What To Expect When You're Expecting A Spanish Student Visa From The Chicago Consulate
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What To Expect When You're Expecting A Spanish Student Visa From The Chicago Consulate

Applying for a student visa from the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago? Fear not: here's what you're in for.

What To Expect When You're Expecting A Spanish Student Visa From The Chicago Consulate
Photo courtesy of the author, Eva Koelzer

If you're like me, you like to be uber-prepared when going into an unfamiliar situation. You research, milking online articles and forums for any tidbit of information you can find about what you're about to experience. If you're even more like me, then the unfamiliar situation coming up for you is applying for a Spanish student visa from the Chicago consulate, and you have had a difficult time finding any useful information about it from your research.

Three weeks ago, I was in your shoes. I had finally gathered all of my application materials and, with nothing else to do but wait for my appointment to roll around, I scoured the Internet for information about the process of applying for a student visa at the Spanish consulate in Chicago. Most articles and blog posts just explained the materials necessary for applying, which I had already prepared, and the rest of what I read was outdated or not quite applicable and just made me feel more nervous than I already did.

Determined to make this experience easier for future students in my position, I took notes throughout the whole application process and compiled them into this article. So without further ado, here is the most comprehensive and up-to-date guide you can find on the Internet right now for the student visa application process at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago, Illinois!

Before You Go

Application Materials

The list of materials needed for a student visa application is provided by the Chicago consulate. Note: When reading through outdated blogs telling me what to bring to my appointment, I kept seeing "flight itinerary". I panicked, fearing that I had missed a crucial piece of information somewhere along the way, but of course, this was not a required document and I freaked myself out over something written more than five years ago. My point is that requirements change, so always check the consulate's website for the most up to date information, and do not trust anyone who tells you something other than what the consulate requirements say unless they are from the consulate or they are your study abroad advisor. (That means, if you're reading this and it's no longer July of 2019, don't trust me either! Go to the consulate website and check for yourself!)

You should start assembling the required items as soon as you receive your acceptance into your study abroad or exchange program. Some can take weeks, and require multiple trips to official offices or multiple mailings of documents, to obtain. I guarantee that you will feel stressed, discouraged, and beaten down during this process, with a lot of confusion to boot, so it's definitely best to give yourself plenty of time so you can deal with these emotions and properly gather all of your paperwork without the added pressure of wondering whether you'll make the necessary deadlines.

One other thing to note about the visa application materials that I wish I had known going in: applying for a visa is not cheap, and not just because of the $160 application fee or the trip to Chicago, but also because obtaining all the proper paperwork costs money. You'll pay fees for government-issued documents, shipping costs, and having passport photos taken. If you use a service for printing and copying, you'll pay for that, and if you are staying in Spain for more than 180 days, you'll pay for even more government forms, having your fingerprints taken, and visiting a doctor (unless your insurance covers this). Expect to pay $50-$250 on forms alone (the lower end if you are an under-180-day student; in the middle if you are an over-180-day student or are in a time crunch and therefore need to pay for lots of express shipping; and on the higher end if you are an over-180-day student and are in a time crunch, and/or if you have to pay for your doctor's visit out of pocket) plus the application fee and the trip out to the consulate. This was an expense I was completely blindsided by, so be prepared, and start applying for scholarships if you haven't already!

It would be great if the Chicago consulate provided samples of what each document is supposed to look like when properly filled out and ready to go, but since they don't, talk to your study abroad advisor(s) if you have them and see if they have any pointers. Many study abroad programs will at least provide you with information on how to fill out the application itself, and some, like International Studies Abroad (which I am studying through), have services where a specialist for your specific consulate will look over all of your documents to make sure they are filled out properly and will even apply for the visa on your behalf (rendering this whole article useless to you since you don't have to worry about going to the consulate yourself!). Make sure you look into and ask about the resources offered to you by your school or the study abroad organization you are traveling through.

Whether or not you find help through your advisors, here are some things to note about the required visa application materials:

1) Fill out the application by hand. The application says that it can either be typed or handwritten in capital letters. However, it is almost impossible to make everything fit in the boxes when typing because they don't expand to give you more space for type.

Additionally, in the box where you are asked how many entries into Spain you'd like to apply for, choose "multiple entries" or "more than two entries". Even if you only plan on going to Spain and coming home, without leaving or reentering the country in between, it will not hurt your application to request more entries and this will give you the freedom to add extra travel to your itinerary or (if worst comes to worst) to come home for any emergencies and still be allowed to reenter Spain before your visa expires.

2) Read everything on the requirements page from the consulate, and double and triple check the requirements to make sure you have everything you need. There are special requirements for minors, non-US passport holders, students staying in Spain for longer than 180 days, and students traveling with family. There is also a requirement for all documents to be submitted with a photocopy (when I went, they did not require this for many of my documents, but they did for some, so make a copy of everything just in case) and for some documents to be translated into Spanish by a certified translator.

3) While many of the required documents are pretty self-explanatory, some of them seem daunting or confusing to figure out how to obtain. Here are my tried and true recommendations. (I am not sponsored by or affiliated with any of these organizations - I am just sharing what worked for me!)

I have only ever tried one service for certified Spanish translations, but I have had a great experience with them, and only chose them after a great deal of research and comparison. The Spanish Group is fast (expect your translation by email within a day or two at the very most) and has fair pricing ($30/page seems like a lot, but in the world of certified translations, it's really not). They will give you a free quote if you want to be sure what you're paying, and their customer service is great. The best part is that they do everything online - you scan your pages for translation and they email you the translation. There's no need to search for a place that's nearby and that has available appointments - you don't even have to leave your house. If they ask you if you need notarization for your visa documents though, say no.

For your FBI background check (only required for students staying in Spain for more than 180 days), I recommend you go through the official FBI site, as it's certain to be trustworthy and you will receive your results (by email, at least) in only three to five days. You can also go through an outside channel, which will cost you a fee but may have faster turnaround time. I would only recommend doing this if the location you go through is the location where you have your fingerprints done, for convenience. I got my fingerprints done at Identogo, which was fast and easy and close to my house. Unlike some locations, they gave me two copies of my fingerprints, which is nice because I have one for my records (the FBI keeps the card you send them). Identogo is also a verified external channel for FBI background checks, so you could get your fingerprints done and have your background check request sent off all in one sitting if you wanted to.

Not sure what an "Apostille of the Hague Convention" is? I wasn't either. Basically, an Apostille is like an internationally-recognized notarization. This just shows that your FBI background check is valid in both the U.S. and Spain. The proper place to apply for an Apostille is through the U.S. Department of State. This will take between 12 days and three weeks to return to you by mail (there is no email option - it is printed on heavy paper and attached to your document), so plan ahead. The Spanish consulate in Los Angeles has very helpful information regarding how an Apostille will look and be used. Just ignore the part that says you need to use a Spanish Sworn Translator - that's an LA thing, not a Chicago thing. Finally, once you've received your background check back with the Apostille attached, then send both pages to a Spanish translator - both pages must be translated.

Making An Appointment

Just as you should begin gathering your application materials as soon as you are accepted into your program in Spain, you should make an appointment at the consulate as soon as you're sure you need one. Appointments are made through the Chicago consulate's pretty janky-looking appointment scheduler. Just go to the consulate website and scroll down to the "MAKE A VISA APPOINTMENT" button. Don't let the Minesweeper-esque font scare you off - it's the legitimate site.

Appointments are free and can be rescheduled - but if you do so, make sure you delete your old appointment. If you have two appointments in the system, you will not be seen. Your appointment cannot be scheduled any earlier than three months prior to your arrival date in Spain. You'll want to get in as early as possible though. The processing and return time for a student visa is supposed to be four to six weeks, so if (God forbid) your visa is refused, you can correct any errors and reapply with enough time for the visa to arrive before you leave. In my case, I counted back 90 days from my planned arrival date and chose the first appointment I could make within that window.

Once you receive an email confirmation for your appointment, print it out and put it with the rest of your application materials. This is the only document you need that is not mentioned on the list of requirements provided by the consulate. (Honestly, they never even asked for this when I went, but it's better to be safe than sorry, right?)

Getting There

If you are driving to Chicago or renting a car when you get there, I would recommend parking at the Grant Park North Millenium Garage. It's an underground garage right in the middle of the road, which is kind of terrifying, but totally worth it for the proximity to the consulate. Also, there is a traffic light that allows you to drive in without other cars in your way, and you do not come out of the garage in the middle of the road, but rather on a sidewalk, so it's not as bad as it looks. The price of this garage is insane if you just drive up, so make sure you buy online ahead of time. I paid $38 to park there for two hours and 15 minutes. However, online prices are great for parking in the city. It's literally cheaper to get a 24-hour pass online than to do what I did.

If you have the time and the ability, definitely plan to make a day or a weekend out of your visa appointment, since you're already making the trip to Chicago! The consulate is right across from Garrett's Popcorn and only a few hundred feet from Millenium Park (AKA the Bean). Just a few blocks away are tons of fun things to do and places to go!

My mom and I visiting the Chicago Bean before my visa appointment. Photo courtesy of the author, Eva Koelzer

Finally, when it's time for your appointment and you arrive at 180 Michigan Avenue, don't panic (like I did) when you see a realty sign rather than a sign for the Consulate General of Spain. I am not a city girl, so I'm not used to buildings with one or two company names displayed on the outside, and then a little board inside that lists the other several companies found inside the building, but that is exactly what this is. Head inside and ride the elevator up to the 15th floor.

The Appointment

I was nervous for weeks about making sure this appointment went perfectly. I expected a quasi-interview, so I dressed the part. Obviously, I missed the memo, because everyone else in the room was dressed like a normal person. I wish I had known this before, because the day I went it was 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and in my slacks, long-sleeved blouse and heels, I came in both sweaty and smelly.

I was also very intimidated by the fancy exterior and elevator of the consulate's building, but the actual consulate is nothing to be afraid of. It is one small room with blank white walls (except for a couple of stock images of landscapes in Spain and a photo of the king and queen) and a few rows of chairs to wait in.

There are three windows which people are called up to for appointments, and while you're waiting in the chairs, you can hear what's being said at the windows. So if you are early to your appointment, you might even get to watch other student visa applicants go through the process and feel (hopefully better, maybe worse) about how your turn will go.

The day I went, the room was pretty full of people, a lot of whom had very complex issues to deal with (not student visas), so I was not called up until about 20 minutes after my appointment was scheduled. Still arrive early, just in case it's a light day or you run into any issues, but also know that the consulate might be running late.

I was at the window for a total of 10 minutes. I expected a long interview and I even prepared answers to "common questions". It may depend on the day or the person behind the window, but I was not asked any questions and neither were any of the student visa applicants called before me. These are good questions to ask yourself in general when applying for a visa, so feel free to run through them and stay on the safe side, but you probably won't be asked anything.

I was also surprised by how nice the people at the windows were. I'm terrible, right? But truly, I always mistrust people like customs agents and other government officials, scared that they're going to try to trip me up. Of course, I was worried for nothing, as usual, and the consulate representatives were all very kind and helpful. The moral of the story here is that the appointment will be less scary and more relaxed than you expect, so don't fret about it.

What to Do If Something Goes Wrong

You've arrived at the consulate, you're finally at the window, and...you forgot one of your required materials. Or the agent says that you've brought the wrong document or filled it out incorrectly. Don't panic! This happened multiple times to the people in front of me in line, and the consulate representatives just told them to come back later that day when they had obtained the proper paperwork. You don't need to make a new appointment or anything; just come back once you have the right stuff and explain what happened.

If you don't have your passport, official government-issued documents (like the FBI background check and Apostille), or documents from your host university (acceptance letter, etc.), then you're out of luck and you'll have to make a new appointment. But a lot of the required materials can be found that same day in the city. If you need copies or printed forms, you can head to a nearby FedEx or UPS store. For passport-sized pictures, head to Walgreens or the post office. Money orders can be made at most stores and banks, and your return USPS envelope can be found at the post office. I have not tried it, but I believe you could even obtain the medical certificate from a clinic in the city if you've got the time. I don't know how feasible it would be to have them sign off on your very specific medical well-being without your medical records (but maybe they could call your primary care physician and pull them) or to write up a letter fitting the consulate's template on their letterhead, but it's worth a shot, rather than head all the way back home and try again another day!

If you can't get the application material you need while you're in Chicago, you'll have to make a new appointment with the consulate for as soon as possible and obtain the proper documents pronto! As long as your first appointment was early enough within your three-month window, you should be totally fine, just inconvenienced. Remember that it will all be worth it once you have your visa in hand and are living your best life in Spain!

Now What?

Your materials were accepted at the consulate, and you've officially applied for your visa. Now for the worst part of the process: waiting! If all goes well, your passport should arrive (or you will go pick it up) with a student visa attached in four to six weeks.

If you will be in Spain for less than 180 days, you are all set! Book your plane ticket and enjoy preparing for your trip! If you will be in Spain for more than 180 days, you've got a little bit more work to do. The visa you receive is only good for 90 days. Within 30 days of being in Spain, you'll need to obtain your Tarjeta de Identificación de Extranjero (TIE/sometimes called NIE) or Foreigner's Identification Card from your host city's local immigration office (extranjería).

At your visa appointment, your original medical certificate and FBI background check will have been returned to you. Keep these safe and bring them to Spain as you'll need them to obtain your TIE. You'll also need the original Spanish translations of these two documents and another "recent passport-style photo with a white background", just like the one you attached to your visa application. For more information on what materials are needed and how to apply for your TIE, check out this guide from Just Landed. Make sure you become familiar with the steps you need to take before you arrive in Spain because you must make an appointment and the extranjería is sure to be booked up at the start of a semester. There are also documents you need to obtain in Spain before even applying for the TIE, so you'll want to be prepared for this process when you get there.

If you receive your passport back from the consulate and it does not have a visa inside, don't freak out just yet! There should be an explanation for the rejection attached. (If there is not, call the consulate and ask for one!) Take this explanation, correct the error, and make a new appointment ASAP! This is why it is so important to make your original appointment as early as you can within your three-month appointment window. As long as you did so, there should still be enough time for you to reapply and wait through the four to six week period again for your visa. Feel good about this, though: as long as you are honest and thorough in your paperwork, it is unlikely that your visa application will be rejected.

The Spanish student visa application process is not an easy, quick, cheap, or fun one. However, it's essential if you want to study in Spain for longer than a trimester or short semester. Once you're through the process, it will be like childbirth: you forget how much it hurt when it's over. Hopefully, though, this guide makes the whole thing a little less painful to begin with.

Remember to start preparing early, don't freak yourself out over the appointment, and double-check the requirements several times before leaving for the consulate. You'll do great. Good luck!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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