Oh, you should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about.
~ Willy Wonka
I’m beginning to feel like I’m in the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory…in search of the illusive golden ticket. In our case, we’re in search of the Secretary of State’s gold seal that certifies the notary. I returned to the states in November to start the process for our residency in Nicaragua. After many failed attempts, Ron and I returned to the states in January and started the process all over again in Florida, where they seem to understand Latin logic more than other states. Following is what I have learned throughout this horrific and frustrating experience:
1. Nicaragua is not a member of the Hague Convention. Therefore to legalize documents for Nicaragua, they go through a chain of authentication or certification process. Countries that are members of the Hague Convention receive apostilles for the documents instead of certifications.
2. It all starts with the notary! We collected our documents: long-form birth certificates, proof of income for a lifetime, health statements that say we are of good health and free from contagious diseases, marriage certificate, and police reports. These documents need to have embossed or raised stamps…Nicaragua loves stamps! Then, all documents are taken to a notary, copied, and stamped.
3. It is illegal to copy and notarize birth certificates in most states. So, get several copies of birth certificates to include in packets. Nicaragua wants four packets containing the notarized copies of documents. Believe me when I say, the gold seal will be out of reach if you copy and notarize the birth certificates. That is a BIG no,no!
4. Once your documents are notarized, you will need to either get the County Clerk’s office to certify that the notary is a true and legal notary in that county, or in our case, just send documents to the Secretary of State to certify that the notary is a true and legal notary in the state. Depending on the state that you get your documents notarized, they may need a County Clerk’s seal and a Secretary of State seal. Since we are going through Florida, they only need the Secretary of State seal to certify a Florida notary.
5. This is probably the most important part. Remember it all starts with the notary. It doesn’t matter what state or states your documents are from. It is a chain of authentication, starting with the notary. You will only need ONE letter of certification from the Secretary of State certifying the notary. The individual documents do not need to be certified…only the notary needs to be certified. This was a BIG problem for us. No matter how we tried to explain to the State Department that we only needed ONE letter certifying the notary, they kept telling us, “No, we don’t do it that way.” So, here is a simple way to get your gold seal from the Secretary of State. ( Actually, I’m hoping it is a simple solution, because I won’t know until Monday if it worked.) Only send the State Department one document to be certified. Keep it simple and send the letter from the doctor, which is not a legal document. Have the letter copied and notarized, then send it off to the State Department asking them to certify the notary for that one document. Hopefully, we should receive a letter from the Secretary of State with the state seal certifying that the notary is a true and legal notary in the state of Florida. That is our golden ticket!
6. We chose to use a courier service to deliver our one document to the State Department of Florida. For us, it was cheaper than driving to Tallahassee to get the certification. But, most states have a walk-in service at the Department of Apostilles and Certifications. Our first attempt ended in failure because the notary didn’t use the right form on the document. So, today, we called the notary in from vacation ( he was on his way to Oregon for a week) and had him redo the notary form that was required by Florida.
7. Once we receive the GOLD SEAL from Florida, then we can take the completed packet to the Nicaraguan Consulate in Miami, FL. We’re flying to Miami next Tuesday. We found an inexpensive guest house on Flagler Street ( try to find an inexpensive place to stay in Miami! Whew!) near the Nicaraguan Consulate. We plan to hand-deliver our documents. The cost is $50 for same day authentication. The Nicaraguan Consulate only needs to see the GOLD SEAL from the Secretary of the State of Florida to authenticate our documents. Apparently, each of the six Nicaraguan consulates in the USA have copies of the gold seals in their states of jurisdiction. Florida goes through the Nicaraguan consulate in Miami. In November, I used a notary in Pennsylvania, thus if I would have obtained the illusive GOLD SEAL from the Secretary of State of Pennsylvania, I would have had to send my documents to the Nicaraguan Consulate in NY.
8. Make sure you have plenty of time for everything! First, all the original documents are dated. In our case, they were dated November 1st. That means, we have 6 months to get our authenticated documents from the USA to the immigration office in Nicaragua. Once the USA process is complete, then it will take 3-4 weeks for our Nicaraguan lawyer to have all the documents translated into Spanish, and 4 copies made of everything including all the pages of our passports and 6 photos each. Once all the packets are finally delivered to immigration, time stops. As long as our documents are delivered before the end of April (that’s when they expire), we are in good shape.
9. Be patient. Everyone will tell you something different. There is a way to work around the bureaucracy, but it requires patience, fortitude, and a lot of luck! Remember, it starts with the notary. Choose a state where they understand Latin logic. Your documents do not need to be individually certified…only the notary needs to be certified. Make sure you have plenty of time because your documents expire in 6 months from the date they are issued. If you let your documents expire, you have to start ALL over again. It gets expensive traveling back and forth to the states, so be forewarned of all the problems you will encounter and have plenty of time for correcting mistakes, sending documents to the right place, and having them returned REJECTED, only to find another way to work around the problem.
10. Part two will start when we receive the GOLD SEAL from the State of Florida. Keep your fingers crossed for us…it’s been a long, stressful journey..but I’ve learned a lot about the process. I’m searching for the Golden Ticket and as Willy Wonka says, ” Oh, you should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about.”