I’m writing this because I really wish this information was available when I was applying for my visa. It is NOT an easy process. It takes time, money, patience, and a lot of work. But if you’re determined to get it (and you have the help of family or your school), it’s definitely possible. Having the visa in hand is an amazing feeling, and I’m going to tell you exactly how to get to that point.
Disclaimer: requirements vary with each consulate you go to. My advice is for obtaining a visa as an American citizen, and I went to the Spanish consulate in Los Angeles, CA.
First off, there are two options for student visas in Spain: one type is for stays of 180 days or less, and another is for more than 180 days. I will be talking about the requirement for the latter, and I’ll point out which parts are not needed if you’re only applying for the shorter term visa.
The most important thing to do when applying for a student visa is to allow time. This process takes a long time, and by that I mean at least a few months. I got mine in about 2.5 months, but that was with spending a ton of extra money on rushed shipping and pulling a LOT of strings, as well as an extreme level of stress. Ideally, you should allow at least 6 months for the entire process. You’ll save yourself money and frustration.
Step 1: Check the Spanish consulate website for requirements here. Read everything carefully and print it out. I created a binder with this in the front, and added documents as I went down the list. Having this organization helped immensely.
Step 2: Make an appointment at the consulate. You MUST apply in person to get the visa. Go here to make an appointment, and the day of, allow plenty of time to get there, as late arrivals will not be accepted.
Step 3: Apply for the background check(s), as that takes the longest amount of time. Note: only needed for stays over 180 days. As stated on the website, this can be acquired through the FBI OR through the state you have been a resident in for at least 5 years (or multiple states, whatever adds up to the last 5 years). The FBI background check can take 13-15 WEEKS. I applied for one and I still haven’t gotten the results–and I’m in Spain. Not to worry though, you can always do the state level check instead, which I did, and had a much faster response with.
Step 4: Get your passport. If you don’t have one already, start this as early as possible. It costs extra money to have it expedited, and depending on the time of year you are applying, it may take extra time for processing. If you already have a passport, check the expiration date and make sure it won’t expire during your requested time of stay in Spain. Also make sure you have at least 1 blank page in the passport for the visa to be affixed to.
Step 5: Evidence of funds (over 180 days only). This one could be a breeze or a nightmare, depending on your situation. Are you going through your university’s study abroad program that already has your room and board covered? Easy! Are you going on a scholarship that will cover at least 1500 euros a month? Perfect! Do you have at least 1500 euros multiplied by the amount of months you are going to be staying in Spain? Great! If none of the above, you will NEED someone (a parent or guardian) to “vouch” for you, saying that they assume full financial responsibility for you, 1500 euros a month, AND they can prove that they have that money in the bank right now. If you’re going with that last option, you will need your parent/guardian to sign a letter saying that they will provide 1500 euros per month for you for the length of your stay in Spain, and have that notarized. For the last two options (showing you have the money in the bank, or that your parent does), you will need to provide the three most recent bank statements from an account that has that money. Unfortunately, if none of the above applies to you, you will need to wait on getting the visa until you can either save up the amount of money needed or get a scholarship.
Step 6: Insurance. If you’re going through a university, this will be much easier for you, as your university will likely provide proof of insurance. Otherwise, look at their list of suggestions here.
Step 7: Acceptance letter from the Spanish University. This is easy if you’re going through a study abroad program with your university here in the US. But for those of us who are doing this on our own (either for a higher level degree, professional development course, or just to learn Spanish on your own), it’s a bit more difficult. Contact the Spanish university and ask for this letter and give them plenty of time. Make sure your program is at least 20 hours/week. This letter will need to be sent to you via snail mail as it must be the original, on letterhead.
Step 8: Medical certificate (stays over 180 days only). Make an appointment with your doctor no more than 3 months before your departure date. Your doctor will need to do a basic physical exam and write and sign a letter on letterhead stating that you don’t have any diseases that would pose a threat to public health. For exact wording, see here. I highly suggest going to a doctor who has either done this before, or is very nice and willing to go a little out of their way for you.
Step 9: Once you receive your background check(s) back, get them translated into Spanish (an official translation, not google translate) and get an Apostille of the Hague. That’s a fancy name for a certification of the document that’s required in Spain. To get this, you will need to either mail or go in person to the Secretary of State in the state the document was issued. I highly recommend to go in person, especially if you live near enough to drive. Otherwise, mail is fine–just make sure to get tracking on the package and include return postage.
Step 10: Passport photos and ID. These photos are in addition to the photos used for your passport. You will need an additional 2 passport style photos to bring with you to your visa interview. If you follow the exact same rules for getting passport photos, you will be good! Make sure you have a valid photo ID besides a passport (i.e., a driver’s license). Note: you will need a student ID only if you reside outside of your chosen consulate’s jurisdiction but your school is within its jurisdiction.
Step 11: Fill out the visa application. The application is mostly self-explanatory. There is a question of how many entries you would like the visa to include. I suggest checking “multiple entries” as that will allow you to exit and return to Spain multiple times (for example, if you want to travel to France, Portugal, etc).
Step 12: Visa fee and prepaid USPS envelope. These can be done at the same time! Go to a local USPS location and get an express mail envelope (as of this posting, it costs about $23). Yes, it needs to be USPS! Also get a money order made out to the Consulate General of Spain for $160 for the visa fee. Make sure to double check the visa fee here.
Step 13: Make copies of everything! I know not every single thing requires a copy, but most things do, and at my appointment they asked for a copy of the letter of acceptance (which it doesn’t say you need on the list), so just make a copy of everything and be over-prepared.
Step 14: Go to your appointment and feel confident that you are prepared!