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.
I actually had no plans to take my kids to Prague this year. Suddenly in January my younger nephew, also known as Brat 2 asked me to plan a trip. By the time I was near completion he backed out sighting too much work at office. By then I was hooked and I decided to travel to Prague with my daughter and niece- Chhavi and Vasu, also known as double trouble! And therein lies the story of applying for Czech Republic Visa with minors in India.
I was able to submit our applications successfully today. I still need to get the passports back but then I will update this post once I get know the outcome.
To get the Czech visa one needs to apply for Schengen Visa. They have a VFS office in Delhi. There is a comprehensive Czech Republic VFS website which lists the documents to be submitted along with the application form for each type of visa. The application form can also be downloaded from the website. We clearly need the tourist visa. The visa fee can be paid in cash at the VFS which is a blessing as I do not need to get demand draft made.
Even though I have taken the girls abroad before, it was Hong Kong which used to be visa on arrival when we visited in 2014. This time it was different as we all need a visa.
If you are traveling with a minor, the first thing to be careful about is parental authority. In my case my husband is not traveling and in Vasu’s case both her parents are not traveling along with us. I needed a no objection from my husband and a parental authority letter from my sister and brother-in-law, signed by both. It had to be done by a notary on a stamp paper. Photocopies of parents passport irrespective of whether they are traveling or not is also to be submitted. The logic is clear, one parent should not be able to run away with the child to another country. I totally get it. I had to submit their school ids as well along with their applications.
I am a little surprised tough because last year when Seshadri (my husband) took Chhavi to USA no such document was required even though I was not traveling. Also last year Vasu went to USA on her school trip and only one of the parents signature was required for the authority letter to the school.
For the kids I could sign off their visa application forms as both are under 12 years of age. Kids under 12 are exempt from bio metrics too. So, thankfully I could go and apply the visa for all three of us, there was no need to bring in the hyper kids in tow!
The rest of the documents are routine- completed application forms, valid passport, the return tickets, recent photos, the hotel booking, proof of funds, IT returns, six months bank statement with bank seal and signed by a bank employee! The bank seal and signature bit also surprised me a bit because even UK accepts online bank statements! But such are the vagaries of visa rules and the trick is to follow them to the letter!
After gathering all the documents, I took an online appointment and got it for the next day. I took the 9.00 am time as the VFS is not too busy at that point of the day. I needed to take the token and then go to the relevant counter. The VFS staff was super efficient. They took my forms and asked me to wait. After a while I was asked to proceed to pay the visa fee and bio metrics. Even though mine was not a very straight forward application, at no point did they ask me any irrelevant questions. They were professionals and I am thankful for that.
When I went for the bio metrics there were three passports in my kit. I did my finger scan and then the lady asked me to send in the next applicant. I looked out and said there is no next applicant! Then I realized that I didn’t have a receipt of any kind. So I randomly stopped an employee and asked him how come I don’t have a receipt even though I have done all the formalities. He took me back to the bio metric room and the lady smiled and said my kit had two more applicants! I too laughed and told her they are minors. She said she asked me to send in the next candidate because she saw two more passports in my kit. And I thought it was a general request. She promptly handed me the receipt and I walked off after thanking her and the two young boys would initially accepted my application!
Now let us see how long does it takes for the passports to arrive and what is the outcome! I will update this post once I know the outcome.
PS. All the passports in the picture belong to my family members! Three of them are mine, one current passport and two expired ones.
When I saw the requirements for visa on arrival for Hong Kong, it looked easy. You needed a valid passport with two blank pages and that was pretty much it. Like everywhere else a return ticket and hotel bookings help in getting the visa. My travel agency advised me to carry 2 passport size photographs, so, I carried it. As I was traveling with two kids I was a bit apprehensive about everything. However, the kids managed to sleep in the flight by twisting and turning at impossible angles. I managed to watch my movies as usual!
We arrived early in the morning without any adventures! The kids were not too cranky but I was! As I started following the sings for immigration, we reached a point at which we had to board a train. This was a first for the kids. They were quite surprised and excited.
When we managed to find the visa on arrival queue after getting down from the train, it was not too bad. Maybe because of the early morning arrival, we missed long queues. I also liked the fact that the immigration staff was concerned about the speed of the queue and would direct you to the relevant counter.
I asked the kids to behave at the Hong Kong immigration counter or we would be sent back home. At New Delhi they were all over the counter, almost trying to climb on to it. When our turn came they simply asked for the passports, they did not ask for any photographs. Once again, I had all the documents in my hand but I was not asked for anything. The man at the counter simply asked me lift up Chhavi as he could not see her. They put a small white square ticket in our passports and we were off! The best part is that Hong Kong gives free visa on arrival, there is no visa fee for tourists.
It was only while going out of Hong Kong I realized that they do not stamp the passports! Now what a lovely thing to do, that surely saved me at least one fresh page of my passport. As this was the first trip abroad for the kids, they simply have the IGI stamps!
So it was that easy to get a visa on arrival at Hong Kong Airport for me!
Update: One my recent visit (August 2016) I could not find the fast track line anymore. Please keep this in mind while reading the post which was written earlier.
Please also look at the online visa option for Thailand, it helps you to go to a separate counter and beat the queue.
I have been thinking about writing of Thailand visa on arrival for Indian citizens. My first visa on arrival experience has been with Thailand at the Suvarnbhumi International Airport in Bangkok. I am not counting the Nepal experience in this list because if you travel by air to Nepal you just have to show your passport and you can walk off. There is no visa required for Indians to get into Nepal. As Bangkok was going to be my first visa on arrival I was a bit apprehensive. I looked seriously at the list of required documents for tourist visa on arrival. I had all the documents with me as well.
In September, my flight was with Thai Airways. It was a short and pleasant flight. I watched two movies (it was about 4 hour Delhi-Bangkok flight) and the time went by quite easily. Only not sleeping at all leaves me very tired and a bit confused on arrival.
I generally don’t get lost on airports but once I did manage to go to the domestic departures instead of exit at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I made no such blunders at Bangkok though. Soon I was standing at the visa on arrival queue at Suvarnabhumi. I filled the form, took out my picture and was wondering what all documents they would ask for. There are two queues for the visa, one normal and the other fast track. The normal queue costs 1000 Baht and the fast track 1200 Baht. They accept only Bahts at the visa counter and no other currency. You can change money before joining the queue. After a few international trips, I now prefer to carry dollar or pounds as they easily exchange at any airport. I took the express queue.
When my turn came, they just asked for the form, the photo and the money. Once the formalities were done, I showed the visa at the exit counter and there I was at the luggage belt! Duringthis trip to Thailand I exited to Cambodia. It was another visa on arrival but as I was traveling with Tourism Authority of Thailand they took care of my Cambodian visa. When I entered Bangkok again (as my flight to India was from Bangkok) I had to do another visa as I had a single entry visa. The second time as well, the process was exactly the same.
However, I am no way recommending that you don’t carry the requisite documents. There is no way to predict who will be asked what! I had all the relevant documents just in case they asked for it. But my first experience (and second too) of visa on arrival at Bangkok was a breeze.