Very recently (a few days ago), my husband and I applied for a Schengen tourist visa from Chennai for a short trip to Paris and Ghent (Belgium). While, the process can be quite intimidating to a lot, it’s a piece of cake if you have all the right documents. I’m going to list down, in detail, the steps involved in applying for a Schengen visa along with a few tips, some Dos and Don’ts which would make the process a little less intimidating for the first time visa applicants.
(Please note that the following are the steps involved for applying a short term tourist visa and is based entirely on my experience. The documents required, the time taken for processing, etc. will slightly vary from one country to another)
1.Decide your point of entry and the countries/cities you would want to visit
Before you apply for a Schengen visa, you must first decide your point of entry/main destination for the trip. There is a good chance you wouldn’t be visiting just one country (also referred to as a Schengen state) in Europe. Most times, tourists/travelers would want to visit at least 2 to 3 countries/Schengen states when travelling to Europe. If that’s the case, then decide which would be your main destination/point of entry during your stay in Europe.
In my case, my point of entry was France (Paris). I had booked return tickets from Kochi to Paris. It was from Paris that we decided to go to Ghent (Belgium). So Paris is my point of entry/main destination. Which means I had to apply for a Schengen visa from the French Consulate and had to submit my documents to French Embassy. We got our visas in exactly two days. We applied on a Tuesday and we got our passports on Friday. (The processing time will vary depending on which Schengen state you apply to. Luckily for France, the process was real quick)
2. Book an appointment at the nearest VFS office
Assuming you have decided your ‘point of entry’ Schengen state (country) and assuming you have booked/blocked your air tickets, the next step would be to block your appointment date and time at the nearest VFS office. To do that, first you need to visit the respective VFS website. For France, the website is – http://www.vfs-france.co.in/. On the respective website check for the nearest VFS office. You will have to book an appointment at this VFS office and submit your documents and give your biometrics (Yes, now you need to submit your biometric data as well for a Schengen visa).
For our Paris trip, we submitted our documents and biometric data at the Chennai VFS office. If there is no office at the city you reside, no problem. The whole process of submission of documents and biometric will take not more than half an hour, provided you have all the necessary documents and you are the first few to arrive at the VFS centre. The office usually opens at 8:00 AM. If you book the earliest appointment, and arrive at the VFS office at 8 AM, you can leave the office with everything done by 8: 45 AM. My husband and I had an appointment at 8:45 AM. We however, arrived very early (at 7: 55 AM) and waited for a few minutes outside the gate. At 8:00 AM, we were let in. We were allotted a token number. Within two minutes, we were called and we submitted the documents, paid (by cash) and gave our biometric data and left the premise at 8:45 AM. Don’t forget to take a print out of your appointment confirmation. You will need it to get in.
Book the earliest appointment.
Arrive at least an hour early. Most likely you will be let in before your appointment time.
You can also call to book an appointment if you are not very comfortable in booking the appointment online.
Do not carry anything except your documents, wallet/purse and your phone. You would be asked to switch off your phone.
If you do carry any other electronics (laptop/iPad), you would be requested to drop them at a counter before entering the office. You can collect them on your way out.
Block your appointment at least a month before your journey.
You don’t have to go through a third party agency to do this. It’s fairly simple and you will end up paying an additional Rs. 2000 (minimum) which is unnecessary and, whether you do it on your own or through an agency, you will still have to visit the VFS office in person to give your biometric data. So you might as well do it yourself.
If you’re traveling to another city for your visa application, it’s better to come the previous day or early morning and return the same day in the evening.
VFS offices are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
If you plan to travel with your family or as a group, every member of the group/family should submit a separate set of documents and should book individual appointments. However, all the individual appointments can be clubbed as a group (a maximum of 5 members are allowed per group) and documents and biometric data of all individuals can be submitted as a group at the same time.
3. Getting your documents ready
The documents necessary for a Schengen visa application varies depending on the Schengen state to which you’re applying. However, a bulk of documents remain the same. I’m going to list them below. Please visit the respective country’s VFS website to get a list of documents. It’s quite clear on their website.
A valid passport with at least two empty pages (for stamping the visa). Please make sure your passport is valid at least for 3 months after your dates of travel. (All your previous and cancelled passports must be included)
A fully filled and signed application form: The application form can be downloaded from the respective VFS website. You can edit the application form on your laptop and print it. Make sure you request for multiple entries if you plan to go to more than one Schengen state.
Two passport size photographs – the website will have a lot of specifications (background colour, minimum and maximum size of the face, angle of the face, etc.) for the photo that could scare you a bit. But don’t worry. All you have to do is, go to the nearest photo booth/shop and tell them you need a passport size photo for your Schengen visa application. Most of the photo booths know the visa requirements. They will get it done in a jiffy. You don’t have to worry about the specifications.
A detailed covering letter introducing who you are, stating the dates of your travel (arrival and departure), purpose of your travel (very important), your itinerary (just mention a few places you would be visiting) and the list of documents you are submitting, along with your signature. The internet is filled with a ton of sample cover letters. Please download one and customize it for your travel. The letter should be addressed to ‘The Visa Officer’, Embassy of ‘xxxxxxx’. For me, it was the Embassy of France.
A Non objection certificate (NOC) (if you are employed or a student) from your school/college or your employer. You will have to request your school/college or your employer to provide you with a NOC mentioning that you are granted leave on the days of your travel and that you will re-join the college/school or your organization once you return. It is very important to mention you will be returning back to your native. Usually, schools and colleges will have a standard NOC format and they will get it issued for you (All you have to do it mention your dates of travel and the destination). If not, write a NOC on their behalf and get it signed from the authorized person on a company letterhead.
Copy of a travel insurance (at least 30, 000 EUR). This is very easy. You can do the entire thing online. Visit policybazaar.com, enter all the required details. The website will throw you a list of insurances available. Select the one that offers minimum 30, 000 EUR and pay for it. It will cost you Rs. 1000 to Rs. 2000 (depending on the number of days you wish to travel). Please take an insurance valid for the period of your stay there and at least 5 days after your return to India. The insurance must cover medical and hospitalization expenses.
Copy of your air tickets – You could either show at itinerary of your tickets (blocked tickets – no payment or risk involved) or you could buy a refundable ticket online (a minimal risk of cancelling the ticket and foregoing a small cancellation fee involved) and submit a copy of that. I usually book a refundable ticket because, as far as I know, to block tickets, you may need the help of an agency or you need to go in person to the airline office. I find it easier to book refundable tickets online and take a copy of that
A copy of your prepaid hotel accommodation. I use booking.com to do this. You can block rooms without having to pay anything. You get a confirmation on your email. Just submit a copy of this. It should do. Later, you can always book another room if you’re not too happy with your choice and you wouldn’t lose a penny.
A copy of your bank statement. With online banking available, it’s very easy to get a bank statement. Take a print out of your 6 monthly bank statement online, go to the nearest branch of the bank. For a very small fee, they will attest the copy. Done. You can also show the bank statement of your RD/FD accounts. A credit card copy is not required. If you’re visiting 2 – 3 countries for a period of 10 days, a balance of 1 lakh per person is more than enough. If you have additional RD/FD accounts, it helps to make your case stronger.
Income tax return acknowledgement and the Income tax return for the last three years. If you are not working, this is not necessary. Or if you have been working only for a year, you can submit the documents for the last one year. If you started working just a few months ago, it is not required. But do mention the reason you are not attaching the ITR in your cover letter. It is very essential you submit your ITR or at least a valid reason for not having one. My husband was specifically asked why he did not have one and he had to explain that it’s been only a few months since he started working.
A Salary slips for the last three months – this is fairly straightforward (if you are working)
Photocopies of your passport (the front two pages and the last two pages)
Photocopies of all your UK, US, Canadian and Schengen visas applied in the last three years.
A copy of your marriage certificate, if you are travelling with your spouse
If you are not working and would be financially supported by your spouse, then please provide an affidavit of financial support from your spouse along with your spouse’s bank statements
(The above list of documents pretty much sums up everything you need. However, it’s better to have a look at the VFS website to make sure you have everything)
4. On the day of your appointment
Go to the VFS office at least 30 minutes before your appointment time. If your appointment is one among the first, then you’re lucky. The process will take hardly 30 minutes and you will have enough time to get back to your office without having to take a day off. All you have to do is go to the office, show them your bags and get checked by the security. You will receive a token. After receiving the token and dropping any electronics (other than a phone) at the baggage counter, you can step in and wait till your token number is called out. Hand over the documents which will be checked by an agent. He/she will then go ask you to pay the visa fees (in cash) at another counter. Once paid, as for the bio metrics to be taken. You will be guided to a room (individually) where you can submit your biometric data (just fingerprints). Once you’re done, you will be given a bill/form that needs to be provided at the office later when you are collecting your passport after the visa decision has been made.
5. Passport collection
You will get regular updates on the status of your visa on your mobile number and your email id. You can also track the visa status online on the respective country’s VFS website using the reference number provided in the bill. Once you receive a message saying ‘your passport is back at the visa application centre’, you can go collect your passports. Please note that, there are specific timings to collect your passport and this varies from one city to another. In Chennai, one can collect the passport only between 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM, weekdays. Either you can go to collect your passport, or you can send an immediate family member (spouse, father, mother or siblings) to collect the passport. If your entire family has applied for visas, then it’s enough that one of you can go to collect all the passports. All you have to show them is the bill/form that was given to you at the time of visa application.
If you’re having someone else pick up the passport (other than those who applied for the visa), then they have to produce the bill/form along with a copy of a govt. issued id proof of yourself and the one who is collecting the passport, and an authorization letter from you (the one who has applied for the visa) giving the authority to collect the passport. Again, there are several sample authorization letters online. Just pick one of them and customize it to fit you. You will have to mention the passport number on the authorization letter.
6. Open the passport to check if your visa has been stamped
If your visa is approved, congratulations! Start planning your trip!
Don’t worry. If you have ALL the documents in order, state your purpose of travel CLEARLY (an itinerary will surely help) and have the financial means to live in Europe for a few days, you should get the visa.