I thought this day would never come. But here it is. And here I am, sitting across the desk from the woman who has the authority to grant or deny my visa. I sat there nervously while she opened up my file on her computer. So much work and money I have put into this process and it was all riding on what kind of day she was having.
The process began several months back while I was still in Colombia. I knew I wanted a visa for quite some time but I just hadn’t moved on it. A visa would allow me to come and go on my own schedule instead of having to abide by the schedule set in place by the passport policy, which allowed only three months, then leave the country to obtain a fresh stamp, one more three-month period, then you’re done for that calendar year. I finally started my research on the internet, and also by talking to people who had successfully achieved their visas. Instead of gaining information and building my confidence I was becoming more and more confused. The process began to seem very convoluted. Clear concise answers were harder to find than dirty chrome at a Harley rally. I was reluctant to proceed because the cost of this endeavor was such that you would not want to approach it lightly. I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it. But if I wanted to stay long-term in Colombia I had no choice. I spent hours online pouring through blogs and web pages taking notes and comparing information. I was this close to hiring a third-party organization to handle this for me, (my finger and thumb held up in front of my eye as close together as possible without touching). I have known that was an option, but just didn’t want to spend the seven hundred or more extra dollars that would cost. So my inquiry continued.
Arriving in the U.S. in March, after spending time with my new granddaughter in Corpus Christi I made my way to Midlothian. Waiting for me there, was a 10′ x 10′ storage unit containing the last remaining evidence that I had a life before Colombia. After flooding and other “disasters” I got the hint that God was telling me to lighten my load. That is a story in and of itself that I will tell in another post. Finishing the task of emptying the unit and closing out the lease, it was time to finally face the visa giant. Through all my investigation I decided the best option for me was to apply for the Retirement Visa. I considered the religious Visa but being an “independent missionary” put that one out of reach. So, being that I am retired, and I have an investment income that meets their requirement, three times the average monthly minimum colombian wage, (which works out to be to just under $800!) I began. It all seemed pretty cut and dried actually, once I got it all boiled down. Ha! What the Colombian consulate really wants to see is that you have enough money coming in to support yourself, so that you won’t be needing to snatch a job away from one of their citizens, (A novel idea). To show that you are truly retired and have the necessary income, they ask that you provide your pension and Social Security papers. First obstacle, I retired young and am not old enough to receive S.S. as of yet. Second obstacle, I did not take a pension from AT&T when I retired. Instead I took a lump-sum disbursement and rolled it over into an IRA. I was told that was going to be my biggest task, proving I am retired and proving my income.
Docs, docs and more docs. I would need documents from AT&T stating my years of employment, my retirement date and that I didn’t receive a pension. I would need documents from my financial planner stating he is handling my “pension”. Documents from two investment companies showing the payout I receive each month. Three months of bank statements, passport information and a photo of me. Once I had all of that in hand it had to be translated into Spanish. And no, I couldn’t just get my friend Juan to do it. It has to be a licensed professional translator. Those are not cheap. Once translated each document had to be notarized and apostilled. What in the world is apostille? I will save you the Google search; Apostille is a form of authentication issued for documents to be used across country borders. An agreement set up by the 1961 Hague convention. By now I’m trying to find ways around all this. Is it really needed? Can it be done any other way? What is the absolute least I actually have to do, and have to spend. Back to the internet. I find some stories of people saying they went to a Colombian consulate in the U.S. and they did not need translations. Others saying they did. And I wasn’t really even sure which docs needed to be apostilled. All of these possibilities were making my head spin. Then I learned a great life lesson that will stick with me forever. I don’t remember where I heard it, maybe in a sermon on the radio, but the timing was perfect. I heard someone say, “When in doubt, do the right thing!” Of course! it’s so simple but yet so profound. From that moment I knew what I had to do. And I knew God would honor my efforts.
After going to Dallas for the translations and a road trip to Austin for the apostille from the Secretary of State’s office, with all my documents in hand, translated, notarized and apostilled, I began the online application. Filling in the blanks, scanning and uploading the required docs and photos I was finally finished. I requesting an appointment for an interview, now all that was left was the waiting, ten days was the earliest opening. A lot of praying went on during those ten days. Knowing that the they could take five business days to make their decision did not cause me to rest any easier. Especially since I was having to drive over 230 miles to the Colombian consulate in Houston and I wasn’t sure, if approved, if I would have to go back in person to receive the visa stamp in my passport. The night before the interview I laid it all out there before God and asked Him to bless this whole process and grant me favor with the person who would be doing the interview. Then I felt the urge to pray boldly, “God, if this is Your will, and I believe that it is, I ask that not only will they grant the visa but they will do it the same day that I’m there and no return trip will be needed.”
The time had come and there I sat. The drive to Houston that morning was reasonably pleasant. And the office was nicer than I expected and the Colombians working there were very nice, of course. But something in the eyes of the woman staring into her computer made me uneasy. She paused her scrolling turning her head in my direction she said in her broken English, “There seems to be some documents missing.” I gasped, “I uploaded them all, I’m not sure what could have happened.” She continued, “And the scans of your passport and the photo is blurry.” “Well I have my documents with me, do you need to see them?” I asked. “No,” she said, “it all has to be sent in correctly on the application.” “What is the next step then?” I could barely get the words out of my mouth afraid of what the answer might be. “Well, you need to go back home and submit a new application making sure all the documents upload and find out how to make the scans more clear.” I think she could see the terror in my eyes as I calmly asked if there is any way to do this while I am in Houston. She looked kindly at me and asked, “Do you live here in Houston?” “No ma’am,” I replied, “I came from Dallas, I drove three and a half hours to get here!” I was praying under my breath when she asked me if I had my documents with me. I told her, “Yes! I have them all right here. Every one of them!” She then told me that there is an office downstairs that works with visa applications and that I could take my docs down to them and they could help me with a new application and with the uploading of all the documents and the scans. And when they finished, come back up to her and let her know. The whole re-sending process took approximately thirty to forty-five minutes and cost me an addition $50, which I was more than happy to pay.
Rushing back upstairs and being led into her office by the security officer, I sat down once again. And once again she began staring into her computer screen. This time she showed no emotion in her eyes and the interview continued. She asked the standard questions about why I wanted a visa for Colombia, and asked me to explain my retirement situation. I was very happy to answer all of her questions, happy that the interview was continuing. After much typing and scrolling she paused, looked at me and with a slight smile crossing her face, she said, “Randall, I have decided to approve your visa.” Knowing it wouldn’t have been appropriate I fought back the urge to lean over the desk and give her a big kiss on the lips! At that moment there could not have been any sweeter words to my ears as she said, “Congratulations, I hope you enjoy my country.” I could feel my eyes getting misty as I replied, “I love your country, I love Colombia!”
So now a new chapter opens for me, and I am thanking God for His goodness, and praying that He will use me greatly in beautiful Colombia.
Thanks for reading,
To God be the glory!
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