Tuesday, 13 November 2012

What is a Schengen visa?

The Schengen visa allows visitors to travel throughout several European countries under one visa.  It allows traveling to and crossing between the borders of 26 European (22 EU and 4 non-EU) countries, so that you do not have to apply separately to each country.  This opens up tremendous opportunities to visit several countries in one trip, thus giving you the traveler more freedom and hopefully enriching your experience of Europe!  To most, it is an incredible convenience but you will need to navigate through all the rules and requirements of the visa application process.  Hopefully, we will make the process as smooth and pain-free as possible.  

what countries can I travel to under the Schengen visa?

The Schengen visa allows you to travel freely within the Schengen area, for a maximum period of 90 days in a 6 month time frame.    The countries in the Schengen area should not be confused with the European Union (EU).  It does not cover 2 EU countries (United Kingdom and Ireland) and includes 3 non-EU countries (Norway, Iceland and Switzerland).

Types of Schengen visas

Now that you know where you can travel to, it’s important to work out which category of visa you fall under.  There are four categories of Schengen visa, as follows:

Short stay Schengen visas (Category C)

This is the most common form of visa, which is applicable to most travelers whether you are travelling for business, family or leisure.  This allows short stays in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in a 6 month period.  You can apply for either single or multiple entry visas under this category.  The single entry visa only allows entrance into the Schengen area once, whereas the multiple entry visa allows the traveler to make several trips from non-Schengen countries to Schengen countries during the period in which the visa is valid.

In most cases, we would recommend you to apply for the multiple entry visa as it offers more flexibility. For example, you can travel to a Schengen country like Spain for a weekend, come back to London to work for a week and be off to Paris the following weekend.  However, you will need to provide more supporting documents for the multiple entry visa. 

Transit Schengen visas (Categories A and B)

Airport transit (Category A) visas are for individuals travelling through a Schengen visa country on transit, who only need an overnight stay or a transfer towards their next destination of travel.  You would need to show a confirmed onward flight for this visa, and would not be allowed to leave the airport of the Schengen country that you are passing through.

Transit visas (Category B) allows individuals to travel through the Schengen area between 2 non-Schengen countries for a maximum of 5 days.  For example, if one is driving from the UK to Croatia and needed to pass through France and Italy, this transit visa allows you 5 days to travel through the Schengen area. 

Circulation Schengen visas (Category D)

This visa allows an individual to travel freely to the Schengen area multiple times for up to 90 days (over 6 months) over a period of 1 – 3 years.  It is usually given to individuals who can prove a need to travel frequently to the Schengen area for family or business purposes.

Do I need a Schengen visa?

Before you starting running to the Embassy for you visa, sit back to check whether you need a visa at all!  Many EU countries have agreements with other countries rendering visas unnecessary for short stays. 

If you are a national of any of the below countries, congratulations, you do not need a Schengen visa!  However, make sure you are travelling only for tourism purposes and that you have valid medical insurance.
Costa Rica
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Antigua and Barbuda
San Marino
Costa Rica
El Salvador
EU nationals
South Korea
Bosnia and Herzegovina
New Zealand
United States
Hong Kong
Vatican City


Unfortunately if your country is not on the above list, you will need a Schengen visa.  But don’t worry, we are here to help so please read on.  

Where should I apply for the Schengen visa?

This totally depends on your trip and how you are planning it.  There are generally three scenarios:

1.         If you are only travelling to one country, then obviously you must apply to the Embassy of that Schengen country;
2.         If you are travelling to several Schengen countries, you should apply to the Embassy where you will be spending the most number of nights;
3.         If you are travelling to several Schengen countries and staying for an equal number of nights in two or more Schengen countries, then you should apply to the Embassy where you will enter the Schengen area first

Sometimes, your trip may be flexible and you may not care which Schengen country you enter. You just want the country which will process your visa application the fastest!  In that case, check how long it takes to book an appointment with different Schengen country embassies.  This is because if you cannot book an appointment, you cannot submit an application!   Every Schengen country Embassy has different rules and waiting times to book an appointment.  Secondly, check how long the Schengen Embassy is expected to take to process you visa.
To help applicant applying from the United Kingdom (UK), we have contacted every Schengen Visa country Embassy in the UK to obtain their standard visa processing times in the UK.  This is detailed in Chapter 6.  Please note that these times are for guidance only, as they may fluctuate depending on the season, demand for visas and the complexity of each particular application. 

When to apply for the Schengen visa?

This is important.   You must ensure that you give yourself enough time to get the Schengen visa processed and therefore your passport back in time for your trip.

We recommend that you aim to have your Schengen visa application submitted 4-6 weeks before your date of departure.  This actually means you will have to begin preparations earlier to confirm your travel itinerary, book an appointment, and collect supporting documents.  Note that you cannot submit an application more than 3 months before your date of departure. 

Most Schengen country embassies will take between 5-15 working days to process your application.  However, this may take longer depending on how complicated your visa application is and/or if you choose to appeal a rejection.   

Every Embassy has different visa processing rules and processing periods.  From experience, the two most critical factors to consider from a scheduling perspective is the waiting time required for booking an appointment and secondly the visa processing time of the Embassy.  We will discuss this in the next section.   

What do I need for the Schengen visa?

In general, to apply for a Schengen visa, you will need the following:

l   A signed and completed Schengen visa application form;
l   Your passport (original + copy);
l   1 passport sized photograph;
l   Payment of the visa application fee;
l   Evidence of transport and accommodation bookings;
l   Evidence of financial funds;
l   Evidence of travel insurance;
l   Travel itinerary;
l   Other supporting evidence depending on the applicant, country of application and Schengen country applied for (e.g. letter from employers, school, proof of status, etc.) 

Depending on the Embassy of the Schengen country you are applying for, you will need to submit the application either in person, online or by post.  The most common form of applying is submission of application in person.