I had fun in my last few days in Granada attending one last TENGO gathering and having dinner with friends who helped me learn the city and its ways, but when I was not with them I was in a glum mood. I left the US both voluntarily and intentionally. I was surprised at how quickly after arriving in Granada that I made many friends and settled in to a very comfortable rhythm of daily life. Now I had to leave, so as not to be an illegal immigrant, and return to the US.
My original, announced plan had been to decamp for Ireland for the summer with a side trip to Scotland. I was in Ireland nearly 30 years ago and I have never been in the UK so this plan appealed to me. Ireland and Scotland in August sounded much more appealing than the 50°C weather in Granada.
“Why don’t you just go back to the US and get your residency visa?” This assault of logic from a good friend hurt me deeply because a) she was irrefutably correct, and b) I hadn’t thought of it. I was abroad, happily, and didn’t want that to end. End of thought process.
The fact was that I had already completed all the steps for the visa application that could be completed from Spain. We had proven to my satisfaction that there was no way to get the visa in Madrid or the foreigners’ office in Granada, so I had to go back eventually. Might as well be sooner rather than later.
So I spent my last days of this exploratory trip cleaning my apartment and making plans to shut it up for an unknown number of months until I could return. Insert curmudgeon sounds here.
So now I am back in Tennessee, homeless, jobless, carless. I think I can get all the remaining documents on the application checklist in the next two weeks. Then I have to get about thirty pages of financial records, medical documents and US government documents translated into Spanish (the third most expensive part of the application process after airfare and hotels) and hand deliver the stack of papers to the Consulate in Houston, Texas. There is only one problem.
The Consulate web site states that their next available appointment is more than two months hence. Picture me petulantly stomping my foot and whining, “But I’m ready to go now.”
So I am back home [well, not my home, but the home of my very kind aunt who let me crash at her home for months], happy to see friends and family but chomping at the bit to get out of here as quickly as outside forces will allow.
I’m going to describe the steps I am going through to complete the application package just in case it is ever of use to another US citizen who wants to reside legally in Spain. This is not my altruistic idea, but is a suggestion from my friend Kay, who shared her ordeal getting residency last year and thereby saved me from numerous false starts and lost time.
While in Spain for my 90 day tourist test drive, I rented an apartment. The lease is in Spanish with the Junta de Andalucia recordation stamp so no translation was needed. Time to complete: weeks until I was introduced to a realtor. One day later I had committed to an apartment and a few days after that we signed the lease.
I got my N.I.E. (Numero de Identidad de Extranjero). A N.I.E. is similar to a US Social Security Number. This is my national identification number. Not a required element for the application, but hopefully bonus points for obtaining it early. Time to complete: two and one half days of walking around to get the preliminary number. A couple of weeks after that to receive the official letter.
Two sets of passport photos. This is a trivial item and could have been done in the US but while we were walking around trying to get my N.I.E., we saw a sign that said, in Spanish, Passport Photos. We popped in and ten minutes and less than 10 euros later this item was checked off. Time to complete: fifteen minutes. [For some unknown fortuitous reason I got a couple of extra sets. See later why this saved both time and money.]
Health insurance was a looming worry for me. Everything I had found online was exorbitantly expensive. I was walking down Camino de Ronda with my friend and traductora Kay one day looking for a restaurant when we passed by an Adeslas office. On a whim we popped in to ask questions and get a brochure. Twenty minutes later I walked out with a completed application and a policy that was time-delayed until August. This was a big item checked off. Time to complete: twenty minutes with someone translating on my behalf.
My criminal background check was easier to obtain than I expected. I ordered it on line on the weekend while still recovering from jumping seven time zones. It should arrive within the week. I then have to go to the County Clerk’s office, where the document was issued and notarized, to get the County Clerk to certify that the notary is, in fact, a valid and current notary, and then take that document to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office to get the Hague Apostille. Physically hauling the document to government offices was completed in the same day. Time to complete: fifteen minutes to find the site and fill in the application. One week for the physical document to arrive by mail. One day of ride share travel around Nashville.
Why I want to live in Spain essay and translated into Spanish. Time to complete: thirty minutes to write and rewrite. A few days for this and other documents to be translated.
Copy of Tennessee driver’s license to establish my state of residency and thus which Consulate has jurisdiction and translated into Spanish.
Authorization form M790 C052. Time to complete: 30 minutes mostly in translation. Other form numbers were required but were the same data in the same sequence.
Medical letter and certified translation into Spanish. Time to complete: A couple of days of Google map searching and phone calls to find someone who knew the international standard and one day to go to my appointment. They handed me the signed document on the spot. Then it had to be translated and notarized with all the other documents. Make sure up front that your chosen doctor will write the letter from the template. If they want to show how smart they are and free-style the letter, it will get rejected. Find a doctor who will, if their exam supports it, sign the form letter exactly as presented. Original signature is required.
Brokerage statements, notarized and translated into Spanish. Time to complete: zero. My broker took care of this for me other than the translation part. This was, however, the majority of the pages that required certified translation. Mucho dineros.
Translation took me a day or so to find the American Translators’ Association website (http://www.atanet.org/). I selected one in my town so I didn’t have to wait on a delivery service. After that the task was completed and handed over to me in less than one week. I think I got lucky so you may want to allow more time. It is critical that you find a certified translator, otherwise the Consulate may not accept their work.
My appointment at the Consulate is now scheduled for 15 August, 9:30am. The web site says it will be 15 minutes but I spent over an hour being called back up to the window to answer questions and clarify data. I was happy to do it in person rather than being summoned back to Houston at a later date.
Five weeks later the Consulate notified me that my visa was approved and asked when, at least one week from now, would you like to appear back in Houston to fetch your passport?
I was there on the first day they could have it ready and had an outbound flight to Málaga booked for the following day. This time I knew to go through Lisbon instead of Frankfurt, cutting many hours off the trip. The brass ring:
Fast forward to November. I’ve been back for one month and now have a letter in hand saying a) that I am a legal resident foreigner in Spain and b) please come back in twenty days to collect your resident card.
Good news; bad news. They said yes, but the physical card is a prerequisite for my desired bank to open an account for a US citizen (thank you Treasury Department). The bank account is a prerequisite for getting the utilities for my apartment transferred into my name. Pro-tip for those following in my footsteps: find a landlord as cool as mine. He’s paying my utility bills and accepting that I will reimburse him soon. He’s a lawyer and has been seen laying on my floor rewiring electrical outlets for me. Oh, and he commutes on a motorcycle. Yeah, definitely look for a cool landlord.
When I went to Houston to collect my approved application they said, we have affixed our stamp on all these pages. Take this to the Oficina de Extranjeros and they will issue your resident card. Cool! That sounds easy. I went to the OdX one afternoon and discovered that on the first trip they simply tell you that you need an appointment and the next one available is in two weeks (all the college students arrived just before I did.)
I went back on a whim early one morning in case someone didn’t show up for their appointment and got lucky. Only waited about an hour and got in to see the decision lady. She was very polite while explaining to me what required documents that I failed to bring with me – two more passport photos, an application form just like three previous versions, yet another photocopy of my entire passport, this one showing the visa from the Consulate and my entry stamp, no earlier than the visa first allowed entry date, and the receipts from the Consulate proving I paid my fees. These were not mentioned anywhere on line nor by the Houston Consulate. Apparently the only way to learn what you need to bring is to show up without them and be sent away.
I went back yet again without an appointment and slipped in to see the same decision lady and showed her her own handwriting of the missing required items. I handed them over and, miracle of miracles, she handed me a letter of approval. Then she said come back in twenty days to collect your residency card. I didn’t want to push my luck by asking if that was calendar days or business days, partly because I don’t know the bazillion local holidays so I have no idea how to count business days.
So now I’m into home-making like I haven’t done since my 20s. Buying basic household stuff that I have in storage back home, sauce pans, flatware, cotton towels, glasses that hold more than two ounces. Hopefully by New Year’s I will have all the legalities completed and can finally start traveling. When I was home waiting for my visa appointment everyone asked where all I had visited and they were uniformly mystified when I said, “Nowhere. I was doing legal paperwork the whole time.” I now have a couple of continents to catch up on. I need to get a good start before the tourists return.
Did I mention that my local weather radar is cooler than I’m used to? I’m at that black dot just above the word Málaga. That is Rome off on the far eastern edge of the map and that big landmass in the south? That is Africa, a whopping 130 miles from my doorstep, about the same distance that Little Rock is from Memphis. I have to go now and start planing some trips.