UPDATE: This article has a sequel here: What to do After You Receive Your Spanish Student Visa.
I thought that since I’ve been going through the process of getting the Spanish student visa, I ought to christen this section of Velabas with a helpful article describing how to go about getting it.
There are plenty of resources online that can help. I used this article about getting the student visa from the Spanish consulate in San Francisco in order to get my bearings, but I had to keep in mind that each consulate is different. For instance, in Chicago they didn’t ask for proof of accommodation while in the SF article they apparently did. But we’ll get to that.
You should be aware of a few things about this article. First, know that I went through this process as a free agent, so to speak–I got into the University of Barcelona alone, not through a third party university or organization, not through any ‘study abroad’ program. If you are going to Spain on a study abroad program, some or all of these steps will be streamlined for you. So, know that I did this in July of 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. You should look at the website of the Spanish Consulate in Chicago to get your up-to-date info. I downloaded the Spanish student visa instructions, which lists everything that you will need to prepare in order for your visa interview. I recommend double-checking the website to make sure that this link is current. Finally, this article will not discuss the special requirements for minors and non-US citizens.
Some Encouragement Before Beginning the Process of Getting the Spanish Student Visa
There were a few times I thought I was going to crack. I despise bureaucracy, as anyone who has read into the travel stories probably knows about me. I was breathing a lot of hot air throughout the process, but I had to suck it up to cool down. The best way to begin the process of getting the Spanish student visa is to take it one step at a time. You need to read through the visa instructions that you’ll have downloaded from the consulate website, and make a list of your own outlining every requirement and stipulation. You can get it all done, and you will.
How it Works
First, you must gather all of the required documentation, listed below. You will then register with the online appointment system to reserve a day and time for your visa interview. I do not think it costs anything to cancel an appointment, but do not take my word for it. At the interview at 180 N. Michigan Ave, Suite 1500, the person behind the glass will call you up, and look at your documents one by one. If all is in order and the small talk went off without a hitch, they’ll tell you that your Spanish student visa will be ready in 4 to 5 weeks.
Spanish Consulate of Chicago Student Visa Requirements
Here is a bare-bones list of the things that the Spanish consulate in Chicago required for the student visa interview:
- National visa application form
- Original passport and ID
- One recent passport-sized photo
- Original Hardcopy acceptance letter
- Planned round trip itinerary printout
- Evidence of funds
- Proof of health insurance
- Recent conviction information request form (programs over 180 days)
- Medical Certificate
- Self-addressed USPS Express envelope
- $160 Money order for ‘Consulate of Spain in Chicago’
- Appointment confirmation printout
In addition to the original of each item above, they also ask for a copy. This doesn’t pertain to the USPS envelope, the money order, passport photos or appointment confirmation.
A Guide to Each Requirement for the Student Visa
National Visa Application Form
The National Visa Application Form is the principle application that you must fill out for your student visa. Much of this application you will leave blank because there are fields that will not pertain to your situation. Attach your 2×2″ passport photo to this application. I used tape so that they could easily take it off.
Make sure to fill everything in legibly. Bad handwriting is the worst way you could get denied the student visa. You must place the date of entry into Spain. Typically this should be a bit before your program begins, but more on that below in the section on the acceptance letter. Be sure to choose ‘multiple entries’ just in case you want to travel outside of the Schengen area (inside this area is freedom of travel–your passport will not be stamped in and out of the countries you visit).
There is a line labeled ‘Postal address of applicant in Spain’. I was worried about this field because I did not yet have an apartment in Barcelona. I knew that the consulate in Chicago had not required ‘Proof of accommodation’ either. Other consulates do require such documentation, which I have read could be an official invitation letter from the police station in the city where you would be studying, or a notarized document from a landlord who would be renting to you during your program. Despite the proof of accommodation being unnecessary, I figured that this field was of similar importance, and I did not want to leave it blank. If you have friends there, have them give you their address to use. I contacted someone through couchsurfing.org who was kind enough to lend me his address. This will only work if you have a Couchsurfing profile that someone can trust.
They did not require the copy of the National Visa App, but I took one anyway.
Original Passport and ID
Your passport must have validity at least 6 months past the date of the end of your proposed program. Your ID must be a state ID or driver’s license from the states within the Spanish Consulate of Chicago’s jurisdiction.These states are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. We were in the process of moving to a state in the San Francisco consulate’s jurisdiction, and though I did not have an ID from any of those states, I was informed that a lease agreement would work as proof of residency. It is paramount that you apply for the Spanish student visa at the consulate that handles your state.
Remember to bring a copy of both your passport and ID.
Cost: Free (unless you need a new passport-$135)
I went to Walgreens for the passport photo. A passport-sized photo is 2×2 inches on white background. It cost 12 dollars for 2 photos in July, 2014. If you do not have the professional means, do not take a photo yourself–people do get denied because of photos not being acceptable. You only need one passport photo, attached to the National Visa Application Form.
No copy is necessary.
Original Hardcopy Acceptance Letter
The Spanish Consulate in Chicago asks for:
“An original hardcopy acceptance letter as a full-time student from Spain’s University/School or US Program indicating: name, address, contact person, telephone and email of the school, full payment of tuition, dates of the program, subjects of study and hours of study per week (20 at least)”.
DATES: If you received your acceptance letter (the resolución), then you probably received it by e-mail. I received mine, but it had none of the information listed above. I communicated with my program director in order to get a new acceptance letter with all these nit-picky items addressed. I asked him to buffer the program timeline with two weeks before it started and two weeks after it ended, so that if the Spanish consulate decided to grant me the visa only for the duration of the program, I wouldn’t be arriving the day before the first class. On the National Visa Application Form, there is a page where you must include the mailing address of your institution, along with the dates of the program. Make sure that these dates correspond to the dates on the acceptance letter.
TUITION: Another point of contention for me was this idea that I had to have paid the tuition in full. It is not the policy of the University of Barcelona to charge students before they matriculate. So in the acceptance letter, they made it clear that I had paid 180 euros for the pre-inscription (preinscripción). Nothing else I could do about it–I imagine if they’re concerned, they’ll call the school.
STUDY HOURS: I was worried when I saw that they wrote “12 hours of class time study per week”. The stipulation clearly says at least 20. However, I figured that a logical person would add the “12 horas presenciales” classroom time with at least as many hours of outside study, adding up to 24 hours of study per week.
TIME: My program was starting in September, and I would barely finish the visa application, a 4-5 week process, at the end of July. Remember that August is a month of holiday in Spain. In my case, my program director made it clear that he was not going to be checking his e-mail during the entire month.
Between the time I got the acceptance letter and the time I’d be obligated to make an appointment at the Spanish consulate in Chicago, there was not enough time to wait for my program director to send me the original, hardcopy acceptance letter by regular mail. I therefore created a FedEX account online, created a return shipment label that I e-mailed to him (click here for the whole process walk-through). All he had to do was print the label, call FedEX for a pick-up, remind the driver to bring a FedEX envelope (otherwise I’d be charged a lot more), and that was it. I got my original, hardcopy acceptance letter in a day and a half and for 70 bucks.
Now here’s the clincher. At the interview, the girl behind the glass said that FedEX had been unnecessary, that I could have just printed out the acceptance letter. I think it was important for my peace of mind, but I was a bit bitter at the wording “original, hardcopy.” I tried to call the consulate many times, without luck.
Make a copy, just in case.
Cost: $70 for FedEX
Planned Round-Trip Itinerary Printout
Do not buy a ticket. The visa instructions even say not to buy a ticket to Spain until you have your visa, because airlines do not refund flights if the reason is late documents. I called the carrier with the cheapest flights from Chicago to Barcelona, British Airways, asking for a printout of an itinerary, but they said I had to buy the ticket. Then I read Matt’s article about the process in SF, and found my solution:
Delta. Call Delta at 888-750-3284, and ask for an itinerary to be e-mailed to you. They’ll do it. It has to be a round-trip remember. If your program lasts longer than one year, it’s OK, you can print out a return flight at the end of that year. They just want to see intent. I happened to have a wedding to return to before my year and a half long program was over, so the June, 2015 return date had an alibi.
Print a copy of this.
Evidence of Funds
Here’s where it gets tricky. If you’re following this article to a tee, then you are probably a free-agent, as I described myself. And if you are not going through a pre-paid study abroad program of a third-party organization or your university, then you have to prove that you can survive on your own.
If you have scholarship from your Spanish institution, you need a letter that states that your room and board will be fully covered in the amount of at least $2,200 per month. Spain’s economy was not strong in 2014, and so the consulate’s ridiculous threshold of two thousand two hundred dollars per month is a reflection of their desire not to have to deal with any of your costs. Other consulates, however, were asking you to prove you had around $800 per month. Tough luck, Chicago. If you don’t have scholarship, then you’re like me and need to find another way.
There are two other ways.
First, you can save up or otherwise prove that you have or will have $26,400 over a twelve month long period (adjust based on how many months your program lasts). Secondly, you can get a notarized letter from parents assuming full responsibility for at least $2,200 per month. I don’t know if this would work with other relations or friends. Regardless of whether your parents can afford such costs, I think the Spanish consulate in Chicago just wants to see that someone is willing to handle unforeseen costs–they must know that $2,200 is a ridiculous sum for a student.
Make a copy of the letter and supporting documents like tax returns.
Proof of health insurance
To get the Spanish student visa, you need to have health insurance while you’re in Spain. The instructions demand that your coverage be for at least 30,000 euros, which is about 50,000 dollars, and it must necessarily include repatriation coverage (that’s for sending you home).
What you need from the health insurance company is a visa letter. This is a certified letter from the company, signed, stating what the package covers (make sure it includes that repatriation coverage).
I purchase the Atlas Travel Insurance Plan from HCC. I chose a deductible of $250. I heard that some consulates want a $0 deductible, but since it does not specify in the instructions, I opted for the deductible so that my premium was below $300 for the whole year. I did not, however, choose a $500 deductible or higher (1,000, 2,500).
Once I purchased the insurance, I received an e-mail with the documentation, and in their ‘client zone’ I was able to download and print out the visa letter.
Normally, you need to have proof of health insurance for the full duration of your program. My program is longer than a year. I discovered that travel health insurance covers a maximum of 364 days from start to finish. I could have gotten two plans but I decided to roll the dice with just the one plan and see if mentioning that I’d renew the health insurance would cut it.
Make a copy of the visa letter.
Recent conviction information request form
For programs over 180 days you need to get a criminal background check for all countries and states in which you’ve legally lived over the past five years. I had been in dozens of countries, but legally I still only lived in Chicago.
There are two steps to this process: getting the notarized record, and then getting the apostille.
You can choose to get a background check in one of two ways: through the Illinois State Department or via the F.B.I. The FBI process would take longer, so I did it through the State Dept. It’s important to note that a local police background check is not admissible.
You must use a fingerprint conviction information request form. All the information about the process is here at the Illinois State Police website. You could request the UCIA forms online, but it takes time. The fastest and most convenient way to get do this step in the Spanish student visa process is to use a Livescan fingerprint service. I used the company Accurate Biometrics, and it cost $40. Go here and click “UCIA request from the State of Illinois”. No appointments are made. You just show up with this form, they scan your fingers, and that’s it. Accurate Biometrics sent my fingerprints to the Illinois State Police, and they in turn sent me my records.
What you get in the mail is a letter that you need to have notarized. The police charge $20 for this procedure. To save yourself a headache, here’s what you do to get it notarized before they send it to you. After submitting you fingerprints via the Livescan service, wait 24 hours, and then call the Illinois State Police Bureau of Identification at (815) 740-5160. Tell them that you need your records notarized, and they’ll do it. You can even request an extra copy. If you want to expedite the process, you can give them your FedEX account number if you have one. It’s easy to set one up. I had to, since everything was coming down to the wire for me.
In order for the spanish consulate to accept your criminal record, it must first be notarized and then apostilled. An apostille is like an international notary. The US and Spain both subscribe to the Hague Convention, so the Hague’s seal is an internationally recognized certification of authenticity.
I thought, according to Matt’s article, that I’d have to take the unopened envelope from the Illinois State Police to the County Clerk’s office to get what he described as a letter of certification. This was an unnecessary step. Instead, I took the notarized letter directly to the Illinois Secretary of State’s office on 17 N. State St. Suite 1030, Index Department. It cost 2 dollars for the apostille.
Make a copy of the apostille and record.
The medical certificate is a signed letter from an MD on their clinic’s letterhead. The Consulate General of Spain in Chicago had very explicit instructions on the wording of this letter. It must read:
“The applicant (identified by passport holder’s first and last name) has been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005.”
So you do not need a physical, as I’d thought. What you need is to have Hepatitis A and B immunizations, and you need a TB (tuberculosis) test. I had to gather my immunization records, and explain very clearly before I paid for an office visit that I needed that letter worded precisely so. It actually took some convincing. The “International Health Regulation 2005” means Hep A, B and a TB test, essentially. I went to ImmediateMD because I did not have insurance and I wanted the cheapest option. It was 160 dollars for the TB test and office visit. Humbug.
Make a copy of the letter.
Go to the post office, and grab a USPS Express Mail Envelope. Place the corresponding label on the envelope and fill out your return address. The ‘From’ address will be:
Consulate General of Spain / 180 N. Michigan Ave. Suite 1500 / Chicago, IL / 60601
Pay the 19 dollar postage stamps that they’ll stick onto the envelope. Done deal.
$160 Money Order
Go to your bank and request a money order. The Spanish student visa cost $160 as of July, 2014. Fill in pay to the order of: Consulate of Spain in Chicago. Other Spanish consulates accept cash, but the instructions for Chicago seem determined that you should bring money orders.
Once you have reserved your time for an appointment at the Spanish consulate in Chicago, make sure to print out the confirmation that you will receive via e-mail.
When I finally had my appointment, my acceptance letter had arrived the day before, so everything fell into place at the very last moment. I was early, and there was no one waiting, so I had the brief interview standing in front of the window and was out of there before my actual appointment time had come.
The girl was kind but thorough. She appreciated that I had organized things well. I was surprised at all the originals and copies she gave back to me. The most important things that she handed back were the original criminal records with the apostille and the original medicate certificate. “You will need these to get your student card once you’re in Spain. You will have 30 days to get the card.” She was speaking of the student residence card.
Spanish Student Visas for Longer than One Year
My program was 90 credits, and would last a year and a half. The girl was surprised to see my application, and suggested that after one year I’d have to return to Chicago to renew the visa. She went off to confirm and returned saying that indeed I did have to renew the visa after one year, but that I could do it from Spain.
UPDATE: This article has a sequel here: What to do After You Receive Your Spanish Student Visa.