Monday, December 3, 2018

Euro Trip 101: How to get a Schengen Visa

Bucket lists. Travel goals. Tourist destinations. Most of us have that inclination to travel and explore the world. To experience new things and indulge in local delicacies have been so hyped online and offline. And with Europe as one of the "goal" destinations by many, most try to squeeze in as many countries as possible when they get their Schengen visa. But before even planning your dream vacation, how do you get a Schengen visa? Is it true that it's way harder to get one compared to a U.S. visa? A few months back, I had to start from scratch and do research on how to make sure that I don't get a rejection letter along with my passport. 

So how do you get a Schengen visa? 
Just like any visa application, you have to secure an application form. Apply at the embassy of the country where you will be staying the longest or the first point of entry (if you are spending an equal number of days per country). Remember that this is crucial and that you cannot simply apply to any embassy you fancy as there is a high chance of your application getting rejected if your application does not coincide with your proposed itinerary. In my case, I applied at the Italian embassy. It was easier for me as I had no plans of visiting other European country that time. 

Requirements for the Schengen visa apply for all countries part of the Schengen region. Listed below are the documents you have to secure in both original and photocopy:

-Original old and most recently issued passport 
-Photocopies of the first page and last page of both the old passport and most recently issued passport as well as previous visas and immigration stamps from countries previously visited
-Application form (put N/A for items not applicable and affix your signature on the last box of the application form)
-Original and photocopies of all bank certificates supported by account history in the form of passbook or statement of account 

Order of the documents should be as follows: 

1. Passport

2. Application Form attached with passport size glossy picture (you may also check the online application form here)

3. If invited by friends / relatives: (1) invitation letter (2) copy of proof of identity (3) proof of relationship

  Or if staying in hotel: hotel booking confirmation

4. Copy of Passport, visas and immigration stamps

5. Proof of travel (detailed itinerary)

6. Proof of Occupation (employment certificate and ITR)

7. Proof of Economic Means (bank certificates, statement of account, real estate)

8. Travel Health Insurance

9. NSO documents

10. Flight booking confirmation

11. Introduction Letter address to the Embassy - (E.g. occupation, source of income, family background, travel history, travelling companion, purpose of travel, length of stay requested, contact number, e-mail address and signature)

I delayed my application for Schengen visa as I was waiting for R's schedule. And when the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) finally confirmed, I only had about a month left to secure my visa. And after reading how hard it is to book an appointment at the Italian Embassy, I opted to go straight to VIA, the only accredited liaison of the embassy for visa processing. 

It took me a day to run around the different banks to secure my bank certificates and bank statements. It was a pain when one of my accounts became dormant and I had to wait for 3 working days to secure my bank certificate. So make sure that all your accounts are active beforehand to avoid unnecessary delays. 

I had my travel insurance (got mine from Pioneer Insurance for a bit under PHP3,000 for 35-day coverage) and flight booking reservation done online with payments done via bank transfer. I made sure that my travel insurance is 100% refundable in the event my visa application gets denied. The cheapest option is Malayan Insurance though I wasn't able to confirm if they also offer refunds. 

The bloodiest paperwork is preparing for your detailed itinerary to serve as proof of travel. It took me three days to come up with an itinerary for our 20 day trip. Note that hotel reservation is required for visa application so you need to present vouchers with all other documents. Thankfully, I found hotels and apartments that accept reservations without pre-payment or any credit card information. Be mindful not to pay for your accommodation in advance in the event you don't get your visa. Same is true for flight tickets. Embassies also issued a memo reminding applicants not to do such. All they require are flight reservation details which you can easily get online or from your trusted travel agency for a small amount. 

How detailed does your itinerary have to be? Not to the point of noting what you have to do or where you have to be in every hour. Embassies only want to have an idea of what you plan to do in Europe. You don't even have to follow the itinerary once you're there. But if you change the date of entry, exit or number of days of stay, it is very important to inform the embassy right away or you might have to apply for a new visa. 
I was panicking when I found out that ITR is one of the requirements for Schengen visa. I didn't have one at the time I had to apply for visa. I spent countless hours researching on what to do and even called VIA center for help. And all articles point me to one solution-- write a letter explaining why you don't have one and back it up with proof that you have money to support yourself throughout the trip and that you won't overstay. It is important to keep your letter as concise as possible and to highlight the reasons why you have to return home. I supported my letter with my bank accounts, contracts with clients, round trip tickets, real estate title and a hotel booking in Boracay for January 2019. 

I was a bit surprised that all my requirements were as thick as a pocket book! R kept telling me that I over prepared and that I'm doomed. Though scared, I headed to Makati the next day to submit my application through VIA Center.
I left Quezon City early as submission of applications are only allowed until 3 p.m. I also opted not to schedule an appointment given the unpredictable Manila traffic. 

I got to its Allegro Center branch at around 11 a.m. and went up to the 3rd floor. I was asked to head down to the 2nd floor as the former is strictly for those with appointments. 

There seemed to be less people at the 2nd floor but it took 3 hours before I got assisted as the ones before me had missing documents and were asked to complete all before they moved on to the next applicant. I guess it's important to be there at 8:30 a.m. sharp if you want be assisted fast without booking an appointment.

It took less than 10 minutes for my application to be checked and filed. I was then given a stub with the amount I had to pay (PHP3,750 for visa fee + PHP1,350 for visa processing and handling fee + PHP100 for SMS update) at the cashier on the 3rd floor. 
I got an SMS from VIA three business days later saying that my passport is ready for dispatch and will be delivered the next day. I replied asking where it will be delivered as I wasn't sure if I noted my home address or R's office. I didn't get any response. I guess the PHP100 fee only covers them sending a message about the passport dispatch. 

After hours of panic, R's secretary gave me a call saying that my passport arrived and that I got my visa. 

So, yay! My sleepless days paid off!
Note: Excited for your Euro trip? You can file for your visa application as early as three months before your trip. Latest you can file is 15 working days before your trip. But the recommended time to file is at least three weeks before. 

Feel free to send me an email at if you have questions or would like to have a copy of my itinerary. :)

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