11 July 2010

background check: the sequel

Whew! After the last few incidents surrounding obtaining the papers I need to work in Costa Rica, I decided to make one last effort to get my background check clearance letter from my local police station. When I arrived at the local precinct, I entered a little booth and found myself surrounded by strange mirrors and facing a phone marked with a sign that read, "Please answer phone when it rings." ??? The phone did ring a few minutes later, giving me a chance to explain my errand. In doing so, I learned that the woman who is in charge of printing the letters had decided to return from vacation, but that the letters can't be printed on Mondays. Obviously. I was told to return the next day.

Fortunately, I did manage to get my clearance letter printed early Tuesday morning and hit the road, headed for Austin, which is about six hours north. Unfortunately, when I got to the Secretary of State's office in Austin, I learned that neither the fingerprints I had taken during my nighttime visit to the Mission jail, nor the clearance letter I had printed in Palmview are accepted at that office. I'm still not entirely sure why, but I think it had something to do with the officials who had produced those documents not being in their records, or something like that. Anyway, by that point, I had pretty much adopted a "Smile and nod" policy in order to preserve my sanity, and I just rolled with it when I was sent to the Austin Department of Public Safety to get re-fingerprinted so that another (third) background check could be run.

(Just for the record, my background check came back totally clear. All three times. In case you were wondering.)

For an extra fee, I was able speed up the processing and pick up my papers the next day. Despite this quick turnaround, I had to change my road trip plans a little and scrap going to White Sands and Palo Duro Canyon, because I had to stay in the Austin area longer than expected. Ah well, another time. Luckily, my friend S, who lives in San Antonio, was able to take me in during my time of need.

With the results from my most recent background check in tow, I returned to the Secretary of State's office, and received the required "apostille", which is basically a letter/stamp/seal thing that certifies that the document is authentic. Victory!

From Austin, I continued on to Houston, where I needed to visit the Costa Rican consulate to get my apostilled background check "authenticated". I distinctly remember thinking en route to the consulate, "I'm so relieved that this is the last stop I need to make for this document!" Oh, how young and naive I was.

Here is the transcript of my visit to the consulate:

Me: Hello, I'm here to get my Texas background check authenticated so that I can obtain a Visa to work in Costa Rica.
Lady: Ok, have you made the $40 deposit at Bank of America (BoA) yet?
Me: (confused) No, I'm sorry, I wasn't aware that I needed to do that. I have $40 right now; should I pay you here?
Lady: No, we can't accept payments here. Here's a deposit slip. Take this to the BoA around the corner and bring back the receipt, and then we can take care of the documentation.
Me: Ok, thank you. While I'm out, is there anything else I should take care of to facilitate this process?
Lady: No, that's all.
[I follow the lady's instructions and finally find the BoA after a few turns, a trip around a traffic circle, a U-turn, etc.]
Me: Hello again. Here's the bank receipt, and here are my papers. Is there anything I need to fill out?
Lady: (rifling through my papers) No...hmmm, where's the xerox copy of your background check and apostille?
Me: I'm sorry, I thought I had to provide original documentation only, so I don't have a xerox copy.
Lady: Yes, but we like to keep a xerox copy for our files. There's a Kinkos around the corner where you can make the copies.
Me: Oh, I see. Well, actually, I have two original copies. Would that be acceptable?
Lady: I guess so. All right, you can pick up your papers on Wednesday.
Me: I was told on the phone that the papers would be mailed to me.
Lady: Fine. Where's your self-addressed, stamped envelope?
Me: (long pause) I'll be back.
Lady: There's a UPS store around the corner.
[After driving "around the corner" for about 15 minutes, I admit to myself that I can't find the UPS Store. But then I remember that I have legal-sized envelopes, as well as many stamps, buried among all of my worldly possessions, currently heaped in my car...it's just a matter of finding them. Miraculously, I do so, and affix an entire book of stamps to the envelope. There's no way this baby's getting sent back to the consulate for insufficient postage.]
Me: Hello again. Here is my self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Lady: Ok, you're all set. You should receive your documents in a week or so.

And would you believe it? When I got to my parents' house after my road trip, the envelope with my authenticated documents was waiting for me! Now, I just need to get my birth certificate apostilled by the New York Secretary of State and authenticated by the consulate in New York City...

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