Before You Travel
Visitors from almost any country can enter Ecuador for 90 days without a visa as long as their visit is for tourism. When you arrive in the country you will receive a stamp in your passport and there are no other requirements. There is no cost This is a 12-X tourist visa. However, this visa cannot be renewed. If you run into problems with this visa, I have made some observations below which may help you.
The 12 – IX visa is granted for 180 days. It cannot be renewed, which means you basically have six months to do whatever it takes to change your status (ie. find a job, make an investment etc.).The main advantage of this visa is that if you do apply for another visa, it can be issued to you in Ecuador; the only way you can change your status from that of a 90-day tourist is to leave and re-enter the country.
If you are offered a contract by a company they should be able to help arrange your work visa (12-VI). This is granted for up to 12 months and can be renewed.
Embassies and Consulates
If you do need to get a visa before arriving in Ecuador you will need to visit an Ecuadorian embassy or consulate. Consult my list here to find the nearest one to you.
If you arrive in the country with any visa you need to register it at the “Extranjería” in Quito (Av. 6 de Diciembre entre Colón y La Niña tel. 02 3828810) or Guayaquil (9 de Octubre y Pichincha, basement of Registro Civil building in the centre by the Plaza San Francisco, tel. 04 2592400) within 30 days of arriving.
You also need to get a “censo” from the Jefatura de Migración.
I came to Ecuador with a 12 –IX visa and then when I found out that it couldn’t be renewed after 6 months (communication problem in the London embassy) I brought my wedding date forward so that I didn’t have to leave the country. Getting married enables you to apply for a “visa de amparo” (9-VI). More about immigrant visas below. The process is now more transparent than when I did it. For example you don’t need a lawyer to make your application. It’s not that hard to get your documents together but it does take time. Paying a good lawyer will make things easier but remember that if you are always going to the front of the queue or not even going to the extranjería you may be feeding the corruption here.
The majority of people who visit Ecuador will only need the 12-X tourist visa. However if you want to work or study, or want to be able to stay more than 90 days, you can apply for another type of visa specific to your activities. Here is the full list with a link to the information on the Foreign Ministry website.
Visa 12-I-II Diplomatic mission officers and international organization members (ENLACE )
Visa 12-III Various government and international organization members (ENLACE )
Visa 12-IV Asylum and refuge
Visa 12-V Students
Visa 12-VI Working visa
Visa 12-VII Religious missionaries volunteers
Visa 12-VIII Cultural exchange
Visa 12-IX Commercial activites
Visa 12-X Tourism
Observations about the 12-X tourist visa.
1. If you have a tourist visa then you get given a maximum of 90 days to stay in the country. It is possible to request an extension. You must go to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (Foreign Ministry in Quito or Guayaquil. As I understand it, it is completely discretionary if you get an extension and basically unlikely. There is no point going to the airport or border unless you are actually going to leave the country for a while.
2. If you overstay your period it is still possible to leave the country without paying a fine. However you will be prohibited from re-entering the country in the next 9 months. Additionally, if you are found to be in the country illegally (eg. the police check your passport on a road after your visa has expired) you could be deported at your own cost (and chucked into jail in the meantime). I’m sure that’s unlikely but probably the less Spanish you speak, the more you want to avoid it.
3. The 90 days for a tourist visa is valid over a 365 day period. That means if you leave after 85 days in Ecuador and return a week later, you can only stay a further 5 additional days. That is how the system is supposed to work. I don’t know whether there is any discretion for border officials but now that everything is computerised I’d say it was unlikely.
4. Generally, people cannot change their visa status from that of tourist while in the country. You are supposed to leave and apply in your country of birth or residency. However, I know people who have been to Peru and successfully done this. Note that when you apply for a new visa in Ecuador and submit your passport, your visa should be valid for at least a month. So you would have to move quickly anyway.
5. If you have another type of visa (eg. work, student, commercial activities) it is now possible to change onto a tourist visa before it expires and get another 3 months in the country. Obviously then you won’t be able to do paid work legally, if you were before.
You can apply for the following categories of immigrant visas
9-I (Retirees who have savings of US$48,000 or an income of US$800 per month)
9-II (Investors in real estate or securities –minimum US25,000)
9-III (Investors in agriculture livestock, commerce and other industries –minimum US30,000)
9-IV (company agents – employed for indefinite period, legal representatives, members of religious orders)
9-V (Workers with a profesional qualification)
9-VI (Amparo – Economic Dependence on an Ecuadorian or fellow immigrant)
There are specific requirements for each visa but in each case you must have a minimum of 6 months remaining on your passport at the time of your application. I would advise you to have more – you are going to have to repeat this whole process with no short cuts when you want to transfer the visa to your new passport. If you are in Ecuador you must have a minimum of 30 days on your existing visa when you make an application ie. when you submit the information online.
Furthermore all applicants must present a document from their previous country(ies) of residence which indicates their criminal record (or lack of). This must either be authenticated by the Ecuadorian consulate in the relevant country, or stamped with an apostille. A country’s foreign ministry usually has an office which stamps the apostille on documents. In the UK you can send it off or go in person to London to get this done.
Applicants will then have to provide a series of documents particular to each type of visa which will almost always need to be originals or notarized copies. When the documents are specific to your home country they need to be authenticated as described above and possibly translated. Basically you need to plan in advance.
Things to bear in mind
If you have a basic tourist visa (12-X) you cannot usually apply for an immigrant visa in Ecuador.
Any immigrant visa allows you the right to work. Article 8 of the Constitution guarantees foreigners the same rights as Ecuadorians.
If you are given an immigrant visa then you cannot leave Ecuador for more than 90 days total (lapso) in each of the first two years, nor for a period of more than 18 months after the third year.
Registering and filling in your online visa application
1. There is a portal on the government website www.ministeriodelinterior.gob.ec . It has a pretty good design and aims to give you all the information you need. It’s definitely a giant leap for transparency but unfortunately some of the information is currently incorrect. However all applicants must use it to make their application. The portal only works if you are using the Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome web browsers.
2. Enter the portal where you find the link to the Dirección General de Extranjería – Sistema de Gestión de Visas on the ministry home page.
3. There are 3 menus to choose from. The menu on the left (Información) gives general information about applications, including the Guia de Usuario which can guide you through all the steps you should follow (in Spanish). The menu in the centre (Registro) leads you to register as a user and modify any information. It is necessary to register before you make any application. Note this is different to registering a visa. The menu on the right (Trámite Nuevo) leads you to make an application for any of the services that the Extranjería offer, namely issuing, transferring registering or cancelling a visa and requesting certificates eg. to be issued with a new ID card.
4. In the Registro menu, click on Registrar como Nuevo Usuario and enter your information. Your details are now recorded. You can change them at any time but that is what will be transferred to any new application you make.
5. In the Trámite Nuevo menu, enter your unique ID (your passport number) and select the type of document you require. This will generate an application form which you should check and complete as necessary before finally clicking to submit it.
6. An email will be sent to you (usually to your Spam box) with a copy of the application which you have to print out. In addition you or the person who is applying for you have to write a formal letter requesting and justifying the document.
7. You then go and present all the information in the Extranjería. The list of required documents to present is written at the back of the application which you have just printed. However in my case it was incomplete. If you are making any application go and check the list of documents carefully with a member of staff to be sure what else you require. I can maybe help you if you email me.
I have written to and met the director of the Extranjería in Guayaquil who assured me that they were working to correct the errors and improve the process. (March 2012)
NOTE: One problem that I had was that when I registered I entered my mother´s maiden name ( in Ecuador they use the apellido materno as a surname). When my certificate was produced this was included as part of my name. After 6 years here I have kind of accepted that Ecuadorians like you to have two surnames so I didn´t raise it as an issue. However in the Registro Civil they clarified that in order to produce your ID card the certificate must say exactly the same name as in your passport. That cost me 3 days and about 13 hours to sort out.