This is the story of how we four, including little six-week-old Lara, left Chile. Legally.
If you're wondering why we wouldn't leave the country legally, implying some fly-by-night operation, I don't mean to excite you under false pretenses. It's simply that being born in a foreign country does not automatically make you a citizen, and to travel anywhere in a hurry, with a tiny infant, does not occur with ease.
Particularly if you are a foreign diplomat in Chile. That is where the real sticking point lies.
In order to get a visa to leave the country, (any
country in fact), you need a ticket stating your departure date. In order to get a
ticket, you need a passport... you get the picture. Normally, a child born in Chile would get a Chilean passport and an Australian visa. We were doing things the other way round.
So, we had three tickets for az, Maya and I booked for the
first week of January (giving us six weeks), and an infant with unknown passport number tentatively flying with us as well. Luckily we had a good travel agent.
At the outset, I strongly suggest handing the whole long-winded and tedious operation over to someone else. In our case it was the punctilious az and his tireless staff at the embassy. Not only does this process require a tremendous amount of bureaucracy and paperwork but also the organising of appointments and standing in queues and filling out forms. A lot of forms.
Since there are so many steps, I'll simplify them into numbered points - for your ease of reading, and to appreciate az's mammoth effort in these proceedings. I only birthed the baby.
1. Lara was born and three days later, Clinica Alemana provided us with the record of birth.
2. Az took this to the civil registry nearest where we lived in Las Condes. No, they said, you need to go to the civil registry closest to the hospital, in Vitacura. So, back he went, presented the record of birth and received two documents, the birth certificate and the birth registration.
3. He then had to take these two documents to the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs downtown to be officially translated into English. That took about a week.
4. So then we had four documents - the birth certificate and the birth registration in both Spanish and English. The English versions of these two documents needed official stamps from three official places. Step 4 required az to trot around town, make appointments, stand in lines and finally procure three stamps from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and the civil registry in Vitacura.
5. These well worn, and by now very precious, translations then travelled to the Australian embassy where they were verified as true translations - and stamped a magical fourth time.
6. We paused in the collection of documents and stamps to have Lara's passport photos taken. By this time she was about two weeks old. You can read more about that little adventure here.
7. The photos were then endorsed by a non-relative; az roped one his colleagues into this.
8. With the photos and translated English birth documents, we applied for Lara's Australian citizenship by descent (as the child of Australian citizens, she has the right to apply for citizenship as well). This was done through the immigration department at the Australian embassy in Chile.
9. A few days later, Lara's citizenship certificate arrived - finally she belonged to a country. Together with a letter from the embassy stating that Lara was indeed az's daughter and dependent, we were able to fill out yet more paperwork and apply for her Australian passport. A package of paperwork was sent back to Canberra.
Another two weeks passed before we finally received her passport. It was by now close to Christmas and we were starting to wonder if we'd need to postpone our flight.
10. Finally, the lynchpin. We applied for Lara's Chilean visa - which technically she
needed to be in Chile in the first place, and she definitely needed to
leave the country. Az traipsed back down to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the Department of Protocol to be precise, with his paperwork - the Spanish and English birth certificates and the birth registrations and all their colourful stamps, her citizenship certificate and passport, and a letter from the Australian Ambassador for good measure. They said no problem, the visa would be ready in one week's time.
It took 2 1/2 weeks, and we finally got it the day before we were due to fly. Phew!
An epilogue... Going through immigration at the airport on our way out, thick dossier of paperwork on hand, officials treated us to their usual rigmarole and questioning. Their meticulous combing through of our documents each and every time we fly out of Santiago airport provide both headaches and great dinner party anecdotes.
One time, an official tried to question Maya as to whether or not I was her real mother. She was then eight months old. Another time, Maya's Australian diplomatic passport was deemed insufficient evidence that she was related to us; the official said she could have been the child of any Australian diplomats. In other words implying az was kidnapping one of his colleague's children.
But fortunately, on this occasion, all was on hand, and so they stamped our passports one last time and sent us on our way.