Tag Archives: passport

Short stay Schengen visa for Indian passport holders

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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.

  1. Visa Application form (duly filled of course).
  2. Two Photographs as per specification.
  3. Your original passport and all the old passports.
  4. Overseas medical insurance of at least €30,000. Most insurance companies of India are on approved list.
  5. Travel itinerary. i.e. Airline and hotel reservations.
  6. 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.
  7. Letter from Employer about the leave period (in case you are employed).
  8. Last 3 months bank statements. These need to be signed a stamped by the bank.
  9. 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.

Police Verification for Passport

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A lot of visitors to my passport application article have been asking me about the police verification process. Below are the steps that I took to complete my police verification. Some disclaimers:

  1. The verification was done in May 2013 and the process may change in future.
  2. The verification was conducted in Mumbai. Process for other police stations may be completely different. Even within Mumbai each local police station acts independent of the other.
  3. The verification was for a re-issue of passport. For fresh applications, the verification process may be different.

A police constable visited my house within 2 weeks of the receiving the passport. My application was put for post verification. Luckily, it being a Saturday, I was at home. Later I came to know that Mumbai police allows one to track the application status on their website. Police verification will not be initiated unless your file shows up on Mumbai police website. There is no point in visiting your local police station unless the details are updated on Mumbai police website. The local police station will not be of any help. Calling them is also of no use as generally the information that is provided over phone is to visit the local police station for further inquiry. The police will not entertain any documents from you unless a police constable has visited your house and verified the details.

The first step to police verification is a police constable visiting your residence. It is important that you are present personally to sign the verification documents. In case that is not possible, at least make sure that the residence is not locked and there is some family member available to provide all the details to the police constable. The police will also ask some neighbours to sign the verification form. So make sure the neighbours are available. They may or may not be the same references that you gave in the passport application form. No documents are collected by the police. They ask you to come with all documents along with 2 photocopies and 2 passport size photographs.

While the passport website says that you can submit the same set of documents to police that you submitted for your passport verification, it may not work all the time. The police constable who came to my residence wanted me to carry my Ration card, Electricity and Telephone bills (1 year old and current), Voters ID card and whole bunch of other documents even if these documents were not in my name. What he told me is that police verification (unlike passport application) is not a documentary process. What it means is that police should be satisfied about your identity as well as about your residence proof for past 1 year. The documents that you submit add weight to your cause but may not necessarily mean that police will approve your application. The police may make inquiry with your neighbours, building watchmen and others to ascertain whether you are living at the current residence for past 12+ months. Since it is easy to produce a 12 month bank statement with current address, the police does not give it much importance. Here are the list of documents that I submitted for my verification

  1. Old Passport copy
  2. Electricity and Telephone Bills (1 year old and current). Not in my name.
  3. A letter from my building society stating the period of stay in the building.
  4. Ration Card copy
  5. Aadhar Card copy
  6. Voter ID Card
  7. PAN Card
  8. 2 passport size photographs

Statements of Bank account downloaded from Net banking are not accepted by police. Also e-statements of utility bills are also not acceptable.

After a few weeks of submitting the documents, the status on the Mumbai police website will show an Outward Date, which means that the documents have been sent to central office of Mumbai police. If all documents are in order, the verification is updated with the passport office.

How to renew or reissue your Indian Passport?

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Recently I went through the whole process of reissuing my passport as it was about to expire. I just thought of documenting the whole process so that it could benefit others. The steps listed here may or may not be of help to you as every passport reissue case is different. Do note that renewal and reissue of passport are two different things. Passport is generally reissued. Renewal only happens in special cases where a short validity passport was issued which now has to be renewed for a full 10 year term.

Some points to note before you read further:

  • I got my passport reissued in April 2013, chances are the process may change in few months.
  • I got my passport reissued at Mumbai. Passport authorities at other locations may or may not adhere to the process followed at Mumbai.
  • I had to change my address and add spouse name in the passport. For other changes, more documents/verifications may be required.
  • My case was of passport reissue. For fresh passport, the documents required and your experience dealing with Passport authorities may vary.
  • I applied under “Normal” application process. Tatkal applications may require more scrutiny and checks.

With above disclaimer, below are the steps that I followed to get my passport reissued in 10 days under normal application system.

  1. To begin, Since the entire process of application entry is now online, you have to create an account on Passport India website. You can create upto 3 applications from one account, so no need to create multiple accounts for family members in case you are applying for passport for the family members. If you have more than three applications, then you will have to create multiple accounts on passport website.
  2. As soon as you create your account, you will receive an email from Passport Website asking you to click on a link to activate your account. Simply click on the link and follow the process to activate your account. Once you activate your account, you will receive a welcome email from passport website.
  3. Visit the document advisor links on the home page to check the documents required for your application. The advisor opens a wizard and asks you questions related to your application to advise you the documents required. Fresh passport documents and Reissue passport documents are different and these links will advise you better about the documents required.
  4. Login into your passport website account and create an application for fresh/reissue of passport (depending on your case). You can either choose to fill the form online or download a PDF file to be filled offline. In case you choose the later, once you fill up the PDF, you have to generate an XML upload file. Login back into the passport account and upload the XML file to submit the application. If you have a broadband Internet connection, it is always recommended to choose the online option rather than the PDF option.
  5. While filling up the application form, make sure the details such as your Given Names, Surname, Father/Mother/Spouse name matches exactly as on your old passport (or in case of a fresh passport, as on your proof of identity/address documents). In case you are married, it is mandatory to add your spouse name in the application. Failure to do so would amount to concealment of information and could result in penalty and criminal prosecution. Similarly if your old passport contained spouse name and reissue application does not, necessary documents must be attached (divorce/death certificate).
  6. While giving references in the application, make sure to choose references who live in the same society/neighborhood as you. Although the passport website says you can give reference of anyone from the city, it doesn’t work at least in a big city such as Mumbai. The police will insist on references of the neighbors only.
  7. Make sure to mention the correct police station in the application as an error here will delay your police verification. Passport authorities will not be able to guide you on filling up such details.
  8. Once the application form is filled, you can click submit and the system will generate an application reference number. Once the application is submitted, no further changes are allowed in the application. In case you wish to make changes in an already submitted application, you have two choices. You can either create a new application or mention the changes to the Passport officer during the appointment.
  9. After submission of the application form, you will need to create an appointment to visit the nearest Passport Seva Kendra (PSK). Appointments are required only for applications under “Normal” process. Tatkal applicants can simply walk into the PSK with a submitted application form. Update: Appointment are required for both Normal and Tatkal applications. Partially filled application forms which have not yet been submitted are not entertained at the PSK. So make sure you submit the form before visiting the PSK if you are applying under tatkal.
  10. You can follow the steps mentioned in the article “How to get passport appointment online” in order to get an appointment with nearest PSK.
  11. Once you get the appointment, print the appointment receipt (which has a barcode) and carry the documents suggested by Document Advisor. The documents must be carried in original along with 2 photocopies. The photocopies should be self attested (i.e. the applicant should sign each copy).
  12. You do not have to carry the application form or any photographs. Photographs and biometric details are captured at the PSK.
  13. Do note that unless you are a minor, senior citizen, illiterate or physically challenged, no one is allowed to accompany you to the PSK.
  14. Visit the PSK at the reporting time mentioned in your appointment. Do not panic if you reach late, most PSKs are sympathetic towards late comers and will most likely allow you inside. However, do note, that PSK security reserves the right to refuse entry if you report after your appointment time. Update: If you reach even 5 minutes late, the appointment is automatically canceled by the system. PSK will not be able to do anything in such cases. You will have to reschedule your appointment via the online system. So make sure to reach before time and take your token number.
  15. Mobile phones are allowed inside PSK. However cameras and other electronic gadgets are not. Its best to just carry the documents and your cell phone since PSKs do not have a locker facility.

 

Once at the PSK,

  1. You will be cleared by the PSK security who will scrutinize your appointment letter and let you in.
  2. Once inside the PSK, you will have to stand in a queue to receive a token number. Ideally this should not take more than 5-10 minutes. However since most people are late, chances are that there is already a backlog and expect to stand in the queue for 30-45 minutes before you reach the token counter.
  3. Once at the token counter, the person will ask for your appointment receipt and all the original documents. He/She will take one copy of the documents and if everything is in order, will put them in a file and give the file number to the same. The originals are returned back to you.
  4. Once this is complete, you will just have to wait back until your name is called out and a token is issued to you. This can take anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes. Once you receive the token, you are allowed inside the application processing zone. You have to present your token at the security who will verify it before letting you in.
  5. Inside the processing zone, you will see three different type of counters viz A, B and C.
  6. Counters of type A are operated by TCS employees and are generally very professional and quick in their work.
  7. There are large LCD screens placed at various locations inside the processing zone that show the token number status. As soon as your token is called, visit the specific A counter.
  8. At counter A all your original documents will be scanned and uploaded in the system. You will also have the opportunity to verify your application details and confirm the same before they are submitted. Your photograph and biometric details (fingerprints) will be captured. Also you will have to pay the necessary application fees in cash at counter A. Once this is complete, you will receive your passport file and token number back. This usually takes 7-10 minutes.
  9. You will again have to wait until your token is called at one of the B counters. Here, a passport officer (Government servant) will verify your original documents, stamp your passport (in case of reissue) as canceled and stamp your document photocopies as verified. This usually takes 5-7 minutes. However it can take as long as 15-20 minutes as well. Once this step is complete, you will receive your token and file back from the counter B officer.
  10. You will have to now wait for your turn at Counter C. At counter C a senior passport officer will verify all your documents again. He/She may ask you few questions. If he/she is satisfied with the application process, he/she will grant you a passport and generate a receipt. The passport file will be kept with the officer at counter C. He/She will also tell you whether your passport application has been accepted under tatkal or not (if you applied under tatkal). Whether police verification is required or not. If police verification is required, whether it will happen before passport issue or after. All this usually takes 7-10 minutes.
  11. Once you finish counter C, you have to submit your token at the exit counter and get a passport application receipt which contains the passport file number. You can track your passport status online with the help of the passport file number.

 

While I am not an expert about what documents are required as every passport application case is unique. However, here are some recommendations that have worked in my case.

  1. Submit as many documents as possible. While the document advisor on the website will suggest you to submit one of the documents as address proof, it is recommended to submit as many documents as you have for identity/address proof.
  2. Aadhar card which is more than one year old is accepted as a proof of address and identity. However make sure that the name and address matches exactly as on your passport application.
  3. Ration cards are also accepted as proof of address. However you should submit one more address proof if ration card is your primary address proof.
  4. Bank statements from any PSU scheduled commercial bank (which includes private sector banks such as ICICI, HDFC, Kotak, Yes Bank) as well as photo/non-photo passbooks issued by public sector banks are accepted as proof of address. For list of approved banks click here.
  5. Bank statements should be printed on bank’s stationary, stamped and signed on every page. Make sure the signatory mentions his/her name, designation and employee number and places the bank’s round stamp on every page.
  6. Bank statements generated from netbanking are not accepted by Passport authorities.
  7. Utility bills are accepted as a proof of address provided they are in the name of the applicant and two bills are produced, one which is 12 months old and another which is current month.
  8. E-Bills from utility service providers are not accepted by passport authorities.

Feel free to share your feedback or ask any questions that you may have related to passport application. Due to limited time I may not be able to reply to all question. I would recommend that you read through all the comments since many common questions have already been asked and answered.

How to get passport appointment online?

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Since 2012, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has changed the process of passport application and reissue. The application for issuance of fresh passport or reissue of expired/expiring passport has been made online. This has been done to streamline the whole process. Also Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has been roped in to manage the online application system as well as to manage the data entry process. MEA and TCS have launched many passport kiosks also known as Passport Seva Kendras (PSK) where an Indian citizen can visit to submit his or her passport application. This is certainly a good news for Indian Passport applicants as it removes all middlemen and agents in the process. However, in order to visit the PSK, one has to book an appointment online (unless your are filling up a tatkal application in which case you can simply walk into the nearest PSK without appointment). The number of slots at any given PSK are limited and hence they get filled up really quickly as soon as they are open. Here are some of the tips that will help you get your appointment faster.

  1. Make sure you have already created your account on the website http://passportindia.gov.in/
  2. Either fill the application online or download the PDF form to be filled offline. Once the offline form is filled, you need to generate the upload file and upload the same from your account at passportindia website.
  3. Verify all the details entered in the form and submit the form. Once submission is complete, you will now be able to create an appointment.
  4. Click on “View Saves/Submitted Applications” link and the system will list down all the applications that you have created. At most you can create only 3 applications per account.
  5. Select the appropriate application and below the application list, click “Manage Appointment” link. The link will only be enabled for forms that have been submitted. Partially filled forms will not have this link enabled.
  6. On the next screen, the system will ask you to choose PSK nearest to your location and click on “Create Appointment”.
  7. The system will ask you to fill in a CAPTCHA code to verify its a human being and not any automated bot trying to create appointments. The CAPTCHA code is alphanumeric and alphabets are also in capital.
  8. Once you enter the CAPTCHA, click on “Show Available Slots”. Most likely you will see the following message displayed “Currently no appointment slots are available for the selected Passport Seva Kendra (PSK). Please try scheduling an appointment from DD/MM/YYYY, 3:00 PM onwards. Total number of appointments booked today : XXX“. The appointment timings for various passport offices are also published on the passport website.
  9. Note down the date and time carefully. Also sync your computer/watch/mobile (whichever one you refer to) to the website’s clock. Website’s clock is displayed at top left corner of every page.
  10. Visit the website on specified date at least 10 minutes before the scheduled time.
  11. Follow steps 4 to 7 and reach the “Show Available Slots” page. Make sure to keep the CAPTCHA code filled in the form. Do not click on the link to see the slots yet. Wait until the time is exactly 3:00 PM (or whatever time was mentioned in the error message). Hit the “Show Available Slots” within seconds of clock hitting 3PM.
  12. You will now see many slots open for one or more days. Do not think twice and simply choose a slot immediately. It is advisable to choose afternoon slots as many people don’t prefer it or 3PM to 4PM slots.
  13. The system will ask you to enter another CAPTCHA and if the choosen slot is still available, you will receive an appointment confirmation number.

The system may become extremely slow during this period since there is heavy visitor traffic on the website. Make sure to access the website from a broadband or high speed Internet line (if possible, e.g. from office). Do not hit refresh/back buttons on the browser since you will only get one chance before slots get filled. If for some reason, your booking gets stuck on the final page, open another window without disturbing the stuck window and login into your account again and see if you have an appointment ID. Sometimes the system is too slow to respond and may have already booked your slot but unable to show you the appointment confirmation. In such cases opening the account in a new window can help verify if appointment went through.

If you are unsuccessful in your attempt, come back again at the date and time mentioned in the error message.

Do not try to make bookings for multiple accounts as only one account will be logged in from a single browser. If you have multiple bookings to be made, make sure to open them on different browsers (such as Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome etc) or use multiple computers.

Update (June 13, 2013): If media reports in TOI and other leading newspapers are to be believed then Passport authorities are rolling out two important changes in the application process.

  1. Now the system will automatically give an appointment from available slots instead of users logging in at a specific time to book an appointment. Users will be allowed to change their appointment twice in an year.
  2. Payment of Passport Fees will be made online and must be done along with the appointment in order to confirm the booking.

These changes will be rolled out slowly through the country.

Update (Aug 13, 2013): The new appointment system has been activated PAN India where the payment of the passport fees has to be made online before appointment is given. Also there is no way to choose the appointment slot and the same is allotted automatically by the system.