Just like the saying, “there’s an app for that,” there should be one that says, “there’s a way to accomplish just about anything.”
So, to remind you; we did not get our visas immediately approved because we did not have our FBI clearance apostilled by the US State Department. Here we are in Arizona and our paperwork must be hand-delivered in DC.
Rather than expect my colleague in DC to drop everything she is doing to schlep across town at 8am (yes, the State Department only accepts walk-ins between 8-9 am!) I found the saving grace—Help Me Rhonda concierge service http://www.hmrconcierge.com. Rhonda was quick to respond to my request, professional and even knew the State Department drill. Drop off one day, set an appointment to return three days later to pick up the docs. Within 11 days of returning from the Consulate, our FBI apostilled clearance docs are on their way to LA!
We continue to post our stuff on Craig’s List and whittle things down. It is our goal to put one 10×20 container in storage, sell all of our belongings, cars and home and relocate to a 1400 square foot (if we are lucky) furnished apartment in central Valencia. We’ll be walking, using mass transit and hopefully purchase two of those cool, folding bikes to get us around town.
Are we scared? Yes. Are we crazy? Hell yes! Eight weeks until we take the leap!
Preparing our documents to apply for Spanish non-lucrative visas was a three-month process. We followed the Los Angeles’ Consulates instructions to a T, or at least we thought we had, but missed a couple of important steps.
Here’s a blow-by-blow of our process—
At the end of December we visited a local business that takes fingerprints. These must be sent to the FBI for a background check/clearance. The FBI office that handles this was very helpful, actually, darn nice! And that doesn’t happen too often when dealing with bureaucracy. We were told that average turn around was 10-12 weeks, but fortunately, they were at a lull and were expecting 9-10 weeks. Yippee!
In the meantime, we downloaded directions and every form necessary. Note: each consulate office has its own “rules,” so make sure you are gathering info from the office you are required to visit. Living in Phoenix, ours is LA.
During this time we started seeking out a person to translate the necessary documents—our marriage certificate, birth certificates (didn’t actually need), our proof of funds (we are applying for a non-lucrative visa, so must show income requirements), FBI clearance (there’s a whole other story about this later), medical certificate (clearance from our doctor). It took us a number of emails and calls to find someone who was pretty knowledgeable. Grace is very versed in this type of work and despite a couple of glitches, our experience worked out pretty well. Grace assured us that she could have all documents apostilled for us at the Arizona Secretary of State, which was true. However, we learned upon our visit to the LA Consulate that our FBI fingerprint clearance had to be apostilled by the State Department in Washington DC.
For those of you unfamiliar, apostille is similar to a notary, which is accepted by all countries based on an international treaty drafted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law in 1961. It specifies the modalities through which a document issued in one of the signatory countries can be certified for legal purposes in all the other signatory states.
Down to the wire…just four days before our departure we received our translated/apostilled documents and it was a nail biter. Grace did everything within her power to get our document apostilled, but learned that you must apostille the document from its origination. Therefore, our birth certificates, which we didn’t end up needing, were supposed to be apostilled in our states of birth.
We went through the Consulate checklist and believed we had everything in order and took off on Sunday morning to LA for our Monday morning appointment. We stayed a few miles away from the Consulate off of Wilshire in Korea Town, in an old, refurbished hotel, The Normandie. A very accommodating staff and comfortable surroundings made for a nice stay. Ubering around LA is quite easy…we just have to figure out which corner is which when ordering a car. Sunday was fun-day with a quick trip to LACMA for an outstanding Picasso-Rivera exhibit.
Arriving early at the Consulate, the woman assisting us was very professional…however, I was a nervous wreck. The few things we learned:
1) Make an appointment for every person in your family – we had only made one, but had arrived early enough to be accommodated.
2) Make copies of EVERYTHING. While I had followed directions, the Consulate reviewed the original documents and wanted to keep copies of every document submitted with the visa applications. We had to find a copy shop nearby to make the appropriate copies.
3) Have the FBI clearance apostilled by the State Department in Washington, DC BEFORE you arrive at your appointment.
4) If you are applying for a non-lucrative visa, you must return to the Consulate to pick up your visas in person.
While we were disappointed we did not make it through with flying colors—we were not turned away. We returned home to figure out how to get our FBI clearance documents to Washington in a timely manner to make our scheduled trip by June 4.