Now that Shannon has introduced you to our new blog and explained exactly what we are doing in Spain, I wanted to talk a little about the process we went through to get everything ready to go. This is our story of everything that went wrong and the few times things went right.
The entire process is simultaneously easy, hard, and stressful. Right now I know that makes close to no sense, but by the end of this post I think you will understand what I mean.
The very first step after finding the BEDA program was to apply. Shannon and I submitted our applications almost immediately after the application period opened in late January. This part of the process was fairly straightforward and just like any other job application. After applying, we had to wait about 2 months for the application period to close to hear back from the program coordinators about interviews.
So after 2 long months of freezing winter and anxiously waiting, Shannon and I were both emailed about setting up an interview time! The interview itself was really casual and only lasted about 15 minutes. We were interviewed by coordinators from the BEDA program and asked fairly simple questions about why we wanted to teach in Spain.
This is a good time to introduce the theme of things going pretty well for Shannon and…well, not so well for me. As I said, the interview was simple. What was not simple was figuring out what was wrong with my computer’s mic after starting the Skype interview. I could hear the interviewer, but she couldn’t hear me. I know, worst case Skype scenario, right? Through hand gestures and head nods, we agreed upon a new interview time where I could prove that I am actually a competent, capable person she should hire.
*** Despite my technological issues, and after anxiously waiting for what seemed like forever, Shannon and I received the email on May 9th telling us we were HIRED! ***
We had pretty much bet a good job right out of college on this going to Spain thing, so this was a huge relief for us knowing it was worth it. We were obviously extremely excited about this, but little did we know it marked the official beginning of the most stressful summer ever.
The VISA (aka the reason for the stressful summer)
Now that we had been accepted into the program, Shannon and I had to apply for student visas. We won’t really be students, but this is what the program requires. Applying for a student visa is actually relatively easy…and hard. What I mean is, if you have the documents required, show up to the consulate, and give them the required documents, you are essentially guaranteed to have your visa approved. The hard part comes from getting all those documents in time to go to the consulate…
These are all the required documents for a student visa at the Chicago consulate:
(I know most of you probably don’t care, we just want you to know how much work it was…)
- National visa application form
- Passport and ID
- One recent passport sized photo
- Original hardcopy acceptance letter
- Planned roundtrip itinerary
- Evidence of funds
- Proof of health insurance
- (step from hell) Recent conviction information request form
- From the State OR
- From the FBI (if you have lived in multiple states)
- Apostille for Recent conviction information request form
- Proof of health insurance (I know, they list this one twice…your guess is as good as mine).
- Medical certificate
- Self-addressed express mail USPS envelope (if you want the passport mailed to you)
- Money order for the processing fee ($160, for what? Who knows)
I will go through the steps and talk about why some sucked way more than it seems it would. Here again Shannon had a lot more luck than me…go figure. It’s also important to know every Spanish consulate has different requirements, so it’s not like you can get help from just anyone in the program…they have to be going through the same consulate for their advice and experience to be relevant.
National visa application form
The national visa and application form is actually easy. You just fill it out and glue the picture from number 3 to it.
Passport and ID
Again, this part is easy since I have a passport, and because Shannon got hers renewed a while back.
One recent passport sized photo
Getting the passport sized picture was a little annoying because we had to go to CVS to get “professional” pictures, but whatever, not hard. (and by professional I mean some random employee took my picture with a point-and-shoot type camera in a small corner of the store).
Original hardcopy acceptance letter
The original hardcopy letter was mailed to us from Spain. Mine came pretty early in the summer, but we had a little scare with Shannon’s. A few weeks after mine came we started to worry because she had not received hers. However, all was well a few days after contacting the coordinators because her letter finally arrived.
Planned roundtrip itinerary
I don’t even know why the planned flight itinerary is included on the list. Shannon and I bought flight tickets in advance, so I brought a print out, but no one ever asked for it.
Evidence of funds
The evidence of funds requirement is a little confusing. We will technically be on a student visa, so they want some type of proof we will have money for like eating and stuff while we are in Spain. Fair enough, homeless, starving students aren’t good for a country’s image. The problem is the consulate requires students to have an income of $2,000 each month (remember how we aren’t even students?) Since Shannon and I will make a little less than this, we had to get our parents to sign a letter saying they will pay for us to be in Spain. Oh, and the letter had to be notarized. Because having my mother sign some stupid letter was just a little too easy.
Proof of health insurance
Proof of health insurance came in 2 parts. One part was in the acceptance letter, and the other was a separate email sent to us during the summer. We had to submit both to the consulate. Your guess is as good as mine as to why it’s not just all in one place.
Recent conviction information request form
We thought we were good to go, that this part would be a breeze.
But we were wrong.
To be fair, we probably made the background check harder than it had to be. The consulate offers two options. Get a background check from the state, or get one from the FBI. Shannon and I went to school in Wisconsin, so we were not sure if we would need a background check from Illinois AND Wisconsin, or just from Illinois. We decided it would probably be safer to just go ahead and get the FBI background check.
To get a basic FBI background check, you have to get fingerprints taken at a local police station, fill out the proper paperwork, then send the packet into the FBI. We sent these off one week after we were accepted into the program in early May because the FBI says it takes 6 weeks for the background check to be processed. So after sending the paperwork off, Shannon and I waited patiently anxiously throughout the summer for our background checks to arrive.
True to their word, the FBI took exactly 6 weeks to process her background check. Shannon’s was mailed to her home and she received it about 6 weeks plus 3 mailing days. Mine, however, did not come.
I waited, and waited, and waited more…for 2 weeks. Finally, I called the FBI to find out what was going on. They told me they had no way of tracking the background check and that I had to wait 3 weeks to send out another one. At this point I started to panic.
Shannon and I Shannon’s sister, Kayla, found REALLY good deals on a flight to Spain on August 31st, so we had already bought our tickets. The Spanish consulate says it takes 5 weeks to process a visa, so I had to have all my paperwork ready to take to the consulate 5 weeks before the flight on the 31st to guarantee I would get the visa in time. I did the math on how many weeks I had, and it wasn’t looking good. My mind obviously raced to worst case scenario, so I got on Google to look for alternative methods to get a background check fast. I found a company called an FBI approved channeler. These are basically companies that also do FBI background checks, but cost more money and do it about 1,000,0000,0000 times faster (aka 72 hours). I decided I was running out of time. I needed to buy another background check so I could get step 9 done in time to have a visa appointment 5 weeks before my flight on the 31st. Sound like a lot yet? More on step 9 in a bit. As it turns out, we should have gone with the channeler all along. It cost about $17 more to get in 72 hours what the actual FBI couldn’t get me in over 6 weeks.
So, after over 2 months of waiting for the FBI background check, I finally had one in hand.
What happened to the original FBI background check I sent for in May? Turns out it was marked as undeliverable and sent back to the FBI. On top of this, the FBI takes forever to process things, so I didn’t get the call telling me this until I had already bought the other background check. I did eventually get it…just after I moved onto step 9.
Apostille for Recent conviction information request form
Now that I had my long-awaited background check (plus 1 more), I needed to send it off to the state department to have it legalized internationally. Evidently, documents from the government aren’t recognized internationally (i.e. in Spain) until they have an Apostille from the state department. Now I know what you’re probably thinking. How does one federal government department make a document more legal than a different federal government department when it’s the same federal government? Honestly, I don’t know. Those are just the rules, man.
Naturally, this step could not be complete without some sort of problem.
I (foolishly) used the USPS to submit my paperwork to the state department to be apostilled. At first things went fine, but around 11:30 pm, I got an email saying there were no updates for my package. This basically means the USPS has either delivered the package into oblivion, or forgot to scan it when it was delivered at the location. I did what any reasonable person would do and called the local post office in Dulles Virginia. I called about 20 times over 2 days and no one answered…ever. I called the office that does the apostille and was told they did not have it…or that it was with security. At the time, I didn’t really have the luxury of waiting around for my background check to probably maybe be processed soon. Remember the whole flight the 31st plus needing all the documents 5 weeks before the flight to get the visa? I was still working under that deadline here…very stressful. So I again started to panic thinking I did not have time to wait around. I went to the Google again and did some research for other options. I found a company that walks your documents to the apostille office and submits it in person, thus getting it done much sooner. By this time I had received the background check I originally sent for, so I decided to FedEx (by this time I was pretty tired of USPS, they are #dead2me) my other background check to this company to have them submit it for an apostille in person. As it turns out, this was probably what I should have done all along (see a theme here?). This company had great customer service and submitted my documents and mailed them back in time for me to have an appointment at the consulate about 5 weeks before my flight on the 31st.
What happened to my original apostille? I’m not really sure what the problem was when I called the office, but I did eventually receive my apostilled document…about 2 days after my consulate appointment for my visa. Just my luck. So I now had not only 2 FBI background checks, but 2 apostilles as well. Great.
For Shannon the office that does the apostilles was true to their word and took exactly 5-7 days to process plus a few days for mailing and a national holiday. Lucky her.
Proof of health insurance
This is where it mentions proof of health insurance again. It’s the same requirement as number 7. I guess they just really want to you know you need health insurance. Either that or they need a new proofreader…
The medical certificate wasn’t hard. Shannon and I just went to a doctor and told them what we were doing and that we needed a statement on the clinics letterhead saying we weren’t going to infect all of the Iberian peninsula with the next bubonic plague. It was something else it had to say, but basically the same idea.
Self-addressed express mail USPS envelope
Shannon and I lived in Chicago so we just had to hop on the el and go downtown to pick up the visa instead of having it mailed by the worst shipping company to exist.
As I said before, the actual visa appointment at the consulate was very easy. You just wait for your turn and give them all the documents plus 1 copy. Shannon had her visa appointment before mine because everything went relatively smoothly for her. My only issue was again with timing. My appointment was on the 28th of July and my flight was on the 31st of August. If you count the weeks up, it was 1 day under 5 weeks. Remember, the consulate says it takes 5 weeks to process student visas. I asked the consulate worker if he thought it would be done in time for the 31st, and he was pretty sure it wouldn’t be a problem. He then gave me the best instructions of the whole process. He said “if we don’t send you an email that your visa is done, come to the consulate the day before your flight to pick it up and it should be here.” I put that in quotes because that is exactly what he said (he did sound a little like Antonio Banderas, but that doesn’t change anything). I almost laughed, but he was totally serious. I took his statement as good news, but I really couldn’t be sure until I had the visa in my hands.
There is good news and bad news. The good news is that Shannon’s visa took just over 3 weeks to be approved, and it only took about 2 weeks and 5 days for mine. When I got the email I actually hugged my brother, Mason. He wasn’t very happy about it, but I didn’t care. It marked the end of the most stressful summer for us both. I immediately called Shannon and she was equally excited. So what’s the bad news? Well since it only took 2 weeks and 5 days for my visa to be approved, it means I actually had time to wait around for all my documents to take their time in getting to me and didn’t need to buy extra background checks and apostilles plus shipping costs…lucky me. But it doesn’t matter. I would do the exact same thing again. I had no way of knowing how long it would take to be approved and it’s better to be safe than in America when your flight leaves for Spain, forcing you to pay hundreds of dollars in fees to change your flight date. Not to mention the fact that Shannon and I would have to fly separately and be left to navigate Madrid alone.
Overall, we are just happy to have our visas and everything ready to fly out on the 31st…except packing; we still need to get on that.
Besos y Abrazos,
***After going through all this, I am pretty much an expert in getting a student visa for Spain through the Chicago consulate. I got various documents in multiple ways from different government departments. If you are applying for a student visa and have any questions about the process or how much time it takes, please send me an email, and I will do what I can to help out. I would love to help as many people as possible avoid going through what I went through.