DIY Residency Part 2

Time for an update on what’s happened since June

But first, for those so-called experts in the various online Expat Forums who keep telling us “you’re doing it wrong” because we did things in a different order than them, and got our “llegadas” the day we walked into Migraciones without yet the INTERPOL, Health, or formal financial documentation:

Mark's Uruguayan Cédula
Mark’s Uruguay “Cédula de Identidad Nacional”

Yes it’s “Provisional” and I (as well as Lisa Marie) have the status of “Residente en Trámite” – a Resident in Processing. But this, friends, is what they would call back in the USA a “Green Card”.

I also love how the Uruguay cédula has an image of South America, with Uruguay’s location circled, because otherwise nobody knows where we are.


So here’s what we did to get our cédulas:

  1. Simply get our USA-issued and legalized-in-USA-by-Uruguay birth certificates translated by a Uruguayan Public Translator. Note – these documents were not yet “legalized” in Uruguay by the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry (MRREE Ministerio de Relaciones de Estados Exteriór), nor were they yet filed with the Uruguayan Civil Registry (Registro Civil del Estado), thus we could not yet have partidadas uruguayas (Uruguayan birth certificates). Yet every expat “expert” will tell you that is the exact thing you have to do, in that sequence. Or they’ll just complain about “all the stamps and fees you need”.
  2. Go to the DNIC (Direcion Nacional de Identidad Civil), pay 156 pesos (about eight dollars US) for an appointment to get our ID cards, which they offered as soon as that afternoon. We chose the next day for our convenience.
  3. Go to the appointment we set up for the next day. Check in, wait to be called, answer some straightforward factual questions, get picture taken, fingerprinted, and get the receipt to come back and pick it up a week later.
  4. Come back and pick it up a week later. Without having to wait in any lines at all to do so. The “week-later” is true for Uruguayan citizens too, other than children who get same-day service due to the burden for their parents to come in with them twice. It’s not something singled out for expats the way the bloggy whiners complain about without factual knowledge.

Of course I had read their website, and knew more or less what to expect. As well as having read and synthesized a lot of info from different blogs and wikis, without considering it as a hard-and-fast ‘recipe’. (That wiki is a great resource, but it still has a “this is the order you have to do things” misunderstanding and a sense of “you just need a bunch of stamps and numbers” lack of insight to the reasoning behind the process.)

We could have had our cédulas the day after we got our “llegadas” in mid-June – except that our updated US birth certificates (recent issued ones) had not come back from the Uruguay Consulate-General in our region of the USA yet by the time I got on the plane back to Uruguay in June. When I returned temporarily to the States in late June, they had been there a few days already. Those, and official translation of them, was the only missing link to our provisional “Green Cards”.

By the way, as of October 14, 2012, Uruguay no longer does “legalization” of documents, but rather has joined the Hague Convention on Apostilles, of which most but not all countries already belong (Canada is a big one that still doesn’t.) So they will no longer “legalize” documents from the USA, which was a two-step process: 1) Send the recent birth/marriage cert to the Uruguayan Consulate-General in the US, at the consulate that covers the part of the USA the document was issued in (not the region where you now live), and 2) In Uruguay, take that document to the Uruguayan Ministry of Foreign Relations Consular Services section to have it “Legalized” in Uruguay. Now, you get New York or Massachusetts or California themselves to issue a new certificate and have it “Apostilled” by the Secretary of State of that USA state. That in itself makes it legal in any country that is part of the Hague Convention on Apostilles.

Our updated Marriage Certificate is right in the middle of that Uruguay changeover. New York took too long to issue it, before I came back here permanently in mid-September after disposing of our condo in Colorado. My daughter got the forwarded mail and kindly sent it to the Consulado-General in New York City, along with the money order for legalization, exactly what I did with the birth certs a few months earlier. But Uruguay by then said “sorry, we don’t do legalization for USA anymore, go get a new certificate with an Apostille and it’s good in Uruguay.”

So yes, we got our cédulas even without any legal-in-Uruguay marriage certificate too! Including them recognizing that Lisa Marie Mercer is the same person as Lisa Marie <redacted-maiden-name-for-USA-identity-theft-protection>, because of course her birth cert has her maiden name, and in Uruguay women do not change their surname ever. Yet our application for residency was based on her passport name, Mercer, and the “llegada” thus had a different name than the birth cert for the cédula. Not a problem with the very nice people at DNIC – our over-two-decades-old marriage certificate, un-translated,  un-legalized, un-apostilled, and one of our wedding invitations (I’m a hopeless romantic and had brought it with me) was enough to do it!

When you go on the expat blogs, Facebook Uruguay Expats group (not ours! though we’re members of that group), Uruguay forums and the like, do carefully read what people have written about their experiences and their understanding of the process. There is good info there. But don’t take it as gospel, definitely not as universal truth. Many people, too many, improperly universalize their experiences as “the way it works”. Or because they are unable to create a mental model of what the process they are experiencing is (really, too lazy to do so), and thus have chosen to be non-understanding, they just moan about the difficulty and bureaucracy of it. Or, they throw money at law firms in the business of doing it all for them. Of which I mostly hear regrets or at least a disturbing lack of the expat/immigrant his/herself having any clue of what is happening to them. I suppose that’s ok for some people. But they’re frankly not the kind of people for whom we are writing this blog. We’re writing for intelligent, aware, involved people. Need help, need advice, need somebody to handle some parts of the process, confused about something, that’s fine.

But the “I just don’t understand and don’t want to understand and who do I pay to make all this happen?” – please go somewhere else, such as to the law firm that charges $3500 US, NOT including the actual fees paid to Uruguay and to agencies, per person. No I’m not going to link to them!

In the USA I was an introductory-level Professional Ski Instructor. Our professional organization, the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America), in recent years moved away from the concept of strict progressions in favor of “Stepping Stones” – multiple pathways from a beginning to a desired goal, with many tasks/skills to master, but different paths through them. And no mandatory sequence other than what is inherently logically required: e.g. you can’t learn to slide on level ground on skis before you learned to stand & balance on skis, and you can’t learn to stand & balance on skis before you learned to put on skis. But other stepping stones could be done in differing orders – I might for some student guests construct a progression of sliding downhill without first learning to stop (Yes that is ok!) if I selected terrain that had a flat or uphill runout, letting them get the thrill of the sport early in their experience, without yet worrying about speed control techniques. Others, if I felt they were fearful, or if we had a crowded teaching area, would get some basic stopping before we got going.

Getting your Uruguay Residency is like that, in my opinion and thus far in my and Lisa’s experience. Yes, the “official” (as far as the expat experts profess) order is a) get all your documents, legalizations, translations, health exams, police records, financial proofs ready, b) go to Migraciones to request an appointment “para inciar”, c) present everything at that appointment which is several months after you request it, and d) if they like all your documents, they will issue you the “Certificado de Llegada” as an in-process resident that lets you get your cédula. Months after you start. And you must have presented the legalized (now Apostiled) and legally-translated originating-country birth and marriage certificates, your Carné de Salud health certificate, and they must have received back from the FBI or Scotland Yard or wherever your police records, before they will issue that.

Yeah, that’s the official story. Or, you could give the country the courtesy of actually attempting to understand what they want, and: a) create your hand-crafted, personally written with secondary-school Spanish for authenticity, letter of request to change your category from tourist to resident (something the experts often forget or use obvious-paid-lawyer impersonal boilerplate), b) put together an unofficial portfolio and explanation of your freelance work, no escribana yet involved, c) go without an appointment to Migraciones, and d) perhaps the very nice and helpful people there will say to you “Quiere obtener su cédula ya?” (do you want to get your cédula already?), while also making your first “official” appointment for months later.

Sure, we need all the regular items before our rescheduled-to-April “official initiation” appointment – but we already have what would be in US-equivalent terms our provisional “Green Cards”, what in Immigration Canada terms is “landed immigrant” status. I got our birth certificates legalized in Uruguay a couple of weeks ago (they were legalized pre-Apostille-joining back in the USA earlier this year) Next day, I filed them in the Civil Registry. They should be officially on file and available for us to request Uruguay birth certificates by the end of this month. But Migraciones said they don’t need the certificates, and they already saw my receipts for filing them, when we went to our Nov 1 “iniciar” appointment with our cédulas already in hand, to request a postponed appointment. Yesterday I went to get my Uruguayan medical exam for the Carné de Salud. I will be given the Carné as soon as I provide them proof of my 2009 tetanus vaccination – if my US doctor complies with HIPAA (US Federal Law on health records access and privacy) and releases them directly to me as I requested. If not, I’ll need an unnecessary-but-cheap new shot at one of the local clinics. Lisa will need the same, as well as the free-for-all-women Pap smear and mammogram that are mandated as human health rights by Uruguay. We’ll get around to the INTERPOL Montevideo request to the FBI sometime in the next month. So by April we’ll have everything we need.

Oh, but what about that freelance income proof? We will likely still put together our confusing dozens-monthly Elance direct deposits in US accounts, PayPal and Google Wallet payments into an understandable cash-flow for an escribana, so as to get a letter verifying we make enough to live on. We do want to have that, given it’s the basis on which we got our approval for the provisional residency on our Day 1 walk-in meeting.

But it’s now moot – because Monday morning I start a “Real Job”, paid in pesos, as a Senior Technical Writer (in English) for the ecommerce division of a major Silicon Valley cloud software company, based at their ecommerce development hub here in Montevideo – with a “job letter” that is fine with Migraciones. A job which I was able to apply for, after they found me, because I had already obtained approval for provisional residency. Out of order, out of sequence, not relying on the “experts”. And with no lawyers, no expediters, no professional-get-your-residency types involved at all. The only thing we have paid other than the exact fees to government agencies and photocopy costs, is $1000 pesos, USS 50 per birth certificate for official translations by a licensed Public Translator, along with 200 pesos for two official “timbre” stamps she provided to make them legal.

On Monday, I become a Uruguayan taxpaying employee, a productive member of the Uruguayan economy, a member of the social welfare BPS system, with my employer’s BPS payments on my behalf going towards paying for our choice of mutualistas, for health care above and beyond the baseline national health to which we are already entitled with our cédulas. Without following everything in slavish sequence.

Now we’re not promising this will happen the same way for you as it has for us, but think about it – what’s our big “trick”? No trick at all.  It’s understanding and respecting the process. As opposed to thinking it’s some big inefficient “typical South American bunch of funcionarios who love to stamp things” disrespect. Or as opposed to paying big bucks to somebody to “take care of everything” while you remain in the dark.

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 2”

  1. Congratulations!

    I am delighted to read about your experience obtaining your cedula. This was very valuable information, as I am planning to move soon and will be going through the process shortly thereafter. I have visited several times — a truly lovely country.

    I look forward to reading more of your experiences.

    Thanks for the informative blog!


  2. Splendid news! Congrats on the job, too!

    [I think this page ate my post after I logged in – apologies if it ends up here twice]

    Short version – thanks for the detailed, even-keeled reporting. Such a nice alternative to out-of-date blogs or ones seemingly written with a chip on the shoulder. I'm about 2.5 years away from moving, but have started prepping for it (sorting through possessions, converting audio/video stuff to digital, gathering the documents). I look forward to asking questions, taking things in stride, enjoying all the things that make the Uruguayan culture unique… definitely not interested in living in a walled, ex-pat enclave like some countries have!

    Nos vemos, one of these days, I expect…

  3. I can't stress enough (mentioned in the post) to ignore the so-called "immigration specialists" and always go in favor of local fixers or immigration lawyers you find through the immigration office. They *always* hang out wherever the immigration paperwork is processed and they always work for local fees.

    Better yet…speak the language and do it all on your own, as Marc mentions, to save yourself a ton of money. I've done all my own paperwork here in Mexico, for example, and I've easily saved between $2,000 and $3,000 USD compared to many of my non-Spanish-speaking associates who pay "immigration specialists" with streamlined, English-language websites.

  4. Hi Mark,

    Nice post. As a professional immigration "specialist" I have a few comments. Doing residency yourself is a good option for those who have the time and desire. Not everyone does. I'm not trying to diminish your accomplishment, but obtaining your temporary cedula is the easiest part of the process (which you've already spent a lot of time working on). Let's chat in a couple of years and see how your file has progressed.

    Please don't get me wrong as I'm not trying to blast you and I truly hope your file moves forward smoothly. But I cant tell you how many clients of mine have come to me after 2 years of doing it on their own, only to learn that their file has not progressed one bit because they forgot to file a particular document on day 1, or what was filed was not filed correctly. Hopefully this won't be you. Or maybe if this happens to you it won't be the end of the world because you are not time sensitive. But many of my clients need to obtain permanent residency in the shortest time possible. For them, paying a $3,500 fee to know that their file is being handled properly by a competent lawyer is money well spent. I'm not sure why this seems so outrageous to you.

    Good luck and if you have any questions please feel free to reach out.

    Dean Steinbeck

    1. Hi Dean,

      Nice to know that you found us 🙂 and thank you for a thoughtful rather than a spammy reply.

      Paying U$S3500 for person one, plus 2500 for person 2, with a discount for added dependents, absolutely none of which (per your website fee schedule) even applies toward the fees due in Uruguay itself to various agencies, is a substantial amount for something that can be done by many people either on their own, or with informal networking among the expat/immigrant community, or to task-specific expediters for a single issue. Given that USA lawyers have zero standing in Uruguay, and that everything that needs to be done, needs to be done in Uruguay, I seriously question the need for your services. For most non-wealthy people considering moving here.

      The wealthy, and the aspiring-wealth market? Sure. But they aren't our audience. They aren't our market. Even for them, I would think that an in-Uruguay law firm that regularly interacts with the expat/immigrant community and provides a lot of free information, such as Fischer & Schickendanz <a href="http:// (,” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://(,” target=”_blank”>(, is a better choice. Let's be clear – I am neither condemning you nor recommending them. But they are here, they are regularly posting with and giving informational seminars to the community (yes for marketing purposes but with good free info too), rather than "You need a law firm in the USA to make sure everything is right" as their pitch. And the money people spend with them is within the Uruguayan economy, supporting the services that the new immigrant will be able to use like BPS with its Fonasa health payments for your mutualista and DGI taxes, rather than US Social Security and US Income Tax (if your firm pays taxes, unlike many US companies that find loopholes.) I see your pitch as almost a scare tactic with your lines about having the security of a US law firm monitoring your Uruguayan residency processing.

      What the heck legal standing do you even have, as US lawyers (your pitch) with any agency in Uruguay? I would think absolutamente nada.

      As to the on-the-ground services you provide, which absolutely are of value to some people, great! It's a free country with a mostly free-enterprise system (Uruguay, that is; I have my doubts about the USA on both counts nowadays!) Some people will want to be driven, with an interpreter, to the Migraciones office. Driven with an interpreter to a clinic for the Carné de Salud. Same or just a courier sent on their behalf to MRREE Consular division just behind Plaza Cagancha if they have documents to be legalized from non-Apostille countries, such as USA before 2014-10-14 or Canada even now. Then on to the MREC's Registro Civil del Estado at 933 Uruguay to file those birth certificates after legal public translation with the Civil Registry, and obtain the proof of said filing for Migraciones. Later going back to get the actual Uruguyan partidas – which for marriage are required by Migraciones but for birth are not, according to the Migraciones agent to whom I asked exactly that question three weeks ago at our appointment .

      Said appointment being the very first actual scheduled appointment we ever had, the one where you are supposed to walk in with having everything in order first – yet we walked in already having our cédulas in our wallets, from the walk-in visit in mid-June to request an appointment "para iniciar". The one where we walked out with Certificados de Llegada making us eligible for our provisional cédulas and granting us status as "residente en trámite" that very day! The only reason we didn't walk a few blocks over to DNIC to get the cédula (they do offer same afternoon appointments, at least they did to me) that day was the US Postal Service had delayed returning our updated birth certificates from the Consulado-General del Uruguay in New York according to US Express Mail standards! They should have but did not get back to me in the USA before I returned to Uruguay. I brought them with me in September when I flew down after closing out our US property.

      Seriously, where was the USD6000 value add you would have provided to self-starter, high-school-Spanish, want-to-engage-in-Uruguay, people like us? I can and have found all the offices myself, can read enough español to read the official Dirección Nacionál de Migración website and exact procedures and rules for what they need, can have a meaningful convo even in limited Spanish with the Migraciones agent after our interpreter couldn't make it, crafted our own non-boilerplate letter in Spanish with our reasoning for wanting to become Uruguayan residents and eventually citizens as our official Solicitud de Cambiar (Request to change category from Tourist to Resident). I can and did ask around for what clinics to get the Carné de Salud, and walked the half-km past Tienda Inglesa here in Atlántida to go to CCE and get the Carné. And yes, the right kind of Carné, para radiccacion y residencia. I asked at Migraciones if they had a list of Public Translators, got the list, called around, made an appointment, and got our docs translated. Translated birth certs, even before legalization, are in fact acceptable to DNIC for our first year of the provisional cédula, and that is even right on the DNIC website. Sure, I have to have our Uruguayan birth certificates by the one-year renewal point, but they have since been legalized at MREE (with only one fee because the translation, though done first, was done in Uruguay), and then were accepted by the Registro Civil. In a week or so when I find it convenient, I will pop into MVD to pick up the partidas from the Registro. Meanwhile without even a translate never mind legalized nor apostilled marriage certificate, the DNIC had zero problem using my wife's maiden name (and thus Uruguay-form of apellido) for her cédula although the llegada was granted with her US Passport married name. Secret? Friendly demeanor, high school Spanish, and a non-legalized but obvious marriage certificate from our 1989 wedding.

      Where is the difficulty in all this? More to the point, where is the roughly USD$6000+expenses worth of difficulty?

      Now for somebody who wants to move to a "tax haven" (which is really not true but a common meme), or "get a second passport before the collapse", or find a nice English-friendly upscale gated-community (or vapor-community *cough* a certain hillside outside Piriápolis), has no desire to be an immigrant but will permanently define themselves as an expat from where they left, and has money to throw around to pay people to do everything for them – hell yeah, you offer them a valuable service. Albeit for my view of "normal" people, an unnecessary one.

      More power to you. There is a market for what you do, and you provide a lawful service for the money. I just happen to think that for most people it's a crappy value. I can think of at least one or two people who would want your services if they decided to move here. But the ex-girlfriend(s) in question really would not be the "move to South America" type!

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