When I initially wrote the post about Applying for Your Visa, I thought everything would be sunshine and roses. All the people who complain about what a pain it is just don’t do their research, I thought. That, for the most part, is true. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen the exact same questions asked in the Facebook Groups (that’s what inspired my Auxiliares FAQ post, now if only I could get more people to read it). Seriously, like 90% of the questions there can be answered by the PDF guides they post on the Auxiliares Website, the others have already been answered. Anyway, I digress.
When it came time to apply for my visa, I checked, double checked, and triple checked that I was doing everything right. My carta de nombramiento didn’t arrive until mid-July for my Madrid primary school, but luckily I was scheduled to apply through the San Francisco consulate which allows you to mail your visa application in. I was able to avoid the chaos of “when-can-I-get-a-visa-appointment” that way. So I downloaded the document checklist form and made sure I sent in all of my paperwork and my passport. I got the money order from (a very impatient and annoyed worker at) the post office and made sure to include my $22.95 express mail envelope for the return of my passport/visa and original documentation. San Francisco had a bit of confusion because the directions varied slightly should you apply in August instead of July (due to Josefa, the consulate head of the program finishing up her time in the US), so I was grateful to get everything sent in before the July-end deadline.
I mailed my visa application and it was received in San Francisco July 18. From what I saw from others on Facebook, the turnaround time was much quicker than a month, averaging around 2 weeks! How lucky, I thought. Despite all my Self-Dout and Worry, I was coming to terms with starting a new chapter of my life. I was stoked to see that my express envelope was departing San Francisco on the 28th of July! Finally, I could start preparing for my departure. It was time to put in my 30 days notice for my apartment. I could finally tell my work so that they could prepare to hire someone for my replacement. I could figure out how to keep in touch with my loved ones back home. I could begin to actually tell the world (rather than a few close friends and family members) that I was doing this cool, exciting thing!
I began making preparations. I found a potential roommate and we began Skyping and texting to figure out if we would be compatible as roommates. She seemed really great and had an apartment in the exact location I wanted for Madrid to make an easy commute to my school every morning. She had been in Madrid for two years as an auxiliar so she would be super helpful! I was making preparations with Verizon to deal with my phone while abroad, and everything was going well with them. I downloaded Messages+, a Verizon app that lets you send and receive SMS messages and phone calls to your American phone number via wifi (or data if you have the capability) so I was ready to use that in Spain. I figured out how to suspend my line and reduce my charges to $10/month while I was abroad (just to keep my phone number secure for when I return – there are cheaper ways to do this, like porting your phone number on Google, but this was fairly cheap and easy too). For the first time, I began feeling excited about this. Yes, I was still nervous about everything, but I was ready to make the leap abroad. The pieces were falling into place. All of my hard work, research, and preparations paid off!
When I received my express mail envelope back, it was Saturday, July 30th. Finally, I thought, the moment I’d been waiting for and only about two weeks turnaround! I could finally see my little visa and get excited and ready for Spain. I eagerly opened up my envelope and found all of my original documentation, which I would need in order to apply for my TIE upon arrival in Spain. It was all stamped and sealed, proving that it had been verified by the Consulate in San Francisco. My application had been approved and set for the 90 day arrival in Spain beginning in late August. I had my medical certificate, background check, visa application, carta de nombramiento, and… wait – where was my passport? The single most important document that I had sent over? The thing that my visa was supposed to be affixed to?? I looked inside the envelope again, but it wasn’t there. Panic began to set in. I can’t leave the country without my passport… Why wasn’t it returned with my other documentation?! Frantic, I began doing more research. Was it possible that they needed to keep my passport for a longer period of time for some reason? If that was the case, why did they bother returning my paperwork? Did something happen to my passport? What if they mailed it back with another girl’s application? What if it fell on the floor or got tossed out somehow?! Would I have to get a new passport? Would I need to reapply for my visa? What was going on?!
All of my research said that I should have been mailed back my passport with my documents. Great. Where the hell was it? I tried calling the consulate, but of course nobody was there. Their answering machine said to contact them via email. No option for a voicemail. I emailed Josefa and got an auto reply saying she was out of the office but to forward messages to the LA consulate gentleman. Awesome, because I’m sure he’d know what to do with my missing passport in San Francisco. I emailed the general consulate email address. And lucky me, this all happened on a weekend so there was nobody to talk to until Monday.
I called my mom in a panic asking her opinion. Who should I call? What could have happened? What should I do? I didn’t actually expect her to have the answers. I just thought talking to someone would calm me down. It didn’t. She basically told me that I would have to wait until Monday to talk to someone, but she was sure it would all turn out okay. I wasn’t so sure. If they didn’t mail my passport back, it had to be lost. They lost my freaking passport and now what? I researched ways to get an expedited passport. The regular way would take up to six weeks. Expedited would take three. Then would I have to mail all of my stuff back to San Francisco to get another visa affixed to it? Another couple weeks there. At this point, I just broke down. Maybe this was destiny, Spain was just not meant to be. Right when I finally began to feel confident about my decision, everything started falling apart.
I couldn’t believe my luck. I took to the Facebook Group and asked others who had received their mailed in visa application back. Maybe someone will tell me this is normal, I thought, that it just takes some extra time to get your passport back. I knew that wasn’t true. Why would they make you include a self addressed prepaid envelope and not return your passport? Obviously there had been some kind of mistake. I just wasn’t sure how big of a mistake had been made. Everyone on Facebook told me it was not normal. So I [im]patiently waited.
Monday morning rolled around. The consulate didn’t open until 9am (which was 10am for me). So I waited some more. Finally, 10am rolled around and about 10 minutes later I tried calling. I got a busy signal. Of course. About 10 more minutes, I received an email from the general consulate address I had emailed. This was their response:
Um, are you kidding me?! It was so obvious they didn’t even BOTHER to read my email. I didn’t ask any questions about the visa application process, I asked where my passport was! The subject of my email read: Auxiliares de Conversación Visa Application, so they clearly just read the subject and generated an auto reply (sir/madam – really?). I was so pissed! All of my panic and anticipation for a response from someone at the consulate amounted to that response?
So I called. Busy. I called again. Busy. Panic, again setting in. The consulate hours are only from 9am-1:30pm and I was technically working, you know, at my job. I couldn’t keep making phone calls all day. I’m sure my boss would really appreciate that. “Hey Gen, what ya doing?” “Just inquiring about leaving the country in six weeks. Oh, I haven’t mentioned anything about that to you…?” Ugh. I gave it one more try. Success! I heard ringing! The gentleman answered in Spanish. After inquiring if he spoke English (he did), I began to explain my situation. He quickly cut me off at the mention of Auxiliares de Conversación and told me I would have to contact another number for help. I wanted to cry. All I wanted to know was if my passport was, in fact, there! Couldn’t someone just go check for me?!
Patiently, I took down the number and he explained to me that it was Josefa who I would need to talk to. My ears perked up at that name. I had previously been in contact with Josefa, the program head in San Francisco, via email, and she was incredibly helpful. She was also supposed to be gone come August, which it now officially was. “Are you sure she’s still available?” I asked. When I emailed her over the weekend, I got that auto response saying she was now gone… He assured me that she was there today. Quickly I called her number. And, you guessed it! BUSY. I decided another email was my best shot.
To my surprise, she responded! It only took her about 10 minutes. I told her I was in a bit of a panic because I wasn’t sure where my passport had ended up and that I had only received my original documents mailed back to me. Her response was short (but oh so sweet). She explained to me that there had been some sort of mix-up and my passport had ended up with the ones that were scheduled for PICK-UP (which makes no sense, because why would I include the self addressed, express envelope if that were the case? And why would they mail back my documentation with no passport? But whatever). She apologized and asked for a forwarding address for me. I responded saying how grateful I was that it wasn’t lost and gave her my address. She said she was glad they had it too, and would mail it off that day!
A few short days later, my passport (and visa) arrived in the mail. I was back on track for Spain. Looking back, I maybe overreacted a bit (hindsight is always 20/20, right?). It’s important not to get caught up in the moment all the time, especially when the moment sort of sucks.
So you may be asking yourself what the hell the point of this post was, and I’ll tell you. Just because you do everything right, doesn’t mean you won’t come across hurdles. They happen, sometimes very much out of your control. This mistake was, luckily, easily fixed. It could have been so much worse. Had they accidentally sent my passport to another girl, who knows if or when I would have gotten it back. It’s also important to forgive and forget. Humans make mistakes – frequently. I do, you do, and people working in governmental positions do. Keep calm, and eventually the right person will be able to help you (sometimes many phone calls and emails later).
In a way, I chalk this up to a learning experience. It was my first real taste of bureaucracy, being bounced around from person to person. Being ignored via email. Having to deal with busy tones at the end of many phone lines. Red tape here, there, everywhere. And it wasn’t like I screwed up! This was a mistake on their end, but resolving it was a huge 72-hour headache, full of panic and worse-case-scenario thoughts. But in the end, everything ended up being okay. So if you’re feeling really stressed out, try to keep positive (easier said than done, I understand). If you can, learn from my chaotic experience. Things can and will go wrong from time to time. Even though you can’t control the situation, you can control your reaction to the situation, and that is what matters most.
Shoutout to Josefa at the San Francisco Consulate, the only person who made this experience (slightly) less than terrible. I can only hope that whomever they get to replace her will be half as courteous and helpful as she was! This post was meant to share my learning experience, not frighten you from applying. I’m pretty sure mine was a rare case, as I’ve never talked to anyone else who experienced this much confusion with their passport! How about you? Did your visa appointment go okay? Did anything crazy happen? Did you learn anything from it? Let me know in the comments below!