[Edit, 2016: Pretty much nothing in this article is relevant anymore, repeated changes to the way things are done have, well, completely changed the process.]
Buenos Aires – As I noted the other day, I’m in the midst of working on a longer term visa. One of the things that Argentina requires for all documentation that comes from other countries, is something called an Apostille. This is basically a certification from an office such as the Secretary of State in the U.S., or Ministries of Foreign Relations in other countries, that says, “hey, this document comes from a legitimate source, is signed by a real person, and the signature is notarized by an authorized person.” Now, that, of course, means that all documents you submit have to be signed by a real person, who gets their signature notarized, then the notarization has to be certified as legitimate by the county in which the notary is registered, and then the Secretary of State’s office in that state certifies that the certification of the notarization of the signature of the legitimate source is all valid. Needless to say, if you don’t figure out some of the shortcuts, and if you don’t get the paperwork done while you’re back in the U.S., it can get complicated. It’s taken some research, but gradually it’s all come together.
[Effective as of January 2010 you now need to pay an entry fee when you enter Argentina if you are US, Canadian or Australian citizen. This fee does not guarantee a visa, and you go to migraciones next – they can, and occasionally do, still turn people away – the $140 fee is valid for 10 years for Americans, I believe it’s a $120 for Australians and good for 5 years, and $75 for Canadians, but only good for a one time entry. Other countries are effected by various direct visa application fees, so you’d have to check those out with your local consulate or online.]
(1) First, you need a certified copy of your birth certificate – a real certified, with embossed seal copy. Not a photocopy. All fifty states, I believe, have some method of requesting one by mail, telephone, e-mail, and/or fax. Some allow you to pay by credit card. You’ll have to check out your state of birth’s website to figure it out – look for something like the Office of Records, or Vital Statistics, or something along those lines. Then, search their website for how to get that certificate apostilled. My birth state, Wisconsin, allows faxed requests and credit card payments, which made it easy. Once the certificate arrived, I faxed a form to the state’s apostille office that gave them the birth certificate number and issue date, they mailed me the apostille with just that information.
(2) You need a copy of your criminal record from the U.S., if you have one, or a report that you don’t have one. You can get one through your local police department or state police department if you’re in the States, or have someone do it for you. In most states, you then have to, as noted above, get the report notarized, county certified, and then state apostilled. It’s a lot of running around. You can get an FBI record taken care of all by mail, either from within the U.S. or from here in Argentina…
Go to the FBI website, specifically the Criminal Justice Investigation Services Division, and to the page for an FBI record request:
On that page, you can download and print a copy of the Cover Letter that you need to fill out and sign (make sure to note that you need it for an apostille in Argentina)
You can download the official fingerprint card (which they will accept on plain white paper of decent grade), or, you can send an e-mail to the US Embassy here in Buenos Aires (Buenosaires-ACS@state.gov) and they’ll mail you an official card – takes about 3-4 days.
And you can either send a check for $18 made out to the Treasury of the United States (as of now) or print out and fill out the credit card authorization form.
For the fingerprints, you can go to your local comiseria (police station) and they’ll do it for free here. The FBI does not require that fingerprints be done by anyone certified or official, so if you’re comfortable taking legible prints of yourself or loved ones, you can just use an indelible black inkpad. I don’t recommend that unless you really know what you’re doing, as if they’re not legible, they’ll reject the request, send it back to you, and you’re out the $18.
Mail it all to:
FBI CJIS Division – Record Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, West Virginia 26306
Officially, they say to allow 8-10 weeks from their receipt for processing, plus the mailing time at both ends (no extra charge for mailing it to Argentina, by the way).
Make sure to ask them for a letter stating that FBI reports are not apostilled by the FBI. Tell them you need a certification letter for an apostille. If you want them to expedite it, give them a date and a reason for that date that you need it by on both the cover letter and on the outside of the envelope you mail it in – no guarantee they’ll honor it, but I found they got pretty close both times I did it. They did decline to overnight the record back to me, even if I provided an overnight envelope and prepaid filled out form, apparently they just don’t do it. Once you get it, you’ll have to go to the Department of State’s website, search for the apostille information, download and fill in the request form, and send it all back to them along with a check for whatever the current fee is. That’ll all take another couple of weeks to get back.
Depending on who you ask, you may then need to get your record notarized and apostilled – some folks say yes, some say that the FBI letter is sufficient (if you want it all done in the states, have them send it to you care of a friend there, who can then forward it on to the appropriate place):
The office in West Virginia that notarizes, certifies, and apostilles FBI records is (luckily they do it all in one office!), which may not be a bad precaution in case you get a person who insists the record be apostilled (I did not need to get it apostilled, they accepted the FBI “no apostille necessary” letter without question, and most people I know have had the same experience – I think maybe local immigration folk only do it to someone who annoys them…):
Secretary of State
Building 1, Suite 157-K
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston, West Virginia 25305-0770
The fee for combined notarization and apostille (specify what country it’s for) is $10 as of now, again, check the link above to see if anything’s changed. If you want other than standard mail return within the U.S., you have to provide an envelope and return postage or for overnight services, a filled out form for the return along with your account number on it (if you don’t have an account for Fedex, DHL, etc., you could send it to yourself with a “collect on delivery” option, from the U.S. to here, a Fedex envelope runs somewhere between US$45 and US$50.
(3) You need the same record from the Federal Police here in Argentina. The easiest place by far to do this is at the Registro Nacional de Reincidencia (you can go to the Federal Police station, and it will cost slightly less, but it will take much longer to get your record – anywhere from 15-45 days, and it’s more of a hassle). The office is located at Tucumán 1353, right off 9 de Julio. They’re open from 7:30 in the morning to 7:00 at night, Monday through Friday. The process is pretty simple – you get in line for the information desk. When you get to the front of the line, they’ll ask how much you want to pay – you have a choice – you can get your record in 8 hours for 50 pesos, 24 hours for 40 pesos, or 5 business days for 26 pesos (check the link above to see if the amounts or hours have changed). They’ll give you the appropriate form and a turn number. Immediately take that form and you’ll see a couple of banking windows across the lobby from the desk – go there and pay. Fill out the form – there are examples of how to fill it out posted in a couple of places on the walls. Then watch for your number to be called on the electronic signs above – they tend to call about 6-7 numbers at a time, you go line up in that order and see the next agent. I’d say they process roughly 3-4 people every five minutes, so it moves at a relatively decent clip. You need your original passport and a copy of your passport (front pages only). The first time I went they told me I needed a copy of something that proved where I lived, either a factura in my name, or a certificado de domicilio (more in a moment), but then the agent never looked at it, and the second time I went they didn’t mention it. If you’re doing the five business day version, they’ll take standard inked fingerprints. If you’re doing the 8 or 24 hour version, it’s pretty cool, they use a laser system, much like a grocery store bar code reader, that reads your prints right into the computer – no fuss, no mess! You’re done, other than coming back at the appropriate time and getting your results. [Note: This is all more streamlined now – you make an appointment online at the website above, go at that time, they take the fingerprints by laser scan, give you a code number, and the next day you can simply go to the website and printout your report.]
(4) You need a Certificado de Domicilio. The easiest and cheapest way to get this is to go to your local comisaria (police station), see the person who processes stuff like that, it’s usually a desk clerk of some sort. They take your name and address (have your passport with you to show them), and 10 pesos. They’ll give you an appointment time, usually the following day or the day after, with about a 4-5 hour window. You have to be there during that time. Someone will show up with a clipboard, you show them your passport to prove it’s you, and they sign and seal the certificate and give it to you.
(5) Your original passport and a full copy of it – every single page, up-to-date exactly as it is the day of processing.
The forms from the U.S. need to be translated by an officially certified document translator. The translation then needs to be certified that it was really translated by an officially certified document translator. Most translators can get that done for you or refer you to the office that will do it for you. Since I went through an immigration lawyer, he took care of the translator and the legalization. If you have an older passport that is only in English, you’ll need to get the front pages translated and legalized as well – anyone with a passport issued in the last few years should have one that has all the info in English, French, and Spanish all on the same page, so you don’t need to get it translated, you’ll just need a decent copy of it. If you have to do the legalization yourself, it’s easy – the address is Corrientes 1834, you just walk in, give them the translated documents and the fee (currently about AR$15) and they’ll do it in about 20-30 minutes. Just have a seat and they’ll call you when it’s ready.
Finally, it comes down to the type of residency you’re applying for. There are multiple types, and they require various different types of documentation. Just be aware that ANY, repeat ANY, document that comes from outside of Argentina needs to be notarized and apostilled and then translated and legalized – anyone who tells you otherwise just happened to get lucky (which does happen, I know people who submitted paperwork without and still got their visas), or they just don’t know. If you’re working with someone who knows the various processes, they should be able to tell you what you need. If not, you can go to the Migraciones office at Av. Antártida, in between Puerto Madero and Retiro Station, and sit in the information area waiting your turn at the info desk (sometimes for hours) and hope they give you the correct information. If you already know what you need and have collected it all together, go past the info waiting area into the document processing area, grab yourself a turn number and wait (depending on day and time there could be 5 or 50 people in front of you). A clerk will look the stuff over – and has the option of accepting or rejecting it. Although apparently most of them are pretty good about telling you what’s wrong with it if they reject it, I gather they don’t actually have to, and some folks have had the experience of just getting their papers handed back with a “no”, and no further explanation. You have to pay a 200 peso filing fee at the same time – not to the clerk, there’s a window to pay at.
[Much of this has changed since this was written – now, as of January 2010, other than if you’re marrying an Argentine, there are basically no longer any permanent residency visas. Most of them are three-year temporaries, and you have to renew them with all the same paperwork (except the birth certificate) every three years. For the rentista and jubilada, the two most common ones, you now have to show a source of non-work related income that gives you
US$1000 US$2400 a month (as of July 2010 – from a trust fund, rental income, business investment of some sort other than a volatile market investment like stocks, or a retirement fund), and it either a) has to be paid to you directly here in Argentina to a bank via wire transfer, with a certification as to the source, or b) if it’s paid to you in the States or another country, you have to get a certification from the State Department or an equivalent verifying the source of the income, that it isn’t just a self-referential source, i.e., setting up a trust to pay yourself every month and just recycling the amount, and in both cases, showing a minimum of 6 months of having received the amount, and that it is guaranteed to continue at least through the three year period you are applying for. Good luck with either of those! All documents, like everything else, need to be notarized, apostilled, translated, and legalized.]
From that point, you’re in the hands of fate and whim. The basic thing seems to be the mood and caseload of the person whose desk your file gets tossed on. It gets reviewed by that person, then if they approve that generally you have everything you need, it goes to the legal department who verify and scrutinize everything. I know people who’ve gotten an answer back in a week, others have taken 3-4 months. And there are always unexplained exceptions, like a woman I know here who hit it off in conversation with the processing clerk, who walked her paperwork back to one of the lawyers, got him to sign off on it, and then came back and handed her her acceptance. [This has also changed, you now go to the immigration website and click on “Solicite su Turno” down at the bottom, fill out the info and pick an appointment time. Show up then, the processing is very streamlined now, and much more impersonal – you’re no longer at a desk, it’s now bank teller style windows with glass fronts and everything – you slide your documents through and they look them over, pretty much without talking to you unless they have a question. So there’s no more casual chatting, bringing gifts of cookies, or what have you. And it’s all supervised, so more devious methods probably won’t pass either. And although they say that processing is now within a couple of weeks, Henry just went through this and it took nearly a year to get a final response, though, he’s applying under a different set of rules, for Mercosur/Comunidad Andina citizens, so those may be processed differently, I don’t know.]
The final process seems to vary as well. Once you have the authorization for a temporary residency visa (depending on type, either 1 or 2 years), which is renewable generally once or twice, and then if you want, you can apply for a permanent residency visa (which is not citizenship) – by the way, you need at least a temporary residency visa to get what’s called a DNI, or national ID number, which gets you all sorts of nifty discounts and services. Some folks say that you can get your visa stamped right there at Migraciones, others say you have to go to another office, others say you have to go to an Argentine embassy in any other country (there’s one nearby in Montevideo, Uruguay), and still others claim you have to get it at the Argentine embassy in your home country – all before the authorization expires, which I believe is 60 90 days. I’m not quite to that point, so I can’t tell you which version I’m going to get… [Experience suggests that you only have to go back to an embassy in another country if a) you applied at a consulate overseas in the first place or b) you had someone do all your paperwork for you and you were not present during the document processing. It seems that if they actually meet you at both the processing and then getting your authorization for a visa, all you have to do is exit and re-enter the country (ferry to Colonia will do it, lunch and come back), show them the paperwork on your return and they’ll stamp your passport with a three-year visa.]