I want an Uruguay visa.
This is not an unknown fact among those who know me.
I first landed in Uruguay in 2011 and since then have returned once or twice a year, pretty much every year. I immediately fell in love with the place – a tiny, overlooked country that feels as much European as it does Latin. As I’ve repeatedly told anyone who will listen, “I want to live in Uruguay. I might want to retire in Uruguay. I love Uruguay!”
Which means … I want an Uruguay visa.
To that end, I am now prepping to chase my dream of obtaining an Uruguayan residence visa. Earlier this year, Uruguay held presidential elections and elected a politician now streamlining the country’s residence requirements. Those have not been finalized just yet. But I have well-placed friends tied to the Uruguayan government who say the rules are essentially a done deal. The coronavirus pandemic is screwing up everything at the moment, but my aim is to begin the process in the next few months.
Why Chase an Uruguay Visa
An Uruguay residence visa allows one to:
- Live in Uruguay full time.
- Make Uruguay your home country
- Establish Uruguay as your tax residence, which can them help reduce the taxes you owe to the US (assuming you’re an American)
- Get a job locally or start a business (or you can do what I want to do and continue to work as a digital nomad).
- Puts you on the path to citizenship, which you can obtain in five years after obtaining residency. Citizenship then confers upon you the right to an Uruguayan passport. In the 2019 Henley Passport Index, Uruguay ranked among the 25 most valuable passports to own.
Beyond those practical reasons, I have one overarching psychic reason for wanting to be connected to Uruguay: Every time I return, it quite literally feels like I’m coming home.
There are places in the world where you alight and, for whatever reason, you connect with that destination on a different level. Uruguay is that place for me. The look of the country, the comfort I feel, the laid-back ambiance. The quietude of empty beaches. The feeling that, here on the overlooked underbelly of southern South America, you’re so far removed from the world that you can live in peace and never think about the BS elsewhere. The safety and security of a democratic government running a middle-class economy that doesn’t breed egregious wealth or egregious poverty. A society that embraces the personal freedoms that America long ago lost (check out the 2019 Freedom Scores: Uruguay scores a 98 out of 100; the US an 86).
In and around coastal towns of Punta del Este and Jose Ignacio … life feels like what I imagine much of coastal California felt like in the 1940s and 1950, before the world found out and invaded.
Documents to Apply for an Uruguayan Visa
You can apply for an Uruguayan residence visa while you’re on holiday in Uruguay. But it makes much more sense to begin the process at home because certain documents will need what’s known as an apostille. This is an internationally recognized seal declaring that a document is authentic and original. In the U.S., they’re issued primarily by Secretaries of State for each individual state.
This can be time-consuming, however. If one document comes from, say, Maryland and another from Utah, each document must be apostilled by its respective state. That can take time. And it’s often much easier to manage this from the U.S. in terms of phone calls and overnight shipping costs.
The documents you need are fairly limited in scope and easily obtained:
- Birth certificate (apostilled).
- Marriage certificate, if applicable (apostilled). This isn’t mandatory, but it can make the process easier.
- police certificate for each country in which you’ve lived over the previous five years. The mean FBI report from the U.S. (submit your request electronically here) or Interpol report from Europe. These need to be apostilled too. So, it can be easier to request a police report (either FBI or Interpol) through Interpol’s Montevideo office when you’re in Uruguay. If you lived in another country, you’ll need local police department records (apostilled by that country, which means you’d want to get in touch with that country’s nearest consulate or embassy).
- Documented proof of income. This is specifically not assets since assets might temporarily be moved into your name just to qualify for a visa. Instead, Uruguayan officials want to see that you have a means of supporting yourself through provable income. That could be a salary, rental income, or pension/Social Security benefits. If you’re applying as a married couple, only one spouse needs to prove income.
Those documents in hand, you enter Uruguay as a tourist.
5 Steps to Obtaining Your Uruguay VIsa
First step: Have all your apostilled papers translated into Spanish by an official public translator.
Second step: If you’ve waited until your in Uruguay to obtain your FBI/Interpol records, now is the time to do that. If you have all that already, make your application for temporary residency in person at Uruguay’s national immigration office, known locally as Dirección Nacional de Migración (DNM). While you can do this yourself, it can be easier to hire a local lawyer. Bureaucracy anywhere in the world can be a pain in the ass if you don’t know the system or the language.
Third step: Register the translated copy of your birth certificate with the Registro de Extranjeros. There, you’ll receive a document necessary to obtain your Uruguayan resident ID card – a cedula.
Fourth step: You need a carné de salud, a local health card. Obtaining this requires a medical exam at an authorized clinic locally. The exam includes a health interview, a vision test, examining your teeth, and a blood and urine test.
Fifth step: You need a medios de vida, an income certificate. For this, you’ll have to prove an income of at least $1,500 per month. Moreover, you must have an escribano, a local legal pro, verify that income and prepare the income certificate. As I noted earlier, any source of income is acceptable, including salary, rental income, or a pension / Social Security. As part of this, you might need to arrange for regular transfers of money into a Uruguayan bank to prove income. That means you’d need to open a Uruguayan bank account. Uruguayan banks are safe and well-regulated. The big banks to consider are Banco Santander (a Spanish giant); HSBC (global giant from Hong Kong / UK); Scotiabank (Canada giant); Banco Itau (Brazil’s leading bank); and Banco República (the largest local bank).
Wait for your “Temporary Resident” ID Card
After you apply for residency, you immediately become a “resident in process” – a residente en trámite . The immigration ministry will issue documents you’ll need to obtain your Uruguayan photo ID, your cédula. This will be a temporary cédula marked with the words “en trámite.”
Applying for your cédula happens at the Dirección Nacional de Identificación Civil (DNIC). But note: It’s here you’ll need that birth-certificate registration document issued by the Registro de Extranjeros back in step three. Your temporary cédula will carry with words “en trámite.” But it’s largely irrelevant. Your cédula gives you all the same, big, important rights and benefits of an Uruguayan citizen … including the right to immediately obtain local health insurance. (Expats say the local health system is quite good, and it’s inexpensive, generally about $50 to $60 per month.)
Historically, final approval has taken about a year, maybe a bit less. At that point, you earn your permanent cédula. The new president is pushing legislation that would reduce the process to between three and six months. Which, though this is burying the lead, is why I hope to begin the process as soon as the coronavirus scrams.
Living in Uruguay for three to six months while the process unfolds … I’ll put my hand up for that assignment every day.