The 3rd of March was three months since I last entered Argentina. According to the visa laws here I needed to leave the country today, or pay a fee of $100 pesos for another three month extension. Here in Puerto Madryn we are 18 hours by bus from Uruguay and 14 hours from Chile. They are the closest countries to us, and the bus costs range from $110 pesos upward for a one-way journey. So I opted for the extension.
Since Carol also entered the country at the same time (we were returning from Colombia) so she came with me. So too did Maricruz and Amelia, both of whom also had to renew their visas shortly. Well, Amelia had actually outstayed her visa and needed to fix this up too.
So early in the morning, Argentinian time, which is to say it was almost 8am, we headed down to the local Prefectura where you can renew your visa. A short wait of about half an hour and we were allowed to enter the gate and head towards the Migrations Office.
Maricruz knocks on the door and stirs movement inside. The door opens, but the place is full. We are told to wait as the door closes before us. Outside is really chilly, so we seek out the rays of the early morning sun and wait, ignoring as best we can the cuttingly cold moments from strong gusts of the wind.
A Special Case
A half an hour passes by before we are finally welcomed into the Migrations office. We present our passports to the cheery officer and wait. While we wait, Amelia presents her case. Her visa is overdue, and has not been renewed when it should have been. She is one month late.
There is no solution for her. She must leave the country, and soon. At the border she will be charged a $50 peso fine but will be able to leave and then return later without further penalty. This will not affect her in any way with other countries nor will it affect her application later on for permanent residency in Argentina. Although having to leave the country quickly makes things a little hard for her, she is happy to know that it will not affect her in any other way.
Process Number One
Once Amelia’s case was dealt with, our friendly officer started the processing of our visas. Everything was by hand or typewriter, although a computer was in another corner of the office and managed by a female assistant.
First was writing our details down in a ledger book, then again in another book. This book was passed over to his assistant where I presume she would enter the details into the computer.
With the book filled out, he then grabbed a sheet perforated in a way that provided five identical sections side by side. This was inserted into the typewriter which was pulled over from the edge of the desk, and every section was filled in by our expert two-finger-typist. Once done and removed from the machine, another was inserted. I glanced at the first sheet. Each section contained identical information. It was a form of duplication.
We waited the next twenty minutes for all three sheets to be filled out for each of us. Once completed we thought that this would be enough, but there was another sheet that also needed to be completed.
This process continued on and on for what seemed like an eternity. Finally we were given some papers to take with us, but this was not the visa, just the end of the first stage.
Process Number Two
Our next process was getting the papers we needed to pay our money, or something like that. With papers in our hands we headed over to another office, hand them to the clerk at the door, and then sit down to wait.
It is a while later that we are handed back the same papers again. Some have had a section removed from them, while I note that other papers have now joined the pile. With these papers in hand we return to our first office.
Process Number Three
Having been made to wait once again, we finally enter the office and hand over our new cluster of papers. Some questions about what our profession is, some furious clacking on the old manual typewriter, and some serious waiting, and we receive yet another group of papers. These too are perforated into multiple identical sections.
Now we get to pay for the visa.
Process Number Four
This was probably the least painful of all of the processes. After standing around an open door for a while, we are eventually greeted by somebody who accepts our papers. One hundred pesos each later, some stamps and removing of sections, and we return once again to our old office with yet another wad of papers in hand.
The Final Process
This time we walk straight into the office that we have entered enough times now to be feeling familiar with the people. Other people are present too, but we ignore them and hand over our papers. Further clacking on the typewriter.
Finally the paperword is done. Our officer takes hold of our passports and places the important stamps on one of its pages. Then he takes the date stamp and stamps two times, adjusting the date each time. My date is stamped wrong. It claims that my visa runs out several days before it should. This could cause some problems in leaving the country so I mention it to the guy.
All attempts to fix the date simply make it worse, until it is impossible to identify exactly which day it is. Another date is hand-written and then countersigned just below it. There is nothing more that can be done. Hopefully it will be enough.
So with passports in hand and fully stamped with our new visas, we are safely and legally in the country once again for another three months.
The time taken to get the visa? Almost three hours.