Susan and I applied for Spanish non-lucrative residence visas at the San Francisco Consulate General on June 27, 2017. Thirteen days later we were notified that our visa applications had been approved. We were back in San Francisco on July 27 to pick up our visados and breathe a sigh of relief.
We didn’t encounter any of the roadblocks or delays that we’d heard about. In fact, our Spanish residence visa application process went very well. I’d even say it went smoothly.
Alba, the staff member who handles residence and student visas at the Consulate of Spain in San Francisco, told us that she dreads residence visas because most people simply aren’t prepared.
We told Alba we were going to document our experience to help others and asked if she had any tips. She said, “Just tell them to do exactly what you did.”
Here’s what we seem to have done correctly.
Check and Double-Check the Requirements
First, we put in a lot of effort ahead of time to track down and double-check exactly what to do to be successful. I think we checked and double-checked and double-double checked everything – TWICE! And I’m glad we did because the application requirements changed in the months between the time we chose Spain for our retirement destination and our application appointment.
We created this Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa Application Checklist and made four copies of it. As I assembled our documentation, I used one copy to check off the various documents as we acquired them. Susan followed up with her own checklist to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
Then just before we left for the airport, we each used a copy to check that everything we assembled was actually included in the application packets we were bringing to our appointment. Sure enough, my Form EX-01 had gone astray, misplaced in the recycle pile.
Take the Letter of Purpose Seriously
Our original letter was a brief two sentence statement. We had it notarized and sent it along with everything else to our certified translator. She kicked it back, suggesting we make a more compelling case.
Trusting her advice, we rewrote our statement of purpose to included statements about:
- being retired along with brief, two sentence summaries of our careers,
- our income sources for the year abroad,
- our desire to study the Spanish language and learn about Spanish history and culture, and
- why we chose Valencia in particular.
Even though it meant going through the trouble of getting our statement notarized again, we’re glad we did. At our appointment, Alba spent quite a lot of time reviewing what we wrote.
Allow Plenty of Time When Scheduling Your Visa Application Appointment
Timing your visa application at the San Francisco consulate can be problematic. When we made our visa application appointment the first available date was about 10 weeks out. Over the summer of 2017, I noticed appointment times up to four months out and most recently, there’s been about a three month wait.
So plan ahead. And don’t forget, you’ll need your passport number to make an appointment. So if you need to renew your passport like we did, add that month-long turn around to your planning calendar.
While you’re at it print a copy of your appointment confirmation and keep it with your application materials. You may need it at your appointment.
Proof of Health and Repatriation Insurance
It seems that most people are as confused when it comes to buying Spanish health insurance as we were. We spent about three months trying to research the options on our own but it was intimidating. Quite frankly, our Spanish language skills aren’t all that good and health care is not all that easy to understand.
We finally ended up enlisting the services of Linda Svilane at Moving to Valencia, and she put us in touch with a DKV Seguros agent. We went with this policy because the coverage suited our needs, and because DKV Seguros was the only company that sold and certified coverage that would begin at a future date.
The DKV policy does not include the required repatriation coverage, so we purchased a 12-month travel insurance policy that includes coverage for repatriation of remains as well as the usual stuff.
Use the Forms Provided by the Consulate
On the website for the Consulate of Spain in San Francisco, I expected the visa forms and information about how to apply to be located under the “Information for Foreigners” tab. But that’s not where they are. I found all the information I needed under the “Consular Services in San Francisco” tab as illustrated in the screen capture, below.
There are three official forms provided online. We download the pdfs, filled them out and then printed them. I had a little trouble with the formatting in some of the form fields but it appears there are new, reformatted pdfs on the consulate website now.
Don’t forget to sign and date the printed forms as required.
Finger Printing and Background Check
Based on the many comments I’ve read about the cost and inconvenience of getting an FBI background clearance and then the need to get a U.S. State Department Apostille, we chose to take care of the criminal background check close to home.
We lived in Salem, Oregon’s state capitol, so our process was pretty easy. We visited the State Police office a few miles from our home for the fingerprinting and and background check request. It took less than a half hour. They offered extra copies of the fingerprint cards and while we took only one extra, we would recommend taking two extra copies. We know we will need them to renew our visas.
Our background check reports came back a few days later stapled to the fingerprint cards and ready for the Oregon Apostille.
If you have lived in more than one state in the past five years, you might have to go the national (FBI) route.
The Apostille Certifications
Apostilles are required on the criminal background check, marriage and birth certificates. I didn’t know what an Apostille certification was when I first started investigating the documentation requirements for a non-lucrative residence visa. According to Wikipedia, an Apostille is an international certification comparable to a notarization in domestic law. It essentially supplements a local notarization of the document.
In the United States, the Secretary of State of each state and his or her deputies are authorized to affix an Apostille to documents issued or certified by an officer recognized by the state. When I got Apostilles for our marriage certificate and criminal background checks, they checked the notary signatures and seals against their database.
For anything that needed an Apostille , we got the Apostille before the translation. Our translator also translated the Apostille certificate, although I later learned that translating the Apostille may not be necessary.
Proof of Income
To document proof of income, I downloaded the benefit letter from my Social Security account and one-page balance statements from each of our IRAs. I also included the following sentence in our personal statement:
“We will use James’ Social Security payment and withdrawals from our retirement accounts for our living expenses in Valencia. “
The financial statements were translated, of course.
Medical Certificate of Good Health
Just make sure yours is printed on the physician’s letterhead. Our doctor’s assistant used a couple of clinic stamps and our medical record labels to “official it up.” Alba laughed when she saw that, but added, ”We like stamps…”
NOTICE: One of our readers who applied for her visa in July 2018 reports that the physician who signs your Medical Certificate of Good Health, must include M.D. (or the equivalent) as part of his or her signature.
Use Professionally Done Passport Photos
We thought about doing the photos ourselves but when I started reading about how often DYI photos are rejected by different consulates, we decided to play it safe and use our local AAA office.
Our AAA source photos were accepted instantly. Alba told us that bad photos were one of the top reasons she had to reject applications. And it’s not something you can fix on the spot. Apparently not everyone interprets a plain, white background the same. Then there’s the issue of shadows, sizing, framing proportions, and expressions. We suggest you get your passport photos done professionally. It’s a whole lot cheaper than an additional trip to the consulate.
Assemble the Originals and ONE Copy of Everything
Stack all your original visa application materials in one pile, and make sure you have one copy of everything – including your passport. Copies of a couple of documents were returned to us, but we suggest following the guidelines to the letter and make one copy of every original.
If you forget to copy something don’t worry, there is a copy shop just across the street from the Spanish Consulate in San Francisco.
Bring Cash or a Money Order
We were amazed at how many people in the waiting area with us thought they could pay with a card. The consulate will only take cash or money order and they tell you so on their website.
We paid for our visa application with cash. We knew the visa was $140 and the processing fee was $11, so I prepared an envelope with $151 for each of us. And I took extra cash just in case. Fortunately, we didn’t need it.
We’re Headed to Valencia
Exactly 30 days after we applied for our Spanish non-lucrative residence visas we scheduled a day-trip to collect the visados from the consulate. As I write this we are just a week away from flying to Spain with our family of four cats and a dog.
Stay tuned for word on how we manage the actual move to Valencia.
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Jamie Wyant is a retired American living in Spain. After a multifaceted career ranging from ecosystem science to digital marketing, he moved to Valencia in 2017 with his wife, Susan, and their senior pets. He writes about the joys and tribulations of living overseas. Jamie also manages the technical aspects of GentleCycle.net