First and foremost- if you do not have your passport you need it… NOW, don’t wait to hear from your school on the process, start the process of collecting everything you know you will need, look it up on line and get going!
I used a passport service in Austin, Texas called Austin Passport Express. Not sure if these are anywhere else in the US but they can do it all in their office (passport photos, FBI prints, etc.) with that said, it was not the cheapest but if you are in a rush that’s an option.
You will not be able to get your visa without a passport and it can take 6-8 weeks for them to send it to you. My suggestion is as SOON as you get your official letter of acceptance from your exchange (host) university start applying for your visa. Some of it you can get started with even before that but its up to you… if you want the assurance of whether or not you’re even going then I would wait for the official acceptance letter. My main worry was the airfare, I wanted to buy it way in advance because I wanted to save money. But now I’m in a bit of a bind because I bought a really inexpensive ticket through Priceline’s “Name your price” (which I would still highly recommend- but more on that later) the fine print is that you can only choose the date and airport you want to fly from AND your ticket is non-refundable/non-transferable. If I had started my Visa shenanigans as soon as I received my acceptance letter this wouldn’t have been such a problem but honestly Spain takes FOREVER to do everything (ever heard of ‘Spain time’?) and I didn’t get it as much in advance as I needed it to begin with. Bottom line is that you are pretty much on your own when it comes to the visa process. I am going to explain (in detail) the process of getting a long stay (over 180 days) Student Visa as a Texas Resident . Please keep in mind the process is different for each state. If your permanent address is in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas you have to go through the Spanish Consulate that is located in Houston, Tx.
Note: The longer you wait to get this done the more expensive everything gets as far as shipping fees to expedite the process.
I printed out this guide for a Visa from the Houston Consulate website itself, while it was slightly helpful (calling the consulate won’t be much help) the following is the exact process that I used plus a little more info on where you can get everything done. I was stressed and running around and ended up spending $100 dollars more than what I should have so if this can make it easier for at least one person than its worth it. Here we go:
1. Its best to print out 2 copies of the National visa application form. Print out an extra copy of everything, especially if Houston is a drive for you because if they should find anything amiss, tell you that you didn’t fill something out correctly or that you are missing a document they WILL NOT make copies of anything for you.
2.You will need to bring your Passport to give to the consulate- make sure you sign it on the designated page (I took 2 copies of my passport and 2 copies of my Drivers License). Also make sure another form of I.D is on you JUST in case (i.e: Drivers License- although I didn’t have to physically present mine).
3. I had 2 official passport photos taken (one for each of the above applications). Walgreens will do two for about $12- It takes maybe 5 minutes for them to take the photos and then about 10 mins to get them printed out for you. Passport Express in Austin, Tx will do two for $9.95 plus tax.
4. Original (hard copy) Letter of Acceptance: My acceptance letter took a while to come in (like I mentioned earlier if you already know for sure that you have been accepted into the program- start your visa process while you are waiting for the official letter in the mail). Also make a copy of it to take with you. In addition to the acceptance letter, the Texas State study abroad office gave me a letter stating that I was accepted to the Universidad del Pais Vasco and that I would be required to purchase travelers insurance and health insurance. It also stated the time frame I would be there and it was printed on an official letterhead/ signed by the study abroad office. (There is some information about this in the Houston Consulate guide that I linked above.) The link asks for more but that info will be filled in on your application. The main thing you need is the start and end date of your program as an added extra from the study abroad office.
5. Evidence of Funds: I was able to prove this through financial aid but there are various ways to do this and they are listed in the Houston Consulate Visa guide linked above. Since financial aid hasn’t officially been issued yet, I went to the financial aid office at Texas State and had them make an estimate of what I would receive based on what I was given the previous years. They typed it up in a letter (with an official letterhead) and signed it. Again, make a copy of this to take. In addition, I logged onto my personal Texas State account to print out the exact amount of financial aid I was given the previous years as more proof.
-The option my travel buddy (Lindsey) took was different because she does not receive financial aid assistance. Her parents claimed full financial responsibility. Again, this process is listed in the guide I linked above. You will need a:
“Notarized letter of parents/custodians assuming full financial responsibility for atleast $800 per month, for room and board. Suggested wording: ‘I hereby certify that I the (father,mother,other) of (…), will support her/him with a monthly allowance of $800 while she/he is in Spain and that I am financially responsible for any emergency that may arise. The applicant must also provide the bank statements of the last three months from parents/custodians’ personal account.”
-We were a little nervous about this because it was too late for her parents to overnight her the official notarized letter and we weren’t sure they would accept two copies of the faxed version. As of now, all of her documents were accepted.
6. Health Insurance: Texas State University required me to buy insurance (travel/health) through them so in case anything happened they would be familiar with the insurance. They gave me a card and a paper with information about the insurance. I made a copy of both and gave them the original as well.
7. Police Criminal Record Clearance: (FOR STAYS OF 180 DAYS or more aka Long Stay National Visa) I had an expensive mess up on this one. There are some options (I’ll explain both) for this but I found it’s easier, faster AND cheaper to get a Department of State clearance (aka Criminal History background check). I went to the DPS in Austin (108 Denson Dr., Austin, Tx, 78752). It was 24.95 cash, you can pick it up at anytime on the second day after you order it. You will also need an Apostille attached to it. There was information on where I could get this done attached to my Criminal History packet when I picked it up. I went to 1019 Brazos St., Austin, Tx. The DPS gave me two copies of my criminal history. I got both of them an Apostille for $15 each. It took about 5 mins to do. Lindsey only got an Apostille for one (makes sense but I didn’t want to take any chances- either way it was STILL cheaper than an FBI check). If you live in Austin and decide to go to this location it’s best to have someone drop you off/ pick you up in front of the building because parking is almost impossible.
Side note: Lindsey and I got this done coincidentally on the same day President Obama decided to visit Austin (7/10/14)… roads were completely shut down and traffic was just awful. Nonetheless, we were able to get it done!
Okay now the FBI check process that I promised (even though I still don’t recommend it):
-I originally started the “FBI records check” and I read via the Consulate guide (linked above) that along with FBI record I would need to “…get a police record from the countries where you have lived during the past 5 years” It very non specific at the bottom of that paragraph. Long story short I thought I was getting the police record and it turned out to be the Department of State Clearance (which means I no longer needed the FBI check but had already paid for it).
-I used this link to get my FBI records check. Very convenient, especially if you are trying to get it the fastest way possible (again, not the cheapest and the first process is still faster). This is the only FBI approved site I was able to find that could get the FBI records check done in as little as 2-3 days. They pretty much do everything for you and there is a step by step process on their website. After this you would still need an Apostille (authentication) from the Secretary of State- $15 (process is listed in the above paragraph). This whole FBI check process cost me $40 to overnight the application, $40 for actual FBI document, $40 to overnight it back, and $40 for two sets of fingerprints- just in case they didn’t accept it. I got a call the next day saying the FBI rejected the fingerprints (just my luck) and they wanted to charge me another $20 to reprocess the fingerprints, plus the $40 it would take to get new fingerprints overnighted to them again. On top of that I found out I only needed the Department of State Clearance which I already had. I wasted my time AND money on this and I don’t recommend it unless for some reason you can’t get the Dept. of State Clearance.
Here is another reference I used for info on Criminal Record Checks.
8. Medical Certificate: (FOR STAYS OF 180 DAYS or more aka Long Stay National Visa) I was not sure how to get this done exactly. My doctor was booked for a month so I had to settle for the first available M.D. He was no help to say the least. I explained that I needed a Medical Certificate and he said he wouldn’t know what tests to run. I ended up getting an adult physical done and I did blood work but ended up not needing it. The best way to get this done (if your M.D is a little skeptical about signing it) is to make an appointment for an adult physical and type out the letter for them beforehand. This is what mine said:
July 10, 2014
This medical certificate verifies that Mr./Ms. _____ is free of any disease that could cause serious repercussions to public health according to the specifications of the international sanitary regulation of 2005.
Mr./Ms. _____ is a very healthy individual in all senses, she/he has no pre-existing medical conditions, and she/he is capable of traveling abroad.
– Personalize this, print it off, take it with you to your appointment, have them scan and print it off on their paper with the official letterhead of their office, have your M.D sign it then staple their card to the top and you’re good to go!
– Please note: In the Consulate’s Visa guide it says this must be a doctor’s recent statement (not older than 3 months) indicating that ‘the student has been examined and found free of any contagious or infectious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005’. It MUST be on a letterhead and signed by an M.D.
I arrived 10 minutes before the Consulate opened and we were done in about an hour and thirty minutes. It would’ve been shorter if we had filled the visa application out before hand. Since there was hardly anyone there at that time. I got up to the window handed them all the information and it took her literally 5 minutes to go through it and accept it all (longest 5 minutes of my life). This was just luck though, my traveling buddy was before me and they were meticulous about everything on her papers. They were all still accepted though.
Date of Submission: July 11,2014
Date Student Visa was received: August 13,2014
Another Reference (that helped me a ton) for this whole process is Trevor Huxham’s blog “A Texan in Spain“.
The legal process was the biggest headache and the most stressed I had been in a while but I promise you the reward is worth more than 100 times the amount of stress you go through.