this relationship with them. It gives us peace of mind, something which makes our life here much easier.

    I have only praise and respect for these people. I say “thank you” …

  • Gary Jones Jul 4, 2015, 9:28 am

    Like most people I did a lot of research on Ecuador, including immigration requirements, before making the decision to move here. I lived in London so I contacted the Ecuadorian consulate in Toronto, who told me what I needed. Two four hour one way trips later they proved to be totally useless. In frustration I contacted the Ecuadorian Embassy in Ottawa. They were totally amazing and after some phone calls and sending them my passport and notarized documents they got me a six month Visa and I came to Ecuador.

    Mostly because I felt all of my documents, including the translations the Embassy had done for me, at no charge, were in order, I didn’t want the expense of using a lawyer. With my limited Spanish I didn’t want to go it alone either, so I started researching facilitators and talking to people who had been through the process. Not only did I find a lot of conflicting information by facilitators, I didn’t even know that they are supposed to be licensed in Ecuador. I quickly learned why a senior official at the Embassy had said that President Correa wanted to change the laws to eliminate facilitators because of the rampant fraud. Some people had been charged thousands of dollars by far too many crooks passing themselves off as facilitators and they were no closer to getting their residency.

    As the clock ticked down on my six month Visa I became very worried that I would be forced to return to Canada. Luckily a friend on Facebook put me in touch with an organization called Visa Angels ( They contacted me immediately and I started dealing with one of their representatives in Cuenca. She spoke perfect English and she informed me that there were huge differences in how the various immigration offices worked. Quito was the worst, followed by Cuenca and Guayaquil was by far the best. After getting my documents in order I travelled with her to Guayaquil and the process took about twenty minutes, something she said would take hours in Cuenca. I subsequently received the promised email from Immigration advising that I had been approved. I am returning to Guayaquil next week to pick up my cedula.

    Throughout the process I have not paid any “fee” to Visa Angels, just their costs. They have been with me every step of the way and have been most professional in their dealings. I had originally started the process in Quito with a person I thought was a lawyer, but wasn’t. He charged me $140 to register my original six month Visa, something the government doesn’t even charge a fee to do. Had I stayed with him no doubt I would have just ended up being one of those people who paid an outrageous amount to obtain my residency.

    I cannot recommend Visa Angels more highly. They have been amazing. I also hope that President Correa is successful in his changes to the Immigration Laws whereby the number of Visas will be reduced from eighteen to four. No doubt this will make the process simpler and maybe eliminate the need for these crooked facilitators.

  • Hank Jul 3, 2015, 4:10 pm

    I’ve gone through this process also, and Bryan is right, requirements change often, and researching what you need can not only be daunting, many times you’ll be told different things by different ‘helpful’ people, much of it conflicting.

    That’s part of the reason I used a facilitator. The other part was because I’m still in the States, and wanted the Residency Visa sent here. Now I’m taking my time selling everything and don’t have any time pressures re expiring 90 day Visa etc.

    I’d say Bryan is right, if yer doing it to ‘save money’, you’ll need to be in a pretty special situation… speaking Spanish, know all the documents you’ll need (and ea Residency Visa type has different requirements), have everything apostilled and notarized, and some things may have to be certified also! My facilitator was invaluable, he told me what to get and how to do everything, then I used DHL and sent all of it to him in Quito. He did all the rest.

    Save yourself a lot of stress, get some kind of professional help with it.

  • Rebecca Roberts Jul 3, 2015, 3:47 pm

    Thank you for this well written article. It’s nice to read a positive article from both point of views.

  • Ray Cordero Jul 3, 2015, 11:27 am

    Great write up on the reasoning for both sides of the coin. We were of the mindset that we could get it done ourselves and we only needed help with translating the documents. We did run into problems gathering the documents we needed back in the U.S. , but we considered that a minor inconvenience. We are retired and my wife didn’t mind the hours of research because of that fact. We were also lucky in the that we got our visa request into the Manta office about a month or so before the FBI background checks became mandatory. We ended up getting our visas approved about two months after we submitted them and then we got our cedulas about two weeks after that. Any hiccups we encountered along the way brought up our new catch phrase of “this is life in Ecuador”. This helped in lowering our stress level and expectations. I totally understand why people hire facilitators or lawyers to help them with this process. Having someone who has done this before and can translate for you is invaluable. Luckily, I spoke and understood enough Spanish to help us get things done.

  • valerie Jul 2, 2015, 2:23 pm

    Having a connected professional is a good idea. But not necessarily a lawyer. A good facilitator can be much cheaper with equal contacts. We used a facilitator, got our residency in 3 weeks and cedula one week later. Much cheaper than a lawyer and made a friend in the process. I distrust most lawyers, in any country, unless they are required.

  • Gary Sisk Jul 2, 2015, 2:18 pm

    Yes many people do go to Immigration on their own to get a cedula there are a couple representatives in Cuenca that speak English. One friend had to go back and fourth 20 times and have more paperwork sent from Canada! If you are fluent in Spanish it would be easier because you will have to got to translators and get paperwork notarized etc.
    I did not want a hassle going through the process when I moved to Cuenca so I did use an attorney and e-mailed all the paperwork to them before I came to make sure I had everything I needed, but 3 1/2 years ago there was no cedula office in Cuenca so I had to go to Quito to finish the process and get my cedula with the aid of a representative from my attorney who met me at the airport and with her connections I did not have to take a number and wait for 200 people in front of me to see an agent, we walked in and within 15 minutes were serviced. I have heard stories of many expats who were taken advantage of by attorneys and paid to much money.
    You can use a solicitor also now which will save money over an attorney but need to make sure you have all your paperwork that is required when you arrive or it can be expensive to have it sent here.
    I was happy using an attorney which was $1000 but I had no problem! I might have saved $500 using a solicitor but I was secure using an attorney recommended on Gringos abroad. I paid total $1750 which included my trip to Quito and 2 nights lodging, plus the translations, visa, and notarizing of paperwork! Using an attorney gets cheaper if there are more then one person, one guy I know paid $1600 for three, just the attorneys fee!

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