Immigration was a $300, 3 day process. It started during orientation and ended today, Friday, September 20th, 65 days after making our first payments and filling out our first immigration forms. With exactly two weeks left before our tourist visas expire. All of which could have been avoided by a three day trip out of the country, thereby making us eligible for new 90 day tourist visas upon our return.
Day 1: four hours in a room with every other American exchange student, a total of three programs and over 35 people. Step one, figure out your height and weight in metric and your eye color in Spanish. Step two, don’t mess up your form or you will have to start over. Step three, get a copy of every page of your passport, including blank ones. Step three, go down to the bank and make two deposits, $100 into one account and $1 into another. Step four, sign your forms in front of a notary public. Step five, sign up as an American abroad with the US State Department. With our wallets now visibly lighter we are at last released, informed that information will be passed along when they know when our next appointment is.
Day 2: several weeks later, waste a Friday going to San Jose to be finger printed. This time it is only the IFSA students, everyone must make these appointments separately. We are warned, we have an appointment but that doesn’t always mean much in Costa Rican bureaucracy. Arrive at the police academy, get wanded and have our bags checked, several people turn in pocket knives, they get them back when we leave. We got lucky, our appointment, or maybe being there so early, worked. We are done, all 13 from IFSA, in about two hours. Lunch in San Jose then freedom.
Several weeks later we receive an email, make two more deposits at Banco de Costa Rica. The first for $100, the second for $90. This time we have to figure out Costa Rican banking on our own, last time we had Tico escorts who did everything but pay. At banks here the security guards keep the door locked until someone wants in, then they unlock it wand you, and check your bags, locking the door behind you. There is an electronic check in system so the tellers know what you need to do, I don’t know Spanish banking terms, the security guard had to tell me what to select. The receipts are then turned in to the exchange student office on campus. (I didn’t count this one as a day, took less than thirty minutes.)
Day 3: another Friday wasted in San Jose, ruining plans for a weekend in Monteverde, the cloud rain forest. This time at immigration. We were there to get our visa cards. The place was packed. Ten in the morning and there were several hundred people there in various lines. All that had to be done was verify our information and our fingerprints, take our picture, and give us our cards. We were there for over four hours. The time for each individual to actually do what needed to be done summed to less than 10 minutes. We waited an hour and a half after our appointment was supposed to start before the first of us was called in. Our first stop was verifying our information, we then waited another half hour for step two. There we verified our fingerprints and had our pictures taken. Followed by nearly two hours waiting before we got called in to pick up our visa cards, where they checked our fingerprints again before giving them to us.
None of these times include traveling to and from San Jose, an hour long round trip.
But we did it. We are finally officially allowed to be students in Costa Rica!