Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our Journey to Permanent Residency - Part Three: Road Trip to Belmopan

With our issues with the local Immigration office seemingly resolved and our Permanent Residency packet pulled together, it was time to organize a road trip to Belmopan. There we would arrange to have our police record taken care of, submit our entire packet to Immigration for acceptance, and hopefully come away with a confirmation number and appointment for an interview.

Dave and Dianna Rider decided to join us, as they had some final touches to put on their paperwork to become citizens of Belize. So at 5:00 am on Tuesday, we all piled in our car and started the trek.

The drive to the nation’s capital is about 2 ½ hours. And other than passing through an occasional village, there is almost nothing to look at except vast expanses of bush and sugar cane. One might think you could put your car in cruise control and relax. But we’re talking about driving in Belize. When you aren’t inadvertently playing a game of chicken with oncoming buses and trucks barreling down the highway in your lane, there are the oh-so-subtle speed bumps that seem to come out of nowhere.

Sometimes there is a sign letting you know a bump is coming up, but most of the time the signs are non-existent. Trust in the fact, if you hit one of these bumps doing any speed, you, your passengers, and car will feel the effects. To illustrate this point, there was one bump that snuck up on us and ended up breaking the mechanism that holds the passenger side mirror to the car. While we could have had Dave – who was riding shotgun – hold the mirror in place for the entire trip, David busted out his MacGyver moves and did a quick repair.

Behold the power of duct tape
We reached Belmopan around 7:30 and headed directly to the Police Headquarters.

We had been advised by friends to be sure and get there by 8:00, so we were in good shape. When we walked in, there was only one other person in the waiting area. The closer the clock got to 8:00, more and more people showed up. Around 8:15, a woman came out and distributed police record application request forms to those in the room. It got interesting because there are few flat surfaces to write on and not everyone had a pen.

The application form was straightforward, with spaces to enter your name, address, passport particulars, etc. You also need to provide three color passport-sized photos. As a point of reference, the one-day turnaround to get your police record is only available on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.

In the meantime, more and more people came into the room. The woman who earlier distributed the forms came back out and asked everyone to form two lines. Now here’s the thing about this sort of request here in Belize: do not assume that just because you were the first one to enter a room that you will be the first one served. To be frank, people just butt in line. It’s been very hard to adopt this practice, as that kind of move is generally considered bad manners in the States. Here? Not so much. We did manage to get closer to the front of one of the lines, and as most of the people in front of us only needed the application form, our turn to be served came fairly quickly. We handed our completed applications to the officer, along with our pictures, got a receipt, and could now find our way to Immigration.

A short ride around the corner, we found the office and parking area. When we entered the Immigration office there were two long lines. Turns out that most of the people in front of us were there to get passports. However, the line for nationality and residency quickly grew and snaked out the door and down the outside walkway. Inside we at least were out of the sun, but as there are was only one chair outside the door we needed to go into, everyone cooled their heels by standing.

A young guard at the Nationality/Residency door ushered people through, though not always by who was next in line. Our turn finally came and after a bit of wait inside the office, met with an Immigration officer. If body language was any indication, the young lady we met with was the poster child for ennui. Oh so slowly she paged through our packet. She examined David’s application and when she saw he was retired and there was a copy of Sworn Declaration of Support (a.k.a. Chattel Form), she pulled my application out of the mix. Then she looked at the copies of our passports. If you recall, we had them copied together on one sheet of paper, then cut in half. She let us know that wouldn’t be acceptable. Each passport needed to be copied on a single sheet of paper. Fortunately, there is a small kiosk in the parking lot, which could do the copying job.

When she looked at our medical exam forms, she wanted to know where the results of our TB tests were. I said that we didn’t have any TB tests done, because it wasn’t on the checklist. After showing her the checklist, she sighed, and gave us a pass on that one.

Ultimately, she let us know that she would accept our application, but we had to provide the passport copies and, of course, our police records. So off we went to the kiosk in the parking lot, leaving Dave and Dianna waiting in line for their turn.

I must say that the woman who runs the kiosk, Copy Express, was cheerful, helpful, and incredibly efficient. By the time our copies were ready, Dave and Dianna had taken care of their business and were waiting at the car. We didn’t look forward to having to stand in line again just to drop off the copies, and decided we would try to follow Belize line protocol and butt our way forward. Turns out, we ran into the young guard on our way in. We explained we just needed to drop off copies, and he escorted us not only to the front of the line, but inside the office. At the first opening, we presented our copies to the officer.

Much to our surprise and delight, she wrote out a confirmation receipt of acceptance and gave us an appointment date/time for our interview. All that was left for the day was to stop by the Police HQ in the afternoon, pick up our police records, and get them to Immigration before their 5:00 pm closing time.

We practically did the Snoopy Dance all the way back to the car. With that one, little piece of paper with a tracking number, we knew there should be no more hassles with our local Immigration office. And while we will still need to pay the monthly $100 stamp fee for each of our passports until we are approved for residency, we felt confident it would only be for a short time.

When we rejoined Dave and Dianna at the car, we decided this momentous occasion called for a celebration of sorts, which only means downing a Belikin or two. As we had already decided we would spend the night in Belmopan, we made the drive our hotel to grab some drinks and see if we could check into our rooms.

I had made reservations at the Yim Saan Hotel a few days prior. Its website advertised they not only had a restaurant on premises, but coffee makers, AC, and WiFi, plus the rates seemed pretty reasonable.

While the restaurant didn't open until 11:00 am (we were about 30 minutes early), we asked the woman behind the counter if we could check into our rooms. She directed us to go back outside and down the walkway to find the door to do that. On our way, we ran into the owner who directed us back to the restaurant where his wife would help us out. After a bit of discussion, which at times was a tad convoluted, we were shown to our rooms.

On the downside, there were no coffee makers. But the rooms were clean, hot water was plentiful, and there was air conditioning. I immediately grabbed the AC remote to get that cool, dry air going. Only problem was that all the control buttons were in Chinese. Fortunately, there was a helpful, hand drawn instruction sheet taped to the wall:

Just loved to see that we could "sleep the wind." 

All the rooms on our second floor came with a small balcony. There was just one tiny problem with Dave and Dianna's door leading out to theirs. The door handle was gone. Dave checked with the woman back down in the restaurant, and she came up to show him how it's done: Just open the sliding window next to the door, reach your hand out, unlock the door, and voila!

After getting settled in, the restaurant was open for business. After downing a couple of beers and lunch, we decided to do a short exploration of local Belmopan stores. To be honest, there's not much to see or do in town, unless you have some business with the government offices.

But we did spy this interesting building:


We learned from a passerby that it might be a casino, but what a funky style. And why finish the top bit, but not the rest?

Anyway, after exploring the area we headed back to the hotel. After cooling down a bit, it was time for us to head back to Police HQ. We figured that as they told everyone the police records would be available around 4:00 pm, the place would be packed. And sure enough, even though we got there about 3:15, there was not an empty seat to be found.

We went up to the window and asked the officer if our reports were ready. He had mine, but David's wasn't available at that point. We hung around until the next batch of reports arrived, snagged that, and hightailed it to Immigration. As an aside, I'm sure you will all be relieved to know that we aren't wanted criminals.

Before we went into the Immigration office, we did a quick pit stop at the Copy Express kiosk and had a copy of the police reports made for our records. Then it was off to the office. Compared to the lines we encountered earlier in the day, the place was empty by comparison. In short order we handed in our police reports and our work was done. I can't begin to describe what a feeling of relief it was.

We hooked up with the Riders back at the hotel, and a bit later headed out to a restaurant we saw earlier in the day to have dinner. The Blue Moon Restaurant is, in my humble opinion, one of the best places we've eaten at since moving here. The food is excellent, the service is great, and the owner is welcoming. Located at 1533 Constitution Street, do give this place a try.

After a long day of driving, running around, and whatnot, all of us were exhausted. Sleep came easily and a good night was had by all.

The next morning, the four of us checked out of the hotel in desperate need of coffee. We headed to the market (located near Police HQ) and made a beeline to the first place we saw serving food. The owner brought out four large mugs and after a bracing cup of Nescafe -- no brewed coffee around -- and breakfast, we hit the road to Belize City.

It took about an hour to reach our destination. After a few missed turns, we found the stores we were looking for, loaded our purchases in the car, and headed for home after a stop around Orange Walk for lunch.

At the end of the day, we were happy to be home and thrilled we were able to accomplish our mission to submit and have our residency package accepted.

The next step? We head back to Belmopan for an interview with an Immigration official on Friday, June 21.

Be sure to check back to see how all that goes.

You might also enjoy:

Our Journey to Permanent Residency -

Part One: Hopping on the Crazy Train

Part Two: Chasing Paper

1 comment:

  1. Y'all are blessed to have had such a smooth time of it. Glad Immigration has their act together!