Ever since our interview was published on Market Watch, we have received many inquiries. Most are about our visa status and how we managed to live in Spain as residents. So, I thought I’d explain how we obtained it.
There are 10 Spanish Consulates across the US – Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. The Houston consulate covers 8 states – Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Because we lived in Dallas, we had to submit our application to Houston.
We applied for a non-lucrative visa – a long-term temporary residence visa that allows us to reside in Spain longer than 90 days but less than five years. We are not authorized to do in-person work under this visa (online work is permissible), but were required to prove that we had sufficient means for living.
After extensive effort and paperwork, we were approved residency in Spain for one year. We can renew it twice – each time for two years. After those five years, we can apply for permanent residency if we meet all other requirements.
Important note: This information is based on Spain’s Houston consulate only. Each consulate has a different set of requirements. I know it doesn’t make sense but keep in mind this is Spain.
From talking to other American expats who applied at other locations, Houston has similar requirements to other locations, but one thing that is different and proved to be a more difficult requirement (at the time of our application) was that Houston required a one-year lease or property purchase as a part of applications. I can honestly say it was quite a challenge to get a one-year lease while we still lived in the US. NOTE: This requirement seems to have been changed (see below).
1) Non-Lucrative Residence Visa requirements can be found here
2) You can also find more information through this site. You will have to scroll down to Long-Term Visa (over 90 days) section, look for Residence Visa and Non-Lucrative Visa.
How we tackled the application process
Based on the requirements from Houston office, I put together a spreadsheet to organize or group similar documents.
There are 3 main sets of documents. These documents need to be issued less than 90 days from the time one files them.
Group 1: Official documents that need to be obtained and then be authenticated with the Apostille (authenticating endorsement, like notarizing) of the Hague, plus have a certified translation into Spanish.
- Marriage Certificate, not older than 3 months. This was one of the easiest ones to get. It took one thirty minute visit to my county records office.
- Police Criminal Record Clearance. This can be an original clearance letter from the Department of State (if you have lived more than five years in the same state) or FBI. The information on background checks is also available here and, for Texas, here. It took us about 7-10 days to get the results in the mail.
I have heard that to get the FBI background check will take longer time, but we didn’t go through that process. For us, getting our criminal background check from the Department of State was the easier and faster route.
Group 2: Documents that need to be obtained and then certified translated into Spanish.
- Proof of sufficient funds. At the time of our application, we needed about 32k euros in savings or checking. Because the cost of certified translator is expensive (it was at least $20 a page), we only had a two-page summary of saving accounts translated for the prior three months for a total of six pages. It was accepted with no issue. I also emailed the consulate beforehand to ensure that was acceptable to them.
- Medical Certificate. Please note that a doctor’s statement has to be signed by an M.D. (not a PA or nurse). Luckily, I had emailed the consulate a copy of our medical certificate, signed by a nurse, ahead of time and was informed that it was not acceptable.
- Proof of Spanish health insurance. The health insurance has to be no copay with no deductible and coverage for one-year. The good news is that such insurance is inexpensive by American standards. We found that most health insurance from Spain required us to have a Spanish bank account. Sanitas does not, and they accept an ACH or wire transfer. They also have a quite reasonable premium (it was 180 euros per month for both of us) and good coverage. Be aware that, while many insurers will tell you they have many English-speaking agents and doctors enrolled, this is true for bigger cities like Madrid or Barcelona, but may not be true for smaller cities.
- Letter to explain why we are requesting this visa, place and length of stay and any other reasons for the move.
Group 3: Other documents that don’t require certified translation.
- National visa application form (EX-01) plus fee (at the time we applied, it was $140).
- An original passport valid for at least one year. The consulate will KEEP the passport upon submission and will send it back when the process is done. You have to have at least one blank page to affix the visa.
- ID – Driver License or US State ID.
- 2 recent passport-sized photos with white background.
- House property or leasing contract in Spain for one year in Spanish. NOTE: Since our application, this requirement has changed slightly. You can submit a one-year lease contract or house property OR you can provide a voluntary affidavit signed under a Notary Public by your friends or family indicating that you will be residing with them and specify the exact dates.
- Authorization form M790 C052 plus fee.
So other Important notes:
You have to submit original documents plus a copy.
Believe me, they will look for the ORIGINAL document and will not accept it if they think it is not an original document. We had a close call when they questioned the originality of my medical certificates by trying to smear the signature. It turned out we mixed up the original with an extra copy and were able to give them the original.
You need to submit the application in person. Each person has to get an appointment for his/her own application. For example, for a family of four, you need to get four appointments. The appointment is booked 2-3 months in advance. I would suggest first scheduling appointments for each family member because you may have to schedule them months in advance, then work on getting the paperwork together. We made a mistake when we only scheduled one appointment. I had to keep checking the appointment site every 2-3 hours for a cancellation. Luckily there was one the next day and we drove back to Houston at 5 AM in the morning to submit our second application at noon.
How we got the one-year lease while living in Dallas? I emailed several Airbnb and VRBO apartments to ask if they were open to rent to us for one year. I think I might have emailed about 20-30, and only 2 of them responded back. We then scheduled a family trip to Granada and used that opportunity to look at the properties and meet the owners.
Each Spanish consulate in the United States operates a little differently and you must check the requirements based on your consulate. For example, some consulates require an appointment while some other consulates take walk-in.
For Houston Consulate, even though, they were not friendly in person and they would not not answer the phone, they were very responsive to my questions through emails. I would suggest if you need to reach them to ask questions, try different ways to contact them. If they don’t answer the phone, try email or vice versa.
One final note is to please check the requirements for yourself on the consulate site as the requirements may change. For those who are looking to do what we did, I won’t lie. The task is daunting but I guarantee it’s all worth it!