Visas and Citizenship
I'm not an attorney, and I don't play one on tv. These are the steps that I've either taken or know that I will have to complete to obtain my long-term visa and my citizenship paperwork so that we can live abroad. If you are interested in the process, I encourage you to do your own research (Step 1) and consult an attorney.
Step 1: Research!
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation,
hard work, and learning from failure.
I was fortunate as I knew where our journey had to end and could work backward from that point. The requirements for citizenship were laid out, and all I had to do was collect the paperwork and pass the requisite tests. Once filed, the Spanish government has 1 year to approve applications for citizenship.
What became apparent as September approached was that we were not going to get our citizenship paperwork filed a year before the 2018-19 school year began. Thus, we added in applying for long-term visas to bridge the timing gap. That process has not been quite as clear, though much of the paperwork overlaps.
It cannot be stated enough that finding out exactly what is needed at the beginning of the process, whether for visas or citizenship, makes it much easier to prepare and manage the application process.
We've had some hiccups, most notably with out-of-state translations, that were frustrating. Fortunately, we didn't lose much time or money and only had to spend a little extra effort in getting that sorted out.
Step 2: Order Copies of Official Documents
Here we ordered 2 copies of birth certificates for each member of our family and two copies of our marriage license.
Chris was born in one state, I was born in another, and we were married in a third. You will need to look online for each state's requirements for obtaining copies of necessary documents.
Also, if you have been divorced or had your name changed for any reason, you will need copies of these documents as well.
Plan on document gathering taking about a month, if all documents are being gathered from one of the 50 states.
Step 3: Submit Fingerprints for Background Checks
Depending upon whether you are applying for a long-term visa or citizenship, you will need to submit your fingerprints for a background check to state and/or federal bureaus of investigation.
For our long-term visas, we can opt for either our GBI or FBI check. For citizenship, we must submit both reports.
Due to the nature of background checks, these reports are only useful for 6 months from the time that they're issued, so you should be as far along in the process as you can be before submitting your fingerprints for your check. Otherwise, you'll have to have them redone, retranslated and reapostilled when you file your documents.
Step 4: Have Documents Translated into Spanish
All documents that are submitted for visas or citizenship petitions to Spain must be translated into Spanish by a licensed translator and notarized as true translations.
I recommend using a licensed translator that is located in the same state where you currently reside. The reasons for this will become clear in step 4.
Depending upon your translator, how backed up they are, and how many documents you send, this could take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks.
Step 5: Obtain Apostilles for all Required Documents
An apostille (ah-poe-STEEL) verifies the authenticity of the notarization or State Seal for international use. This is needed for all documents submitted to Hague Convention countries.
As I suggested above, you should try to get your translations completed in your home state. This is because ONLY THE SECRETARY OF STATE WHERE THE DOCUMENTS ARE NOTARIZED CAN APOSTILLE DOCUMENTS FOR THAT STATE. If you use an online translation service, you will have to send your translated documents back out to the state where translated and notarized for the apostille.
We used one service for 8 of our documents and then had to get them to Florida since that is where the translation was notarized. We ended up taking a day trip to Tallahassee from Atlanta since all the documents were notarized in Florida. I believe that it was $10/document for the apostille. If we chose to use a service to walk the documents through the apostille, it would have been $100/document.
A word of advice from someone that learned the hard way, contact the Secretary of State in your home state to find a licensed translator that can provide notarized translation documents so that you don't have to travel.
Each state sets its own apostille rates. In Georgia, it costs $3.00 per document and you can walk in and out with your documents, typically in less than an hour. In New Jersey, it is $25.00 for a 20-day turn-around. If you need the documents faster, there is a $40.00 fee for turn-around in 8 hours, $500 premium for 2-hour turn-around, or $1,000 for a 1-hour turn-around. The fees for expediting are per document.
In the US, you can type your state name and "apostille" and the instructions for obtaining an apostille in your state should come up.
Step 6 (Visa): File Documents for Visa Application
Depending upon your home state, any needs that you have with a foreign government are mapped to a regional consulate. For the southeast, Miami is regional office of the Spanish Embassy where we will need to file our visa documents.
We had been advised to set appointments online with the consulate for our visa applications. When we went to schedule those appointments, there was a note on the scheduling page that said after January 1st, 2018, no appointment is required for visa application.
Step 6 (Citizenship): Pass the DELE A2 & CCSE
As I mentioned in my Next Steps post, to earn citizenship in Spain, you have to pass a Spanish language exam (DELE A2) and a separate civics and sociocultural exam (CCSE) given by the Cervantes Institute (it's actually el Instituto Cervantes) which is founded by the government of Spain.
There are 4 parts of the DELE: reading comprehension, written expression and interaction, listening comprehension and oral expression and interaction. Fortunately, the test is pass/fail.
The CCSE is 25 questions and to pass you need to answer 15 correctly. The test is broken out into 60% government/law/citizenship and the remaining 40% tests your knowledge of Spanish culture, history & society.
Depending upon your knowledge of the language, this could take no time or it can be months of work and effort. I fall into the latter category and have spent several months taking online lessons to learn the language. While I'm proud of my progress, I realize that I still have much studying before I will pass the DELE A2.
Step 7 (Citizenship): File Documents for Citizenship
Based on my path to citizenship, I am able to file electronically through the Spanish Ministry of
Unlike filing for a visa, which can be completed at your regional Spanish consulate, filing for citizenship must be completed in Spain. Justice website. All documents including the apostilles, translations, copies of passport pages, etc. are uploaded and filed through the website. After a short review to make sure that the documents are all there, you need to meet with an attorney for the Ministry of Justice to sign an affidavit. I assume that this is verifying that the documents are true to the best of your knowledge. After the affidavit is signed, the application is officially in review. It is at this point that the 1-year clock for approval begins.
Given my cursory understanding of the language, we will hire an attorney when it is time to file.