Written by: DEB CROFUTT
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.