My visa arrived!

Months after I first started to work on getting my visa, and 6 days before my flight to Spain, I finally have my visa in hand. Since it’s been such a pain, I thought I’d share my experience for those who are still painstakingly waiting on theirs.

On May 12, I received the joyous carta stating that I’ve been accepted as an Auxiliar de Conversación in Málaga.

Police Clearance Check

On May 28, I applied for my police clearance letter online, which I found by simply googling “Police clearance letter.” This was the first thing I did because I heard from others that this can take up to 6 weeks to process. After I paid $20 through the website, I got my confirmation email which stated that I could pick it up at the police department that I chose just one week later! June 19 was the first chance I had to go in. I went in on a weekday evening at 8pm, after working hours which was fine because the police department is open 24/7. A cheerful police officer came out to the front desk to assist me. I handed my passport and my driver’s license, which were the 2 documents I inputted when applying for this letter. Soon after he came out with a sealed envelope containing a letter saying that there is no record under my name, hence I am clear.

Pain scale 1/5 – Only because I had to go in person and couldn’t have it mailed to my house.

Medical certificate

On June 9, I went to see my family doctor and introduced the medical certificate request to him for the first time. I printed off the sentence that the consulate required, which is, “This medical certificate states that Ms./Mr. __ doesn’t suffer from any of the illnesses which can seriously affect the public health according to the 2005 International Health Regulations.” After he read the sentence, he diagnosed that I would need to take some blood samples and also a tuberculosis test (TB test). For that test, he would inject my arm with a tiny dose of the disease and I would react to it 2-3 days later. So I had to come back within 2-3 days, which I couldn’t do because I worked 1 hour away and would have to take another leave from work just to get this test done. So all I did that day were the blood tests. Since I was going on a trip out West, I had to wait until I got back before doing the TB test. On July 9 I left work early and went to get my arm pricked. On July 12 I went back and my doctor confirmed that my test was negative, and signed the same paper I had printed out for him. I got his secretary to stamp it and off I was.

Pain scale 4/5 – This was the most painful part of the entire application for me because I lived and worked over 1 hour from my doctor and taking time off work, traveling back and forth was a huge pain.

Visa application

On July 18 I took an entire day off work to go to the embassy in Toronto because they are only open 9:00-12:30. As I mentioned I work an hour away from the city so taking just a morning off wouldn’t be convenient. I arrived there at 10:30. As I was entering the building I suddenly remembered that they only accept cash. So I dashed out and luckily there were 4 different branches of banks in the same intersection, of which one was mine. After I went inside the embassy and got a number, I sifted through my documents, making sure I had everything. That’s when a brick fell over me and I realized that I had FORGOTTEN TO BRING MY PASSPORT. It was 11:00 when I ran out of that building and hopped back on the train to my mom’s house where I had left it, which is about 30 minutes away. In and out, I made it back to the embassy by 12:00. As the lady is looking at my documents she starts peeling through the documents and at this point I am nervous about 2 of them: my medical certificate which is crumpled up and doesn’t have a letterhead, looking mighty illegitimate, and my police clearance letter. I’ve heard of other Canadians who went full out getting a detailed criminal check involving the RCMP and fingerprints for at least $60, whereas I simply filled out a form online and paid $20. As everything checks out, she asks me, “Where is your flight ticket?” Shit. I also completely forgot to print out an itinerary. I tell her that it’s too early for me to book a flight, but I can find an itinerary online and write it down on a piece of paper. So, I go back to my corner and frantically google a flight and chicken-scratch it on the back of my visa application! In the end she accepted it all.

Pain scale 3/5 – The in-person visit itself wasn’t so bad. There was no need to book an appointment and the wait time isn’t too long. I also didn’t have to mail in all my documents and drown in paranoia about anything being lost in transit. If I had everything with me already, money, passport, flight itinerary, the scale would have probably been 1/5.

The wait

This is its own category because it took some work just figuring out when I could go back to the embassy to pick the visa up. I was told to check back after 4-6 weeks. When I asked how, they told me I could either call or email. On the 4th week, I sent an email, simply inquiring whether my visa is ready for pick up. No reply. On the 5th week, I called and left a message to get a call back. No call back. The following weeks, I continued to call with no response. I was informed that if I wrote a letter, someone could pick it up for me. However, I decided to wait it out until I no longer worked at my company, so that I could have the time to go in person and not bother a friend. On the 8th week, my first day off of work, I went in, hoping that my visa was sitting somewhere behind the desk. After the lady went to check, she came back and told me that my visa had been approved but had not been issued yet. I was both happy and disappointed because at least I knew that my visa had been approved, but upset that after 8 weeks, it should have been ready. She told me to come back in a week. Exactly one week later, I confidently turned in my ID to get my passport back. I was shocked when she told me that it still wasn’t ready. I started to panic, telling her that I leave the next week and I needed my passport!! So this lady goes ahead and consults her colleague in Spanish and it went something like this:

“Hey do you know when her visa will be ready?”

“No! Don’t ask me! Just tell her to come again next week.”

“She leaves this weekend…”

“Oh, well in that case, just tell her come back on Wednesday or Thursday.”

THIS DID NOT LOOK PROMISING FOR ME.

So I left my name and date of departure with the lady, asking her if she could speed up the process. The next day I called before 12:30, but couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I called again at around 3pm and the conversation was just as rude as others who have experienced dealing with Spanish government workers.

“Hi, I’m just calling to see if my visa is ready?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t check that now! The computers are all turned off!” So…turn them back on?

“Okay, I am leaving next week and-”

“If you’re leaving next week your visa should be ready!! You need to come to the embassy!!” The exclamation marks are to denote the rude tonality of her voice.

“Exactly, I came yesterday and I came the week bef-”

“You came yesterday?! Wait let me check!!” Yeah … that’s what I asked you the first time!

“Your visa is ready.”

Pain scale 4/5 – I’m not giving a full 5/5 only because in the end, I did end up getting my visa before my flight.

Picking up the visa

I was running late yesterday morning, and had to park my car in the building’s parking lot. I took a number and sat down. I waited 30 minutes before it was my turn, each minute burning a larger hole in my pocket as my parking meter was running. Interestingly enough, Dallas Good from The Sadies band, a rock band from Toronto, was before me in line, trying to get visas for him and his band mates. He was just as unprepared as I was, so he was eating up a lot of time. It was funny because he was arguing with the lady behind counter about the genuineness of his band. “I own the band, we are on the internet!” was his excuse for not providing proper paperwork. That’s when I found that being mildly famous won’t get you past the Spanish bureaucracy. Finally, it was my turn and she handed me my passport with the original medical certificate and police check back. Et voilà! That is the story of how I got my 3-month student visa in Spain.

Pain scale 1.5/5 – Coming back for a 3rd time, and spending money on travel was a pain.

I’m not excited

Contrary to what most people seem to think, I am definitely not excited for my “trip”. I write “trip” in quotation marks because it irks me when people refer to my move to Spain as a “trip”. Maybe it’s my grammar-nazi-ness and/or the fact that I’m a stickler for using terms in their literal sense that are loosely used by most people (like how “a couple of hours” means exactly two, not one or five). I’m moving to Spain. Not going on a “trip”. I wouldn’t be quitting my job, selling/donating any personal belonging that doesn’t fit in one luggage and one carry-on bag, and permanently leaving my place in Canada for a “trip”.

Sorry, rant over.

Yes, I said it, I’m not excited. I’m stressed. I’m anxious. I’m apprehensive. At this point I’m not even looking forward to moving and starting over. I still have a million things to do. Gross exaggeration, but it’s what it feels like. With less than two more weeks to go with my job, I’ll finally have two solid weeks off after my last day, during which I need to complete those million tasks. Here is a list of things I need to do:

Visa

I applied to my visa back in July, and had been compiling a load of documents for weeks before that. Considering that the Spanish embassy in Toronto estimated 4-5 weeks to process a visa, it should be ready by now. But there isn’t even a way of finding out, other than going in person and hope it’s ready, and otherwise be told that it’s not ready and that you need to wait longer. I can’t even go in to check because I would need to take a whole day off work due to the ridiculous opening hours, 9:30-12:30!

Booking my flight reservation

Yes, I was very foolish and naïve in believing that ticket prices will go down. My mother told me that with August being the busiest travel season for students, after the buzz would be the best time to buy. And now that I waited so long and prices haven’t been going down, it’s stressing me out so much. I can’t even book my hostel for when I arrive because I don’t know when I’ll be arriving!

Service Ontario

Going to Service Ontario to get a number, sit down and wait for at least an hour is something I am definitely not excited for. Getting my address changed could have been done from home, but I might as well do it when I apply for an exemption from OHIP residency requirements. Ontarians are required to be living in Ontario for 153 days in any 12-month period. Since I’m not planning to return to Canada during my 8 months in Spain, and I want to travel in Europe afterward, I’m just being extra safe to ensure I will continue to enjoy OHIP while in Spain. This is a relatively simple task, that is not absolutely necessary since I will be covered by health insurance that is provided by my teaching program. But I am Canadian and I need to be able to brag about my healthcare.

Housing

 

Apartment

 

Interior of an apartment in Spain – source

After reading countless blogs and hearing first-hand from others who have been through the process before, I know that I cannot find a place to move in until I arrive in the country. This is because online ads for apartments are generally deceiving. There are also too many housing features to consider in person before signing on for a place in which I will spend 8 months of my life. I will need to book a hostel to stay in for the first week, when I’ll be apartment hunting and hope that it’s enough time to find the right one. This task technically shouldn’t be making this list as I’m not doing this here in Canada, but in the weeks before my departure, I’ll be doing online research just to get an idea of what to expect and maybe even arrange for some viewings for when I arrive there.

Getting rid of my stuff

All the things I’ve been hoarding for the past 7 years will need to be sorted out. Selling, donating, I need to get rid of it all. Although it seems like a mountain to overcome, I know the cleanse will be worth it and a relief.

Financial decisions

I’ve been saving money from my job for a reason. My reason is finally knocking on the door and I need to allocate my funds accordingly. I’ll be doing some math, doing some research and talking to some professionals to decide where my best options lie. These decisions involve banking, savings, and investments.

Shopping

I know I said that I’m getting rid of my things, but there are some items that I still need to purchase. I recently bought myself this travel backpack to use as a carry on. I’m still not entirely satisfied with it, but from the little bit of online browsing I did, this seemed to be the best option at my favorite store, MEC. Other things I still plan on buying are some comfortable and versatile shoes and clothes, and teaching material. While my role as a teaching assistant will be limited, I plan on giving private English lessons where I’ll be more engaged in helping students learn English. Most of the other assistants who do this program in Spain give private lessons to get some extra cash. Personally, my objective with this is to have something to do to fill the seemingly abundant amount of free time I’ll have. And also to improve my English teaching skills. Well, more on that to come later when I actually start doing it.

The list actually just scratches the surface of things I need to do before I leave. And then, after I arrive I’ll have a lot more things to do to get myself settled in.

Making a change is not easy…

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I’m going to teach English in Spain!

… at least that’s what I tell people to simplify what I’m actually going to do in Spain. I’m going to be an English Language Assistant, not the teacher. I have no training in teaching, I never tutored at an institution, and I never took any TEFL/TESL/TOEFL or any other confusing English teaching certifications available out there. There are only a few loose qualifications that I needed to satisfy, for example, proof of having studied at a Canadian university.

What?

I applied through the Auxiliar de Conversación program with the government of Spain. Briefly, it’s a program in Spain that gives grants to English speakers of all over the world, principally USA, Canada, UK, and Australia, to assist the teachers in English-taught classes (which applies to a variety of school subjects) in public schools in Spain. I applied within the North American program, and I’m one of about 4000 other applicants from the USA and Canada, with a crushing majority coming from the USA (my guess is that Americans are attracted by the health insurance that comes with the contract).

When?

While the school year runs from September 2014-June 2015, my contract starts October 1, 2014 and ends on May 31, 2015. I’ll be leaving for Spain in the last week of September to get myself familiar with the area before starting. After teaching there for 8 months, I plan to travel for a bit around Europe.

How?

The application is quite extensive. I was confused and frustrated when I first applied. The entire application is in Spanish, first of all. After creating a profile for myself on the notoriously complicated profex website, I uploaded quite a few documents. Considering this program grants position based on a first-come-first-serve method, I had to do all of this quickly, right after the applications opened.

Where?

My school is located in a small town called Coín, in the sunny province of Málaga, colloquially named Costa Del Sol, which means Coast of the Sun. It’s in Andalucía, the southern autonomous community of Spain.

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Málaga – source

Why?

This is a difficult question to answer in only a few lines. I may leave the long answer for another time. It’s just something I’ve thought of doing for some time. It combines travel, challenge, change and adventure all in one. Since I realized that life waits for no one, I decided to jump head first into this scary, exciting, intimidating, and life-changing adventure!

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