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I finally got my visa approved a few weeks ago. I had thirty days to register at the “censo” or the foreigner census, by which the government keeps track of the number of foreigners living in the country. You need the “censo” card you are issued for nearly any public transaction-getting a driver’s license, opening a bank account, starting a business-just like an Ecuadorian needs the proof of voting card to transact any business, as voting is obligatory here.
I went to the immigration office, took a number and saw that I had thirty people ahead of me. I checked the list of required papers, and realized I’d be better off if I made a few copies of things, and that I needed a few photos. I went out to the street for a while and got the copies and photos, had a snack, then came back in. I waited another fifteen minutes. It was an hour total of waiting.
The official was friendly enough, took my papers which were supposed to include a rental contract and a sworn statement by my wife that she was supporting me. He barely glanced at them, asked me my phone number, if I was married, and to glue my photo to the outside of the envelope, and entered my information into the computer. I looked at the empty room next to the small area with the computer terminals where they were attending the public; the envelopes with documents that we were handing over were piled to the ceiling. They probably sit there for months, and then go somewhere else to sit forever. Five minutes later I had the “censo” card.
Two days later I went with my father-in-law to the old part of Quito, where the civil registry is and where you go to get your “carné”, the equivalent of a national ID card-which you also need for almost every kind of transaction. You climb up some dirty stairs in an old building with dirty walls, and arrive in a dirty office with old steel desks from the 1950s, gray curtains of varying shades, and a broken window here and there. We arrived at 8:30, a half hour after the office opened, and were attended to immediately as I was the second to arrive. Fortunately all my papers were in order. The man asked me if my name was “Hefray Hilbairt Sstiirn,” and asked me the names of my parents, my wife, and my address. This was one of those interviews to see if you really are who you say you are.
He checked off each item, then passed the papers over to a woman who entered a few minutes after our arrival. She typed in my info on an electric typewrtier, then called me over to make sure all the information on the card was entered correctly.
Everything was in order, so I sat back down to wait a few more minutes for the photo and the card. Four of us were called in to another small room, where old wooden boxes sat filled with thousands of ID card receipts. It seems there’s no computer database or repository for these cards. Five minutes later I had my card in hand. You need this ID card for nearly everything; the irony is that it’s probably impossible for anyone to reference who the real you is in the government files…since they’re sitting in a back room somewhere waiting for eternity.