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Monday, August 10th "Getting a visa"

A trip to Washington DC to visit the Spanish consulate gave us a taste of Spain in the U.S. I was there to get my visa and finally become a legal resident in Spain. I learned quickly that the possibility of a “fatal” error in the visa process can send you back to where you came from in a hurry. I say fatal in the sense of those people who must drive from long distances to apply for their visa in person who forget a critical piece of information and then must go back home and come back another day. This is a small problem if you live in the D.C. area, but a much larger one if you are coming from North Carolina or another destination hours away. A few pointers for those of you planning to get your visa in the Washington consulate, many of which apply to other locations as well.

  • Under no circumstances are partial applications accepted. If you lack something plan to come back, unless it is a photocopy or something you can get done in an hour and then return with the complete set of information.
  • Call ahead of time, several times if needed. Make sure you understand everything you need and follow the instructions word by word and letter by letter. If someone on the phone is unsure of what you need then politely ask if they can verify it while you wait on the phone. Do not rely on the website as the exact list of what you need, rather make use of it as a guide before you call to verify the details.
  • Office hours to the public are from 9am-12pm Monday through Friday.
  • Only 15 numbers are given out before the office opens at the reception area. They only take 15 visa applications per day, so get there well before 9am. We arrived at 8:45 and received number 13. Another 15 minutes and we would have had to return for another 5 hour trip on another day.
  • Some visas may not require taking a number, such as reagrupación familiar, which you request if you have recently married a Spaniard, are trying to get a visa for immediate family or naturalize a child.
  • Different processing times exist for different visas. If you are studying at a public university then your application will take about 3 weeks (plan for more). If you are studying at a private university or program then it will take 45 days (plan for a little more). So be careful about buying your plane ticket and then showing up to get the visa, because…
  • There is no mercy and no way to speed up the process no matter how much you complain or no matter how dire your case may be. I saw so many applicants who pleaded and all got the same answer – “This is the process and that is how long it takes to get the visa”. No more, no less. They also are very particular about the papers you must hand in, and one little error means you may be coming back another day.
  • For return envelope so you get your passport with the visa you must provide US Priority or Express mail pre-paid envelope. They will not return your info via Fedex or UPS or any other carrier for that matter.
  • Bring cash and a little extra, as some costs depend on the visa. Posted in the consulate itself was: “Residency Visa: cost depends on type”. Don’t expect them to make change, so try to have the exact amount if you can.
  • You can petition the consulate to apply by mail, but I do not know any of the particulars. If you are a student in many situations your parents can submit the paperwork for you.

Seems like I am being a little too specific, but consider these situations we witnessed:

  • One person left all the photo copies at home thinking they needed only the originals at the consulate. However the need only to see the originals and then keep copies after verifying the originals. All except the passport, which they will keep until finished with your visa.
  • One person of another nationality booked an electronic ticket and had no paper ticket. They were unable to process the visa without a physical ticket.
  • One person leaving in 25 days tried to get their student visa to study at a private school. They were informed they would likely have to change their ticket to a later date because it takes 45 days for the student visa when at a private school.
  • One person brought a fedex envelope and had to go to the post office for an Express one.
  • Someone mailed their paperwork in after getting the ok from the folks at the consulate. They then received a call that they had to present themselves at the consulate the finish the process. They showed up only to find that the paperwork they had mailed was sent back to them in the mail the day before.

Depending on which visa you apply for you may be waiting a little or a lot. Even though I was promised to get mine in 10-14 days (the shorter end of visa timetables) I am still waiting after 15 and they have no idea in the office what the status of mine is. They just know it hasn't been mailed!