It's happening...I acquired the last piece of the puzzle to get myself to Madrid! I now have my visa firmly in hand.
The visa process was pretty nerve-wracking - there are so many documents to compile, some of which require specific doctor signatures, taking awkward passport photos at the closest CVS, and LOTS of copying. CIEE's visa checklist, separated by consulate, made it so easy to keep track of everything I needed. The waiting, however, was not quite as easy. I am extremely grateful to live in Chicago and have close access to the consulate which has jurisdiction over my region. If you live in another city or state not as close, get some road trip/flight snacks, because you will need to appear in person at least once.
A little about applying for a visa with the Chicago consulate after/during a pandemic:
- It might take longer thank you think!
- Starting with the apostille (certificate of authentication for your criminal background check), CIEE warned us it could take up to a month for the State Department to return the document, which is a necessary part of the application (although the Chicago consulate allowed us to send it in after the rest of the documents if it hadn't arrived soon enough).
- There were fewer people working at the consulate, so appointments were scarce, which meant hundreds of to-be auxiliares were vying for the same slots.
- They changed the process halfway through...
- Originally, we had to set up an appointment online - and securing those were stresssssful (see above). Then we were notified they would only accept mail-in applications for the entire month of July. CIEE helped filter those changes to us, sending out emails as they checked for updates.
- Checklists, checklists, checklists!
- Both the Chicago consulate and CIEE provided checklists for the required application documents. Print them, cross-reference them, make them your best friends. They will be one of the best organizational tools so you don't forget anything.
Aside from these small pointers, the biggest thing to remember is to use your new community. Most likely, by the time you start the visa process you'll already have been added to the CIEE Facebook group or some GroupMe chats (I'm currently in three - one for all participants, one for the Chicago consulate, and one for my orientation group). Don't be afraid to ask questions! Everyone is trying to navigate the paperwork and it's possible someone may have already found an answer to your question - with lots of trial and error. Emailing CIEE or setting up a call can also give you insight or clarification, and that's what they're there for.
And, most importantly, remember to breathe. Thousands of people have gone through this before, and you will figure it out, too. Make lists, check them twice (or 20 times like I did), and don't let the stress override the anticipation of knowing you're going to make it to Spain. Now that I have the tiny, mugshot-like picture glued in my passport securing my entry, it all feels worth it!