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
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.
Hungary is the third Schengen Visa I applied this year. My first one of the year was for Czech Republic. It was for a personal trip with my daughter and niece. The second one was for a blogging trip to Spain where it was easy to get the visa as I was assisted by the tourism board! Still, I had to complete the documentation for Spain. The third one was again for a forthcoming personal trip to Budapest in November with my sister. So, here is what I have learned about how to apply for Schengen Visa at VFS Delhi (Baba Kharak Singh Marg) after 3 attempts in a single year. I have applied for Schengen Visas in previous years too.
Know Which Country You Need to Apply To
For me the choice has always been simple as I visited only one country on each trip. However, if you are visiting multiple countries you have to decide which country you need to apply to. All such documentation is easily available on the net. You need to read it thoroughly though.
Do Your Homework
Once you have decided on the country go to the specific country website, in my latest case it was Hungary. Then you do your research. It feels tedious to read all the requirements and rules but believe me going through it pays off dividends, more so if you are applying for the first time. You will present a stronger application if you read the available information.
Prepare Your Documents Carefully
There is a comprehensive list of documents required to apply for Schengen Visa from India. I strongly recommend that you complete your documentation.
For my Hungary trip my sister and I have planned a vacation. I have a well traveled passport whereas it is the first trip abroad for my sister. I file IT returns whereas she doesn’t. The trip is a gift from me to her and I should have done it long ago actually. So, we decided to show me as a sponsor and her husband in the supporting role. Both of us have documents required to apply for visa. We took a no objection certificate from her husband. We attached both mine and his bank statements and IT returns.
Schengen Countries have a list of approved Travel Insurance agencies, be aware of such details. If you read through the online resources carefully, all this is listed down.
Do remember to carry two photocopies of your passport or else you will need to stand in a long line to get it done at the VFS.
Use Your Cover Letter Wisely
When I applied for the Czech Republic Visa I used the cover letter as a formality. It was a complicated attempt because I was traveling with my daughter and niece, both are minors. As my niece’s parents were not traveling there was a lot of documentation involved. I did all the documents carefully.
But I did not use my cover letter to establish that I am an established blogger and that I have taken my daughter and niece abroad before. I did not mention that they had been to the USA before. My daughter with my husband and my niece on a school trip. I also did not mention that I needed to apply for a visa immediately afterwards for Singapore for a blogging trip.
I was called for a personal interview by the Czech Embassy. When I mentioned my forthcoming blogging trip and need to apply for another visa things started moving. I got the visa via Czech Republic after the personal interview and I learnt my lesson.
This time with Hungary I used my cover letter to establish my blogging credentials. I told them that I was applying early as I may need to apply visa for other trips. I gave links to my blog and media kit!
I also used the cover letter to explain why we would return and that we had money to take this vacation, which brings me to my next point.
Convince Them that You Have Money to Take the Vacation and You Will Return
The Schengen countries need to be convinced about both the above points. It is easy to convince about the money bit, they asked for stamped and signed bank statements of 3-6 months depending on the country.
For the second bit, that we would come back home, I used the cover letter again. I mentioned that my daughter’s age is 9 and my sister’s daughter is 12. One plays tennis daily and the other one sings and auditions for various programs. I heavily implied that our daughter’s need us in their daily life which is 200% true. And we need them equally.
I know you may not have the same reasons to come back, but think about why you would surely come back and use it in your cover letter.
Don’t Falsify Information
This goes without saying, it is obvious. I am sure any such attempt will lead to rejection. I would not even dream of providing any false information.
In theory you can pay with a debit or credit card at VFS Delhi. But the day I went for the Hungary Visa the network was down and I thought I was in trouble. But they allowed me to go out to withdraw money. The staff will tell you where the nearest ATM is. They will let you in again as well with the token number you get for applying.
Good Luck! Now that you have done everything you could, just go ahead take your online appointment, apply and wait for your visa to arrive. We got out Schengen Visa via Hungary in about 10 days. Maybe it was easier because we are two adults, maybe it was my extra preparation that made it smooth this time. I am so looking forward to take a vacation with my sister in November.
PS. We got the visa easily without any hassles. We had a lovely time in Budapest!
Strange is the word to describe my Schengen Visa experience with the Czech Republic. Here is a brief background about us and the trip. I have been travel blogging since 2005 and have been to 20 countries (excluding India) till date. But the number of trips I have done is much greater, as UK alone I have been to 6 times but counts as one country.
I planned a vacation with my daughter and niece to Prague, Czech Republic. The girls are 9 and 11 years of age. They have already traveled to Hong Kong with me. Chhavi (my adopted daughter) has been to USA last year with my husband, I was not traveling. Vasudha, my niece went to USA in 2016 on a school trip without her parents!
I thought we all have good travel histories so we would get the visa without a hitch. I didn’t even consider that my husband was not traveling as we often travel without each-other. He has taken our daughter to USA without me, I took Chhavi and Vasudha with me to Hong Kong in the past, what could go wrong with our application? Well it looks like plenty!
I applied for the visa on 24th February 2017 thinking I will get it in days, or maybe like it has happened in the past, even before. I was dead wrong. To complicate the matters further I was to travel on another blogging trip from March 19 and I need to do another visa for Singapore. I still thought I had plenty of time to do both.
And then it started. On February 28, they asked me to submit another from for Vasudha which was signed by both her parents and their bank statement. I did it the next day on March 1st.
Then on March 6th 2017 I got an email from the consulate in Delhi for a personal interview on March 16! That would mean I would miss out on my other trip. I called them, I have to grant it to them they pick up the phone and talk. I told them about the other trip and they agreed to bring forward my visa interview to March 8, the International Women’s day, at 9.00 am. They requested me to bring in the original birth certificate of both the girls and my marriage certificate!
They were probably paranoid because I am traveling with two minor girls. It is then I looked up the net and realized that human trafficking seems to be a problem with them but it is definitely not from India!
At the interview they first offered me that they could hand me my passport right away so I could do the Singapore visa and give my passport back to them once it was done. I thought it was reasonable. Then they went back on it saying they could give it to me only via VFS and wanted it back on 14th March. March 14 is way beyond their 10 working day guideline.
I initially said yes. But later when I had a chat with the Singapore team they said it was not possible. I once again called the Czech Embassy and told them that I don’t need the passport as I can’t do my other visa in that short a time frame. They agreed to keep it and give it back to me after they have taken the decision.
Now you might be wondering why am I calling my experience strange? Well, one of the questions they asked me at the visa interview was, “why is your husband not traveling with your daughter and niece?” I mean, hello when did that became a criteria to grant someone a visa? Or even a relevant question to ask? All hell would break loose if a foreigner was asked the same question to come to India. Indian women would be declared oppressed, there would be a call for freedom and liberty, all sorts of data would be quoted. But is no outrage when an European country asks such regressive questions to an Indian woman! After all they are a beacon of freedom and we are oppressed in India!
The next question that caught me by surprise was why is your niece traveling with you. I thought if you worked in an embassy you would have some cross-cultural training about your country of work. If the officer (a woman too) had any inkling of the Indian culture this should not have surprised her. We have strong family ties, I told her. And not only my niece, I have traveled with my nephews too.
Then came, who is paying for my niece’s trip! This when my bank statement (and mine alone, my husband’s bank statement is not even in the picture) and Vasudha’s parent’s bank statement combined has enough money to do 10 trips to Czech Republic, and these are just our savings accounts. Of course her parents are paying for her trip. Both the girls are only kids in their respective families. They are the closest friends, they refer each-other as sisters. And even though I may call Vasudha my niece just to maintain clarity; I treat both of them equally, which means both get equal amount of scoldings too. Also Vasudha’s father, my dear brother-in-law, is wheel chair bound as he has cerebral palsy since birth.
There were two woman in the room other than me, a Czech and an Indian woman. Between them they talked, “has she submitted the affidavit?” And I was seething, have you not even looked at what documents I have submitted and called me for an interview? Of course my time is free and it should be wasted!
So here I am writing a long rant, instead of getting excited about a vacation that I planned! I have learned my lesson, from next time my personal vacations (and money) is going to a visa on arrival destination. I wanted a holiday, not a headache! Which is what I have right now! I now perfectly understand how it would feel to score a self goal!
In the end we got the visa in time to do the Singapore visa too. I have to say Prague is a beautiful city. The people are nice. The whole trip went without a hitch. But I still feel shaken by the visa experience and I am not going to plan another European holiday in a hurry.