How to Apply for a Spanish Student Visa at the Chicago Consulate

Remember when I said the seats on US Airways’ planes were about as comfortable as stepping on Legos?

Kinder Sorpresa de Carnaval

Applying for my visa made me as sad as this Kinder Sorpresa at Alicante’s Carnaval.

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.

Quick Links:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Once you do that, find the “Spanish Student Visas” section.
  3. 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.*
  4. Make your visa appointment. This can only be done on their sketchy scheduling site.
  5. You do not need to get anything translated for the Chicago consulate.
  6. You do not need to bring your flight information.
  7. Download the application. I’ve linked to it here, because there are always issues with the website.
  8. Go to the pharmacy or the post office and get your beautiful passport photos.

Step 2: Try Not to Cry.

I MIGHT BE.

This will all be worth it when we get to Spain, right?

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:

        1. Don’t be like me, kids. Plan ahead. If there’s a notary in the doctor’s office, then you’re golden.
        2. If you have a notary friend, you can ask her/him to come to your appointment.
        3. 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.
        4. 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.


d) Cartas de Nombramiento.
If you’re with CIEE, you need to bring two letters (and copies) with you to your appointment:

        • 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.

Sometimes (after your 3rd trip to the Secretary of State's office) this is what you want to do.

Sometimes this is what you want to do. If you’re like me, this will happen around your 3rd trip to the Secretary of State’s office.

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.


c) Copies.
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.

What about you? How was your Spanish student visa experience? Any application tips?

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32 thoughts on “How to Apply for a Spanish Student Visa at the Chicago Consulate

  1. Oh gosh that video was absolutely awesome. How did you find it? Sum’s up the whole experience. I went through the consulate in Houston which is much easier than the Chicago one. I feel sorry for those who have to go to the other ones.

    • I know! I found it on another blog while I was doing Spain research awhile ago. (And I wasn’t kidding–I really brought glue and white out with me. Almost brought a stapler, but I thought that would be overkill.)

      I agree. Isn’t it weird how different each consulate is? I was just glad I didn’t have to get anything translated!

  2. hey Olivia…thanks so much for posting this! It helps a lot! I was wondering…did you happen to see a copy machine anywhere in the consulate building to make all these copies?

    • Hey! I’m glad it helped. I didn’t — I’ve heard you can make copies at the Consulate, but I was too chicken to risk it. I made most of my copies at work (color copies for the passport and driver’s license), and then made a couple at the FedEx Store. Copies there are really inexpensive, so I recommend that if you don’t have access to a copier at home! I’m sure there’s a copy place somewhere near the consulate, too.

  3. ah, shoot. I just don’t know where to do it because I was hoping to knock out the apostille @ the Secretary of State building and my visa appt on the same day. Not sure if I should risk it or not…

    • Sorry I can’t give you a more definite answer! I’d try searching “Michigan Ave. FedEx Stores” or something to find a place that’s close to the consulate. That way you could get your Apostilles, run to the store to make copies, and then go to your appointment.

      By the way, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get your Apostilles before your visa appointment. I’ve heard the Chicago Secretary of State’s office is first-come, first-serve, so there could be a long line. (Did you get your documents notarized in Illinois? If not, you need to get them apostilled in their state of issue.)

  4. Yep, mine are both from IL! I’m going to hope they don’t notice I went to school in KY for 4 years…I’ve never changed my permanent address, though. Fingers crossed. My game plan was to get to the Secretary of State right when it opened, and schedule my visa appt for around 11 or so….probably not the best plan in the world, but I don’t have much time off work so I have to cram it into as little time as possible!!

    • I completely understand! The whole process is such a hassle. I took two days off work just to go to my appointment. You could try calling the consulate to see if they have a copier you can use, although we all know they’re not the best at answering phone calls. Good luck! I’m sure you’ll be fine. Let me know if you run into other questions.

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  8. Hi Olivia! I’ve been meaning to tell you that this post greatly helped relieve some of my nerves about applying for a student Visa at the Chicago Consulado (which I blogged about here: http://emilydias.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/la-conquista-de-mi-visa/ ), so I can’t thank you enough for that!

    I’m studying abroad at Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona this upcoming spring, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for the advice and inspiration, and I can’t wait to read more!

    • Hi Emily! I apologize for my late reply. I’m so happy you found my post helpful. The visa process can definitely be confusing and stressful, but it’s so worth it once you get to your new city in Spain. I hope you’ve been enjoying your first few weeks here! How is everything going? Let me know if you have any other questions, and I look forward to reading about your time here.

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  10. Hi, Olivia!

    I love your blog and this post. It’s all been so helpful to me! I am going to be teaching in La Coruña, Galicia this October so I’m in the visa process now and getting all of my documents together. I live in Ohio but I went to school in Florida. I did have a question for you since you went through the Chicago Consulate and previous studied in Spain before. I studied in Seville for a full semester (4 months) in 2010. I know that it says on the application requirements that you’re supposed to get a police record from any country you’ve lived in over the last 5 years. Did you have to obtain a police record from Spain to submit along with all your other documents? I’ve heard mixed things from others on the FB groups and am freaking out just a tiny bit. I mean I do have an expired Spanish Visa in my passport but it’s 4 years old now and I was not there over 6 months. I heard that if you live somewhere for under 6 months it doesn’t really count as living there? I’ve written the Consulate asking this very same questions but I’ve yet to hear a reply back. Did they look through your passport at all when you were at the counter to see what was inside it already?

    Any and all advice is welcomed! Your post has definitely relieved some of my stress minus this whole situation, haha. Hope you’re having a great summer! Besos. 🙂

    • Hi Sarah! Thanks for your message! The short answer to your question: No. You don’t need a police report. As I understood it, you aren’t considered as “living in” or “a resident of” a country unless you’ve paid taxes there.

      I also studied abroad in Spain for almost 6 months, and I didn’t get a police report for my visa application. I had no trouble at all, so you should be just fine! Let me know if you have any other questions. 🙂

  11. Help! I have my visa appointment next week, and I’m not sure if they changed it, but the Spanish Consulate in Chicago doesn’t say you need an apostille on your medical. Why did you?

    • I’m not sure whether they’ve changed the rules or not, but they required us to have an apostille on the doctor’s letter last year.

      Honestly, getting an apostille for that was a complete hassle, so maybe (for once!) the Spanish bureaucracy has decided to simplify things. Besides, as I mention in my post, the notarization/apostille only verifies that the doctor who signed the note was who they say they were, NOT that you are actually free of diseases.

      So, if the consulate’s requirements list doesn’t say you need an apostille, I’d say you’re good. Unfortunately I can’t speak to whether they’ve changed it — just triple-check the requirements.

      Good luck!

  12. Oh my goodness. I cannot tell you what a relief it was finding your blog on this. I am leaving for Spain next August but I know it’s better to get these things taken care of ahead of time. You have already answered many questions and concerns I had walking into this. However, I still have a few questions for you if you don’t mind helping me out. First, regarding the flight information. I know the consulate requirements state that an itinerary is needed. However, that does not necessarily need to be flight information. So my question is, did you need ANY sort of itinerary information? If so, what specifically? I’ve been reading online about different methods including simply stating your business in Spain or listing where you will be living, but a concrete answer would be appreciated. Secondly, (but not AS important), do you have any helpful advice regarding insurance if you are not part of CIEE? Lastly, did you need to go to a specific Secretary of State office for the apostille? I know there are a few in the area but not sure if certain departments offer different services. Thanks again for breaking this down for myself and others and providing me with a deep sigh of relief as this all seems very manageable and straightforward!

    -Alex

    • Hey Alex, thanks for your comment! I’m glad my blog has helped quell some of your worries. As a general tip, I’d recommend not getting any of the documents until at least next May or June. I believe some of them can expire, so it’s not worth the hassle of doing that so early. (Although I’m all for early prep and research!) You also need letters from the Spanish government to prove your “business” in Spain, but you won’t receive those until April or May of next year. That also answers your question about stating your business, I think.

      As for your questions, the flight information piece depends on the consulate. Chicago did not require any flight information/itinerary when I went, but just double-check your consulate’s requirements. You should have a flight by the time you go to the consulate since it will save you money to book in advance, so you can always print out your itinerary and bring it just in case.

      The regular Language & Culture Program insurance (i.e. NOT CIEE) is actually much better than CIEE’s because it’s primary insurance and allows you to go to more doctors. You also don’t need to pay up front. (My friend got her wisdom teeth out for free in Spain with the regular insurance, for example.) CIEE’s insurance is actually much worse because it’s considered secondary insurance, unless you do not have insurance in the US. That means that CIEE people had to pay for all their services up front and wait for reimbursement. I wished I had the regular program insurance versus CIEE — as a CIEE member, I was terrified to get sick haha. Luckily I never did.

      Finally, there should only be one Secretary of State’s office in your state. I believe they’re always in the state capitol, so depending on you live that might be a haul. Look up “apostille, secretary of state + your state” and see if you can call to confirm with them.

      Good luck! Let me know if there’s anything else I can help with!

  13. Hi! I stumbled across your post as I was googling some questions I have about my upcoming Visa appointment… I am a Minnesota resident and went to school in Iowa as well, but I never changed my address legally and *technically* I was never there for more than 6 months at a time… I had no idea I might need a background check from Iowa too, do you think the Consulate would have any way of knowing that I partially lived there?! My appointment is in two days so I don’t have enough time to get my letter from Iowa!

    • Hey girl! Don’t panic! I had an Iowa address for awhile (I lived in an apartment off-campus), so I decided to get it just to be safe. It doesn’t sound like you need one, and honestly I don’t know how they’d know that you’re supposed to bring one anyway. I’m sure it will all go fine. Good luck! 🙂

  14. Hi Olivia!!

    Thank you SO much for this detailed explanations!! I have my appointment in 2 weeks so crossing my fingers! I have one more question in mind though. How did you get your background check from Minnesota? I already received mine but it was without fingerprints.

    THANK YOU!

  15. Thanks so much for this blog! I am applying for a visa with my husband in Chicago in June. We lived in Massachusetts for a few years and the only way they do a state background check is without fingerprints. We lived in Michigan too and we had to get fingerprints for those. Do you think our massachusetts one will be ok? It’s certified and notarized! I called the state and they said that is how they do background checks. Do you think it’s ok? Thank you!

    • Hi Amy! I’m glad you found this post helpful.

      I actually never needed my fingerprints, so you should be fine! And besides, your fingerprints are the same no matter which state you get them in 😉 so I doubt the Consulate will get too picky on that matter.

      Let me know if I can help with anything else! Good luck!

        • Hi! To clarify, you will likely get fingerprinted at any background check you go to. I can’t remember if Iowa specifically required fingerprints or not with the background check, but they DID fingerprint me when I went for my Minnesota background check.

          What I mean is that I purchased an extra certified copy of my finger prints, which I didn’t need. The consulate did not need or want them.

          I’d recommend calling the consulate if you’re concerned about Iowa’s requirements being compatible with theirs! The rules may also have changed since I went through this process. Good luck!

  16. So this is definitely helpful! Thanks! I have a question for you though: I’m in Iowa and Iowa doesn’t do fingerprint background checks, but that’s what the visa application appears to be asking of me. Did you get a background check with fingerprints for Iowa, or did they accept it without?

    Thanks in advance!

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