So, one of the first steps you have to take when preparing to study abroad is get a student visa. This process is, in a word, terrible. There’s so much bureaucracy and the road to a visa is riddled with minor to major inconveniences. And, every consulate is different. It varies country to country, and it also varies within the consulates of one particular country. The visa process is a minefield. I’ve had a constant feeling of dread in the back of my mind that something will go wrong ever since day one.
Even so, I’m going to relate my experiences to you guys so that you know what you’re in for. If my struggles can make the road a bit smoother for you, then it’ll all be worth it. If anything isn’t completely accurate, feel free to correct me in the comments. (Note: This post is US-specific – I have no idea what the visa process entails for countries outside of the US.)
1. Identify the type of visa that you need.
The first thing you need to figure out after choosing to study abroad is what kind of visa you want. How long will you be studying in your host country? My program is one semester, so I needed to get a short-term visa. For Spain and other countries in the Schengan territories (check out a list of all the countries here) any program less than 90 days may not require a visa if you have a valid US passport, but always check with the country first. For students at Northern Arizona University studying in Spain, a visa is not required for less than 90 days. For one semester (between 90 days and 180 days), Spain requires a short-term visa, and for a year (longer than 180 days), a long-term visa.
For a short-term visa, there’s a laundry list of things you need for your visa appointment. This is assuming that your consulate requires an in-person appointment; though some may not. It all depends. You might be able to get your visa through the mail, but that seems to be more common for tourism visas if you’re simply visiting a country that requires one of these for leisure and not for school. But, I’m going to continue under the assumption that you are preparing to go in person.
2. Identify your designated consulate and make an appointment.
Make the appointment way in advance, because spots tend to fill up quickly. Make sure you’re making the appointment with the correct consulate as well. For Spain, I was directed to go to the Consulate General of Los Angeles based on the address of my permanent residence. I’m not sure why I can’t go to the consulate in Phoenix, Arizona, but that’s just the way it goes I guess. Check on the country’s consulate website to find the one nearest to you.
3. Find a list of the paperwork needed for your visa.
Visa regulations are always changing, so I wouldn’t gather your materials based solely on this list. However, as of right now, this is what my short-term, Spanish visa requires:
- The visa application form.
- One passport photo.
- A valid passport that doesn’t expire within six months of your return to the US.
- A valid ID that proves your permanent residence is within your consulate’s jurisdiction.
- An acceptance letter from the foreign learning institution confirming your participation in a study abroad program.
- Evidence of funds. This one’s a little tricky, and I’d say the easiest way to prove you’re not hella broke is to get a notarized statement from your parents, along with their bank statements. Basically, you need a notarized letter from mom and dad saying “We will support our child’s broke ass while they’re having the time of their life over in Europe/China/Australia/Wherever it is that you’re going” along with three recent bank statements proving that your parents aren’t broke either.
- Proof of medical travel insurance. This should be taken care of by your home university.
- Visa fees. The Spanish visa is $160.
- Prepaid express mail envelope addressed to yourself so that your visa can be shipped back to you.
- A signed disclaimer.
4. Wear out that copier.
Photo copy everything. Just do it. You will need ten million copies and that won’t even be enough. Photocopy your passport, your ID card, every letter you receive, photocopy your face so the workers at the consulate can see how much you cried over this visa, I don’t care. Just photocopy everything and then photocopy it all over again.
The long-term visa process is similar to the short-term visa process, just with a few extra steps. I know for a long-term visas you need to get a physical from your doctor confirming that you’re in a good health, and you also have to complete an apostilled FBI background check which is usually completed by a third party service for a fee, of course. But, I don’t have to worry about that, so I can’t give you much information.
This is really all the tips I can give you guys right now, seeing as I haven’t successfully gotten my visa yet. My appointment is soon, though, so I’ll be sure to give an update on how my appointment went!
Have a lovely weekend,