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.




Fringing it at the Festival in 2019


Diverse, edgy, colorful, and sometimes downright controversial, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has sprawled out into the Scottish capital every August since 1947.


Usually referred to as simply “The Fringe,” it is the world’s largest, interactive arts festival that attracts people from around the globe. In 2018, for example, there were over 300 venues to host the 3,398 shows, and the 53,232 performances. 

Courtesy of Martie Swart at flickr

And from August 2 to 26 The Fringe promises to be even bigger and better.

What is the history of The Fringe?

The beginnings of The Fringe were born in 1947. It started as an alternative option to the inaugural Edinburg International Festival. Eight companies who hadn’t been invited to perform showed up and decided to stage their own event.

Their philosophy was “if we can’t join them, we will have a better time on our own.” And from these small beginnings, The Fringe grew into the international festival that it is today. Second only to the Olympic Games, the festival now attracts more than 4.5 million people a year.

Rather than selection committees, auditions, and judges, The Fringe has an “open” policy. Because there is no censorship at The Fringe, it frees artists and performers to express their ideas openly and to celebrate their art. Consequently, the encompassing attitude attracts a mixed bag of people from around the world.

Courtesy of Martie Swart at flickr

Those who are offended by nudity, profanity or politics don’t have to attend these events, as there are so many non-confrontational options.

Although literally hundreds of cities on all the continents – from Dublin to Hastings to Saskatoon –  have tried to copy The Fringe, none have ever managed to capture the original spirit that continues to drive the original one in Edinburgh.

Who can perform?

The short answer is “anyone who can afford to get there and has a story to tell.” Thus. people arrive from far-flung places by plane, motorcycle, and even on foot.

Their motivation? The unforgettable experience of enjoying a moment in the spotlight and the opportunity to mix with others and take in some great events. It all adds up to keeping participants and audiences coming back year after year.

To perform at The Fringe, the two key steps are to register as a performer and then look for a venue to host the act. Fortunately, the massive volunteer staff associated with The Fringe help budding artists find space and — in some cases — sponsorship.

Photo courtesy of Steven Wisniewski at flickr

The international fabric of The Fringe may well see Mali drummers performing in a venue just after a Chinese opera and before a jazz band from Mexico.

Yes, Shakespeare was right and all the world truly is a stage, but the ones at The Fringe get more attention. Some hope to make their debut into the world of the rich and famous at The Fringe where big-name stars share spaces with rank amateurs.

According to the BBC, stars who started their shining careers at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival include – to name but a few – Phoebe Waller Bridge, Mike Myers, Emma Thompson, Graham Norton, Hugh Laurie, and Mel & Sue.

One of the perks about attending The Fringe is being able to toss off the phrase, “Ah, yes, I saw them long before they became famous.”

Photo crourtesy of Shadowgate at flickr

What kinds of performances are on offer?

“Spoiled for choice” is the only way to describe The Fringe performances. Genres include theatre, comedy, cabaret, circus, physical theatre, opera, musicals, spoken word, and children’s events. In addition, to the performances, there are numerous exhibitions and events, many of which have free admission.

Comedy is a big draw-card at The Fringe and virtually all the comedians in the United Kingdom have launched their careers there. Another example is Robin Williams who performed with his student theatre company in a wild-west version of Taming of the Shrew in 1971.

Following on from the principle that “anyone who has a story to tell” can participate, people are inspired to put aside their stage-fright at spoken word venues. There they can share their experiences with audiences which are generally empathetic.

It is also an opportunity for poets to unleash their inner voices and for painters to display their canvases to the public.

Photo courtesy of Steven Wisniewski at flickr

Even though actors, dancers, artists, and wanna-be producers may not become house-hold names, performing at The Fringe looks good on a portfolio and may open other doors.

Where are the venues?

Basically, the entire city of Edinburgh and, at times, even the surrounding countryside for performances that require a rustic setting. For almost the entire month of every August, the hoards descend and all available spaces – theatres, parks, schools, pubs, churches, streets – become performing arts spaces.

Truly innovative venues at The Fringe include moving vehicles, swimming pools, and public toilets.

How to get tickets?

The official ticket office for The Fringe is located at the Royal Mile in the center of the city. Because it is simply good planning to book early, people can now reserve tickets on the phone or on-line.

And the box office opens early in the year, so that visitors can plan their trips around the productions they want to see.

Prices for the performances range from about £15 ($21USD) to free. Last year there were over two million tickets sold.

Although the price tickets can add up very quickly, it is still considerably less that London’s West End or New York’s Broadway.

This article was written for Rising Vacations.

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