For most of my adult life, I have dreamed of living in Europe. But, as an American, actually living in Europe beyond the Schengen visa limit of 90 in/90 out in a 180 day period makes it pretty much impossible (unless I get hitched to someone with an EU passport, which is never entirely out of the question).
So, what is a girl to do when those dreams of residing in this bubble of history and culture can’t be achieved without an EU passport? Answer: she gets creative.
For all you Americans out there, there is a way to live longer term in Europe without marrying in or digging deep into Ancestry.com. In Germany, there is the coveted artist visa. Originally, that was the route I was going to go. Until I ended up back in Spain (one of my favorite countries in the world and one I have talked about calling “home” numerous times in the past). When I was in Madrid earlier this year, I found out how I could go about getting a student visa for Spain as an American, which would grant me permission to live in the country for an entire year.
After some research, I found a TEFL program that includes both the course and Spanish lessons, which earns the year-long visa. From there, I applied to the program (if you want to know the school, just shoot me a message), paid my down payment of 300 euros, and began the pain-in-the-ass accumulation of documents to get the student visa.
Planning Your Trip
If you intend to apply for a student visa, give yourself a few months to get everything in order. As an American applying, you must be in the USA in order to apply from the Spanish consulate that covers your state. Each consulate varies in exact times to process the paperwork and rules for setting appointments, etc.
I had to go to the New York City Consulate — who I should note was very patient and responsive in regards to the barrage of emails I sent them in the months leading up to actually dropping off my passport. Don’t expect to have your visa-laden passport in your hands in anything under two weeks. And, don’t be like me and cut it so close to your actual departure date that anxiety takes over.
I highly suggest heading to Spain before you being your application and determining where it is you want to live, and then finding a place to rent. As a student, you don’t have proof of income, which can make it a bit difficult to sign a lease. I went with a private landlord, and did not have to show money, but that isn’t always the case.
Documents Needed for the Student Visa
What don’t you need in order to get a student visa for Spain as an American? Nothing. I kid. Seriously, you will need the following items … and I am putting them in order based on what you should do first and what you can do just before you walk out the door to drop your passport. I will go into detail about most of these steps after listing them. Please note, this is based on my experience at the NYC consulate. Please check with your local consulate for other items which may be required:
– an FBI background check
– the FBI background check certified by the US Department of State with the Apostille of the Hague
– a letter from the school in Spain saying you are enrolled in a year-long program
– proof of health insurance in Spain that includes repatriation (the actual coverage varies depending on the consulate; mine was for 30,000 euros)
– a letter from a doctor saying you are in good health
– proof of financial means (a letter from your school assuming full financial responsibility during your stay, proof of financial aid or scholarship for at least $700 a month, a notarized letter from your parents or legal guardian assuming full financial responsibility of at least $700 a month, or personal bank statements show at least $700 per month)
– your original passport (valid for the entire length of stay with at least one page to place the visa)
– a copy of your State ID or driver’s license
– two passport-sized photos of yourself
– a money order for the visa fee ($160 in New York)
– an envelope with postage pre-paid to return your passport with visa to you
The FBI Background Check
The FBI background check will take the longest to acquire. As soon as I was accepted to my school, I returned to London and got my fingerprints done at Scotland Yard (for a whopping 250 GBP) and then express mailed the prints, form and credit card authorization for $18, to the FBI to conduct the background check.
I read varying information online, but somehow got it in my head that they took 10 weeks, so I booked my flight to America to apply for the visa based on that timeline. However, in late April, I called the FBI to find out the status of my check, and mail delivered prior to the date I sent my prints had not even been opened.
I panicked and found an FBI-approved channeler that promised to handle the FBI check in five to seven business days. Again, I had to go get fingerprints, and again express mail them. This check cost me another $50. Do some research on the channeler you go with. The one I hired actually ended up taking more time than they said they would and ended up being delivered within days of the one I sent the FBI to do.
If you are requesting it from the FBI directly, be sure to note that your document needs to then be certified with the Apostille of the Hague.
Securing the Apostille of the Hague
Once you have your background check in your hands, you have to bring it in to the US Department of State in Washington, DC to get an Apostille of the Hauge certification. If you are not close to DC, you can hire a company to do this for you.
This certification requires the request form, as well as your original FBI background check. The cost is $8. As of this time, it takes three days three days (not including the day you drop it off) to secure this document. If applying in person, you must go between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. I highly suggest arriving early, as they often begin taking people around 7:45 a.m. You do not need an appointment for this.
A letter of Enrollment from a Spanish Institution
The letter from your school must be in Spanish and issued in Spain. It needs to include the name of the program, start and end dates, the address, a contact in Spain and that you are studying at least 20 hours per week. Your school should handle this for you.
Proof of Health Insurance in Spain
As I mentioned before, the coverage varies based on your consulate, but you will need to be covered for around 30,000 – 50,00 euros during your stay. This includes repatriation. I used HCC MIS for mine. It cost me around $450 for the year and I have no pre-pay so long as I stay within their network of providers. Once you have the insurance, you will need to print a form (found on the site) that states your coverage as a student abroad.
Letter from a Doctor
Depending on your doctor, schedule an appointment ahead of time. It is a basic examination and the letter needs to state that you are in good health in accordance to the International Sanitary Regulations. You will need two copies of this letter for your student visa application. The letter must be dated within three months of your application date.
Proof of Financial Means
There are a few different options to prove your financial means. You must have one of the following: a letter from your school assuming full financial responsibility during your stay, proof of financial aid or scholarship for at least $700 a month, a notarized letter from your parents or legal guardian assuming full financial responsibility of at least $700 a month, or personal bank statements which show at least $700 per month.
If getting a letter from parents or guardian, you can use this text: “I hereby certify that I’m the (father/mother/other) of (…), will support him/her with a monthly allowance of at least $700 while he/she is in Spain and that I’m financially responsible for any emergency that may arise”.
While I’m not touching on the other items (they are pretty self-explanatory), you must have everything listed above in order to have your visa processed.
For more on living abroad in Spain, check out:
Coming soon! Getting your NIE card.
Did this post help you? If so, please let me know. Has anything changed since this was published? Again, please let me know. Note: the Moon Living Abroad book is an Amazon affiliate link and if you make a purchase using that link, I will get a small portion of the sale … which helps to cover the cost of this visa madness.