So, you want to study in Spain? Or you’ve decided to avoid the 9-5 “real” world for another year and become a language assistant? Maybe deep down inside, all you want is to enjoy a midday siesta and not be judged for it. Whatever the reason may be, you’ve chosen the perfect location.
But before you start sipping on 80-cent boxed wine (don’t ever do this in front of Spaniards) and ordering enough tapas to feed a small village, you have to actually get to Spain. That’s where this troublesome but oh-so-necessary thing called a visa comes in.
In case you haven’t yet heard, Spanish bureaucracy is about as pleasant as repeatedly stabbing yourself with a fork. Administration workers tend to treat you as a nuisance – that is, if they acknowledge your existence at all. (No joke. When I applied for my residency card, the lady just stared blankly at me until I handed her my papers.) If you can avoid it, don’t bother calling the consulate for any issues you may run into. From my experience and that of others I’ve spoken with, the employees are just plain rude.
Having said that, my most recent experience applying for a visa was relatively painless. Even following all the instructions on the consulate website wasn’t enough to make it a perfectly smooth process, though. That’s why I’m compiling this (hopefully) foolproof guide for you. Follow these steps, learn from my mistakes, and you should be good to go.
What you’ll need to apply (from the Embassy of Spain in Ottawa’s site):
The original and a photocopy of:
- A passport valid until the end of your stay, but ideally until 6 months after (some countries won’t let you in if it expires sooner)
- Documentation proving your residency status if you are not a Canadian citizen
- Confirmation of school registration – if studying, the acceptance letter from your school; if working as an auxiliar de conversación, your carta de nombramiento
- Overseas medical insurance coverage (Auxiliares – this is included in your carta)
- Proof of accommodation: confirmation that you are staying in a residency or with a host family, or simply a printout of a hotel booking indicating that you will find permanent accommodation when you arrive
- Proof of financial reliability: bank statements, scholarships, etc. that add up to at least $1000 CAD per month of your stay. If you do not have the required funds, you must provide a notarized letter from your parents stating that they will cover the cost, along with their bank statement from the last two months. Note: Auxiliares, you should not need to provide proof of financial reliability as it is included in our carta; however, the consulate emailed me requesting a copy of a bank statement. Depending on the employee who deals with your case, he or she simply may not know what’s required… even though it’s part of their job.
- Medical certificate: if the duration of your stay is over 6 months, have your doctor sign and stamp a letter worded as follows:
“This medical certificate states that Mr./Mrs. [YOUR NAME] does not suffer from any diseases that may have serious consequences on public health in accordance with the provisions contained in the 2005 International Health Regulations.”
- Police check: If the duration of your stay is over 6 months, you must provide a police check from the authorities of all the countries in which you have resided in the last 5 years. The Canadian police check must be done by the RCMP, not a local police station. It must include your fingerprints.
- Flight reservation or travel itinerary: A bit of a catch-22. They ask for a flight reservation but tell you not to book a flight until you have your visa. I did so anyway because I like to live life dangerously, but you can simply look up potential flights and provide a sample itinerary.
- A completed and signed visa application form with one recent, full-face Canadian passport-sized photograph attached in the top-right corner.
- Visa fee: $125 cash, money order, or cheque payable to the “Embassy of Spain”
- A self-addressed envelope
- Time. The earliest you can apply is three months in advance, and I would highly suggest applying as early as possible.
Now that you know what you need in order to complete your application, it’s just a matter of getting all the documents together. Most of them are pretty straightforward, but the police check and application form can be tricky, so I’ll highlight them below.
How to obtain a police check
The easiest way to get your record check done is by going to a Police Information Check Station or RCMP station in your town. The RCMP website states that your local police station should be able to take your fingerprints and scan them to the RCMP, but mine was not. You can always call ahead to see if the station will in fact do fingerprinting for visa purposes.
Once she takes your fingerprints, the person attending you will ask you for some personal information as well as the purpose of the record check. She’ll then submit the information to the RCMP and give you a slip of paper with a number to contact in case your record check is taking longer than usual to arrive. If all is well, it should arrive by mail in about a week. (You can check processing times here.)
How to fill out the visa application form
Filling out the visa form was probably the trickiest part of the whole process the first time I applied. I’m not sure how I ended up with the Spanish version of the application form as the form provided on the embassy website is in English, but I suggest using the English version for simplicity’s sake.
Here’s how you should be filling the form out, by box #:
#1-9: Personal information. Pretty straightforward.
#12-18: Passport & contact info.
#19: Student (even if you are a language assistant, you can just write “student” as it’s essentially a student visa you’re applying for)
#21: Whatever date your flight lands in Spain, or that of the flight you’ve included in your possible itinerary
#22: Always select more than two. You never know how many times you might leave the country before your visa expires.
#23: You probably won’t have a postal address in Spain yet. Just write the address of the hotel/hostel you’ll be staying at for the start of your trip with a note beside it indicating that you will find permanent accommodation when you arrive.
#28: Your university’s (student) or school’s (language assistant) info. Ignore the part halfway down about minors.
Date and sign the application form on the last page and clip one of your photos onto the corner of the first page.
That’s it! You’re all done with the application process. High five.
Sending in your documents
Before you send in your documents, double-check that you have them all, plus a photocopy of each. Again, those documents were:
- Documentation proving residency status (non-Canadian citizens)
- Acceptance letter/carta de nombramiento
- Overseas medical insurance (not required for language assistants)
- Proof of accommodation
- Proof of financial reliability
- Medical certificate (for stays over 6 months)
- Police check (for stays over 6 months)
- Flight reservation/travel itinerary
- Visa application form with photos
- Visa fee (cash, cheque, or money order)
Ready to go? Great. Now, toss those papers along with your passport into an express envelope and send it to one of the following addresses:
Applicants from Ontario (Ottawa not included), British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon:
Consulate General of Spain
2 Bloor Street East
Toronto, ON M4W 1A8
Applicants from Québec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island:
Consulate General of Spain
1200 Avenue McGill College
Montréal, QC H3B 4G7
**Applicants from Ottawa and Gatineau:
You must go in person to apply for your visa at the following address:
Embassy of Spain
74 Stanley Avenue
Ottawa, ON K1M 1P4
IMPORTANT: If you do not live in the city to which you will be sending your application (i.e. Toronto, Montréal, or Ottawa) you must include a self-addressed envelope with correct postage with your application so that the consulate can send your passport/visa back to you. I learned this the hard way when, two weeks after sending in my documents, I received an email stating that my visa was approved and waiting for me to come pick it up… on the other side of the country. I ended up having to send an envelope in an envelope like some sort of Russian nesting doll. You’d think they’d be willing to spend $4 from the $125 visa fee I paid to send it back. No such luck. Don’t forget the envelope, people.
So now that you’ve sent off your bundle of extremely important papers, what’s left to do? The most difficult thing of all, my friend: wait. You shouldn’t have to wait long – ideally two weeks, up to four. Unless there’s a Canada Post strike (this almost happened) or the consulate loses your documents. (This happened to a friend. They found them eventually.)
Try not to worry too much. Barring a total disaster, your visa should arrive just fine.
Oh, and one last tip: don’t freak out when you see it expires three months after the date of your arrival. If you’re staying in Spain longer than six months, the visa will only be valid for 90 days because you’re expected to obtain a temporary residency card (TIE) upon arrival. This card, not your visa, will allow you to stay in Spain legally for the duration of your trip. If you’ll be in Spain for less than six months, don’t worry about the TIE. Your visa will be valid for the duration of your trip.
I’d love to tell you that the visa process will be your first and last taste of Spanish bureaucracy, but chances are it’s just the beginning.
Keep an eye out for future how-to posts (how to apply for a TIE, open a bank account, find an apartment) to help make your transition to Spain much smoother.
From someone who’s been there before (twice!) the best advice I have is to be patient and accept the cultural differences. Cheap wine awaits you on the other side.