As a US citizen, I take it for granted my ability to travel back and forth to the USA and Costa Rica and don’t think twice about it. I take for granted my children are dual citizens. If you have never had the pleasure of going to the US Embassy to register, get a new passport, or register a birth abroad, you simply do not know what you are missing!

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I found the process of getting a US passport for both my children easy however, the process to get a Costa Rican citizen a Visa to travel to the USA was ridiculous.

My husband and I hoped to bring our nanny Sairy to the USA next year. She is invited as well as helping us with watching our boys, for my brother’s wedding next year in Buffalo, New York. As excited as she was about the prospect of leaving the country and flying for the first time ever, she was also scared of having to go to the US Embassy and apply for a visa. So, I helped her as much as I could.

In order to get a Visa (and of course, there are no guarantees for approval) you must do the following:

  1. Pay $14.00 with a credit card BEFORE anyone at the appointment center for visas will speak with you.
  2. You receive for your $14.00 purchase an 8 minute conversation with a representative (in English or Spanish)
  3. Once you speak with them, you receive a PIN number.
  4. This PIN number is used to set up an appointment once you have filled out the online application on the US Government website
  5. The application takes about 30 to 45 minutes to complete (online only!)
  6. You then call the appointment center back and schedule an appointment for the visa.
  7. Prior to your appointment, you must pay US$140 at Banco Nacional or Banco Costa Rica and get a receipt as proof of payment to show at your appointment. This fee is for the actual Visa appointment. The $14.00 I mentioned was simply to get an appointment on the phone (reserve your spot)

I was able to get Sairy an appointment two weeks after the application was submitted. Of course, we were aware that paying for an appointment did not guarantee any travel Visa. On the application, I made a note that I was paying for her trip and that Sairy worked for us. I figured that this would help her (and our) chances.

After getting to the embassy for our “7:30 AM appointment” I realized that a hundred other people had that same appointment time! We stood there like a herd of cattle outside. Finally when 8 AM rolled around, they let us in. We had to part temporarily with our cell phones, IPods, thumb drives, car alarms.. Basically anything electronic with a chip. These items were stored in little secure bags and were given a number to retrieve our things at the end of the day.

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Upon entering the Embassy, you must then take a number and stand in line again. (Standing in line is very popular here!) Once at the front of the line, you had to confirm your appointment and they ask you information and make sure you have passport photos and your application is complete. Once you get through that area, you head to another area of many seats. Then you wait again until your number is called. As I sat there with Sairy, we watched many people walk out of the Embassy happy and making their way to the DHL desk to pay for their visa/passport to be shipped. Then there were the few that walked out upset that they were not approved. We were getting nervous with each crying person that walked by.

Finally the interview: The interesting thing is the ONLY thing the interviewer asked Sairy is ‘How old are you and who are you travelling with?’ They were far more interested in what I had to say since I mentioned that she worked for me. They asked me what she did for me, how long she was with our company, and then if she was going to work for me while I was in New York State. I wondered if this was a trick question! I said, “Well, it’s more of a vacation.” Then the interviewer disappeared to speak to her superior… Hmmm! Seemed like not a good sign.

After the longest few minutes EVER, she walked back and said “look, I believe you are taking her for vacation and that you’ll bring her back. However, because you are paying for the trip and the application says she is working for you while in the USA, we need a work contract between the two of you. So, I am granting the Visa, but with the exception that a contract is presented to us prior to approving the Visa.” I shook my head, took the blue paper she gave us and headed out. But then it dawned on me — I could write up the contract myself, quickly, without an attorney.

We didn’t have to pay for a new appointment, but why come back again? Especially being in Guanacaste, the drive is long and I had no desire to come there for this purpose again. I went back into the door and the interviewer was still there at her window. I asked her if I could do the contract across the street at the internet café. She said they were closed but would make an exception since we came so far. She told me to hurry up and tell the people at the front to ask for her. Imagine that! Someone friendly and accommodating at the US Embassy?

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So, off we went. I wrote up the contract and stated Sairy would work for us for one week in Buffalo and that I agreed to pay her minimum wage.

I kept thinking, how silly is this whole contract between her and I?! But if it gets her a Visa, I’ll do it.

We walked back to the embassy and handed in our paperwork. Congratulations! They told Sairy. Go to the DHL counter and pay 3,000 colones to have your Visa sent to you with your passport in 3 to 4 business days and that was it.

Perhaps we got lucky, but I am happy that Sairy, whom I view as family, will be able to join us and enjoy her first trip out of her small town of Matapalo.

It would be nice if more people were granted Visas and not denied for sometimes illogical reasons. My aunt, for example, was denied a Visa. However, both her daughters (my cousins) have Visas to travel to the USA. Doesn’t make much sense to me and I hope that the Embassy can streamline the process of Visas and not take $140 from each person simply to deny them. I truly believe they know beforehand whether or not they will approve or deny a Visa request. Of course, this is just one person’s theory.

You can find the US Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica website here and details of the Non-immigrant visa application process here.

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Travel To The USA – Applying for a visa

Article/Property ID Number 2666

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