One month of stress, a day-trip to New York City, a few wrong turns on the Jersey turnpike, a set of four color-coded folders and a cab drive later… I could breathe a sigh of relief. My student visa was approved by the Spanish Consulate.
By the time I had my visa interview on July 31st, I had already bought luggage, made the semester’s arrangements with my university, and purchased my round-trip, nonrefundable plane ticket to Spain. So it’s pretty safe to say that having my visa refused would have been DEVASTATING, both financially and emotionally.
The dreaded visa interview. I think it’s a stressful experience for almost anyone who goes abroad, mostly because there’s so much MYSTERY surrounding it before you go. My study abroad director gave me advice about what to wear, and what sorts of questions I would probably be asked, but it was impossible for her to say with certainty, “THIS is exactly what will happen, and THIS is what you should say.”
The most important part of the visa application process is, at least for Spanish visas, making sure that you have all the documents required for the Consulate. For students going to Spain, you need to have:
- Your passport
- Two copies of the visa application, filled out and signed, with a recent passport-sized photo stapled to each application
- Your acceptance letter to the university where you will study (In my case, I also brought my study abroad acceptance letter for my home university’s program, since it stated that I pay tuition to my home university)
- Proof of international health insurance with specific coverage guidelines (If you’re looking for a reasonably-priced health insurance plan that meets these guidelines, I suggest CISI — it’s tailored specifically for students studying abroad, and gives you a printable Consulate letter as soon as you enroll)
- Proof of financial means, which can be either a letter from your university assuming full financial responsibility for you, proof of financial aid or scholarship for at least $1,000 per month of stay, a notarized letter from your parents stating that they will support you with at least $1,000 per month of stay, or your own personal bank statements showing at least $1,000 per month of stay
- A U.S. Postal Service money order for $160 (though this fee is subject to change)
- A pre-paid and addressed UPS shipping envelope for them to return your passport to you after the visa has been affixed
- A police record certificate (If you’re staying more than 180 days, which I am not)
- A medical certificate stating that you are in good physical and mental health to travel abroad (For more than 180 days)
So basically, with the exception of the last two items, I had to make sure that all of those documents were in order before I went to my interview.
Luckily, I live 15 minutes away from my home university, so it’s easy for me to visit the international office during summer break. I had my program director look over all my documents for me before I left, but even with her approval I was still terribly afraid that I would do SOMETHING wrong and end up getting my visa denied.
At the very beginning of the process, when you first start trying to obtain all your documents and get them organized, the whole thing just seems overwhelming. The Consulate website’s long list of requirements in tiny font makes you second-guess the documents you have, like “This IS what they mean they want, right?” Having good communication with someone involved in your study abroad program is immensely helpful in determining whether you’ve got the right documents.
The most worrisome item on this list, for me, was the “proof of financial means.” I chose to show my proof of finances using the notarized letter from my parents, which appears to be all you need according to the website. However, I heard from other sources that the Consulate may want to SEE bank statements proving that you have enough money.
I was determined to NOT get denied, so I brought several folders: The GREEN folder, containing all the essential documents listed on the website. The RED folder, containing additional proof of educational information (letters explaining my housing choice, my curriculum, and info about the program). The YELLOW folder, containing additional proof of financial means and insurance (bank statements from myself and my parents, my tuition bill showing my $3,000 loan refund, my credit card statement showing my $1,000 credit limit, and detailed info about my insurance plan). And finally, the WHITE folder which was simply called “duplicates,” because I made a bunch of copies of absolutely everything JUST IN CASE.
I dressed formally, in a dress, cardigan, and nice shoes (though this is pretty normal attire for me), and prepared myself mentally to answer a barrage of questions about why I wanted to study abroad and why I was totally not going to try to stay in Spain after my visa expired. I had this mental image that my visa interview would involve going into a room, sitting across from a sharp-dressed and keen-eyed Spanish diplomat, and being grilled about every detail of my study abroad plans. My director’s words kept repeating in my head: “Just be businesslike and formal — diplomats can be VERY picky.”
My parents and I drove to New York City to the Spanish Consulate, and for one of the first times in my life, I arrived EARLY to something! Which was both good and bad, because then I had to sit in the waiting room nervously awaiting my turn.
To my surprise, I wasn’t called into a room. I was called up to a window that reminded me more of a bank teller kiosk or ticket booth. My interviewer wasn’t a suspicious diplomat. She was an absolutely adorable, well-dressed Spanish girl with a friendly smile. And the only folder that I had to reach into the whole time was the GREEN one. Basically, I slid each document into a tray under the window, and she accepted each one without any fuss. The only thing that I didn’t have right was the pre-paid envelope; I had gotten mine from the U.S. post office, and it needed to be UPS. But it wasn’t a big deal. My interviewer gave me directions to the UPS store a few blocks away and told me to just bring back an envelope. Apparently it’s a pretty common mistake, because the guy who sold me the envelope told me I was the third person that day to request the exact same thing.
After returning the envelope to the Consulate and emerging back onto the sidewalk of 58th Street, I walked around the city in a daze. I couldn’t believe how EASY the interview had been, after all the worrying I’d done for the past month. Like no, really, I couldn’t believe it… I almost felt like it hadn’t even happened, and was even a little worried that maybe it REALLY hadn’t.
But, it did.
And yesterday, that prepaid envelope came back to me with my visa inside. What a relief!