Visa Appointment Day

Wow, I just re-read my last blog post and it was super boring. I almost fell asleep reading it. Sorry about that. Luckily, I did everything correct for the Apostille crap because about 2 weeks later (mid-December) I received my self addressed stamped envelope back from Sacramento in the mail with the Apostille on my document. So with that, I had pretty much everything I needed except for the passport photos and the 3 forms filled out (Visa application, EX-01 and Authorization Form M790 C052), and the notarized document explaining why I wanted to go to Spain, which I had kind of forgotten about. Luckily that was something that could be whipped up in a matter of minutes, no need to wait on a government office. I wrote in the letter how I wanted to immerse myself in the Spanish culture and spend time with family, and summarized some of the requirements and what I had provided to meet those requirements.

Once I had that document done, I had to find a certified translator. I went back into my e-mail and re-read some of the e-mails I exchanged with Auston from TwoBadTourists and he had mentioned a company called Debor Services in Los Altos. Since I was running out of time, I immediately sent them an e-mail. My questions were answered quickly and I sent over scanned copies of the required documents and they were turned around within a few days. 2 days before Christmas I drove over to Los Altos and picked them up in person. The woman who did the translation was also a notary so two birds one stone. She had all the paperwork organized nicely and took the time to explain everything. I highly recommend her services especially if you’re local, but she will also mail documents to you if needed.
 
With that done, all I needed now was to fill out the forms and get my passport photos. Two days before my appointment, I took passport photos and with some guidance from blogs and the instructions provided with all the forms I managed to fill them out correctly. They took them at my appointment with no problem.That same day also went to FedEx Office and made copies of everything plus an extra copy for myself and got some cash out at the bank.

So…much…paperwork

The appointment itself was the next day on Monday, January 9th. I got to San Francisco 45 minutes early and found a parking spot close by. I went by Starbucks and used the restroom and ordered a chestnut praline latte (I’m gonna miss the holiday flavors) and walked around a bit. Then 10 minutes before my appointment I went inside. When I first envisioned the consulate I envisioned something like the passport office in downtown SF, but looking it up on Google street view a few weeks prior showed me otherwise, it’s actually a smallish building on a fairly quiet street. The door was locked but I was buzzed in.

My picture… not Google’s
The waiting room was full, I checked in at the front desk and sat down and waited. And waited and waited. Luckily I had nowhere to be for awhile. I think there was just one person processing visa applications. An entire family of four went in for their appointment ahead of me. I chatted with a guy who was also applying for a non-lucrative visa, although he had already been living in Europe for awhile. I sent some e-mails on my phone and looked at Instagram. I went out to my car to get my phone charger and make sure I didn’t have a parking ticket. Finally 2 hours after I had arrived, they called my name. I later overheard that Mondays and Fridays are the busiest times to go to the consulate.
 
I went through the door and to the back of the building and walked up to a window, like a ticket window. The appointment itself took about 15 minutes and went well. All my documents appeared to be in order. The woman processing my papers asked me why I wanted to go to Spain and I explained my reasoning to her, how I was taking a break from work, and wanted to live in Spain and spend time with family. She stamped a few things and scanned my passport, then asked me for the visa fee plus the authorization fee, which came out to a total of $151. She also asked what dates I was planning on being in Spain, and gave me an confirmation number and a website I could check the status on, and told me when the visa was ready I should come back with my passport and my airline itinerary. The most surprising thing for me was that she didn’t keep my passport. Everything I’ve ever read, and even the consulate themselves had e-mailed me and confirmed they’d keep my passport during the process. But I went home with it.

Now it definitely feels real, this is actually happening…

Checking the visa status… Again

Apostille-ing

I spent a few hours this morning figuring out how I’m suppose to get my criminal history report Apostille-ized… I received the report a few weeks ago but it was just a printout and I wasn’t sure what to do with it.  So I e-mailed visa-immigration@doj.ca.gov asking what the next steps were. I received a response saying a new letter would be issued with a state seal and then I would have to contact the California Secretary of State.

I got the new letter (not sure if it would have just been sent automatically if I hadn’t asked) and then put it off for a couple weeks then went back and tried to figure out what to do. I printed out the DS-4194 from the U.S. state department website and started filling it out this morning when I read this:

Note:  The U.S. Department of State will not issue an Apostille for state-issued documents.


Above this it stated:

State issued documents destined for use in Hague Apostille countries may be authenticated by the Competent Authority in the state where the document was executed. A list of these authorities can be found on the Hague website.


I clicked the link for the Hague website and found my way to this page http://www.sos.ca.gov/notary/authentication/


It included a list of required items to submit, one of which was “A cover letter stating the country in which the document will be used”. No forms or anything to print out. What exactly is this cover letter supposed to say is unclear. Do I just write SPAIN in big bold letters and sign it? All joking aside I ended up using a trusty Microsoft Word Cover Letter Template and writing the following (in between To whom it may concern and my signature, obviously):

“Please find attached a document from the State of California Department of Justice that requires an Apostille certificate for the country of Spain, for visa/immigration purposes.”

The website also stated:

“The California Secretary of State authenticates signatures only on documents issued in the State of California signed by a notary public or the following public officials and their deputies” 

with a list of these public officials and their deputies including “State Official”, but “Criminal Identification Specialist I, Application Processing Program, Bureau of Criminal Information and Analysis” wasn’t explicitly listed, which is who signed my letter, but that sounded pretty official and it was also signed on behalf of the state attorney general and had the official state raised stamp/seal on it, so I assumed my document was legit.

The Secretary of State website also says that the paperwork can be mailed to the Sacramento office then links the words “Sacramento office” to a Contact Us page which shows the address of the Sacramento office and also another different mailing address. “So do I mail it directly to the Sacramento office or the mailing address?” I wondered. I decided to mail it to the mailing address which was also in Sacramento.

I made copies of everything and printed out my cover letter at my local FedEx Office then took everything to the post office. I wanted to track both the outgoing paperwork as well as the self-addressed stamp envelope so the postal worker suggested I use priority mail for both. I put my name and address on a priority mail flat rate small envelope with the pre-paid postage and then put that envelope inside a larger flat rate envelope along with the paperwork and a check for $20 and off it goes. So that’s done. Hopefully I did everything correctly. At least I didn’t mail the DS-4194!

Another update, I have my appointment scheduled for January 9th. There had originally been a link on the consulate webpage to make a Visa appointment through the VFS global website. When I was finally ready to make an appointment, I went to this link and all it would tell me was “There are no appointments available for the current month”. Ok, well what about next month or the month after that? I e-mailed the consulate and they basically just told me to keep checking back. I kept checking the VFS global website directly to no avail. Finally, I was poking around on the main consulate page again and saw a NEW link for making an appointment, not through the VFS global site, but another website called bookitit.com. This let me make an appointment for January 9th which is coming up fast! So let’s hope my Apostille-ized document comes back quickly, because I still need to get it translated. I’m cutting it close. What else is new…

Apostille of the What?

I started making some decent progress on the visa stuff about 2 weeks ago. I had printed out the live scan request form (https://oag.ca.gov/fingerprints/visaimmigration) several weeks ago for obtaining my criminal history but that was it, the next step was to get fingerprints. I looked at the website to find the locations. One of them happened to be conveniently less than a block away from my office, and where I applied for TSA Precheck several months ago. There was no info on hours or anything, but I sent them an email and they emailed me back a couple days later, and told me the best walk-in times. So Thursday the 13th I walked in around 4pm and got that done. I had to bring my ID and the live scan form. It cost $57 and for some reason I wasn’t thinking and didn’t bring my entire wallet so I had to run back to the office to grab it.
 
I got something in the mail that said there was some sort of delay but then I got my criminal history print out the following week so it was a pretty quick turnaround. The next step is to get the “Apostille of the Hague Convention” which I still need to figure out. Plus it needs to be translated into Spanish by a certified translator. The criminal history report also can’t be older than 3 months from the visa application date, and in turn when I get approved for a visa it will only be valid for 90 days until I go to Spain and register for a Spanish ID card which will allow me to stay for the remainder of the time (up to 1 year), so I need to actually start making some solid plans…
 
I had requested the medical certificate from my doctor the same week. I actually need to update the documents required for the non-lucrative visa from my first post. Once I am done I will do a final post of everything that I needed in detail and how much the entire process cost. I failed to mention that for the medical certificate it needs to contain specific verbiage. I had a routine doctor appointment and while I was there I just asked if she could write up something saying I was in good health, which she provided, but then looking over the visa application I realized it needed to specifically say “the patient has been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005” so I emailed my doctor and she said I had to come back and get a TB test. So I got that done today and once the results are back hopefully that’s all she will need to provide the letter. Then I have to get THAT translated into Spanish.
 
Also, the SF consulate doesn’t seem to require proof of accommodation which is interesting. I confirmed that it wasn’t mandatory via e-mail but they also said “if you want to present any additional document that you believe might be of benefit to your application, you are free to do it.”
 
Also, another plug for http://twobadtourists.com, I took them up on their offer of unlimited e-mail advice/Q&A for $25. Well worth the money so far, it’s nice to have people to bounce questions off of who have been through the process before. Thanks guys! 

Spain or Bust (aka The Spain Visa Process in San Francisco)

Hello! Welcome to my blog. I came up with the name of this blog when I started traveling a lot for work this past year and using the hashtag #wineandpassports on some of my Instagram posts. But the ultimate travel experience is yet to come.

(If you just want to get to the Visa requirements, scroll down)
 
Last December, I talked to a guy at Crossfit who was dropping into one of our classes. It turned out he was originally from Madrid. Talking to him reignited a dream I’ve had since my early 20’s to live in Spain for awhile and learn Spanish. I’ve toyed with the idea on and off (mostly off). I remember talking to my sister about the Crossfit guy a few days later (never saw him again, unfortunately) and telling her how I wanted move to Madrid and learn Spanish. Her response was “do it already, you’ve been talking about it forever”. A couple of months later I was on vacation in Singapore and met an Australian expat who had just moved to Singapore 2 weeks earlier on a 3 year contract. A friend of mine had moved to Europe a few months prior. Both of these things helped to fuel my inspiration. I started to realize my sister had a point. I should just do it. Even though I was about to turn 37 years old, I realized it is never too late to follow your dreams. Also, being where I am in life actually had some advantages such as accumulating a decent amount of work experience and skills and more importantly a savings account. Not to mention social media accounts for communicating with my family and friends!
 
I started seriously researching what it would take to move to Spain for awhile. I even asked my cousin who lives in Spain, who works at a university, if she could recommend any schools to study Spanish. At that point, once I started telling other people about my goal, it started becoming real. She convinced me to look at schools in Barcelona instead of Madrid, which made sense because I had her and other family there. Besides, I love the beach and being close to the ocean.
 
Now you may be thinking, what about working and money? Being a single working woman with no kids has allowed me to put some money aside. Taking a few months or a year off wasn’t going to kill me, but I’d for sure burn through that savings without a steady paycheck. I’ve read a lot of blogs on the subject of taking a sabbatical and traveling. It provided much needed inspiration. I read a story about a girl who took a one year sabbatical on about half the money I had saved. So if she could do it, there’s no reason I couldn’t as well. There was also the option of keeping my job and working remotely… that is if they agreed to it.
 
There are just a few other logistical pieces to sort out, which are not trivial tasks.
 
Work
 
My current job is amazing. I have been there for 5 years and I love it. It’s been a phenomenal experience and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Working for a fast growing tech startup is fun, unpredictable, always changing and extremely rewarding. So taking some time off or trying to work part time/remote would be a big change.
 
Home
 
I own my condo, so some choices would have to be made. I could sell it, rent it out, or leave it as is and let my roommate stay there which would be the easiest option, but not a smart move financially. I did give her a heads up several months ago that I was considering this move and would rent the place out. If I rented it out, I might not have a place to stay when I came back, depending on when that was.
 
All My S%$t
 
I’d have to decide and figure out what to take with me and what to leave behind/get rid of. As a sentimental Cancer with ever changing hobbies and slight hoarding tendencies this might prove to be difficult. My snowboard, my mountain bike, my yoga mat, my Vitamix…. all things that would most likely have to be put in storage or sold. I also have a cat but my sister has offered to take her for the time I am gone.
 
Visa Process
 
A visa is required for staying longer than 3 months and requires a lot of paperwork and planning. I’m lucky enough to live an hour from San Francisco which is where the local Spanish consulate is which I would be required to visit. I’ve read other blogs where whole families had to take a 2 hour flight to their nearest consulate so I consider myself lucky. I’m applying for the non-lucrative visa option which basically says that I’m going to Spain on my own dime and won’t be working for a Spanish company while I’m there. I could also apply for a student visa, but it would only be good for the dates that I was actually enrolled in a language school, and I wanted to have more flexibility than that.
 
This is a list of the documentation I will have to gather to submit with my application. I will also have to make an in-person appointment with the local consulate in SF at least 3 months in advance.

Updates highlighted below 1/13/17. Please also refer to the instructions from the SF consulate or from your local consulate.
  1. Application Form – The main application form for the Spanish residence visa, downloadable from consulate website.
  2. Notarized Document – I left this off the original post. I also needed a letter explaining why I am requesting this visa to go to Spain, the purpose, where I plan to stay, etc.
  3. Passport Photos – Two passport photos will need to be sent in with the application.
  4. Passport – I’ll need to provide my passport and I think they keep it during processing. Which means I won’t be able to travel internationally while my visa is getting approved.
  5. Residence Form – Separate application (EX-01), for Spain residence permit which is separate from the residence visa. Also downloadable from the consulate website.
  6. Medical Certificate – Medical certificate from a doctor stating I am in good health and don’t suffer any illnesses that would threaten public health. The certificate needs to be signed and on a doctor’s letterhead and needs to be issued in the current place of residence. It needs to specifically state “the patient has been examined and been found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005″. My doctor had no problem doing this.
  7. Criminal Record History – Criminal Record History from either my home state (California) or the FBI (if California didn’t issue background checks, but it looks like they do). This can take 30-60 days to process. Then, I will have to get the document legalized by something called the “Apostille of the Hague” stamp. This process can take another 1-2 weeks. And then, the final document has to be translated into Spanish. This was quicker than I thought, likely because I could go through the state and not the FBI. The next two blog posts cover this in more details.
  8. Health Insurance –Travel/health insurance which covers emergency medical expenses and repatriation services with minimum coverage of 30.000€. The blog I read used World Nomads so I will check them out. I did end up going with World Nomads which was accepted.
  9. Proof of Sufficient Funds – I will have to show my monthly income or savings account to prove I have enough money to live on in Spain. I showed the last 3 months of my savings account and my stock plan from work.
  10. Proof of Accommodation – A rental, lease or ownership agreement to prove I have a place to stay in Spain. Or a letter from my family saying I can stay with them. Oddly enough, this isn’t a requirement according to the San Francisco consulate, but is required at other consulates. However, I included it anyway just to be safe. Since I have family there, it was easy for me to ask for a letter from them inviting me to stay. My cousin also included a copy of her ID and a recent bill in her name. I have read on other blogs that an Airbnb or other type of reservation, even if not for the entire year, is acceptable as well.
  11. Visa Fee – Visa fee is $140, payable by cash or a money order.
  12. Authorization for residence M790 C052 – I also missed this the first time. This is another form downloadable from the consulate website. There is also an authorization fee associated with this. In my case it was $11, on top of the $140 visa fee. I brought $200 cash to my appointment (for both the visa and this fee) because I wasn’t sure how much this would be.
There were two additional steps that don’t apply to me:
  1. US Residency – If you’re a US resident but not a citizen, you have to prove your valid immigration into the US.
  2. Spouse/Family – If you have a spouse or family you will have to repeat the above steps for each of them.
My goal is to be in Spain by March 2017, so as you can see I have a lot to think about and get done in the coming months….