If you are planning to visit Europe any time in the future, you may have heard of the Schengen visa, but how do you apply and what does it mean, here’s a complete breakdown.
What is a Schengen Visa?
- There are a total of 27 countries that are part of the Schengen region.
- The 27 countries include Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
- They are called Schengen as part of an agreement between them that allows people and goods to pass freely across the borders of each of these countries without passports or other controls.
- Citizens of certain countries, like India, are required to obtain a Schengen visa before visiting any of these 27 countries.
- Even though the visa is applied for via the consulate of a certain country that you are visiting and documents are submitted via VFS Global, which holds a contract for the submission of biometrics and documents. VFS Global is typically a middleman in the process.
- The final visa is processed by the consulate of the country itself. For example, I submitted my Norway visa documents at VFS Global in Delhi, but the decision for my visa was taken by the Norwegian Embassy.
Via which country should you apply for the Schengen visa if you are visiting several countries together?
Quite simply, the first port of entry or the country where you will be spending the longest time as per your planned itinerary.
- The visa application form is fully completed at the said country’s visa website, along with the visa payment made online.
- After doing so, book an appointment slot for submitting your documents with VFS Global and start collecting your documents as per the document checklist provided by the embassy on their website.
- Here’s a sample checklist as shared by the Norwegian Embassy for the document’s checklist. This can vary from country to country.
Documents that help:
- A strong cover letter showing a bank statement with more than the requisite amount of balance as stated by the embassy, which is required per day of expenses. For example, if it is recommended that you should have attested $150 per day (this is just an example), then on the safer side, for a 10-day trip, have a balance much greater than $1500.
- As a freelancer, I share the proof of my registered business to establish ties with my country and show the reason for my return.
- If you are in a fixed job, show your salary slips and a letter from your employer granting leave for the said duration.
- Travel itinerary: Create a comprehensive travel itinerary and indicate it along with your cover letter.
- You need to show hotel bookings for every day of the trip, not just the first few days. A great way of securing the bookings is to make them via booking.com, in case you’re applying yourself. Look for hotels that offer “free cancellation, no pre-payment required” so that you can cancel the bookings if needed later on.
- Buy travel insurance that covers all the countries on your planned itinerary.
Do you need to book flights in advance to visit a Schengen country?
- In most cases, no; you just need to share an indicative flight booking with your actual planned dates. But you need not book the actual flight tickets.
- This is also recommended by the visa consulates of most countries themselves, so that you don’t lose money if a visa is not granted.
- I use a service called onwardticket.com that helps me obtain flight itineraries.
- They cost much less than booking/blocking the full amount in actual flight tickets.
- Some countries’ consulates, like the Netherlands, will ask you to share actual flight tickets, but in most cases, this is not a cause for rejection if all your other documents are in place.
After your visa is granted, note that the following rules apply:
Schengen visa rules:
- Your visa will indicate the country from which you have secured the visa; however, the same does not need to be your actual port of entry, as explained earlier.
- You can modify your travel itinerary after the visa is granted and not stick to the same as shared with your application, as long as you enter and leave the Schengen area within the dates of your visa.
- Once you are in any Schengen country, your passport and visa are not going to be checked when entering another Schengen country. Even if you board flights. Immigration is only applicable when entering and leaving the Schengen area.
- Be careful, and check the number of entries granted. If the visa indicates that it is for multiple entries, then you can leave and enter the Schengen area multiple times within your visa dates. If not, then be careful that if you visit a country besides the 27 Schengen countries, you will not be able to re-enter.
- If your visa is granted for a longer duration, you can plan a trip to other countries in the Schengen zone, even if you don’t visit the one for which you originally obtained a visa again.
Pro tip: You need to apply for a Schengen visa multiple times during different trips to be eligible for a longer-duration visa. However, applying from France, Spain, or Switzerland maximizes your chances of securing a longer-duration visa if you’re visiting Europe for the second or third time.