One of my favorite shows to watch on TV is House Hunters International. They make it look so easy to just pack up your life and move across the globe and get settled. Well it turns out it is not that simple. Unless you are independently wealthy, more than likely, most of us will need to work. Each country has different legal requirements that one must meet in order to earn an income there.
As a non EU citizen, to live in Spain legally, one is required to obtain a visa. Visa requirements will differ depending on the kind of passport you hold. I have a US passport and so I will share with you my experience.
To live in Spain, there are a few different visa options available;
- Student visa – This allows you to attend school in Spain. It also provides an allowance for 20 hours of employment related to what you are doing in school. The school or program you choose to enroll in, must also meet certain requirements. E.g. you are required to have classes for at least 20 hours per. Many people do not consider this option due to age, so for some reference: I was 36 when I applied and I have met people all the way up to 60 who have obtained this visa!
- Work visa – This is much harder to qualify for, unless you have already been offered a job in Spain (also with stringent requirements).
- Non-lucrative visa – This does not allow you to work for a Spanish employer.
For more information on all visas available, you can refer to the spanish consulate website for the most up to date and accurate information.
The visa that I was able to meet the requirements for was the student visa. There is a lot of confusing information out there on what you need to get a student visa for Spain, and good luck getting someone on the phone at the consulate. I have put the basic information in one place for anyone who may want to pursue obtaining this type of visa. During my research, I realized that visa requirements differ based on the state you apply for your visa in. I lived in Miami, Florida and was lucky to have a consulate there. If you do not have a Spanish Consulate in your state, you must go to the nearest state that has one. If that is the case, you really need to be on point with your documents so as to not waste time.
A simple guide…
The first thing to know is that you cannot apply for your visa until three months before your anticipated date of arrival in Spain. With this in mind, you want to start preparing your documents way in advance so that you have ample time for any delays that may arise. Hopefully, with my guide, you will have few to no delays. The consulate in Miami did not require an appointment but others do, so if you are applying somewhere other than Miami, be sure to make your appointment as soon as possible as these appointments can be hard to obtain.
You need to be a student…
1.Find a program of study that you would like to enroll in. This can be university level, a language program (usually a Spanish class), or a professional development course. There are also government programs (such as Auxiliares de conversación) available. It is important to know that the government programs come with limitations, such as not necessarily being placed in the city that you may want to live in, as well as age restrictions. Whichever program you choose, must have the following:
- Be a government approved institution
- Classes offered for a minimum of 20 hours per week
- The program should be for 7 months or longer
If you plan on staying indefinitely, make sure that the program will be at least a year long, so that if you decide to renew your visa you have a whole year to apply again.
Initially, I wanted to enroll in a Spanish class, but the ones I found were out of my budget. I was fortunate to find a professional development program that was significantly cheaper and fulfilled the visa requirements. I enrolled in a Developing Teacher Course at TEFL Iberia. This was perfect for me, a new teacher.
2. Once you get accepted to your educational program, the next thing you need to do is secure health insurance. Some consulates stipulate specific requirements in regards to coverage and repatriation, however I did not find that information specific for the consulate in Miami. I used the insurance that was recommended by my school (Atlantida). If you already have health insurance in the states, check with them if it will be sufficient for Spain, before purchasing a new policy. For most policies, they tend to have the cheapest package for students under 35 years of age. I was 36 years old when I applied so I juuuust missed that deal. Prices will vary, but this could run about 500 – 800 euros per year.
3. The next thing that takes some time to get together is your FBI criminal background check. You first need to obtain your fingerprints from your local police station. I had to bring the fingerprint card – which I purchased from MailPak. Once you have your fingerprints, these need to be sent to the FBI along with the request form that can be printed from the website as well as the payment. They do not accept self addressed envelopes. This will take about two weeks to be returned to you. Once you have the background check returned ,you will then need to send it to the US Department of State to obtain an Apostille. This will also take about two weeks to be processed and returned.
4. You must obtain a medical certificate from your primary care physician saying that you are healthy. You can find a template here. I sent my primary care physician’s office an email with the template. When they had it complete, I just stopped by to pick it up. Remember to read it before you leave the office. You want to pay particular attention to the spelling of your name to make sure they got it right! Also make sure the letter is on the MD’s letterhead, that it has an original signature and that it is stamped.
5. Having enough money to sustain yourself is important. I’ve heard different amounts being required depending on the consulate. In Miami, they require you to have approx $700-1000 euros/per month for the year that you plan to be there for. This requirement may be different for the government programs. If you are unable to show this in your accounts, I have heard of people borrowing money from family or friends, depositing in their account, printing the statement and then returning the money. PLEASE do not over extend yourself. Make sure you really have a plan on how to support yourself for the year. I was able to save enough to give me at least 3 – 4 months to find a job and start earning an income.
What needs to be translated to Spanish
6. Once the Apostille for the background check and the medical certificate is received, both of these documents need to be translated into Spanish. You need to find an accredited translator for this. I used good old google to find one in Miami. Shop around as some people tend to charge a lot for this service. I paid $60 for both documents with Tranlanguage.
7. Two passport photos – you can see the consulate requirements here.
8. Print and fill out TWO visa applications from the Spanish Consulate’s website. Use glue to attach your passport photos to the applications. The application fee at the time I applied (2019) was $160.
Copies copies copies…
9. I advise to make three copies of everything! (except for the actual application – both copies need to be original). Include copies of the picture page in your passport and your driver’s license or another form of ID. Once you have been accepted to an educational program they should send you an acceptance letter for you to include in your application package for the consulate. They should include a copy in Spanish as well as English, if there isn’t one in Spanish, make sure to have your acceptance letter translated along with the others. Also have a copy of your entire package for when you arrive in Spain.
One more check
10. Double and triple check that you have all your documentation correct. Include a self addressed envelope as they will take your passport along with the documents and application so they can put the visa in your passport.
Ready for submission
11. Go to the consulate and submit your documents (remember: 3 months before the date you plan to be in Spain). If you are in Miami, remember you don’t need an appointment, but you should be there very early when the consulate opens as there will be a line. If you are missing something required, I have been told that they will allow you to get it sorted and return – I am not exactly sure of that process as I had no issues with mine. The processing time for the visa is generally between 3 – 6 weeks. I received my passport, with the visa, back in 3 weeks.
P.S For anything that you send a self addressed envelope for, make sure you get a tracking number. This process can evoke some anxiety so being able to check the status of your documents can help to pacify some of that anxiety….it did for me anyway.
And now you are all set! Visa in hand and ready to start a new adventure!
I hope my guide on how to obtain a student visa for Spain was helpful. As an additional help I have created this easy checklist to help you stay organized.
Have you gone through this visa process and have something to add, please comment and let us know! If you used my checklist to help you get your visa, let me know how it went!
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2 comments / Add your comment below
It feels like such a huge task to get any kind of visa but definitely very daunting when you’re a student going to a completely foreign place for more than a few months! This is such a comprehensive, great guide!
Yes it definitely felt like a task. Hoping this guide will make someone else’s experience that much easier!