Living in Spain is one of the most fun experiences possible. The process of obtaining the student visa to do it, on the other hand, is not. I personally have jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops multiple times now, and I can’t say it becomes much more enjoyable each round; although, it is survivable.
For all the first-timers out there or even veterans that forgot all the required nonsense, this is your survival guide.
Here I explain how to get a Long-Term Student Visa (for more than 180 days) for Spain with personal tips from my own experiences. Student visas are good for students, the North American Language and Culture Program (auxiliares de conversación), and au pairs (it’s the same visa but a few different documents may be required for each situation, so double check your consulate’s page.) Here we go!
- Chicago Consulate Visas Page – Jurisdiction: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin
- Boston Consulate Visas Page – Jurisdiction: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Main
- Houston Consulate Visas Page – Jurisdiction: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas
- Los Angeles Visas Page – Jurisdiction: Southern California (County of Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura), Arizona, Colorado or Utah
- Miami Consulate Visas Page – Jurisdiction: Florida, Georgia and South Carolina
- New York Consulate Visas Page – Jurisdiction: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware
- San Francisco Consulate Visas Page – Jurisdiction: Northern California (excluding the counties of San Luis Obispo, Kern, San Bernardino, Santa Bárbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, and Imperial which are under the jurisdiction of the Consulate of Spain in Los Angeles), Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Guam, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming
- Washington D.C. Consulate Visas Page – Jurisdiction: Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina
- New Orleans Consulate – NO LONGER EXISTS. Now use Houston’s.
How to Apply for a Student Visa for Spain
*NOTE: I have written this from my experience with the Chicago Consulate. SOME consulates ask for translations of documents, Chicago does not. Double check YOUR visa checklist!!
Step 1: Passport
You should already have a passport that is valid through the whole length of the program, but if not, apply to get one (expedited if you’re running out of time). This should’ve been done, like yesterday!
Step 2: Consulate Appointment
AS SOON AS POSSIBLE set up an appointment at your consulate (Washington DC excluded). Appointments can only be made online and only one appointment is allowed per person, so you may not apply for multiple spots. The appointments last 10 minutes and all you do is turn in your documents. Set up a date that gives you enough time to complete the background check and apostille process. (My Indiana state background check took about 10-15 days and then the apostille another week. Another time I did the FBI background check and apostille and it took months!) You cannot apply more than 90 days before the program start date and your documents (background check, medical certificate) cannot be more than 3 months old on your appointment date.
Step 3: Background Check
Begin the process of getting a background check. This can be done through your state government or through the FBI. I have done both and I would HIGHLY recommend completing a state background check (if you have lived in the same state for the past 5 years) since it is not only faster but costs less. If you have lived in different states in the past 5 years, you will need a state background check from EACH state, and in that case a FBI background check would be easier.
Complete one of the following:
FBI Background Check
- Complete these steps.
- Make sure to write a cover letter saying it is for a visa and that you need it to have a signature of the official’s name, title and seal of the agency. (I didn’t do this the first time and had to send it back. It cost me weeks of time!)
State Background Check
- Find a local police station or certified business that is authorized to fingerprint you.
- Send your prints, application, and money order to your state police (unless everything is completed electronically like for me).
- I would recommend writing a cover letter for this type of background check also, explaining it is for a visa and that it will need an official notarized seal to be able to get the apostille.
**Foreign Country Background Check
- If you also lived in another country for more than 6 months within the past 5 years, you need to get a background check from that country as well.
Step 4: Apostille
UPDATE: If you live close enough to drive to your secretary of state’s office, look into taking your background check there in person. You could get the apostille stamp done that day and save a lot of time!
When your background check returns, you need to get it legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention. This is basically a form of authentication so that the document will be legally recognized in Europe. Note: State background checks can only be authenticated by the state government that issued it and FBI background checks can only be authenticated by the U.S. Department of State.
Apostille for FBI Background Checks
- The Department of State webpage about requesting an authentication
- Complete this form stating that Spain is the “country of use”.
- Make an appointment, walk-in, or priority mail the form, FBI background check, fee, and a self-addressed prepaid priority envelope to:
Office of Authentications
U.S. Department of State
44132 Mercure Cir, P.O. Box 1206
Sterling, VA 20166-1206
Apostille for State Background Checks
As an example, here is what I did for Indiana:
- I found the Indiana Secretary of State Apostilles webpage.
- Like the webpage required, I wrote a cover letter including what country it was for (Spain), my phone number, and where to mail it when it was finished.
- I sent a priority tracked envelope containing the background check, self-addressed prepaid priority envelope, and cover letter (no fee in Indiana) to the Secretary of State.
(This is the cover letter that I used.)
Step 5: Medical Certificate
You will need a recent doctor’s statement (not older than 3 months) indicating that you (your first and last name stated like in your passport) have been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005’. This must be signed by a M.D. on a doctor’s or medical center’s letterhead. Although this step seems simple enough, many people struggle to get this. I personally have never had any trouble with this. Here is what I did both times:
- I made a general appointment with my doctor. When I didn’t have one, I became a new patient with a new doctor.
- I told them my situation, saying that I just needed a paper signed stating that I was healthy so that I could live in Spain.
- They didn’t really look at me at all, but gave me up-to-date immunizations (tetanus shot).
- I gave them an example letter of what I needed. My letter said “To Whom It May Concern: This hereby certifies that MY FULL NAME has been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005.“
- They then scanned my letter, added their letterhead, and signed it.
That was literally it. Some people in the past have gone to clinics to have this done; I assume having your medical records will play a big factor in whether a random doctor will sign your letter. For me, the more simplistic I made it, the more willing they are to sign it. I hope it goes as smoothly for you as it did for me.
Step 6: Express Mail Envelope and Money Order
Go to your local post office and buy an express mail envelope and address it to yourself. (Keep the ticket number so you can track your passport when your consulate sends it back.) While you are there, get a money order of exactly $160 payable to ‘Consulate of Spain‘ (check before, but this should be the same for all consulates).
Step 7: Final Step!
*If your consulate asks for an itinerary of arrival and departure from Spain, I have always made up a possible plan including the date I might arrive, the start date of the program, the end date of the program, and the possible date I will hypothetically leave. Put your full name on it and title it ‘Itinerary for Spain’.
Take ORIGINALS AND 2 COPIES (just in case) of everything listed above, your carta de nombramiento (acceptance letter, which will come in the mail or by email from your region in Spain), visa application, passport, ID (license), and 2 passport sized photos. Double check your consulate’s checklist! (*If you are an immigrant, take your residence card, too.) You are now ready for your appointment! Almost all consulates require you to apply in person, but return your passport via mail. Hold on to all of the originals after your appointment, you will need them when you get to Spain.