The Wonderful Experience of Applying for the Schengen Visa with France

It is that time of the year again when my sister Alka and I plan our vacation together in November. It also means applying for visas. I thought we were going to Belgrade till it was time to book the tickets. Try as I might, I could not get a reasonably priced ticket to Belgrade. I gave up in desperation and tried anywhere in the world! And up came Paris with Kuwait Airways at a decent price. That is how we ended up planning a November trip to Paris.

I am no stranger to Schengen Visas, I applied 3 times last year itself; first with Czech Republic then Spain and lastly with Hungary. So, by now I am used to the documentation required for the Schengen Countries.

Filling Up the Form and Collecting the Documents

It was a pleasure to apply with France. The first good bit is that they let you fill the form online. You do need to create an account on the official website. Once you complete it, they mail the document to the email you provide while creating the account. There is a provision of creating a group application too. I created a group application for two.

Once I completed the form, I could see the list of required documents. It is the usual bank statement, income tax return for 3 years, travel insurance up to a certain value, etc.

I now write my cover letter with great care. I also point out my travel blogging credentials and number of countries I have visited. I am not sure if it helps even one bit, but I try to make my case strongly.

Getting an Appointment

After filling up the form I thought I would get directed to the VFS website for appointment but in my case it did not happen. I then called the VFS helpline number but it was a public holiday. I could make an appointment via the IVR but I did not get any SMS or email.

I called the VFS helpline the next day, which was a working day and my appointment was sorted out for the coming Friday at 9.15 am.

Submitting the Documents at the VFS Delhi on a Friday

indian-passport

Alka and I reached about half an hour before the time for our appointment. The France VFS Office is located at Shivaji Metro Station along with many other countries. It is a nice space with many restaurants. After having a cup of tea we headed inside to submit our documents. Our token number was 5 and after a few minutes of wait, we got up to submit the documents.

Our documents were complete and it did not take us much time to finish the formalities.

Paying the Visa Fee

This time I was carrying cash to pay the visa fee. When we were applying via Hungary last year the cash machines at the VFS were not working and I had to run out of the complex to an ATM to withdraw the cash. The VFS was not crowded in the morning and there were no queues at the visa fee counter.

We Did Not Need to Do the Bio-metric

As both Alka and I had done bio-metric last year, she for Hungary and I for Spain, we were not required to do it again. They are valid for 5 years.

Collecting the Visa on a Wednesday

Right from the day one we were getting SMS and email updates about our submissions. France does not charge anything extra for this facility which is a great thing.

To our surprise we got an update on Tuesday itself that our passports were ready for collection! This by far has been the quickest Schengen Visa I ever got as a normal applicant. We went to the VFS on Wednesday after 1.00 pm and happily collected our passports.

Both of us got multiple entry visas, and it was so fast. Applying via France has been my best Schengen Visa experience ever! We both are so excited for our upcoming Paris trip at the end of November.

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Thailand is my most visited country, I have been there 11 times as I write this. On all my previous trips, my point of entry was Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok. And if you enter from Bangkok, that is where you get your visa on arrival for Thailand. However, on the most recent trip my daughter, Chhavi and I traveled via Singapore for a vacation at Koh Samui. Getting a visa on arrival at Koh Samui on Indian Passport was a breeze!

Koh Samui is a beautiful, small airport, much different from the regular ones we encounter. It looks more like an open air tropical resort than an airport. As you climb down the stairs of the plane, carts with open sides carry you to the main building.

koh-samui

As there are only a few flights landing at Koh Samui, the lines at the passport control are much shorter than Suvarnabhumi Bangkok. I think a lot of nationalities do not need visa to enter Thailand, so when Chhavi and I came in to passport control area, there was hardly any queue at visa on arrival counters.

There were exactly two families on the visa on arrival counter- us and one more! The other family was waiting for something, so I had all the counters to myself! As I have been to Thailand many times, I know they accept only Thai Baht for the fee. It is 2000 per person at the moment.

I paid the fee for both of us, got the receipt and proceeded to the passport control. There was a short queue, which was nothing compared to what I see in Bangkok. I was offered the express counter for additional payment of 200 Baht per person, but I did not use it. In Bangkok I almost always use the express queue as the wait time is anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes.

chhavi-and-i

We stood in the queue for about 10 minutes, got our passports stamped. We ran to the luggage counter to get our bags! Our holiday has started! It was that easy for us to get the visa on arrival at Koh Samui!

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I get to see a lot of click bait stories, after all I spend a lot of time on social media. This one did not even sound like a click bait. It has been published by a Facebook page called Humans of Amsterdam. It is a story of an Indian girl who was caught in a bad marriage. I perfectly understand that, there are many like her. But the story got bizarre when the girl claims her entire bag went missing inside her house along with her passport. You can read the full story here. But then she talks about getting another Indian passport which definitely a work of fiction. Quoting from the story in bold and responding after it.

“I woke up the next day and I noticed that my bag with my passport, phone and credit cards was missing. I panicked and confronted my in-laws. They said that they had nothing to do with my missing bag and that someone must have broken in and stole it.”

Then why not file a FIR with the police?

“Slowly I started to realize how serious the situation was. My two weeks off were almost finished and I had to get to my job in Amsterdam. To get a new passport in India it takes at least 3 months and a signature of your father or husband.”

This is the bit that gets me mad. As the story is posted on Humans of Amsterdam many foreigners are demanding that the draconian Indian law be changed. My question is which law? The Indian passport process is online. If anyone was really interested in verifying this bit of the story all they need to do is Google “Indian Passport” and verify the story.

But since this is bout India and it is an “oppressed woman” story no one will doubt one word of it. And that is how it should be actually. And that is why I get mad when I read lies regarding the Indian passport process. Anyone who is really interested in the Indian passport process can download the Indian passport application form from this link and see if it really requires a father’s or husband’s signature. Where will the poor husbands and fathers sign, there is no such column.

But no one will do it, it is a story about India where women are repressed and laws are archaic. I have had three passports (one at a time, because the previous ones expired) and never did I need anyone else to sign my application. But then what do I know!

“I have never felt so hopeless in my entire life but I wasn’t about to give up. I emailed my boss and I told him I was in a serious emergency and that I needed 2 more weeks to fix it, luckily he agreed. The image of my life back in Amsterdam was what kept me going. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out how to get my documents back. With the help of my sister I sneaked out of the house and went to a government building. I was neatly dressed and somehow I managed to enter the building. The security must have thought that I was a government official.”

100s of people will try this trick on the security guard in India. He can only keep his job if he can prevent it. What if next time he lets in someone who is a security threat? But security threat be damned.

“I walked into the building and a young female officer approached me and asked if she could help me. I noticed that she trusted me and I told her I had lost my bag in a mall and I had to get back to Amsterdam. I wanted to be honest but I couldn’t tell her the truth. She immediately called her friend who was working at the passport office and made an appointment for for me the next day. She gave me a letter of recommendation and the next day I went to the passport office. I sat there for 10 hours and when it was my turn they told me that in order to get a new passport I would need a signature of my father or husband.”

If you actually lost your passport you need to file a FIR (first information report with the police) and only then apply for a new passport. Indian passport office is not open for 10 hours. They open only for 8 hours. This also includes half an hour lunch break. Check out the answer in the link for question no 6.

And once again where will the husband/father sign? There are no separate passport applications form for men and women in India. There is one common form which has no such column.

“Again, I lied and said they were out of the country. I ended up convincing her and she gave me an approval. If I had been honest I would have never gotten it. 5 days later I could pick up my passport at the post office. Now I had my passport but I still didn’t have my residency card for The Netherlands. I called up the Embassy of Netherlands in Amsterdam and explained my situation. They were very helpful and emailed me a recommendation letter. “

Yes someone is not being honest here, someone is lying because Indian passport process does not require a signature from father/husband. Which makes me wonder, why? Why lie about something in this age when everything is online and can be verified with the click of a mouse.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying patriarchy and its associated problems in India. But the passport process described in this Humans of Amsterdam story is pure fiction. It has been picked up by other sites and there is a demand for changing the passport laws. I wonder how long till someone starts a petition?

Do sites like Humans of Amsterdam (and others like ScoopWhoop who picked it up) have any editorial processes? I mean ‘who needs to sign an Indian passport application form’ is easily verifiable with a few clicks of mouse. Should we be that lazy? Or that gullible?

Let me reiterate I love my Indian passport and I don’t need my husband’s or father’s signature to get it. There are no such columns in the application form, period. They cannot sign even if they wanted to!

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