Europe is a dream destination for many travellers. Imagine seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, eating the famous food in Italy, or climbing the Swiss Alps in Switzerland. If you want to make your European dreams come true, you need a Schengen Visa, which allows you to visit multiple countries in Europe.
Now you can explore the best of Europe, with this step-by-step guide on how to apply for a Schengen Visa. Visa applications can be stressful, so we’ve included everything you need to know to ensure you’re well prepared for your application process.
1. Schengen Visa and Territories
26 European countries abolished their internal border checks so they can trade with ease and benefit their economy including boosting their tourism. The treaty called the Schengen Agreement was signed on 14 June 1985, near the town of Schengen, Luxembourg for the actuality of a common visa policy and other uniform rules. Here are the 26 countries where you can move freely from one place to another without the immigration and border checks. Of these, 22 are member states of the European Union while the rests are EFTA member states and the complete list includes:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
2. What is a Schengen Visa?
The Schengen visa is also known as a “short stay visa” wherein the holder has the authority to travel freely within the Schengen Zone and stay for a maximum period of 90 days in a period of 6 months. Note that even if you do get a Schengen visa, you can still be denied entry by border control – this is at their discretion – so make sure that you have all your paperwork with you when you travel, so you can at least argue your case.
A Schengen Visa is very handy as it serves as an all-access pass that lets you through several countries in Europe. With a cohesive visa system introduced for the Schengen countries, travel in Europe has become much easier. Travel by road, rail and air is considered as domestic travel within these countries and there is nil or minimal checks in between.
3. Benefits of a Schengen Visa
When you have a stamped Schengen Visa:
- You can travel freely within the Schengen Area;
- In one visa, you can visit the following countries and places as long as the visa is valid. Imagine how much money you could save and how many appointments you won’t need once you have this special visa. So so much!
- You could stay continuously for upto 90 days within the Schengen Area for every 6 months (short stay visa);
- On a side note, if you are a Schengen visa holder, you can also enter other European countries that are outside of the zone such as Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Romania without getting additional documents or visa. Days of entry depends on each country and mostly, only applicable with multiple entry Schengen visa. Some of these countries are in the process of joining the agreement.
4. When to apply for a Schengen Visa
You can apply for a Schengen Visa at least 20 days to up to 3 months before your intended trip. This is highly recommended especially during peak seasons or just in case something happens – like delays in processing, or failing to provide complete documents – you still have ample time to sort things out.
5. Where to apply? Which Country Embassy should I apply to If I’m travelling to multiple Schengen countries?
This is the initial question to ask as to which country has the authority to issue your visa. There are a few rules you must take into consideration:
- If you intend to visit only one Member State of the Schengen area, you must apply through the consulate/embassy of this state.
- If you are visiting two Schengen countries, you must apply for a visa at the consulate/embassy of the country where you will be staying longer. Example: If you are staying in Spain for 4 nights and in Italy for 5 nights, you must apply through the Italian consulate.
- If you want to visit several Schengen countries for an equivalent duration of time, you must apply for a visa at the consulate of the country where you will arrive in first. Example: You are staying for 5 nights both in Spain and Italy, and your first entry is Barcelona, you must apply through the Spanish consulate.
6. Validity of Schengen Visas
With a Schengen Visa, you can stay in the Schengen countries for a period of ninety days within a six month period. So you must schedule and book your flights and accommodations for your journey within the timeframe or validity of the Schengen visa.
How Many Entries Needed: Single or Multiple
a) Cases where you need a single entry:
- Only visiting one Schengen country (ie. Mumbai-Paris-Mumbai)
b) Cases where you’ll need a multiple entry:
Visiting several Schengen countries (ie. Mumbai-Paris-London-Amsterdam-Mumbai)
Going to London after Paris means that you will be leaving the Schengen zone, since UK is not part of the Schengen agreement. Further, going to Amsterdam after London means that you are entering the Schengen area again for the second time; thus, you will need a multiple entry visa.
Visiting the same country again after your trip ie. Mumbai-Oslo-Mumbai in January and another Mumbai-Oslo-Mumbai trip in March. Since you left Oslo already in January, you would need another entry to go back to Oslo in March. Thus, you would need a multiple entry visa, or would need to apply for a separate visa for this journey.
7. What is the document requirement
- Schengen Visa application form – filled out and signed
- Original passport with at least 2 blank pages and at least 3 months validity upon return + previous passport if any
- Two passport-sized photographs recently taken, not used in previous visas
- Round-trip airline reservation and day wise travel itinerary. Airline itinerary should cover entry and exit to/from the Schengen countries
- Accommodation – hotel confirmation or hotel voucher in all Schengen states of destination
- If joining a cruise, reservation certificate and copy of ship’s itinerary
- Travel medical insurance coverage (€30,000) – must cover the entire period of intended stay and be valid for all Schengen States
- Proof of financial means
– Bank statement-recent personal bank statement of last six months with sufficient balance
– Income Tax Returns (ITR)
– Salary slips
– Supporting Financial Documents such as Fixed Deposits, Property Investments, Recurring Deposits, any other Investments etc (Optional but advisable).
- Proof of occupation
– If employed: Leave sanctioned certificate
– Self-employed: Business registration and company financial statements
– If a student: Proof of Enrolment and Bonafide certificate
– If minor (if travelling without parents)
Notarized affidavit of support and consent of parents [especially of the parent(s) not traveling with the minor] or legal guardian
Photocopy of passport of parents or legal guardian
- Invitation Letter addressed to the Embassy if a friend or relative will accommodate the stay of the applicant in his/her house or residence. The letter of invitation, however, is required to be made by a National, Citizen or Foreign Resident in the country you are applying for this visa. This letter of invitation must be supported and accompanied by a document of identity or permit of stay
- Invitation letter from the host company and covering letter from the India company (for business visa)
- Visa processing fee (Embassy fee + VFS/VAC service fee)
- Photocopies of all originals including passport biodata page. (The embassy may not return your original documents if you submit without photocopies)
In some instances, they might contact you again for an additional document required or in case your application was rejected and you wish to lodge an appeal.
8. Visa Processing
Visa processing and issuance takes anytime between five (5) working days to upto four (4) weeks after submitting the visa application. So start completing all the visa requirements well in advance. Make sure to photocopy all documents. Each applicant must have their own file of original documents and photocopy.
9. How much does the Schengen Visa cost
The cost of applying for a Schengen Visa will depend entirely on the prevailing exchange rate between the local currency and Euros and is likely to change from time to time. It is also important to note that payments made for a visa are non-refundable.
The Schengen Visa fee cost approx. EUR 60. Usually, no fee is applicable for children under the age of 6 years. The fees are only payable in cash and only during your appointment at the time of submission of your documents. It is always advisable to prepare the exact amount.
10. What is the role of the Visa Application Center (VAC)
Most of the countries have outsourced its visa application processing services to VFS Global or another VAC. The VFS/VAC has no role in the decision-making process and only act as a middleman between the Embassy and the passenger/travel agent.
How does it work: VFS/VAC will collect all the applications along with required documents from the passenger/travel agent and forward it to the respective Embassy/Consulate for processing. On completion of the visa processing, they also collect the passport from the Embassy/Consulate as per the date and time provided and further return it to the passenger/travel agent.
11. What happens at the Visa Application Center (VAC)
Applicants are required to show up in person at the Visa Application Center (VAC). Make sure to be there in time for your scheduled appointment. The VAC staff will only ask you a few questions related to your purpose of visit and how long you’re planning to stay. They will also double-check your documents before they submit it to the Embassy. Since there’s no interview, the Embassy officer-in-charge will decide based solely on the papers you’ve submitted. Here’s what happens:
- Arrival and waiting period. Once you arrive at VFS/VAC, the security guard will confirm that you have an appointment and then he/she will usher you to the waiting area and advice you to wait for your name to be called.
- Submission of documents. Simply hand out your documents to the VFS/VAC staff and he/she will check the documents that you prepared and then ensure that everything is complete. Make sure that your documents are arranged in the right order. If in case you have any missing documents, the staff will inform you about it.
- Biometrics. VFS/VAC will have to capture your biometric data (finger scans, digital signature, and portrait photo).
- Visa payment. This must be paid in cash only. Once paid, they will give you a payment receipt (that has your application reference number and details) which you should keep safely. The receipt is needed to track your visa status online. So DO NOT lose the receipt. Be advised that the fee is NOT a guarantee that the visa will be granted. It also helps to note that these are non-refundable and non-transferable if your application is denied or if you decide to terminate your application.
- Post Submission: You can track the status of your application via the Visa application website using the VFS/VAC Reference number and Date of Birth/Name. It is important to note that a valid visa does not guarantee entry to the Schengen area. The final decision remains with the border/immigration officials.
Take note: Although an interview is not necessary at the VFS/VAC, the Embassy Visa Officer may ask for an interview if they need more information and documents from you.
12. Use these useful tips to increase your chances of getting a Schengen Visa
- The type of Schengen visa you are applying for depends on the intention and the purpose of the trip. Tourists should apply for a regular tourist visa or a visit visa in case visiting family or friend. A businessman should apply for a business visa. Whatever the purpose; provide appropriate documents as per the Embassy requirement proving your intention.
- You need to be absolutely clear about your itinerary and agenda. Make it as detailed as possible if you’re drafting this!
- Some embassies can process your application in as quickly as three days, while some take as long as a month. Since you can apply up to three months in advance, apply as early as you can. Don’t miss out on Europe just because you ran out of time.
- The consul will be more confident in approving your visa if you can show that you have previously visited other industrialized countries. Even if you have an expired visa for USA, Canada, Japan, Australia or New Zealand lying in an old passport, it would be useful to photocopy those and carry them during your appointment.
- For first time visitors, most (if not all) Schengen country embassies don’t issue a visa with a validity that’s a little bit more than your travel duration. It becomes easier though to get longer validities from the second Schengen visa onwards. 1-year multiple entry visas are not unheard of. 2-year visas are possible as well but these require permission from the home country and may require longer time.
- Europe is expensive thus they need financial proof that you can travel at your own expense and won’t need to seek work in order to sustain your travels. Financial support from other people should also be declared.
13. How will Akbar Travels help you!
If you are daunted by the thought of getting your Schengen visa, stop fretting! Applying for your Schengen Visa through us is very simple. Our dedicated Visa Expert will smooth out the whole process for you, and ensure that all your documents are correct, up-to-date and in the right order.
We have a remarkable success rate for Schengen visa applications with proven results and are passionate about processing visas for all countries across the globe and going that extra mile to make sure you get exactly what you want, the way you want it. Hence save the stress of registering an account with the Visa application center, scheduling an appointment or worrying about arranging your documents in order. Let our visa experts take the stress out of your visa application. We have it all covered for you.
Apply for your Schengen Visa through Akbar Travels in three simple steps:
- Visit our website Akbartravels.com and submit your application online;
- We will fill your visa application form, schedule appointments and verify your documents;
- On the day of appointment visit the VFS/VAC to submit your documents, biometric and receive your visa within the standard processing time.
Start your application with Akbar Travels now & become a part of our continuing success stories.