How to Get a Spanish Visa the Hard Way — Part Seven — The Consulate

1.  A complicated combination of work, a doctor’s appointment, gigs and kids’ activities makes it impossible to go to Houston the next week.  Then a letter from the school district arrives, reprimanding us for the kids’ unexcused absences while we were in NY.

ARG. Fine!  We’ll go to the consulate the first day of Spring Break.

2.  Sunday night:  Rob and I double check all of the paperwork.

2.  Monday morning, 7:15am:  Arg!  Fifteen minutes late!  And stuck behind an accident!  Panic-drive for 2 hours. Arrive just minutes before our appointment.

3.  Blanch at the hot, crowded, dreary room with the “Now Serving” sign perpetually blinking 72 and only one human behind the bullet-proof glass window.

4.  Paste on smiles, hand the young clerk our 4 packets of neatly organized applications.

“You cannot all apply at one time.  You must apply at different times,” she says in a slight Spanish accent.

“The website only let us sign up for one person.  We’re one family.  Can we possibly do it today?” I plead.

 She sighs.  “Yes, but you must wait for all the others with appointments.”

We cheerily agree.

5.  “The computer cannot accept this form,” she says of the first page in the first file.   “There are no boxes.”

What??  “But… that’s the way it printed from your website…”

She sighs again.Here.  Please fill these out.”  She hands us the same forms, WITH BOXES.  We fill them out AGAIN for ALL 4 of us, spread out on a tiny table in front of the room filling with even more people.

6.  Suddenly realize that my neatly organized application folders are neatly organized in the WRONG WAY.  All the copies are in a separate folder, clipped together by type rather than person.  Madly scramble to re-org, the paperwork now spreading over the tiny table and onto the floor.

7.  “The copy of this form has only the first page,” she says of the second page in the copy section.

WHA??? Note to self for next time:  Do a last-minute file check of the copies as well.  Glance at the giant sign on the window that says “WE DO NOT MAKE COPIES”.  Look pleadingly at the clerk.  “Oh no!  I’m so sorry!   Um… what can we do?”

She sighs again. Grits teeth.  “I will make copies for you.”

We grovel.

8.  “I need 52 dollars for this form processing fee.”  We look in our wallets.  $45.

“Do you take credit cards?”

Sigh.  “No.  There is an ATM down the street.”  Rob gallantly  contains his rage, heads out the door, down one elevator, up another elevator, drives down six parking garage stories, down the street, withdraws cash, drives back up the street, up six parking lot stories, down an elevator, up another elevator, then back into the Office of Doom and hands over the fee.

9.  “You do not have bank records from the last three months,” she sighs.

“What?!?  Um… that was not on the list.  We have proof of future employment, like it says.  We also have our W2s from last year.”

Long sigh.  “Yet, you need three months of bank records.”  We stare at her in disbelief, unable to speak.  “Well, maybe you can email them to me, and maybe I will be able to attach them to your file.”

Maybe.  We nod, grimly, visions of travel fading.

9.  “Now finally you need your money order.  Please write all of your names on it.”  We comply, relieved at the thought of being finished after two hours, and hand her the fee.  “Wait… this is not a money order.”

“Oh, it’s a cashier’s check,” I reply.  “My bank assured me that it’s the same thing.  Safer, in fact.”

“We only accept money orders,” she says, very firmly.  We look bleakly at each other.

“I am going to kill that bank teller,” I mutter.  Then louder, “What time do you close?”


“Okay, it’s 12:15 right now.  We’ll be back.”

10.  Throw files and papers into our bag and rush the kids out the door, snapping and cursing at the world, bureaucracy, our children, and each other.

At this point I highly suggest throwing in some comic relief.  For example, have the kids “forget” to get out of the elevator, forcing them to ride all the way back down to the bottom while the parents pace and describe in detail the throttling they will give the children when they finally find the correct floor.

Arrive at the closest grocery and run to the customer service desk.  Approach the extremely grouchy looking employee with trepidation.  Leave the store 5 minutes later with a shiny new money order, an optimistic attitude, and a deep love for the grouchy-looking-yet-extremely-fast-and-friendly grocery store employee.

Speed back to the consulate.

11.  Pay!  Leave!

12.  Panic about the bank statements.  We really really need those today.  They’ll never get “attached” to our applications if we email them.  Google the nearest branch of our bank.  YES!  It’s a mile away!  Thank you, technology!

13.  Return the consulate.  Drop off bank statements.  Thank the young lady behind the bullet proof glass profusely.  She smiles vaguely and sighs.  Turn to leave.  It’s almost 1pm.  The room is still full of people.  Mostly the same people.

The “Now Serving” sign blinks 72.

14.  Eat loads of Mexican food.  Drink a large margarita.  Take the kids to an awesome Children’s Museum and buy them ice cream. They really were amazing throughout the ordeal… reading and drawing and not complaining at all.  Drive home.

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And now we wait.  And wait.  And wait.

How to Get a Spanish Visa the Hard Way – Part Six

1. Monday — Bring kids to school two hours late because we had arrived home from New York in the wee hours the night before.  Call doctor to try and get an earlier appointment.  Nope.  Bring papers to the translator.  Far north.  Pick up kids.

2. Tuesday — Ack!  Forgot to bring my Letter of Intent to the translator!  (This letter may be the strangest request from the consulate; I have to explain why we’d like a long term visa.  What is the purpose of this?  Do they expect villains will confess their nefarious plans in this way?)

No worries, they say.  I can scan and email it to them.  Great.  Now, how does this scanner work again? …. No…. that’s not it… no… not that… nope… IM Rob.  He says the new update scrambled the scan directions and it’s too hard to explain over IM.  Sigh… another day to wait for IT help.

3. Wednesday — Call doctor to try and get an earlier appointment.  Again.  Nope.

Finally unpack.  Finally clean house.  Parent-teacher conference. Homework. Dinner.  Etc. Etc.

4.  Thursday — Have a mild panic attack that our W2s from last year will not be enough proof of future income.  Ask Rob to request a letter from his boss.  *cringe* Hope this isn’t so annoying that the company will decide they’d rather not deal with a remote employee.

Success!  Letter received! Scanner issue overcome!  All papers emailed to translator! 

5. Friday — Wow.  This is great.  I can relax!  All I need to do now is go to my doctor’s appointment on Monday, pick up the translations, make photocopies of everything, and head down to the Spanish Consulate in Houston.  Whew!

At this point, I’d like to direct your attention again to the title of this series of blog posts.  Spoiler alert: It’s not going to be that easy.



6. Monday — Get a 7 a.m. call from my doctor’s office.  HE HAS THE FLU.  Guuhhhhh.  Try to reschedule.  Nothing until mid-April!  Panic.  Schedule an appointment with another doctor, realizing this person I’ve never met before will never sign papers vouching for 3 other people she has never met before.  Panic.  Call all the travel clinics in Austin.  They don’t sign these papers either.  They just give shots.  Sigh.

7. Tuesday — Write a pleading letter (longhand!) to my doctor, explaining the situation.  Enclose it in an envelope along with all the certificate of health paperwork for the four of us, and leave it for him at his office.  Cross fingers.

8. Friday — Pick up translations.  They’re beautiful and professional and very official looking.

Get a call from my doctor.  The signed documents are waiting for me!  Yes, Yes, Yes!  Houston, here we come.

How to Get a Spanish Visa the Hard Way – Part Five

1.  Thursday:  Oooh!  The kids’ birth certificates finally came back from the passport office!  Now I can get the Apostille forms for them and have them translated!

Call my doctor to try and get an earlier appointment.  Nope.

2.  Friday:  Okay, it’s been 4 days.  Our fingerprints should be ready.  I have to work up north so I can pick those up after and zoom down to the Secretary of State for the Apostille.  Hmm… no lines at either place.  Wow!  Everything is going so smoothly!

Except that I forgot the birth certificates.  (Soy muy estupido.)  Run to pick up kids.

3.  Monday:  Go to work.  Zoom to the Secretary of State with the birth certificates.  (“Wow!  That’s so strange,” says the lady at the desk. “There was someone in here last week with your name.  It’s not very common!”  Um… that was me.  I live here now.) Done!  Pick up kids.

4. Tuesday: Our marriage certificate Apostille arrived!  Whew!  Now we just need it translated.  My years of working for a language institute have paid off.  My old boss is going to give me a deal on translations.


3. Wednesday:  Call my doctor again to try and get an earlier appointment.  Nope.

Run up north to drop off the translation paperwork.  (Why is everything up north?)  Stuck in horrible traffic.  My old boss isn’t there.   Hover over the grouchy translation coordinator (I did tell you I’m going to be late picking up my kids, right?)  Blanch at the quote:  $650?  Are you kidding me?  Most of these pages are duplicates, aside from different names!!  How do normal people afford this service?  

Thank them for their time and flee.

4.  Thursday: Get ready to leave town for a week to visit family.  Secretly panic.  Research other translation services.  Continue to be shocked at prices.  More secret panic.  How can we go anywhere right now?

6. Monday:  Vacation!  Snow!  Family!  Death defying driving!  Freezing temperatures!

Actually, I think I recommend taking a break at the tail end of a visa process.    Plus my boss just wrote and overrode her coordinator to give us an extreme translation discount: $195!  Woohoo!  Glad I didn’t pull the trigger on other shady-looking translation services.DSC_0921

We can’t do anything else until my doctor’s appointment.

How to Get a Spanish Visa the Hard Way – Part Four

1. Check mail.  Yes!  An official looking letter from New York; it’s probably my marriage certificate and the Apostille form.  Open.  NOOOOOO!  They just sent it back.  Whyyyyyy?  The letter says I need the notary and clerk signature.  But they are clearly RIGHT HERE on the paper.  What the…?!?  Well, it’s Friday after 4pm.  Nothing to be done until Monday.

The washing machine chooses this moment to break.  

2. Monday.  Call New York as soon as the family leaves at 7am. Time difference working for me.  On hold 12 minutes.  The guy is nice, even as he is explaining that I’m pronouncing “Apostille” all wrong.  He tries to transfer me to another department but only succeeds in hanging up.


3.  Call New York again.  On hold 30 minutes.  Insist the operator wait on the line while I’m transferred… to an answering machine.


4.  Run downtown to pick up Rob for our fingerprinting and criminal record check.  $50 to wait in dingy office and be man-handled by soulless government employees.   And I get to come back in 3 days to pick up the results!   Good times.

Rush to pick up kids, rush to piano, rush to meet washing machine repair man.

Check mail.  Our passports arrived! Yes! YES!  So lucky!  I really thought this would be our biggest wait.


5. Tuesday.  Call New York, again.  No hold time!  (OH.  I need the county clerk signature and notary instead of the city clerk signature and notary.  Sigh.)

6. Back to the post office.  Explain my nesting doll situation. (Okay, I need to send this paperwork to Ithaca, which includes an addressed stamped envelope to Albany ,which includes an addressed stamped envelope to Austin.  Got it?)  Pay $20, then sit in the car quelling an anxiety attack about not spending $90 on express mail.

7.  Call health insurance to check up on proof of international coverage.  They can’t email it.  They can’t translate it.  Copies on their way by snail mail.  Sigh.

8.  Call doctor to see if I can move my appointment earlier.  Nope.

Yikes… this is a nail biter. 


How to Get a Spanish Visa the Hard Way — Part Three

1. Alright, kids off to school… back to form EX-01. Google.  Read.  Google.  Read.  So. Much. Useless. Info… wait!  What’s this?  A blog with a link that works!  Whew!  Surely I can translate this one page.

2.  No.  I can’t translate this one page.  How are people doing this?  Google.  Read.  Google.  Read.  Useless. Useless… wait!  What’s this?  A translation and directions?  San Francisco Spanish Consulate, you are my new best friend!  Houston Spanish Consulate, I am very disappointed in you.

3.  Fill out, print… Oh… no more black ink in the printer.  Jesucristo.  Okay, I’ll run out and get ink later.  Meanwhile:

4.  Marriage license. Find safe.  Find key.  Find marriage license.  Briefly reminisce about wedding day.

Ack!  Editing job coming in.  Can’t say no to a bit of extra money.  Edit.  Edit. Edit.

5.  Okay, now what do I do with the marriage license again?  Oh, get a Hague Apostille form.  What is that, anyway?  Google.  Aha.  Some kind of internationally recognized notarization. And of course I need to get it from the state of New York, where we were married.   Yay! Post office trip! (Is what no one says, ever.)

Pick up kids, drag them to office supply store for ink, then post office to send for the marriage license Apostille.  Inform husband how much I accomplished.  He asks if I made a copy of our marriage certificate first.



How to Get a Spanish Visa the Hard Way — Part Two

1.  Okay, second on the list of of visa paperwork: form EX-01.  Click link.  Broken.  Grrr…

2. Search for proper link.  Spend an hour combing through comments about said link.  Try to upgrade Adobe.  Technical questions.  Must wait for Rob to come home.

shower, dishes, laundry, beds, garbage, grocery list

3. Call Texas Department of State to ask about getting our criminal records, proving that we are not running from the law.  We must visit north Austin.  In person.  Of course.  Can’t do that today.  Back burner.

4. Call health insurance company to find out if we’re covered abroad.  On hold. On hold. On hold.  Nice lady.  Very helpful.  We are, in fact, covered.  Rob may be switched to contract work while we’re abroad, but at least we have proof of insurance for the visa application.  Sweet!  Hang up, satisfied.  Realize I forgot to ask if they have a Spanish version.  Mierda.

lunch, dishes, pack kid snacks

5. Call my doctor to set up an appointment for a family well-check, proving that we are not oozing with contagion.  On hold. On hold. On hold.  Aaaand… Rob and the kids have been responsible and gotten their well checks less than a year ago.  So insurance will not cover their appointments.  Sigh.  I make an appointment for myself and hope my super-cool doctor will sign all our documents when I am there.

Dang.  Time to pick up the kids.

6.  Whew.  Homework, dinner, dishes, kid bedtime: done.  Time to ask Rob technical questions, then upgrade Adobe.  Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.  There.  Now click EX-01 link.  Damn!  Still broken.

Sigh.  Go to bed.


Feeling overwhelmed.

How to Get a Spanish Visa, the Hard Way — Part One

1. Okay.  Let’s do this thing.  Google search: Spanish Consulate, Houston.

Wait… put laundry in first.

2. Caramba! The website is in spanish!  Oh wait… click “english”.  Whew.  I’m embarrassed to be so relieved.  That can’t be a good sign.

3.  Click “non-lucrative visa”, as per my research.

4.  What the…?   “Fill out a non-lucrative visa if you will NOT be working while in Spain.”??  Wait, that can’t be right.  Panic.  Do an hour of research.

Make beds, put away laundry, make lunch, do dishes.

5. Back again.  So, we won’t be working for Spanish companies, so yes, “non-lucrative visa”.  Back to number 3.

6. First on the list: fill out and print four copies of the application.  Done.  Make files for each family member.  Done.  Feel satisfied and then vaguely tense.  I wonder why…  oh… because that took all morning and it was the first (and easiest) item of a three page list.

And now it’s time to pick up the kids.



soaps & telenovelas

To learn a new language, immersion is the key.  For me, immersing myself in Spanish is just not going to happen unless I live in a different country.  But there are things I can do to help.  One of those things is watching some Spanish language TV.  Something full of body language is right about at my level.  So, a telenovela it is.  Spanish language soap operas are unlike ours in that the story is not endless.  They’re more like a mini-series and less like All My Children.

So flipping through channels one evening I landed on Telemundo where La Casa de al Lado sucked me in.  There’s a ghost, an evil twin, a beautiful mute quadrapalegic who knows too much, a scheming housekeeper who thinks she can speak English, and layers upon layers of intrigue.  As if this wasn’t enough, the entire production is drenched in dramatic music.  “¡Usted está vivo!” (cue music)  Bum-bum-BUUUUM.  “¡Usted no es mi madre!” Bum-BUM-BUUUUMM!  “¡Es martes!”  BUM-BUM-BUUUUUUUMMMMMM!  In fact, the music is so over-the-top I can hardly hear what the characters are saying,  Not really ideal for language learning.

Meanwhile Netflix suggested I would enjoy “장난스런 Kiss“, a Korean mini-series.  There’s a cheerful girl, heartless boy, goofy side-kicks and a long drawn-out story of unrequited love.  My inner-13-year-old is thrilled.  (Oh Netflix, you know me)  The music is cheesy Korean pop, but at least I can hear what the characters are saying.  And, much to my surprise, I understand a lot of it.  I’m 7 episodes in and feel like I can turn off the subtitles without missing much.

This is part of my problem when trying to learn Spanish; any time I’m struggling for a word, I automatically throw something Korean in there.  I guess it’s an argument for total immersion.  Although I took 2 years of Spanish in high school and a few casual classes since, it’s those 3 years of living in Korea that really ingrained the language.  This, despite the fact I was teaching English all day.

So while I figure out how we can move to a Spanish speaking country, I’d better watch more telenovelas.  What are your favorites?  Any with less Bum-BUM-BUUUMMM and more cheesy teen romance?

a little extra? or too much?

Last fall Violet’s teacher called me.  She wanted to know if we would let Violet move into Spanish Language Arts.  “Yes!” I nearly shouted into the phone.  After all, full immersion is the program we originally wanted for the kids.  But the way AISD’s program works, Language Arts is taught in the child’s first language for kindergarten and 1st.  This is supposed to give them a solid foundation in reading skills.  (I’m not sure, based on current research, that that approach is totally necessary for kids who grow up being read to and are familiar with letters and sounds.  It’s mostly geared towards helping kids whose families don’t have that kind of environment. )

At Violet’s school, the monolingual English-speaking population is slightly higher.  That means that her English class had a few more kids than what is ideal.  So they wanted to move some students who are reading at levels higher than 1st grade over to the Spanish class.  Solid foundation in English?  Check!  Moving on.

Violet is always up for anything new, so my immediate reaction was that she’d have no problem with the change.  Her teacher agreed, and expressed concern only about Violet’s… behavior.  It turns out (not surprisingly) that when she doesn’t understand something, her mind wanders.  And when Violet’s mind wanders, it’s not an inner dialogue.  Obviously that’s a problem for the teacher and the other children trying to pay attention.  Now I’m even more sympathetic to the ESL kids who struggle to understand their teacher and are labeled problem students when they tune out.  Remember trying learn a foreign language?  It’s exhausting.  No wonder these kids’ brains need breaks.

The wonderful thing about the dual language program is that the teaching is scaffolded to support the students while they’re doing all this tricky work.  In Violet’s case, she is allowed to write in English for now.  For example, their teacher read them a story about George Washington in Spanish.  The kids talked about it in Spanish.  Violet asked a couple vocabulary words, and then she wrote a summary of the story in English.  “George Washington died of old age.  He was a soldier.  He did such a good job he became president.”  (Knowing how to lead an essay with a good hook is hereditary, by the way.)

The girl reads a lot in English at home, so we’re not worried about that.  The only annoying part of this deal is that she has to do English writing homework once a week, in addition to her other homework.  (Which would take 5 extra minutes if she would just SIT DOWN AND DO IT).  And she misses her English teacher.

Next year all the kids will be taking Spanish AND English language arts.  But for now, I’m excited we get a little extra.  I learn her vocabulary right along side her each week.  Violet?  She’s not thrilled about the homework, but she seems to be surprising herself about how much she knows.

Rosetta Stone

Whew.  I just finished my first “live session” on the Rosetta Stone language learning program.  I got Level 1 for Mother’s Day because, as I’ve said, nothing else has been working for me.  Classes are expensive, time consuming, far away and only moderately useful.  With Rosetta Stone on my computer I’ve been able to sit down every day after the kids are in bed and practice for 30-45 minutes.  It’s almost like an addictive video game.  I listen, speak, write, read stories and play games (solo or online).  Once a unit is complete I can sign up for a live session.  For 50 minutes I see and talk to a Rosetta Stone “teacher”, a real person, on the computer.  She shows us pictures, asks questions and makes us speak to the other 3 students enrolled in the session.  It’s all total immersion.  No English allowed.  Exhausting, but exciting.  Unit 1 was mostly review for me, though, so it’s definitely getting more challenging.  I still haven’t downloaded the smart phone apps included in the package or listened to the CDs in the car.  (Since I have the kids with me most of the time, I really can’t mess around with a phone app or listen to anything but child-babble while driving.)

I’ve finished almost half of Level 1 and feel pretty comfortable with what I’ve learned so far.  I even noticed that I understood more of the conversations at a recent party we went to hosted by a friend from Mexico.

It turns out that AISD is offering Rosetta Stone for a really reduced price to parents of kids in the DL program.  We jumped on that so we can continue studying after Level 1.  After all, we can install the program on all the computers in the house.  Rob is going to study and Violet has already started.  She actually loves it.  Since she won’t be writing Spanish until 2nd grade, I disabled the writing section of the program and she is whizzing through it.

Bueno.  Must go study.