The Chance to Live in Madrid

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.

City of Madrid

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.

Our VISA Application Instructions – one in Japanese the other in Spanish

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.

Some of the many Documents we sent to Spain

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.

Sample Spain VISA – What we waited so long for

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. 🙂


Back in Business

Happy News!  We are now fully capable of traveling again.

Our first order of business upon returning to Japan was to get new passports.  Even though they were not going to expire, we were both about to run out of pages.  The standard passport the US government normally issues has no where near enough pages to last 10 years, so our choice was to ‘add more pages’ or ‘get a new passport’.  For a mere $30 difference, we opted to get new passports (this time with 52 pages instead of 28, which, by the way, is the same price).  Also given the strength of the yen, it felt like we were getting them at a 25% discount.

The whole process ended up being incredibly easy and miraculously FAST (especially considering it involved both US and Japanese government agencies).  All I had to do was call the US Consulate and make an appointment to drop off our completed applications (I could have mailed them, but I just didn’t like the idea of putting our passports in the mail).  I arrived at the Consulate building about 10 minutes before the assigned time.  I had to go through an XRAY machine, buzzer locked doors, and wait in a jail like room until exactly 2pm.  They told me it would take about 3 weeks, maybe sooner, since it was a slow time of year.  I passed the necessary documents and payment through a small window and was on my way.  To my delight our new passports arrived at the school 10 days later.  It was like I had gotten express-service for free!

However, after checking our new passports out, I was pretty sure we weren’t quite done since all our ‘important’ Japanese documents were still in our old (and no longer valid) passport.  After some failed inquiries to our business office, Chieko came to my rescue and was kind enough to call the immigration office to find out what we needed to do.  It turns out we had to go back to the Ward office ASAP and inform them, since our Alien Registration card now had old information on it.  We thought they’d have to issue us new cards, but the 10 minute procedure simply meant filling out a form and having the new information written on the back.  The only other thing we had to do was to go back down to the Immigration office at the airport and get our ‘important’ documents transferred into our new passport.  We filled out another form and about 30 minutes later we were done.  Amazingly, neither the Ward Office or Immigration Office charged us for the services.

We are quite excited we have 9 years before we need to worry about our Passports again, and that we have a LOT of pages to fill!

Old Passport – New Passport

Still Getting Settled: Another Busy Day

We’ve been here for 15 days now, and we are still running around trying to get the basics setup.  I’m so glad we took over a departing teachers place and didn’t have to start totally from scratch – my head spins at the thought of that scenario.

Today it was my turn to go the immigration office to get my Spousal Work Visa.  Nathan, who also will be helping with the library was able to come in today, and hold down the fort, so I could get away.  I actually met up with Ashley, another “trailer” (that’s what everyone affectionately calls us spouses that came with a teacher), and we both went to get our work stickers.  It was easy and pretty uneventful actually.  We hopped on the subway train marked ‘Airport’, and took it until it stopped and everyone got off.  Ashley was great at spotting the little ‘Immigration’ signs in the airport, and we followed those for about 1/2 mile to the other end of the terminal.  After waiting about 20 minutes, they called our number, and five minutes later, we were legally allowed to work in the country!  I was back at the school by 11:30.

Finally got our cell phones

We also got our cell phones today!  We were suppose to pick them up right after school, but due to a schedule mix-up, we didn’t get them until 8pm.  Katie & Matt (another teacher and her trailer)  had to wait as well.  Fortunately, we had enough beer at our house to keep all of us entertained while we waited for the office staff to take us.  Call us crazy, but we chose a pretty basic model.  This country probably has the most advanced cell phones in the world, and all we really wanted was a device that could make a phone call. 🙂

Finally, our furniture is suppose to be delivered on Wednesday between 2:00 and 4:00.  I’m really hoping they will be able to get our queen bed up our narrow, winding stairwell, because the thrill of sleeping on a futon is all but gone.

Registration/Startup in Fukuoka

Today was registration day. Here is a list of the things we got done today:

  1. Signature Stamp (Hanko): Got my “signature stamp”. This is cool…and fun to use. It is a little stamp that is part of my official signature. All documents have my stamp on them. See the picture of my stamp below. NOTE: It is fun to start stamping things!
  2. Register at the Ward Office: Basically, this lets the local government know I am there and starts the process of getting my identification card – which I need for basically all financial transactions. I have a temporary card now and will get my official card in early September.
  3. Bank Account: With signature stamp and temporary registration in-hand I was able to get my bank account setup at Fukuoka Bank. The setup includes automatic deposit (I get my first pay check on Friday), ATM card and bank book (like the savings account book I had as a kid). This step was a prerequisite for getting my internet service setup – and all other financial transactions.
  4. Internet Setup: Met with internet provider (J-com) to review service options. Decided to go with the high-end service…don’t choke…download at 160 Mbps and upload at 10 Mbps. This is approximately 50 times faster than the service I had in the US. It will get turned-on Friday – I can’t wait!

Signature Stamp

It was a very busy day. My only recommendation to the Japanese powers that be – get rid of all the paper and make it electronic! It would really speed-up the process…although the process as is was sort of fun (thanks to all the help we got from Kumi and Cheko from FIS).