Moving to Spain: The Visa Application and Process

When my boyfriend and I decided to move from Denver, Colorado to Madrid Spain, we were excited, nervous, hopeful, and also painfully, painfully naive. I thought it would be easy. Just get all the documents, sign on the dotted lines and bada bing bada boom, España here I come. I wish.

Moving to a new country is a long, arduous process and the visa process is the epitome of that. It requires a lot of time, commitment, and patience, but if you follow these steps, you’ll be on your way to Spain with a few gray hairs but minimal long term emotional damage.

NALCAP Program

I came to Spain with the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program (NALCAP). This program is ran through the Education Office of the Embassy of Spain, so it’s a government program. The nice thing about this is that it is well-known within the embassy offices, and the documents you receive when you are accepted meet multiple visa requirements at once.

On the other hand, there’s not any extra assistance with visa applications, moving help, or really anything beyond the job offer and the salary.

I’ll link another blog post all about the program here.

Visa Process:

Where do I even begin with this behemoth of a task. I knew going into the process that the visa would be a long road through the infamous Spanish bureaucracy. However, it was worse than my worst expectations.

There are 7 consulates in the United States for visa applications, and depending on where you live, you have to apply to a specific one. I can’t speak to everyone’s experience, but I can speak to the experience I had at my consulate.

Since I was an Arizona resident, I was required to apply with the Los Angeles, California consulate. This consulate has so many big cities/states in its jurisdiction that there were too many applications and not enough people working. Or maybe they were just wayyyy slower than the other consulates. All I know is that I was monitoring the Reddit forum and hearing horror stories of 8-10 week processing times.

For a long-term student visa, which is what most people (including me) start out with if they’re moving to Spain, there’s quite a bit of documentation you have to get sorted.

Something to note: EVERY CONSULATE HAS DIFFERENT RULES AND APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS.

It’s horrible. It’s confusing. So make sure you specifically check your assigned consulate’s rules.

Quick Disclaimer: All of this information is specific to the Los Angeles Consulate. I know that some consulates have variations in their requirements. This is just my experience with the LA Consulate.

When you navigate to the Visa page of your consulate, you’ll see something like this. This is the page for the Los Angeles consulate, and I’ve highlighted the visa types I’ll be talking about applying for below.
Visa Application Information

If you are going to Spain through the NALCAP program, here’s everything you need to apply.

  • Visa Application
  • Passport Photo
  • Passport (You have to send your physical passport, and a copy. No international travel until you get it back.)
  • Photocopy of your I.D. (This is to prove that you live in the jurisdiction of the consulate you’re applying with.)
  • Letter of Admission
  • Medical Certificate signed by an M.D. or a D.O.
  • Certification of Absence of Police Records with an Apostille
  • Translation of Certification of Absence of Police Records and Apostille
  • Visa Fee
  • Disclaimer paper signed.

If you are going to Spain through another program other than NALCAP specifically, you need all of the above plus:

  • Proof of Accumulated Sufficient Funds
  • Translation of Proof of Accumulated Sufficient Funds
  • Proof of Health Insurance with no co-pay/deductible.
  • Translation of Proof of Health Insurance

The reason you need more documents if you are not going through NALCAP is that NALCAP is a government program, and your letter of admission contains information that proves you will be paid a certain amount and that you will be covered with health insurance while abroad.

If you are going through a regular student visa, there is no guarantee of a job as in the NALCAP program. This means you need to prove that you can support yourself financially in Spain and that you will be contributing to the socialized healthcare in Spain so that you can reap the benefits when you are living in Spain!

I applied through the NALCAP program and my boyfriend applied for a regular student visa, so I have experience with applying with all of the above documents

Let’s break it down:

Visa Application

The visa application is a pretty simple part of the process because it’s a form in English that you just have to fill out. Here is how you should fill out the application by the numbers.

  1. Surname- Last Name
  2. Surname at birth- If you’ve had another last name
  3. First names- First and middle names
  4. Date of Birth (day-month-year)
  5. Place of Birth
  6. Country of Birth
  7. Current nationality
  8. Sex
  9. Marital Status
  10. SKIP- you can’t apply if you’re a minor
  11. SKIP- you don’t have a national identity number
  12. Type of travel document- You’ll most likely select Ordinary Passport
  13. Number of travel document- Passport Number
  14. Date of Issue
  15. Valid until
  16. Issued by
  17. Applicants home address and email address/ telephone numbers
  18. Residence in a country other than the country of current nationality- select yes or no depending on your situation
  19. Current Occupation
  20. Main purpose of the journey- Studies. You’re applying for a student visa.
  21. Intended date of arrival in Spain- When you will enter Spain approximately. You can’t enter before you get your visa approved, and you can be in Spain for a total of 90 days before/after your visa as a tourist. Just choose a date close to your start date of your program. If you end up coming a little earlier, or a little later than the date you put on the application, it shouldn’t matter.
  22. Number of entries requested- MULTIPLE ENTRIES. This will be important later.
  23. Applicant’s address in Spain- You can just put your school’s address as chances are you won’t know where you will be living during your time in Spain yet.
  24. SKIP- You aren’t applying for a family reunion.
  25. SKIP- You aren’t applying for a residence visa.
  26. Data of the educational establishment or research centre- fill in all of this information as it pertains to your assigned school if you’re with NALCAP or the university you were accepted into if you are not applying with NALCAP.
  27. Place and Date
  28. Signature

It seems like a lot but this is a super easy form to follow and fill out once you know the information about your school assignment or university.

Passport Photo

Pop into any CVS or Walgreen’s and ask to get a passport photo taken. They do it on the spot and print it right then and there, and it costs about $12.

Passport and Copy of Passport

You HAVE to put your physical passport in with your application. They need it so that they can check all of your information, and more importantly, so that they can put your visa into a page in your passport. In case you’re a crazy traveler, you’ll probably have a blank page in your passport but just double check because that is a requirement. Make sure your passport is valid for longer than your stay in Spain! You should also include a photocopy of your passport too.

Photocopy of your I.D.

Driver’s licenses will work for your I.D. This is really just so that they can verify that you live in the jurisdiction in which you are applying for. Don’t send your physical I.D though, just a photocopy! You’ll be shit out of luck with no identification, and all for nothing.

Letter of Admission

With NALCAP, your letter of admission contains a plethora of information that the consulate needs to approve you for a visa. It should include the name, location, and contact information for your school. It also includes your monthly salary and proof that you will be covered under an insurance plan while in Spain.

Your Letter of Admission, also called a Carta Nombremiento, should have your specific start and finish dates, and be signed and have an official stamp. Your Carta should be sent when you receive your placement, and will have all this information included! It’s always good to double check though so there’s no surprises.

If you noticed, if you go through a secondary program like a TEFL program, a university exchange or study abroad, or CIEE, you need separate documents for your insurance and funds. Your letter of admission should also have specific start and finish dates, information of your university you’ll be studying at, and be signed and stamped as well.

Medical Certificate

The medical certificate is not a difficult form to acquire either, the only difficulty that may arise is if you don’t have a primary care doctor. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, you may be able to go to an Urgent Care and inquire as to whether they have an M.D. or a D.O. on staff and explain the situation.

If you have a primary care doctor or the like, you can simply give them this form and ask if they would be able to sign on both the English and Spanish translation portions.

If they aren’t able or willing to sign on the Spanish part, you will have to get a sworn translation. It’s a really inconvenient and unnecessary hardship so ask them to please fill out both!

Certification of Absence of Police Records

Here is where things get confusing and somewhat frustrating.

You need to get a background check. Be sure to check your consulate’s specific requirements, because some will accept state background checks, while others will require FBI background checks.

Although the Los Angeles consulate accepted either, I opted for the FBI background check because I wasn’t living in my home state of Arizona during the summer that I applied, and I couldn’t really make sense of how to request a background check from Arizona very well. If you do a state-level background check, you also have to request one from every single state you’ve resided in for the last 5 years. So, if you’ve moved around, it might be easier to just do the single background check with the FBI.

To get an FBI background check, you need to submit an application and fingerprints. You can do an electronic application online and then go to one of the 181 participating U.S. Postal Office to have the fingerprints taken and submitted electronically to accompany your submitted application. You can also send your physical fingerprint card by mail.

I found a company where I was living in Denver called Colorado Fingerprinting that removed a lot of these steps. I just made an appointment, went in with my passport and they filled in my information and took my fingerprints. After they submitted it to the FBI, the background check report was in my inbox within 24 hours.

You could look into a company like this in your area, just make sure they are reputable and you’re not getting scammed!

Apostille of the Hague

This was the biggest pain in my ass of the whole process, largely because it was so strange and confusing.

Basically, the Apostille of the Hague is a result of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty that allows documents to be legally recognized in the countries that signed this treaty. I kind of think of it as an international stamp of approval. Your background check, whether it is federal or state, needs this “international stamp” so that the consulate knows it is legitimate and recognized outside of the United States.

I opted to do the FBI Background Check and the Apostille all through Colorado Fingerprinting. After I received my FBI Background check through email, I sent it to them and they then sent it to the Apostille and all I had to do was wait. It was so worth the money to have them do it for me, so I would definitely recommend using their service or something similar.

If you choose to do it yourself, you will have a few more steps. You need to fill out a Request for Authentication , then you need to mail that form along with your background check to this address.

Office of Authentications, US Department of State
CA/PPT/S/TO/AUT
44132 Mercure Circle, P.O. Box 1206
Sterling, Virginia 20166

The cost is $20, in addition to the expedited and tracked shipping you should pay for. You’ll want to know where tis document is because it’s essential, and it can take a while to receive.

With either option you choose, the Apostille will be mailed to you, and it needs to STAY ATTACHED to the background check in order for it to meet the requirements.

Note: Due to COVID, processing times are longer than usual. Your background check cannot be dated more than 90 days before your start date, so as soon as you can, get this process going.

Visa Fee

The student visa fee for U.S. citizens is $160 dollars. You cannot send cash or check , it needs to be a money order.

I had literally never done a money order before (I honestly didn’t even know what it was) but it was surprisingly easy. I just went to the U.S. Post Office and asked for a money order for $160 dollars. You can pay with cash or card, and they will give you a money order (it looks a lot like a check) that states the amount it is worth and the rest is blank for you to fill out yourself when you please.

Just make the money order out to your specific consulate and their address, and keep the receipt.

Disclaimer

Easiest part of this whole application. Just print out this form and sign it. That’s it.

Proof of Sufficient Funds

If you’re going through NALCAP, you don’t need this at all.

However, if you’re not, you need to prove that you have “sufficient funds” accumulated to sustain you through your stay in Spain. This is a number that is determined by the Spanish government, and it amounts to 537.84€ per month. So, if your university contract is 12 months, you need to multiply this 537.84 x 12 = €6,454.08, or if it is 9 months you multiply 537.84 x 9, etc. This means that you need to prove that you have this amount available to access.

This can be done by going to your bank and asking them to notarize the last 3 bank statements that prove the ending balance meets the minimum requirements.

It can also be accomplished if your university is assuming full responsibility for room and board, and has provided this information with an original letter with an official seal and stamp. It could also be included in your letter of admission if that is a part of your program.

You can also prove sufficient funds by an official letter of a grant, scholarship, financial aid, or loan that meets the minimum financial requirements for your stay. It will also need an official seal and stamp.

Lastly, you can have a parent or guardian agree to assume full financial responsibility that meets the minimum requirements for this. You can use this template:

I hereby certify that I the (father, mother, other) of (…), will support her/him with a monthly allowance of (…) monthly while she/he is in Spain and that I am financially responsible or any emergency that may arise.

You need to get this document notarized, and it must be accompanied by the 3 bank statements that prove the ending balance of the person who is going to be financially responsible for you.

Any of these avenues will work, so long as you make sure to meet the minimum financial requirements as they are dictated by the Spanish government.

Proof of Health Insurance

If you are going through NALCAP, the government is paying for your health insurance and your letter of admission will state that you will be covered under an insurance for the duration of your stay.

If you are going through a different program, you need to buy health insurance before applying for your visa.

The good news: health insurance even for foreigners is so much cheaper than in the U.S. I think it would be hard for it not to be. I would recommend Sanitas, which is a private health insurance company that operates in Spain. They have an International Students Plan which my boyfriend bought and it has been great so far. I believe it was just under 600€ for the whole year, which breaks down to less than €50/month.

You will have pay in advance because you won’t have a EU bank account yet, but the good ting about that is that it is out the way and you don’t have to stress about paying monthly.

Important to note: You NEED to get an insurance plan WITHOUT CO-PAY/DEDUCTIBLE. It is a little more expensive, but that is because you won’t need to pay anything when you go to the doctor. You can access all of the healthcare you need within your network and you have no deductible or co-pay to worry about.

Translation for Background Check, Apostille, Proof of Sufficient Funds (if needed), and Proof of Health Insurance (if needed)

There’s a few documents you need translations for. These must be done by sworn translators which can be found on this list. You can find one close to you, and send them an email to request their rates. The translator we used was located close to us, so we just emailed her our documents, she sent an invoice, paid, and she told us when they were ready to be picked up. Pretty easy compared to lots of the stuff you have to do in this process!

Regardless of your program, you need to get a sworn translation for the background check and the Apostille. If you are going through a program other than NALCAP, you need to have your proof of sufficient funds translated. This includes bank statements, and/or your notarized guarantor statement.

After You’ve Finished Your Application

Depending on your consulate, you may have to make an appointment to apply for your visa in person, or you may be able to send all of your documents by mail to the consulate. Your consulate website should tell you the method of application they accept, but you may have to do some digging and asking around because I swear they never update their main page and just bury their information deep in links and bullshit.

For myself and my boyfriend, we were able to mail our documents in due to COVID. They weren’t even accepting in-person appointments at the Los Angeles consulate at the time, and I believe that as of now you are still able to send it in. (don’t quote me on that, because the consulate is apparently incapable of providing updated, clear-cut information)

If you are sending it in, make sure you send it through tracked 1 or 2 day mail. Because of how many important documents you will be including, you want to make sure you know where it is and when it gets to the consulate. So buck up the extra few dollars and get it there quickly. You can also ask the worker at Fedex or UPS to require a signature at the consulate when it arrives for additional security and peace of mind.

Now….you wait. The consulate will email you when your visa has been approved and is ready to pick up. Some consulates may be able to mail the approved visa in your passport back to you, but as for the Los Angeles consulate, you have to go in person to pick it up. Yup, this means you will have to schedule in a trip to your consulate. It is really unfortunate if you don’t live in the state, especially because you won’t know exactly when it will be approved. We had to drive 7 hours to get to the consulate, just to turn around and drive 7 hours back. Its categorically shitty and nonsensical, but welcome to the world of Spanish bureaucracy!

Visa Approved!

Once you have your visa pasted in your passport and your passport in your hand, you can take the next huge step and board your flight for Spain. You’re going to embark on the trip of the lifetime, and all of the tears and premature aging that the visa process created will be more than worth it.

Looking ahead, there’s some more boxes you need to check and things to get in order once you are officially in Spain, and you can read all about them here.

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