Finally, I’ve had time to sit down and write about one of the obstacles a Philippine Passport holder must face when planning a trip to Europe: the dreaded Schengen Visa Application. By now, I’ve applied for a Schengen Tourist Visa from the Italian Embassy once in 2012 and twice from the Belgian Embassy in 2014. Thankfully, all three times have been successful, though each time was a learning experience; so this post will be based on three of my experiences, but will mainly focus on the process I went through with the Belgian Embassy.
I will, however, mention instances during all three application experiences throughout this post as I answer questions that I myself would ask, or rather, what I asked my travel agent when I had no idea what to do. This post will only be for the Schengen Tourist Visa Application, but other details could be applicable to the Visit A Friend/Relative Application; though I’ve never applied for the latter. Before we move on, here’s a photo of the beautiful city of Brugge in Belgium to inspire you.
What is the Schengen Visa exactly?
It is, for me, a Godsend to those who dream of frolicking through the streets of Europe. The Schengen Visa was formed among countries who came into agreement to make travelling around the beautiful continent easier for all the travel hopefuls, like me. One visa application gives you the chance to visit 29 countries, namely: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Vatican. Other countries within the area – Croatia, Romania, and Cyprus to name a few, also allow you entry should you have a valid mutiple-entry Schengen Visa. Thanks to this agreement, I’ve visited what has been my long-time dream destination: the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
Which embassy should I lodge my application with?
This is the age-old question, as you have a wide-range of embassies to choose from, but you can’t just choose whichever you want. Choose 1) the country that you’ll be staying in the longest; if there are two or more countries you’ll be staying in for an equal amount of time, choose 2) the country you’ll be visiting first. A common mistake is that applicants choose the first country of entry even if it isn’t the country they’ll be staying in the longest, so keep that in mind.
How long before my trip should I apply for my Schengen Visa?
The system allows you to apply for a Schengen Visa at least 90 days from the planned entry into the Schengen Area. Remember, however, application bookings or appointments must be done one month before the desired visa application date, since some embassies get fully-booked. So you should start getting those fingers dialling / typing to make that appointment at least 120 days before your trip!
For the Belgian Embassy, they require the applicant to make a personal appearance at the visa center located along Ayala Avenue in Makati after setting an appointment via the visa center hotline. When I applied for a visa from the Italian Embassy in 2012 though, they required that my documents be sent via courier to them; no appearance was needed, but I heard recently that they started requiring personal appearances as well.
Don’t worry, all this hassle will get you to see the most visited city in the world: Paris, France.
What documents should I prepare to ensure my Visa Application will be approved?
Once you’ve set your appointment, the next step is to prepare your documents for the personal appearance, which might just be the most crucial part of your application. During both applications lodged at the Belgian Embassy, I missed a document (different documents during the two instances) that cost me time and effort to go back to the visa center just to pass it.
Note that the passing of the documents listed below will not ensure your visa application approval, but it will give you a better chance. They have a disclaimer, however, saying that should they deem your documents incomplete, it could result to the refusal of your application. These documents should ensure that you will be coming back to the Philippines and that you will not stay or work there illegally, or marry or settle for cohabitation with an EU national just so you can stay there. As long as you are honest about your application, there is nothing to worry about.
The following documents are those that I passed during my most recent Visa Application. I suggest that you prepare at least three sets, one original and two photocopies, as well as a checklist of your documents to make it easier for the embassy to know if you’ve missed out on a document or not:
1) Filled-up Schengen Visa Application Form with Photo Attached – Photo must be taken against a white background; studios have the size and photo specifications, so just indicate that you need the photo for your Schengen Visa Application.
2) Valid Passport with 3 months validity from intended arrival in Manila – Prepare photocopies, including stamps and visas.
3) Letter of Intent with Day-to-Day Itinerary – This is where you pour your heart and soul to let the embassy know that all you want to do is fulfil your dream of seeing Europe and that you plan to go back home before your visa expires. Include your day-to-day itinerary, together with a list of attractions you plan to visit during the day. You don’t necessarily have to follow it when you’re there, but it will serve as a guide for the embassy that you will actually be touring Europe and that you won’t be looking for ways to stay there illegally. Again, be honest with your application.
4) Original NSO Birth Certificate
5) Proof of Employment
– Certificate of Employment Stating Position, Tenure, and Annual Income with Approved Leave of Absence from Employer. If your company doesn’t have an official template, like my company, you can make a letter stating the details of your trip and the undersigned’s approval. The signatories in my letter were my immediate boss, the department head, and HR.
– If self-employed, present your business registration for the current and previous year, together with the bank passbook used for the business.
6) Proof of Income / Assets – I passed all those listed below; note that you don’t need to pass everything listed, but I think this increased my chances of getting an approval:
– Income Tax Return
– Recent Bank Certifications
– Photocopies of the last 3 months statements of account backing up the certificated accounts
– Copy of Credit Cards with 3 Months Billing Statements
– Property Titles
– If employed, pay slips for the last three months; and you could also present your payroll account to back-up your pay slips
– If you have a sponsor, you must present their supporting documents, but it won’t hurt if you can present supporting documents from you together with it.
7) Travel Insurance Policy – I’ve gotten mine from Chartis (through my travel agent) and BPI MS. Embassies usually require +15 days from date of intended end of trip, and I did this during the first two applications, but for the last application, I got the exact days I applied a visa for and still got the approval; so just ask the operator when you set an appointment if you want to be sure.
8) Round Trip Flight Itinerary – You do not have to book your ticket yet; a booking will do, though I’ve always passed booked tickets. If you’re not lodging your visa through a travel agency, who usually provides you with a booking, you can call the airline you plan to fly with and make a reservation at no extra cost, and they’ll email you the flight itinerary, which you can use.
9) Hotel Accommodation / Train & Plane Tickets within the Schengen Area – During my two applications at the Belgian Embassy, they were very particular about asking how I was going from Point A to Point B and where I was going to stay. Being the extra-organized person that I am, I always make it a point to know my itinerary by heart, down to the trains or planes I would be taking and the airline / rail company it would be under. For hotel bookings, I usually use Agoda and if I want to be sure, I choose the option that offers Free Cancellation.
10) Visa Application Fee – The current rate is at 60Euros, but the ForEx changes from time to time, so on the day of your application, bring more than enough and make sure you have loose bills. As far as I know, they don’t give change.
After giving all the documents and answering a series of questions, they will give you your visa receipt, which you must keep; this is what you’ll present should they require you to give additional documents or when you pick up your passport. Though I forgot the receipt once when I passed an additional document, and I just said my name and they said it was all good.
How long will it take for the embassy to send the results?
For this particular question, my answer will be quite lengthy. The waiting game will test your patience and your trust in the system. The Belgian embassy, at an average, takes up to 15 working days; but could take even more, as you’ll read later.
During my first application
…with the Italian Embassy in 2012, I sent my application via courier on a Friday in February and I got my passport with the visa on it exactly two weeks later, also on a Friday.
Note: The Belgian Embassy usually sends you an email saying if your application has been approved and if not, I believe they don’t mention it at all in the email. If approved, the embassy sends you an email with the good news and requires you to send a copy of your confirmed ticket, which means yes, they have to be paid for, and a copy of your travel insurance. Upon sending, they respond with an email indicating when you can pick up your passport, which is usually a week later, depending on how fast you send the required documents.
My second application
…which was with the Belgian Embassy, was the fastest. I lodged my application on 10 January 2014 (Friday), passed an additional document on 13 January 2014 (Monday), and got the email saying my visa was approved on 15 January 2014 (Wednesday). I re-sent my confirmed ticket and travel insurance (re-sent, since I’d already passed these when I made my appearance), and got my passport a week later.
My third and most recent application
…also lodged with the Belgian Embassy gave me the longest and most excruciating wait. I knew they had no reason to deny me and maybe it just took a while since it was considered peak season, but my last experience was terrible. Bare with me if you want to know what happened. If not, you can skip this altogether.
I lodged my application on 22 August 2014, as I was to leave for Europe during the second to the last week of November. Take note of the two holidays during the end of August, as well as a one-day suspension due to the typhoon, which may have attributed to the delay in the processing of my visa.
I indicated in my application that I was leaving the country on 25 September and that I would need my passport by the 22nd. I thought a month was reasonable, since my longest application wait was for two weeks, with courier delivery.
On 28 August, I received an email saying I was missing a document, which I didn’t know was possible, but it was my oversight; so I passed it on 1 September. When I passed the document, I reiterated my need for my passport by the 22nd of September and they just told me to wait for the results.
Again, I thought the time was enough. I was so wrong. After a few phone calls and probably the embassy thinking I was terribly impatient, the 22nd came and still, no news. I called them to follow it up and they said the same thing I heard time and time again: to wait. I asked them if I could pick up my passport and just return it upon arriving in Manila; they agreed.
I went to the visa center and presented my visa receipt upon arriving. And again, they asked me to wait. After nearly an hour of getting restless, they finally called my name. The officer informed me that my application had already been approved and that they were just about to email me. Even if the waiting time annoyed me a tad, I realized it’s their discretion anyway as to when they’d want to inform me about my results. I explained to the officer that I needed my passport and she understood, checked my documents, and said I just needed to give my passport back, since they had everything that was required of me. They emailed two days later with written proof my visa was approved, as I requested. As soon as I arrived in the Philippines, I returned my passport for the visa to be imprinted, and got it less than a week later.
Finally, we’ve reached the end of my length post, which I hope was at least a bit of help to all you travel hopefuls. Let me end with a few tips that will, hopefully, increase your chances to visit Europe as a tourist:
During the interview:
1) Be confident, but humble. Know your answers, but add a little sweetness. The officer may be a bit grumpy and not welcoming, but remember that it is their job to scare those who are being dishonest, which I hope you aren’t 😉
2) Know your itinerary by heart.
3) Be patient. You’ll be in a room full of people and it might take a while for your name to be called. And you might have to sit down and go back to the counter a couple of times for follow-up questions, but that’s okay.
4) Be early! You don’t want to miss your chance, do you?
5) As aforementioned, bring one original set and two photocopies; put a checklist on top, so the embassy will know immediately which documents they’ll be verifying.
During the waiting game, I have one important tip that I wish someone told me while I was going crazy waiting: Just because it’s taking forever doesn’t mean your visa was denied. I know, the waiting time makes you a bit crazy, like I was during my last application; specially since the one before that took just three working days. Be patient, the results will come sooner or later.
Should you have any other questions, feel free to comment below or contact me through my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. With that, I wish you all pleasant Schengen Visa applications and happy travels! And remember that all this stress will be worth it when you’re here: