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An American in Andalusia: A Legal Residency Saga

As most of you know, I currently live in Andalusia, in southern Spain.  What I’ve never really written that much about was the paperwork hoops we had to jump through in order to become legal residents.  If you are an American and you want to move to Spain, you will need to do some (or all) of this, depending on what type of visa you are applying for.

Oh, yes, you need a visa to spend more than 90 days in Spain.  And for those seasoned travelers out there, no, it’s not like in the UK where you get 6 months as a tourist, and then can leave the country for a weekend, and pop back in for another 6 months.  Oh no, as part of the Shengen Agreement, people who enter Europe (any country in the Shengen area, which is most of Europe) may only stay for 90 days out of 180.  So that means you get about 3 months out of 6.  No staying for 3 months, then popping over to Morocco for a weekend, and then coming back in.  Nope, you have to leave for another full 3 months before coming back in.

So what if you want to travel or live in Spain for longer than 3 months at a time?  You need a visa.  Here are the steps we took to get our Non Lucrative Visas (ie we aren’t working in Spain, so it’s not a work permit.  We’re just living there).

First, you need to know that it’s incredibly difficult.  Spain has high unemployment, and they are wary of non-Europeans potentially taking jobs.  They also have universal health care, and so they worry about people coming in to take advantage of their health system.  So prepare yourself for a bureaucratic paperchase.

A couple of points to remember to start with:

– none of your documents can be any older than 90 days.  So as you collect things and make your appointments, keep that window in mind.

– You have to do this all in person at your local consulate.  No, you may not enter Spain on a tourist visa, and then switch when you’re there.  You have to do this in the US.  Our local consulate was in Los Angeles.  Yours might be in a different state.  Keep this in mind as you are planning your documents and your travel.

– All your documents have to be translated into Spanish by a certified translator.

– You need two copies of each document for each person applying.

– Many of these documents need to be stamped from the Apostille which is like a fancy Notary Public that seems to be recognized in Europe.  I had to get our documents Apostilled in Los Angeles.

Here is a list of what you will need to gather:

  • paperwork showing your bank statements and the money you have access to, both in terms of credit cards and savings.  You need to show you can support yourself.  For us, that was three months worth of bank statements from several accounts and proof that we had a renter for our house in the US.
  • travel insurance.  Now here’s a snag in the system.  You can get travel insurance easily enough that will fit their requirements (covers 100% of medical expenses, no reimbursements, etc).  When you search, you will need to find a place that meets Shengen visa requirements.  Travel insurance companies know how to do this, and give you a letter.  The thing is, if you’re living in Spain, you’re going to want more than just travel insurance.  You’re going to want good health insurance that covers primary care, prescriptions, etc.  Not just emergency repatriation.Our health insurance, through Sanitas, is some of the best around.  But it didn’t meet the Shengen visa requirements of needing 100% coverage, because we had some co-pays.  While we were in the Embassy going through paperwork with them, we noticed several other people in our predicament – they had really good health insurance, but it didn’t meet the requirements of the travel insurance.  The way around this is to get the cheap travel insurance as well as the good health insurance.  The travel insurance policy was $600 for the year for three of us.  You can consider it an entry fee.
  • A letter from your doctor stating that you don’t have any communicable diseases.  You can get the exact wording that your consulate will want from their office.
  • A statement of why you want to live in Spain (not required, but really helpful)
  • Passport sized photos for each applicant
  • Original passports for each person – photocopy of each page, including empty pages.
  • Application for each person
  • A State Police Background Check for each person.  We needed to get our fingerprints and then have them sent to the FBI for our documents stating that we weren’t criminals. – This also needed to be Apostilled.
  • Birth Certificate for Hannah – Apostilled
  • Marriage Certificate for J and I – Apostilled
  • Proof that you have a place to live – for us, this was being on a rental agreement.
  • Form EX-01 (Non Lucrative Residency Application)
  • Form 790 – Application for initial residency.
  • You need to book your appointment.  Most Consulates have online appointment booking.  You will need to schedule a separate appointment for each person.

All of this is translated into Spanish – don’t forget that!

The Way the Appointment Goes

We were turned down our first try, which was a huge headache because of the 90 day window for our documents. The translated versions of our bank statements (yes, translated bank statements – for three months) were expiring, as were the medical certificates and background checks which we had gathered early on in the process.  I also needed to get a fresh copy of our marriage certificate and Hannah’s birth certificate.

The reason we were turned down the first time was because of our health insurance, as I talked about previously.  We had good health insurance, but it had deductibles.  That’s a huge no-no.  We also didn’t have all our financial ducks in a row.

Each appointment slot is 15 minutes.  We scheduled our three back to back.  During those 15 minutes I basically talked to a “screener” who made sure my paperwork was in order.  Then he sent it back to the people in the Back Room who decided whether it would be approved or not, and came out to talk to us about why.

After our initial appointment, when we were so confident that we had everything in order, we were crushed at how it worked out, and all the work we would need to put in re-gathering our paperwork.  So after that, we did a dry run.  I went just with my paperwork a week in advance, and made sure everything was in order before we all came back as a family.  Again we had an insurance hiccup, so I’m glad I did it.  We had a week before our second appointments to get everything in order.

When we went back as a family the second time, our paperwork was accepted right away.  Then it took about an hour or so before they came out to tell us we were approved.  After that, we had our pictures taken, and they took all our documents to send in for processing.  Yes, I just said they took our documents.  Including our passports.  My hubby was actually going to be leaving for Spain the next week, which was obviously not going to happen.  Giving up our passports was so so hard for me.  I mean, they’re our passports!  And I’m giving it over to some Spanish person I’ve never even met?

But we gave them our passports, and waited for about four more weeks until we got the call that they were processed and ready.  We went back to Los Angeles to pick everything up – again, another trip to the consulate if you’re keeping track.  That appointment was easy – we just went in, said we were there to pick up our visas, and we got our passports back with the visas already pasted in.


Once you’re in Spain

So the next snag is once you’re in Spain.  Oh no, the fun still isn’t over.  You’d think after going through all that you’d be set.  But nope.  Now you need to get your residency card.

You enter Spain and get a regular stamp.  Once you’re there you have 30 days to go to the police station and apply for your residency card.

You need to fill out more forms.  Prove you’re really living where you say you’re living.  In our case this meant going to the local government building where they looked up property records and made sure that the signatory on our lease was really the person who owned the house.  Then they gave us papers showing that we were indeed living there.

We had to show a copy of Hannah’s birth certificate again, so they could ensure that we hadn’t kidnapped her and brought her to Spain.

We needed more photos taken, and more fingerprinting done.

We spent the first few weeks of our residency in Spain running around to government buildings gathering the data they needed, going to the police station to fill out forms, and generally being annoyed (at least I was – hubby thought it was amusing).  Eventually, though, we had everything complete.  They took the paperwork, and then about 45 days later, we had our official residency card.  Again, we needed to pick it up in person.

So, I know this was really long, and convoluted.  But, sort of like Hannah’s birth story, I know I’m going to forget it eventually, and I wanted to get it all down.  Because I know that reading stories like this helped immensely when we were going through the process.

Are you moving to Spain?  Have you moved there and experienced the paperwork headache as well?  Tell me in the comments!