The week our visas expired

As I have alluded to in the past, the process of obtaining our visas to come to Tortosa was an incredible comedy of administrative hell. The twists and turns, the soaring highs and bone-crushing lows, were nothing short of a Game of Thrones saga (although obviously without quite so much blood).

What really made it so rotten and exhausting was the uncertainty. Obviously, it was absolutely nothing like that experienced by people who are moving countries to save their own lives, I know, but in our sheltered lives it was a time of constant confusion.

There was no clear check list to work through, and no straightforward process that we were ever told about. It was like driving in the dark, where you can only see the next bend in front of you, and around every bend was another bend. Or a ruddy great camel. As we needed both a working visa and a family visa for H to come with me, the process was doubly complicated.

We spent five months on tenderhooks: checking our emails every morning to see if useful news had arrived from the Northern Hemisphere overnight, racing from hastily booked appointment to hastily booked appointment, convinced that each piece of paper we obtained was the last one we needed, only to find that it was not.

Snakes and ladders

My cobbled-together attempt at snakes and ladders (or, as I like to call it, arrows and arrows) is an attempt to explain the many ups and downs that we went through, while also living out of suitcases because we had moved out of our house because we thought we would be living in Spain.

Special mentions must go to:

  • The day we made an appointment at the police station to organise our police checks. We both raced there from work during our lunch breaks, and were all ready to go until H realised that his drivers license still had his old address. The only solution? A flat out sprint to the nearest bank to obtain proof of his address there, before our 20 minute appointment was up. I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure H hoofed some people out of the way to make it to the front of the line.
  • When we finally got all of our papers together, in a nice neat collection, as instructed by the Spanish Embassy in Melbourne, only to be told that they all needed to be translated by a certified translator. It was, really, information that could have been brought to our attention BEFOREHAND!
  • The time we figured out what the Apostille of the Hague was, and figured out where to get it, only to find that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade office had moved earlier that week to the other side of the city.
  • The morning we received an automatic reply from the university here saying that they would be closed for the entire month of August and could not process the all important resolution letter from the Spanish government that is needed for a visa. Don’t get me wrong, I love the long summer break now that I am here, but at the time, our heads nearly exploded.
  • When we officially registered our relationship with the Melbourne City Council in order to prove our relationship. That was actually a really nice morning.

All in all, with translations and registrations and taxes, the process cost about $800 and took around five months, two months longer than expected.

But we got here, and it’s great. So much so that we are now in the process of renewing our residence cards.

Well, at least I think we are.

The university has been very helpful in providing the forms we needed to send to the government in Madrid, and now we have two new letters from them stating that we are allowed to stay for another year. We have a new document from our local Ajuntament (Town Hall) saying where we live, which was really hard to get last time, but this time took all of 10 minutes. Best of all, the process of obtaining a residence permit in Tortosa has changed in the last year, so we no longer have to sleep outside overnight to ensure our place in the line.

Apparently all we need now is an appointment at the local police station with our old cards and our new letters. BUT, and it’s taken two weeks to get to this answer, we cannot make said appointment until after February next year.

This means, that we are now living sin papeles. As I type this, our visas have officially expired, as have our residence cards. We have 90 days to renew our residence cards, but this falls before February. Gulp.

To be clear, the police are OK with this. My job is OK with this. Everyone we have spoken is more than OK with this, to the sound of “yes, this is how it works, don’t worry, be happy”. But it is a strange feeling. And with a trip to northern Germany planned for Christmas, I hope the border officials will be OK with this too. Stay tuned…

Update 12 December 2015: We are legal again! Not 24 hours after I published this, the online booking system magically opened appointments for the following week! We went to the police station, handed over our documents, and are now legit once more, just in time for Christmas.

2 thoughts on “The week our visas expired

  1. Oh yes, getting visas is fun!
    It reminds me of a fellow PhD student, whos visa for Germany expired, so he spend a few weeks being unlawful. It only took him a visit to the police to resolve.
    Getting visas for Australia was certainly more straightforward then your process, but yes, I remember the hassle of getting all documents translated (or in english version where possible) and my surprise to what documents they wanted to have – seriously, who is going to read all that paper work? And the visa help hotline – even with german speakers – did give some contradictory advice to which visa I should apply for… Confusion? – yes! The good thing was the partner visa for Australia – damn easy! At least when you are able to prove that you have been together for some time (and I heard others who did not manage to prove that, even after living together for some years).
    Good luck with the renewal!


    1. Thanks Wiebke! I have always wondered how hard it is to get an Australian visa. I can imagine that if you didn’t have excellent English things could get pretty difficult (and expensive)!


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