WE’RE GOING TO INDIA!!!
Amelia is finally letting me tell you because we can’t keep it a secret any longer. That’s because we had to make an emergency trip to the US Embassy (Embajada de los Estados Unidos) in Guayaquil to get my passport renewed. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Our friends Chinnu and Abin from Namaste India are getting married! Their story is a full blown India Rom Com (Romantic Comedy) that we’ll share on a later date.
We’ve been going to Namaste since our first week in Cuenca, and we forged a friendship with Chinnu and now Abin, too. We’re VERY honored to be invited and excited to attend their wedding in southern India!
We will also be staying in Amsterdam for a week on the way to India, Amelia’s first time to Europe and my first time to mainland Europe. But before we can go, we have some obstacles to overcome…
Yellow Fever Vaccine (Vacuna de Fiebre Amarilla)
The Yellow Fever Vaccine is a requirement to go to India for anyone who has visited or lives in a country that has Yellow Fever, and Ecuador fits that bill. If we show up in India without the vaccine, they’ll quarantine us for 6 days and that’s NOT how we want to spend half our time in india!
Amelia was in charge of the India Visa process, and she thought we needed the vaccine before we could apply for the visa, which isn’t correct. You can apply for the visa without the vaccine, which would have alerted us sooner to the problem with my passport.
In the states, you generally get vaccines at your doctor’s office, but it’s different here in Ecuador. We emailed our primary care doctor and he directed us to the health ministry office on Doce de Abril near Parque de la Madre.
We walked down there one afternoon (it’s only about a 10 minute walk from our house) to find out they only give vaccines in the morning. This was during Carnaval so they weren’t giving vaccines again until after the holiday almost a week later.
So the next week, we went back to get our shots but the line was already about 20 people long when we arrived shortly after 8AM and they don’t open until 8:30 AM. We both had other appointments that morning, so we left and came back at 11:30AM only to learn they had already run out of the Yellow Fever vaccine for the day. Apparently, they get a fresh batch every day 🤷♂️
It was Friday, so once again we had to wait until the following week to go back. We got there right at 8AM the following Tuesday and we were already 5th in line, but we managed to get our shots and the Yellow Fever booklet we need to go to India. It only took 4 trips.
Our shots were totally free. Vaccines are covered by the national healthcare program even if you’re not on the IESS plan.
India Visa & Your REAL Passport Expiration Date
With our Yellow Fever booklet in hand, we went home to fill out the online visa application for India. That’s when I realized we had a problem.
Here’s the second eligibility requirement: Passport should have at least six months validity from the date of arrival in India.
You tell me. Does that mean the passport needs to be at least 6 months old? Or does it mean it needs to have a least 6 months remaining before it expires? Amelia thought the first; I thought the second.
So after filling out the online form, it told me I’m not eligible for a visa because my passport expires within 6 months of our trip.
That means your passport does NOT expire on the expiration date printed on your passport. It actually expires 6 months BEFORE that date.
Ecuador and many other countries have the same rule. You cannot enter their countries with less than 6 months of “validity” left on your passport so keep that in mind. We’re setting calendar reminders for 8 months prior to expiration so this doesn’t happen again.
If I had left Ecuador, they wouldn’t have allowed me to reenter. I would have had to stay in the US for 2 to 3 weeks waiting for my new passport before returning. Thankfully we avoided that situation.
Emergency Trip to the US Embassy in Guayaquil
You can use DHL to ship your passport, application and money to the US Embassy in Guayaquil, but this adds several days and a lot of risk to the passport renewal process. I would NEVER ship my passport and leave myself stranded!
Las Busetas de Operazuay Tur
So we opted to take a buseta with Operazuay Tur from Cuenca to Guayaquil to file the passport renewal paperwork in person. You can only go to the embassy on Tuesday or Wednesday from 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM so plan accordingly.
Courtyard by Marriott Guayaquil
Rather than take a buseta that leaves Cuenca at 6AM, we went the night before and used some of Amelia’s points to stay at the Courtyard by Marriott Guayaquil. We’ve stayed there before and it was REALLY nice. This Courtyard is as nice as any Marriott back in the states.
Mall San Marino
The Courtyard in Guayaquil is only a couple blocks from Mall San Marino, which has a NOE Sushi Bar with vegan options.
One of the things that continues to surprise us is how similar other countries are to the US. This is one of the nicest malls I’ve ever been in, with many of the same brands you would see in the states, plus several brands from Europe that we don’t often see in the states.
We’re taught in the states to think that South America and developing countries around the world are still living in the dark ages, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Except for the language being spoken and printed on most (not all) signs, you could plop this mall down in any American city and no one would believe it came from South America.
There was one more difference: it was PACKED with people on a Monday night! The malls are dying in the US mostly thanks to Amazon and online shopping. However, Amazon hasn’t overtaken Ecuador because reliable, affordable shipping options don’t exist here, yet. That means people still do most of their shopping in the real world.
NOE Sushi Bar San Marino Guayaquil
We’ve eaten at the NOE Sushi Bar in Cuenca and the Quito Airport several times, and it’s delicious! They have two pages of vegetarian sushi options, and all of them can be veganized except the tamago (which is egg).
Be sure to tell them you’re vegan: Somos veganos (or soy vegano if you’re alone). And remind them that means no queso, no crema, no juevo, no carne, no pesca. They always bring us a little abreboca (small appetizer) that’s vegan; some avocado sushi on this occasion.
We also ordered the Yasai Maki and the Bonsai Vegetariana, sin crema. Since some of it was fried, it wasn’t the healthiest of dinners, but it certainly was DELICIOUS! We’ll have to eat extra clean for several days to make up for it!
Renewing My Passport at the US Embassy in Guayaquil
Hopefully we don’t get in trouble for showing the embassy because they wouldn’t let us film anything. As soon as they saw my camera, they told me to put it away. There were LOTS of people waiting in line, but they lifted the rope for us and let us go straight to the front since we’re American citizens.
All the guards were VERY polite, smiling and happy. We’re so used to the sour attitudes of security guards in the states, it was a pleasant surprise to be treated with respect and kindness.
We had to leave everything at the security entrance except our passport docs. They asked us to turn off our phones and watches, too. Luckily, they let us pass without shutting off my Fitbit because I had no idea how to turn it off. They gave us a number to collect our things on the way out.
After going through the security scanners, we exited the security station and entered the beautifully landscaped embassy grounds. More smiling guards were there to point us in the right direction. Again, lots more people were waiting in the open air to go inside the next building. And again, they pointed to the door and sent us in before everyone else.
Once inside, there was another security scanner with a line of people and they escorted us in front of them. There were 13 windows serving another LONG line of people, but only one window for American citizens. We had our own waiting area with chairs to sit in. There were 3 people in front of us, but it only took about 10 minutes before it was our turn.
I handed my passport, application and passport photo to the agent and he reviewed everything very quickly. He crossed out the TravelingMailbox address I had entered and told us to use our Cuenca address, instead.
Then he said we needed a color copy of my passport details page, which nearly gave me a heart attack. I was afraid we would need to leave the embassy to get a copy made, but if we did that, we wouldn’t be able to get back before 11:30 AM when they close. Then he said there’s a copy machine outside in the courtyard area, so my freakout was short lived.
He also told us to go pay the cashier, who was at window 14 around the corner from the other 13 windows, and bring the receipt back to him with the copy of my passport. The cost was $110 for a passport renewal.
We went outside to a small green kiosk with a man sitting inside who does nothing but make copies. It was $1 for a copy. Then we went back inside, again being escorted through the security line, then escorted in front of the line to pay for our renewal. They gave us two receipts: one for the agent and one that I’ll need in order to pick up my passport in two weeks.
We went back to the original agent and waited behind two people for about 5 minutes. Then he called us up, took my passport, the color copy, the corrected application, and the receipt, and told us to wait a few minutes for the approval process.
About 5 minutes later, he called us back up and gave my passport back to me, along with a green slip of paper saying my application has been approved and it would be ready in 15 calendar days.
He told us it should only take 8 to 10 business days, though, and he asked if I wanted to DHL it back to Cuenca, but said that would add another 5 to 6 days to the process so I opted to go back to Guayaquil to pick it up. With our trip so close, I will only feel comfortable if they hand it directly to me.
We left that area, walked back through the grounds and into the security entrance building, gathered our things and exited the embassy. A cab was waiting across the street so we hopped in and he drove us back to the Courtyard hotel.
Amelia arranged a late checkout for us so we did some work in the room and then went for lunch at NOE again before heading back to the buseta terminal near the Guayaquil airport.
Overall, it was one of the most pleasant experiences we’ve ever had with our government, and it was in another country! Everyone was super nice and helpful, but most of the guards didn’t speak English so we had to practice our Spanish under stress.
Now we wait and hope my passport gets here on time without issue. 🤞
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