Europe, Spain

The Visa Process

I wanted to go back and review what I went through and some tips for the visa process to get me to Spain. While this happened over the summer, it’s still pretty fresh in my mind. With my city currently in a shut-down, I had plenty of time to go back through all my materials and refresh myself on hazy details. Without further ado….

After receiving the exciting news that I had been accepted as an auxiliar de conversación, the next step began: applying for my visa. Applying for my visa was by far the most time-intensive and complex part of the entire process from applying to the program to getting to Spain. If anything, it taught me the importance of solidarity with other foreigners, giving help and receiving help, and perseverance! Oh, and the importance of being organized and timely.

DISLCAIMER: This post will review the basic steps and the process I went through. This is based off of my experience applying for a long-term student visa in 2020 through the Boston Spanish Consulate. Details may change year-to-year, between regions, or even by individual case. This blog should only be used for anecdotal reference and personal insight. For official details and instructions, guidance from the Ministerio de Educación and your local consulate should be used.

Getting Started

The most important pieces of advice I have for this process are: take a deep breath, take it step-by-step, and check and re-check every detail. A small mistake, missed form, lack of signature, or incorrect detail can easily get your application rejected and set you back weeks or months. This is not to incite panic. Remember the first piece of advice: take a deep breath. Thousands of people go through this process for the first time every single year. Consulates are used to people being confused, and the government certainly doesn’t make it an intuitive process. The best strategy I used was taking it step-by-step. Meaning, I reviewed all the documents and then stepped back and pieced it together into manageable tasks.

The first step is truly to get started. Sounds simple, right? Except, some people put this process off, and there are things that take a while to get. Even if you’ve just gotten accepted and have some time, download the instructions documents. Visit the auxiliar de conversación and scroll down to “Visa Application – Once Assignments Have Been Given” (or something similar – the website is ever-changing).

You need the “Visa Application – General Instructions for Americans” (or Canadians, if applicable) and the second document that is specific to the regional consulate you will applying in. In the “General Instructions for Americans” document, it will tell you which Consulate you are assigned to based on where you live. As of 2020, these are the Consulate assignments:

These two documents will become your Bible for the next few months. You will reference these, take notes, check and double-check, and go woozy reviewing them. Or maybe that’s just me? I can’t say. What I can say is that my detail-oriented and organizational nature was an absolute asset through this process.

While the Ministerio de Educación website have a PDF with specific instructions for your region, you should use that for reference and confirm with details on the actual website for your regional consulate. You’ll notice on the “General Instructions for Americans” document that has the following disclaimer: “all the information given by the consular offices overrules any types of information provided in these guidelines.”

We will come back to these guidelines soon.

Understanding Visas

There are two types of visas: short-stay (Schengen visa) and long-stay. Schengen visas are only required from citizens of certain countries and allows them to travel to Spain for up to 90 days for tourist purposes. US citizens do not need these and can stay in Spain for up to 90 days as long as they bring a roundtrip air ticket and a passport valid for 6 months. Given COVID-19, tourism is currently limited or prohibited depending on country.

For long-term visas in Spain, there are

-Residence visa to retire in Spain
-Residence visa to work in Spain as an employee
-Residence visa for investors or self-employment
-Residence visa to reunite a family member with a legal resident in Spain
-Residence visa to reunite a family member with a citizen of Spain or a EU member
-Student visa

While the auxiliar de conversación is a paid program, it does not actually fall under “residence visa to work in Spain as an employee.” Auxiliares apply for a student visa. Once you have identified your consulate and the type of visa you are applying for, you will be able to find the instructions on the consulate’s websites for requirements to apply for that visa. This is a good time to make sure you’re connected with other people going through the same process. The main group is Auxiliares in Spain, then there are other groups by region and sometimes your city. These are helpful to join. The main group will be a great resource while applying for your visa. There are specific threads made each year specific to your consulate that you can use for information and questions. I also found some people who were repeat auxes and were open to me messaging them to talk about specific questions.

Applying for Your Visa

Okay, so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty stuff. The instructions for applying. Long before you actually visit the consulate and submit your visa applciation, you will be gathering up a variety of important documents and pieces of information. Some of these are easy to get, and some take longer. My next piece of advice is to identify which ones will take the longest and start with those, and also identify which ones are sequential and work backwards. Seriously, break it into step-by-step tasks. This sounds so simple and cliché, but it’s actually critical in this process. There’s a lot of tasks and some can’t be done without having completed an earlier task. You can’t get a translation of a document until you have gotten the original copy of said document. So, once you identify the “first step in a series of steps” and “this will take the longest,” it makes it more manageable to begin. For reference, here is the summarized steps that the Ministerio de Educación had for the Boston Consulate. I found these pretty accurate, so I will post these here instead of the seven page document that the Boston Consulate provides on the matter.

The very first step I took was applying for my background check. This is one thing that varies from region to region. Some regions will require an FBI background check, while some require only a state background check, and some require both. In Boston, you can do either. For state background checks, you must have one for every state that you’ve lived in for more than six months in the last five years. Ensure that you request this document be notarized because you will later need to submit it for it to be Apostilled. This varies by region and not all require this. This is an important thing to research on your consulate specific website. Requesting an FBI background check takes longer than the state one. In my state, I receive it back with the notarization in about three weeks. This step cost $41.

The background check is one thing that is important not to do too early. It is only valid for 90 days from the date it was issued, and you will need it again in Spain to get your residency card. I was in the window where requesting it right away made sense, but if it’s going to be quite a few months before you go to Spain, hold off on this step a little bit and figure out the window. You can also confirm with your consulate the time frame in which its valid.

Inquire about visa appointments. Check your consulate’s website. Do they take walk-in appointments, do you schedule online, how far out are they, and so forth. In Boston, you cannot even schedule your appointment until you have your entire visa application compiled. From there, you email them and they give you the date and time to go to the consulate and drop off your materials.

While I was waiting for the background check to process, I set-up and appointment with my primary care physician to get the medical certificate. Again, this varies by region, so check the details on this. Like the background check, this document is also only valid for 90 days. An appointment with my physician was a few weeks out, so it was good I had gotten this scheduled.

From here, I had done the first phase of things that 1) take the longest and 2) are the first step for a sequential requirement.

This is a good time to talk about the carta de nombramiento (acceptance letter) from the Regional Office of Education in Spain in the Comunidad Autónoma that you have been assigned. This step is out of your control, and it will arrive when it arrives. I got mine within 1-2 weeks of the original informal acceptance email. The carta is important because it meets multiple requirements for the visa application.

While you’re waiting for your background check, your medical appointment, and your carta, now is a good time to start working on some of the smaller steps. Taking it line-by-line from the images about with the application requirements:

1. The Visa Application – you will find the application and any potential supplement forms on your consulate’s website. The “Visa Instruction Guidelines for Americans” has a page at the end where they clarify some of the questions and what you should write. For Boston, the applications had to be two-sided, and I needed one photo copy.

2. Passport and ID – if you don’t already have these, this should certainly be your first step before anything. Your passport must be valid for your length of stay and have at least one blank page for the visa. Additional ID is also required: driver’s license, state ID card, voter registration card, or student ID. Bring the original and a photocopy. If you need these documents, you will have additional fees to consider. Information on passport fees can be found here.

3. 2 Color Photos – go to a place that does passport photos and make sure they meet the same requirements as a standard passport photo (dimensions, white background, no hats or glasses, etc). This cost me about $10 at a local pharmacy.

4-6. The next three requirements for the visa are summarized as follows: letter of acceptance from a Spanish school with its pertinent information, health insurance coverage in Spain, and proof of financial means. All three of these are covered by your carta de nombramiento. Bring multiple copies with you of your carta.

7. Money Order – you must bring a money order made out to the Consulate of Spain in the amount of $160 USD for US citizens or $67 USD for all other nationalities.

8. Background Check – back to the background check! Once your notarized background check arrives, you may need to submit it to the Secretary of State of similar office to have it bear an Apostille. It took me a while to understand what an Apostille was. If you’re so interested, it’s summarized by the Department of State as something that “authenticate the seals and signatures of officials on public documents such as birth certificates, court orders, or any other document issued by a public authority so that they can be recognized in foreign countries that are members of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty.”

My understanding is that the Apostille is a standardized way that they can take official documents and put them in a format that verifies the validity of them in a way that can be used in various countries. For my background check, I had to submit a copy of the notarized document with a $10 fee to the Secretary of State in my state. Within about one week, I had received it back. I have heard this takes much longer in larger states, though.

The background check is a multi-step process. So, you have your background check and its notarization, and you’ve received it back from the Secretary of State and it bears the Apostille. Now, at least for Boston, you have to get these two pages translated by a certified legal translator. I got a recommendation to use The Spanish Group, and the fee was $25 per page for official, legal documents. I got a digital copy within three days, and then a mailed copy the next week. The translation of your Apostille and the background check will be submitted alongside the original Apostille and background check.

9. Medical Certificate – hopefully you’ve been able to get an appointment soon. After you’ve had your examination and your doctor writes your clearance, have them print out a few copies and make sure it meets all the requirements. The Boston Consulate simply requires a signed letter by an MD or DO on letterhead in the state of residence that says, “This medical certificate attests that ____________ does not suffer from any illness that would pose a threat to public health following International Health Regulations of 2005.” I did not have to have the medical certificate notarized, Apostilled, or translated. This may also vary by region. This is also a good time to get up on vaccines, coordinate medical care abroad, and make a plan for prescriptions.

After you have all of these things together, it’s time to go to your appointment! Or in my case, email the Boston Consulate that I was ready to be scheduled. Some consulates book very far out, but I was lucky to get an appointment within two weeks. After I had the appointment on the books and my application ready to go, I did one of the most satisfying things: checked off the final item on my visa to-do list. This is the actual photo. I had to save it for posterity. This was a truly time-intensive and at times, frustrating, process. It was so exciting to finally be done my side of it.

I live about 2.5 hours from the consulate, so I had to take the day off to account for the appointment and travel to and from. The best piece of advice I have for the in-person process is to have all of your ducks in a row, documents double-checked, requirements double-checked, and originals and photocopies of everything. Better to have more than you need than be missing something. I laid out all my documents and went through each requirement one-by-one.

On August 4th, I took the train down to Boston. Given it being an early appointment and limited train times, I had to leave around 4:30 AM for the 8:45 AM appointment. One benefit was, due to COVID, few people were traveling so I had a train to myself!

The appointment was very uneventful. I located the building, gave them my name, and went up to the office. They called my name and collected my paperwork and passport and reviewed everything. That took about 15 minutes, and then I was free to go! Now, this might be different in other consulates, but I didn’t have to do an interview, sit down with anyone, or submit additional documentation.

Once I was done, I had to wait a couple hours for the next train. But then, it was snooze-city on the train back to Maine, and I called it a day. Now, the only thing left for me to do was wait.

I was instructed to email back in one month and ask if it was ready. It takes about 3-4 weeks to process, and they can’t tell you anything before that. I emailed back in a month, and I was informed that I was approved! This was a really excited feeling because it finally meant Spain was a reality, and I was on my way soon. To pick p your visa, you didn’t need an appointment, so I picked the next day that I could get down to Boston, which was the end of the following week.

This time, I decided to drive down to avoid waiting around for trains. It was a lot of driving, especially since I had driven down there the day before to visit my brother. Regardless, it was still some nice me-time, even if it was 500 miles of driving in a mere two days.

Holding it in my hands was such a surreal experience! This was when I finally announced it to the rest of my friends, families, and colleagues what my plan was. The visa was the last big step in making this all happen.

They recommend that you wait to buy plane tickets or book accommodations until you have your visa. I went against that and booked them anyway because I felt like I had no reason to be concerned about not being approved and waiting until two weeks before I left to book those things was a risk in and of itself. Airlines had extra flexibility at the time given COVID-19 so I was not super worried if things were to get delayed. It was a breath of fresh air though to stop worrying and having a lot of “what if” thoughts about the visa.

Plot Twist

Something that I didn’t know was that the visa was just the first step of getting to Spain. I was informed via research and at the consulate that within 30 days of my arrival in Spain, I would have to go to the local police station or local immigration office (Oficina de Extranjería) to get an alien ID card (called TIE – Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero) which I will cover in a later post. The visa expires typically within 90 days after arrival. My best advice for this process, without going into detail, is that you need to make sure your visa is still active (you cannot renew it in Spain) and bring originals and copies of all the documents you used for your visa. If you do that, you’ll be golden. This is the time when you want to utilize your region and city-specific Facebook groups for guidance and insight.

It also may be helpful to reference other people’s blogs to see their experiences, especially if you can find someone who worked with the same consulate as you. Piecing together individual people’s experiences and insight will prepare you all the more for this big undertaking!

Questions? I’m happy to help! Send them my way.

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