DIY Residency Part 1

I’m overdue on this update – we have started the official residency processing. Lisamaria and I are doing this as much as possible “do-it-yourself” – both to save money, and because that’s the kind of people we are. At least in travel. Not so much on home repair, jejejeje.

Two weeks ago we made a day-trip into Montevideo, to visit the Dirreción Nacional de Migraciones – the National Directorate of Immigration. Quite friendly and helpful office. Purpose: to deliver our “Carta del Soliciud para Cambio de Categoria” – our letter of request for Change of Category, from Tourist, to Resident.

certificates of arrival as residents in processing

Said letter which I wrote myself, by the way, primarily in Spanish as the original language rather than translated. Simple language and phrasing, explaining as required why we wanted to become residents, how we could afford it, where we lived, and the bare facts (passport numbers, dates of birth, etc.)

Obviously we had done a lot of research ahead of time, and had chatted with cyberspace and local expat friends. However, we did not hire any kind of “expeditor”, of which there are many, nor an immigration lawyer. We had arranged a tradeout of editing-for-translation with one of Lisa’s clients. Because what would be a “Mark & Lisa have an adventure” experience without something going wrong, they had a conflict and couldn’t make it.  So we were on our own with my long-ago junior high, high school, college, and once-in-a-while self-studied español and Lisa’s 9  months in Uruguay osmosis-spanish for this first visit.

Result: Two “Certifcado de LLegada” with a “calidad de residente permanente en trámite.” – Certificates of Arrival as Permanent Residents in Processing. With an appointment for our official “iniciar” – start of processing – for November 1. By then, we will have to present a number of items:

  • Birth Certificates legalized both in the USA by the Uruguayan Consulate-General covering the area of the USA where issued (already done), and then registered in Uruguay with the MREE (Ministry of External Relations) – not yet done and requires at least 3 visits!, and then filed with the DNI (Dirección de Identidad Nacional – Directorate of National Identity – 1 or 2 more appointments!)
  • Rinse-and-repeat the above for Marriage Certificate, including having to get it from New York City and send it to the NYC Consulado-General del Uruguay in the USA; then all those MREE and DNI visits.
  • FBI Criminal History record; most easily obtained from the INTERPOL office in Montevideo, Uruguay rather than going through the FBI in the USA directly. INTERPOL is used to getting requests from USA folks; the FBI in the USA is not used to dealing directly with “Americans” for this type of request.
  • Uruguay health exam certificate for purposes of immigration – the same exam that all uruguayos have to get every couple of years, to renew their cédula (certificate of national identity for work). Not a heavy-duty special pass/fail subjective like for example Immigration Canada requires and uses to screen out Canadian Immigrants.
  • Statement by an escribana (essentially a certified public accountant) that we have sufficient income available in Uruguay in order to support ourselves with our proposed lifestyle in Uruguay. Until recently, this only had to be $500USD. It has never been the $1500 that Uruguay Consulates in the USA sometimes quote; that’s a now-expired special fast-track-to-citizenship for retirees that also has a $100,000 real-estate purchase or 6-year-deposit-bond requirement. Nowadays the regular process is rumored to want to see “proof you can afford it” rather than specifically $500, and they prefer to see that you already have a home in Uruguay which you’re affording. Which we do, and can prove.We have to prove it to the accountant; then she/he writes the letter to DNM. We don’t have to prove it directly to Uruguay’s DNM immigrations people. I’ve already put together the spreadsheet showing that our freelance and my former company’s closed-out-pension-into-monthly-annuity income more than covers it. And we’ve been continuously paying an apartment, utilities, food, meds, everyday living expenses, for 10 months already, with at least one of us living there continuously since Sept 1 2011, and in our permanent apartment since 1 December. So the numbers work, and work even better once we no longer have any USA living expenses as of August.

For the November interview, and even perhaps for the meeting with the escribana, we will need that translator, to make sure we can fully understand any questions and completely communicate our positions and responses.

But this is a comprehensible, fair, attainable process. I am highly impressed by how welcoming, helpful, and fair both the official process and the officials with whom we’ve already worked with have been.

Can you imagine what some uruguayo trying to move to the USA legally has been going through at the same time? The US is certainly still a great country, despite its (ours, I’m still an “American”) flaws, and there are good reasons why a non-“American” would want to become an “American”. Yet just to get a visa to visit the USA, a uruguayo would have to undergo an in-person interview at the US Embassy in Montevideo, and I’m guessing it would be a whole lot less friendly than our very nice chat with the DNM official Montevideo. Nor did we have to get wanded, patted down, searched, or otherwise go through security to enter her office.

I did have to get permission to leave Uruguay and to return home to Uruguay after my visit back to the USA, where I am now until sometime in August. As now an immigrant in process, I can’t just up and leave Uruguay and expect to re-enter as a tourist. Thus, for 496 Pesos Uruguayos (about $24 US), I purchased a permit (looks almost like the Certificados above) that let me leave from Carrasco International Airport a few days later, stamped that I exited. I will present it for re-entry when I return home to Uruguay in August.

As an “American” I admittedly had a moment of “WTF I need a permit to leave this country?” (probably a flashback to East Germany November 1989 two weeks before the wall fell detained by the failing regime with a STASI plant in the Checkpoint Charlie waiting room), but immediately sanity resumed. (Or insanity, for those readers who think my whole expatriation is insane.) Of course I needed a permit – I just told them I have arrived in Uruguay as tourist but now want to live here permanently – leaving a few days later without special notice is bizarre if the intent is to begin a permanent new life there. I am not leaving Uruguay as “American”, I was leaving it temporarily, as a “Potential Uruguayan in process”; one who did not yet have any permanent Uruguayan identification. So of course it is reasonable for my new country to keep track of my comings and goings out of and into it until I am officially a Uruguay Resident. At that point, I can then come and go as I please. Which by then may be easier than exiting the USA with all the crackdowns the US Government is making (Ex-PATRIOT Act proposals, stop-and-frisk, etc.)

I have to say that when I returned to the USA via San Francisco, I enjoyed my interaction with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement agent. I of course entered as a US Citizen, my only legal nationality, in the US Citizen/Resident Line. He asked me, “Purpose of your visit to Uruguay?” I replied “I’m moving there.” With an inquisitive and slightly surprised look, he responded, “Why?” I was taught to tell the truth. In general unless it will be hurtful, and always to Immigrations officials. So I answered, “Freer country.”

His look was priceless!

It’s not my only reason. But it is one of them.

Please be clear: I don’t recommend that everyone wanting to do this, try to do it yourself. We also are early in the process, and may well need to hire some assistance beyond the escribana and translator if things go sideways. There are good people out there able to provide some or all of the assistance you may need, including end-to-end document preparation, legal representation, and all the rest But for some people, doing this yourself, with research and initiative is possible. Other people may want to do some of it yourself, some of it with assistance. For some folks, hiring somebody to do it all is the best choice.

As we find out more and move deeper into the process, Lisa and I will be providing info to help others do it too, based on what we do right and wrong and how we learn from the experience. I’m sure at least some hilarity will ensue.

Published by

Mark Mercer

Site co-owner Mark Mercer. AKA Marcos Cristoforo Mercer, AKA the Fuzzy Wanderer. Expat from USA living in Uruguay as of mid-2012, after "test-driving" it for a few months in 2011 and early 2012. Married to Lisamaria, AKA well-known travel and fitness writer Lisa Marie Mercer. Follow Mark on Twitter @mcmxs and his many other sites, which you can find at I write and engage about many of my other interests, on Google+ at

7 thoughts on “DIY Residency Part 1”

  1. Hello! This is really helpful as we are looking to do the same thing! I am visiting Uruguay for a few days to check things out and I would be interested to know what I need to do first to get things moving! I will be coming in from Brazil (although I am English). We also have 2 mascotas so your advice on that process would be greatly appreciated as well! Thanks in advance!

    1. Jenny, thank you for finding our blog and for your questions!

      What's the first thing to do? Well, you're already doing it – visiting and hopefully looking around more than just the touristic spots.

      Lisa and I found it important to do a series of trips. Nicknamed our "Uruguay Reality Check Trip" (10 days April-May 2011), followed by a "Uruguay Test Drive Trip" where we rented a 2-month temporary apartment in one of the locations we considered for permanent living. Because I know some Spanish, and I had some work and biz issues to deal with in the States, I went for only 2-3 weeks of that, while she was there the whole time, extending it to 3 months.

      If you're on your equivalent of our "Reality Check" visit, I suggest: Lots of visits to hardware stores, meat stores (carnicerias), local grocery stores (the corner ones, not just the big Safeway, Kroger, or Tesco-equivalent Tienda Inglesa or Supermercado Disco). Fruit stands. Vet shops (pet stores tend to be combined with veterinary offices). Poke around the competing mobile phone companies. Look in the Farmacias for what your medications cost, and what your cosmetics and health and skin care items go for. Not just at your own brands, but look for equivalents in local/regional brands. In other words, even if you can't cook in your hotel, don't have to buy furniture, don't have to fix the plumbing or do the gardening out back to keep the weeds out of the parrillada, find out how much the things you'd need for that would cost.

      At the same time, get out and around. Even if planning to be city-dwellers and looking at Montevideo's popular-with-expats Pocitos neighborhood, get up the Rambla to Buceo and Malvin too, and in a bit to Malvin Norte. You may find similar but more affordable properties whether rental or purchase, and better deals on everyday services. If looking at the Costa D'Oro where we are (Atlantida and the smaller towns) be sure to look at those smaller towns. Wally and Denise Glass, on the wallyinuruguay blog on my blogroll, chose one of those smaller towns. Get further up the coast, too. We spent a few days out along the Rocha departamento coastline, at La Paloma where Julie Butler and Jamie Douglass wrote about and just returned to (see the Connectively Speaking blog on my blogroll) in her "Nine Months In Uruguay" book. We decided that we really liked it, but that it was just a bit too remote from the rest of the country for our first home in Uruguay, but that maybe in a few years we might move further up coast to around there. Definitely make a trip to the charming Piriápolis, a larger yet in some ways mellower resort town than Atlántida (less is open in the winter, but it is a grander vista).

      Heck, we even did the drive all the way up to Chuy/Chui at the uncontrolled Free Trade Zone on the Uruguay/Brasil border to check out the shopping, and for a great meal at "Fusion" before driving back the couple of hours to La Paloma.

      Absolutely go to Colonia, but also the other towns in the Colonia departamento for ideas of where you'd like to live. Colonia is many people's first impression of Uruguay; it was ours on the typical 8-hour day-trip from Buenos Aires back in 2006, our only trip until our "Reality Check" visit. We started our Reality Check back in Colonia, though we flew into MVD that time and never touched Argentina. However we did the prowling of residential neighborhoods, paint stores, vets, local restaurants. Then we drove to Colonia Valdenese, to back road small towns, to Rosario, then on a tip from a real estate agent in Colonia, up to the tiny old town of Conchillas where there apparently are good values. We had a great meal at the one inn in town, but it was a bit too bucolic for me. From there we headed up to Carmelo, then took back roads back to Atlantida.

      What kind of mascotas? Getting the pets into Uruguay once they arrive is simple, far simpler than many countries. The problem with it, which we're still struggling with about our large dog, a Greyhound, is that the cost of shipping a large crate (the nbr 700 Giant crate, which our dog requires), is prohibitive. Or barely-affordable but problematic. Not from Uruguay's perspective, but from the various airlines which will fly crated animals to Uruguay.

      Our cat was simple, once I realized I could take him in-cabin via either of Central American airlines Taca or Copa as an in-cabin underseat pet. Most airlines do not allow in-cabin pets on international flights even if they do on domestic. So that ruled out American Airlines, the only USA-Uruguay direct carrier. (I've got plenty other reasons to rule out American Airlines, but that's a post I did over at my general travel blog – look for "Why do you hate American Airlines, Dad?") Going in-cabin also eliminated any issues of temperature-based (AA, Delta, some others) or time-of-year-based (Copa, others) embargos on bringing pets due to expected tarmac heat at loading, connecting, unloading. For example, American will outright refuse to load your pet if their met office predicts a temperature of 85F anywhere along your route – origination, connection (if any), or arrival. We have an expat couple friends who barely got out of Miami to Montevideo with their dog because of that policy. And don't expect American to put you up for the night or let you change your ticket if they decide not to accept your checked-baggage pet.

      I'll have a post soon about requirements for pets into Uruguay. Hopefully also soon having an answer to "but what of the dog?" – which due to him and his crate being too big for $175 checked-baggage pet, must go Cargo. Where American wants $4895. I may go through Argentina, where United only wants $489, but then there are hundreds if not thousands of dollars involved (depending on which "expeditor" you talk to) in costs to get the dog the short distance AR-UY. Other airlines have different bureuacratic issues, like LAN which will fly him for $900 from LA, but LAN in Miami (in some ways more convenient, shorter flight, and who I am flying back to Uruguay in August) refuses to take pets as cargo at all – even though the same airline. LAN in LA requires me to spend hundreds to get him to LAX, then find a California vet, then find the California branch of the USDA, even though I could get the exact same USA USDA export certificate from the US state of Colorado where the dog and I am and will be leaving from. It's not like we're talking Scotland vs. England, for heaven's sake!

      Later this year we may be putting together an overall information and DIY packet, book, or course. But we're still discovering things ourselves, and happy to share what we know.

  2. Terrific information, Mark – thanks to you and Lisa Marie… really nice to find *current* posts on an expat blog!
    My BF and I are seriously looking at Uruguay, with a 3-week trip in March?April? 2014. I know, a long time off, but it will go fast! And we've started reading and planning, converting CDs to MP3s and a hundred other things in advance.
    I'll check back frequently… thanks again!

  3. Great info! I am thinking of moving with my husband and three kids and the process seems daunting! We are not retired and I am wondering about job prospects for both myself and my husband are. Also, are there bi-lingual or English speaking schools for the kids? Thanks so much!!

    1. Hi Kristina, thanks for discovering our blog!

      The process of moving is always daunting, especially with kids, even if it's just to another city in the same part of the same country!

      My kids are grown, so I don't have firsthand info on schools. The public school system in Uruguay is very good, and English is taught as required foreign language nowadays, but I don't beileve they would have any public bilingual schools. Certainly not the way my old Colorado neighborhood had to by law provide taxpayer-funded education in Spanish for our many neighborhood children who were from Mexican, Guatamalean, Honduran families. I'm pretty sure that at least in Montevideo there may be private bilingual schools if you want to pay tuition and would be living in the area.

      Jobs? I would have said "not likely for self-moved immigrants/expats" (as opposed to those whose companies moved them which is why they came here.) I had given up on rebooting my big-company software engineering career after two years of unemployment following the financial meltdown.

      Then I move to Uruguay, start enough of my residency process a few months ago as to be eligible for the provisonal "resident in processing" cédula (national ID) – and a major USA-based Silicon Valley Cloud Software company reaches out to me, unsolicited, recruiting me for a job as a Senior Technical Writer for their e-commerce development team, which is globally headquartered here in Uruguay. I start on Monday!

      So who knows? Uruguay's economy is growing, and having a semi-socialized/semi-private health system to relieve the burden on companies while having many business-friendly tax policies and an excellent modern infrastructure where it counts (clean water and high speed fiber optics even under dirt roads) means that perhaps job chances are better here than in the Global North.

      But with children, I would not move here speculatively, unless without jobs you have an income stream that can support your family. Primarily for the welfare of your family. But also because even with a lot of savings, what Uruguay immigration wants to see is income. Not assets, but an ongoing stream of income sufficient to live on.

      Renting out your home in the USA is of course one way of proving that income. Having freelance income can be another part of it or all of it. But "we saved up a lot of money" will not work to prove it.

      As to the daunting process, beyond the "any move is daunting" I mentioned – it really isn't. Not in terms of the legalities. Not if you learn enough about the process to navigate it, and to understand why there are various steps to follow.

      That's part of what we're about here, and in a few months, we will be putting together an ebook and/or customized info packets to help people plan their own self-guided immigration to Uruguay.

      Good luck and please feel free to ask any other questions – we'll help if we can!


  4. I appreciate all the great info! I would like to take a trip down there with my husband to scope out areas we might like to live as well as some job prospects. I know there is a medical tourism industry and having fluent English speakers might be a need! I still have a lot more research to do and I look forward to your E-book!!

    Thanks again!

    Kristina 🙂

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