Of consulates, visas, and bureaucracy (a first encounter)

Of consulates, visas, and bureaucracy (a first encounter)

 

Palmer, Ennis, Alma, Rice. “Huh,” I think, “Their first letters spell PEAR.” Such are the kind of inane musings one has looking at the names of small Texas towns between Dallas and Houston…at 5:00 am…for the third time in 2 days (and with one more trip back to go).

Jiab and I are tired, a bit edgy, and annoyed as all heck at a system that is making us drive the 275-mile trip four times while still recovering from jet lag after traveling from Thailand to visit her ailing parents.

The amount of paperwork required to get a visa to move to Spain (and I imagine anywhere else) is voluminous, from criminal background checks to marriage certificates, to showing proof of both health insurance and sufficient  income, to proving one has a place to live (such as a lease) for a country one does not yet have permission to live in!

Adding to that, all documents must be translated by a certified translator into Spanish (and certified translations don’t come cheap!).

Fine. Jiab is good at assembling such packages, and as I had to finish up the school year, she took the lead to craft the package (and used every moment of her free time from retiring a month earlier to get ‘er done). Jiab booked an appointment at the Spanish consulate in Houston, so we happily traveled south from Dallas the first time.

When expectations crash into the reality of bureaucracy

We thought that with all the preparation by the instructions, our 15-minute appointment would be a snap, we could then have a nice lunch, and then drive home.

We arrived at the office on time and, seeing there was a window marked “Visados” with a bell, I rang it. A woman appeared and, clearly irritated, said, “I’ll call you when it’s your turn,” and then walked away. We shrugged and sat. When she called us (with a not-to-pleasant stare), we greeted her with an “Hola!” and presented our papers.

And then it all went off the rails. She asked why we are presenting two applications, one for each of us; It is one appointment, one application. We explained that it is a joint application and, per the instructions,  we were applying as husband and wife. Each application had documents that pertained to the other (I had the explanation of why we wanted a visa in mine; Jiab has the marriage certificate in hers), so they had to go together.

The woman suddenly walked away and an apparent supervisor appeared who then berated us by explaining how much work they have to do and that they will only process one application.

We decided it’s best to submit my application first because my applications had more documents followed by Jiab’s application for our second appointment.

For the second application, we would have to go online and request another appointment to apply again. She also questioned some of the documents, such as why our bank statements were from different banks (in fact, it was the same bank but it changed names, a claim the supervisor was dubious to accept).

Jiab and I were caught off guard. We thought this was going to be set and done; now we were not sure what to do. We hung around the consulate to take a no-show slot and then thought ourselves lucky when they wrapped up their scheduled visa appointments thirty minutes early (ahead of their very Spanish closing time of 1:00 pm). Still, they wouldn’t take us. They made it clear they didn’t want anything more to do with us.

But wait!, there’s more (and not in a good, “we’ll throw this into the deal” way)!

And then the final blow. We checked the online scheduler, and the next available appointment was not until September 6, two and a half months away and AFTER we were supposed to take residency of our place in Spain (which one cannot do with a visa).

It was a miserable drive back. It’s raining off and on, Houston traffic is at its usual bump and grind, and we were momentarily lost in a Kafkaesque insanity of visa application.

As the sheets of rain obscured the brake lights of the car in front of us, we used the time in stalled traffic to discuss implications and strategies. Many of the documents were time sensitive; we’d have to reorder them (and the costly translations).

My application was taken, and what if they approved mine quickly? I’d then be under a time limit to move to Spain; do I move ahead of Jiab? What about the apartment? If we waited and did not move in till October, was it better to ask the landlord to delay the lease (and risk angering him to cancel), or do we pay for an apartment and not occupy it for a month (and still risk angering the landlord).

It was all unknowns and undetermined as we limp back into Dallas that evening, tired, with sore necks and backs from the long, rainy drive and the longer prospect of stress.

Whether you planned it or not, own it!

They say luck is preparation meeting opportunity, and I don’t know if that’s true, but wherever it comes from, we’ll take it. Neither of us could sleep that night. I got up at 1:00 am, and coming back from the bathroom, Jiab was looking at her phone. She suddenly jumped. “There’s a cancellation for tomorrow and an open appointment at noon,” she cried. We jumped on it and booked it. We tried to sleep, but the lingering frustration, the anticipation of another haul down to Houston, and the anxiety of whether we would be successful, all made us toss and turn.

At 5:00 am, we set out again. I think I had more coffee than blood in my veins to keep me going. Jiab kept talking to keep me up and going, and somehow, we made it.

Though we had set an appointment as instructed, we were greeted with the same lack of warmth and intense scrutiny we had been afforded the previous day. The supervisor again came up and questioned if some of our documents were originals or photocopies. We said they were just like the ones we had submitted yesterday, which, rather than assuaging her, inspired her to retrieve the previous day’s submission and look at those documents again with suspicion. It was an intensive exchange and we were at our most tired and frustrated.

Having a good partner, however, especially one who knows when to cut in to let the other cool down, got us through. I don’t know if our tag-team exchanges convinced the supervisor our application was sufficient, she took pity upon us, or she just grew tired of us. Finally she took Jiab’s applications.

On the road again…to Spain!

As we drove back, again in the rain and traffic, Jiab succumbed to all the anxiety and adrenaline releasing from her body as she fell asleep. I thought about a Spanish gentleman we met at the consulate who explained how he wanted to marry his American fiancé in Madrid, but that the marriage license application had still not been processed after a year, so they hopped to the States, got married here, and were waiting at the consulate to file the marriage certificate.  He warned us that Spanish bureaucracy was going to be like this and to be ready for many such frustrating encounters.

Rice, Alma, Ennis, Palmer. I thought about the small Texas towns as we passed through them. No doubt there were many retirees in those towns. They didn’t have to put together huge packages of applications, have them translated, be scolded in half-English, half-Spanish for not following directions incompletely laid out in either language, and they didn’t have to drive the same trek four times in two days amidst  traffic and rain, and with little sleep.

Was it all worth it? I have an American short-fuse for bureaucracy; I want my needs addressed now. I knew the Spanish system that awaited me was more laid back, less instantly gratifying. Could I adjust and adapt?  I looked at Jiab, sleeping. I thought of when we first walked around Granada, so taken with it that I kept asking her, “What am I missing?” I thought of our dancing in the town square late at night, of a picture of Jiab I took as we had Sangria and paella next to the Mediterranean, of all the plans we had made about what we would do the next day, and then the next.

I drove home, knowing I would sleep well that night because we were on our way to a great place to be, even if we struggled a bit to get there.  We were headed to the Plus Ultra (The motto of Spain, meaning roughly the greater beyond!).

What is your “greater beyond” that you struggle to achieve? What have been your frustrations in reaching your “greater beyond,” and how did you deal with it? Feel free to comment below.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Of consulates, visas, and bureaucracy (a first encounter)”

  1. It was good to read about the initial application but exactly which application was it? Did you use a service to translate documents, etc? We will have to travel from western Colorado to LA,, California to file our visas so hotels may be part of our cost and we want to get it right the first time (we hope). Insights and suggestions are appreciated.

    • Connie,
      You will need to check the requirements at Spanish consulate based on your area (LA) for non-lucrative visa application. Each location has a different set of requirements.
      For us, we had to fill out National Visa Application form, form EX-01 and Authorization form. In addition, we submitted criminal clearance from Department of State, medical certificate from our doctor, proof of one-year private medical insurance coverage while in Spain, marriage certificate, proof of sufficient funds (the minimum amount required will be posted on their site) and a one-year lease contract in Spain.
      The requirements from Houston on translation (I guess it will be the same in LA) is the documents have to be translated by certified translator. I have heard that some Spanish consulate location supplies you with the list of their approved translator. For Houston consulate, they don’t provide a list. We got a recommendation from an expat who applied and approved in Houston the year before.
      In addition, official documents from the US government have to be authenticated with an apostille issued by the U.S. Department of State.
      I would suggest to look at the LA consulate requirements and get all the documents together one by one.
      Also, if you have a Facebook account, you should join American Expat in Spain group. There may be some expats who applied through LA consulate that can help answer your questions related to LA.
      Feel free to contact us if you have more questions. The application process may seem daunting at first but it is doable. It’s worth it!

    • Thanks, Alexa. I think that the idea of adapting to a “new flow” scares people, until they realize that’s what we’ve all been doing our whole lives, just with work, changing situations in the US, etc., so why not a new adventure in a new land? BTW, we can’t wait to hear your new podcast on retirement!

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