If you plan on studying abroad, you need to make sure that the visa you choose is the correct one. This blog is aimed at Americans looking to study in Spain, and the visa that most fits this profile is the student visa.

The student visa is for foreigners undertaking studies, research, training, student mobility, unpaid work experience, or voluntary work.  This is different from the Schengen visa which is the 90-day tourist visa to travel abroad to Europe.  Once you get a student visa, you can apply for authorization to work up to 20 hours a week as long it doesn’t interfere with the reason that you are applying for the visa (i.e. if you have a visa to study Spanish then you must work outside the time that you would study).

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We have a couple of quick points that you definitely need to know:

  1. It is important to say that you should at all times be in touch with Helen and always check with your consulate as to how to navigate the process of attaining your visa.
  2. The income from working abroad can’t be your only funds for being in the country- it has to be on top of the minimum funds your consulate needs as proof of economic independence (more on this below in Proof of Funds).
  3. The visa application process usually takes around 12 weeks to complete.  For this reason, the visa process should start 3 months before arrival when anticipating a stay of over three months to study. There is no way of hurrying the process along and no emergency services to get your visa.
  4. It is important to stress throughout the process that you are going to be studying, not just working, as your visa relies on your studies, even though it allows you to work. It is best to not mention the word work so as to not confuse the situation. As you are applying for a student visa, it can be a bit of a sensitive subject due to the fact that the application for a work visa is completely different.

Here is our rough guide to getting your student visa in Spain.

Get the national visa document

Click the link above and read the whole document fully so you understand everything that is going to be asked of you and to make sure you collect everything needed to get the application in on time. You need to research the nearest Spanish consulate to you and go to their official site to see what their specific requirements are.

Submit a request for criminal records

Check with the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Office – if this is not helpful, here are some other options instead of solely fingerprinting. After fingerprinting, some police stations will gladly help you send this off, othersmight make you try to find a local office to send them to.  This is the longest partof the process other than actually getting your visa. It can take up to 12 weeks to hear back about your background check so submit this as fast as you can with your name, date, place of birth, official fingerprints and payment.

Payment should be by money order or a certified check.  If you have no criminal record then you will receive a report stating that information. Make sure to check with your consulate whether the criminal background needs to be issued by the FBI or State Police. You will need to get police records for the countries you have lived in for more than 6 months in the last 5 years. If it is issued outside of your home country, it must be duly legalized by your corresponding Spanish Consulate.

Check your passport

Your passport should not be expired and if it is close to its expiration date, make sure that you have enough time to renew it before your appointment.  As a general rule of thumb, you should have 2-3 blank pages available in your passport before going abroad so check this in case you need new pages.

Fill out the visa application form

Have the expected contact information in Spain, for example your postal address is a must. When studying with TtMadrid and LAE Madrid, you can use our address for this. Contact the Spanish Diplomatic Mission for clarification on any points you may need. Discuss the length of the program with your educational centre where you will be studying abroad so everything is correctly filled out on the application. Make sure to check ‘multiple entries’ on the application if you plan to leave the Schengen countries during the year, i.e. go back to visit home. The initial visa granted is only valid for 3 months because once in Spain you will make an appointment to get your Spanish ID for the full year. This is why you can’t get your appointment any earlier than 3 months from departure as it would expire. On the other hand, you shouldn’t cut it close either, we recommend no later than 6 weeks before departure.

Take a photo for the visa application

Make sure you have a photo with a white background and at least 2 additional photocopies.

Proof of insurance

You will need to show that you have insurance that covers you while living in Spain. Once again, it’s very important to clear the exact terms with your specific consulate. We recommend HCC because they are of good value. Click here to download the required medical certificate. Please note that this needs to be dated within 3 months of the appointment.

Proof of Funds

Spanish Consulate student visa in SpainYou need to provide proof that you have enough funds to live off of while studying in Spain, which usually translates to about $1000 a month ($12,000 for a year) but you should check with your consulate. The easiest way to get around this is to have a parent/guardian write a letter along the lines of ‘I hereby certify that I am the (father/mother/other) of (…name…), and will support him/her with a monthly allowance of at least 1000USD while he/she is in Spain and that I am financially responsible for any emergency that may arise’. This must then be signed, dated, and notarized.


Make an appointment and go to the nearest Spanish Diplomatic Mission or Consular Office

Physically turn in the completed application at your appointment with your consulate. Take your completed application, fees (these vary depending on where you go), completed FBI OR STATE criminal records report, proof of acceptance into an academic institution in Spain, passport and a copy of the passport, a photo ID, birth certificate, confirmation letter of insurance bought for the entirety of your stay and a copy of that, proof of residency, proof of funds, and medical certificate.

This is a comprehensive list, not everywhere will require all of these but it is good to have them all just in case. There may be consulates that ask for even more paperwork.

Wait for the notification of acceptance

Typically you will get it sent out within 30 days or less. Your passport is usually sent back via courier with the visa attached to one of the pages inside. If you get news that your visa did not go through, the fees you originally paid to receive your visa are non-refundable.

Before you travel, it is always a good idea to contact the Spanish Embassy to ensure that you have met all of the requirements to travel abroad in Spain. Unfortunately, once you’re abroad, you cannot change your visa to anything other than the intended visa, i.e. a student visa. Only your home country is able to do that. Spain NEVER issue visas for citizens of other countries.  During the entire process it is always a good idea to make copies of everything for your own records.

After everything is done, you are ready to finally get started to go and explore Spain! You’ll be able to begin packing and planning for a year full of study and travel around a country rich in history and culture.  Once here, you need to go to the corresponding police station to get the rest of the paperwork that you need in order to stay longer than three months and then it is time to enjoy your study abroad experience!

As you can see, this process isn’t easy but so worth it to travel and get the experience abroad. Here at TtMadrid we have our resident ‘visa guru’ Helen that helps all our TEFL students with the student visa process – don’t hesitate to email her directly if you have any doubts or questions [email protected]. Don’t know about the TEFL programs we offer yet? Check them out and start planning your Study Abroad adventure in Madrid and beyond.