Today I am going to talk about the process of getting a visa! The idea of having to get a visa can be a little daunting and overwhelming, but I am hoping to help give you a step by step of what to expect from the process & how to make your visa experience as hassle-free as possible.
Disclaimer: Everything in this post is in reference to a student/au pair visa in Europe and in my particular case, Spain. Other types of visas might have different requirements so it’s important to check your local embassy’s website to see the requirements for your specific visa.
Backstory: It was August of 2018 and I was so excited that in just a few short months I would be working as an au pair in Spain. But, there was a lot of work to do before I could get to that point. I wanted to stay in Spain for around 4 months and then backpack Europe afterwards. In order to do this, I realized I would need to get a visa. But quite frankly, I barely even knew what a visa was and I definitely didn’t know how in the world to start the process of getting one. But after lots of research & help from friends who had gotten visas before, I found the official government website and was able to learn what steps I would need to take to get a visa.
Who needs a visa?
When traveling to Europe (particularly the Schengen area) as an American citizen/resident, you are allowed to stay for up to 90 days in a 180 day period with only your passport. But any time more than 90 days and it’s necessary that you obtain some type of visa. The Schengen area that I mentioned above is composed of 26 countries in Europe. It does not include the UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, & Cyprus.
First Step in Getting a Visa
- Figure out what type of visa you need to apply for. The 3 main types are student, work, or residence visa. Click here to see a list of different visas.
Second Step in Getting a Visa (very important!!)
- Make your appointment with the embassy! This needs to be done months in advance. There are very limited slots and they fill up FAST. I booked my appointment for Thanksgiving break in November in the end of August. At that point, there were plenty of November appointments available, but none in October.
- Something to note: It’s important to note that there are very few embassies in the US that do visa appointments. For most of the southern states, the Spanish Embassy is in Houston, Texas and this is the ONLY place you can go for your visa appointment if your permanent address is in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, or Texas.
Student/Au Pair Visa
Note: The only difference between the student & au pair visa is providing the notarized au pair contract (au pair visa) or the evidence of funds paper (student visa).
So once you make your appointment, you can breathe a small sigh of relief knowing that you have your time slot. But there is still a lot of work to do before the appointment. On the embassy’s website, you can find the exact requirements for each visa. Here is a list of what you need to bring to your visa appointment.
- 2019 Visa Fees ( exact cash or money order )
- Two visa application forms completely filled out (make sure to fill out two copies).
- Original Passport (your passport will remain at the consulate until your visa is approved)
- ID (driver’s license, state ID, or current student ID)
- Two recent passport sized photos
- Acceptance letter (from a Spanish school or University)
- Au Pair Contract/Evidence of Funds
- Health Insurance (must be from a Spanish healthcare company)
- Evidence of legal status in the US (only for non US citizens)
For stays over 180 days, the following must also be provided…
- Police criminal record clearance verified by fingerprints
- Original medical certificate
The above list is a brief overview of what you need to bring. Click here for a more detailed list for a student visa. Click here for a more detailed list for an au pair visa. Now I will go into more detail on each of these items & tell you what mistakes not to make (like some of the ones I did).
- Make sure to bring 2 copies of every paper (the original & 1 photocopy).
- Make sure you bring exact cash because no change will be given.
- Your US health insurance does not count as having health insurance! It doesn’t matter if your US insurance company has international coverage. I learned this the hard way. You MUST take out health insurance from a company in your host country. Most will have an option for international students to purchase. I used a company called Sanitas. I had a lot of problems with them initially getting my health insurance, but I didn’t have any problems with the company once I was in Spain.
- Your evidence of funds must indicate that you have $658 times the number of months you will be in your host country. When you print out your bank statement, it must have that amount in it as proof. It’s not a case of “well I will have that much money by the time I go to my host country”. The embassy doesn’t care what your situation is. All they care about is proof on paper that you have the amount of money at this moment that will be able to support you in your host country.
- Everything else is pretty self explanatory and throughly explained on the embassy website. But when in doubt, don’t be afraid to email the embassy! I emailed the embassy a couple different times asking questions to clarify information. They always replied quickly and were able to clear up any confusion I had.
But don’t worry too much because if you do end up messing up a paper, you will have 10 business days to mail in the correct forms. I didn’t realize this was the case and when I was told some of my papers were wrong I swear I almost cried because I thought that was the end. I thought I wouldn’t get my visa. But luckily, they aren’t too mean and they give you some time to fix your mistakes before they void your application.
What happens during the appointment?
So I wish someone would have told me I didn’t need to worry about the appointment itself. I thought that my visa appointment would consist of me going into some private room and sitting down with some scary adult who would ask me lots of questions about why I was going to Spain and what I was doing there (kind of like at passport control). But, to my surprise the appointment wasn’t like that at all! Nothing like that to be honest. Basically, when I arrived there were a couple windows with workers behind them and you waited in the waiting room until they called your name. Once at the window, they asked for your papers and you waited there as they looked through them all. Finally, the lady told me what I needed to fix and that was it. She didn’t ask me a single question. So the moral of the story is there is nothing to worry about with your visa appointment (except having those correct papers!).
How do I receive my visa once it’s approved?
Your visa should take about 4 weeks to be approved (mine took about 3 weeks). The embassy will attach your visa onto a blank page of your passport. If you reside in Houston, you must go to the embassy to pick up your passport/visa in person, but everyone else can provide a pre-paid self-addressed envelope with a tracking number (Note that only USPS Priority or Express Mail will be accepted). You will get an email when your visa is approved and within a week of getting that email, you should receive you visa in the mail.
Reminder: This is all from my personal experience getting a visa for Spain. To find the website for other embassies I would just google for example “France embassy in Texas” and the website should come up where you can find more information.
I hope this was helpful to at least get you started on applying for your visa or knowing what to expect! It’s a long process, but once you have it and you are living in your host country you’ll forget about all the trouble you went through to get it. It’s worth it, I promise!! If you have any questions, please comment and I can try to answer them. No question is too small. I want to help in any way I can!
Texan On The Go