“I knew this was going to happen,” I proclaimed, throwing my hands in the air in an exaggerated motion.
I’d spent an hour meticulously crafting a letter to my US-based bank, E*Trade, which spelled out exactly what I needed from them for my business visa application.
Specifically, I needed a signed, notarized letter from them stating my average monthly bank deposits, and balances, for the three accounts I had with them. This documentation is required to substantiate my ability to support myself in Colombia.
Instead, what my parents received back a week later was an unsigned letter from an Operations Expert in the New Jersey office stating why they cannot notarize documents.
In addition, the last three months worth of my bank records were provided, despite the fact that I stated in the letter that I could obtain this information myself through the E*Trade website.
I was pissed off. The confusion was going to cost me at least a week, maybe more, if they didn’t get it right the second time.
I called E*Trade customer service, and told them at a minimum I needed a signed letter with the average balances and deposits on it.
The information has to be on the signed letter, because that’s what I need to get notarized, and I can’t get the state to apostille the document unless it’s first notarized.
Wait, What’s a Notary?
A notary is a lawyer or person with legal training who is licensed by the state to perform acts in legal affairs, in particular witnessing signatures on documents. The form that the notarial profession takes varies with local legal systems. — Wikipedia
And an Apostille?
The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, the Apostille convention, or the Apostille treaty is an international treaty drafted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. It specifies the modalities through which a document issued in one of the signatory countries can be certified for legal purposes in all the other signatory states. Such a certification is called an apostille (French: certification). It is an international certification comparable to a notarisation in domestic law. — Wikipedia
In short, a notary certifies a document is official within a country, while an apostille certifies it is authentic for international use.
In the USA, notaries are fairly easy to find, and the fees are small. Apostilles must be done through the individual Department of State offices (depending on the state where the document was produced and notarized).
If my bank wasn’t going to notarize the letter, I had to come up with a Plan B. I emailed Chris, one of my oldest friends from New Jersey, and asked if he could assist me.
First, E*Trade would have to re-submit the request on my behalf, and mail me the signed letter.
Second, I’d have to FedEx it to Chris and hope he can get it notarized (I’ve been told by lawyer friends a notary does not always have to actually witness the signature to certify it).
Third, I’d have to include instructions for Chris to FedEx the notarized letter to the NJ State Dept for the apostille, plus include return FedEx envelope to my parents house in Florida.
The whole bank request suddenly became over-complicated by my bank’s unwillingness to notarize a document, what would seem a standard request for their customers. I’m surprised they don’t even have a notary in their NJ office, as we had a few in the insurance company I worked for in Virginia.
Meanwhile, I checked with my lawyer, Alan, regarding the notary, and thus apostille. He stated it was not absolutely required, but would be very helpful toward increasing the credibility of my documentation, and thus business visa application.
In the meantime, I appointed a new VP to my Florida-based company, RTW Media LLC. He also lives in Florida, and at my request, wrote, signed, and notarized a Company Declaration stating my business purposes in Colombia.
He then mailed this to my parent’s house, and in turn, they mailed it to the Florida State Department in Tallahassee for the apostille, along with a request for a signed, apostilled Certificate of Status, which states my LLC is in good standing in the state of Florida.
Through the FL State website, I can pay $5 to print out a copy of this, but per Alan, I need an original signature, and apostille.
Getting these documents from the US is what concerns me most about collecting the required documentation in a short period of time.
A delay or mistake can easily set me back several weeks, as was the case with E*Trade.
This series is intended to shed light on the entire process of applying for a business visa in Colombia. To that end, I want to share everything I need.
Required Documentation for a Standard Business Visa
- Certificate of Status: signed, apostilled, translated to Spanish.
- Company Declaration by another party: signed, notarized, apostilled, translated.
- Company Declaration written by me (in Colombia): signed, translated, notarized in Colombia.
- Bank Statements: signed, notarized, apostilled, and translated letter stating average monthly deposits and balances, plus 3 months worth of records.
- Preliminary Questionnaire: for use by my lawyer in preparing the application.
- Support Letters (Optional): letters in Spanish from Colombian business associates (or in my case, tourism officials), signed, notarized.
- 2 copies of the Passport information page
- 2 copies of most recent Colombian visa stamps
- 3 visa-size photos
Update July 28, 2013: My parents received a second package from E*Trade, identical to the first. At first I was upset, until my parents confirmed that both the first AND second packages contained the signed letter I requested. It seems this was lost in communication after the first package was received, as only the unsigned letter stating a notary wasn’t possible was scanned/emailed to me. In other words, E*Trade did what they could, as I asked, and it was a miscommunication between my parents and I that lead us to lose a week.
To Be Continued…
- The Decision to Pursue a Colombian Business Visa
- Documentation Required for a Standard Business Visa
- Business Visa Update
- Final Push: Visa Application and Interview Process in Bogota
- Colombia Visas: My Experience with Langon Colombia
PS – There is another type of business visa for owners of a Colombia-based business. This option was more expensive, and involves setting up a company in Colombia, as well as a bank account. The documentation requirements are different. I chose the standard business visa option because it was less costly, and I already set up an LLC in Florida earlier this year.