Friday, February 4, 2011

Discovering more about Colombia - Bogota in particular this time

View from the host family's bedroom window of sunrise.

There are a couple things in Bogota, Colombia, that remind me of Seattle, Washington. First, there are a lot of cloudy days and when the sun comes out it is really hot and lovely. Second, although Seattle has mountains on two sides with clouds on top of them, making for truly fabulous views, Bogota is surrounded by them. Third, both places have a lot of hills with tall buildings perched on them, and fourth, the climate overall (even though it is on the Equator and at 8,000 feet in elevation) is very like Seattle so all the things that grow well in Washington also do well here making for a lot of familiar plants, and the temperature is very similar, except it is more constantly between 55-80 degrees than Seattle is.
Agapanthus grows very well in Bogota, Colombia.


American Embassy in Bogota, Colombia.
One thing Seattle doesn’t have is an American Embassy. But if it did, it would probably be just as frustrating to go to it as it has been here. First of all, it is only open from Monday to Thursday and only from 8:45 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. Being an American does NOT make a bit of difference. If you read the sign, you may notice there is something missing... how about a phone number to call for that “24/7” service they say they have?
Services are available 24/7... if you know the number.

Many of the service people are Colombian and are nice enough but there is not enough information in either Spanish or English to make the time spent there more productive.
My first interaction with this Embassy was a week ago when I called the general number - found on the internet - from Barichara and was told they couldn’t even talk to me unless it was between the hours of 10:30 and 12:30 p.m. Or I could e-mail them for an appointment. Waiting on the phone when minutos are so costly didn’t make sense and especially when I kept getting a recording during those hours. So I wrote them. And never got an answer.
I arrived at ‘my’ American Embassy a week later at 9 a.m. on Monday to see about getting my Social Security confirmation letter. First I was told they couldn’t see me because I didn’t have an appointment. I tried to talk to someone about the problems of writing and not getting help, but I was told to come back at 10:30.
So I went to a phone and called someone and was told they would make an exception and see me right away. I went back in... by now it was pretty close to 10:30 anyhow.
I was not told that I needed proof of my SS income so I just showed up with my card and my passport expecting they had access to that information. They claimed they didn’t. And yet, the form I had to fill out was a FOIA-style form which clearly indicated they could get that information. So I was sent away to find a way to get something to prove what I said was true, but discovered when I went across the street to the local Internet place that SSA will not provide any information online. It has to be sent to you - and it takes 2-4 weeks.
Nearly in tears, I met with the fellow who is doing my visa work (getting papers translated, etc.) and he said that I should get a listing of the bank deposits which would be proof enough. Why couldn’t the Embassy folks have told me that? Then I could have downloaded that and returned to the Embassy... Oh, but I forgot, they close at 11:30 and don’t open up for anyone. By now it was after that and I’d lost a day for the three-day requirements. 
So I went back that afternoon to where I am staying. Got into my computer and did a print-out of my bank deposits for three months showing that they were receiving SS payments for me. TIP: if you want to ex-patriate, make sure you have copies of ALL your important papers with you whenever you go to an American Embassy.
Day two with the Embassy - We arrived at 9:30 a.m., due to traffic which can be horrendous here (except on Thursdays when private transport is forbidden), and were told to sit down. I noticed people were getting up and getting in line and we’d been waiting for almost 30 minutes. I went to the youhttps://www.facebook.com/usdos.colombiang woman directing traffic and said, “Exactly how do I know when I can go up to the window?” She was less than pleasant and said, “You go after the man in the black leather jacket.” I guess if I had not asked I could have been sitting there for hours!
My request was processed and we left at about 11 a.m. The woman behind the window said to me, “You know this was a special exception.” I merely said. “Thank you” and left, because I didn’t want to get into it with her about how they had failed to answer my phone calls or e-mails making it necessary for me to make two trips to see them.
Finally, after three stress-filled days I have my visa. Yippee!! I am officially an ex-patriated American, living abroad. My next challenge will be to get a bank account and probably an International Driver license so that I don’t run into problems driving in Colombia in my car. NOTE: Once you have a visa, you are no longer tax-exempt for return to the U.S. and have to pay the Empuesta (Excise Tax) of $65,000 CPs or approximately $35 USD.
After the Embassy work my female Colombian escort drove me to see the National Museum. It was an impressive place with three floors of displays, starting with their archeological history and moving up to present day including some of the more famous Colombian artists. A good way for this new Colombian resident to get acquainted with her country, I thought. More on this in another post.
This drive along the mountainside above Bogota
reminds me a lot of Seattle, Washington.
There is much, much more to discover about Bogota - like places to shop, or eat, or go to a movie, or a bullfight... yes, you heard me correctly. They have a bull-fight here every Sunday in a ring that looks just like the one in the story of “Ferdinand,” one of my most favorite childhood books. I do not care to go and watch the bloodletting, but this Leo-energy city apparently puts it right up there with the national sport of futball AKA soccer.
Anyhow, I have made some new friends and have an invitation to come back and stay with them when I return, and I will... as l continue my discovery of Bogota, D.C., and the rest of Colombia.


2012 UPDATE: The US Embassy now has a FaceBook page, has Twitter and followers... here's the link for the FB 
and if you want have an e-mail address, ACSBogota@state.gov  (I hope this is the correct one for appointment scheduling. It took them over 9 months to reply to me last year, so we will see if there is an improvement this year.) That is also the link for the list of contacts at
http://bogota.usembassy.gov/contact.html.

I am getting ready for Round 2 in the renewal process and am both intending and hoping for an easier go of it. At least this time I am heading into the process knowing what documents are needed.

REVIEW for RETIREES:
1) The document that shows the pension income must be apostilled by the Secretary of State in the state where the funds are distributed. Plan ahead as this is a time-consuming process.
2) You must have your Social Security Award Letter for the U.S. Embassy personnel to prepare a confirmation letter. As you read above, three months showing of bank deposits may be sufficient.
3) Your passport must have enough pages left for stamping by the DAS.
If there is anything new required, I will post it after I finish this 2012 process.

2 comments:

  1. What a headache for you, my friend. Sounds like you finally got it all worked out and things are progressing more smoothly. I'm happy for your exciting new life!

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  2. Excellent post! Colombia is such a great country. We have a very rich and diverse culture. It is a modern city where you can find everything you would in any other touristic spot. Bogota tours has lots of museums, parks, and universities, thus it is called “The Athens of South America”. And at the same time you can visit the wild part of Colmbia with a rich natural environment and lovely beaches. ¿My advice? Everyone is so welcome to come! :)

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