Ecuador provides several visa options for expats wanting to stay in the country for more than 1 year. The most popular options for obtaining temporary residency in Ecuador are ‘Investor Visa’, ‘Retirement/Pensioner Visa’, ‘Professional Visa’, 'Rentista Visa' and ‘Dependant Visa’.
Each of these visas has its own requirements and bureaucratic processes. Our article on Ecuador's visa requirements provides an overview of the different visa types, but today we’re only focusing on the Professional Visa requirements for Ecuador.
Before diving into the details of applying for a Professional Visa, let’s take a minute to discuss your options before you need to apply for a temporary resident (migrant) visa.
Visitors from most countries (incl US, CAN, AU, EUR) can visit Ecuador for the first 90 days on a Tourist Stamp obtained upon entry. Residents of 29 countries need to obtain a permit prior to entry.
Once your initial 90 days are up, you can then get a ‘Tourist Visa Extension’ whilst in Ecuador for an additional 90 days. Bringing your total stay in Ecuador to 180 days.
After that, you have a few options. One option not many people talk about is the ‘Special Tourist 6 Month Visa’ which allows you to stay for another 180 days. It costs $450 + $5.60 for the Migratory Movement Certificate. You’ll also need proof of health insurance.
This will bring your total stay within Ecuador to 1 year. This should be enough time for you to make a thorough exploratory trip and spend a few months in various cities and towns that you’re interested in.
Or, you can apply for one of the temporary residence visas after your initial 3 or 6 months from inside Ecuador. Either way, we strongly recommend an exploratory trip rather than just moving here sight unseen.
A professional visa may be a great option if you have a university diploma and you took the course in-person.
The main requirements that separate the professional visa from other temporary resident visas are:
The other main consideration is ensuring you allow enough time for the documents to be apostilled in your home country and brought into Ecuador. You can post them via DHL (or similar) if you’re already in Ecuador, but it can be expensive.
You can bring the documents with you, BUT you may have a problem with the police record expiring as it’s only valid for 6 months. So, unless you’re making a visit back to your home country or have friends coming to visit in Ecuador to bring it for you, sending via private courier might be your only option.
Note, you should also peruse the official requirements from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility (“the Ministry”), but also note that this information still requires interpretation and is not regularly updated. I wasted two trips to the Ministry in the South of Quito trying to find out first-hand information because there was a discrepancy between the requirements they’d posted online and what they actually needed.
The full list of requirements and an explanation is provided below.
Get these documents issued and apostilled in your home country before sending to Ecuador:
Available from your home country. Only valid for 6 months. Time this well or you’ll need to send another apostilled criminal report.
Available from your university. They may charge a fee for this. Ideally, your university is already on the list of SENESYCT approved universities (download here or here). If not, then you can still apply and SENESYCT will most likely accept it if it’s from the US, Australia, Canada, or Europe, but it may take longer.
Available from your university. They may charge a fee for this.
The mode of study letter needs to be issued from your university and needs to indicate that you took the course in-person. For some reason, SENESYCT does not like to recognize online-based learning.
When I applied for my professional visa there was a lot of back and forth with SENESYCT before they were satisfied that my course was taught in-person. The uncertainly arose because although I completed two degrees, I only needed one to satisfy the professional visa requirements and decided to just register that degree with SENESYCT. It proved difficult for SENESYCT to separate the transcription results for each course, and then ensure that all of those subjects were taught in-person.
The lesson here is that if your application doesn’t fit very neatly within the requirements, then you are likely to face issues and delays.
Regardless of whether you hire a facilitator or go down the DIY route, you’re going to be largely on your own to ensure you have the above documents at the time of application.
Once you’ve got all of the documents, including those that needed to be apostilled, the basic process is:
This is easiest done by booking an appointment online. This also gives you the ability to choose the office where you’d like your appointment. Waiting times can vary significantly between offices, so it may be worthwhile traveling further than your closest Ministry.
This English guide may help you navigate the Ministry's website and book the appointment.
Hiring a visa facilitator really helped me decrease the waiting time for an appointment. I booked an appointment online, but the closest available appointment was 2 months away. My facilitator was able to reschedule my appointment for the following week! Now, I have no proof, but I assume some money changes hands for this to happen.
There’s no shortage of official notaries in Ecuador. Don’t forget your completed visa application form in Spanish.
Go to the immigration office and ask for the Migratory Movement Certificate. They’ll give you an invoice you need to pay at a bank and then return to collect your certificate.
The immigration office may not be very close to the Ministry. For example, in Quito the Ministry is in South Quito (near Terminal Quitumbe) whilst the Immigration office is near Parque Carolina (opposite Mall de Jardin). There’s a 45-minute taxi ride between the two offices so don’t get confused!
Today is the big day! Armed with all of your documents (including translations and apostilles), take yourself to the Ministry office where you’ll be directed where to go. Be prepared to visit several different officers to complete various procedures.
Wait times can vary a lot at the appointment. My facilitator was again able to bump me ahead in some lines which helped reduce my total time at the Ministry to 2 hours.
Ask at the Ministry what payment options are available. I was able to pay in cash directly at the Ministry in Quito. The payments are separated into a non-refundable $50 visa application fee and a $400 visa fee if your visa is approved.
Processing times can vary. I was able to collect my cedula the very same day as the last part of the process at the Ministry.
Now, I was only able to pick up my cedula the same day because I was ok with my education level being stated on my cedula as ‘inicial’, which is the lowest level of education. This is despite applying for a professional visa that requires a higher level of education.
This happens because SENESYCT then needs to go through their education verification requirements. I could have waited until SENESYCT approved my application and then printed off my cedula with my appropriate level of education, but I decided a cedula in my hand was better than waiting and I could always apply for a replacement cedula if I wanted.
The biggest impact of having ‘inicial’ as my education level on my cedula was that it makes it harder to transfer your existing driver’s license to an Ecuadorian license.
Whilst at my Ministry appointment, I received an email from them with a copy of my new visa attached. I was expected them to print out a sticker and attach it to my passport. But no, I needed to print it out and keep it with my passport.
I’ve actually forgotten to carry a copy of my digital temporary residency visa when entering Quito on an international flight. The customs officer asked a few questions but when he saw I also had my cedula, he eased up a bit and eventually let me through without seeing the visa. I’m not saying that your customs officer will be as sympathetic, so always try to keep your printed visa with your passport to avoid these uncomfortable situations.
You have 3 months from the date the temporary visa is issued to when your documents need to be registered with SENESYCT. Mine took longer than this because there was a lot of back and forth with SENESYCT about the specific degrees I studied.
This was actually a fairly frustrating exchange because it wasn’t clear exactly what SENESYCT wanted from my university. We provided everything, but as my case was a little bit different (2 degrees studied simultaneously), SENESYCT didn’t know how to process it. I’m still not convinced they got the answers they wanted, but they eventually approved my application after a bit of pressure.
So, now you know the requirements and the process, getting a professional visa should be a breeze right? Woooah, slow down there! I also thought it would be fairly straight forward to apply on my own.
But, after doing the research, realizing there is a gap in what the Ministry says on the website and what they actually expect, two trips to the south of Quito to visit the Ministry to find out the actual requirements, I got frustrated and hired a facilitator.
If your Spanish is below intermediate/advanced, then I’d absolutely recommend at least taking a native Spanish speaker with you because there will be hiccups. One of these can easily derail your entire application.
With a facilitator, you just need to provide the documents and turn up to the Ministry for your appointment and cedula.
Ultimately, I’d generally recommend a facilitator for expats unless they have an advanced level of Spanish, possess lots of patience, and have the luxury of time on their side.
Feel free to contact us If you’d like details for visa facilitators in your area.
Have you applied for a Professional Visa? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
Guides from a mixed expat & Ecuadorian family.
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