Planning a quick getaway to Europe? Well, as holders of Indian, South African and many others would agree – there is nothing like a ‘quick’ getaway! We have to plan way in advance, book all the tickets and accommodation, apply for a visa and only then look forward to the so-called holiday.
K and I are pushing off for a similar break to Germany soon (Oktoberfest all all that), and having been through the entire visa process recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share it with you guys, in case you are looking at visiting Europe soon. So here goes:
Where to apply for a Schengen visa?
Deciding which consulate to apply through is important. If you are travelling to only one member state (country) in Europe, you need to apply at the consulate of that country.
Incase you are visiting more than one country, you will need to apply through the country where you will be spending the maximum number of days.
In the event that you are spending the same number of days in two or more countries, you will need to apply through the country which will be your first port of call.
Since our main destination in Europe will be Germany, we applied for a Schengen visa through the German consulate. Although the rest of the visa process is based on my experience at the German consulate, the documents required and the visa process is more or less standard across all European Union countries.
How many days in advance should one apply?
It’s best to apply for a visa well in advance of the proposed travel dates so that there is no stress! Most consulates start accepting applications 3 months from the intended date of travel. But 15 days seems to be the absolute minimum requirement in most cases, except for emergencies.
How to apply?
Once you have figured out which country to apply through, (Germany in our case), you will need to find out the about the application process. Most consulates have partnered with companies such as VFS, Visa Link etc., to manage the visa process. A simple google search should tell you this.
It is important to note that all Schengen visas now need biometrics and hence have to be made in person. The only exceptions are in cases where such biometrics might have been collected in recent years but you will need to confirm this.
In most instances, you will need to book an appointment for the visa submission and also fill the form online. When booking the appointment, make sure you choose a date that will give you ample time to get all your documents in order. Because even if one of the documents is missing, you might need to re-schedule the appointment (might need to pay additional fees), or worse, risk the visa getting rejected.
The German consulate has outsourced the visa process to Intergate Visalink. Their website was very concise and easy to navigate. The following are the steps:
1)Book an appointment online or via their call centre.
2)Make the appropriate payment and retain the proof of payment. You will need to email this to the visa centre in order for them to confirm your appointment.
3)Once your appointment is confirmed, you should receive an email with all the details regarding the documents needed, etc. You will also need to fill the application online. This form can be saved/modified anytime until the day of your appointment.
What documents are needed?
This is the most important part and you must ensure that you have all the documents listed below, and any additional ones too in case they help support your case. The more you have, the better it is – or so I have realised!
- Completed visa application form for every traveller
- Original passport for each traveller with a minimum 90 days validity and two blank pages
- One recent photograph (as per the guidelines)
- Two photocopies of the passport page containing your personal details
- Copies of all previous Schengen visas
- Proof of employment/business/work/study – you will need a letter from your HR in original or a company registration document if your are self employed or proof from the university or school, if you are a student. In case you fall in none of the above categories are a dependent spouse (like me), you will need to submit a marriage certificate and a letter from your partner’s company/business, or a residence proof with the property owner’s ID copy.
- Three months stamped bank statements. In case your trip is being sponsored, you will need to submit the sponsor’s bank statements and a letter stating the same
- Confirmed return flight bookings
- Hotel/accommodation bookings for the entire trip. In case you are going to stay with a friend or family, you will need to submit a ‘Letter if Invitation’ from them. The letter should state that they have invited you to live with them for the duration of the trip. It should mention their full names, address and contact details. You will also need to submit a copy of their passport and residence permit. If they are not EU citizens, then along with their passport copy, you will need a copy of their work permit or visa that allows them to live in the EU
- Medical/travel insurance. The proof should clearly state the amount covered (at least 30,000 euros) and the dates for which it is valid. Repatriation should be covered in your policy
- Make separate copies of all the above for each individual visa applicant (even if you apply together – husband & wife, you will still need two separate copies of each document)
- If you are an accompanying spouse, it is advisable to provide a marriage certificate
- If possible, provide proof of travel within the EU countries as well
Please note, that the above requirements is for adults. For minors, you will need all the above and additional documents as below:
- Unabridged birth certificates
- Marriage certificate of parents
- Declaration of consent from both parents
- Passport copy of parents and minors
How long does the application take?
Once all the required documents are submitted, the application will most likely take a week or so. Our German visa came in exactly a week and we received an email from Visalink asking us to collect our passports. Processing time might vary from consulate to consulate.
How to collect your passport?
Once you receive a confirmation stating that your passport is ready for collection, you need to carry the original receipt that you would have been given at the time of submission. In case you are collecting the passport on behalf of someone, along with the original receipt, you will need an authorisation letter signed by them.
When you collect your passport, don’t forget to check the visa – the validity of the visa, your correct name, etc. In case there is a mistake, you must let them know immediately.
Some consulates also offer a courier service for the delivery of the passports.
As long as you have all the required documents in order, there is no reason to fret. It is a little painful but worth it at the end. So get out there and plan your fantastic European dream holiday!