For many non-EU travelers, the idea of having to prepare a detailed application for Schengen visa- the visa that many nationalities need to be able to visit the majority of countries in Europe, and specifically in the Schengen Area- can be intimidating or off-putting. As an Indian passport holder, living in Dubai, who needs to apply for a Schengen visa every couple of months- basically every time I need to travel to Europe- I get it.
The perfect Schengen visa application for tourists involves time, effort, precise advance planning, and money, and after all that one waits with bated breath- will it or will it not be granted?
I personally know of friends and acquaintances who have decided to travel elsewhere because they simply didn’t have the time to apply for a Schengen visa in advance (x time is recommended) or just could not be bothered with the process.
In a perfect world, we would not need visas, regardless of where we came from- the color of our skin or passports. But hey, having a passport-that too is a privilege, right? So let’s try to keep a more rounded perspective on this. Europe is full of fairytale castle towns, beautiful nature reserves, dreamy mountains, rich art and culture, and some of the best beaches in the world- so really, there are so many reasons to visit.
After having applied for a Schengen visa over ten times, I am writing this guide to help anyone (especially those who have non-European passports) planning on getting and applying for a Schengen visa. Plus I’ve found that a majority of Schengen visa guides out there are for North Americans and other nationalities that can usually stay in the Schengen zone for 90 out of 180 days, but, this is not necessarily the case for other, less privileged passports (such as my Indian passport).
Use these tips for your next Schengen visa application for tourism and while I can’t guarantee you’ll be granted one, (though I can most definitely send you positive vibes), I hope these things that worked for me will work for you too.
But first what is the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Area is the world’s largest visa-free zone and comprises of 26 countries in Europe (at the time of writing) that have abolished their internal borders thereby allowing visa free travel between them, and have common rules for their external borders with territory outside of this area- as per the Schengen Agreement.
Put simply, this means that a Schengen visa gives you the chance to travel freely within the countries in this zone, that have no border controls between them, for the duration and with the number of entries that has been granted to you in your visa. AXA travel insurance explains this well on their site- this information can help if you want to apply for a visa.
Say for example- Italy and Spain are part of the Schengen Area. So if you’re visiting both countries on a two-week holiday, you need only one Schengen visa to enter the area (and land in one of the two countries-whichever is your first destination) and then you can travel between these countries visa-free and without border formalities. So you don’t have to apply for separate visas for each country, making travel within Europe easy and convenient, once you have the Schengen visa. You can also enter one and leave from the other without any issues.
While this is true, bear in mind that the immigration crisis in Europe and the conflicted politics of the region in its aftermath have resulted in many Schengen Area members (such as France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria and Germany) setting up internal border controls. So while you’re okay to travel freely between them if you have the Schengen visa, there may still be checkpoints between their internal borders where you’ll have to show your Schengen visa to officials.
Which countries are in the Schengen Area?
At the time of writing, there are 26 countries in the Schengen Area, but this may change at anytime, so it’s best to check before you go. Of these, 22 countries are EU (European Union) member states, while four are non-EU members. Note that the European Union and Schengen Area are NOT the same thing.
There are 6 EU member states that are still NOT part of the Schengen Area- but you can still enter some of these with a double or multiple entry Schengen visa (again, best to check most current rules just before you go) that has first been used to enter the Schengen Area.
Again, be a hundred percent sure that you understand whether or not the destination you’re visiting in Europe falls in the Schengen Area or not, so you don’t make any mistakes when it comes to the visa.
|Sr.No.||Countries||Schengen Area||Can You Visit with a Schengen Visa?||EU Member|
|Sr.No.||Micro-States||Schengen Area||Can You Visit with a Schengen Visa?||EU Member|
|Sr.No.||Countries||Schengen Area||Can You Visit with a Multiple Entry Schengen Visa (only if that visa has first been used in the Schengen Area)?||EU Member|
|11||Turkey*||No||Yes (but e-visa still required)||No|
|12||Bosnia & Herzegovina*||No||Yes||No|
|*For these countries, if you only want to visit each of these and not go to the Schengen Area, you can simply apply for their individual visa, but you can also visit if you have a multiple entry Schengen visa (at the time of writing).|
So as you might note, if you have been granted a double or multiple entry Schengen visa, and if you have first used it to arrive in the Schengen Area, then you are also able to use it to visit countries that are outside of the EU and the Schengen Area. Convenient? Hell yes.
Check if you need a Schengen visa
If you’re visiting a country in Europe that falls in the Schengen Area, the first step is to see if you need a Schengen visa. Many nationalities can enter visa-free and stay for a duration of upto 90 days in a 180-day period. It’s best to check whether you need a Schengen visa as soon as you begin planning your trip because visa rules and agreements can change at anytime.
What type of Schengen visa should you apply for?
Most tourists need to apply for a short-stay Schengen visa, also known as C Category. This allows you to stay within the Schengen Area for a certain duration within a six-month (or 180-day) period, depending on your visa validity that will be mentioned on your visa.
The C Category Schengen short-stay visa can be wither Single-entry, Double-entry or Multiple-entry, depending on what you’ve applied for and the documents you’ve submitted.
- If you have plans to visit the Schengen Area, travel within it, and then leave without any intention to return in the next few weeks or months, then you should apply for a Single-entry visa.
- If you have plans to return to the Schengen Area within a few weeks or month, and can show documents such as hotel reservation, flight tickets, or anything to support your reason for return, you can apply for a Double or Multiple-entry visa.
- If you’re someone who travels to the Schengen Area frequently, and that is evidenced by your previous visas, and passport, you can try to apply for a Multiple-entry visa anyway- to save on visa application costs each time.
- Applying for a multiple-entry visa doesn’t mean you’ll be granted one. That is solely at the discretion of the country you’re applying to. Some countries do not care that you plan to return to the Schengen Area shortly after your first visit- even if you show supporting documents. Their only concern is to offer you a single-entry visa so you can visit them- and after that, you’ve got to sort it either by applying again or changing your travel dates.
Some nationalities also need a Schengen airport transit visa, also known as A Category, in case they’re transiting through the Schengen Area to go elsewhere.
If you’re visiting multiple countries on a single trip, which country’s Consulate should you apply at?
Submit your Schengen visa application to the Consulate of the country where you’ll be spending the most number of days. If you plan on spending equal number of days in each country, then submit your application to the Consulate of the country through which you will enter the Schengen Area.
In many countries, Consulates have outsourced the visa application process to external service providers. Check if that is the case where you live.
When should you apply for a Schengen visa?
If you’ve decided to travel to the Schengen Area, it’s best to submit your application as early as possible to avoid disappointment, especially during peak travel periods. The earliest you can apply is three months before your date of travel. In any case, expect a minimum of 15 working days processing time- that is also the minimum time before which your application must be submitted.
Understanding each part of the Schengen visa application form
- Personal details including names, date of birth, nationality, passport details, gender, marital status, home address, occupation, employer information: This is pretty straightforward so be sure to avoid any mistakes.
- Purpose of the journey, destination countries, number of entries requested, number of days you intend to visit for (the day of arrival and departure should also be counted): Again, everything you mention here should be supported by the documents you are handing in along with your application.
- Previous Schengen visas and related information.
- Date of arrival and departure in the Schengen area: Do not lie about this because the validity of your visa will depend on this.
- Details of inviting persons or accommodation details- name, address and contact number: If you are being invited by a person or organization, here is where you enter their information. If you have not been invited, just put the details of the hotels you will be staying at on your trip.
- Details of who will cover the cost of travel and how (cash, checks, prepaid etc.): This is where you mention whether your travel costs will be borne by you or someone else, and if your flights, accommodation etc. will be paid for by cash, credit card, or if it has already been paid.
Passport requirements for Schengen visa application
- Your passport must have at least two empty pages.
- Ensure that your passport is valid for at least three months after you return from the Schengen Area.
- If you’re a resident in a country other than that of your nationality, you may need to have at least six months’ validity left on your residency permit after you return from the trip. It’s best to check the rules in such specific cases.
Supporting documents for Schengen visa application and tips
Here’s a list of documents you will need to support your application. Every consulate has its own requirements additionally, so be sure to check the website of that specific consulate in your country of residence. Broadly speaking, here are the documents:
- Confirmed flight tickets showing your arrival and departure from the Schengen Area as per the dates you mention in your application form. In case you plan on returning to the Schengen Area shortly and are applying for a Multiple-entry visa, be sure to include those flight bookings as well. You are asked to provide confirmed flight bookings, they don’t need to be paid for in advance. It’s best to book refundable flight tickets, so you don’t lose too much money should your visa be denied.
- Transportation tickets between Schengen states- whether it’s domestic flight tickets within the Schengen Area, trains or buses. Providing as much detailed proof about your itinerary only makes your application stronger. Again, there are always refundable options that you can book.
- Hotel bookings for each night of your travels. This is to demonstrate that you will be going where you say you’re going on your application. You don’t need a travel agent to do this, and you don’t even have to pay in advance. You can either find refundable bookings on sites like Booking.com or use the Pay Later option. Once your visa is granted, you can make the payment.
- Bank statements for the last three or six months. The consulate wants to ensure that you have sufficient funds to support yourself, and that it comes from stable, regular income. This also tells them that you intend to return home after your visit and not migrate there.
- Salary slips and a letter from your employer are often requested to ensure that you have a stable life and work to return to after your holiday.
- If you live in a foreign country, you might be asked to provide a letter of no objection or guarantee from the sponsor of your residency permit, and their passport copy. As an Indian resident in the UAE, with a resident sponsored by my husband, I always need to provide this. It’s best to check the rules and requirements wherever you’re resident (if that is not the country of your passport).
- Recent photograph as per the official specifications.
- Travel medical insurance covering emergency medical, hospitalization and repatriation. It should be valid for the entire Schengen area and for the entire duration of the stay.
- Copies of your passport, resident permit, and previous Schengen visas.
- A cover letter stating your purpose of visit and explaining the documents briefly.
If your visa is granted- how long can you stay?
Congratulations on being granted a Schengen visa. Now you can visit Europe and make all your travel dreams come true. But it’s important to understand the visa sticker so you clearly know the duration of stay and visa validity. After all, you do not want to overstay your welcome and anger the Schengen visa gods.
Look at your visa sticker- note the following:
Validity period: Note the from and to dates, but bear in mind that the Duration of Stay that falls within this period is how long you can actually stay in the Schengen Area.
Number of Entries: This should be either 01 for Single-entry, 02 for Double-entry or MULT for Multiple-entry.
Duration of Stay: This is the maximum number of days you can stay in any 180-day period. But if you have a Single-entry visa, then this is the maximum number of days you can stay in all.
Let me explain all this with a few examples, from scenarios that I have experienced personally:
Single-entry Visa & Duration of Stay
For example, if you have a visa that is valid from 14th Feb 2020 to 14th March 2020, allows Single-entry only and has a duration of 10 days, then you can stay for a maximum of ten days, entering the Schengen Area on or after the 14th Feb 2020 and leaving latest on 14th March 2020, whether or not those ten days are up.
So if you arrive on 16th Feb 2020, then you must leave latest by the 25th Feb 2020. (The date of arrival and exit are both counted in your number of days).
If you arrive on 10th March 2020, you still have to leave latest on the 14th March 2020, i.e. the last date your visa is valid, even though you have not spent ten days in the Schengen Area.
The long visa validity of a month simply gives you some room to adjust or change your travel dates, but you must still only stay for ten days as per the itinerary and bookings you’ve provided in your application.
Multiple-entry Visa & Duration of Stay
Say for example, you’re granted a Multiple-entry Schengen visa that is valid from 6th August 2017 to 12th September 2019- that’s a little over 2 years. The duration of stay on this visa is mentioned as 30 days.
That means that you can stay a maximum of 30 days in the Schengen Area in any 180-day period between 6th August 2017 and 12th September 2019, entering, exiting and returning to the Schengen Area how many ever times. At no point in time, can your number of days in the Schengen Area exceed 30 in the last 180 days.
Say that in the first 180 days, you use up your duration of 30 days in the Schengen Area. Then you want to visit for another 8 days. You’ll have to wait long enough until the day that your used days in the Schengen Area in the last 180 days becomes 22, so that you have a remaining duration of 8 days again to visit.
This is not as confusing as it sounds once you understand the concept. But if you’re in doubt, the Schengen short-stay calculator does the calculation for you and is an excellent tool to check and confirm.
If your visa is denied- what can you do?
If your visa is denied, you can appeal against this decision. You should get a reason for refusal. If there is missing or incorrect information, or a lack of supporting documents, then make sure you fix these issues before re-applying.
You also have the option to re-apply at the Consulate of another Schengen state member.
Don’t do these things.
The only reason why you’d go through the entire process of a Schengen visa application is that you really want to visit the Schengen Area. Please, please, please do not do these things to endanger your application and risk the chance of being denied a visa. Not to mention, your visa application fee will NOT be refunded- so it can be a huge waste of money.
- Do not lie on your visa application. Visa authorities have a way of checking your bookings and reservations. Lying and cheating only hurts your chances of being granted a visa.
- Do not ignore any requests for information, clarification or an interview request.
- Do not submit old photos of yourself. The photo should be taken in the last six months.
- Do not submit incomplete forms. If you need clarification, ask for more information or help.
- Do not offer fake flight bookings. I’m not saying you have to pay for your flights but at least ensure that it is a confirmed flight booking.
- Don’t lie about your purpose of visit.
There you have it, my guide to creating a perfect Schengen visa application for tourists. Now, get planning and all the best!