Peruvian Customer Service, Documented

Wife gave birth to our third child a few months ago, and I recently embarked on the epic saga of passing on my American citizenship in anticipation of presenting her to the gringo family in the States.

According to the American embassy in Lima website, these are the documents you need to legally make your child a gringo:

  • Child’s Original Peruvian Birth Certificate
  • Certificate of Live Birth
  • Pre-Natal and Post-Natal Medical Evidence
  • Evidence of Parents’ Citizenship and Identity
  • Marriage certificate (if married)
  • Divorce decree, annulment, or the death certificate (if previously married)
  • Proof that the U.S. citizen parent has lived in the United States long enough to transmit citizenship to his/her child. (If you’re true-blue red-blooded American like me, don’t worry too much about this part. Read why.)

Most of this stuff is easy to get. But the documents we don’t already have in hand make it an “epic saga” because those have to be obtained from Peruvians. And in this case, those documents were the original marriage certificate (acta de matrimonio) and certificate of live birth (certificado de nacido vivo).

The marriage certificate must be obtained in the municipality where you were legally married. We were married in the Jose Luis Bustamante y Rivero district of Arequipa, the southern city an hour by plane from Lima (or 16 hours by bus!). There is no way to get the marriage certificate here. There is no government office which will issue it, nor can you order the certificate by phone or online to be mailed to Lima. You must physically present yourself at JLByR city hall.

I sent wife with the two daughters to visit family for a week, and stock up on marriage certificates. This quirk is a bigger pain in the ass for people like my buddy Gerry, who had the bright idea of going on vacation for his legal marriage. He has to take a four-hour trip to Canta every time he needs a marriage certificate. Canta is great and all, a sunny escape during the Lima winter, but you don’t want to have to go there every time you need a legal document. And he can’t send the wife on her own to see family, because his in-laws don’t live there.

The bigger pain in the ass for me was the certificate of live birth. The hospital issues this, but despite having gone through the whole process last year, I forgot to save or copy it before wife turned it into RENIEC to get daughter #2 a DNI (identification card). Once you turn it in, you have to request a copy from RENIEC.

Last year I was in a hurry to get this, as I am now (trying to visit STL in August), and the RENIEC office in nearby Jesus Maria said they need a few weeks. They referred me to the downtown location to get it in one day. So this time I skipped JM and went straight downtown.

The downtown RENIEC office is just on the edge of where historic city center meets the thieves’ paradise of Barrios Altos. It’s people on top of people coming and going from the informal shopping malls where armed robberies are reported in the news fairly often. One of these little malls has a Banco de la Nacion agent who accepts payments to the public treasury, but I remembered something from last year about how I couldn’t make the payment I needed to make to this agent. I had to walk to the branch at Puno and Lampa a few blocks away.

There was a nasty line when I arrived at RENIEC, so I decided to go to the agent first to see if I could pay. I confirmed with the woman behind me in line that I’d be back (if she was gone I’d just line up again). On the second floor of the shopping center there was a line of about three or four people before me to see the bank agent. I passed the line and asked the old man if they could take payment for the certificado de nacido vivo. He told me exactly how much it was, so I got in line.

TWENTY MINUTES later I get to the desk, and the old man was gone. A younger fella was working. He had no idea how much the certificado de nacido vivo was and told me he needed the specific code from RENIEC.

“You’re sure you can take payment for this?” I asked. “I provide the code and you can charge me?”

He said all he needed was the code.

I ran back to the RENIEC line, where fortunately the woman was still in line. I took back my place, graciously, as she made a show for the new arrivals behind her that I was there first.

THIRTY MINUTES later, I presented the documents required to get a live birth certificate. The RENIEC agent gave me a little slip with the code printed on it, for “copia de documento archivado.” I took the slip to the bank agent in the shopping mall, but this time the line went down the hallway. I fell in at the end, a few feet from where a couple reggaetoneros in stiff baseball caps were standing around looking tough.

FORTY-FIVE MINUTES later I presented my code to the same young fella behind the desk. He gave it one look and said he couldn’t accept this payment, that it needed to be made at an official branch. He turned the slip over to write down the location.

“¿Con el codigo no puedes, huevon?” I asked in a pissed-off tone he didn’t catch.

Not looking up from his writing, he started to describe how to get to the Banco de la Nacion branch at …

“Ya sé donde es,” I snapped as I snatched the slip from under his hand and pen before he could write “y Lampa” after “Puno.”

“FUCK!” I shouted.

I meant to say it under my breath but it came out loud enough to draw the attention of 10 or so customers in line and all the other kiosk vendors within 20 yards. The young fella may have put together the sequence of events and why I was pissed, but probably not.

I marched to Banco de la Nacion and got in the long-as-fuck line that snakes around the corner of Puno and Lampa, the line to get into the bank. TEN MINUTES later I get in the bank, so that I can get in the long-as-fuck line to see an agent. Of course I chose the slow-moving line.

LatAm veterans’ tip: pay no attention to the length of the line. Choose the youngest agent / cashier. Youth equals speed.

FORTY MINUTES LATER I pay for the certificate plus two copies, get my receipts and march back to RENIEC, and back in line.

TWENTY MINUTES later I’m back with the RENIEC agent, who says everything is in order and gives me a voucher … and tells me to come back in 20 business days.

I thought it comes out the same day, I pleaded.

That has changed, he said. Twenty business days.

I went home pissed. Why didn’t I just go to Jesus Maria?

A month later I headed back downtown to get in the RENIEC line. THIRTY MINUTES later I present my voucher to the (different) agent. He gives me the maddening slip of horseshit below.

Click to enlarge.

This is nothing short of a gem, an artifact of Peruvian – nay, Latin American – customer service.

I am pleased to attend to your request, expressing my cordial greeting as I inform you that the request in question does not comply with the requirements established in RENIEC’s TUPA (Single Text of Administrative Procedures), due to a lack of a copy of the Foreign Resident Card, which is why we ask you to correct the request.

The original receipt from Banco de la Nacion is being returned.

Without further ado, I remain at your service.


[Worthless Bureaucrat]

This fucking guy typed up a letter, printed it out on fancy fucking paper and gave it an official stamp just to fucking say NO, instead of making a copy of the certificate (which comes on regular paper with no stamps) and attaching a post-it saying something like “don’t release until the gringo gives you a copy of his ID.”

All for a fucking copy of my ID!

Why the fuck did they accept the request in the first place? And can’t the bureaucrat realize it was the fault of bureaucrat-on-duty who accepted it, not mine, and releasing it on condition of … Ah fuck it.

In Gringolandia, it’s “the customer is always right.” In Latin America, it’s “how can we say ‘NO’?” The better a Latin customer-service professional can say no, the quicker he moves up the organizational ladder.

Instead of submitting a copy of my ID and waiting another month for what still might not get the certificate (they might say no again), I headed home … pissed, to say the least.

I pored over the American embassy website: “Certificate of Live Birth:  This is issued by the clinic/hospital at the time of birth.”

It doesn’t say anything about this having to come from RENIEC. I’ll try the hospital where daughter was born.

At Clinica Javier Prado, I get a ticket and wait in line. I tell the first round of defense what I want, and she tells me to go up to the maternity ward. I head up to the fourth floor, where I paid for two offspring to be born in the last year. I see the head nurse at her desk and ask for a copy of the certificate of live birth from two months ago. I try to hide the desperation from my face, limiting myself to fingers crossed behind my back.

She tells me I have to submit a formal letter, a written solicitud, to the medical director of the hospital. I leave the hospital for the closest internet café and type out a request. I go over the top with formalities, including all the relevant information. Check it out.

Click to enlarge.

I include photocopies of my ID, my wife’s ID and the daughter-in-question’s ID – all front and back. I also include her notarized birth certificate. I sign my one-page, official-looking letter and march back to the hospital to take a ticket and sit down.

They call me, it’s a different defenseman, and she tells me to sit back down as she calls the director. Some time later I’m called into the office of the director’s gatekeeper / gopher. I present my case, Exhibits A through E, in a confident but friendly tone.

But on the inside, I am ready to get tough: “I’ve spent over 20,000 soles at this hospital in the last year, can you please just give me this fuckin thing?!?”

But it’s not necessary. The Gatekeeper tells me everything looks OK, but it will take some time to find the certificate of live birth. She gives me her card.

I ask: one day, one week?

Two days, she says.

I went home and immediately emailed The Gatekeeper to thank her for receiving me, and to provide my email address, cell phone number and home phone so she can notify me when the document is ready to be picked up. All the contact info was in the solicitud letter, which was very formal by the way, but I wanted to be on the safe side.

Two days and a weekend go by and no reply. I emailed her again on Monday. No reply.

I called on Thursday, a full week after visiting, and I managed to get The Gatekeeper on the phone after 30 minutes or so.

“Oh yes, it’s no problem, almost ready,” she told me. “I’ll email you when it’s ready to be picked up. It should be tomorrow or the next day.”

This whole time I was fretting about whether I’m wasting time waiting for the hospital – time that could be applied to RENIEC’s 20-business-day processing time. Should I file another request just in case the hospital doesn’t come through?

Nah. This is a nice hospital in the rich part of town. They’ll come through. I rolled the dice.

The next day a hospital secretary called the house to say a copy of the certificate of live birth is ready to be picked up. My heart leaped. I shouted out loud and suited up for a bike ride to the hospital, where I took a number and sat down to wait. I was called up, and I requested to see The Gatekeeper, who had just had her secretary call me. She has a document for me. Just tell her I’m here and she’ll know what it’s about. I was told to sit back down again.

The Gatekeeper called me into her office, we exchanged a warm greeting. She explained that they found the certificate of live birth, but that a copy would not have come out right. It would have been hardly legible, so they wrote me up a special letter on official letterhead which works just the same. They’ve done this before.

I saw the fancy letterhead and, taking her word for it, put it in my briefcase. We said goodbye. I got home and read it, and realized it was another rejection letter.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

But this rejection wasn’t as bad. It actually confirms that daughter #2 was born in the hospital on that date with that name, and that the certificate of live birth was issued. Then it cites two resolutions from Peru’s health ministry which allegedly prohibit the hospital from giving me a copy.

Curious, I looked up the law and found that is actually true! Skip to 6.1 of this piece of legislation that goes by the catchy name of Procedimiento para el flujo y calidad de los Formularios de Hechos Vitales del Nacido Vivo y de Defunción.

Now it had been seven weeks and I still don’t have the document. Do I start over at RENIEC, which would totally rule out a trip to St. Louis this summer?

I decided to go to the embassy with these two rejection letters. Stay tuned to see what happened.

But yeah, customer service down here. Many gringo entrepreneurs are launching businesses specifically to compete with the “How can I say ‘No’?” attitude. And they’re WINNING.



  1. ¿Tramitadores? These are nice people who, for a fee, help you avoid the queues.

    In your case would have been the proverbial chocolate teapot; but as you are writing on a common theme, other newbs might find this useful.

    Personally , would not touch with a bargepole but ymmv as they say hereabouts.

    A constancia would have done. We bought a second hand house and a constancia was part of the process. IIRC comes from the municipality and proves to the registry that there is no debt or lien or gravamen or whatever still current on the property. Not available in every situation. Problem being you don’t know until it’s too late.

    I always say, “Expect a surprise! Some bad, the rest worse.”

    For the benefit of others: always get irreplaceable docs copied, either certificated by the issuer at the time of issue or, later, legalised by a notario or fedeated which is an in house version of the same from government institutions. Keep these for a rainy day or for a change in your migratory status.

    Useful tip number 1: Life Certificates for expat pensioners. You can get these witnessed and signed as the form states, or just take them to a notario with your pp/id. I do the latter now as it’s difficult to explain the nuances of English Law to people (potential witnesses) who live under a totally different system – and might be understandably suspicious at being asked to sign something they can’t possibly understand.

    Useful tip number 2: if you are renting a house in your home country you will need the renewal contract witnessing every year or whenever. As above, take it to the notario. The law here now says they have to have the whole doco, not just the page where folks sign.

    I just phone the culpable office back home and tell them it will be notarised and (hopefully) the arguments go down as well as before.

    Oh and don’t forget REGISTERED POST, BOTH directions, for important documents. You may need a family contact or a power of attorney in your home country for mail coming from govt bodies there as they likely can’t afford registered.



  2. I’m currently going with some bureaucratic BS here in Colombia. It’s amazing how people in the customer service industry down here, can’t give you all the information you need in one go. It’s like you have to keep returning and every time, they say that you have to bring something new or that something is not right. You know, instead of telling you this the first time you came. Even after 4+ years of living down here, I still cannot wrap my head around the inability to communicate properly, the lack of proactivity, and the general robotic nature of employees. It’s almost like you have to be one step ahead of them. I used to think that it was a lack or bad quality of training, but now, I am not so sure. It definitely doesn’t say much in terms of how these countries will ever pull themselves out of perpetually being a member of the developing world. It’s always one step forward and two steps back. Colombians want to be thought of in the same breath as countries like the US, England, Germany, Canada, etc, but they cannot even do the simplest things without navigating pointless social barriers, that are still rooted in the continued perseverance of 200 year old failed colonial policies. Not to mention the widespread class issues, corruption, and nepotism. I always chuckle when I hear Santos give long winded speeches full of patriotic bravado and bluster, about how the government is going to bring Colombia into the 21st century by initiating all of these “great” infrastructure projects. However, in reality, the only thing those guys are doing is lining their pockets, and keeping the majority of Colombians mired in the same ignorance and poverty that has stained this country ever since its inception.


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