As noted in our previous post, there was a long pause in our blog due to a life changing event. That life changing event was the the opportunity to live in Spain. Robert received a job offer in January to work at a school in Madrid and we just couldn’t pass that up. Had we known what that would entail, we might have stayed in Japan. However, I can now happily say, it was all worth it.
The whole process to obtain our Spain VISAs was incredibly stressful, slow, and inefficient. It disrupted our lives like nothing else we have ever experienced. We’ve lived in 4 other countries and none of them made it anywhere near this difficult to live there. We started the VISA process on the 24th of January and we finally had both VISAs on September 25th. It took 8 months for us just to get our VISAs. By the time we both get our residence cards it will have been almost a year! When we moved to Japan, the whole process took less than 2 months and required maybe an hour of our time. Kudos to Japan!
In a nutshell, we were each given a list of 14-15 different things we had to do BEFORE submitting our application to Spain. We had to get criminal background checks from both the USA and Japan, we had to get certificates of health, and we had to prove we had health insurance. We also had to prove we were married, that Robert had a job in Spain, and that we had sufficient income for both of us to live there. All these documents couldn’t be more than 3 months old when we submitted them with our application. The school in Madrid had warned us that it would take 7-8 months. If everything went perfectly, Robert would barely get his VISA before the next school year started. If we made one mistake along the way, we’d have to start all over and Spain would not have happened. On top of all that, what made this process even more difficult and stressful was that the governments we were dealing with primarily communicated in either Japanese or Spanish (of which we know neither ) and, in the case of the USA, it was a 17 hour flight away which made it impractical for us to deal with directly (so we had to ask family to help us). Working with these three different governments was truly an eye-opener. Japan is light years ahead of the USA and Spain when it comes to government processes.
The background check for Japan was easy. It required us a visit to the police station, pay $5 dollars, and get a 20 second electronic finger print scan. They had the official report ready for us within 10 days. The background check for the USA took 3 months and cost $50. It required getting a set of fingerprints done the archaic way where you “roll each finger in ink and place on a card”. Do you know how hard it is to find someone in Japan that still knows how to ‘roll fingerprints’? Surprisingly, US Embassies don’t provide this service and the closest US military base to us was 2 hours away. Fortunately, the office staff found someone in the Prefecture Police Department that still knew how to do it. The finger prints had to be perfect, if they weren’t, we’d have to start the process all over….so we had 3 sets of fingerprints done – just to be safe. We mailed them to the FBI in Washington DC on Feb 1st. Ten weeks later, they sent the reports to Robert’s mom. She then had to mail them back to Washington DC so the State Department could give it an Apostile (which is just another document saying the FBI report was real and authentic) which took two more weeks. How inefficient and redundant does that sound? I still can’t believe it took 3 months for the US government to issue non-criminal reports. How sad and embarrassing for them. 🙁
The health check was easy. It merely required a visit to our doctor in Japan who signed a form letter indicating we had good health. The proof of insurance and the proof of work & income involved filling out more forms, making lots of phone calls, and collecting lots of additional paperwork from the new school. It was time consuming and at times very confusing. The proof of marriage required Robert’s mom to go to the court house in Red Lodge to get a recent certified copy of our marriage license which then had to be mailed to Helena to get an Apostile from the State Dept in Montana. She then Fed-ex’d all the US documents we needed to Japan.
Once we had all the required documents together, we had to get them officially translated into Spanish (and then make 3 copies of everything). It was already April and we were running out of time. Fortunately, the translation agency in Tokyo would accept scanned versions of the documents, and they could do an express service for us. Four days later, we flew to Tokyo (which was the closest Spanish Embassy to where we were living) and submitted all these papers and our VISA application. We were told it would take 3-4 months to process the applications… as there is no express service. The applications were sent to Spain for processing. Once approved, we had to return to Tokyo to pick up our VISA. We had no way of tracking our applications. Hopefully everything was right. We later learned that they don’t process family applications together. They do the working applicant first and then they start on the dependents applications.
There was a small chance that Robert’s VISA could possibly be done before July, so we stayed in Japan an extra two weeks in hopes that his VISA would be ready. He got it the day before we left Japan. I was not so lucky, which meant I would have to return to Tokyo from either the US or Spain (depending on when they approved it). Every few weeks we’d email the Embassy in Tokyo to see if they’d heard anything. We were already living in Spain (which was a little risky and presumptuous actually) when I was finally informed my VISA was approved and I had 2 months to pick it up.
Now, this is what confuses me about Spain: Here they are in a depression and instead of enabling people to just pick up their VISAs in Spain (or anywhere close to them) they make us fly all the way back to where we applied. Most people would pay them a LOT of money to avoid that hassle. They could make even more money if they’d just offer an expedited VISA service. Neither of these options would be that hard to implement.
Now, when you get the VISA – it’s not over. Once you arrive in Spain, you have one month to inform them of your permanent address, and then go to the police station to apply for your resident card. Fortunately, the school made this very easy for us. We just had to show up when and where we were told. Their lawyer met us there and we were able to skip ahead of the people waiting in line. The residency card is only valid for one year, so next year we have to apply for a new one. When I went to apply for my card, Robert’s was ready. By December, I should have my card and we both should be official residents of Spain. 🙂