Editor’s Note: As of mid-August 2022, the application process for both student visa modification processes under cuenta ajena and cuenta propia has undergone some noteworthy changes. I will be updating this post to accurately reflect those changes as soon as possible. In the meantime, I recommend anyone looking for more updated information (in Spanish) on the renewal process for themselves in 2022 and beyond to go to the hoja informativa on the Extranjería’s website before reading about my experience (which was accurate until this year). Thank you for your understanding!
If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that you’re on a student visa and have been participating in the Spanish government’s language assistant program for a few years or have completed a Master’s degree and internships but are now looking for a change. If you’ve answered yes, then this post is for you!
I’m an American who fell in love with Spain a good long while ago during the spring semester of my junior year of college when I came to study abroad in Seville. I knew I had to come back one day and I succeeded in doing so in late 2014 when I moved to Galicia to teach English and lived there for two years. However, those gray, rainy days sent me packing and in late 2016, I moved to Madrid to expand my horizons, make more connections and slowly try to escape the world of teaching.
After being told I was not able to renew at my school in Madrid for a second year, I was forced to consider other options in order to continue to live in Spain. So, last February, I began networking, making connections and getting my name out there like never before. I also researched a couple of different types of work visa applications in Spain since I was nearing the 3-year anniversary mark in the country. After 3 years here on a student visa, you have the chance to modify your visa to a work visa with a company (cuenta ajena) or present a business plan and pre-signed contracts and start your own business (cuenta propia). Seeing as the latter required fewer fees and startup costs (as a freelance translator and copywriter who had her own laptop) and not to mention lower visa fees, I chose the latter.
From start to finish, this entire process took a little over 6 months to complete. I knew that my end goal to start working in Spain as a freelancer and earning full years towards long-term residency (student years only count as half) would pay off so I started this crazy paperwork trail journey.
During this entire time when I was gathering information and documents, trying to find clients and writing my business plan, I never found a comprehensive list of all the steps I needed to do in order to turn in a complete application.
So…that’s why I’ve decided to compile my own list in hopes of helping someone else who finds themselves ready to exchange their student visa for a work visa and become autónomo.
Before we begin…
Ask yourself these questions first:
- Have I completed at least 3 cumulative years in Spain with no more than 90 days outside of the country each year?
- Can I prove that I have completed my studies during these 3 years (received 3 letters of completion from the schools where you’ve worked)?
- Can I declare that I have not received scholarship money from the AECID (a Spanish organization) nor from any organization in my home country during my time in Spain?
- Do I have a valid student TIE? (Absolutely mandatory in order to complete this application.)
- Do I really have a desire to stay in Spain long-term and why? And how will your skills help improve the Spanish economy?
If you’ve answered yes to the first 4 and deep down you really do want to stay in Spain long-term, you’re ready to start the modification process.
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer nor can I provide any professional legal advice. I’m merely recounting my own personal experience regarding this visa application and the timeline I had in order to complete it. All advice I give is merely based on my own experience and research.
Pro-tip: It took me about a month and a half to gather and request all of the documents I needed for this application. I would suggest giving yourself about 2-3 months’ time total in case one of these steps happens to take longer for you.
Anyway, let’s get started!
STUDENT VISA MODIFICATION TIMELINE
May 17th, 2017
I met with Patricia from the law office of Sterna Abogados to discuss my student visa modification options. I had done a lot of research at that point so I didn’t have a lot of questions about the process but I created several hypothetical situations to ask. The most important piece of information was that I learned I could legally apply to modify my status 90 days before the anniversary of my 3rd year in Spain. (For me, it would be after late June). The meeting lasted one hour and I was able to ask all of my questions, which mostly consisted of steps to take after getting the visa and also outlining the timeline for long-term residency (since I had asked about it), and I felt empowered after I left. I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the steps I had to take but I still felt confident. I had no idea the amount of paperwork that would lie before me. Keep scrolling to find out just how much…
Why Sterna Abogados?
I chose to make an appointment with this law office as they are connected to a very informative website called Spain Guru The consultation only cost me 50 euros (subject to price increases depending on what year you’re reading this) and I found it very well worth my time. Due to budget constraints, I chose to not hire a lawyer. However, in case you are interested in hiring one for yourself, the estimated cost for this particular firm to help me do the modification was around 600 euros.
(Someone who was doing the process in 2020 told me she was quoted 1200€ by Sterna so take this into account. Also, some insider advice: due to COVID-19 and its lingering, ongoing effects, law firms in Spain are jacking up their prices for most legal processes because they are experiencing a shortage of clients/work.)
June 12th, 2017
On the morning of this day, I applied for and received a background check from Spain on the spot at the Atención del Ciudadano office located on Calle de la Bolsa, 8 (Metro Sol). The law actually indicated that I didn’t need to resubmit my fingerprints for an FBI Background Check from the United States (my home country). And in the end, I wasn’t asked for the background check from Spain but I got it just in case. It also only cost 3,40€ so it was by no means expensive nor time-consuming to obtain surprisingly.
In the meantime, I got some clarification on a few of the requirements found on this specific hoja informativa (about the FBI background check) and continued my search for companies that may want to contract my copywriting or translation services.
*Note: You do not have to get another state or FBI background check from your home country (ie: the USA if you have already presented it to a Spanish Consulate in the last three years. This line in the hoja informativa under Documentación Exigible, which should be used as a mere guide, backs this up:
“En el supuesto de no haberlo presentado en la misión diplomática u oficina consular, certificado de antecedentes penales expedido por las Autoridades del país o países en que haya residido durante los cinco últimos años anteriores a su entrada en España.”
June 21st, 2017
**As of August 2022, this step is no longer mandatory.**
I sent my contact info to the AECID email to request the letter that states I have not received a scholarship from their organization during my 3 years in Spain. This does not indicate you have received a scholarship at all, it just can’t be from them.
I had to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following script and information:
Quisiera pedir al Certificado de la Dirección General de Asuntos y Asistencia Consulares, sobre si la estudiante con nombre, (insert your full name here), acreditó disponer de medios propios o beca en el momento de presentar la solicitud de visado.
- Organismo que le requiere el documento solicitado: La Secretaría de Estado de Administraciones Públicas (Delegación del Gobierno en la Comunidad de Madrid> Extranjería)
- Copia de la tarjeta de identidad de extranjero, está juntado a este email (Note: Take a picture of or scan your current, valid student TIE front and back and attach both photos (in a PDF) to the email)
- Nombre y Apellidos
- Nº de Pasaporte
- Nº de Tarjeta NIE
- Una Dirección postal dónde remitir el certificado (this would be your current address or if you are moving, put down a friend’s address where you know it will not get lost or forgotten)
On this day, I also made an appointment to go to the US Embassy here in Madrid and it gave me an appointment for July 27th, which meant I couldn’t set my appointment for the Extranjeria until the 28th at the earliest.
I selected Notary Services as my request didn’t fit under any of the other categories provided while I was going through the steps to book the appointment.
Pro tip: **Book this appointment early if you are applying to modify in the summer as the Embassy is usually very busy around this season. Under COVID restrictions, it’s best to email them and ask for an appointment as their calendar has remained closed to bookings for several months.**
June 28th, 2017
I received a digital copy of the letter from the AECID (actually for the second time since they spelled my legal name incorrectly).
June 30th, 2017
I finished my last and final – hopefully- day as an auxiliar at my school in Madrid and received both my letter of completion from my school in Canillejas and my first school in A Coruña. I hadn’t received one from them during my first year but I kept in contact with my coordinator and she was happy to write up the letter. I received it via email and I printed off a copy of it.
July 3rd, 2017
On the morning of this day, I went to my bank, ABANCA, here in Madrid to request a certified copy of one of my bank statements (with only 2 months worth of transactions, though I would recommend showing 3-4 months) but received a stamped copy of a regular statement instead. I also received both of the corrected copies of the AECID letter this day.
July 13th, 2017
All of my networking from the previous months paid off as a professional contact informed me on this day that I would be contacted about a big summer project for one of their clients. I learned about the project the next day via an email from the project manager and agreed to join the team. Really glad to have gotten this step over with after months of searching and contacting companies.
July 14th-17th, 2017
During this time frame, I was in contact with UPTA, an organization with locations all around Spain that offers support for autónomos. I was in the process of creating my business plan and so on this day, I inquired about the requirements and application form for the approval process. It typically takes 7-10 days for UPTA (in Madrid) to evaluate the viability (success rate) of your business plan. The cost has remained the affordable price of 15€ but from doing research on this, it seems to be the cost of the approval letter ONLY for the Comunidad de Madrid. For other regions, the cost varies (and can be significantly higher).
Extra note: (added on May 22, 2020) – Looking back over my emails with the UPTA office in Madrid that summer, I noticed an important detail that I had missed. The lady working in the Área de Inmigración informed me that if an applicant applies using a tax adviser (gestor) or a lawyer, the fee increases to 50€+IVA (Total: 60.50€). Keep this cost in mind if you decide to do this process with a lawyer and in Madrid.
However, it’s not the only organization in Spain that approves business plans. Here’s a small list of the four other organizations that you can contact:
- Federación Nacional de Asociaciones de Empresarios y Trabajadores Autónomos (ATA)
- Confederación Intersectorial de Autónomos del Estado Español (CIAE)
- Organización de Profesionales y Autónomos (OPA)
- Unión de Asociaciones de Trabajadores Autónomos y Emprendedores (UATAE)
**Note: I didn’t receive the service agreement from the client in time to be able to go through with getting my business plan approved by UPTA so I reluctantly skipped this step. And on the hoja informativa, it says this step is optional but highly recommended. Looking back on the process, I strongly recommend getting your business plan pre-approved and giving yourself 1-3 weeks (approximately) to get this step completed.**
July 18th-19th, 2017
I was in contact with a sworn translator who was recommended in previous posts on the Spain Immigration Group) and asked him for a quote on the cost of two sworn translations of my Bachelor’s degree diplomas. He quoted me an affordable price of 40€ with next-day turnaround. All that he required of me were PDF or JPEG copies of my diplomas in order to perform the translation.
(If you’re in Madrid and want to hire the same traductor jurado that I hired, please contact me and I’ll gladly refer him.)
**Important note: It’s not necessary to give a sworn translator original copies of your university diplomas. He used the PDF copies I had sent him and printed out a copy of each one to staple to the translated and stamped copies. I didn’t know this was the standard procedure so the week before, I told my parents to send my university diplomas to my apartment in Madrid via DHL (a company which I highly recommend) which cost me an extra 40€.**
July 22nd, 2017
I received the service agreement I had mentioned above, signed it, and got it signed by the client. I worked more on my business plan and used a template that I had found on Spain Guru. To see an example of a service agreement, go here.
**Pro-tip: Along with my business plan, I included a copy of my CV (resumé) and listed the URL for my blog (this website) as support for my online portfolio and as another avenue, I’d use for marketing to new clients during my first year as an autónoma. I can’t say for sure if someone at the Extranjería really did take a look at it but I strongly believe that it helped my case. If you’ve got some time and have always wanted to create a blog or a website of your very own, follow the steps listed in my comprehensive beginner’s blogging guide.**
July 27th, 2017
**As of August 2022, this step is no longer mandatory.**
I went to the US Embassy on Calle Serrano in Madrid bright and early at 8:45 am. I was able to skip the line and go in through the citizens’ side but I still had to wait a considerable amount of time before I was seen. In addition to the wait time, I had to take a number on two different occasions.
Every notarized piece of paper you request at the Embassy costs 50€ a page. That’s the price I paid. They had emailed me that week saying their card machine was temporarily down and told me to bring cash. On the contrary, the machine was up and running again that morning but I came with cash anyway. And I would recommend anyone else do the same. It’s likely you’ll find it difficult and inconvenient to make a new appointment quickly, especially if your appointment is in the summer. It’s typically their busiest time of the year with so many people applying for visitor’s visas to the US and passport renewals.
Once it was my turn to be seen, I wrote the following statement on the official form I was given:
Declaro que no poseo bienes o he sido becado o subvencionado por organismos públicos o privados dentro de programas estadounidenses de cooperación o desarollo.
Next, I signed it and took a number again. After a short wait, I went to the correct window and swore its validity in front of a notary who was behind it and she signed the form and applied the seal. I left here around 10:30 am.
The next and final task I had lined up for that day was to then go to the MAEC Office near Metro Banco de España to legalize the affidavit (US Embassy letter) so that it was valid in Spain. I had to make an appointment online (and appointment times were organized by 4-minute time slots) so I chose to go around 12:20 to give myself enough time to arrive in case the appointment at the Embassy lasted longer. It was quick, painless and not to mention free! The whole process took only about 6 minutes and then I was officially done with all the running around. You can make an appointment at their office here but you can only make it up to two weeks ahead of time, just as an FYI. (Subject to changes in 2020 and beyond)
Now, the only thing left was to make my appointment at the Extranjeria on Calle de Silva and I did that on this very same day. (I would recommend setting it a little more in advance as the Extranjería’s website has been redone in the last few years and at certain hours appointments aren’t available at all.)
July 30th, 2017
I did the last-minute preparation for the appointment which included making copies (not entirely needed, by the way), organizing and categorizing all my documents in my trusty file folder and printing out a copy of my appointment form. All that was left was to try to get some sleep that hot summer night and not be too nervous!
I would definitely recommend getting a good night’s sleep and eating breakfast before your appointment in order to feel rested and ready to go in case you get assigned to a less than cheerful funcionario (civil servant) the next day.
July 31st, 2017
The day to turn in all my paperwork had arrived and ironically this was also the last day my student TIE card was valid. Several months after this date, I tried to apply to a TEFL program in order to extend my student visa but I was not successful. The important thing was that I turned in my application while the card was still valid, though I realized that I did take a big risk.
Anyway, I went to my appointment at 10 a.m. at Calle de Silva and I successfully turned in my full packet of paperwork. The only tasa I had to pay was the cost of the card for 10,94 EUR. (Updated as of March 2023)
It didn’t match what was listed underneath the tasas for this visa and I was never asked to pay the larger fee at any other point during the process so I didn’t. (This could be subject to change, but it appears that some nationalities are exempt from paying the more expensive tasa and others are not. As a precaution, I would plan to have enough money in your budget to pay for it either way.)
Then, I had to wait.
And wait and wait and wait.
Until one day, 68 days later…
October 9th, 2017
After doubting whether or not my application would even get approved, the Spanish government did indeed decide to approve my student visa modification!
I, however, didn’t check the status of my application online because I was expecting to receive a letter about some potential missing documents (a missing translation) so I had no idea it had gotten approved at this point.
October 19th, 2017
I received a certified letter in the mail around 12 p.m. that day from the Oficina de Extranjeria, Calle de Silva and ripped into it with bated breath. It was delivered straight to my door (after the Correos worker couldn’t find my door and was confused by my name) so make sure you list the current address where you actually live and not a friend’s, as you will have to be there to sign and receive the letter. Luckily, it said favorable (approved/favorable) and I knew that my application had been approved.
I was about to pay a deposit on a TEFL course in order to renew my student visa the very next day but now I didn’t have to! I no longer had student status in Spain! Besides celebrating and calling everyone I could about the news, I made an appointment for my fingerprints at the immigration center near metro Aluche. It was one of those high-volume times of the year which meant I was given an appointment several weeks in the future: November 28th.
The letter also stated that I had to register myself into the Social Security system within a time frame of 30 days. At this point and subtracting public (and regional) holidays, I only had 13 business days to do so. Talk about pressure!
(In the meantime and for the entire month of November I was also searching for a new apartment, new private classes and new freelance projects I could work on as a US person (for the time being). You can imagine my stress levels were through the roof some days as I juggled all of these things at once. And if you’re familiar with searching for an apartment in Madrid, it can be a very stressful process and feel like it takes forever to find a good one.)
October 30th, 2017
I made my first visit to the correct Social Security Office for freelancers in my zip code (see photo below for the full list of offices). I requested my SS number by simply filling out a short form and presenting my approval letter. This was the easiest of my visits there.
November 6th, 2017
I went to both Hacienda – the Tax Office- (locations are all over Madrid and require an appointment, cita previa, but I went to the one located near metro Guzmán El Bueno) and returned to the same Social Security Office. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and listed my start (work) date as past November 9th (the last possible day for me to register) and it was a holiday only in Madrid center. A nice man at the Social Security office told me to go back to Hacienda and ask them to change it. Didn’t seem like too much of a hassle but remember…this is Spain.
November 7th, 2017
I had gotten another appointment to see someone at Hacienda in order to change my start date but this time for the afternoon. I don‘t recommend ever making an appointment at a Spanish government office in the afternoon. Case in point was that I had my appointment around 1:45 p.m. and around 2:20 p.m., the funcionario I was assigned to informed me that I was not able to change the date until that date had passed. I turned to the Spain Immigration Facebook Group and asked about it. And found out the next day, it was NOT TRUE! After crying a bit out of frustration and then calming myself down, I made yet another appointment at Hacienda but I chose to go to a location near Avenida de América.
November 8th, 2017
Around 11:30 a.m. the next day, I went to a different Hacienda where a very helpful man changed my start date in the system (after I had given him an abridged version of my life story in Spain) with ease. I then hurried on over to the Social Security Office in the opposite direction and got into the Social Security system. I had finally crossed these hurdles and breathed a sigh of relief.
November 28th, 2017
I was all set for this appointment -or so I thought- at Aluche around 1:30 p.m. until I realized with a gasp, as I started at a sign that said pasaporte, that I had left my passport on a shelf in my room. It was a major facepalm moment at the time but I was able to recover from my mishap. I made another appointment at Aluche and the next available date was in early 2018. Great…
**Important note**: Ever since the Extranjería (finally) updated its appointment setting system in mid-2018, it has been increasingly difficult to secure an appointment at an office inside the Comunidad de Madrid, especially at the Aluche police station. As many times as you check the website for available appointments, the dreaded “no hay citas disponibles en este momento” message pops up and you’re back to square 1. Well, if you’ve been approved for the cuenta propia work permit and you’re on the fingerprint appointment step, there is good news for you! Someone in an ex-pat group created a WhatsApp group for people who are looking for available fingerprint appointments. How the group works is that someone who was able to book an appointment will alert the group that he/she found an appointment for such and such day and anyone who needs one should go log on to the Extranjería’s website right then and there. Join the WhatsApp group only if you need help getting a fingerprint appointment in Madrid. (Updated September 2020)
January 15th, 2018
I had my second and final fingerprint appointment around 1:30 p.m. (don’t ask me why I kept getting assigned this time) and I came prepared with everything I needed. I finished the appointment in under 15 minutes and I picked up my fancy new card 30 days later, on February 15th. I then applied for my Cl@ve PIN so I could pay the first round of quarterly taxes online.
And that’s it! That was the whole process for me from start to finish.
I hope you found this post helpful and useful as you pursue your own application and continue living and enjoying Spain. Any questions or comments, please add them below and join the discussion!
**If you’ve happened upon this page but are about to renew your cuenta propia work permit, check out the most recent article I wrote about it and how to correctly renew your residency. **
**If you’re also living in Madrid (or anywhere else in Spain or beyond) and want to chat or receive coaching/mentoring for a reasonable price during the process, please reach out or contact me through my new consulting page. We can discuss things such as proofreading your CV, and writing your business plan, and also tailoring the sessions to suit your individual case. I would be happy to help you achieve your own goal of working and living in Spain legally.**
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