Friday, July 17, 2009

First Tasks

Upon arrival in El Salvador, the customs officers issue you a 90-day tourist visa at the border. After that, your first order of business should be to obtain a "NIT" card.

The NIT, Número de Identificación Tributaria, is the local equivalent of the Taxpayer Identification Number, issuable to any individual who holds a valid passport -- even if they only have a 90-day tourist visa. It is a stepping stone to doing other important things, like setting up a local bank account.

Fortunately for us, one of the school staffers took Geoff and me to apply for a NIT on the first day. The whole process took about 10 minutes and 50 cents. --You read that right, 50 cents! For both of us combined! The same awesome lady also took me to open a local bank account, which took significantly longer. There were a lot of papers to sign, and it looked like the only reason why things went through so smoothly was because I was backed by the Escuela Americana staffer.

Then, Geoff and I spent the rest of the day looking at apartments (putting what little Spanish we know to the test). Even though there is still paperwork stuff to iron out, we are pretty sure we have found our first home! yay! For future reference, doing everything in El Salvador is about whom you know. There is no Craigslist or real-estate agency... You go look at apartments that are owned by a friend-of-a-friend, or by the mom of a cousin of a co-worker. Pretty funny. :)

Keeping our fingers crossed, Geoff and I will be in our home by Sunday, minimally settled by next week (with cellular phones and internet access all hooked up, and our bed delivered), so that we can start taking surf lessons! :) (As it turns out, one of my new co-workers dates one of the top-ranked surfers in El Salvador, and he offers $10 surf lessons... As you might expect, Geoff has already enthusiastically chatted him up and gotten him to agree to teach us to surf!)


Incidentally, I looked it up briefly out of curiosity, and it looks like the requirements for getting a tax ID number are indeed much stricter in the US than in El Salvador, as one might expect. As a foreigner looking to apply for a Social Security number, you would have to either prove that you have permission to work in the States or prove that you are part of a federal program (ie. federal funding) that requires an SSN.

As for opening US bank accounts as a foreigner, the process is so mind-bogglingly complex that I would have to recommend browsing through this link to get a sense of the difficulties involved. It is pretty insane how unfriendly the US framework is to foreign businesses, and yet how many people still want to do business with us. ...For now, anyway.

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