Confessions of a Canadian Illegal Alien


“You are not registered in the system,” the woman at Migraciones informed me when I went to get a 90-day extension on my visa.”

The border at Tumbes where I crossed from Ecuador to Peru was chaos. Refugees from Venezuela were all over the place, their suitcases lined up to be inspected.

Luggage at the border.

More confusion as people waited for their MMR and yellow fever vaccinations and then filled in the paperwork in another tent.

Somehow, I had managed to get the exit stamp from Ecuador, but not the entry one for Peru. Remember this is all going on in Spanish.

Refugee paper processing tent

The bus was parked on the Peru side of the border. In the 14 and a half hours there I would have crossed the invisible line of the frontier more than half a dozen times. It was the only way to go to the sort-of restaurant, the toilet, and just to check out what was happening.

Not once did an official ask to see my passport. Of the 107 countries I have visited, this was a first. But I didn’t think a lot of it as so many countries don’t issue stamps anymore.

The definition

According to Oxford, an illegal alien “(noun) –is a foreign national who is living without official authorization in a country of which they are not a citizen.”

And that was me. Hey, the Syrians, Venezuelans, and Muslims don’t have a monopoly on the term. According to a UN report, there are about 258 of us in the world, with most living in Asia.

Waiting — because that is all there is to do when you are a refugee.

Rumour – I don’t trust Wikipedia as a reliable source – has it that there are an estimated 65,000 to 75,000 undocumented Canadians living in the USA. Frankly, I’d much rather be in Peru.

The performance

After finding out I was an illegal alien on 1 March. I organized the requested paperwork on 4 March as everything had to be notarized. Now is a great scam as the stamp means that it swears “to be an authentic copy of the original.”  The clerk didn’t even ask to see my passport for the two verified pages.

On 5 March it was back to Migraciones. Angela – the officer who works with extensions told me to return on Friday as all the paper had to be forwarded to Tumbes for the Chief there to sign.

I rocked up on 8 March only to be told the Chief hadn’t replied to the message. I was told to wait while the Chief at Arequipa contacted his counterpart. Two and a half hours later still no reply.

The Migraciones office in Arequipa.

Ten days later – 18 March – I returned to see the same movie and sit on another uncomfortable chair for another two and a half hours. Then I was told to return two days later on March 20. Still no paperwork.

Another week passed and on 27 March still no response to messages and phone calls.

On 3 April Angela rang to tell me to come to the office so I could get the information to fill out the form online at

Surprise, surprise it is all in Spanish. Fortunately, I found a bilingual student to help. After a dozen tries, we both gave up. I’m not in the system so online wasn’t going to work, even though I had the number for the extension receipt for which I’d paid S/11,60.

Then on 4 April, I sent a text to Angela asking for help as I wasn’t sure what to do next. No reply.

I not sure about other illegal aliens, but I found it very stressful. The chances of the police checking my passport and deporting me were unlikely. But it still weights. And who knows if I would be allowed to board the plane to Canada?

During this time, there are a couple of tourist guides who hang around the hotel whom I’d gotten to know. Alfie and Caesar figured I should just go across the border to Bolivia and then re-enter Peru. They know people who could smuggle me across.

Thanks, guys, but I don’t think so. Being an illegal alien is bad enough, but I didn’t want to have to pay bribes or end up in a jail in either Bolivia or Peru. Not a viable option.

The resolution

Enough was bloody enough. So, I wrote to Gwyneth Kutz, the Canadian Ambassador in Lima and copied it to the minister responsible, the MP and my family.

The email went out Monday 15 April. Then 28 hours later I got a call from Carlos telling me to bring my passport to Migraciones. Alas, when I showed up the next day the Chief of Arequipa wasn’t in the office and the 18 and 19th were holidays for Holy Week.

Finally, on 22 April – 53 days after I crossed the border – I had the stamp in my passport.

The stamp — at last

My status changed from being an illegal alien to being a tourist visa overstayer. As such I may be subject to a fine of about $100.

It isn’t the money, it is the principle of the issue. A total of 53 days and 11 visits is absurd. Is the Chief in Tumbes lazy, incompetent or did he just want a bribe?

Another consideration is what would happen to people who wouldn’t think of writing to the Canadian Embassy? Or if they had to catch a flight out in a few days?

The plan

I have my Lima-Toronto-Edmonton ticket booked for 29 May at 02:34. Now I will arrange a one-way from Arequipa to arrive at 09:30 to give me time to sort it all out with customs.

Everything is documented, of course, so that is difficult to argue with the faces, figures, and copies of the Migraciones forms.

Lima is an international airport so there will be English speakers there. Still, the questions about officials who don’t do their jobs will be written in English and then translated into Spanish.

Angela, Carlos, and the Chief were embarrassed and apologetic. Now I hope the Migraciones ones in Lima are the same.