Island Bureaucracy At Its Finest

The VISA requirements on Roatan state that you can only stay for 90 days. You can extend your stay for an additional 30 days for $20 but after that, you must leave for at least 72 hours (and going to any of the C4 countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador or mainland Honduras – ie. the close, convenient ones – does not count).

We decided that since we have built a house here, this is now our home and we should apply for residency so that we aren’t required to leave the country every 3 – 4 months. We contacted a lawyer and determined that the only residency we would be able to get was the one for forming a corporation. And so a corporation it was and on December 9, 2013, we became legal residents of Honduras. We even have residency cards that must be renewed every year to prove it!

On this island, everyone is required to have a valid ID on them AT ALL TIMES. A copy of your passport does not suffice. You MUST carry your passport so they are able to determine if you are on the island legally or not. (Note: if you come on a banana boat or a fishing boat under the cover of darkness and hide in the bowels of the island only to wreak havoc and commit petty theft, then you’re probably chill. ID not required.)

illegal boat_WWLOR

I know all of this ID stuff. I am a banker and an OCD, ADHD, Type A personality and I NEVER lose anything. Ever.

I’m sure you can guess what’s coming…

I volunteer at the Roatan Airport as a greeter in Immigration. We smile and welcome people to the island. In order to be allowed access to the Immigration room, we have to give them our ID (I use my residency card) and they in turn give you a pass for Immigration. Once done with your shift, you return the pass and get your ID back. The last time I volunteered, I got to the grocery store and realized my RESIDENCY CARD was MISSING. Damn, I must have dropped it in the parking lot! Honestly though, I didn’t worry too much, assuming someone would find it and turn it in. I’d get it the next day.

The next day we were going to the beach, so we stopped at the airport to look for the card. No card. The night that I lost it, we had had a crazy hard thunderstorm and I remembered I was parked next to a drainage ditch. Not seeing it anywhere, I assumed my card must have got blown into the ditch and was gone. Although I still looked again the day I took my son back to the airport to leave with a last sliver of hope, sadly, no card was there.

Luckily an Immigration office had opened recently on the island, so I was relieved in knowing that no trip to the mainland would be required. It takes me 45 minutes to drive through the kamikaze traffic from my house to the Immigration office, which is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only. So the first free Tuesday I had, I was there 30 minutes before they opened and was 3rd in line.

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I happen to know a few of the people there because they too work (in a paying job, though) at the airport in Immigration with me. I told the manager what happened while the girl I needed to see helped those before me. He said I needed to file a form stating that I lost it and they could do that there. I sat back down to wait. Shortly after that, there was a discussion about me and I was told I needed to go file a denuncia first. This is what you file if one of the guys that came over on the banana boat breaks into your home and steals your iPhone, laptop, or Uncle Herman’s Sperry Top-Siders. Knowing that I had nothing stolen – I simply lost my card – I was skeptical. But, like so much on an island, it wasn’t up to me. I still had to go file a denuncia. Which means I had to drive back to within 10 minutes of my house.

Upon arriving, the guy at the Transito desk didn’t speak English and attempted to get me to leave or speak Spanish. I did neither and was polite but persistent. He gave me the “wait a minute” signal and went upstairs.

Once he returned, he took me upstairs to see a really sweet girl who asked me all the questions for the denuncia, wrote my answers on a paper in Spanish, and gave them to the guy who typed up the denuncia. He filled the form in on the computer, printed it, we signed it, and he handed it to me. Then back I went to the Immigration office (35 minute drive) in Plaza Mar and waited my turn once again.

More forms were filled out and I was told to take them to the bank in the Plaza Mar lot and pay to get the card re-issued. When I got to the bank, I had to take a number

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After waiting 40 minutes, my turn came only to be told they only accepted Lempiras, no US dollars. As Murphy’s Law would have it, I only had USD – and I usually never have USD. Sigh. Sure, I could have gone to the grocery store nearby and gotten enough Lempiras to pay, but that would have meant another 40 minute wait. At this point, I wanted to scream or cry – I was not entirely sure which, but the frustrations of island bureaucracy were starting to bubble up inside of me.

I went back to the Immigration office and told them the story, hoping they’d take pity on me and just make this all go away. Instead, they looked at me like, duh! And I was like, Why the hell didn’t you say it had to be in LEMPIRAS? They said there was nothing they could do, I had to pay it today since the paperwork was filled out and dated today, and ended it all with a shrug.

Pissed, I left and went to my car which was parked near the front of the lot. When I got in and started it, my car sounded like I was in a Formula 1 car and driving at the Grand Prix. WTH?? I called my husband and said there was something wrong with my car. I revved it, holding my phone outside. He didn’t hear anything so I floored it. His response? Look under the hood. WTF am I looking for under the hood? Is there an engine and a battery and some other shit? Yep. Do I know why it sounds like a souped up Ferrari? Nope. He asked if I could drive it, I said I would try. I could barely get the car up the first hill so I called him back and said I was parking it. During my 30 minute wait for him to arrive, I looked at the back of my car and realized that while I was inside one of the offices waiting, I had been hit – HARD. Dammit to hell, 4th time in 6 months.

car fixed

I still didn’t have my residency card and my car was in the shop until Saturday. I went back the following Tuesday with my paid receipt and all the paperwork they gave me only to find out my file had not been sent over with the all the other Roatan files from Tegucigalpa. Of course it hadn’t. They had to get my file before they could issue me a temporary card. The problem was, I was leaving in 2 weeks and if I couldn’t prove I was a resident (no, it’s NOT in the system, go figure), I would have to pay a substantial fine for overstaying my 90 or 120 day VISA. No freaking way.

That night, in a last ditch effort, I called my friend who is the head of Immigration at the airport and explained what happened. He made some phone calls the next morning. I dug out all my residency legal paperwork and was at Immigration at 8:15 the next morning and oh, how the tables had turned. I was greeted by the agents like I was Shakira. Once I helped them change the toner cartridge in the printer, my papers were printed, I had my temporary card (good for 60 days in my hand), and I was out of there.

In times like these, I’m reminded that you should never take the ease of doing things in the states or more developed countries for granted, and – something that seems to apply everywhere in the world – it’s all about who you know.

I’m not complaining – I realize that I chose to live here and this is all a part of the deal – but sometimes, just sometimes, it all feels like a little much. And that’s when we have some wine, look at the sunset, and try to forget this part of the deal until next time.

*click for image credit

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Deb Crofutt

About Deb Crofutt

Deb decided in 2012 that the rest of her time on Earth was not going to be spent in a bra and 4″ heels (she wore clothes too) working for corporate America. It was time to go. The task of finding a suitable (sic) third world country to live in was done when they purchased land in 2007 on the island of Roatan in Honduras. The VORTEX sucked them in too. October 25, 2013 was the last day of life as they knew it in the US. They packed up 2 dogs and a cat and moved to their rock. Thirteen months later, their house is almost complete and they are still asking themselves, “What were we thinking?!”. In reality, it’s all good, they are going with the flow and weaving themselves into daily life on the rock. Their new mantras are: Mañana doesn’t mean tomorrow, it just means not today and Predictability is boring. Their life is anything but. You can read more about Deb’s experiences on her personal blog,

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15 thoughts on “Island Bureaucracy At Its Finest

  1. I enjoyed your story. We have the same stories on Utila, but without the driving, less people and traffic. We are from Florida, and bought our property in2005…moved here fulltime, built our house in Feb. 2014…and got our residency in 2014.

  2. Great article!! Love how we all seem to be able to laugh through the trials of living on a rock! I agree, the photo at the end of your article could quickly make you forgive and forget whatever may have pissed you off on a given day. Beautiful view!!

  3. Great story! We had similar issues when applying for our residency (no one crashed into our car, however). You had to go to one office for this part, then another office for another step in the process, then another and another. One office we had to go to for one of the “steps” was unmarked, upstairs in this building with no signage. When we FINALLY locate it and the correct office, we’re told, “Oh the person you need to talk to is on holiday for 2 weeks.” LOLLLL!!! So typical! So now the whole process comes to a screeching halt until said person returns to the island! Another thing, it IS very helpful to “know” people! We actually paid a wonderful man who is a retired head of immigration on our rock to help us through all this. Worth every stinking penny!!! I want to kiss that man every time I see him in the grocery store!!

      • I love it here, too!! I just recently returned from an extended stay in the states and couldn’t WAIT to get home to my rock!! The longer I live here the less I want to leave it!

  4. Ahhhh, we can SO relate. In The Bahamas, my favorite thing (not) to do is get a vehicle registered. Get insurance, wait in line for a vehicle check, nope you need a chassis check too so go to another building and wait again, wait three days before you go back for the report, wait in line for an hour, go to another building to pay the registration, wait in line for another hour… OR pay a Bahamian to do it for you in less than a day!! (Although it doesn’t always work out for them, either! =)

    Your post was so funny, thanks!!

  5. Really good writing as well as funny ( + your bio. was humorous ,too. glad you wear clothes with your heels).

    You did discover the slippery secret to getting things done on islands:know someone who is important!

    Once, in a similar situation, I told a (politically well connected ,local citizen) friend of mine about how a bureaucrat of mine could not find my residency certificate. “Oh,” that B..rd” is a cousin of mine. Go back and tell him that I said if he can’t find your certificate , I will come and spank him”.
    I did what she said,smiling as I relayed her message, to look innocent and naive. Guess what? He suddenly found it within one minute….

  6. I live on Guanaja and NEVER carry my passport – only a laminated copy and it is accepted everywhere. I got a residency card as “retired” and have had it for about 15 years. BUT I have to go to La Ceiba to renew and even though we have an immigration office on the island, the office in La Ceiba will not send the card to our immigration office here. So, I must return (when I feel like it because sometimes it takes months to reissue the cards) and pick up the card when I have reason to go to La Ceiba. It’s a hassle, I know, but I would hate to get residency now as the lawyers take years to process applications!

    • Hi Sharon, if you have a residency card you don’t need to carry your passport here on Roatan. Visitors must have their passports on them at all times, which is a huge hassle. Who wants to take their passport to the beach?
      It is a pain and in 2 more years we will become immigrants and then only have to renew every 5 years.

  7. Great article ! Gave me a bit of sanity reading it. My husband and I have had similar experiences. My favorite of which was waiting for an appointment with immigration in Antigua. Promptly we were there at 8am as requested. After five hours a runner was sent by the agent we were meeting with to ask us the details of why we were meeting her. They had called us for the meeting! We said we didn’t know explained that we were called. And then after a dazed ezplaination from immigration of some mixup, we went for breakfast and several glasses of wine at a beach bar.

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