Important note: The student visa is considered a national visa so if you are planning on coming to Spain with the auxiliar de conversación program, you can start applying for your visa but keep in mind that placements are a bit delayed on this end. The program is understanding and your school will be flexible with your arrival date.
So, you want to go teach English in Spain next year? You’re going to need a student visa for that!
You’ve filled out the application on Profex. You’ve gotten your regional placement (hopefully the one you really wanted!) and now you’ve got your city placement and school assignment. You’re now at the stage where you will need to apply for your student visa to enter Spain and carry out the duties of your contract for the next 8-9 months.
Or maybe you’ve just begun the program application(s) and want to read up on the visa process.
Either way, you’ve come to the right place!
**Disclaimer: I did apply for my student visa at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago back in August 2014 so some details regarding my experience may not be relevant to how the Consulate handles student visa applications today. While much of the process is still the same, I still want to warn you in advance to use this post as a guideline and always confirm the exact information on the Consulate’s website (linked below). And to clarify, I only applied for the student visa once and then renewed my student stay card (Tarjeta de Identificación del Extranjero or TIE) every other year I was participating in the Auxiliares de Conversacion program.
(I urge you to do this if you want to one day be eligible for residency in Spain through a process called student visa modification)
What you’ll need:
- National Visa application form
- Original passport (and copy) and second ID (driver’s license, State ID, current student ID card or voter’s registration card
(Note: make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after the program’s end date. If it’s not, get more information on how to renew your passport first.)
- One recent passport-sized photo (2″x2″)
- Copy (and original) of the Acceptance Letter (Carta de Nombramiento)
- Police Background Check from either:
- State Department of Justice
- FBI Records*
- Medical Certificate
- Apostille of the Hague on FBI/State Background Check*
- Self-addressed Express Mail envelope from USPS (if you don’t live in or near the Chicago metropolitan area)
- Original passport (and copy) and second ID (driver’s license, State ID, current student ID card or voter’s registration card
*Use an approved sworn translator who resides in your country from the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación’s list.
For more detailed and updated information direct from the Chicago Consulate, read their informational sheet.
Important Update for 2023: The Spanish Government signed a contract with a company called BLS International in May 2023 and will now be outsourcing the student visa process for future language assistants. Visit their main website and click the “Chicago” button to see all of the information that pertains to your specific visa application or click on another city’s Consulate if you live in a different jurisdiction. Note that not all of the Spanish Consulates have not yet been added to their system so be patient as they update their pages. There will also be a non-refundable $20 processing fee from BLS that will be added to the cost of your student visa application so plan some extra room in your budget this year as you apply.
**If you are a university or study abroad student you will have to go to this checklist and also request an appointment. More details can be found on the Chicago Consulate’s Student Visa Informational Page.**
Step 1: Filling out the National Visa Application form
If you, too, are wondering why the form says “application form is free,” I wish I could tell you why they printed that on the form.
This is just the beginning of the confusing world that is Spanish bureaucracy but I’m here to be your guide through it. 🙂
Anyway, first, you will need to save and print it off from the BLS website. Print two copies and fill them both out so that you will have a completed copy of your own just in case there are any problems or confusion with your original form. The default language for the student visa form is British English so just bear with the Consulate and their translation or use of different terminology.
Here are some tips on filling out certain boxes you might be unsure of:
Box 12: Select Ordinary Passport since your passport most likely doesn’t match any of the other types listed.
Box 13: It’s a little bit unnecessary to ask this but for “Number of Travel Documents,” put 1.
(This refers to your passport)
Box 17: List both your mailing address and email address. It’s a small space but try to write neatly. (Could they give you a little more space, though?!)
Box 18: Unless you have residency in another country other than the USA (for example, Canada or Mexico), list the ID number for it and when it expires. It’s highly likely that you won’t need to do this, but this is just extra information.
Box 19: For “Current Profession,” I would suggest listing Student or Recent Graduate if you’ve just finished college. Remember: this is not to say that someone with a particular profession will get approved for the visa and another will not. The program accepts anyone who meets the requirements and has a Bachelor’s degree in any type of major. I personally wrote self-employed because that was the most accurate profession for me at the time. I was a freelance writer and community manager at the year I applied.
Box 20: Principal Purpose of Journey – Select Studies, as the Auxiliar de Conversación program is viewed by the Spanish government as a continuing education program.
Box 21: I was told by the Consulate in 2014 that I could enter Spain up to 2-4 weeks before my visa kicked in. If I did, I would have to go to the nearest police station and get a stamp on the day I arrive (especially if I connected through another European country) to mark the start date of my stay. Try to put an estimated 7-10 days before the latest date you’d like to arrive in Spain before the program starts. (Ex: my visa began September 1st and expired in mid-December. Though I believe I had initially requested that September 15th be my start date on my application form).
Important Note: Put into effect as of Summer 2020, student visa holders traveling to Spain for their upcoming school year now are only allowed to enter the country not more than 15 days before the start date for their program.
Box 22: Number of entries requested – Check More than Two. Your printed visa will show “MULTI” in the box listed Number of Entries. The main reason you will request this type of visa is that your TIE (Foreigner’s Identity Card) won’t be ready by the time your first round of vacation comes up. You will be covered on each entry and exit from Spain while your student stay card is being made and your visa form is still valid.
(Normally up to December or January of the following year).
Box 23: Postal Address of Applicant in Spain – A lot of first-time student visa applicants are really confused by this line on the application form. Keep in mind that never, under any circumstances, is it OK (or recommended) to say yes to, wire a deposit for or sign a contract for an apartment when you have never looked at it or visited that city before! The simpler way to fill out this box is to put the address of your school. The Consulate won’t be contacting them directly to see if you can actually live there so don’t worry. Another thing other applicants have done is put the address of the Airbnb where they’re staying temporarily. I put the address of my elementary school and I had no issues, so I recommend doing this.
Skip Boxes 24-27. You won’t be issued a Foreign National Identity Number (NIE) until you have been granted the visa, so don’t worry about this box. In my experience, the NIE, nee-ay, (as it shall now be known to you) is listed on the visa the Consulate affixes to your passport. So, just file this information away for the future.
Box 28: Data (Contact info) of the educational establishment – Put the name and address of your school. It should start with CEIP (Centro de Educación Infantil y Primaria), IES (Instituto de Educación Superior) or EOI (Escuela Oficial de Idiomas). I’ve listed the acronyms just for your own understanding as I know these might look strange to you being a first-time applicant. For the Intended Start and Intended Finish dates, list the exact dates that are on your letter of appointment (carta de nombramiento). If you’re in Madrid and working for the Comunidad or Ministry, the start date should be the first Monday in October and the finish date will approximately be June 30th. All other regions end on May 31st unless otherwise specified in your letter.
(Skip the remaining boxes that ask for more information if applying as a minor.)
If you came upon this blog post as a regular study abroad or full-time student, you may have to look for your own private health insurance plan to cover you during your stay in Spain. In this case, I would personally recommend signing up for a plan with SegurCaixa Adeslas, a Spanish company that offers fantastic monthly rates (depending on age), has great coverage all throughout Spain (even dental) and has multilingual customer service.
*Note: if you use the link above and end up signing up for a plan with Adeslas as your healthcare provider during your time in Spain, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting the blog and my ever-increasing operating costs!*
Remember, this form is free, but you will have to print it out.
**Personal note: For general reference, once you start filling out the National Visa form, go ahead and make your visa appointment at the Consulate about a month out. I started the student visa process in mid-July 2014 and secured an appointment for mid-August in the morning. I was placed in the region of Galicia so I received my placement in mid-May and then my school placement in late May.
If you are applying to work in Madrid for your first year, I would recommend you schedule a visa appointment immediately after receiving your school placement (typically early to mid-July but sometimes later) so that you can give yourself enough time to prepare the necessary documents.
Step 2: Make necessary copies of your passport, driver’s license or voter’s registration card and get your passport photos taken
This may have changed since I last did this process but I was able to make color copies of my passport and driver’s license in color. Over the past couple of years, I’ve done a couple of paperwork processes here in Spain and most copy shops aren’t allowing you to make color copies of your IDs. This may also be the case in the US but good news: black and white copies will save you a little extra money!
As I stated above in the initial list, you will need to take and submit two 2-inch by 2-inch passport-sized photos for the Spanish student visa. These can be taken at any drug store or supermarket and it’s a pretty straightforward process.
I went just up the street from where I lived in Dayton, Ohio at the time to the nearest CVS Pharmacy and got my photos taken. I paid about $12 at the time but the price has since gone up to $14.99 (subject to change over the years). Take a look at your options here on their website.
Step 3: Apply for a State or Federal Background Check
A little bit of a back story on my situation: I am from Ohio but I moved to Florida to go to college and later to live there for a couple of years as a post-graduate. The Consulate webpage states that if you’ve lived in any other state in the last 5 years you must complete an FBI Background Check. In addition to this, if you’ve lived in another country besides the US (study abroad semesters don’t count – I checked), you will need to request a background check from the respective country.
Since I haven’t done this process in quite a while, I retraced my steps in my Inbox (I save everything!) and found the email with the shipping information from my FBI Background check. Sometime between 2014 and now, the FBI Channeler I used changed their name but in this section, I will be providing an updated and accurate description of how to submit the application for an FBI background check.
First of all, if you have a ton of time on your hands at this point, you can request it directly through the FBI website and pay considerably less for the report. In 2014, the estimated time to receive your criminal history report from the FBI was 12 weeks. In 2019, the website estimates it will take 14 to 16 weeks! (Now in 2020, it’s recommended you do things via expedited services due to the current circumstances.)
I would honestly skip doing the process through the FBI and use an FBI Channeler.
I only had about a month before my visa appointment at the Consulate so I had to get this step checked off the list relatively fast. I chose to go with an FBI Channeler in California called My FBI Report (now known as National Background Information. They were very fast and efficient and I was able to download their forms and enter my debit card information on the form and send it off.
I chose the 2 Day Priority Shipping option from the USPS and was notified by their customer service when my payment had been processed and then received a separate email with a tracking link for my package. I would’ve had a 100% stress-free experience with this Channeler had I not had a slight issue with the payment. The reason? I had closed my bank account in Florida (the branch wasn’t located in Ohio) but I hadn’t switched over to a new bank yet so I put my pre-paid PayPal debit card on my form since I received my earnings via PayPal anyway. I didn’t double-check to make sure I had enough money loaded onto the card in order to pay for the report processing fees and shipping. Nevertheless, they called me just after I sent it off in mid-July and we worked out the issue together.
All in all, the cost for this was as follows:
FBI Criminal Report: $39.95
2-Day USPS Priority Shipping: $14.00
If you’re really pressed for time, you can use FedEx overnight shipping for $40 and receive it the next day.
I still had about 3 weeks before I had to go to my visa appointment at the Consulate so I didn’t need rush shipping. I will explain why I chose Priority shipping, however, in the next step.
Step 4: Request the Apostille of the Hague for your background check
Important Note (2022)
According to new applicants who are sharing information on Reddit, the office in Washington DC is currently experiencing long delays (due to staff shortages I believe). This means this fairly straightforward portion of the application might end up taking you a lot longer than you had originally planned. However, there is some good advice on the thread I shared and if worse comes to worst, you can contact your local congressman to vouch for you and push to get your apostille issued and returned to you ASAP.
Spoiler alert: This document was the main reason why I purchased Priority shipping for the FBI criminal record. I didn’t find the expediting services for apostilles affordable nor was I in THAT much of a rush so I opted for the regular shipping services for it. I only needed a specific number of days to complete, mail and receive the Apostille of the Hague in my hands before I traveled to Chicago for my appointment.
You may want to request an additional copy of your FBI Background check but keep in mind that the Chicago Consulate will most likely scan your original documents and hand them back to you. At least, this was my experience.
The Apostille of The Hague is a document that authenticates the signatures and seals on public documents (birth certificates, court orders, background checks, etc) and is recognized by the countries who are a part of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty.
It’s like a cover letter that’s fastened to the front of the public document you will submit. Once the apostille is attached to the document, you won’t be able to separate the two. So, make a photocopy of your background check (just in case) before you send it off.
At the time I applied for this in late July 2014, there were hardly any step-by-step guides on the Internet on how to apply for the apostille.
So how did I get this done?
I went to the U.S. Department of State website to get more information. I learned that FBI Background checks cannot be apostilled by a state government office but need to be sent to the Office of Authentications in Washington D.C.
The website has a couple of twists and turns but detailed information about requesting apostilles can be found under Apostille Requirements (click on U.S. Department of State Apostille Requirements) and then the exact steps, fees and mailing address for the authentication office can be found in this side tab.
It was a fairly straightforward process for me and I had just enough time to complete this before my trip to Chicago and visa appointment.
But, as the website states, it can take up to 12 business days (or longer!) to process your request so plan wisely.
All I needed was to do was fill out the application form, get a money order from the USPS closest to my house and pay $8 as well as purchase a USPS pre-paid Priority envelope, which together cost about $15.
I sent the completed application form, money order, and pre-paid and self-addressed USPS (Print both your address and the Office of Authentication’s Physical Address very clearly) off to the address below:
Office of Authentications
U.S. Department of State
44132 Mercure Circle
P.O. Box 1206
Sterling, VA 20166-1206
And I received it just a couple of days before I left for Chicago, which was early August.
Step 5: Visit your general physician or health clinic to receive a medical certificate
If you’re like me, chances are you don’t have (good) health insurance in the US and may not have easy access to a family practitioner.
By a small miracle, I was able to find a shortcut (and free option) for this step. I’ve read on the Facebook groups that other English teachers from the US have gone to CVS Minute Clinics or something similar in order to fulfill this requirement.
It was nearing my last available week to do last-minute things for my visa appointment at the beginning of August (immediately after I was going on vacation inside the US) and I was having a difficult time trying to find a clinic or an inexpensive doctor’s office who would sign the required form from the Spanish Consulate’s website.
Why was it so complicated?
It’s because the Spanish Consulate in Chicago requires its applicants to submit a clean medical certificate with the following wording:
“The applicant, First and Last Name, has been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005.”
The certificate is printed in both English and Spanish and, as a new requirement, you must provide the Medical Center (Hospital or Clinic)’s stamp and Doctor’s License Number.
(If a stamp is not available, the doctor can copy the information from the template and print it as a letter with his/her letterhead)
You can find the link to the Medical Certificate PDF here.
Well, the main issue most doctors have with this statement is the part where it mentions free of contagious diseases. After calling a couple of health clinics where they charged upwards of $300 to test for all necessary contagious diseases, I didn’t let the fear of completing this step paralyze me and took to the Internet to search for alternatives.
I didn’t earn a very high full-time income as a freelancer that year so I thought I could perhaps use my low-income status to my advantage.
I searched for free medical clinics in the Dayton area and surrounding counties.
While I didn’t succeed in making an appointment in Greene County (the county where I resided at the time), I found available schedules and services at the clinic in the neighboring Montgomery County, Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County.
Since this part of the process was so foreign and difficult for me, I ended up going to this clinic the afternoon before I left on a bus to Chicago!
I don’t recommend doing this last minute because the clinic could turn you away especially if they have a high volume of patients and a shortage of staff but I took the risk anyway.
My brother accompanied me to this appointment and we both got to experience the services of a free county clinic. I explained to them how I missed the only day the Greene County clinic was open (Tuesday) and that I needed a physical and general blood work done for a visa appointment I was going to out of state.
Overall, I didn’t have to wait too long to be seen and had a very positive experience with the doctor. He understood that I wasn’t going to a third-world country to live and teach and that they have updated medical facilities and modern medicine to treat me with, on the off chance I did get severely sick during my stay (which thankfully I did not).
I was fully examined, did a blood analysis and received a signed medical certificate on the clinic’s letterhead.
(This website is very helpful if you need to look for a free clinic in your area.)
Step 6: Get all your documents organized for your appointment!
Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel for this process?
So, you’ve gathered all of your documents and you have them in hand, almost ready to take off for Chicago.
This is the shortest section of all the steps because it’s just a matter of double-checking your stuff.
Make sure you have a copy of every document you will turn in. Don’t staple any of your documents and copies together but do get a reliable file folder to store all of them in. Some people have merely arranged in order of what needs to be turned in at the Consulate (as per their list) and others have added Post-it notes on the side to easily shuffle through the stack of papers.
Whatever you do, take extra odds and ends like:
- A backup folder in case yours rips or falls apart
- Extra blue or black pens
Also, print out a sample itinerary of your travel plans (show you plan to purchase a round trip ticket, but it’s not necessary) but DO NOT buy a flight until you have your student visa in hand.
There is one last thing you will need to purchase before you leave for Chicago. It’s especially crucial you do this beforehand so you’re not standing in a gigantic line at some USPS location inside the mega-metropolis. It’s your pre-paid self-addressed USPS Express Envelope.
I got this on my last day in Ohio for a couple of weeks at the local post office and it only cost $19.95 in 2014.
Cost (for 2019): $25.50
Step 7: Travel to Chicago and be early for your appointment
Important Note on Appointments
**Applicants may have to submit a request for credentials in order to access the BLS booking system. They also may not be accepting in-person appointments (mail-in applications only) for specific visas so please keep yourself informed about that.**
Due to the need to pre-book and schedule an appointment for practically everything in today’s post-pandemic world, time slots at the Chicago Consulate are few and far between. I have heard this on the Facebook groups and seen it personally while trying to help student visa applicants make theirs.
*The following section is older and not relevant for current student visa appointment bookings. Be sure to make your request through BLS using this link if you are applying in 2023 and beyond.
After trying their new booking system in August 2021, I’ve come back with some tips for anyone who is stressing over their own appointment.
- Start looking about a month out from when you plan to submit your student visa application. (Ex: If you want to apply for it in early to mid-August, look for appointments early to mid-July)
- The Consulate has been uploading new appointment times each day at midnight CST so set a reminder or plan to stay up late that night if you’re on Eastern time. I did also find one at 1 am CST so keep the middle of the night in mind as a good time to check. They are usually gone about 15-20 minutes after they get uploaded and there may not be any more time slots available until the following night.
- Turn on Autofill for your webpages inside Chrome or Firefox. That way if it comes down to it, your information will be saved and you can input it fast in order to get an appointment booked.
- Look often and switch up the days you search for an appointment to get better results. Your persistence will pay off and you will get a time slot. Don’t worry. 🙂
At the time I left to submit this visa application, I lived in Dayton, Ohio (after having moved back there temporarily from Jacksonville, Florida, my college town), which is about a 7-hour drive away from downtown Chicago.
I moved back home for about 6 months to save up the money I needed to move abroad to Spain for a school year (which ended up turning into a much longer stay) and to pay for this visa application.
The easiest and most inexpensive way for me to travel to Chicago the weekend before my visa appointment was to use Megabus. Since Dayton wasn’t a city Megabus left from (and there was no way I was trying Greyhound again), I had to travel down to near downtown Cincinnati.
Again, my faithful brother drove me to Cincy and took advantage of visiting one of his friends who lives down there permanently, so it turned into a fun mini-road trip. Cincinnati is about an hour’s drive from our house in Dayton so it was easy enough to manage.
The price I paid for my one-way bus ticket (since I was going to a different state after my appointment) was only $5! (plus, a service charge to use my debit card to pay).
(Today it normally costs about $20-45 to book a one-way ticket from Dayton/Columbus-Chicago. Update from 2023: Megabus has pulled out of the city and no longer offers any bus routes. Flixbus is a decent alternative but each ticket comes with a $3.99 service fee)
I found cheap accommodation for just a couple of nights, used my Ventra transportation card again, explored the city and treated myself to a nice meal after my appointment.
After exploring the city for a couple of days, it was finally Monday morning and time to get ready for my visa appointment at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago at 11 a.m. CST.
I had one last thing to do that morning after I left my accommodation and that was to pay for the fee for the student visa!
I left this step towards the very end because I didn’t want to risk dropping or misplacing the last and most expensive money order I had to submit. The student visa (visado de estudiante) fee was $160 in 2014 and surprisingly it stayed the same up until 2019. If you are seeing this much later after this post has been published, check the updated list of fees.
**Note: applicants now have to pay an additional non-refundable $20 fee for BLS to process their visa.
So, early Monday morning I went to make one extra copy of my ID at the Chicago Public Library and then went to the nearest USPS office to buy the money order.
I made it to my appointment about a half hour early and waited for my turn, after taking a number.
It’s referred to as an interview but it really only consists of you turning in your documents to a consulate officer and verifying you have everything you ask.
While I was a bit nervous about my appointment and wanted to just get it over with, my experience overall was uneventful. Minus the fact that the consulate worker I submitted my paperwork to nearly forgot to ask me for my medical certificate! But, my advice for anyone doing this process is to just maintain a clear head and don’t lose track of the order in which you’re submitting the documents.
At this Consulate, you can speak to the staff in either Spanish or English. I started in Spanish but the lady switched to English perhaps because she was used to using and hearing it in their office (this is not the case in Miami, I’ve heard!)
I also met and chatted with one other auxiliar-to-be and she was simply requesting a new student visa for the upcoming school year. At this point, I was reassured about my acceptance into the program because she stated, “Anyone with a heartbeat can get into this program.”
After a short visit and taking a couple of photos in the main hallway before I left, I was finished.
Step 8: You’re finished – do something to celebrate and wait for your student visa to arrive!
You’ve finished all of the steps and now all you have to do is wait for your passport to be sent back to you!*
*In 2023 and beyond, you will have to go to the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago in person in order to collect your passport once the visa is approved. So, the process I have described to you here may have to be done in reverse (mail the application to the Consulate and then go to Chicago in person to pick it up). Confirm those details with your assigned Consulate.
Do something to celebrate your accomplishment in whatever way you see fit.
I went to a Spanish restaurant in downtown Chicago and ordered a really delicious paella and drink. I got a sign (in my mind) my visa would get approved because the total for my meal was $23.09, which was ironically my application number for the Auxiliar de Conversacion program. Go figure! haha
The wait time?
Though the consulate officer will tell you that it could take 4-6 weeks for your student visa to arrive, the Chicago Consulate was on the ball that year in 2014 and they processed, approved and sent visas back in record time.
Date of visa appointment (and submission): August 11th, 2014.
Date of returned passport: August 28th, 2014.
It only took 17 days for my visa to be approved and sent back to me! I could’ve checked the tracking link attached to my Express mailing envelope but I basically forgot about it and was just pleasantly surprised that afternoon I went to check my mailbox. 🙂
Don’t bank on the fact that this Consulate tends to process things quickly so be sure to give yourself up to 6 weeks for them to return it and before you need to leave for Spain.
Summer is the busiest time for foreign consulates as tens of thousands of study or teaching abroad students are applying for the same types of visas you are. But, if you would like to check the status of your student visa, you can go to this website and stay up to date on it.
All that’s left is to prepare for your year abroad teaching English in Spain!
Did I miss anything in these steps? Do you have any extra questions or concerns? Let me know in the comments!