I just got back from a 3-week Eurotrip/birthday trip. The minute I posted on social media that I was in Europe, several people messaged me asking how I got a Schengen visa.
If you’re a non-Philippine passport holder, you might be wondering why getting a visa is such a big deal for Filipinos. Let’s just say traveling to a first world country with a Philippine passport is akin to being a contestant in American Ninja Warrior. We have to go through so many obstacles just to prove to embassies and even our own immigration officers that we’re not going overseas to seek greener pastures.
But wait, there’s more! It gets even harder when you’re female.
You see, my profile is one that is usually a red flag for embassies: a 32-year old, single, childless female with no properties under my name AND a freelancer. But because I have this childhood dream of going to Europe and I know that my profile will be an issue down the line, I worked on building my travel history for years, maintained a passbook/savings account, and most importantly, registered myself as a self-employed individual with BIR.
Anyway, enough of that and let me tell you my experience in applying for a Schengen visa.
There are 26 Schengen member states, some of which require that you personally lodge an application at their respective embassy/consulate while others are coursed through VFS Global.
Here’s how to figure out where you should lodge your application:
- For travel to one particular Schengen state, the Schengen visa application must be lodged at the embassy/consulate of that particular member state e.g. attending a 5-day conference in Belgium. You should lodge your application at the Belgian Embassy in Manila.
- If the visit includes more than one member state, the Schengen visa application must be lodged at the embassy/consulate of the member state where you are staying the longest e.g. 2 nights in Germany, 4 nights in France, 3 nights in Spain. You should apply at the French embassy.
- If the visit includes more than one member state and you’re staying the same amount of time in multiple member states, apply at the embassy of the member state you are entering first e.g. 6 nights in Czech Republic, 4 nights in Austria, 2 nights in Germany, 4 nights in Switzerland, and 6 nights in Italy. You should lodge your application at The Czech Embassy in Manila.
In my case, I reserved an appointment from the Czech Embassy’s online reservation system, VISAPOINT, on August 29, 2016. I was surprised to get a schedule for September 27, 2016 at 1:00pm. That’s about a month of waiting, not to mention, just barely 3 weeks before my intended departure date! I was expecting to get an earlier schedule because based from the blogs I’ve read, they easily got the schedule they want since The Czech Embassy does not receive as many applications. Well, I guess word got around.
Anyway, after completing the reservation, you will shortly receive an email requesting you to confirm your appointment within 60 minutes, otherwise, your reservation will not be processed. You also need to print out the confirmation of the reservation and present it at the embassy on the day of the appointment.
*Please regularly check the respective embassy’s website for the requirements. It could change from time to time.*
**Applicants are required to present the original documents/requirements, and must provide a photocopy of each original document/requirement.**
- Duly filled out application form. See sample here.
- Passport and photocopy of the bio page. It should be valid for at least 90 days after intended departure from the Schengen area, and has at least 2 blank pages.
- 1 recent photograph (3.5 x 4.5cm) with light-colored background glued on the designated space on the upper right corner of the first page of the application form.
- Printout of all accommodation confirmation. I secured mine from Booking.com – all free cancellation and no prepayment required save for the one I booked through Hostelworld which required a nominal downpayment. Although not officially included in the list of requirements, I also submitted a copy of my detailed itinerary with a breakdown of my anticipated expenses. I will write a separate blog post on this. I believe this greatly helped support my purpose of travel, and showed that the money I have in the bank is more than sufficient to cover my expenses while I’m there.
- Official bank certificate. This must include a paragraph containing waiver of rights to release information to the Embassy of the Czech Republic – Visa Section. If this is not possible, a separate authorization letter addressed to the bank concerned must be produced, signed by the account holder and acknowledged by the bank representative (whether by signature or stamp), a copy of which must be submitted to the Embassy at the time of application. It must be supported by either:
- Copy of bank statements showing transaction history for the past 3 months;
- Copy of passbook showing transaction history
- Roundtrip flight reservation. Do not purchase your tickets yet. You can reserve the flights through a travel agency. They usually charge Php500.00 for this and can hold the ticket for 72 hours, and you can request them to hold it again after the 72-hour period expires. You can also check Cathay Pacific or Turkish Airlines. I later found out they have a ‘pay later’ option which allows you to print the flight itinerary without having to pay anything.
- Travel insurance. Please refer to this list of accredited providers. I got mine from Malayan Insurance for only Php1,555.00 with a coverage of 24 days.
- Other documents to support the visa application such as:
- For employees: Certificate of Employment, Leave approval
- For business owners: business papers (SEC/DTI Certification) – I submitted my DTI Certificate and BIR Certificate of Registration (BIR Form 2303)
- For students: Certificate of Enrollment
- Further documentation may be requested at the time of the application. In my case, they requested a copy of my ITR.
It says on the confirmation email to arrive 30 minutes earlier than the schedule.
I actually arrived at Rufino Tower around 12:00 noon, but the building receptionist only allowed me to go to the embassy by 12:30pm only for me to find about a dozen people waiting because guess what? They were also scheduled that day for a 1:00pm appointment. I guess there was a system glitch, so they just gave us numbers according to the order we arrived at the embassy.
The interview was held in a small room, with the Czech Consul and a Filipina Consular Officer behind a talk through glass.
They asked me to place all my documents on the deal tray.
Make sure that you do not staple your documents because they will lay it out on the table as if dealing with cards. I felt like I went to a tarot reader to find out if I’ll get a visa or not. LOL Actually, they returned some documents like the bank authorization letter, copy of the bank statement, photocopy of passbook transactions, and credit card statement of accounts.
Then they instantaneously asked me questions. It must have been a dozen or more. I honestly cannot remember them all, but to give you an idea, they asked about the purpose of the trip, if I’ve been to a Schengen state before, duration of my trip, civil status, and itinerary among others.
To be honest, I was a bit rattled even though I know I don’t have any other intentions of going to Europe other than for tourism/leisure. I also made a minor boo-boo with my itinerary. It appeared that I was staying a day longer in Italy than in The Czech Republic so they asked me to change it, otherwise, they would have to “kick me” to the Italian Embassy – their words, not mine. Thankfully, they allowed me to just email the revised itinerary instead of submitting it personally.
Lastly, they asked me about ‘my company’. I guess this is because the documents I submitted were for business owners. So I told them I work online, and that I don’t have any employees nor am I renting an office space. The Czech Consul then said “So, you’re a freelancer?” OMFG! Hearing that 10-letter word sent shivers down my spine. Still, I confidently answered “Yes” because I know any sign of reluctance might cost me the visa. She then asked if I have any proof of my tax returns, so I gave a photocopy of my 11-page Form 1701, but they only took the first page.
They then collected the visa fee and my biometrics.
I was handed a small sheet with the embassy’s contact details and was advised to check back after 5 working days if my passport is ready for collection.
I paid Php3,120.00 (about EUR60) at the time of application.
- September 27, 2016 – interview and submission of requirements
- September 28, 2016 – it was a Czech holiday so the embassy was closed
- October 5, 2016 – a Wednesday, fifth working day since the date of my application. I called that morning, but was advised to call back by 4:00 pm. I live 3 hours outside Manila, and the website states passport pick-ups are only Tuesdays and Wednesdays so I took the risk and traveled to Makati anyway. Got my passport with the Schengen visa!!!
There was no mention of this while I was doing my research, so I guess they just started it this year most likely to prevent people from ‘using’ the embassy to go to Europe and then not actually going to The Czech Republic. Just be aware that there might be repercussions if you intend on doing so, and that it will most likely affect your future Schengen visa applications.