You will not undergo an interview with the French consulate, you will not be required to visit the French Embassy, nevertheless, you will have to spend a bit of your time and money. Last October, I went through the process of a Schengen visa application in preparation for my upcoming Europe trip. There are several countries where you can apply for this type of visa, but this guide specifically shows how to get it from France for Filipinos.
What is a Schengen Visa
A schengen visa is a short-stay visa that you can use to gain entry into any Schengen area in Europe. The following are the 26 member states: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Note that not all EU countries are members of Schengen like Ireland and the United Kingdom.
In 1985, five countries signed the Schengen Agreement in Schengen, Luxembourg (thus, the name). It’s a concession among participating European nations to abolish border control to allow unrestricted movement of people traveling within these areas. From 5 members, there are now 26. To put it simply, you can travel to all 26 countries with just one visa.
Which countries are required to get a Schengen visa
To see the list of countries required to obtain this visa, go to this link. The Philippines is among these countries.
What are the different types of Schengen visa
There are 3, National Visas, Limited Territorial Validity Visas (LTV), and Uniform Schengen Visas (USV). If your purpose is to travel, you get the USV, which provides permission to transit or live in a Schengen territory for a certain period of time. USV applies to categories “A” and “C”.
- A – Airport Transport Visa, as the name implies only allows traveling through the international zone of the Schengen country airport. In other words, this is used for transit, you cannot leave the airport.
- C – Short-term visa is what you use to gain entry to the Schengen area. It has 3 types: Single-entry visa, Double-entry visa, and Multiple-entry visa.
How long is the validity of a Schengen Visa
There is a difference between Duration of Stay (DOS) and Visa Validity (VV). DOS is the maximum of days you can stay in the Schengen area; the count begins the moment you enter Schengen. VV, on the other hand, pertains to the period of time you can use your Schengen visa. A Schengen visa holder may stay within the Schengen zone, whether for business or tourism purposes, for up to 90 days. You can find a detailed explanation about this in this link, Schengen Visa Types & Validity.
Which embassy/country to obtain a Schengen visa from
All Schengen members can issue this visa and as a general rule, you should apply to the one where you will be entering first or the country where you will be staying the longest. In my case, I submitted my visa application to the country of my first point of entry, France.
Where can I go for a Schengen visa application in the Philippines
Generally, you need to apply to the Embassy/Consulate of the country you are visiting. The good thing about this is, that even if you are visiting more than one country you only need to get one Schengen visa. I applied to France for my visa but I didn’t have to go to the French Embassy myself. That’s because there is an outsourcing company that processed my visa application for me called VFS Global.
VFS Global worldwide manages administrative tasks related to visa, passport, identity management, and other citizen services for its client governments. They serve as a sort of a middleman between the applicants and the embassies, doing the nitty-gritty of facing the applicants, gathering and assessing their documents, then passing them all to the embassies for approval. However, they do not cater to all Schengen countries. You may get their services if you are visiting any of these countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland.
How to process Schengen visa application through France
Okay, it’s about to get brutal but before I go on, let me clarify that this process follows the procedures set forth by VFS for France. I have a friend who submitted her application via Austria and it seemed like the steps we went through are roughly similar. For instructions on other Schengen countries, check the website of VFS.
The first thing you need to do is to create an account at France-Visas website. This is where you will fill out the application form that you need to print and take to the visa center. Likewise, this is where you will book your visa appointment.
VFS sent me instructions on how to schedule an appointment, which you may download below.
If you have any queries, you may contact VFS directly at their email address, Info.frph@Vfsglobal.com. Their help center is very responsive, addressing my inquiries within business hours, the next day at the latest.
What are the required documents for the Schengen visa application
This is the part of this whole visa application that took me a couple of days to finish. Remember that you must have all of the required documents before going to VFS. They do not deal with anyone who came with incomplete docs. Here
1. Application Summary Sheet: This is the application form that you need to fill out from the France-Visas website. Enter your information then print out a copy.
2. Appointment Letter: Walk-ins are not allowed in visa centers, you need to make an appointment first. Schedule your visit at the France-Visas website then print the appointment letter that they will send you.
3. Letter to the Embassy: Think of it as a cover letter; make the necessary introductions about yourself, and write down the reason for your visit and why you chose to apply for a Schengen visa to their embassy. Do mention something about your travel history, especially the countries you have visited in the past. Lastly, make a promise that you will not violate the terms of your visa. You may see the actual letter that I sent to the embassy in the PDF file below.
4. Itinerary: Create an itinerary that includes the countries you are visiting, the number of days of your visit, and the attractions/tourist destinations that you are planning to see. It doesn’t matter if your itinerary change during your actual trip, they just need to see how you are planning to spend your days in the Schengen area. Here’s a copy of my itinerary for your reference. It included Ireland (a non-Schengen country) because it’s part of my planned Europe trip.
5. Accommodation Booking: There are travel agencies that can make a hotel reservation for you for a price. But why pay when you can have it for free? You can easily book accommodation at Booking.com. Use their filter options to find the hotels that offer free cancellation and no prepayment. Most hotels allow cancellation a few days before your confirmed booking date. This way, you don’t have to worry about wasting money in case your visa application was rejected or if for some reason, you can no longer continue with the trip.
Note: Some hotels will test if your credit card is working by deducting a little amount. I used my Paymaya that doesn’t have enough balance. The hotels automatically canceled my booking whenever they tried to confirm my card. Thus, I had to book a few times until I found hotels that didn’t do card confirmation. On which hotels perform this, I cannot say for sure.
6. Airline Ticket Reservation: Just like your place of accommodation, you don’t have to pay for an actual flight ticket just yet. Even the embassies discourage people from doing this until they already have a visa. What you need to present is an airline ticket reservation and I got mine from Flightreservationforvisa.com. For this, I paid, ₱1,390 ($26.35).
7. Passport: If your passport is expiring soon, best to renew it before applying for a Schengen visa. It should be valid for 3 more months beyond the date of your departure from the Schengen area. It means that if your flight back home from Europe is in January and your passport is expiring in April For example, your passport is no longer valid for Schengen application. Also, bring your old passport if there is any. In my case,
8. Travel History: One of the proofs that you are a good tourist is your travel history. Make a photocopy of all the pages of your passport with stamps and visas. If the visa is printed as in the case of an Australian visa, bring a hard copy of it.
9. Travel Insurance: Unlike the hotel or flight accommodation that you have the option to reserve, getting travel insurance is a done deal regardless of your visa application status. Some agencies though offer to reimburse a portion of your payment in case of a denied visa.
I purchased my travel insurance from Pacific Cross. They offer individual plans for ages between 15 to 75 years old. You can ask for a quotation through their website, after which you will be contacted by their representative via email. Minimum coverage for Schengen states is €30,000, however, Pacific Cross asks for minimum coverage of €45,000. To cover my entire trip, I paid ₱2,826 ($53.58).
10. Birth Certificate: If you are married, you need to show your marriage certificate, but for single people, a copy of the birth certificate will suffice.
11. Passport-sized photo: I brought two but they only require 1 piece of 45 mm x 35 mm photo for the application form. Wear a collared shirt when getting your photo taken, on a white background. Make sure your ears are showing and not covered by your hair. Your head must be on a level with the camera, and as much as possible, do not smile.
12. Bank Certificate: The next requirement you have to prepare is proof of your financial capability starting with a Bank Certificate. Some banks like BDO will only issue this from the branch where you opened your account. Thankfully, this is not a problem with BPI where you can get one from any of their branches for ₱200 ($3.79).
13. Bank Statement: Another document you need to submit is the bank statement. It needs to show at least 3 months’ worth of bank transactions. As with the amount of the show money, there is no specific amount that they require, but you have enough to cover all of your expenses for your trip. A general tip is that you have at least a budget of €65 (₱3,902.21) per day. For example, you must have at least €650 (₱39,022.06) in your bank account if you are staying for 10 days. This, however only applies to people who have provided proof of booked accommodation. Without it, your daily budget should be €120 (₱7,204.07).
Note: For business owners, submit a company bank statement from the last 6 months along with the business license.
14. ITR: This document is the best thing to present if you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur. No need to pass the original, a certified copy will do.
15. Payslip: Aside from the ITR, employed applicants must present their payslips for 3 months.
16. Certificate of Employment: Another requirement for the employed, request this from your HR, make sure that your hired date and your annual salary are indicated.
17. Letter of Leave Approval from Employer: This letter must show that your employer is aware and has approved your leave vacation for this trip, as well as the date you are expected to return to work.
How to submit the documents to VFS Global
On the day of your visa appointment, go to the VFS Global office on Mezzanine Floor, Ecoplaza Bldg., Don Chino Roces Ave Ext, Makati. I cannot emphasize this enough but make sure you have a complete set of documents. I put them all in a clear book thinking that it would help the consultant check the documents easily, but I was told to take out the files from the clear book. So it’s best to just put them all in a long brown envelope.
You can apply 90 days before your desired entry date to the Schengen area. You will not be accommodated even if you were just one day early. I made the mistake of going there 2 days in advance so the consultant asked me to get another appointment and come back 2 days later. Still, my documents were assessed and she found that I was going to Ireland. She asked why I didn’t have an Irish visa yet when it was my premier destination in Europe. I said that I was also in the process of getting an Irish visa.
The real reason, however, is that the friend that I’m visiting in Ireland advised me to get a Schengen first. Apparently, it’s harder to get an Irish visa so my friend thinks that if I have a Schengen already it will increase my chances of visa approval. Anyway, the consultant said that I should state in my letter to the embassy why I am applying for Schengen before the Irish visa.
VFS has photocopy and printing services but they are ridiculously expensive. I also discourage you from carrying a bag because they don’t allow it inside the visa consultation rooms. However, if you cannot go without a bag, there’s a locker area where you can leave it for a fee. Check the rates below for reference.
Internet & Computer use – 7 mins – ₱50 ($0.95) / 30 mins – ₱120 ($2.28) / 60 mins – ₱240 ($4.55)
Printing per page – ₱20 ($0.38)
Photocopying per page – ₱10 ($0.19)
Scanning per page – ₱20 ($0.38)
Locker use – 100
I met the same consultant when I came back to VFS. Since she had seen my documents already everything went smoothly. I wouldn’t say we had an interview when the only thing she asked me is my reason for application, to which I answered, tourism. Everything she needed to know was already provided in my documents. This is not a business or a sponsored trip and I will be shouldering all of my expenses including my flight and accommodation.
She asked if I wanted to pick up the passport or if I want it to be delivered. Not wanting the hassle of returning just to get my passport, I chose the second option. After that, she instructed me to go to the cashier to settle my payment. Here’s the breakdown:
Schengen Visa Fee – ₱3,770 ($71.48)
VFS Global Consultation Fee – ₱1,600 ($30.34)
Passport delivery – ₱350 ($6.64)
After payment is the biometrics where they will take your digital photo and fingerprints. When your visa gets approved, this is the photo that they will use for it.
That’s it, you’ve completed your visa application. You will be receiving text messages from VFS regarding your visa status. Processing time varies, in my case, I got my passport back after just a week. In case you’re wondering, they don’t return the documents to you.
Opening the parcel was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life. My heart sank when I flipped through the pages and didn’t see the visa. I wondered if there is anything in my documents that the embassy found to be insufficient.
I leafed through my passport once again just in case I missed something. Apparently, I did because this time, I found the Schengen visa on one of the pages. I could hardly believe it! Finally, my Europe dream is coming true!
Next, is the Irish visa, but that’s a story for next time.