The US has always had a bit of a fortress mentality and this only became more intense following 9/11. Getting through passport control and customs as a US citizen is already an ordeal.
It is even worse for non-Americans, at least judging by the stories I’ve heard from foreigners who have to wait hours in line to have their passport stamped or been taken into a backroom for further questioning for no apparent reason.
The worst story I ever heard was of a young Ecuadorian man who was forced to vomit the contents of his stomach because they believed he was carrying drugs. He wasn’t. While this happened a couple years ago, current immigration policy is only getting more strict under President Trump. It is already nearly impossible to move to the US and getting through the system from total foreigner to temporary resident to permanent resident to citizen takes a lifetime, literally.
Chile, on the other hand, must be one of the countries in the world with the most open immigration policies. As a result the country is witnessing a major wave of foreign immigration from countries such as Peru, Venezuela and Haiti.
But it is not just Chile’s poorer neighbors that arrive here, there are also Americans and Europeans, especially Spaniards, who are coming in large numbers looking for an experience abroad and drawn by the employment opportunities available here. I arrived in Santiago in October 2014 with a tourist visa and no job. By June 2016, I was already a permanent resident. While it involved a lot of paperwork and appointments, it was by no means difficult. I will share the process of a how I did it and what were the requirements at each step of the way.
The first step to going from tourist to getting temporary residency is to find a job.
Officially, if you only possess a tourist visa, you cannot work in Chile. But many places will hire you and are looking for foreigners. I was lucky to find a job within a week at an English institute that did not require me to be able to work legally. So with that I was able to stabilize myself economically during the beginning stages of the immigration process.
The government of Chile offers two kinds of temporary residency.
The first is subject to you having a work contract. With the work contract from your employer, you turn in copies of your passport and fill out some forms. Then you have to wait three to six months until you are officially granted residency. Throughout the waiting time, however, you are legally working. You gain this status immediately upon turning in your application. Furthermore, those with this visa can lose their residency if the contract ends before the two years are over. A professional maintains their visa for one year no matter what.
Although I already had a job I went for temporary residency for professionals. This requires that you have a college degree and that you “legalize” it.
If I had been smart, I would have done this before arriving in Chile and I would have been able to turn in my residency application right after I began working. Instead, I had to coordinate the legalization process in the US from Chile. This required me to get an official copy of my diploma and ask my university to certify it at a notary.
Then I had this mailed to my parent’s house, where they picked up the notarized diploma and had to take it to the state capital where it could receive an apostille. This basically certifies the notary.
Following this step, my parents sent the diploma to me in Chile and I had to take it to the Ministry of Foreign Relations where they certified my apostille. This meant that the diploma was now recognized in Chile and could be used for official purposes.
I turned it over to the Departamento de Extranjería along with my application for residency. I needed to include a letter from an employer stating an intention to hire me. This letter, however, was not a job contract or a legally binding job offer. My boss only had to say he was thinking about hiring me. I completed all this by the beginning of January 2015 and so from that point on was working completely legally.
Once I was granted temporary residency in May 2015 I able to get a RUT, which is the equivalent of a Social Security Number. With a RUT you can open bank accounts, start a business, pay taxes, sign contracts and do pretty much everything a Chilean citizen can — except for vote. I was then able to go to the Registro Civil and obtain a Chilean ID. In addition to saving you the pain of having to carry your passport with you, it is also enough to cross borders and enter Chile.
Because I had temporary residency for professionals, after one year I could ask for permanent residency. Those with work contract temporary residency have to wait two years. At the moment of applying for it, the only real requirement besides turning over personal information and your criminal history is to show that you have earned enough money to support yourself. This amounts to between one and two times the monthly minimum wage, roughly 250,000 to 300,000 Chilean Pesos a month. I also had to go to the PDI and get a copy of my criminal record.
I requested permanent residency at the beginning of January 2016, since you are able to do so within 90 days of expiration of your temporary residency. This time the process took a little bit longer so it was approved at the beginning of June 2016.
As a permanent resident, I not only have all the same rights as Chilean (except the right to vote) but also the ability to stay in the country indefinitely. The only requirement to maintain my residency is to not be outside of Chile for more than 365 consecutive days. I do not have to prove income or show that I have not committed a crime. Upon having residency for five years, I will be eligible to ask for Chilean nationality. Quite differently from the US, in Chile it is a quite painless process to immigrate and it is possible to go from tourist to citizen in just six years.