“So, where is your next destination?” We had barely touched down on U.S. soil when our friends and family began asking us this question. Our minds and hearts were still very much in Ecuador and we loved sharing our stories with anyone who would indulge us by listening. But we knew we also had to ask ourselves the same question and, even more so, we needed to answer it. 

One thing is for sure: it is a great, big, beautiful, interesting world out there and so many places are calling us. That said, we thought we should capitalize on our recent efforts to learn Spanish and stick with a Spanish-speaking country. On our list are a number of South and Central American countries, and of course Spain. We considered Spain last year but were deterred by what we had heard was a long process to get a visa lasting more than 90 days. With more time for advance planning this summer, we set our sights on Spain and began the surprisingly arduous task of applying for a residence visa that would allow for a longer stay. 

How arduous? Let me take you on a deeper dive. First, we spent a good amount of time just investigating options. Spain offers about 30 different kinds of long-term visas, each one serving a different purpose. We settled on the “Non-Lucrative Visa” (NLV), for which a person has to prove that they can support themselves financially for a year with no gainful employment. There is a complex calculation for the amount of liquid assets you must prove you have, which basically works out to about $30,000 per year per person. Since we are retired and have savings and a small teacher’s pension, this seemed like the best fit. As an added benefit, the visa can be extended twice for two years at a time for a total of five years.

Once we made the choice about which visa to get, we started to collect the required documents. There are 12 kinds of documents you need and many of them have to be translated into Spanish by a licensed and certified translator, then notarized or apostilled. “What the heck is an apostille?” you ask. Turns out it is a special kind of internationally recognized notarization that can only be provided by the U.S.Secretary of State or the equivalent in the state of your residence. Go figure. So here is an example of the process for just one of the documents needed from the list of 12:

  1. See your medical doctor and get a check-up.
  2. The doctor has to write a letter on a formal letterhead stating that you are in good health, and “are free of contagious diseases or any other illnesses which could lead to public health repercussions”.
  3. This letter needs to be signed and verified with the doctor’s medical practice number.
  4. Then it needs to be translated by a licensed translator who is approved and certified by the Spanish government. 
  5. And lastly notarized.

The other things you would need in the event that you decide you too would like to live in Spain for a year on a Non-Lucrative Visa:

  1. Twelve months of bank records/social security and/or pension payments showing you have enough money to support yourself.
  2. An FBI or state police criminal background check proving you have no prior criminal history and will not pose a threat to the good people of Spain (translated and apostilled).
  3. Two copies of the visa application form.
  4. 2 passport photos, which are actually slightly smaller than the standard size for a passport application. (I recommend your local AAA office. Some may have the technology.)
  5. Two copies of a different application form (M790-CO052).
  6. A photocopy of your passport.
  7. Proof of residency in your home country/state.
  8. Two money orders to the tune of $140 and $12 per person, non-refundable
  9. Two copies of a third application form (EX-01).
  10. A letter of intent. (Basically “please, oh please let me stay in your beautiful country. I am nice and clean. I promise.”)
  11. And last but not least, proof of a full year of fully paid medical insurance from a private Spanish insurance company that covers all co-pay fees and repatriation to the United States of your mortal remains should you make the grave mistake of dying while in their lovely country. You have to arrange and pay for this in full, not knowing if you will be approved for the visa. Gulp!

Just to make the process extra fun, a 90-day clock starts ticking the moment you get your first document dated. So for example, if you see your doctor on May 1st and get the letter saying you are free of communicable diseases and all, you have until August 29th to get everything else ready and delivered to the consulate. If you run into a snafu along the way that delays you, then you need to go back to the doctor and start that process (translation, notarization) again within the 90-day window of your next dated document. Confused yet?

Additionally, true to the Spanish bureaucracy, or so we’ve heard, each consulate has their own requirements and procedures. We gather we are fortunate, as legal residents of Florida, to be using the Miami consulate. From what we have heard they require fewer documents and are great at responding to questions. I guess we’ll see about that.

Our friend Olive sends our papers off to the consulate. Feathers crossed! #WheresOliveDuck

After 2½  months—just under 90 days (phew!)—of working diligently to gather and procure all that we need to apply, we have sent off our packets of documents to Miami. Now it is a waiting game. They claim they will make a decision within three months. We are hoping for much less. Three months would mean, should we be approved, we are well into November. In our perfect world, we would fly to Spain around October 1st. “Why don’t you just go when you want on the normal tourist visa while you wait to hear from them?” you might ask. Well, here is the catch. Once they tell us we are approved—Ojalá! (God willing!)—they give us a specific date on which we both have to show up in Miami with passport in hand to receive the visa. That would be a royal, and expensive, pain if we are already in Spain.

Assuming all goes according to plan and we get approved in a timely manner, we had hoped to spend some time upon arrival in Spain just driving around. Think of it as a “discovery phase” in which we explore different regions and try to find our more permanent place. Great idea huh? But once you have your non-lucrative visas, things get even more complicated! Turns out getting the NLV is only Step One. [ominous background music begins]

Step Two begins after we arrive in Spain, with our NLVs tucked into our passports and our very own unique nine-digit NIE (think Spanish Social Security number) stamped on it. Within the first 30 days, we need to make an appointment with a police station or immigration office in the province where we intend to live to get our TIE – the residency card that apparently we will need for all kinds of things. Without the TIE, our year-long NLV expires after 90 days! By the time we get that appointment, we also need a signed, six-month lease for housing in the same province. And that lease needs to be accompanied by a padron, yet another form officially called a “Solicitud de Empadronamiento” or “Application for Registration.” Sounds so much better in Spanish, don’t you think?.

All of this takes time and intentionality—more than a few people posting on message boards seem to get pretty stressed about it. We’ve seen messages from some who booked a place to live sight unseen and made their TIE appointment before they even arrived in Spain! So that directly shapes how we must use our first month in Spain—none of this leisurely get-to-know-the-country roaming around we had envisioned. We’ve got to be prepared to pick a place quickly and place a six-month bet on it. 

photo of two U.S. passports

Will all this work pay off? Who knows? That’s part of the adventure, isn’t it? As we do our research and planning, we are increasingly excited and overwhelmed by the options. It is no secret that Spain is an extraordinary place to visit. The more we learn of its diverse geography, culture, and beauty, the more fascinated we get—and the more challenged we feel in picking one place to stay. 

So after all this work, who knows? Maybe we’ll decide to extend the visas for a couple of years. But first we have to get them…

19 thoughts on “Vis-a-Visas

  1. Sarah Holden says:

    Oh my gawd! That’s insane! I give you so much credit for not just giving up on the whole thing once you dug into it. How does this compare to say France or Italy—do you know?
    Fingers crossed for you!


  2. Les Klen says:

    I guess that leaves me out…too many details. I’ll take the 90 day visa, see you there and keep my sanity. Having said that, I’m sure you will succeed and continue your wonderful adventures.


  3. Pam Kates says:

    Wow! That’s a crazy process. I have a friend who’s son has been teaching in Spain for the last 2 years. He has loved the country. I hope you get a chance to love it too,


  4. Ruth E. Race says:

    What a read! I had known that you were filling out a variety of papers , but not THAT many! Talk about fussy! I am sure that you will pass their scrutiny after all of this work.
    Happy Trails!


    1. Rachel says:

      As frustrating as it has been, it is a good lesson in patience, perseverance, and organization. I hope it pays off (sooner rather than later, please.)


  5. Steve says:

    Hi Al!. Remember me from Casa Albina? Your endeavor fascinates me as it is similar to mine. I have a lot of respect that you are sticking to your guns and making your reality fit your dreams. I personally have no tolerance for bureaucracy so will only go that route when I find where I want to retire. I did extend my 90-day stay in Ecuador (relatively easy) and am doing it again in Malaysia now (doing a visa run to Thailand this weekend.)

    Would love to catch up with you in the eastern hemisphere. Take care!


    1. Rachel says:

      Hi Steve. Thanks for your reply. I love following your adventures (and misadventures) in Malaysia on Facebook. What a difference from Ecuador, huh?! Have a good time in Thailand this weekend. I am glad the Malaysian government makes extending your visa so easy.


  6. Rob Race says:

    My brain imploded when you mentioned getting “apostilled”…..That is an impressive list of requirements to get into any country! I’m sure it will be worth the effort!! Yes – we will see you in Spain next spring!


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