Hello! My name is Faith, and I’m currently studying abroad in Rome, Italy. The past month has been filled with new experiences, and I can’t wait to get the chance to talk about them. But for my first post, I figured that it would be fitting to give some advice/information on something that comes before you jump on that plane and escape to Neverland—visas!
Here is a blog that I wrote while I was in the midst of my visa process, which I wrote so that all the details and feelings associated with the experience would be fresh in my mind:
Visas are stressful!! Especially if you’re applying independently. One of my friends is going to Germany for her study abroad program. She gets to leisurely enter the country, fill out some paperwork once she’s there, and bing-bang-boom, her visa will be born. Not all of us study-abroad-pursuers will have this simple fate, however. If you’re like me, you’ll need to apply independently at a consulate in the U.S. Usually this means that you need to apply in person. This means a potential road trip to a fun city (yay!), and also a list of potential stressors (not so yay!). If your financial situation is less-than-secure like mine, the visa process can be a bit more complicated. Possible roadblocks that I’ve encountered on my journey to attaining a visa include: attaining a bank letter, getting an appointment, knowing what documents will work for each application requirement, and simply waiting for the mail! For the most part, each of these road blocks have pretty simple, doable solutions as long as you give yourself enough time to address each one. Everyone will have their own potential issues with getting their visa, but here are some tips for each of the roadblocks that I personally encountered:
The Dreaded Bank Letter
Ah, the bank letter. This is what you need in order to prove that you have enough money in the bank to support you during your time abroad. There is a chart that you’ll be able to access on your consulate’s website that will tell you how much you need per day, in addition to a base sum (for me that was about 200 dollars, for example). In order to prove that you have this money, you’ll need an official letter from your bank stating what your balance is. The main issue with this requirement if you don’t have much money is, of course, getting…ya know…the money. For me, this required careful saving, holding off on buying a plane ticket so I could keep my financial aid travel stipend in the bank, and a handy deposit from my mom that she withdrew immediately after I got my bank letter so that she could pay our rent, hehe. In the past, students with financial need like me would be able to prove their financial support through a letter from their college. However, this year the policy changed, and the only way to prove you can survive abroad is through your own bank account or a family member’s—bleh. Moral of the story: use your resources! Like work study money, financial aid stipends, and family members who can spare some money for a few days so you can attain that beautiful letter that says you have x amount of money in your account. Another tip to finding out exactly how much money you’ll need, is just emailing your off-campus studies advisor. Mine helped me calculate the exact amount I needed!
Getting an Appointment with Your Consulate
When I first went onto my consulate’s site to book my appointment, I was shocked to find that the entire summer was booked up, right up until about ten days before the start of my program. Fortunately, I was able to get an appointment through an honorary consulate in Seattle. I found out this information by going to the OCS office and getting a tip from the lovely Barbara Hoffman, who told me that another student in my exact position had gone the “honorary consulate route” and had a great experience. This ended up being my saving grace. So, tips for getting your appointment: try to book your appointment as early as you can. Once you know which program you’re doing, and determine which consulate you need to apply through (you can find this information on your study abroad program’s website), I’d recommend trying to get an appointment right away. If you’re unable to get one that’s soon enough, an honorary consulate might be your saving grace, too! Going to the OCS office for their advice is super helpful as well. Plus they usually have candy, which you’ll probably find out you needed more than you realized.
Figuring Out What You Need
The list for all the documents you’ll need to apply for your visa will be located on your consulate’s website. Sometimes there will be a “proof of blank” that you’ll need and it will be a bit unclear as to what will work for that document. The main obstacle that I encountered was that my consulate didn’t communicate over the phone! I’m not sure if all consulates do this, but when you call into mine (the main one and the honorary one), you get an answering machine that said to email them. This can be frustrating, because in some cases you’ll have to wait days for an email reply that doesn’t end up answering all of the questions you had. That happened to me a few times, and can be a bit stressful when you’re on a time crunch and need to get your documents together by a certain deadline. My main tip for this issue is to, once again, do things as far ahead as you can. It might seem like you’ll only need a day or two to get all of your documents together, which is what I thought at first. But I quickly realized that it’s important to give yourself plenty of room to email people, find original documents around the house that you might need, and waiting for certain forms to come in the mail—which brings me to my final tip.
Waiting for Mail
This one might be the most weirdly stressful of them all. Right now, I’m waiting on some visa letters from my abroad program. I need them in less than two weeks, and they should be here on time. But it’s definitely a bit worrisome to know that I have to twiddle my thumbs and wait for necessary forms to arrive in time for my unmovable visa appointment. You see, I didn’t even know that I would have to wait for these letters to come in the mail until recently. Thankfully, I figured it out in time. But in order to get the visa letters, I needed to book my plane ticket, which I needed my financial aid money for, which I needed in order to get my bank letter, which (oh yeah, did I mention?) I also needed to come in the mail. So as you can see, this was a long line of tasks that could only be completed once I got the previous task done. Juggling all this on a time constraint isn’t easy, and so we come back to our trusty tip of giving yourself pleeeenty of time to figure everything out, so that if there are any delays (like mail-waiting time), it won’t be a stressor.
Overall, getting your visa really shouldn’t be too difficult. As long as you’re on top of things and give yourself time, everything should fall into place. Utilizing your resources, like your study abroad program advisor and the Whitman OCS office, is pretty necessary and all-around helpful. Also, keeping track of things by writing them down and checking them off is both helpful and gratifying. At the end of the day, do what you gotta do and you’ll be off to a fun country stuffing your face with great food before you know it!