getting married in argentina

I was in the process of trying to get married here in Buenos Aires. I am an American, living here for about a year on renewed tourist visas, and I speak reasonable Spanish. I was divorced two years ago from my former wife, where I live(d) in Hawaii. My novia (fiancee) is Peruana, with a DNI and legal Argentine residency.

First I went to the Registro Civil here in Belgrano, Capital Federal. They told me that since I am not a legal resident, we had to apply in the district where my novia lives, which is San Isidro. This is in Provincia Buenos Aires, not in Capital Federal. We went there (on a Monday between 8 and 1, the only time they accept applications). They explained the process. First I get a copy of my divorce decree from a previous marriage, get it translated, then certified by the College of Translators, then stamped by the US Consulate, then stamped by the Ministro Exterior, then submitted to the Provincia Registro Civil in La Plata (1-1/2 hours away), then returned to San Isidro.

First try, we took a certified copy of my divorce decree to the translator, had a meeting with her in a restaurant, waited, went to her home and picked up the translation, took it to the college of translators to get it certified as being accurate, took it to the ministry of exterior. They said no, it has to be “apostillado de hawai” which means I had to get an apostille stamp from the Hawaii lieutenant governor’s office on the original document. Everybody along the line had said take it to the consulate. Well, for every other country in the world, the government provides this apostille stamp, which authenticates the documents as being yours, or being genuine, or something. It’s a big gold seal. But in the land of the free and the home of the brave, you gotta do it at state level.

Read on…

Called the lt gov’s office, they said no problem, send us a certified copy of the divorce decree, it only costs $1. I had been through this before with other records. I figured no problem. Called the family court and got the right number for the circuit court documents office. Called them, she was very nice and made the copy while I was on the phone, she said as soon as I receive the $3.50 I will send it out. Got a friend to mail the request with a check, it took a week before she got the document in the mail. She sent it to the lt. gov’s office with a stamped $25 express mail international envelope.

A week later I get the envelope here in BA, they declined to provide the apostille, said it had to be “exemplified” not just certified, plus I had not submitted a signed application form. I called and asked what the hell, they said call the court again for a new document, however they do not need an original signature on the application form. I called the court again, apparently to be exemplified the decree has to be not just certified but also signed by the judge and his signature witnessed. She said no problem, I will put it in the works, ready by Friday but we can’t release it without $7.50.

I called and emailed another friend. I signed the application form and scanned it, emailed it to him. He walked into the court and picked up the document and sent it with another $25 stamped express envelope to lt. gov’s office same day. They waited the full 10 days before mailing it, total about 2 weeks.

Received the second document, including a separate page with “exemplification” and another page with “apostille”. Took it to the translator. She changed the order of the pages, because she had the original already translated, and didn’t have a computer/printer in her house. Took it to the College of Translators, no problem. But wait…

Took it to the Ministro de Exterior, got there first thing in the morning to avoid the lines. There were 3 guys in a row, like the 3 monkeys (hear nothing, see nothing, speak nothing). They said no, this apostille was only for the exemplification page, it didn’t mention the word “divorce”. I put up an argument, pointed to signatures, notarial seals, dates. They said OK, but they didn’t need to put a seal on it, the “legalizacion” from the College of Translators was good enough. On to La Plata.

We decided to take the train from ConstituciĆ³n to La Plata. Took a train to Retiro, then a Subte to ConstituciĆ³n. It was a protest day, and the station was crowded with protestors. Some were beating drums, I considered offering them money just to shut up. We got on the train, got seats, then guess what? All the protestors got on our train. The drums got in our car and kept playing. A woman was standing right in front of me, eating bread and dropping the crumbs in my lap — at the same time carrying on a slapping match with a guy outside the window. Well, the protesters got off and we made it to La Plata. Got to the Registro Civil, were mis-directed upstairs, and when we got back down to the ground floor and the correct window, we were 5 minutes late — they close at 1 pm. The ladies were very nice and accepted my application. I went across the street and made photocopies. Went down a block and paid $20 pesos at another branch of the office. Came back with everything together, she said fine — this should be ready in about 5 weeks!! She handed me a tiny scrap of paper with a web address and a code number to enter online. I have been continuing to check this and watch the progress of the paperwork from one office to another.

Three weeks later I got an envelope in the mail. The enclosed documents said I had to provide 4 more papers, including a note from the US Consulate explaining that in the US we do not put “notas marginales de divorcio” on original marriage certificates. I emailed the consulate, went down there and waited in line for this document. Put it together with proof of my current address, photocopies of my passport with entry stamps, and evidence of the last address I had when previously married. Huh?

On to La Plata again. This time we took a bus

The girl at the desk (mesa de entrada) was only the hands and eyes. She consulted with the girl at the desk, who had at least part of the brains. She said it looked good, but had to go to the Escribano for a decision. Call back tomorrow. That was last week. We have called twice. The papers made it past the Escribano, but were awaiting the Director’s signature. That’s where it stands now. Waiting for Godot. Waiting for a renaissance of wonder.

Even after I receive this latest series of chops on photocopied documents, we still have to go back to San Isidro on a Monday between 8 and 1, and find out what the waiting period will be there. I am wondering if it might still be faster to apply for a fiancee visa and go to the states to get married.

Watching the shadowy movements behind the obscure glass separating the waiting room from the back office, I am reminded of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which is part of the Socratic dialog The Republic. In this allegory, we are all facing a wall in a cave and watching shadows on the wall. The shadows are created by some essential reality taking place outside the cave, and all we can perceive are the vague shadows of this essential reality, that is somehow “more real”. It was like that in the waiting room — sitting in limbo, waiting for an analysis and decision by some unseen, unknown personage behind the smoky glass. As civil servants they participate in a level of essential reality that controls the lives of all the rest of us, all of us who have to wait in line outside the windows, for the bureaucrats inside to make their life-altering decisions.

But there was more to come.

After several weeks waiting, we received word again to return to La Plata. Request denied. We traipsed up the stairs to the 6th floor, and were told by a woman in a dingy office that smelled of long-ago-stacked piles of paper. She explained that the original marriage certificate, from 1993 in the Philippines, lacked “actualization” and “legalization” — actualizado y legalizado. Whatever the hell that means — and after many months, I still don’t know. This is as good a place as any to insert a description of all the gold seals — they are apparently reffered to within the US State Department as “dago dazzlers”. Sounds good to me. But just wait.

I went to the Philippine embassy. They were very nice and explained to me that gosh, they could only sign & stamp a paper if it had a certain person’s signature from the Ministro de Exterior. OK. Went to the Ministro Exterior, past the same monkey no see, no hear, no talk, and this time made it down the stairs (another inner sanctum) to talk to somebody with a necktie. He kindly informed me that I needed to get a stamp from the Argentina embassy in Manila, Philippines. Huh? For goodnes sake, the divorce was stamped with gold seals all over the place — I mean BIG gold seals — but it wasn’t enough to dazzle them. So back to the drawing board.

At this point I was just suffering from illness and fatigue — just sick and tired of the whole process. I gave up, for a while anyway. A couple months later I made a foray outward, called my Filipina former wife and got the contact info for her friend in Manila. I got hold of her, and she is sharp, many years the executive secretary for a top industrialist. She gets things done. I called her using Skype, and got her on her cell phone while she was shopping in a mall in Manila. Told her I would send her an email describing the situation. We exchanged a few emails and she was eager to help, and she made a few phone calls then outlined the process:

First I had to send them a package of stuff, including letters of request, one of them notarized. I needed to get a certified copy of the original marriage certificate from the records office in Manila. Then it had to be certified, stamped and sealed again by the DFA, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs. Then on to the Argentine Embassy. She could put her assistant on it, if I could pay the girl for her time. No problem. Aha, but then she needed an ORIGINAL photo ID, along with copies of every other ID I possess. Why? Dont ask….

So I went back to the US, 9,000 miles and 32 hours travel, to my home in Hawaii, and went down to the state building in Hilo to get a state ID card. Sent the card and all the paperwork and about $200 to cover costs. The process started. Since it was going to take about a month, and my flight reservations back to Buenos Aires were carved in stone, I decided to ask her to FedEx the stuff direct to BA. It got here before I did.

Papers looked great — actually had a piece of red tape running across the document, stuck under the gold seal. Great. Called the translator, got those papers stapled to the back, then took it to the College of Translators and got their stamp. Again. Took it back to Ministro Exterior, talked my way downstairs again and this time talked to a very nice English-speaking young man who explained that the seal from the Argentine Embassy in Manila was all I needed. Right….He explained that the paper they would provide would be the same letterhead, same form. Since it was already done they wouldn’t do it. OK, back to La Plata.

After another few weeks waiting time (good thing there wasn’t a baby on the way), went back to La Plata again and was given to understand that now we needed yet another document. Apparently all the gold seals still weren’t enough. I needed to get the Philippine Embassy in Manila to write a note, similar to the statement from the US Embassy saying we don’t use “notas marginales” on marriage certificates. However in addition, they, that is the Philippine Embassy, had to state that the divorce decree would be accepted (execute) in the Philippines. I called them and explained, and the consular officer was great — a ray of hope and sunshine in an otherwise long, dark process. Except there is one slight glitch — there is no divorce in the Philippines!

I went to their offices, and he wrote a wonderful letter, had his translator prepare a Spanish version, and gave me both copies in triplicate with original signatures. Since my former wife had become a US citizen, the divorce executed immediately. Great! Ready, set, go…..But wait….

Went back to La Plata. Meanwhile we had been calling the upstairs office. Kept getting different girls, the first one moved to a different office and we got somebody who knew from nothing. We kept calling, went through a few chair-warmers and phone-answerers, and finally got a person who understood our dilemma. After another several weeks elapsed, apparently the application was approved but was waiting for the director’s signature. Waiting, waiting, and waiting. Where was that directory anyway? On vacation? Broke his/her writing hand? Waiting for a bribe? Who knows.

Finally one Wednesday I got a call from the local Registro Civil in San Isidro, they had the permiso, all I had to do was come in and sign. Tuesday, between 8 and 11. Another 6 days. Got to the office, girl #1 sent us to desk #2. She of course knew nothing, said we had to come back on a Monday. Uh, oh. Went back to girl #1 and explained who I was again, and lo & behold she unearthed the same folder I had been tracking for so many months in La Plata, handed it to me and we returned to desk #2. We explained again to the girl, she looked through every paper (quite a stack by this time, about 1 inch thick) and she got up and went back to desk #1 to see what was up. Finally she came back and it was downhill from there.

2 weeks later we are married, for better or for worse. Thankfully we still love each other.

So the moral of this story is, if you ever get any documents in any country, ever, anywhere — make sure you get lots and lots of official gold seals and proper signatures and chain-of-evidence stamps on them — if you ever conceivably might get married in Argentina!