The Visa Renewal

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year. It flew by and when I look back on all the things we did, and all that we’ve learned, I’m amazed. And if I’m honest, more than a little tired. Perhaps its this roller coaster of the bug that has performed a hit and run on me over the last couple of weeks. I went to soccer practice on Monday and tried to pretend I wasn’t more sluggish than normal, but Tuesday let me know that wasn’t the truth.

So far this year, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind of things to check off the list. I’ve never been one to let grass grow under my feet, but even I am a bit surprised that by February 22nd we’ve ticked so many boxes. And my last box for this quarter is gathering the paperwork for the visa renewal.

You can start your visa renewal 2 months before your visa expires, and up to 90 days afterwards. We didn’t file early and there were good reasons we waited. I think it will pay off. But I do want to file before the Brexit (The UK leaving the EU) debacle happens. If Britian goes a ‘Hard Brexit’ without a deal in a little over a month, that will leave the immigration status for many of the 300,000+ Brits who call Spain home in no-mans-land for immigration status. I’d like to avoid the chaos that is sure to ensue with ‘What do we do about these people’ from a Spanish Government perspective. And the rules and requirement might change.

This year we get to renew our visas for a 2 year period, rather than just the one. So this time next year I feel sure I’ll be sipping Mai Tai’s on a beach laughing at how little work I have to do compared to this year. Yeah Right. And it’s a bit of a different process this time around.

We hired a gestor to walk, and talk, us through it because while it says certain words on the Government website, the reality is quite different. And those words – now that we’re in Spain – don’t mean the same as they did when we were in the US. So a lot of the pre-work I did before meeting with the gestor is a bit mute now. I’m not concerned – we gave ourselves plenty of time. Now I know for next time what we really need.

As a refresher – gestors are like administrators. Some specialize in helping you set up a business with appropriate licensing, etc. Others do tax filing (but they aren’t accountants). Some help with immigration stuff. Generally, they’re the dogs body of the bureaucratic engine of Spain. They don’t review contracts or perform functions that an Abogado (lawyer) does. It’s a different job entirely. They give you advice and fill out a lot of forms on your behalf and file them.

When they say ‘bank statements’ they don’t mean the same thing from the US. And what they’re worried about, as far as documentation, is a little different than what we’re used to. Never mind, Jeff is going back to the US next month so he’ll gather whatever else we need that we can’t get from here. Like another Apostilized marriage certificate that can’t be any older than 3 months since the last version 1000 was issued. No kidding, I have 5 of these of varying vintages from the last 18 months. And the funny thing is – if we were divorced we wouldn’t be living together in Spain! Ugh!

Another thing we learned, for the next renewal we will need to show our Spanish tax documents. Meaning showing that we have filed annual taxes in Spain. Of course, we haven’t lived here long enough yet to file for the first time, but we will have to ensure those are ready to go next go round. Spain and the US have a tax treaty so no double taxing, but I’ve met a lot of American’s here, and most say they won’t bother to file. I hope they aren’t planning to be here for a second renewal cause they’re in for a shock. Eek! We are getting a referral from our gestor on who we need to discuss things with as an expert on US/Spanish personal taxation laws, and said treaty.

I was proactive in getting letters in advance from anyone we pay on a regular basis, landlord, etc. to write that we are up-to-date on paying. This was a good thing, as it apparently goes a long way to demonstrating good citizenship, amongst other things, like you pay your financial obligations without difficulty. And we will be requesting letters from the bank here verifying all sorts of stuff in specific language. It’s so different than last time.

And I learned that one local office for filing is not like other offices throughout the country or even the region. Every one of them can ask for different things and in different ways so it’s more an office by office thing. But we’ll roll with it and cross our fingers.

It feels like time is speeding up. The months are water through our fingers these days. My parents won’t be around forever and this year, in particular,, I feel the pull of home more than usual. I’ve been a little melancholy about remembering my childhood over the last several months, which is surprising because I’m not prone to sentimentality in that area.

We’ll be really glad when this renewal is done. Then we can come and go as we please. And, if the timing works out I can just make it to Portland for my Mom’s 80th Birthday at the end of May – and maybe my Dad’s 90th in September. Sporting my new Spanish residency card without a care in the world. Ha!

The Sun Also Rises

Time smooths out the rough edges of memory. Sometimes it makes the past seem rosier than, perhaps, it really was. We are home from Ireland. We were excited to spend Christmas in New Years in weather that felt like so many holidays of the past. Especially all the years we spent in Seattle. And it did.

But here’s the thing. Being back in Valencia it’s sunny and 65 degrees. And boy does it feel wonderful to be warm again. And Jeff, who really missed winter in Seattle (why, I don’t know) is happy to be warm too. Here, there is no bone-chilling wind. Hats and gloves have been put away. We can have our morning coffee without a coat and scarf again. It feels good.

We’ve hit the ground running too. We found a dentist and Jeff has already gone and seen them. I often hear that ‘socialized medicine’ means long lines and weeks of waiting for an appointment. We went yesterday to a clinic who had no idea who we were and he saw the dentist today. We anticipated it being much more difficult. So one more myth debunked.

This morning, I walked across the city to an Autoescuela that speaks English. Yes, these rarest of the rare actually do exist here in Valencia, like unicorns. You don’t see them and they don’t make themselves known. But my shot gun approach of talking to everyone I have ever met here about needing an English speaking Autoescuela to get practical lessons has paid off. Someone knew someone, who knew someone who once took lessons at a place where the instructor spoke English. And the lady there was surprised I got my theory test taken/passed all on my own without a school.

Next Tuesday morning I will be taking my first hour and half lesson to learn how to drive in Spain on a manual transmission. The woman who signed me up has as much English as I have Spanish (her husband – my instructor speaks English). She asked me what I was most wanting to focus on. I told her ‘manual transmissions and round abouts’. She nodded knowingly.

But at least I’ll be taking all my lessons in daylight. I feel very sorry for this man already and I haven’t even started. He has no idea what he’s in for. But his wife told me – via Google translate voice – that once I’m ready, passing the practical test in Spanish won’t be an issue. I asked her how many lessons she thought I would need. She said her husband would have to determine that, after a nervous laugh. Ugh.

I’ve also started gathering and filling out the paperwork for the residency renewal in March. Nothing like having a few balls in the air at the same time. But it seems like a much less arduous process than the original visa appointment. No Apostles – No background checks. Pretty straight forward. It seems the hardest thing so far is getting the government website to cough up an appointment time. It may require professional help to get it across the finish line.

Coming home to Valencia feels good. While we could speak the same language as the people in Ireland, it didn’t feel like home. It’s nice to be back to our grocery stores where we know we can get what we need. Where to get a haircut and our favorite coffee place. Poundland has nothing on our El Chino. I was disappointed in Derry when I didn’t get a gift with purchase beer upon leaving.

Our flight home was full of Irish students heading back to Universidad de Valencia after the break, and others like us. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that at midnight when leaving our Metro station near our flat – it was still 55 degrees. Suddenly, the language barrier doesn’t seem so high anymore.

Its Official

Today, we got our Spanish National Identity cards. It’s a big moment that took place in a humble building on the other side of the city, and they’re resting in our wallets now. So we’re good to go until we need to renew our visas in 11 months.

Everything here is a process of doing something, learning you did it wrong, correcting your mistake, then going back and completing it. Hopefully, this requires only one additional round trip. The only thing I’ve done right the first time is getting us our permanent Metro passes. I looked it up, actually had all the documents it said were required on the website, took them all to the Metro station offices and we got our cards then and there. I know the agent was surprised by my baffled look when he handed us our cards. Nothing is ever supposed to be that easy here – and yet it was.

I think it emboldened Jeff. He went online and signed us up for Valencsibi – the bike ride sharing service that is a whole 36 euros a year. In three weeks time, when our cards come, we’ll be able to ride bikes all over the city, like the locals. Valencia is the most bike friendly city I’ve ever encountered. Bank paths are down every major thoroughfare and soon we’ll be taking advantage of them. Riding to the river and down to the beach.

These small wins are starting to add up and it’s helping my peace of mind. Slowing down and cutting myself some slack has happened organically.  And has come just in time. Moving to another country is stressful. We aren’t surrounded by a big family that might insulate us from every single thing that is different or new starting right outside our front door.

Expectations I had before coming here are all gone. Now it’s just a matter of getting up and just experiencing things. We can’t anticipate or control. And letting go of the need for either of these things is starting to make for a happier life. For both of us.

Standing at the immigration building today, I realized it’s only been a month since we were in that line the last time. ONE MONTH.  In so many ways, it feels like a year. We’ve accomplished a lot since then. Things aren’t so foreign as they were before and going back to a place I had been before on that first day, helped me realize that we’re OK. It’s all going to be OK.

The lists are done. Now it’s time to live – just like we did back home. Real life starts today.

 

 

A Place to Lay My Head

We finally got to Valencia late last evening. Our day had been 35 hours long, including a near riot in the Madrid Airport over cancelled flights, perceived line cutting and general injustice by some of the passengers. The general mayhem and lack of anyone in charge only added to the seeming thirst for blood. To say it was a crazy day is an understatement.

I filmed the chanting and fist pounding that gained steam over the hours we stood in line to get re-booked on a later flight. I understood none of the ‘Protest Spanish’ I heard, but I started singing ‘We shall overcome’ under my breath until Jeff gave me ‘that look’ so I stopped.

Spain is an interesting country already.

‘Now this is why we moved here.’ said Jeff with a smile, looking around.

Only he could muster enthusiasm after being awake for 30 hours at that point. Watching the cast of characters with great interest.

Finally, we landed in Valencia and made it to our new apartment. Linda, our savior, was there to greet us with the keys and hugs.

‘How are you still smiling after all this?’ she asked. ‘You truly have had the hardest time with the visa stuff, and now this. Crazy.’

I just laughed. ‘What choice do we have?’  She agreed, we had none.

The airline (I hate American Airlines forever now) had lost one of our checked bags, but at least we had 4 of them, so we got them up to the flat and Jeff got to see where he’d be living from now on. Remember, we came from a house that was 4500 sq. feet. He’s used to manicured lawns, gardening service, a pool guy. His face said it all and he swiftly dubbed it ‘The Compartment’.

‘I don’t think you can really call it an ‘apartment’ cause it’s so small.’

Clearly, he didn’t live where I did in college. But we unpacked and found that our luggage had been gone through by persons unknown. One of whom had left me her old, grungy tennis shoes and made off with a pair of my Louboutins. She should be easy to spot. The baggage handler in the high heels with the red soles. Black soul, more like.

Also missing, were some of my kids’s pictures, a bathing suit, some jeans and a few other things, including my thyroid medication and asthma meds. I sat on the ground, because we have not one stick of anything to sit on, and I couldn’t speak. I felt totally violated. This is all we have – until some larger things come on the boat. But this is the precious stuff. And someone rummaged through it.

I managed to get it together, as Jeff talked me off a ledge. We were already missing a bag that never made it out of the Miami Airport. Now this. Jeff tried to inflate the air mattress, but the converters didn’t actually convert and they caught fire. Yes, in the first 30 minutes in our apartment, our beds caught fire! The place was filled with smoke. The cherry on the shit sundae of our day.

‘Screw the air mattresses. We’re going to a hotel.’ And he took me across town, to the place I stayed when I came alone in November, on my scouting trip. We had dinner at 11pm in the hotel restaurant and hit the hay. But I woke up at 2 and couldn’t get back to sleep.

I kept thinking. ‘Why have we come all this way? Why would we put ourselves in a position to be robbed? What the hell are we doing?’

My crying woke Jeff up and he stayed up with me until 5am, before we both fell back to sleep. At 9:30, breakfast and coffee helped get me upright because we had a busy day ahead.

Linda met us and took us, first to register at the town hall. Armed with that paper and some hastily taken passport photos from the train station (not my best face day – Jeff looked like he just got off a Tahitian vacation, damn him!), we went to immigration and applied for our long term visa. The visa they give you at the consulate in LA is only for 3 months. The long term one is applied for here. It will take 3 weeks to get the card and then we’re good to go. But they gave me a white piece of paper that is more precious than gold.

We need the immigration paper to get internet. What?!  Yes, you heard that right. The internet provider wants our immigration paper to decide if we’re really staying in Spain long term – we have a long term lease on a flat – and then they’ll give us internet (maybe next week). This is my first ‘I don’t get it.’ But we have to do it, so we did.

I was a little woozy, standing in line with the other immigrants, but we did it all before noon. Then we decided to truly unpack – headed back to the apartment to face the bags again, get organized (I always feel better after I make a list), make a list of what we need urgently, and headed out to do some shopping. There is a place about 5 miles out of town that has everything. It’s like a giant shopping city. To call it a ‘mall’ is to diminish what this area truly is. It’s massive!

So 4 hours later, and tomorrow they deliver a bed, refrigerator, desk, desk chair (for Jeff), kitchen table and chairs and a few other things. We bought bedding and pillows and kitchen items that will not be coming on the boat in a few months, and we carried them home.

‘Shopping City’ as I’ve dubbed it, has a bus that takes you from the city center out to the big shopping area. IKEA runs it and if you become a ‘Family’ member, it’s free. So we did and actually ate at IKEA before coming back. Free cafe con leche. I’ve never enjoyed a meal more in my life,. Not the fanciest restaurant could compete with it today.

‘IKEA with no sleep, low blood sugar, and after 35 hour day we had yesterday? You’re a brave man.’ I said to Jeff, on the verge of tears for most of our wander through the maze.

‘No. You’ll feel better once we’re settled. We just need to bite the bullet.’

He’s right, and tomorrow – after booking us into the hotel again tonight – we will start to feel like we’re making strides to settle in. So far, we’ve only been yelled at 3 times today for doing things wrong. A bus driver, immigration person, a stranger. We have no idea what they said to us, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps, learning Spanish should be put off for a few weeks, until I feel less fragile. When I wake up and I know where I am and how to get to the bathroom. That’s when I’ll be OK being screamed at in a language I kind of understand.

Visa Approved!!

Just heard – we are good to go. Its a little surreal. If we hadn’t had to provide one more month of financial statements, it would have taken only 3 days. I love the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles. Crazy! After all that – it was quick and painless.

Crazy Ideas

It’s strange. Thinking back, when we started this whole crazy idea of doing this – we targeted February 28th as the day we would fly out to Spain. And now it’s going to happen. In the end, I fooled the Gods of Document Hades – I think I wore them out!

I just booked our flights. I’m not sure how it all dovetailed together, but it did and our project planning all worked out. In software parlance, we finished UAT in plenty of time.

I included a photo in this post. Its a book my husband bought for me. He had no idea how may crazy ideas I could really have when he gave it to me. But he soon learned that the sky is the limit as far as my imagination is concerned. So, here we go!

If you could see me right now, you’d see a HUGE smile, that will be celebrated later tonight with the last bottle of champagne I’ve been saving for this occasion. The sound of the cork popping will be like the sounds of the fireworks of Fallas, we will get to experience in a few weeks.

Here’s to dreaming and taking roads less traveled. Here’s to all the crazy ideas and believing that anything is possible. Here’s to living the life you’ve imagined. It can be done. Ask me. I know.