Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Visa "appointment"

Well, it's done.  I turned in all of my documents for my visa.  Now it's just a waiting game.  So to help any of you who may be going to Houston in the future for the same process, I'll be giving a run-down of how the process works.  It was fairly painless.  My first advice is to check out the numerous blogs and Facebook groups regarding the application process.  LEARN FROM OTHERS' MISTAKES!  Also, you can never have too much information.  I get the feeling that not all applicants turn in the same forms so it helps to have everything just in case they ask for it.  I made a checklist of different documents/items that I needed for the visa, and it helped immensely.  Actually I had two columns on my checklist: one for assembling all the proper docs and the other to check off right before I left to Houston.  It doesn't do you any good to have all the documents but leave one of them at home. :) 

SO here's my ridiculously thorough checklist:
1) Passport (They hold onto the passport and mail it back with your visa.  If you need your visa between now and the return of your visa, contact the consulate for further info.)
2) 3 copies of passport (I only needed 2, but you never know!)
3) 4 Passport photos (I only needed 2, but see above.  Don't worry about attaching the pictures to the visa forms because they will provide you with a glue stick to do so at the consulate.)
4) Driver's license / state ID
5) 3 copies of driver's license / state ID (I only needed 2, but bla bla bla...)
6) Carta de nombramiento (This was tricky for me.  I received my carta via e-mail from the Balearic Islands, but it did not have a city or school name.  It did however include all of the information regarding my compensation and insurance coverage.  I was asked for the original when handing over the printed letter.  Since it was signed electronically, it ends up that I didn't need the original.  Make sure you explain the situation, and they seem to be very accomodating.)
7) 3 copies of the carta de nombramiento (Once again, doesn't hurt to bring too much)
8) Medical certificate WITH apostille attachment (From what I understand the medical certificate DOES NOT necessarily need the apostilled attacment.  But since you can all tell I'd rather be safe than sorry, I went ahead and sent it in with my background check.  If you don't know what the Apostille of the Hague is, do yourself a favor and find the information on various blogs around the Internet.  OR just send me an e-mail, and I'll give you the information.)
9) 3 copies of the medical certificate (Why not?)
10) $160 in cash (Many websites will say you need a money order.  Save yourself the trouble and the extra charge, and just hit up the ATM before you go to the consulate.)
11) 2 Visa application forms (This can be a little confusing, but you'll basically fill out the first page, the top of the second page, the info on the 3rd page regarding student information and the 4th page which includes a signature and date.  Get them to double-check the form before you leave.)
12) State background check WITH apostille attachment (The apostille attachment is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for this form.  DO NOT drive/fly down to Houston without this form becasue it's not something you can obtain quickly.  Once again, if you don't understand what this means, please find out.  This is the most time-consuming part of the process.)
13) 3 copies of the state background check (OK, don't shoot me, but I don't remember if I had to hand these over or not.  I think that I gave them at least one copy, but I'm not certain.  In any case, make copies of the bg check for your own records.  You're already making copies of everything else.  Why not make a few of this form?)
14) Self-addressed express envelope from the USPS (I've heard that you don't need the overnight $18.90 envelope from the post office, but it's what I purchased.  The employee at the consulate specifically asked me for an express envelope so I was happy that I spend the extra money.  The envelope comes with a stamp attached as well as a form for mailing information.  A note for anyone moving between your application and receipt of your visa: make sure you have a stable address to which you can mail your visa.  I'll be moving TWICE so I had them send it to my folks' place.  After all this work, why risk having your visa and passport lost in the mail?)
15) Extra paper (You never know when you're gonna need to write anything down.  I didn't have to, but I have a feeling that everyone's experience will vary.  Be prepared.)

Keep in mind that all this info is for the Houston consulate.  I assume most will be similar, but I understand that some consulates have some pretty whack-a-doo requirements.  Never hurts to be too prepared.

  Here's the building you're looking for.  Never mind the address on the picture.  The building is located at 1800 Bering Dr. #660, Houston, TX.  It's a very modern building unlike the majority of Houston.  Definitely beats the run-down Mexican consulate.

So I went to the consulate around 9:30 (they are open from 9:00 - 2:00 Monday - Friday) and headed up to the 6th floor.  The consulate is not listed on the directory in the front of the building, but rest assured it's there.  Inside the suite that houses the Spanish consulate there is a waiting room with 2 windows.  You'll need to go to the window on the right.  Apparently the people on the left cannot help you at all.  I got the impression they dealt with Spanish citizens living in the US while the other window dealt with visas.  I waited 10 minutes at the window before anyone came to help me.  Keep in mind that the concept of time and customer service are quite different in Spanish culture.  This is not a dig at their culture.  Just get used to it because you'll set yourself up to be frustrated if you expect all cultures to be the same as your own.  So a very courteous but curt woman finally came to the window to assist me.  She told me what I needed to hand over, and I supplied her with all the proper documents.  It did take a few minutes to double-check all the documents and verify that everything was complete.  My visa application form was not complete so I took a seat to allow others to be helped.  When I had finally handed over all of my documents she gave me a form to sign giving them permission to mail me my visa and passport.  She took my $160.00 in cash, and I was on my way. 

Quite an adventure, no?  That being said it was a very short ordeal.  I was only at the consulate for 30 minutes, and the employee was extremely helpful during the process.  Here are a few more tidbits and tips just so you're not caught off guard:

1) The employees of the consulate are bilingual, but I have a feeling that Spanish will get you a little further.  I first spoke to the employee in Spanish, and she seemed much more willing to help because I was taking the initiative to speak to her in her native language.  Don't fear if you don't speak Spanish.  You'll probably just have an easier time if you know a little Spanish.
2) Be courteous at all times.  This can be a trying process for the both of you.  Remember that they have the upper hand, and you don't want any reason for them to put your application to the bottom of the stack. :)  Don't misconstrue a dry personality or shortness as rudeness.  Just use this as a learning opportunity.  After all, this is the beginning of your adventure.  Enjoy it!
3) All of this will be done at the window in the waiting room.  I was under the impression that I'd be taken to a back office so I could lay out all of the information on a table.  Not so!  You get a little ledge on which to balance all of your documents.  It really helps to bring the checklist with you so you can do a quick run-down.  The employee seemed to appreciate my preparedness (although my papers were strung all over the counter), and it took a lot of stress out of the situation.  Once again, fortune favors the prepared.  

Soooo I think that's all I can say about the visa appointment.  Be SUPER-prepared, and you'll be just fine.  It wasn't nearly as stressful as I had feared.       

Now let's talk about Houston.  My awesome brother happens to live in Houston, and I got to stay with him for the weekend preceeding my visa adventure.  I've gotta tell you right now that most of Houston is as ugly as any city I've seen.  It's old, run-down, traffic-ridden and seemingly unwelcoming.  Luckily my brother gave me the grand tour, and by the end of the trip I was already planning my return.  The city, while not a perfect vacation destination, can be quite a bit of fun.  My brother works for an up-and-coming craft brewery in Houston (Karbach Brewing Co.), and he knew all of the hot spots.  Surely you'll be sitting around in a hotel the evening before heading to the consulate so you might as well have some fun while you're there. So here are some really cool things to do while staying overnight.

1) La Carafe
Check out Houston's oldest bar.  They have a great selection of beer and some good wine as well.  Stop by, say hi to Daniel and get a Karbach beer while you're at it. :)  Head up to the upstairs balcony for the most beautiful view of downtown Houston.  You'll swear you're in a different city.

2) Hearsay Gastro Lounge This place has atmosphere you can cut with a knife.  Make sure to go in the evening so you can check out the amazing lighting.  Also grab a really interestingly-named coctail.  Mine was a little strong but really enjoyable mostly becasue of its awesome name: Plastic Covered Couch.  My bro had a similar experience with his coctail named Whiskey and Cigarettes.

3) Andalucia Tapas Restaurant and Bar Well if you're going to get your visa to teach in Spain you might as well get a taste while you're there.  Although the restaurant was lacking in overall "Spanishness" it did have great food and sangria.  My brother and I shared pulpo a la brasa (grilled octopus with potatoes), rape con miel (monkfish in a honey almond sauce), cola de buey (braised oxtail) and empanadillas de res (beef tenderloin in a puff pastry).  It was fantastic.  The sangria was a great topper.  Thanks for the birthday meal, bro!

4) Sundance Cinema
This cool theatre (which I think used to be an Angelika Theatre) has your normal blockbusters.  However you can eat gourmet food and grab a drink while you do it.  They had a really interesting menu and a great array of drinks.  As we'd just finished at Andalucia I had no room to eat, but I sure did have another sangria.  The management was excellent, and the movie was funny.  Go see Ted for a fun night at the movies... and if you're not easily offended.  Completely worth it for Giovanni Rabisi's creepy dancing.  You have been warned.

5) The Hay Merchant
This place is a beer-lover's paradise.  I'm not into beer myself, but my brother is a fan of this bar.  Also grab some food.  We had some French-Canadian Poutine to tide us over, and it was pretty yummy. 

6) Benjy's
Oh holy goodness!!!!  I loved this place.  It's been a long time since I've looked at a menu and thought I'd enjoy everything on it.  Great laid-back atmosphere and killer food.  Had some mimosas over brunch.  Yummy mini-muffins as an appetizer were excellent as was the main dish.  Do yourself a favor and go!

7) Majorca After my visa adventure and on my way out of town I thought I would treat myself to Texas' only Mallorcan cuisine restaurant. Although the food isn't exclusively Mallorcan, they have a great selection.  Had gambas con arroz and enjoyed every bite.  A nice crema catalana topped off a lovely experience in Houston.

So, I've gotta apologize about the long post.  It was a whirwind trip to Houston but well worth the time spent.  I now have my visa coming to me in 4 weeks, a new appreciation for Houston and about 5 extra pounds added to my body weight.  No wonder Houston is the fattest city in America.  They sure know how to make a dinner and a drink.  Take from this post what you will.  You can make the most of your visa trip or bemoan the fact that you have to schlep all the way down to Houston for a 30-minute "appointment."  Travel safely and enjoy the process.  The fun has already started!

Un beso,
Tyler from Texas 


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  2. Great post!! I'm not headed to Houston (Miami, ugh!) but I did appreciate knowing that I am not the only OCD person making checklists to help the process go as smoothly as possible. Glad it went so well for you!!!


  3. Woah so complicated! I had such a nightmare when I applied for mine a few years ago in Boston. Gotta really want to be in Spain! You're going to have an amazing year in Mallorca :)

  4. Thank you SO much for this blog post, Tyler—it really makes me feel better about going to Houston in the next few weeks.

    I haven’t decided if I’m going to spend the night in Houston or leave really early in the morning for the consulate visit, but all your restaurant recommendations really make me want to spend some time there to check out the Spanish places!

    And I will try my hardest to speak Spanish at the consulate; thanks for the tip! This will be a good introduction to Spanish bureaucracy (woo yeah).

  5. Thanks for writing this. Did you have an appointment or did you do a walk-in? I can't seem to get a hold of anyone via phone for an appointment... :(

  6. Tiffany, you just walk in. They don't take appointments.