Scam a lama ding dong

Kathy Morningside: Twenty-five years of bitching beauty queens, and what do I get? Fired! They steal my life. They steal my beauty pageant…

Gracie Hart: Hey, hey! It is not a beauty pageant, it is a scholarship program.

Kathy Morningside: Yeah, yeah.

From Miss Congeniality (2000)

IMG_2196I read a few blogs by expats and participate in a few ex-pat forums.  I also look at embassy and consulate pages and try to stay informed about how to get from one place to another.  I’ve learned that many Americans haven’t a clue about international travel.  Maybe it’s because people in the U.S. can travel great distances without a need for showing documentation and can just move from one coast to another without needing to seek a government’s permission.  Maybe it’s because the U.S. has treaties with so many nations practically enabling one’s visa-free entry; but regardless of the reason, many Americans are clueless that their time in another country is actually limited unless they obtain a long-stay visa or permit and some are totally unaware that they need any kind of document other than their passport to gain entry to a country.  Some even go so far as to buy a house or property in another country without the knowledge that property ownership does not imply permission to be resident.

I read of one man’s announcement to all his friends that he was moving to Italy:  he purchased his airfare, his friends then provided him a splendid bon voyage party and then he learned that his stay in Italy was limited to 90 days; if he wanted to stay longer, he would have to obtain a long-stay permit.  His next thought was to spend 90 days in Italy, go to France, then to Germany, then back to Italy.  That’s when he learned about the Schengen Treaty that limits you to 90 days total within a six month period to all the countries that are party to the treaty, which of course includes Italy, France, and Germany (as well as 23 other nations including Greece, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland).  As you can see, the Treaty was signed by both European Union as well as non-EU nations.

This morning I read of an American couple that bought an apartment in Germany only to later discover they cannot obtain a residency permit.

This type of ignorance is perhaps a result, too, of publications such as International Living and the steady stream of writing that tells us how easy and wonderful it is to retire outside the U.S.  Every year International Living and its parent organization Live and Invest Overseas (creations of Kathleen Peddicord) publishes its list of the top 25 or 10 or 6 or 8 “best” spots to retire to.  Aiming at primarily an American and Canadian boomer audience, her “surveys” are quoted by and published in the Huffington PostU.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Money, and AARP. According to hobotravler.com,

she takes the world press, and plays with them like children.

Peddicord’s publications (and others like hers) will tell you all about the wonderful healthcare available in France or Spain or Germany, but they won’t mention how expensive expat health insurance can be for a retiree or the difficulty one might have in joining a nation’s healthcare system.  Many countries, as part of their visa requirements – especially in Europe – require proof of health insurance for all risks before issuing a long-stay visa to enter the country.

Americans seeking a long-stay permit often need to apply for a visa while still resident in the United States.  The application can be done at most embassies and consulates.  Consulates usually have latitude in applying the nation’s regulations, so a San Francisco consulate, for example, might specify an applicant must present different information than, say, the Los Angeles consulate, which, in turn, may request different information than say the Embassy itself or the Chicago consulate.  Below is a table showing the requirements of the Italian consulate in San Francisco and those of the Italian Embassy.

Requirements for Long-term Visa (Italy)

Italian Consulate in San Francisco Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Long-term visa application form

  1. signed at the Consulate.
  2. The applicant must appear in person.
  3. Visa fee paid for with a money order or cashier’s check payable to the Consulate General of Italy (no cash, no credit cards, no personal checks);
Visa application form
 Recent passport-style photo Recent passport-style photo
Passport or valid travel document valid three months over the planned stay in Italy. The passport will be kept and returned with the visa, if approved. Passport or travel document valid for at least three months after visa expiry date
Documented and detailed guarantee of substantial and steady private income private income (pensions or annuities) from property, stable economic and commercial activities or from other sources.Proof of financial means, such as letters from the applicant’s bank indicating the financial status of their accounts, including amount of money in each account, copy of last pension check received etc.; Documented and detailed guarantee of substantial and steady economic resources deriving from private income (pensions or annuities), properties, stable economic and commercial activities or other sources
Availability of adequate lodgings in Italy: lease contract or deed for property in Italy Availability of adequate lodgings in Italy
A letter from the applicant where he/she specifies the reason for his/her permanent stay in Italy and stating where he/she plans to reside, name of persons accompanying the applicant such as the spouse, children, etc.
FBI Criminal Record
Bank statements for the last 6 months
Two letters of reference from major banking institutions or chartered accountants
Last 2 years of tax return

Furthermore, consular officers have discretion in applying the criteria, too.  Each consular office is responsible for specific geographic regions of the U.S. and a visa seeker cannot just show up in an office that has a reputation for being more lenient in its awarding of visas.

Peddicord  works the world of churnalism, which Wikipedia defines as

press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material … used to create articles in newspapers and other news media … to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking. The neologism … has been credited to BBC journalist Waseem Zakir who coined the term in 2008.

Peddicord’s publications and others like hers make becoming an ex-patriate sound so easy.  Their breezy writing style is full of Tuscan sun and Provençal rosé even when they promote purchasing real estate in lands where public displays of anti-Semitism are on the rebound.  You’ll never hear about sweltering heat and humidity in the tropics nor of insect invasions, armies of bureaucrats, border runs, constantly changing residency regulations nor gray skies and rains in places like Cuenca, Ecuador that drive ex-pats to other places.

These types of publications don’t delve into such topics as translated and apostilled documents.  Some countries require birth certificates, marriage/divorce certificates, university degrees, and professional  licenses to be apostilled, meaning the government or authority that issued the document (such as a U.S. state) must confirm that the form and its signatures, seals or stamps are genuine.  This can be both time-consuming and expensive.  Documents requiring translation often must be translated by persons approved by the consulate or embassy.

In a way, the “there’s a golden pond in every country” view of retirement outside of the U.S. is the obverse of the 19th and 20th century hucksters who promised émigrés streets paved with gold if they would just leave Europe and head to America.

I have strayed soooo far from my opening quotation, but here is today’s wrapup.  While in Mexico I’ve volunteered for an organization that provides local students with university scholarships.  The Miss America pageant recently took place and I hate to reach into the John Oliver bin yet again, but I must as he gets to the heart of the matter in the last ten minutes of his monolog when he analyzes (as only John Oliver can) that organization’s generosity with regard to scholarships.

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