How to Apply for a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline

This post may contain affiliate links. Please visit our Disclosure page for details.

Now that you know why we applied for a Spanish residency visa, I’d like to share exactly how we proceeded with our application for a non-lucrative resident visa for Spain.

It’s a bumpy ride — and the ride’s not over, really — but we learned a great deal from the experience, and I hope to share some tips on how to best apply for a Spanish residency visa of your own.

How to Apply for a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline valencia sandcastle

OUR SPANISH RESIDENCY VISA: A TIMELINE

I hope our story helps anyone considering a Spanish residency visa to have a less stressful application process. Our experience was out of the ordinary, for sure. We knowingly made it harder on ourselves, in ways that may become clear in this post.

In this small series posts, I’ve tried to my best to describe different aspects of our first-year saga living in Spain. For more tips on Spain residency and living in Spain, look here:

Save & Share on PINTEREST!

Moving to Spain how to apply for a residency visa PIN

Residency Visa For Spain: A Rundown

The timeline of our experience is laid out below: from when we decided to apply for the Spanish residency visa to actually getting the damn thing in our passports. This took about eight months and cost us a considerable amount of time and money. It also saw us in multiple countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the United States and Japan…twice. Below this story, you’ll find some of our tips to make applying for a Spanish residency visa as smooth as possible.

  • Date: January 7th
  • Location: Bukit Lawang, Sumatra (Indonesia) 
  • Objective: Deciding to go for it

Our Spanish residency visa story starts in…Indonesia. Yes, Indonesia. We had talked about moving out of Asia before, but we actually first discussed applying for Spain’s Non-Lucrative Residence Visa during a jungle trekking trip in Sumatra. We basically made the decision to go for it on a plane back to Malaysia.

A detailed explanation of our reasoning here.

Airbnb Tips: My Tips for Using AirBnB in Southeast Asia, Europe & Beyond airbnb penang malaysia

  • Date: January 13th
  • Location: Penang, Malaysia
  • Objective: Researching and compiling the required documents begins

Start prepping your documents early

Want a Spanish residency visa? Then start prepping your documents, because there are a lot of them — especially if it’s a family instead of an individual. The most difficult document for us to prepare was the proof of accommodation in Spain. Thanks to the help of a friend (explained here) we had that sorted, but there was a massive pile of other paperwork to collect, translate and organize.

Fun, right?

Once we got back to our apartment in Penangwe started putting the Spanish residency visa application together. 

For this type of Spanish visa, you have to apply at a Spanish embassy in the country where you are a citizen or legal resident. Since we were in Malaysia, we couldn’t start the process right away. We had to go to Japan.

Apply in the country where you are a citizen/permanent resident

No, I’m not Japanese, but Keiko is. I’m an American citizen with permanent residency in Japan, and the kids have dual citizenship, so the three of us can apply for a Spanish residency visa in either country. Keiko can’t. In order for the four of us to apply together, the Spanish embassy in Tokyo was the only option.

Our plan was to stay and enjoy Malaysia until the end of March. We were homeschooling at the time, but both kids had various teams, clubs and other activities in Penang that they wanted to finish. Leaving in March also meant that we could skip winter in Japan and arrive in at the beginning of spring (the best time to be in Japan).

We already had a plan to be in the USA for my brother’s wedding in May. In order for us to get approval by mid-August, our application had to be submitted by mid-April, before we left Japan for the States.

Acquire all documents (and have them translated into Spanish)

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline osaka conbini

  • Date: March 23rd
  • Location: Osaka, Japan
  • Objectives: Acquire, organize & translate all documents
    • Banking records
    • Police history
    • Health check
    • Insurance 
    • Marriage & birth certificates
    • Have all documents translated into Spanish
    • Obtain Apostille for all public documents

At the end of March, we arrived in Osaka. That’s Keiko’s hometown, and we stayed with her family there. We had less than four weeks —  20 business days — before the application must be completed and submitted for review.

You probably knew this already, but no one is going to hand you documents like police records and health certificates the day you ask for them. Sometimes it takes a few days — or weeks. We had to act quickly.

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline Japan osaka clinic health check records insurance

Hit the ground running

The day after we landed in Japan, we went straight to a local government office to get proof that we were, in fact, Japanese residents with two kids legally in our care. Then it was off to the Osaka police headquarters where we had to prove that we weren’t criminal masterminds (the Spanish residency visa process favors the law-abiding). Fingerprints delivered and clean police records requested, day one was gone.

The next day it was on to a medical clinic to get full-body checkups to prove to the Spanish government that we wouldn’t croak upon arrival. Unfortunately, we arrived in Japan during peak flu season, and the clinic was full of coughing, sneezing patients. In typical Japanese fashion, everyone was wearing face masks to avoid spreading (or catching) other people’s germs.

It was still cold in Japan, too. Spring was around the corner, but after having just spent a year in hot and muggy Malaysia, we were freezing.

Banks in Japan = Pain in the …

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline 10,000 yen bills banks in japan

Next up: bank statements, and a few hurdles. When I opened my account ages ago, I chose to go Western-style and use my signature for identification instead of using a Hanko (a Japanese stamp or seal used for many official documents).

This poses a problem: my signature doesn’t look exactly the same every time I write it. Sometimes the “J” is fatter, sometimes the “s” is narrower, and sometimes this line or that curve isn’t identical to the last.

Japanese banks hate this. They require that every signature looks exactly like the signature they have on record. And I had to sign my name on many, many documents that day.

I spent almost an hour writing my signature that day. Each time, the bank staff would take my signature to a back office where ostensibly their manager would then approve or disapprove and ask me to do it again. The day was gone without a bank statement.

The following day, we went back to the bank — this time with my hanko (it had been gathering dust in a drawer for a decade). I switched my verification method from a hand-written signature to the Japanese way. With three forms of ID, my Japanese wife, Japanese children, and a modicum of southern charm (debatable), I got the verification for my account changed over.

Hanko stamped. Bank statement issued. Done. Whew!

Prove you have income from outside Spain

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline Osaka to Tokyo shinkansen bullet train

  • Date: March 27th
  • Location: Tokyo
  • Objective: Acquire proof of income. Visit friends & colleagues. 

That afternoon, I hopped on a shinkansen (bullet train) for Tokyo, where I visited my company’s office to see my boss, catch up with coworkers and get proof that I had a job and that my income came from outside Spain (ie. I’m not taking a job away from a Spaniard, essentially).

The residency visa for Spain requires a verified document proving that you have a monthly paycheck or some kind of employment contract. At that time, my contract was up and to be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I would keep my job.

The quest for a contract

Two years earlier, I had pitched my boss about working remotely, and they had agreed. We were signing contracts in six-month increments, so I was never sure how long it would last. We had been doing this for two years already, and they had new (and very capable) people in the office who could easily replace me in the right circumstance.

My boss is a good guy, but I couldn’t blame him if he decided to hand work over to someone else. That made me nervous. Fortunately, we signed another contract. I was still employed! And now I had a contract for the Spanish residency visa application.

It was good to see the place I used to commute to every day but also satisfying to know that I didn’t have to go there the next day, the next week and so on. Thirteen years was enough.

While I was in Tokyo getting my contract renewed, Keiko was in Osaka obtaining an Apostille. It’s another step you have to take for public documents to be legit in the eyes of the EU. We had birth certificates, marriage certificate, and other documents, and we had them translated, but for the  Spain residency visa to be approved, you have to have this done, as well. I’ll spare you the details — to be honest, I don’t fully understand it myself. I just know that we had to do it. If interested, check here for US citizens.

Take a break

Kyoto with Kids. Things to do in Kyoto with kids Toei fight a samurai

  • Date: April 8th
  • Location: Kyoto
  • Objective: Relax and enjoy Japan a bit (while arranging insurance online)

I met Keiko and the kids in Kyoto to soak in a hot spring and forget about the paperwork and other obligations for a while. By this point, we needed a small respite from the red tape.

There are lots of fun things to do in Kyoto, but we also just wanted to walk around and decompress before we went back to Tokyo to visit the embassy and fly out of Japan again.

However, we still had to sort out insurance documents. We had used World Nomads for over two years and were very happy with them, but now we were rushed and didn’t have time to consult them to confirm if their coverage would meet all the Spanish residency visa’s strict requirements. Instead, we ended up signing up with a Japanese insurance agent that Keiko found through online research.

Compared to World Nomads and similar services, this new 12-month insurance policy cost us a fortune. Even worse: there was no monthly payment option. We paid for a year up front.

Ouch.

Thankfully, the agent Keiko dealt with was very responsive, helpful and accommodating. His office was in Yokohama, not far from Tokyo. Little did we know what a lifesaver he would be for us later…

How to Apply for a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline Valencia

OUR SPANISH RESIDENCY VISA: STAGE 2

  • Date: April 16
  • Location: Tsukiji, Tokyo (Japan)
  • Objective: Embassy visit and turn in Spanish residency visa application

After Kyoto, we returned to Osaka, enjoyed some more family time, packed our bags for three months in the States, and returned to Tokyo.

We went to the Spanish embassy the day before our flight to the Atlanta. The. Day. Before. Our. Flight….You see where this is going, don’t you? I know it sounds crazy now, but at that time, we thought that all we needed to do was simply hand our visa application documents in. We even went for a celebratory sushi breakfast in Tsukiji that morning to reward ourselves for getting all these papers together in record time.

We sat in the embassy’s lobby waiting for our number to be called. When the time came, Keiko approached and carefully placed the thick folder of documents in front of the man behind the counter. He picked up the folder and went through each paper one by one, checking every line and confirming every signature. Keiko had spent months putting this dossier together, and this guy was determined to make sure it was perfect.

It wasn’t.

The health insurance trap: full coverage for everyone

There were a few small places where an address or signature was missing, and these were quickly remedied. Then he arrived at the health insurance documents, and we were in for a shock. Keiko had secured an insurance policy for the family as a whole, with me as the head of household. Kids don’t make money — that’s one of the reasons why we call them “dependents,” right? They don’t have to be covered like the head of household, right?

Wrong.

The staffer told us that all four of us needed to have the same level of our insurance policy as the head of household. The reason for this is somewhat morbid: we all needed coverage that, if one of us died, the insurance would cover the fees for our bodies to be flown back to our home country at no cost to the Spanish government. At that moment, only I had that coverage. The application process would not continue until we upgraded the policy.

Did I mention that we were leaving Japan the following day? Insert your favorite expletive here.

Keiko told the staffer about how she had confirmed that the policy she bought had met the application requirements. She had made sure of it, she told him. The man behind the glass seemed like a kind and patient guy, but there wasn’t much he could say. He just shrugged and said (I’m paraphrasing here): “Well, this is what I need to continue.”

We explained that we were leaving the country tomorrow and would not be able to come back. The staff said that we could mail the updated health insurance documents to the embassy if needed. If the document was indeed the right one, then reviewing our Spanish residency visa application could begin.

Imperfect application = no Spanish residency visa

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline Yokohama at dawn

  • Date: April 17th (dawn)
  • Location: Yokohama
  • Objective: Acquire insurance upgrade

If altering our insurance policy was all that was needed to get our Spanish residency visa application reviewed, we were going to do it. Early the next morning — the day of our flight to Atlanta, mind you — Keiko went to Yokohama to meet with our insurance agent again (he met her at the train station shortly after dawn). There she hammered out another deal to get our insurance policy up to the standards the embassy required.

The additional policy cost another USD $800.

Keiko asked the agent to mail all the updated health insurance to the Spanish Embassy in Tokyo. Thanks to him, our Spanish residency visa application was finally going to be reviewed.

Then we checked out of our AirBnB, went back to the embassy, submitted all the other documents and told them that the insurance paperwork would arrive shortly. Then it was off to the airport to fly out of Japan and to the States.

THE WAITING (FOR APPROVAL) GAME

How to Apply for Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline Jonas's barn wedding in Athens Georgia

  • Date: May 2nd
  • Location: Athens, Georgia (USA)
  • Objective: Be the best man at my brother’s wedding

With the application submitted, it was off to America we went. My brother’s wedding was amazing and it was great to see family and so many old friends.

We wouldn’t hear good news about our Spanish residency visa for a long, long time. The stated waiting period for a reply from the embassy was 2-3 months. The official embassy documentation said to contact them “if you don’t hear from us within four months.” I was hoping — gambling, really — that this wouldn’t be the case. After all, we hoped to be in Valencia by then, and if we didn’t want to pay last-minute flight prices, we needed to go ahead and book tickets back to Japan and then onto Spain.

Expect additional requirement from the embassy

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline out west

  • Date: Mid-May
  • Location: Somewhere in Utah
  • Objective: fix an application screw-up

Wedding over, we loaded up my parents’ van and drove from Atlanta to the Grand Canyon for a three-week road trip. Around mid-May, Keiko gets an email from the Spanish embassy in Tokyo. They need a copy of our marriage certificates and birth certificates. The scanned copies they have aren’t good enough. They want the originals. In Japan. Now.

Keiko got on the phone with the Tokyo embassy via Skype and explained that we were just there, in Tokyo. We had just shown them the originals. She told them that we just went through every single document with the embassy staff and had left town only after being told that they had everything they needed.

I can envision the same shrug from the guy on the phone. “Well, this is what I need to continue.”

At that moment we were driving through Utah. Fortunately, the birth certificates were in the US with us. Keiko had brought them, and they were in her suitcase back at my parents’ house in Atlanta. We called my dad and asked him to mail them express to Tokyo for us.

Let me pause for a moment to say that we were not crazy about mailing our original birth certificates across the globe. We did it, though. We had to. Only then was our application considered.

No News = Good News?

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline Atlanta beltline

  • Date: Late June 
  • Location: Atlanta, Washington DC, Nashville & elsewhere
  • Objective: Wait

After that, we didn’t hear from the embassy at all. Keiko had speculated that we would hear from them sometime between mid-July and mid-August. We found a deal and booked our flights to Spain on Aug 13th. We had to have the Spanish residency visa in our passports by then, or we were going to lose some money. Deal or not, four one-way tickets from Tokyo to Madrid are not cheap.

According to the embassy, once we were approved, we had to either mail our passports to them or bring them in person. In a couple of days, the passport would be ready for us to pick up in person at the Embassy with the visa inside. That meant that we needed to hear from the embassy about our Spanish residency visa by Aug 6 so that we’d have enough time to go to the embassy before our flight.

No News Sucks

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline shenandoah

  • Date: Early July
  • Location: Atlanta
  • Objective: Wait some more

It was maddening to be clueless about what we’re doing and not able to plan even a month in advance. Everything was up in the air. Nothing could be decided until news of the visa arrived.

At this point, I just wanted to know — I didn’t care if it was yes or no. I just wanted to be able to know what I was doing next and plan accordingly. It would suck if our visa application was denied, but we’d just switch to plan B: backpack around Spain, and then maybe fly to Mexico or take a boat to another Latin American destination we had researched.

If we knew our visa was granted, however, we had to start looking at schools in Spain.

Being stuck in limbo meant we were hesitant to dig deep into either alternative and prepare for something that wasn’t going to happen. To be honest, at that point, I was fairly certain that our shot at living in Spain was out, but not certain enough to just give up and throw all my attention into plan B.

Spend your waiting period wisely

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline Road Trip Van

I shouldn’t complain too much, really. Despite the uncertainty, our time in the US was well spent. This was the first occasion for all four of us to be in the country at the same time since the kids were little, and we had never all been together in America for this long a period. Three months! We took full advantage of it.

My brother’s “Barn Wedding” was a blast, and the kids enjoyed soccer and theater camps in Atlanta. I sat on my parent’s back porch and launched my podcast. For Keiko, it had been seven years since she was last in Atlanta, so she looked forward to catching up with old friends.

We took two huge road trips in those three months. The first went through Memphis, down Route 66 and to the Grand Canyon. We stopped at Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park, and many other places. It was amazing.

Getting a Spanish Residency Visa: Our Tips & Timeline usa flag in washington DC

The second road trip was up the east coast, to Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon and Washington D.C. My kids learned a lot about their father’s homeland, which I think (hope?) had some impact on their cultural identity. They also saw more of the United States than most people see in their entire lifetime. So no complaints.

APPROVAL OR DENIAL

  • Date: Mid July
  • Location: Japan (Again)
  • Objective: Pack, Say farewells, Wait some more

Three months passed quickly and we were back in Japan. By the time we returned to Osaka, we thought we’d have some kind of notification from the Spanish embassy. Nope. Nothing had come from the embassy, and that was it for me. At that point, I lost my last shred of hope. We already had flights booked for Madrid, so that night I started sketching out a plan to get from Spain to Latin America.

A few days later a letter arrived. Our Spanish residency visa was approved.

WooHOOOO!

We would be living in Spain, but we had to be in Spain to have it ratified within 30 days after we picked up the visa. You have to either mail your passports to the embassy or bring them in person to get the actual visa stamped into it. We mailed our passports from Osaka to the embassy in Tokyo and picked them up only two days before our flight to Madrid. It’s hard to express just how relieved I was when I saw the actual Spanish residency visas in our passports. We were moving to Spain. We would be living in Spain! Valencia, here we come!

So that’s it: happy ending, right? Wrong. The Spanish residency visa saga continues to stretch on for months once we arrived, with more office visits, more surprises, and more holding patterns.

Spoiler alert: we get the visa, but it took a while.

I’ll stop here for now, but below are a few lessons we’ve learned about the Spanish residency visa process.

TIPS TO MAKE THE APPLICATION PROCESS EASIER

A Residency Visa for Spain: Our Story spain visa blue man parade

Drama and hyperbole aside, the Spanish residency visa process is time-consuming, but not that hard, really. If you can get all the documents ready, it’s pretty straightforward. In fact, if you apply for a resident visa for any country, you’ll have to deal with some kind of bureaucracy and red tape. I’m fairly certain that the US immigration is not any easier, if not much more challenging.

Below are a few tips from our own experience.

Ask lots of questions, however silly they may seem

The Spanish embassy in Tokyo was helpful and responsive to our emails. I hope you get the same kind of generous assistance wherever you apply.

We probably could’ve avoided some of the many additional trips to the embassy if we had asked more questions ahead of time. Ask detailed questions. Even if it seems obvious, ask. Humbly ask for elaboration whenever you’re not 100% clear. For example, we didn’t even think to ask questions like “Do we need to prove that our kids are legally ours in both the United States and Japan?” (Answer: Yes)

Be aware of “in person” bank policies

This might be more a thing for those coming from Asia, but it clobbered us. In Japan, you are still required to appear in person to request certain information about your bank accounts. You can’t get it online. You have to physically show up, ask for it and bring your hanko, a registered seal that some Asian countries use in lieu of a handwritten signature.

Can you get everything you need online? Does any of it have to be translated? Or verified by a notary public, Apostille or some other official? How long will it take to get it?

Have a flexible time frame (if possible)

It usually takes 2-3 months to be notified about your Spanish residency visa after you submit your application. Our plan was to be in Spain before school started in September. Originally we hoped to get the Spanish residency visa process over and be in Spain by end of July at the latest. In order to do that, we had to submit our application by end of April.

When do you want to start living in Spain? Work backward from there.

Remember that much of Spain shuts down in August

If putting your kids in school in September is a priority, keep in mind that lots of people take the entire month of August off and go to the beach. Seriously. That means trying to meet with school staff, real estate agents or anyone else can be a challenge for the entire month before school starts. Believe me. We know.

Plan your three-month waiting period well

We didn’t plan to stay in Japan for three months while our Spanish residency visa application was being reviewed. It costs a fortune to stay in Tokyo that long, and staying three months at my in-law’s house in Osaka — as lovely as they are — would drive Keiko and me bonkers.

On top of that, we had my brother’s wedding in the States in early May, and I was not going to miss it. That’s why we flew to the US the day after we submitted our application to the Spanish embassy, thinking that we were spending our three-month waiting time wisely. We were wrong.

How close are you to your Spanish embassy? How far do you plan to be away from it, and for how long?

Stay close to the embassy if possible

If you live near the Spanish Embassy where you’ll be filing this paperwork, try to stay nearby until the entire process is over. When I say “nearby,” I mean in the same city, the same state or even the same country. As long as you can return in person when needed.

The source of most of our application anxiety stemmed from not being able to walk into the embassy with a document when they suddenly announced that they needed something else.

On top of that, we were 12-14 hours behind Japan Standard Time, and for most of the time in the US, we weren’t even close to my parents’ house, where our documents sat while we traveled.

It’s stressful and not recommended. Stay close to the embassy if possible.

WOULD YOU APPLY FOR A SPANISH RESIDENCY VISA?

After reading this, I’m sure it sounds like such a pain, but it was worth it. Would you apply? Or have you already? Where would you want to live in Spain? What part of Spain do you think is best for families or for couples?

Further Reading

PIN THIS!

Moving to Spain how to apply for a residency visa PIN
Moving to Spain how to apply for a residency visa PIN
Image credit: #6, #12

Comments

  1. Hi Jason,
    Thanks for the detailed review of your experience. We’re currently in Dubai and thinking of living in Spain on this visa too. Did you get your documents translated first or get the apostille first? How many months of bank statements do they want?
    Thanks

    • Hi Susan,

      In our case, we specifically requested our Japanese official documents to be issued with the apostille stamp on them. So translation came later. However, it may depend on the situation. Some documents were sealed in an envelope, which meant we couldn’t open yet, so no translation needed initially. It’s always best to ask the staff in the embassy you plan to apply to. As for bank statements, for the first time applying for the visa which is valid for a year, we provided enough for our family of four for a year. There’s a required amount stated in the application instructions, so again it’s best to check with the embassy you plan to apply to. The more above the required amount the better, I think. Good luck!

  2. Thank you for sharing. Your experience was truly epic! Once you arrived in Spain with your visa in hand how did you go about getting your residency documents? We arrived in Barcelona 2 weeks ago and need to go to the “Delegación del Gobierno” to register so we can stay more than 90 days. What do we need to bring to this meeting? Any pointers on how to get over this hurdle? I hope things went smoothly after you arrived. -Kate

  3. Aykut Altınışık says:

    Hi Jason,
    One of lawyer told us that we must register our son the Spanish school first before application.
    We will apply in Turkey. But, the Spanish Consulate in Turkey does not require this.

  4. Thanks for this detailed post on your family’s experience getting the non lucrative Spanish visa, Jason. In a few years, we’re thinking of doing the same, so it’ll be a nice resource to refer back to when we get to that point.

    • My pleasure, Shane. Our experience has been a challenge, but mostly because of our lack of Spanish and stubbornness to do it ourselves. Hope you learn from our mistakes! 🙂

  5. We are in the process of doing the same – applying for a non-lucrative residency Spanish Visa and moving to the Basque Country by May of 2017. So, this is a great article that I will bookmark and probably revisit often over the next few months.

    One question – in the proof of income section, it sounds like you are claiming that the proof of income has to be from a recurring income source. However, we are planning on simply showing that we have enough saved to support us for a year (currently, around $38,000 for a couple). A preliminary call to the consulate indicated that simply having that saved up suffices, rather than having recurring income from outside Spain.

    Did you experience a different requirement?

    Thanks for the great content and guidance.

    • I’m glad to hear this was helpful, Eric. I hope you have a smoother ride on this roller coaster than we did. As for the proof of financial statement, we were actually required to show some kind of monthly income (salary, monthly income from your property, proof of pension payment, or some sort) in Japan. They said no need to show the bank statement, though we put that in as a supporting document. If we hadn’t, they might have asked us to submit later as an additional document…

      It sounds like you’ve already confirmed with the embassy (consulate) in your area, so it may not be a problem. Like I mentioned before, many retirees apply for this type of visa and they don’t have a monthly income per se. That said, I’d suggest to show more than the required amount if possible. You wouldn’t want to gamble on showing the bare minimum and then be rejected.

      Hope you get the visa! Update us if possible!

Speak Your Mind

*

css.php

Like this post? Please spread the word! Thanks :)