Upon enrolling in the TEFL International TESOL program through LanguageCorps I knew I needed to apply for a visa. Admittedly I had done little to no research on the process prior to enrolling. I also assumed that each consulate had the same application requirements, big mistake! One day before flying back to San Francisco I realized that the Consulate of Spain in San Francisco requires several additional documents v. the Consulate of Spain in Houston where I had originally planned to apply. This left me scrambling to secure proof of insurance abroad and running to the bank to get documents notarized hours before my flight departed.
When the day of my appointment finally arrived I thought I had everything I needed. I had after all read over the requirements online numerous times and continually checked over my own pile of documents. Still as I sat down for my appointment and laid out all of my paperwork the Specialist looked up at me with a quizzical expression, “You will need to go to the Consulate of Houston as you are not a resident of California” she announced. I was stunned. What was she talking about? I had been living in San Francisco for over nine months. Yes, I had returned home for several weeks to visit family, but I had paid taxed in California! I finally realized that her concern stemmed from the fact that I still held a Texas license, and that I had written down my mothers home address on the application in case anything needed to be mailed after my departure. “Do you have proof that you reside in California?” she pressed on. No, I had just moved into a new apartment, quit my job and my name was no longer listed on any of the bills. The website did not say anything about bringing proof of residency! I spent the next 15 minutes begging [almost crying] her to review my paperwork until finally I remembered that my name was still on the internet at my old apartment. I quickly pulled up the mobile website on my phone and presented her with an old receipt. It was only at this point that she agreed to look at my documents and well basically grill me about every last detail. Finally, after what seemed like hours she granted me a long-term student visa. Phew! Of course, she still asked that I walk home, print my w-2 and bring her a hard copy as proof of my residency. Could I simply email her the document and have her print it at her desk? No, that would be too easy. My advice? Do your research!
Below is an overview of the different options to consider when applying for a visa as an English teacher.
- Work Visa
It is difficult for non EU citizens to obtain work visas. While some schools prefer to hire teachers who already have permission to work in the EU, most schools do not want to go to the trouble to obtain work visas, as it is a lengthy process. In fact, if a school sponsored you for one, you would need to fly back to your home country and go to a consulate there to get the visa, and then return to Europe. Most people do not want to go through the hassle and expense of doing that.
2. Tourist Visa
The common practice is for schools to hire non EU citizens for “cash-in-hand” positions, and most people just overstay the 90 days allowed as a tourist. I’ve been told that people who take reasonable precautions have not had problems doing this and many good schools will hire teachers without work visas; with flexibility and persistence, teachers get jobs lined up. It is recommend that teachers complete any air travel while their visa is valid, and remain within the European Union after that until they are ready to return home. Remember that Switzerland is not an EU member so avoid traveling there. Most teachers travel by bus or train after the visa period, and those over 25 sometimes rent cars.
3. Student Visa
The other option is to apply for a long-term six month student visa. This will require a signed letter from the program coordinator [in my case TEFL International & LanguageCorps] verifying participation in the program. The letter should include the duration of the program (six months) and list the initial teaching position as a “practicum”. The student visa must be obtained in the U.S., and requires a fair amount of paperwork, which can take several weeks to process. You will also need to go into the consulate for the district in which you live in person, as opposed to using a visa service. Spanish consulates are located in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Honorary consulates are also located in many cities, although some of them will not process student visas – this link lists many of them: http://www.embassyworld.com/Foreign_Embassies_In_The_USA/Embassies_To_USA_Spain.html