This post details the pre-departure experience as a Fulbright Chile finalist in the 2017-18 cycle. Information includes timeline to departure, program paperwork, visa requirements, travel preparations, and tips on finding housing. The period between “I got the grant” and “it’s time to leave” can be super confusing and tricky, especially since most coaching focuses solely grant application process. Many of my friends expressed the same confusion and frustration ahead of their trips. I hope this post, based on my experience as a grant awardee navigating the documentation and visa process, will help those who plan to research in Chile for an extended time, whether or not awarded a Fulbright.
The Fulbright Chile program follows a somewhat unusual timeline compared to programs in the Northern hemisphere that usually run September through anywhere from April-August. Here, the Fulbright Commission follows the Chilean academic year (March to November). For the 2017-18 cycle, I applied in Fall 2016, was notified of semi-finalist status in January, and finalist status in March 2017. Then I began the year-long process to prepare for my March 2018 departure for Chile.
The application process for Fulbright was very streamlined. My application and materials benefited tremendously from University of Arizona internal resources for grant writing. The University of Arizona offers a lot of institutional support for those applying to external grants including the Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement (OFCE), Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Institute (SBSRI), and History department workshops. The Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement (OFCE) a great resource if you’re a student at the UofA. Not only do they host a summer-long program to help students develop their grant applications, but they also hold frequent workshops and even offer a monthly graduate funding newsletter which students may subscribe. SBSRI also offers a wealth of resources to help students seek funding for research. I’d recommend checking with your institution to see if they offer similar resources and utilizing them!
Aside from a stellar proposal and personal narrative, the most important part of the application is a strong letter of affiliation. It’s really important to demonstrate to the Fulbright application readers that you have connections in the country you’re applying to spend x amount of time researching.
Applicants selected as Fulbright finalists will need to submit required documents to the Fulbright program and the Consulate to receive a visa. Each country has different procedures that depend on if they have a Fulbright Commission. These processes may have some overlapping requirements, but also differ drastically. The rest of this post will discuss the documents necessary to fulfill Fulbright Program and Chilean consulate requirements. Please keep in mind that each Fulbright Commission (or if they aren’t a commission country) and respective country’s visa process are different and this information is based on the Chile Commission.
Finalists receive a congratulatory email that also includes a link to Finalists Resources with required additional documents they need to submit to the Fulbright Program. These documents include:
- Medical History and Examination Form
- Fulbright Program Terms & Conditions Form
- Proof of U.S. Citizenship
- Grant Authorization Document
A copy of the Medical History and Examination form is on the Fulbright Self-Service Portal. I printed the medical exam form and made an appointment with University of Arizona Health Services to complete the paperwork then uploaded into the medical portal to await approval. For proof of U.S. Citizenship, I uploaded a scan of the information pages from my passport. The grant authorization and terms and conditions forms will be sent to users once finalized within their program.
REQUIRED DOCUMENTS—THE VISA PROCESS:
Chile’s Fulbright term lasts nine months, which means awardees must obtain a temporary residency visa from the Consulate. The Commission usually connects you to the closest Consulate from your location, but you can switch. For example, living in Tucson, the L.A. Consulate was the closest to me. However, I requested a switch to the Houston Consulate because my husband has family in Texas and I knew we’d be visiting over winter break. I followed the steps on the Chilean Consulate – Houston visa tramite portal. Per the website, I selected the “temporary resident visa—Fulbright” category. A fellow Fulbrighter went through the L.A. consulate and was told to select the “student visa” category and followed a different process with different police background check requirements.
Temporary Resident Visa—Fulbright Requirements (for the Chilean Consulate in Houston in 2017 –make sure to check for most up to date requirements):
- Valid passport with a minimum of six months validity
- Passport photograph, 2×2 inches, to upload in the system
- Health certificate issued by a doctor stating applicant good health conditions and has no medical conditions to be disclosed
- I used the same certificate I submitted to Fulbright for medical clearance.
- FBI background check
- This takes between 10-12 weeks (and can take longer depending on demand). I would recommend starting this process early. It cost me $10 to get fingerprints taken, $18 for the FBI to process the background check, and $35 to expedite the forms to FBI CJIS in West Virginia.
- For more information, see the FBI’s official background check website
- One of my fellow Fulbright friends who is working in a different country had to send her background check off twice then pay ($$$) a private company to try and expedite the process because her first background check got delayed. Again, start this process early!
- Letter explaining the reason you’re moving to Chile
- Fulbright will provide a PDF letter to submit (and, if requested, will mail a paper copy)
- Per the document the Consulate in Houston sent me: Medical Certificate and Police Records should be recent, 30 days at the most.
- Awardees and any dependents who might be traveling receive the temporary visa as a courtesy – you do not pay the normal visa fees.
Regardless of if you’re in the Chile Fulbright program, you absolutely must secure the visa before departing if you plan to stay in Chile longer than the 90-day tourist visa allows. You will likely be unable to board your plane without the visa in your passport showing you have approval to stay in the country over 3 months. If you do not apply for temporary residency, you will need to leave Chile every 88 or 89-days (bus trip into Mendoza is popular), to receive a new 90-day travel visa.
Make sure to budget enough time for all of the moving parts involved. Once the Consulate issues the temporary residency visa, you have 90 days to pick it up. From then, you have 90 days to enter the country or your visa will be invalidated. Once in Chile, you have 30 days to register the visa at the PDI (on Eleuterio Ramirez, if in Santiago) and apply for a carnet at a Registro Civil—now the process has changed and foreigners aren’t limited solely to the Registro Civil on Huérfanos if based in Santiago.
Many Fulbright programs have pre-departure orientation. This may be online or require you to travel to a different city. The Chile Commission does not currently hold pre-departure orientation. Check with your respective commission or program to inquire if they host a required pre-departure orientation.
I waited to book airfare and housing until after I secured my visa. Airfare is tricky to book for 9 months because most airlines only book 330-331 days out from departure. I booked my airfare with American Airlines in mid-January and was able to select an end of November return. This is much cheaper than booking a random round trip return flight then paying to change the date at a later time (this can cost hundreds and a thousand for international flights…).
Fulbright, and many other U.S. government grants, require flying with an U.S. based airline. Make sure you discuss this with the grant person of contact before booking.
It’s extremely difficult to locate a “perfect” space sight-unseen. I’d recommend booking temporary lodging and touring apartments once in Santiago or your final destination elsewhere in Chile. That said, I booked my apartment through AirBNB. Yes, I’m aware that there’s a major upcharge for AirBNB listings (colloquially, the Gringo Tax). I didn’t want to worry about gastos comunes (building fees) or utilities during my trip. I just wanted to pay one monthly bill online. Additionally, I didn’t want to pay a security deposit that would likely be kept (a common practice in Chile). I would definitely re-book my apartment given the location and proximity to archives, libraries, public transportation, grocery stores, shopping, restaurants, and cafes.
Housing sites for Santiago (may also have listings for other Chilean cities):
- AirBNB (This is my referral link, you get $40 credit for booking for your first stay with this link and I get $20 credit)
What other questions or concerns do you have about the pre-departure process?
This is the first post in a year-long series of Fulbright blog posts. The next post will discuss arrival and the first month in Chile. Thanks for reading; stay tuned!