Spain is known for being a bureaucratic paperwork and process nightmare. It’s reputation for rejecting visas and requiring an obscene amount of hoops to jump through proved true and it had me freaking out, at first. I remember looking at the list for the first time and thinking: “I CAN’T do this”.

I was so overwhelmed. I couldn’t find much information online and if I did, it was outdated. Visas must be turned in at one of the 8 Spanish consulates in the US and because you have to go the the consulate that you are “zoned” for, only one blogger had experience with the Houston Consulate experience. (I live in Tennessee, Houston is my consulate. Check here for yours but note: *the New Orleans consulate closed)

If you are embarking on this craziness – please hang in there! It is not that bad once you get rolling. Also, I would love to help you as I feel like I’ve done a ton of work and I’m more than happy to share and answer any questions you have.

An overview: First,  you’ll need to decide what type of visa you’ll be applying for. We are not going to be getting paid by Spanish companies/people as our business is web design and marketing and we’re based in Nashville. This meant that we could apply for a “non-lucrative visa”. There are other visa types that require different paperwork but this is the path that best suited our needs and is a very popular choice for most US expats.

Timing is always a big concern. You’ll notice that a few of the items on the list have to be within 3 months of the application date (medical clearance, FBI check, marriage and birth certificates) so you have to be thorough and thoughtful. If you REALLY wanted to – it is possible to do all of this in a month but you’d have to stay on top of it. I started my process in Jan. and applied in late March. This gave me plenty of time to collect, copy, notarize, and to make mistakes – which I’ll explain here.

Each person in the family needs different paperwork. I served as the primary applicant and these are the requirements for my visa. Anything that is straightforward, I’ve just listed with a link. Any information in italics is my advice for that particular item. I’ve also listed costs here in bold and if there’s no price listed – it was $Free.99!

PRIMARY APPLICANT

  1. Visa Application Form.
  2. Form EX-01: Form must be signed and filled out in print. Only available in Spanish.
  3. Original Passport: Valid passport for a minimum of 1 year, with at least one blank page to affix the visa. Your passport may remain at the Consulate. They kept our passports because we had an “incomplete application” and 10 days to get our remaining paperwork to them OR we had to start over from scratch – oh HELL NAH.
  4. ID: You need to provide proof of residency in one of the States under our jurisdiction with a copy of one of the following documents: US Driver’s license or US State ID.
  5. Two recent passport-sized photos: White Background, 2x2in, glued to the applications. $19 per person at CVS for 4 photos.
  6. Notarized document explaining why you are requesting this visa, the purpose, place and length of your stay in Spain and any other reasons you need to explain, plus certified translation into Spanish.

For this I wrote a 2 paragraph statement saying that we were excited about the language, my son about soccer, culture, and meeting people in Spain. I didn’t make it too long, just kept it to the excitement of moving there to embrace the culture. Be honest and let them understand that your intentions are genuine. I got mine notarized for free at my local bank. One page translation $30

7. Proof of sufficient funds (investments, annuities, sabbaticals, checking and savings accounts statements from the last three months and any other source of income) to live in Spain without working. You must provide last-three-month bank statements of your checking or savings account. The minimum amount required is 25,816 Euros plus 6,454 Euros per each additional family member. You must provide a certified translation into Spanish for all these documents.

**This was where I made a mistake. You must provide the last 3 months of the account that has the sufficient funds. I just did our checking account and it was clear that we had the sufficient funds in our savings that was accounted for on that same statement. However, if you have the bulk of your money in savings – print the last 3 months of that account. Also, if it says “Page 1 of 2” make sure to have that 2nd page. Make sure to get someone at the bank to notarize the print outs. $120 for four page translations

I also printed out our kids college funds and our retirement from online (although we will NOT be touching either to fund our move) Unemployment is high in Spain and they want to know you can afford to live there so show any money you’ve got, anywhere. $120 for four page translations

8. House property or leasing contract in Spain. Contact your realtor for a copy.

9. Police Criminal Record clearance verified by fingerprints and certified translation into Spanish. It cannot be older than 3 months from the application date. FBI Records for international purposes, issued by the US Department of Justice – Federal Bureau of Investigation. They must be legalized with the Apostille of The Hague Convention from the US Department of State in Washington DC. You must also provide a certified translation into Spanish of the Apostille of The Hague.

Alright this is the beast with the most steps. I messed this up at $58 because I used the State of Tennessee. You must get FINGERPRINTED or it doesn’t count. I used this company: Identigo, they were quick BUT be careful – their email will go to your junk folder and my husband deleted it!! Such a pain to recover. Also, you have to have a PC to open their results. uhhh. $100 total for my husband and I – prints only

What is an Apostille – pronounced [ah-poh-steel] Convention of the Hague?! huh. This is easy – it’s French for “certification” and basically is a verification that your local notary is legit. The Apostille of the Hague Convention means that it’s recognized worldwide because our US notaries are not. Your FBI check is not a state issued document, it’s federal, so you must get this done by an Apostille in WASHINGTON!!! This was my second mistake and it was almost a deal breaker when I stood behind the glass at the consulate. I used the company Apostille Please, LLC . Tom runs this company and he answers the phone and email – he was super helpful. Our cost was really high here because we had to do a rush order for our Apostilles. I’m sure it’s much less without the rush but we needed it in 5 days. $300 for 2 Federal Apostilles and $120 for 4 page translations of Apostilles and FBI background checks

Birth and marriage certificates are issued by the state where the birth/marriage took place. For me, those 3 events were all in my home state and I live close to our capitol in Nashville.  I drove to get my Apostilles and walked out of the state building in under 20 minutes. If you are not close to your Apostille – I would leave time for this one as they will need to be sent to you and processed by the state. $6 for all 3 documents (2 kid’s birth certificates, our marriage certificate) $90 for translations of all 3 Apostilles.

Let’s review: you need Apostilles from the FEDERAL level and the STATE level. They look like this:

Left is Federal and right is state of TN. Documents are stapled to the back of the Apostilles.

10. Medical Certificate, plus certified translation into Spanish. A doctor’s recent statement (not older than 3 months) signed by a M.D. with doctor’s or medical center’s letterhead. It must indicate the following: ‘the patient has been examined and found free of any contagious or infectious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005’.

I printed this Medical form  and had a wellness visit already scheduled. I sent the form to our nurse ahead of time they had these ready for us. Double check that it’s on the letterhead and stamped from the doctor. $120 for these translations. (**I wish that I had asked my Doctor to sign in both Spanish and English but I was afraid he wouldn’t sign something he couldn’t read. I played it safe and spent the translation fees here but I could have avoided that by using this form in Spanish and English.) Kicking myself : Part 1 of a 67 part series.

11. Proof of international medical insurance while in Spain, plus certified translation into Spanish.

I used Sanitas for Expats after lots of research. You must pay for your insurance up front for the entire year to show that you won’t drop it and rely on the Spanish free healthcare system (93% of Spaniards use their free healthcare and don’t go private because it’s that good!). This was a bit tricky because Sanitas would not delay our coverage from our March application date to August – when we were actually moving. We ended up delaying the start to May so that was good enough. It was cheaper than our US health coverage and just as good! $287 per month for a family of 4 – paid up front: $3,450 of course this depends on what you elect. We wanted dental and had no pre-existing conditions. No translations here because the proof of insurance was in Spanish. However, make sure that your documents show the “type of coverage” and “validity”. I got nicked here too because I didn’t know what the documents said and Sanitas didn’t tell me (wth’s the angry emoji on here!?)

12. Authorization form M790 C052, plus the Authorization fee. $11 per person

SPOUSE:

All of the above items except #7 and #8, adding:

Marriage certificate (not older than 3 months) authenticated with the Apostille of The Hague, plus certified translation into Spanish. If you can wait, you can have this mailed to you or you can go to the  $15 for the certificate copy and $30 for the translation

MINORS:

*prices listed are for ONE minor

1. National visa application form $140 non-refundable visa application fee

2. Form EX-01: Form must be signed by both parents and filled out in print. Only available in Spanish.

3. Original Passport: Valid passport for a minimum of 1 year, with at least one blank page to affix the visa.

4 Two recent passport-sized photos: White Background, 2x2in, glued to the applications. $19 for 4 photos at CVS

5. Birth certificate (not older than 3 months) authenticated with the Apostille of The Hague, plus certified translation into Spanish. $30 for 1 page translation of Apostille, $30 for translation of birth certificate, $15 for a copy of the Birth Certificate, and $2 for Apostille

6. Medical Certificate, plus certified translation into Spanish. $30 translation

7. Proof of international medical insurance while in Spain, plus certified translation into Spanish.

Little Sammy Sue getting her passport photo.

8. Authorization form M790 C052, signed by both parents, plus the Authorization fee. $11 fee at Consulate

COPY and SCAN

COPY. SCAN. REPEAT. You will need to submit the originals of each of these documents and one copy. You don’t want to turn in your only copy so make sure that you make 2 or 3 additional copies of everything. I did my copies in color as some seals were colored and it kept everything looking original.

I also scanned everything and kept all of this neatly organized in the Google Drive with a folder per person. Be sure to title each document well as you’ll be filling these digital folders quickly. Example “Max Birth Certificate. Translated” and “Financials Statement Page 2 of 5 Translated” – I kept everything in the digital folder that coordinated with their actual folder for the consulate and that was a big help in finding things quickly. I don’t recommend keeping all like items together (ie: birth certs and passports because you won’t present it to the Consulate that way)

MISTAKES TO AVOID

I didn’t read the fine print so I had my kids’ birth certificates AND our marriage certificate translated at $30 each not realizing that they had to be “within 3 months of the application date” sonofa….. You’ll have to either pick up these documents new or order them online. They take about 3 weeks to arrive if you order by mail (in TN).

Then I got a State of TN Criminal Background Check for $58 then realized it’s not valid because it didn’t require us to get fingerprints. uhhhhhhh

Again, the fingerprints documentation from the FBI must have an Apostille from DC! Not your state Apostille like the birth and marriage certificates.

Not paying SUPER close attention in the name of “getting-it-done” cost me….$148

Appointments at the Houston Consulate had to be made for each person. Make sure you pay attention to the time zone;) and be sure to schedule each member of your family a separate 15 min time slot: Houston Consulate Scheduling Site.

COST

Grand total for our visa was: $1,787 total for a family of four. (<- in this number, I did not include the consulting or eBook purchase *see below, my mistakes, or the cost of our year of insurance). Again, we had our Federal Apostilles rushed so I know this number would be lower for you if you didn’t crap your pants like me!

AT THE CONSULATE

We brought our whole family because you have to.  That was fun like dental surgery. The kids didn’t even need to really be there because they never talked to them. Everything happens through glass and a little bank teller hole which is annoying. I think it’s smart to make an early morning appointment so you can make calls during business hours and get things settled first thing so you can collect anything and maybe even get it back to the consulate that day.

Let’s talk worst case scenario: Your application has missing or incorrect components. They give you a choice: You have 10 business to get the missing paperwork to them via mail (you risk your $500+ in application fees) OR you can take your money and applications back and resubmit. We chose the former.

REFERENCES

Finding a cheap but certified Spanish translation site is tough. The first one I found charged $90 per page!!! Some charge per word. I used The Spanish Group and they were about a 2-6 day turnaround and only $30 a page. If you find cheaper – I’ll be super surprised. I chose the “email and mail” option for each translation so that I had a real signature from the certified translator and that option is free so it was a no brainer.

I bought an eBook from the Wagoner’s Abroad and it helped a lot. There were parts of it that were outdated but he’s a great resource and it came with a downloadable spreadsheet to help you check off each item for each applicant, along with copies, Apostilles, notaries, etc.I used this for a while then aborted and went straight for my physical folders for each family member. Personal preference really. They offer consulting packages and it’s nice to have someone to talk to because NOBODY at the consulate is answering the phone!

I also found Family Life in Spain and they were a great resource on all things moving to Spain as well as Spanish culture, holidays, tips, moving costs, schools, and more.

Another great Houston consulate/visa reference is Big Burton Bon Voyage. Maja Burton went through this process in Houston with 7 children. Seven, you read that right. Siete. She has great info and they went through the renewal process 12 months later in Spain. I read her blog and it was a huge help for us.

I hope this has helped you and if you have any better recommendations, tips, resources, etc. please comment. Fun fact for you: On our scouting trip we met a couple that applied for their “non lucrative visa” and the consulate just thumbed through their application papers lackadaisically like “oh ok great, you’re approved”. HUH!??! Can’t bet on that though;)

¡SUERTE AMIGOS!

 

 

 

29 replies
  1. Heather Abraham
    Heather Abraham says:

    This is a lifesaver! We’re about to apply and this is helping me so much. I lived in Spain for 6 years and was there as a student to begin with so the process was much easier.
    We are looking for a relatively quiet beach town if you have any suggestions. Also, I feel like we’re getting stuck with the housing situation as we’re not able to travel back and forth to look for a place. Are there any options that we might have to give the consulate …for example short term rental agreements?

    Reply
    • Kate Hickey
      Kate Hickey says:

      I’m glad this helped you Heather! I am not familiar with beach towns as I live in the city center. I know lots of people who have rented AirBnBs while they house hunt with no problems. We picked our place sight unseen but we had a great realtor at PerfectSpain.com that helped us navigate the market. Let me know if you have more questions:)

      Reply
  2. Lesly
    Lesly says:

    This was very helpful!! however my experience with The spanish group was HORRIBLE! their customer service is really bad they took forever on my order, then I wanted to cancel and they said no cancellations, after I got my documents they were wrong!! a lot of mistakes.. honestly I would try something else, I later found there were some other options for $20-25 a page. good luck

    Reply
    • Kate Hickey
      Kate Hickey says:

      Lesly – oh my gosh! I was recommended them by a fellow expat and they were great for us. Let me know if you have a better recommendation as I’ll be renewing in 6 months! Thanks for reading:)

      Reply
  3. Gary Fernandez
    Gary Fernandez says:

    I have a question. I have a pension that is paid out monthly at the rate of about 5,000€ a month. We do not have 32,000€ in our bank account. Is thst going to be a problem?

    Reply
    • Kate Hickey
      Kate Hickey says:

      I know you can email your consulate and ask – they are good about getting back to you. My guess is, if the money is not in the bank – the visa will not meet requirements. Best of luck Gary!!

      Reply
  4. Charles
    Charles says:

    Thanks for the detailed blog. I have found a gestoria, but she says we need the visa before we can execute a rental agreement. How did you get a rental contract in Spain without having the visa?

    Reply
  5. Sara
    Sara says:

    This is exactly the information we need to ease our efforts to move to Spain for a year! Thank you!
    Question: We live in California and the information from the Los Angeles Consulate states that the Apostille by the Secretary of State is sufficient for the Criminal Record Clearance, which is contrary to your experience. Is it possible states have different requirements for this?

    Reply
    • Kate Hickey
      Kate Hickey says:

      Sara – So glad to help! Yes, each consulate is VERY different. If you follow the Cali consulate requirements to the t you will be good to go. My consulate (Houston) has the reputation for being the most difficult. Each consulate is different so your Sec. of State apostille should be just fine. Suerte! Reach out on social media if I can help:)

      Reply
  6. Amy Streeter
    Amy Streeter says:

    This is a great blog. I was literally sitting here about to tear up b/c of how challenging this process is! I did have a question re: the financial aspect: you mentioned printing out pages from your savings account and getting those notarized. Did you only get the printed copies from your bank notarized or did you get the translated pages also notarized?

    Reply
    • Kate Hickey
      Kate Hickey says:

      Amy – don’t stress! It is TOTALLY worth the effort I promise you:) I didn’t get the translated pages notarized. Email me with any more questions. You GOT THIS! buena suerte con todo….Kate

      Reply
  7. Duane Storey
    Duane Storey says:

    This is a great summary of the non-lucrative process. I came here last year on the non-lucrative visa as well and have been helping others get here as well with advice and a Facebook group. I hope you are enjoying your time in Spain!

    Reply
  8. Lori Conley
    Lori Conley says:

    Do you need the apostille to be translated for birth certificates, marriage certificates, background checks, etc. or just the vital record itself? I am not sure what I should all send to the translator and would like to keep cost to a minimum.

    Reply
    • Kate Hickey
      Kate Hickey says:

      Lori – EVERYTHING in English must be translated. It’s a pain:( Let me know if I can help in any other way and good luck to you!!

      Reply
  9. Julie A Notaro
    Julie A Notaro says:

    Thanks for putting these details together!!
    Did you have to show your tax returns as part of your finance records? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Kate Hickey
      Kate Hickey says:

      Julie – I have heard that some people have shown their tax records but I would do that as an “extra” not an “instead” also – make sure you have them translated or it’s all for naught! Suerte amiga:)

      Reply
      • Julie Notaro
        Julie Notaro says:

        Muchas gracias Kate!

        Regarding health insurance, we have our appointment at the consulate on Jan 2, but may not end up in Spain until March based on visa approval, flight, etc. Does the insurance have to be in effect at the time of our visa appointment? Got a quote from Sanitas for $250/month and don’t want to start the policy too early if not need. Thanks again!!!

        Reply
        • Kate Hickey
          Kate Hickey says:

          Hello Julie – Thanks for reading. I also use Sanitas and they couldn’t give me my letter for the consulate unless they could start my plan 60 days later. That meant I started paying them in March when I moved in August. Hope that helps. $250/month is around what I paid and we have had great experience with them over the last 2 years.

          Reply
  10. Maria
    Maria says:

    This list of resources, tips and recommendations was phenomenal! I studied it and was able to get all our documents issued, apostilled, translated and turned In in exactly 30 days. As a matter of fact they are now sitting on the Spanish consulate officer’s desk because we were not supposed to file them more than three months before we travel to Spain! So now we are waiting, but thanks to you, we hope to be in Valencia eating paella in a terraza in about four months (fingers crossed). Thank you for your blog. You have made this daunting process easy peasy. Once we are approved, I’ll be studying the rest of your blog postings like a text book!

    Reply
    • Kate Hickey
      Kate Hickey says:

      FELICIDADES MARIA!!!! I am so glad to hear that my post was of use and that you’ll be embarking on this adventure in the new year. Congrats on a big hurdle…and stay in touch. Abrazos de Valencia, Kate

      Reply
      • Maria
        Maria says:

        Our visas were approved! Yay! Thank you so much for your comprehensive list. I have a few quick questions:
        1. Once you went to the consulate to get your passports stamped, did they give you a deadline to actually travel to Spain? (We are planning to travel around April 1, so I’m guesstimating when we should go to the consulate to get our visas stamped)
        2. In another blog post, you mention that you rented your apartment sight unseen. Do you recommend this method? We were planning to get an Airbnb for a month and do our apartment hunting there.
        I hope you are still enjoying your ex-pat life, and imagine the kiddos are pretty fluent in Spanish by now!

        Reply
        • Kate Hickey
          Kate Hickey says:

          Maria I’m so glad!! Congrats. When you pick up your approved visas they will have an “expiration date” , ours were valid for 3 months so you must get into Spain before the exp date. Your idea to get an airbnb for a month is fantastic…see which part of the city fits you. Important: You need to get “empadron” within a specific time of your entry to Spain so set up that appointment as they book out!

          Reply
  11. Laura
    Laura says:

    Hi Kate, This is amazing help. Thank you for being so specific. I do have some questions. You had to get 2 marriage certificate (one for you and another for your husband)? So one marriage certificates that has both names isn’t enough? And the birth certificate is only for the kids. The parents don’t need?

    Reply

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  1. […] The Visa Process which you can read about on her blog, Hickeys Everywhere, outlines that better than I ever could. Let’s just say it takes MONTHS, and the ability to time moves out perfectly into little windows before deadlines close, then waiting for weeks for the results. […]

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