If you plan to visit any of the western or central European countries for a holiday, you will most probably require, what is called as a Schengen Visa. My wife and I planned a trip across Austria, Poland, Czech Republic and Germany in August 2016 and needed to get a Schengen visa. There are many blogs on how to get a Schengen visa already. However very few discuss Indian perspective. So I thought of sharing my experience when applying for Schengen visa from India. This blog is not a visa advice though and what worked in our case may or may not work for you.
Which Embassy to apply the visa to?
First thing to consider in the visa application process is which country embassy/consulate to apply your visa to. If you are visiting just one country, then the answer is simple. However, if you are visiting multiple countries then you should apply for the visa to the country where you will be staying the maximum time. If your duration of the stay is equal in one or more countries, then you should apply to the country where you will enter the Schengen zone.
In our case, Austria was the port of entry as well as the country where we were residing for the most days during our travel. Hence we applied to the Austrian embassy in New Delhi (via VFS, Mumbai). Make sure you get this right, the embassy and consulate staff hate what they call as “visa shopping”. They are known to blacklist visa seekers who indulge in such practices. It may also cause unnecessary delays as your application may be returned back or sent to the correct embassy internally.
The Schengen visa form and document checklist is more or less the same for each country. However every country may insist on certain more documents, so it is best to download the form and checklist for the country you are applying the visa to.
How early should you apply?
Plan for your visa early. You can apply for a Schengen visa upto 90 days before your intended date of travel and there is a good reason why they keep the window open for so long. The Schengen visa processing for many countries can easily take 3-4 weeks. For Eg: the processing time for Austrian visitor visa is 15 working days (or 3 weeks minimum). There is no premium processing and visas are not issued on emergency basis if the purpose of travel is tourism/vacation. Note: German and French consulates/embassies are known to issue Schengen visas in 48-96 hours. However it is still advisable to apply as early as possible (preferably at least 8 weeks before the travel date)
Do you need services of a travel agent for Visa application?
It depends! If you are a DIY person who can read and follow instructions, can draft cover letters and book your tickets, hotel reservations etc, then you don’t need a visa agent. If all of this sounds too cumbersome and complicated, then go for a visa agent. Hiring a visa agent has no impact on the visa decision. Make sure to work with a trusted visa agent and verify all documents and forms that visa agent is submitting on your behalf. We filed the visa application ourselves without consulting any visa agent.
Do you need to purchase Air tickets and make Hotel reservations?
You do need an Airline itinerary. i.e. a PNR with or without a ticket number. You can easily get this from various online websites or local travel agents for a small fees. Other option is to book a fully refundable ticket that you can cancel once you get your visa and replace it with a cheaper non-refundable ticket. We went with later option and booked fully refundable Y fare economy tickets with Air India. I did call up the airline before booking and they confirmed I can cancel the ticket few hours before the departure for 100% refund. No cancellation or transaction charges. Only downside is your money is blocked for few weeks.
For Hotel reservations, you can use booking.com or Hotels.com and reserve a fully refundable hotel booking as well. You don’t have to pay the hotel fee, just use your credit card to block the rooms. If you plan to later stay in a hostel or with a friend, you can cancel the hotel booking once you get your visa. If you intend to stay in hotels, you can still cancel refundable booking and go for the cheaper non-refundable option in the same or different hotel.
You should not book non-refundable tickets or hotels at the time of visa application. You risk loosing all your money if visa is not granted.
What about travel within Europe?
For travel within Europe, you will most likely use the railways. We did not buy any train tickets for visa application because most tickets don’t open up before 60 days in advance and fares are usually non-refundable (Esp SparNight fares). In the cover letter, we simply mentioned the trains details (Train numbers and Origin/Destination stations) that we intend to book once the visa is issued. We read at many places that train tickets are required, but it worked for us without actually producing any evidence of travel within Europe. While this blog is not about train travel in Europe, the one website I can highly recommend is Seat61 for train travel planning. It is significantly cheaper to book directly on the rail company website than with EuroRail or similar agent websites.
All old passports are required as well?
All your old passports are required to be submitted along with the current one. If you have lost your old passport then you need to file a police report and submit a copy of the same. There is no way around this.
Should one apply for Single or Multiple entry visa?
If you will not be exiting and re-entering the Schengen zone during your stay then you should apply for a single entry visa. Crossing from one Schengen country to another is possible on a single entry visa. There is no passport control / immigration within the Schengen zone. If you intend to exit and re-enter the Schengen zone (Eg: touring UK), then go for multiple entry visa. The fees for both type of the visas is the same. Beware that certain train travel between Schengen countries (Esp. Eastern Europe) may pass through non-Schengen zone and you will not be allowed to complete the train journey unless you hold a multiple entry Schengen visa and single entry visa for the non-Schengen country through which the train passes. No such trouble for air hassle though!
How much money to show in the bank account?
There is no hard and fast rule. You should have enough to survive the duration of stay and should not have to sell your house to fund the trip. Usually €50-€75 per day per person is a good estimate excluding air fare and other travel cost. Make sure that you maintain this balance consistently throughout the 3 month period and avoid last minute large deposits to bump up the bank balance. If you are employed, also attach your salary account statement that shows credit of salary every month.
Evidence of any other travel?
It is always good to have a passport with some stamps. A blank passport may not be looked very favourably by consulate/embassy staff.
Document list for Schengen Visa
So here’s the list of documents that we submitted and we had to visit VFS Mumbai office for submission of biometric data.
- Visa Application form (duly filled of course).
- Two Photographs as per specification.
- Your original passport and all the old passports.
- Overseas medical insurance of at least €30,000. Most insurance companies of India are on approved list.
- Travel itinerary. i.e. Airline and hotel reservations.
- Your financial documents such as ITR, Payslips (if you are employed) or Business registration documents (for self employed). A director/Partner of a Company/Firm is considered self employed even if you draw a salary.
- Letter from Employer about the leave period (in case you are employed).
- Last 3 months bank statements. These need to be signed a stamped by the bank.
- Cover letter that explains the purpose of your visit, travel details and what you intend to do during your stay (itinerary).
You may submit other documents such as investment proofs (liquid investments only such as stock, mutual funds, fixed deposits etc) as well. Some countries may require marriage certificate as well (if you are married of course). A copy of your credit card is not required.
For Austrian Schengen visa, we had to visit the VFS Mumbai office. The visa fee and VFS charges can be paid in cash at the application center. You do need to book an appointment slot online to submit your application. The whole process usually takes about an hour or two but can vary greatly depending on the time of the day. It is recommended to book early morning slot as not many people prefer it.
Hope this helps. And yes we got our visas in 15 working days.