Last week was an interesting week, and it has me appreciating this country in a new light.
I extended my visit for an extra three months from what the original date read when my passport was first stamped when I entered El Salvador back in January*. The impressive part was the process that took place and how efficient it was. El Salvador’s considered as a third world country, but their immigration office, facilities, staff, and proficiency is absolutely first class.
My only complaint has more to do with Google than it does with El Salvador. Don’t bother searching for San Salvadorian addresses on Google maps, not even for such pertinent locations as the office of immigration. Nor is it much worth your time to ask Google what it thinks you should bring to the office of immigration. Your search efforts would have better chances of finding relevant returns hidden in blogs. And that’s where I found the assistance I used to prep for my extension request as the web was unable to point me to any official website with a government checklist for the application process.
At the immigration office, I wizzed through the first line at the front of the building—a wait barely long enough to notice the signs alerting me to keep aware of my rights as a foreigner in El Salvador and the resources at my disposal to keep aware—and on to another large room towards the back of the well air conditioned building. I waited there for some minutes, and was called to a cubicle deeper still towards the back of the building. There, an official dropped off the application; some paper work for my housemate, Carlos (who was there to “vouch” for me in an official kind of way); dictated the instructions; and reviewed in confirmation the checklist of supplemental materials I would need to attach to the application. It took maybe an hour to fill out the application, but wasn’t too complicated. The official that dropped off the paperwork for us would intermittently check in on us between seeing other foreigners. Finally after we finished the paper work, she looked it over, and instructed us where we could go to obtain the supplemental material. (Not before this time did she reveal that she spoke the best English I’ve heard in El Salvador apart from my translator.) We were to bring it back to her that afternoon, wait until the next day for them to review my application, and come back for the answer.
Following the official’s instructions, we went to the mall to obtain a passport sized photo, a copy of Carlos’ identification, copies of my passport and active visa pages, and to print up proofs that I have funds (essentially, this serves to prove that I’m not a burden or here to take El Salvador’s jobs). After catching the first leg of the BFC-PSG Champion’s League quarterfinal in the food court, we journeyed back to the immigration office, wizzed through the same first line, and in minutes had dropped off our application now complete with the required attachments. They instructed me to come back at 3:30 the next day.
My taxi connection decided we would arrive at 2:30 instead. Past the wiz-line proceeded I and awaited 3:30’s arrival, but one-by-one, three different officials beat the minute to the punch. After realizing I was the 3:30 guy, each one informed me that I was early. I politely responded to each official that I was aware I was early and that I was in no hurry. Nonetheless, they passed me my approved passport (approved for ten extra days than which I had applied for), and I was out the door before 3:30.
This is an excellent picture of El Salvador’s proficiency and their competence to handle the official stuff. Last summer, when we were preparing for my first trip in August, the Salvadoreño team leaders instructed us dudes to wear jeans to church and for the dames to wear skirts/dresses. I got on my trendy, modern, pro-relationship-anti-religion high horse and assumed this was
the result of stuffy piousness often prevalent in Latin American cultures. Unfair assumption. They take pride in doing things officially here. Still in the poorest communities and the most urbane of settings, El Salvador is tedious to mind their p’s and q’s. In beach towns it’s taboo to walk into even a tourist gift shop directly off shore without your sandals or t-shirt. Teenagers on campus have often asked me why i’m wearing the same shirt so often, or what’s up with the every-day flip flops? It’s a part of them here to be well kempt, and this is reflected from the bottom of the social class to the top governing officials. And i can appreciate that.
*To me, this smells like a tourist visa, looks like a tourist visa, sounds like a tourist visa (and thereby making this blog’s subject-event a visa extension), but for whatever reason the government of El Salvador refuses to call it as such. (I can’t remember the word for what they call it in Spanish.) If you are aware of the difference, please take advantage of the comment box, below. Enlighten me!