It’s that time of year again when thousands of us anxiously await our regional placement for the Language and Culture assistant program with the Ministry of Spain. It’s my first year in this program and I can not tell you how nervous I am. With an inscrita number in the upper 4,000’s I can expect that I won’t get my placement until mid July. But just as a young kid restlessly waits for Christmas morning to open dozens of presents I will be doing the same. Though instead of peeking out of the window to catch a glimpse of jolly old Saint Nick I am frantically checking my email. It’s maddening.
According to the Ministry’s website, Monday was the day that they were going to try to send out first year placements. (Very heavy emphasis on try) Having dealt with the Spanish government in the past, I knew that that wasn’t going to happen. The bureaucracy of Spain is notorious for being….slow. Also, judging by last years dates placements didn’t happen until May. Oh well, I’ll stay patient. I know my time is coming.In the meantime I’ll be getting everything ready for my visa so I’m not frantically running around with my head cut off in July when it’s time to apply for it.
My first time getting a visa to study abroad in Spain was a fricken nightmare so I am making sure that I am more than prepared early on. The night before my appointment I carefully planned my outfit, painted my nails, and made sure I had Victoria’s Secret angel worthy hair. Looking back I realize how ridiculous that was but at the time it was like I was going to the job interview of my lifetime. I had my folder with all the necessary documents (or so I thought) and I was ready to go. When I got to the counter the ambassador of Spain tells me that I don’t have the right pictures so mid application I am forced to frantically hunt down a place that takes passport pictures. This took me a good 45 minutes. Looking at my picture when they are done I notice that it looks like I’m crying. Great. I look absolutely crazy but I really don’t have time to get a do-over so I pick my head up and rush back to the embassy. An hour later I arrive back to the embassy and surprisingly the lady let me jump ahead in line and she proceeded to finish my visa.
The next few steps seemed to go along very smoothly and I eventually calm down after the last hour of hell. Just when I think that nothing else can go wrong she informs me that checks don’t work at the consulate and I had to get a money order. How could I not remember that!! It was printed very very clearly on my application checklist. I just forgot. I thought oh my god…they are NEVER granting me a visa. I just sat there sobbing. I felt like a prize idiot. My heart just sank and I couldn’t even speak. Thank God I caught one on a good day. She smiled and told me where I could get a money order and I scurried my way out to make that correction. Eventually everything worked out and I was granted my student visa! But never EVER will I let anything like that happen again. So this time around I’m not messing around. I’m getting started now and here’s what I’m going to do.
First thing! GET YOUR BACKGROUND CHECK DONE!!! From many other Auxiliar bloggers, I’ve read that this is the most difficult part of obtaining your visa. There’s two ways to do this. Through your state department (depending on your consulate) and through the FBI. I’m doing it the FBI route because I wasn’t getting anywhere with my Justice department in Minnesota. I had a lot of questions about how to obtain a background check and I didn’t find any resources to help me. Maybe if someone else has had better luck you can tell me how you did it. So with the FBI background check you have to go to the US department of justice’s website and print out a form to fill out which i’ll insert here: https://forms.fbi.gov/identity-history-summary-checks-review/q384893984839334.pdf . Next step is to get your fingerprints taken at your local sheriff’s office. I got mine done in Blue Earth county in Minnesota. For me, I paid $20 to get mine done since I didn’t bring a fingerprint card but if I had brought in a card it would have only been $10. You can find official fingerprint cards on the Department of Justice’s website. Then you have to get an $18 money order for processing fees. You can also mail a credit card form to the department but I didn’t like the idea of writing all my credit card information and then sending it away. Money orders are safer I think. So once you obtain all three documents you will mail them out to the Department of Justice to the address on the bottom of the request form. I read on the website that it can take up to 12 weeks to process!! This is why you should do this early. Keep in mind that this background check is valid for only 90 days so be careful not to do it too early.
Once you get your background check back in the mail, you have to get it legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention by the US Department of State in Washington DC. This is if you went the FBI route. If you got your background check through your state, you’ll get your document legalized by the Apostille of the Hague Convention by your state’s department of justice. For each document you’ll pay a $8 processing fee to get this done. You’ll also need your background check and this form http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/183033.pdf which you will mail out to the address on the webpage http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/english/legal-considerations/judicial/authentication-of-documents/requesting-authentication-services.html#Fees. Once you get that back you’re done with the background check!
Now for the easier steps! You’ll have to get two passport sized photos. The website says you only need one but when you get them done you’ll end up with two anyway. I got mine done for $11 at my local CVS. You could go to a DMV or a licencing center as well. That’s it for that step.
Then you’ll need a recent (no more than 90 days old) physical. You could go through your doctor to get this done. It has to be on a doctor’s or the medical center’s letterhead and signed. If you do not currently have health insurance you could go to a place like CVS or Walgreen’s to get a physical done. It would be a fee of about $70-$80 and just as acceptable as one from a doctor’s office. This is just to make sure you are free from any contagious diseases and such.
On your consular’s website you’ll find your visa application form. Like I said earlier I am going through Chicago and I found the application form right on the website. You’ll need your carta de nombramiento that you should receive in the mail shortly after you accept your placement. If you need help filling this form out refer to this link http://www.mecd.gob.es/eeuu/dms/consejerias-exteriores/eeuu/auxiliaresusa/VISA_INSTRUCTIONS_FOR_US_2015.pdf. Make sure you make a couple copies of this!
Next, you’ll need your passport. Make sure it is valid and won’t expire within the year and that it has at least on blank page for the consulate to affix your visa inside. Also, you’ll need a self-addressed express mail USPS envelope so they can send your passport with your visa to you.
Let’s not forget that visa fee. According to the website right now, the fee for getting a student visa is $160. Do not make my mistake and make sure it’s a MONEY ORDER!! You can easily get this done at your bank.
So with all that and your original acceptance letter from the Language and Culture Assistant program (your carta de nombramiento) you’re ready to book your appointment at the consulate. With the Chicago consulate you’ll have to book your appointment online after you create a profile and username.
Now you’re finished! Just wait patiently until your appointment and make sure you have all your documents in one place. I will be making at least three copies of all my documents just in case and I have a specific folder that I’ll keep all that information. You’ll show up at the consulate, take a ticket number, wait in the waiting area shaking with sweaty palms (at least I did) and then when your number is called you’ll make your way up to the counter and they will look over all your documents. After your appointment you’ll leave your passport with the consulate so they can affix your visa to it and then in about four weeks you’ll get your passport back with your visa for España!
See, that wasn’t that hard….(insert sarcastic snicker here)