Remember when I said the seats on US Airways’ planes were about as comfortable as stepping on Legos?
The Spanish student visa process is kind of like sitting in one of those seats while actually stepping on 10,000 Legos. It’s painful and confusing all at once, and, ultimately, there’s no one to blame but yourself.
Somehow I managed to get myself to the Chicago consulate and apply for my visa without any major problems (not counting my frantic calls to the doctor’s and my three trips to the Secretary of State’s office).
And you can do it, too. Here’s how.
Disclaimer: This is a detailed post about the visa process. I promise to never post something this long ever again (at least not without some more pictures.)
ALSO, remember to check the Auxiliares de Conversación manual and your consulate’s manual. I wrote this in 2013, and I’ve already heard that things have changed since then.
Step 1: Get Started.
Google is your new best friend. The Chicago Consulate explicitly states that it doesn’t accept visa questions via phone, so start doing your research early. These are the things you should do first.
- Figure out which consulate you’ll need to go to. Requirements can differ from consulate to consulate, so it’s important that you start there. You can do this by searching “(Your State) Spain consulate.” Because you’re smart like that.
- Once you do that, find the “Spanish Student Visas” section.
- If you’re an auxiliar de conversación like me, you’ll need the Long-Stay Student Visa (Stays Over 180 Days). *Again, check the handbook. Apparently this visa is now called “Language & Culture Assistants Visa.*
- Make your visa appointment. This can only be done on their sketchy scheduling site.
- You do not need to get anything translated for the Chicago consulate.
- You do not need to bring your flight information.
- Download the application. I’ve linked to it here, because there are always issues with the website.
- Go to the pharmacy or the post office and get your beautiful passport photos.
Step 2: Try Not to Cry.
This is where the real fun begins. I did a lot of planning because I couldn’t really “re-do” the 12-hour round-trip to Chicago if something went wrong. Plus, this hilarious/sad-but-true video scared me into bringing everything I could possibly need, including glue and White Out.
Thankfully, some (if only a few) of the visa requirements are self-explanatory, so I’ll focus on the more complicated ones.
a) Doctor’s Note and Notarization.
*Again, check your consulate’s requirements. I’ve heard this is NOT required for new auxiliares.*
This was absolutely the most frustrating part of the Spanish student visa process and the point at which I almost cried. But I held it together because, you know, that’s what adults do.
You’ll need a physical and a doctor’s note signed by an M.D., so make a doctor’s appointment ASAP. It has to be on office letterhead, too, so I literally copied/pasted the text below into an email and sent it to my doctor. Real official, Spain.
This is what the letter needs to say: “The applicant has been examined and found in good physical and mental health to travel to study abroad and is free of contagious diseases susceptible of quarantine and drug addiction or any other illnesses which could lead to Public Health repercussions according to the International Sanitary Regulations.”
Next, make sure to ask your doctor if there’s a notary in the office. Here’s why:
- Your doctor’s note needs to be verified with the Apostille of the Hague. The Apostille is basically an internationally recognized document that confirms a notary is in good standing. You can only get it from the Secretary of State’s office in your state.
- So, you can only get an Apostille if your doctor’s note is notarized. Like me, you might think “Hmm, there has to be an easier way! I can’t bring a notary to the doctor’s office, right? That’s ridiculous!”
- Wrong. That’s absolutely what you are supposed to do. Because it’s Spain. I’d already gone to the doctor and had my checkup before I realized this, so I had to call the doctor and schedule another letter-signing “appointment.”
Here are your options with the whole notary issue:
- Don’t be like me, kids. Plan ahead. If there’s a notary in the doctor’s office, then you’re golden.
- If you have a notary friend, you can ask her/him to come to your appointment.
- Or you can use 123notary.com to find a mobile notary. Mine charged me $20 to come to the office and witness my doctor’s signature. Then I went to the Secretary of State’s office and got my Apostille.
- There’s also a “work-around” to this whole process. (While I know some past auxiliares have had success with this option, I was too afraid to try it.) You can apparently take your signed doctor’s note to a notary, write “This is an official document” on it, and have him/her notarize your signature on the note. Then, you can take that to the Secretary of State and get an Apostille.
Why I Chose a Mobile Notary
First of all, my bank wouldn’t notarize my own signature on the doctor’s note. Second, I live too far from Chicago to risk the “workaround” option. With the workaround, the Apostille you get basically means nothing. Here’s why: Presumably, the Spanish government wants the Apostille so they can verify that your doctor was a real person, and that a legitimate notary witnessed his/her signature on your doctor’s note. If you sign it yourself, the Apostille isn’t really worth anything: For all they know, you could have forged the note and still gotten an Apostille.
Again, I’ve talked to fellow CIEE students and past auxiliares who’ve made this work, but I didn’t want to risk any problems at the consulate.
b) Background Check.
Figure out how to get a state-level background check by searching “(Your state) State-Level Background Check.” You’re supposed to get a background check in each state/country where you’ve had residency (i.e. filed taxes) for more than 6 months in the last 5 years. For example, I have a Minnesota driver’s license, but I went to college and worked in Iowa. So, I got background checks for both states.
- The background check needs to be notarized and Apostilled as well (see below). Both of mine were notarized upon issue, so all I had to do is take them to the Secretary of State’s office to get their Apostilles.
- IMPORTANT: If you have to mail in your request for a background check, make sure you request notarization. I know some fellow auxiliares who didn’t do this, and their background checks came back without notarizations.
c) The Apostille.
Getting the physical Apostille was actually the easiest part of this hot mess. You need an Apostille for your background check(s) and doctor’s note. In Minnesota and Iowa, the Apostille was just a certificate with an embossed seal that they staple to your documents
Most states let you do a walk-in Apostille, so all you need is your notarized background check and doctor’s note and the Apostille fee in cash or check. It was $5 per document in both Minnesota and Iowa, and I was in and out within 10 minutes each time.
- Call your Secretary of State’s office to double-check their policies — don’t just assume you can do a walk-in Apostille. Many states only allow you to request them by mail; alternatively, you may have to drive some distance to the office, depending on how close you live to the capital city.
- As far as I know, your Apostilles must come from the same state as your notarized documents. For example, I got my Minnesota background check notarized and Apostilled in Minnesota, and I got my Iowa background check done in Iowa.
- Your CIEE letter, which serves as proof of insurance and letter of acceptance to an educational/research program. This comes in the mail.
- Your letter from the Spanish government, which comes via email. Print it out in color even though only the logo is colored, because Spain.
Step 3: More Money, More Copies.
Get ready to spend a ton of money and make a ton of copies. I literally made three copies of everything. I kept all my application documents in order in one binder, and I kept all my copies in a different folder. (I wasn’t paranoid or anything.)
a) $160 Money Order
Get a money order from your bank or the post office. Your bank will usually give you one for free. They’re basically like checks, but the money is guaranteed because it’s taken out of your account upon issue.
- Make it out to “The Consulate General of Spain”
- Be sure you sign it where it says “Purchaser’s Signature.”
- Make a copy of it.
b) Self-Addressed Envelope.
Unless you plan to pick up your visa in person, you must bring this with you. The consulate requires a USPS secure Express Mail envelope, and it costs about $19. Just go to the post office, explain what you’re doing, and they’ll help you out.
- This is actually the one thing you don’t need to make a copy of, although you do want to keep a copy of the receipt so you have your tracking number.
You are required to bring color copies of your passport (the interior photo/info page) and your driver’s license, in addition to your actual passport and license. You also need to make copies of your Apostille certificates and the documents they correspond with. (i.e. Copies of the Apostille certificate for the background check AND the background check, and the Apostille certificate for the doctor’s note AND the doctor’s note.) These can be black and white copies.
- It’s really important that you bring copies of your Apostille certificates and their corresponding documents. The consulate returns the originals to you because you’ll need them to apply for your NIE in Spain, so they keep the copies.
Step 4: The Appointment.
This was easily the least painful part of the process. The Chicago consulate is an unimpressive white room with three bank teller-style windows and a few chairs. (I was expecting a giant building with Spanish flags everywhere and a lawn that yelled “Get off the grass!” like in The Princess Diaries. But I guess that was an embassy.)
The woman called me up early because I was the only one waiting. There’s no interview at all — she just read all my documents, stamped them, then handed back my original Apostilled background checks/doctor’s note. We need them to apply for our NIEs in Spain, so hang on to those.
And ya está. I was done with my Spanish student visa application. I’m supposed to have my visa within the next four weeks.