8 Important Things to Know Before Applying for a Visa to Live in Spain

In the last decade, more and more people from countries all around the world have been applying for visas and then immigrating to or moving to Spain temporarily. For more information on that, check out some interesting statistics from Countrymeters.

Anyway, hi, there! I am one of those people.

In my particular case, I met my now husband and settled down on this side of the pond indefinitely.

So, what draws people to a country like Spain?

Some of the top answers I’ve gotten (and some of my own conclusions) are:

  • Excellent, public and private healthcare* is available to all residents regardless of job status
  • Plenty of cities boasting over 250 days of sunshine year-round
  • Work-to-live mindset vs. live-to-work mindset from Western countries
  • Fresh, healthy and affordable food (ie: the Mediterranean diet)
  • Superb access to local public transportation networks, high-speed trains and walkable cities (really small towns excluded, of course)
  • Exposure to a foreign language and the ability to experience sub-cultures (primarily: Galicia, Cataluña, Valencia, País Vasco, Islas Baleares)
Palma de Mallorca during the off-season – it’s not always going to be sunshine and good vibes but we got both things that visit!
(Palma February 2022)

*This is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase through SegurCaixa Adeslas, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for helping me reduce the ever-increasing operating costs to run the Sarah la Viajera site!

Whether you are applying for a student visa to study Spanish or teach English in a public (or private) school or are planning to come on Spain’s new digital nomad visa, there are actually plenty of things you can do in the interim.

These lessons on applying for a visa in Spain are a combination of my own lessons learned and my consulting clients’ experiences.

Sit back, relax and get ready to see the big picture surrounding your future visa application! Just take things one day at a time…

1. Decide which type of visa best fits your goals

It’s fun to play tourist in your new city for a while but eventually, real life will set in.

(Museu do Azulejo, Lisbon – April 2019)

Creating a practical and realistic timeline for yourself at the beginning of your journey to applying for a visa is the first thing you need to do. It’s highly likely that your initial plans or goals won’t look exactly like the items you wrote down in the first place. If you’re like me and you’ve already acquired a bit of life experience, you will know this statement to be true.

Goals and plans change over time but I would approach these two categories by focusing on setting your intentions. It’s a popular word that is all over social media these days but I find it to be a great personal guide when goal planning for myself. So while it is important to focus on how you want to feel during your year(s) abroad, consider where you want to be and make a list of the things that you value, starting from the short term (3-6 months, 6-12 months) and then moving to the long term (1.5-3 years, 3-5 years, 10+ years).

If you’re planning to start a business in Spain or have been working in the corporate world for a while, you could use quarters (every 3 months) or calendar years to help set those benchmarks.

The main questions you need to ask yourself (or discuss as a couple or a family) are: what are my/our goals and how do I/we go about achieving them?

Let’s break down this discussion into smaller parts. Grab a pen and paper while you read this post. Whatever your processing style is, lean into it so you can get the most out of the insights that I will be sharing in this post.

Short-term goals

Are you single, partnered or married? Do you have kids?

If you’re single, you have the most control over what you want to do with your life in the next few months. Obviously, there are things that are out of your control but we will discuss that later on in this post. You could also meet and fall in love with a Spaniard or someone else from another country (that was me) or not. Be open to meeting someone (from anywhere) but prioritize staying true to your values and life goals first.

If you’re partnered, it’s not just you who has goals and plans for the next year. Granted, unless you’re in a committed relationship, your plans of being with your partner could change (ie: meeting someone new in another country, breaking up, etc) and affect both of you in the near future and later on in life. One or both of you may not adjust well to Spain or you may just see it as a stop along the way to finding the ideal country for both of you and your goals.

A preferred time to talk to your partner about your short and long-term goals is over a good meal! And bookmark this café if you’re moving to or plan to visit Madrid: Mazál Bagels & Café.

Chamberí (Madrid), June 2021.

If you’re married, you might be well-versed in how different life can look in just a short period of time. You also might be in an intercultural or cross-cultural relationship and so you would have to deal with an extra layer of cultural differences, adjustment and adaptation alongside your own in your new country (or in some cases, living in your spouse’s home country).

Married with younger or older kids in tow? That’s a whole other layer to add to the mix and one I am not familiar with myself yet. You will have to think about not just getting your own paperwork together but your children’s visa applications as well. That will take careful planning and I would suggest making separate checklists for every member of your family if this is your case. And to make matters even more complicated, in Spain, you must make separate appointments for everyone in your family when applying for your ID or residency cards. Fun! (This may also be true for other European countries as well but I can’t confirm this.)

What do you want your life to look like in the next 6-9 months?

This is going to look different for everyone but it just depends on what you want to get out of living in Spain.

I’ve met many people who just moved here for a short gap year before they went back home to do a Master’s degree or start studying for a teaching license or standardized exams (think GMAT, GRE, etc). Or they might want to spend a year away from home and do some traveling before diving headfirst into their career and possibly the corporate world.

I know this doesn’t describe everyone but anyone I’ve met who has stayed in Spain after applying for a visa to live here for a short while ends up missing home.

And not just missing home occasionally and mostly enjoying your time abroad.

I’m not immune to homesickness but it shows up in different ways the longer you live abroad. Some of us learn to cope in order to live where we want to live but others can’t handle that, which is completely OK.

Brooklyn Bridge (NYC), September 2015. <– My last time in New York for a while – which means I need to go back!!

I mean missing it A LOT.

Like missing old routines, favorite places, staying up super late to be a part of family video calls and watching sports games back home (at the regular times). Just from my experience, it’s very rare that someone who wishes to be back in their hometown almost every day stays abroad long-term.

So consider taking it a few months to one year at a time if you do find yourself experiencing intense homesickness. Christmas and New Year’s are good points of the year to ask yourself how you feel and then weigh your options.

Where do you see yourself in 1 year?

If you can imagine yourself back in your home country or in a different one in the near future, then you might want to stay in Spain for just one year. This is especially true for anyone who is leaving a large asset behind (a condo, a house, a car, a retirement account) or a partner or even a pet. If you’ve deferred a spot in a Master’s program or want to get back to your career, these would be reasons to go back and restart your life wherever your home is.

If you don’t see yourself living in Spain long-term, I personally find two years to be enough time in Spain to really get a feel for teaching and working at a school.

Most of your first year will be spent learning how everything works, discovering what your teaching style is (if you’ve never taught before) and exploring the country for possibly the first time. If you stay on for an extra year, you can also space out more trips and do some more long-term planning and traveling. Or join a club or meetup group your first year and spend more time cultivating friendships with the people you click with best. And remember, if you come to study, some Master’s programs are 18 months to 2 years long (others can be shorter) which can help you craft your plans.

Leave room for changes of opinion and any new interests that pop up for you, too!

Take it from someone who lived in Jacksonville, Florida for 7 years and thought, “I could go to the beach every weekend if I lived there!” Chances are that way of life isn’t sustainable unless you practically live at the beach…

(Marbella, August 2019).

Long-term goals

Are you willing to stick it out for the long haul (rainy days and all) or are you just looking for some fun in the sun?

(Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisbon, April 2019)

Are you younger and want to explore? Older and want to settle down?

Your age, hobbies, interests and energy levels are going to largely dictate what type of life you plan to lead in Spain.

My first experiences in Spain ranged from when I was 21-25. Even though I had the chance to live and visit here in both my early 20s and mid-20s, my interests and what I wanted out of living here changed quite drastically. In my early 20s, I was studying abroad for a few months, had a laser focus on becoming fluent in speaking Spanish (one of two areas I still needed to improve) and wanted to travel but also go to every type of meet-up or event that I possibly could. These are also things you can do during your first year in Spain in general but I was fortunate enough to have had a previous experience of living here for a short time before I thought about a long-term future here.

In my mid-20s with the light (emphasis on light) partying, going to clubs, taking dance lessons and staying up super late – into the wee hours of the morning- mostly out of the way, I had different things on my mind.

(But with the right friends, a fun night sometimes turned into a very, very late night)

Carnaval or Entroido was such an interesting experience when I lived in Galicia for the two years I was there. Spaniards love to dress up and have fun!

Plaza España (A Coruña, February 2015).

My living experience was drastically opposite of what I had previously experienced in Spain. I had lived in a homestay with an older couple in Southern Spain and we had a meal schedule. However, in A Coruña, I had to learn how to live with and cooperate with roommates from different parts of the country and I had to plan my own work and eating schedule.

I am now 34 at the time of writing this.

In my early 30s, I’ve taken some time to analyze what I like and what I can no longer tolerate. I am newly married, my husband and I both work and share a 1-bedroom apartment -we finally said goodbye to randomly assigned roommates!- and our social lives and interests are built around our shared life together.

So, yes, while I don’t know what living here with a family is like, there are a few seasons I’ve gone through (university student life, being single, dating, engaged and now married).

What you can consider when applying for your own visa to Spain

Evaluate your interests and hobbies and see if you can continue practicing them in Spain. Do you also want to try something new (ie: flamenco, salsa, muñeira, fencing, sailing, surfing, rock climbing, gardening/farming, or start a side business)?

Think about what type of apartment you’d best thrive in (a shared apartment where Spanish is spoken or a studio/1+ bedroom apartment to have more privacy). Regardless of your choice, make sure you shake up your routine by planning something to look forward to and adding in some spontaneity (ie: language exchanges, trivia nights, concerts, theatrical plays, comedy in English and so much more).

My 2018 year-in-review summed up just exactly how much can happen in one year!

Career-wise, what do you hope to accomplish?

I will be honest with you here. If you have a professional degree of any sort here (law, medicine, nutrition, education, coaching titles, sports, etc), it will be extremely difficult for you to practice your profession as you used to do in your home country. A lot of partners/spouses of Spanish citizens do end up moving themselves and their loved ones back to their home country just because it’s simply not possible for them to work in their profession in Spain. It is possible but you have to be willing to start from zero once again and not many people want to do that.

Spain is very tourism oriented and while Spaniards are not naturally gifted when it comes to languages, being multi-lingual is key to thriving in this country. However, young people have actually been leaving Spain in search of better opportunities and higher annual incomes for the past couple of decades. Some Spanish towns have even been offering incentives to residents to move to and set up a home in their city or town limits. This is to help towns grow and reduce their risk of depopulation, which has become a problem in recent years due to droves of people heading to the big Spanish cities for work.

Think about, make or review your career goals. Will living in Spain long term after applying for a visa affect your happiness and satisfaction? Be honest with yourself and adjust your plans accordingly.

2. Organization is key

If only I could keep my house as organized as I do my suitcase, carry-on bag or visa application folder… (July 2020)

I think the ratio of stress to how organized you are are directly correlated. I am not as organized in other areas of my life but with immigration and visas, I like to plan about 6-9 months in advance and go over every type of category (or hypothetical situation) I need to go through.

Over the years of renewing my student TIEs and then work permits, I have gathered a few expert tips in terms of how to stay very organized during the visa application process. I really got my act together when I modified my student visa to a self-employed work permit. I bought a folder, arranged my documents by order on the requirements list and stored it on a particular shelf on my desk. I sat on my already-made bed, at our dining room table or at a table at the library to get my head on straight when it came to focusing on my application. I did something similar when I was at home in Ohio and applying for my first student visa. Sitting at a table or laying out each part of my application on the floor just helped me get organized and stay better focused.

Gather the following items to help you stay organized:

  • A folder with at least 10 clear, plastic page inserts
  • Space either on your desk or on a bookshelf to store your application folder (and where you can see it)
  • A notebook to help you keep all your sketched-out plans, timelines and dreams altogether
  • Pens, pencils, different colored highlighters, paperclips, staples – whatever you need

List out your goals or sketch out a timeline for your visa application in a journal or on a piece of paper in one of the following types of places (where you will cultivate the habit of getting into the moving abroad mindset):

  • Desk in your room or home office
  • Kitchen or dining room table
  • Basement with large table and chair
  • Public or your own library or den
  • Coffee shop or diner during non-rush hours

Try to set boundaries with when and where you will work on your visa application – whether you’re in the dreaming and planning stages or gathering documents week after week. This will naturally help you take the process more seriously and allow for the time and attention it needs, especially if you’ve never applied for a visa in Spain (or anywhere for that matter) before.

3. Applying for a visa means cultivating patience

If you remember practicing and not-so-patiently waiting to finally learn how to ride a bike in your childhood, some similar lessons can be applied.
(Riding a bike -no hands- in my childhood neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio – September 2014)

This section is less of a tip and more of a reminder for anyone who has never embarked on this particular adventure before. It’s going to take a lot of patience: waiting to receive each document you send off for or request a copy of, waiting to receive a response from the Consulate (this does vary!) and then waiting for your departure day when you leave for Spain and start your new chapter here!

Needless to say, there is a lot of waiting involved and even if you hire a lawyer or seek out my consulting services, you will still have to cultivate this virtue on your own. It’s essential to start practicing patience in your home country because Spanish bureaucracy is not for the faint of heart!

Trust me.

As someone who has applied for visas, student stay cards, student visa modification, work and residency permits and residency permit renewals nine different times in the past nine years, the only constant in these situations is change. Plus, my knowledge of the Spanish language and the resilience I’ve cultivated over the last couple of decades have only stepped in to help save my sanity countless times.

4. Some documents take more time to gather than others

When it comes to applying for a visa in Spain, the bottom line is that some documents take longer to process and obtain than others.

Think of it this way, on some occasions, money can help speed up the process but, if you don’t have an excess of available cash, use the one resource we have all been granted: time. So, if you’re trying to (or must) stick to a budget, give yourself the “gift” of allowing for enough time to complete the various steps you’ve laid out in advance. Even if it’s not something you like doing, sit down and map out a timeline for yourself and what you need to do at each exact point in the process.

I have laid out a rough timeline further down in this post so keep reading to see what it looks like. You can always add and delete items from my list and customize it for your own unique move to Spain.

Ask yourself in a metaphorical way, “What can I do with the time that I have before the sun sets today?”

Barcelona (September 2015).

I like to use the “set it and forget it” method in my own life.

Here’s an example:

If I need to do the following tasks and still run out to get a missing ingredient for our lunch, in which order do I start?

I would look at it this way:

  • Shower and wash my hair
  • Wash some clothes
  • Start cooking lunch (on the stovetop, not using the oven, which could overload the circuit breaker)
  • Hang up our clothes/towels on our drying rack
  • Run out to get the missing ingredient
  • Come back, finish cooking lunch and then serve and eat

The real question is if I need about 1.5-2 hours to shower and wash and dry my hair until it looks presentable enough to be out in public, what time do I have to start? Since I have very long, thick locks, I need ample time for them to dry, especially in the summer. The moral of this story is to begin the process for some documents and get them handled by someone else in the background while you focus on other pertinent tasks that need your attention now.

What good is it for my schedule (and the specific order in which I want to do those tasks) if I start cooking but can’t take advantage of drying my wet hair simultaneously?

5. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared

Case in point: I knew it was going to be windy in Ávila before we visited but little did I know just how much! Even if your hair flies up and adds “character” to your photo, just smile for the camera!

Ávila (Castilla y León) February 2020 – If you remember this year, you know what I was more concerned about.

I don’t really have any earth-shattering tips here but I do have a visa application story for you. I learned a very important lesson and how to put being overprepared into practice.

When I was applying for my student visa at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago and standing at the window inside the office, I had all my documents in the correct order.

I handed them to the Consular officer who was conducting my “interview” (it was just a formality) one by one. Everything was going fine.

However, and this may have just been to how busy they were in early to mid-August that year, the lady started to say, “Creo que está todo bien, todo en orden…”

When I realized, “Oh, no! She forgot to ask for my medical certificate.” That thing I had spent the last 3-4 days trying to obtain with a lot of sweat and worrying involved.

So, I chimed in with, “pero no tienes mi certificado medical!” She realized that that was the last step and took it and quickly looked it over and asked if I had a copy of it.

¡Ahora está todo bien, sí!

I was sweating bullets externally but internally, at that moment, I took that short but meaningful lesson to heart.

I really do have to be overprepared and keep an eye on what someone needs (or might need) in terms of these paperwork processes.

This lesson has stayed with me ever since and it has saved me from countless bumps in the road. And it’s advice I often share with people I coach and mentor as they prepare for different visa applications.

6. Focus on what you CAN control not what you can’t

When life sends you a second summer, embrace it with open arms! You can’t control the weather but you can find ways to cope. And definitely learn the most important ways to keep cool and stay sane in the process.

Museo de la Reina Sofía, Madrid, September 2018.

Arrange your application steps in order of processing time required. Start by asking yourself this question:

“Is there anything I can get started on NOW while I’m waiting to move on to a different part of the process?”

Here’s a general timeline you can follow and adapt for your own visa application experience:

1 year out

Grab your passport and make sure you have at least 6 months of validity after your visa expires. If you have recently applied for or renewed your passport, then disregard this step. Just make sure you have it back at least 3 months before your expected departure date for Spain. This is where you can sketch out a rough plan of what you need to do to put this plan into action. In this stage, you might think about the following steps:

  • What you will do in Spain (study Spanish, study a degree, teach English through a program or through an academy, work as a digital nomad, semi-retire or fully retire via the non-lucrative)
  • Where do you want to live and why
  • How long do you want to stay
  • What do you hope to accomplish during your time abroad?
  • Will you return to your home country?
    • If you answered yes, will you move back to your previous location or go somewhere else?
    • If you answered no, do you want to move to another part of Spain or another part of Europe in the future?*

*Side note: I mention moving to another part of Europe because it is possible to obtain temporary stay status in Spain (via a student visa and then modifying it to residency) or temporary residency (ie: the non-lucrative visa or the tarjeta comunitaria – via marriage or civil union to an EU citizen) and then apply for long-term residency (residencia y trabajo por larga duración UE) and exchange that residency card with another EU country’s long-term residency scheme.
FYI: I have not done this nor do I personally know someone who has done it. That’s not to say it can’t be done!

9 months out

Think about and research heavily where in Spain you might want to live.* Use this time period to learn where your options are, what weather and climate you prefer and if you are going to teach, which age group you might want to work with the most. You can always change your mind and go somewhere else provided you haven’t filled out an application or put a deposit down on language school classes or anything like that.

You could also do a scouting trip if your 9-month mark coincides with a long vacation period or set of holidays where you wouldn’t have to go to work or school (ex: Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, Memorial Day weekend, 4th of July, etc). I encourage people who are already in Spain on student visas or even temporary residency permits to visit other parts of the country if they can imagine themselves living in another region or city one day. Reading about a location is one thing but visiting it for yourself and seeing how it feels is a completely different ordeal!

This mindset is what initially helped me decide to move to Galicia during my first year as a language assistant.

*I always need to reiterate this but never, ever agree to or wire a deposit for an apartment or flat for a place you have never even seen or smelled before. There are a number of housing ad scams around Spain and there is more mobile phishing than there has been in previous years. Save some listings to your favorites yes, but do not agree to any terms until you see the place with your own eyes first.

6 months

If your Consulate allows, consider requesting any background checks you may need (if you’ve lived in and officially resided in another state) and if you lived in another country in the last 5 years, look up the country’s individual processes and get informed. You may not be able to request an FBI background check at this time but it doesn’t hurt to read about the process and learn how to do it if you’ve never done it before.

Planning on studying Spanish at a language academy or school while you’ll be living in Spain?

Well, there’s nothing that says you can’t start studying and practicing a few months out!

Depending on where you live and what your background is in Spanish, you can always start learning. Download an app, get an online conversation partner (or private tutor) or go to local meetups to start speaking!

And if you need a starting place in terms of motivation, check out my tried and true expert tips to improve your Spanish language skills. You can work on reinforcing good pronunciation and comprehension by following some of the advice I’ve gotten (and how I’ve adapted my own accent) over the years.

3-4 months out

Check your local Consulate’s website to learn about the appointment booking wait times (if you can see a calendar) or contact the staff to find out. Remember, if you are studying or planning to teach English through the auxiliar de conversación program (or a similar program), you want to arrive a few days to a couple of weeks (ideal for Madrid or Barcelona) to give you a head start on finding a place to live.

An example of my own visa’s timeline (from 2014):

Start Date: 01-09-2014 (dd-mm-yyyy format) — The visa I was applying for got approved and my passport was sent back on August 26th of that year.

End Date: 14-12-2014 (dd-mm-yyyy format) — This was how long I had to apply for my ID card and receive it to use instead of the visa (which is really just a permission form) whenever I traveled outside of Spain and returned.

I had originally stated to the Consular officer that I would like to arrive about 2 weeks early but she must have just pushed it forward and entered the first of September that year.

Even though I was a bit sleepy and jet-lagged upon arrival in Madrid once again, I loved seeing this tourism campaign from that year.

Madrid-Barajas (September 2014).


I arrived 5 days before my first day of school/work with temporary housing (an AirBnb room) near my city’s train station booked in advance. The only thing I didn’t plan ahead for was booking my train ticket ahead of time thinking I could get it when I landed in Madrid.

It was the Madrid-A Coruña line which is actually suuuper long and you definitely need to purchase tickets at least a week or two early if you plan to travel the entire way up to Coruña, my final destination at the time.

Nowadays, I’d recommend someone (especially a couple or family) arrive at least two weeks earlier than they plan to for these reasons:

  • Get over jet lag faster
  • Learn how to do things on Spanish time
  • Give yourself time to balance both adjusting to Spain/the time difference/searching for a place to live
  • Let yourself scope out the lay of the land so to speak.

Once you get more of the routine items crossed off your list, you can focus on more fun aspects of your time in Spain: seeing more of the city you moved to, squeezing in a day or weekend trip before work, school or regular life kicks back in and switching over from “visiting” to actually living in your new city and acquiring a list of spots you’d like to frequent during your time here.

Use the months you have leading up to applying for your visa to Spain and your departure day to play around with your arrival timeline. Commit to something definite about 3 months before your plan to leave but do everything you can to research and prepare for it. Search for any upcoming concerts*, plays, performances, festivals or anything else that might interest you before you start your full-time schedule that might be fun to fit in or enjoy that you may not otherwise be able to given your arrival dates and ample free time.

Take time to celebrate both your big and small wins! Something that was just an idea two months before the night this picture was taken turned into reality. Do that for yourself in either a small or big way.

Concierto de Carminho em Porto, Portugal (November 2014).

*For example: when I started looking at flights to Galicia directly (which I ended up not doing), I also considered flying into the city of Oporto. That initial search led me to look up things to do and upcoming events. It was through looking through lists of upcoming events and concerts that I found out that Carminho, a famous Portuguese fado singer and someone I followed, was going to be in Porto the second weekend of November. Seeing as tickets were under 30 or 40 a piece, I made plans to go some two months after I arrived in Spain! I was casually learning Portuguese at the time (hence my interest in Galicia and its regional language) and wanted to get more immersion in the language. I thought that would be the perfect event to not only help me practice Portuguese but give me the perfect excuse to go away after receiving my first paycheck.

The takeaway here is that you could do something similar (or completely different!) and a goal you could set is to plan out an event, trip, festival or experience to look forward to after you settle into your new life in Spain.

8 weeks out

If you need to sell some belongings or you are planning on selling all your belongings, start compiling your stuff now (or even at the 3 months out mark if you need to do multiple garage sales, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or Vinted listings). Organize all of your pictures of items, descriptions, where you are selling them, if they sold and other important details. You can put all of this information into the same spreadsheet or Google Doc so you can edit and update it as you go.

Also, plan to request your background check if you haven’t already and look at apostille requirements (and processing times).

**Adjust these steps as needed depending on the processing times for either the background check or apostille (or both). An FBI channeller can help speed up the process and so can an express apostille service but if you’re trying to stay within a budget, don’t put it off. Start early and save yourself unnecessary stress and pay premium prices.**

One of the very last things I did when I applied for the Spanish student visa to come to Spain as a language assistant was I printed out my appointment confirmation at the main branch of the Chicago Public Library (the building was cool too!) I also paid the $160 money order before I went to the Consulate to ensure I didn’t lose, misplace or forget it on the way.

Chicago, USA, August 2014.

6 weeks out

Between the 4-6 week mark, you should be receiving your passport with the new visa inside (or be picking it up in person). This is when you will book your flight. You are not required to book a round-trip ticket but if you do want to visit home at a specific time period (ie: Christmas, Easter/Spring break, summer, etc), you could do that at this point and possibly save some money down the road. Nevertheless, follow what your assigned Consulate suggests in terms of booking a flight.

Note: Try to fly directly to Spain from your hometown (or starting destination, ie: Chicago, NYC, LA, Dallas, Miami, etc.) to get stamped in Spain and thus, activate your visa. If you have to fly and land in a different European country first, go to your local Spanish police station and request an arrival stamp within 72 hours of landing. This is a crucial step before you go to apply for your TIE (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero).

4 weeks out

Start packing and shopping for any Spain-specific items or gear that you specifically want to take along for quality or brand loyalty such as hiking boots, waterproof jackets, boots, hats, winter clothes, etc. Rest assured that you can buy all your necessary homeware, dishes and silverware, towels, pillows, seasonal bedding, clothes, shoes, and the like here. However, if there is anything you want to take with you* or anything that will showcase where you are from (on a country, state, county or city level) make sure you have room. Look up any added fees for a second checked bag and seat selection during this time to make sure you are prepared for any extra costs that need to be added to your flight.

*In my visits back home and as my life leaned into a more “I’m going to live here long-term” direction, I brought back some of my more practical and beloved items.

Some examples: a cotton sheet set and my blackout curtain from college, an extra set of silverware I liked, a Starbucks mug from my home state (Ohio) and some decorative gifts from home (to put in my living room). I’m still waiting to make another visit home to pick up a fake fire safety dictionary I bought and was somehow obsessed with back when I was a teen. I also have a large and rather heavy fire safety box that looks like a cross between a briefcase and a cooler. The only problem is I don’t when or if I’ll be able to take that with me over here to Spain.

As skilled as I am packing a full-blown 50lb suitcase, I surprised myself one year and traveled with only carry-on luggage. I only brought what you see in this picture for two weeks in Central and Eastern Europe!

Post-trip back in Santiago de Compostela (January 2016).

2 weeks out

If you’re quitting any part or full-time jobs, this would be the time to quite literally give your boss your two weeks’ notice. I would definitely recommend leaving on good terms and allowing your supervisor enough time to find someone to replace you. Depending on your situation, you might want to start this process earlier than two weeks before your departure date.

On the contrary, if you have arranged an agreement to come back to the position once you leave Spain or plan to work remotely in some capacity (fulfilling a requirement for the digital nomad visa), then look at this stage of the process as if you are stepping away from your in-person or active role. Fully focusing on your departure and tying up any loose ends should be the goal this close to your flight.

1 week out

About 8 days before I left to do the Auxiliar de Conversación Program for the very first time, I went to Chicago yet again (3 times in total in 2014). However, this time I went with a friend who was applying to live in France on a long-stay visa. Needless to say, I know where a couple of Consulates are in Chicago now!

Post-visiting the women’s bathroom on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building,
– a cost-effective local life hack – Chicago, September 2014.

Make a list of everything that needs to be accomplished in the next week before you make your big move! Even if this means making your 6th or 7th (or more) to-do list, get the stuff done on paper or plug it all into an app. The week will fly by so make sure you focus on what needs to be done, gather any last-minute documents or plan for the arrival of any items you need before your board your flight.

After yet another visit to Chicago the year I applied for my visa at the Consulate General of Spain, I stayed put in my hometown in Ohio. Squeezing in my last few bike rides on the area’s well-known, shaded bike trails, eating a few more favorite seasonal foods and even having an early Thanksgiving meal with my immediate family. It made sense for us because I had lived in Florida for about half a dozen years before then and it was a rarity that I was even home during the month of September.

So, do what is most important but schedule time to relax, do nothing, eat good food and see some of your favorite people while you can!

3 days out

Time has really sped up, hasn’t it? It might be hard to believe that you will be leaving for Spain after spending so much time preparing for and applying for your visa!

With merely hours left before you leave, try to finalize packing your suitcases. You can decide how “ready” you want to be based on your personality and comfort levels. You can plan everything out ie: the exact clothes you’ll wear, meals you’ll eat, who you’ll see for one last hang out for a while, what you’ll watch, how much you pack, where you’ll take a last drive to, and so many more things. I did find that even when I moved from one state to another (from Florida back to Ohio), planning out my outfits for my last week actually relieved some of my decision fatigue.

This can all depend on what type of person you are and whether you are like my husband who struggles to sleep the night before a flight. So adjust these tips based on your planning and decision-making style. Just remember that the more you do in advance, the less stressed out you will be on the day you leave when things will get really emotional.

So check in with yourself and take care of any last-minute things (both inside and outside your house) you need to do before you go!

Review these tips on how to get over (and prevent) jet lag ahead of time.

The night before

Stay up a little later or plan to wake up a little earlier than you normally do to start to wear yourself out for your upcoming overnight flight. Lay out your outfit if you can (if you’re not sleeping on a bus the night before your international flight like I was), put your nighttime routine products away, shower if you want to and wind down with any last-minute things you need to pack or put away.

I would strongly encourage you to not stress yourself out by running out to the store to buy something you forgot or pick up food for dinner. Your goal should be to stay close to home and be as relaxed as possible to help you prepare for your big (potentially) culture shock and travel-packed day ahead.

Are you all ready to drive to the airport, drop off your suitcase(s) and board your flight to Spain tomorrow?

Departure day!

Adolfo Suaréz Madrid – Barajas International Airport T4 Satellite Terminal. Get familiar with the airport’s layout even before you arrive!

Leaving for summer in Northern Ireland (July 2022).

Focus on the long travel day you’re going to have ahead.

Double-check everything (passport included!), pack your favorite snacks, wear casual yet comfortable clothes and shoes and think about what your last meal in your home country will be.

I take that last one very seriously, to be honest! haha

7. Keep living your life while your visa application processes

The time I spent in Chicago on those three separate occasions was not all business! I went to places like Lincoln Park (a favorite area of mine), had some delicious pizza and paella -a complete coincidence and snapped some photos too!

Millennium Park, Chicago (August 2014).

This is just to remind you that even though you’ve been busy planning and preparing for your new chapter abroad, your regular life will still be going on all around you.

Make time for spontaneous trips -if your budget allows that -, celebrations with friends and family and some of your “last-time” events before you embark on living abroad. Whether it is for a little while or for a longer while, make your time at home count.

There is only so much you can do in one day so prepare yourself for all the ups and downs of this journey.

Don’t put things on hold no matter how tempting it may be and just be open to the opportunities to socialize and spend time with the people you love. They won’t be around forever.

8. Remember, the time will pass anyway

Talk about a glimpse of paradise, right?

(Marbella, late August 2019 – pretty close to off-season).

This is definitely the most poignant lesson I’ve learned throughout my many years abroad. Time is going to keep ticking away and the longer you put off doing something, the more frustrated and restless you will become.

So, what if you won’t be exactly where you want to be in 1 or 2 years?

Wouldn’t it be worse to have not started on your project or dream at all and become even further behind?

The hardest part of doing anything and improving your life today is starting.

It doesn’t have to look perfect or you don’t have to be good at your next venture right away. You just have to start. The feelings and motivation you’re looking for will follow.

Here are some activities you can do while you finish preparing your visa application or waiting for its approval:

Start learning the local language and/or commonly used expressions

A lot of people I’ve met over the years regret not learning the language sooner or when they were younger.

Though I haven’t tried very many language-learning apps or used private tutors, I can recommend a few resources to get you started practicing Spanish from home.

Side note: I am a strong believer in taking formal Spanish classes and getting conversation partners because these are the two things that worked best for me)

Resources I recommend (thanks to making connections on Instagram):

  • MySpanishontheGo, Cinthia, who is half Argentine/half Spanish gives Spanish lessons that are adapted to foreigners’ learning styles
  • The Lithuanian Abroad, Gabi knows four languages and mostly posts her language learning tips on Instagram and Tiktok but she does have a few Spanish language-focused blog posts (see link).
  • Patry Ruíz, is a Spanish woman who is married to an English man and they live in England. I just recently discovered her content and really enjoy her videos that deal with expressions and idioms!

Get immersed in the culture and traditions before you go

Depending on when you plan to arrive in Spain, you will still be able to see and participate in a variety of festivals and special times of the year. While Easter, Todos los Santos and Christmas are the three major holidays of the year, keep an eye out for specially themed weeks, book fairs, concert series, spring fairs, various food-related festivals, dance and music festivals and so much more! I personally love tapas festivals of any kind, going to see flowers and fruits in bloom and music festivals.
(Nothing along the lines of MadCool or Primavera Sound – too big for my taste.)

Don’t plan everything out to a T while you’re in the planning stages but just keep an eye out for anything that might interest you. Whether it is regional or national, Spain has a ton of cultural offerings for all ages and interests!

Go with what sounds the coolest to you but also leave room for unexpected plans and events in your calendar.

Research areas where you might want to live

Start here if you’re unsure where you’d like to live or at least where you’d like to set up a home base for the next year.

Consider these main aspects when it comes to searching for a place to live (not vacation in):

  • Environment (rainy, dry/desert, beach, mountains, close proximity to either Portugal or France)
  • Neighborhood (size, environment, offerings, amenities)
  • Home (apartment vs house, size, floor, lighting, bedrooms, terrace/no terrace)
  • Community (very involved vs little involvement, using local facilities like cultural centers, libraries, theaters, etc)
  • Schools (private vs public, charter, in the city center vs in the suburbs)
  • Pets (allowed in apartments or not, vaccines, passport, check-ups, insurance, travel)

Contact your school where you received a placement (for English language assistants)

My first school, CEIP Salgado Torres. Even after all these years, I still remember how welcoming the staff and students were and how fun it was to teach there.

Elviña, A Coruña (2014-2015).

Spanish schools run from early to mid-September until June 22nd each year (while teachers work until June 30th).

I go into detail about how to do this in my auxiliar de conversación themed posts but I won’t repeat myself here. The only thing I will reiterate is that it’s not a good idea to write your new coordinator or head of the English department in July or August. I wrote my first school in July one year and it took a while to get a response.

Aim to write them in the early part of September, just before you fly over to Spain and ask if there is anything they could tell you about the school ahead of time, anything they’d suggest you bring or if you could contact a former language assistant and talk to them about working at your assigned school. It’s highly unlikely that they will be able to respond during the summer (no one is at work then) and you will make a good impression by being the first person to reach out.

Connect with locals and/or other ex-pats through online groups and forums

In 2023, there are a TON of Facebook Groups out there for nearly every type of interest or location and/or industry. I love that a good majority of them are filled with seemingly average people who share a ton of knowledge and wisdom. Feel out which groups might be a good fit for your specific profile and make a few connections online before you land in Spain.

This is exactly how I met three very good friends (who are still connected to me today) during my first year. And those connections grew into meeting three more girls who turned into friends all from the original group. However, I have met all of my Spanish-speaking connections in person (through churches) and through friends of friends possibly because we were not in the same circles online back when we met.

It is harder to meet people organically in this day and age but joining an interest group in person can help you form connections and bonds a lot faster. You’ll just need to be willing to put in the time and effort it takes to maintain them! 🙂

And there you have it! My 8 best tips for applying for a visa in Spain – regardless if you are applying to study, teach English, live on the non-lucrative visa or tackle the new digital nomad visa.

For seasoned visa pros like me, is there anything you’d add to my list to share with new applicants? Let me know in the comments below!

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