Let’s face it, visa applications are always a headache. Every Filipino traveler knows that getting a Schengen visa with a Philippine passport requires a lot of time, money and emotional investment. Sadly, even these preparations don’t always guarantee a visa approval.
So imagine my happiness when in July 2016, I was granted a 1-year short stay (aka tourist visa) Schengen visa by the French Embassy in Manila, Philippines. Moreover, the visa processing time in VFS office only took 25 minutes, and I received my Schengen visa in 3 days! VFS Global France states on their site that processing time for Short Stay is ’48 hours from the time a complete application is received at the French embassy’. Processing time may vary according to applicant’s nationality and the time when the visa application is requested.
If you’re planning to apply for a Schengen visa, here are some helpful tips based on my experience. This will not guarantee the same results, but it can be a good starting point for your own application. Good luck!
Check if you need to schedule an appointment.
Since my point of entry was France and I was spending most of my time there, I scheduled my appointment online, as it is required. You may schedule your appointment for your French Visa through this link.
I applied to the French embassy via their visa processing office, VFS Philippines. VFS Philippines handles and consolidates all visa applications for the French embassy, but they don’t do any decision-making themselves.
Tip: Before anything else, check if the visa application office you want to apply to requires a scheduled appointment because not all Schengen State Embassies do. For example, if you apply through the Italian Embassy, they state onVia.ph ‘Please note that setting an appointment to submit a visa application is not required.’
Find out what you need.
Once you have an appointment set up, learn all the applicable requirements. I am a single, employed Philippine resident who has a US visa. I also had a previous Schengen visa issued by the Italian embassy. If you are married, with dependents, chances are high that you will be given a different set of requirements. These also vary between embassies, so make sure to check the ones relevant to you.
Tip: It is stated on VFS Global France that If you have a multiple entry Schengen visa that is still valid or has been expired for less than one year, you may present a shorter list of required documents.
Click here to find list of requirements.
State your plans clearly.
A cover letter is required when applying for a Schengen visa through the French embassy. It must contain your purpose for visiting France, and a proposed itinerary of your trip. Take note, the itinerary doesn’t have to be set in stone. Its main purpose is to give the consuls an idea of what you’ll be doing during your stay. It also helps to emphasize that you will just be there for pleasure. This post is a great guide for creating a cover letter, and helped me a lot when I was writing mine.
Tip: I gave additional information about my travel history i.e. the number of times I have been to Europe and which visas I currently have (US and Japan). I was also asked why I did not have flights nor train tickets going from one city to another within Europe, as is usually the case. I explained that I planned to drive myself to these cities. Always be ready to justify circumstances on the application form that will seem suspicious.
Make fail-safe arrangements.
You are required to submit proof of accommodation. However, it’s not prudent to start paying for everything just in case something goes wrong. A good way to go about it so to make sure everything can be cancelled. For instance, you can make hotel reservations through Booking.com, which allows you to cancel up to a few days before check-in. This way, you have something to show on your application, while still having a safety net.
Tip: When making reservations through Booking.com or Hotels.com, be sure to click the ‘pay later’ option. Some people do this so that in case they need to cancel, they wouldn’t have to go through the burden of getting their credit card charged and asking for refunds.
Make flight reservations, not purchases.
It’s common practice for Filipinos to buy tickets before getting a visa, even if embassies expressly state not to purchase one yet. A better, more economic, way to go about this is to make flight reservations. This allows you to show your trip dates without having to risk losing a lot of money. It is best to search for airlines with free cancellation policies, so that you don’t have to wait days or weeks just to get refunds.
Tip: Perhaps a better option is to do it through this website as they help you with ‘How to book roundtrip flight itineraries for visa application’. I got my flight reservation from them in 12 hours. For a minimal fee, they make flight reservations for you and email you the details within a few hours. It’s hassle-free, and is a safe way to meet requirements without shelling out a lot of cash.
Buy travel insurance online.
You are also required to get travel insurance to make sure you are covered wherever you are, no matter what happens to you.
Tip: I prefer Assist Card to other insurance providers which simply refund what you’ve spent on emergencies. It is one of the more reliable companies in the industry, I know this because I didn’t have to pay a dime when I got hospitalized in Europe for 2 days during a previous trip. When filling up the forms on the link, all you have to do is enter your country of origin, destination, and travel dates. They then give you a quote, and you can purchase the travel insurance and get the confirmation right away.
Show your strong ties to home.
While most embassies require proof of will to return, the French embassy does not. That said, including documents for this won’t hurt. In my case, I thought adding this in my application can help speed up the decision-making process. This document lists “proof of will to return” as the following:
- Copy of Employment Contract or Social Security contributions (if relevant)
- Copy of real estate property – title or deed (if relevant)
- Proof of family ties in the Philippines (e.g. marriage certificate )
Fill up all the relevant forms.
When all your supporting documents are ready, fill up all the relevant forms for your application. You can find theupdated application forms for a short stay visa in France here.
Tip: If you’re applying through a travel agency, double check that their forms are the most recent. Some are given old forms and have to redo everything when they get to the VFS office – an unnecessary hassle.
Submit your Schengen Visa application in person.
On the day of your appointment, you have to make an appearance at the VFS Philippines office. Only wallets and a powered-off cellphone are allowed inside, but they have lockers for rent to keep your bags safe.
Tip: If your schedule is tight or you just don’t want to go through the long lines, you can avail of their Premium Lounge Service for an additional Php2000 to accelerate the submission process. Not only was I given juice and ensaymada while waiting in the lounge, I was also done within 25 minutes. All it took was submitting the application package, paying for fees, doing biometrics, and it’s done!
Wait for the results.
Now the agonizing part. According to the VFS website, Schengen visa processing times may vary. On average, Short Stay visas take 48 hours to process after a complete application is received at the French embassy. However, if your application has mistakes or if the consul needs to see more documentation, this may get delayed.
Tip: You will receive on email from VFS Global about your application status (once your application has been dispatched, and once it is ready to be picked up or mailed to you). You can track your application to the French Embassy online here.
Smile. You are now ready to finalize arrangements!
Once you are granted a Schengen visa, you may finalize and confirm all your bookings and reservations. You will have an option to pick up the passport or send it to your home or office via courier.
Tip: If you chose to have your passport mailed to you but suddenly had a change of heart, you can call the VFS France office and inform them that you would like to pick up your passport instead. I did this and it took me only 5 minutes to get my passport. I went to the VFS office 30 minutes before they closed and there was no line.
With all your travel details ready and your Schengen visa on hand, it’s just a matter of time before you’re on your way. Oh, the places you’ll go!