DISCLAIMER: I am not an employee of the Czech Embassy or any embassy of countries within the Schengen territory. I lodged my application on my own capacity and received minimal assistance from travel agencies. The approval and release of visa varies with each application depending on the completeness of the documents and the travel history of the applicant.
For many Filipinos, Europe is the ultimate destination. The castles, the museums, the gorgeous people,the rolling hills and snow-capped peaks are just too difficult to resist. This continent holds so much beauty and sophistication that it is just imperative for anyone to visit it at least once in their lives.
Travel junkies especially have more reasons to conquer Europe since it only takes one visa, the all-powerful Schengen visa, to gain entry to about 26 countries, including some of the most visited countries in the world like Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. The more countries you visit, the better your travel cred becomes.
The only problem? It is difficult to secure a Schengen Visa. I know some people who have secured other visas including previous Schengen Visas who were denied a new Schengen Visa. To be honest, I can understand the reasons behind this. A lot of travelers who visit Europe jump ship and simply vanished the government’s radar. They become illegal aliens or workers who take away jobs from the locals.
Also, traveling to Europe is expensive and it certainly takes substantial amount of money to travel to Europe.
I am therefore considering it a blessing that for my recent Europe trip, I was able to secure my Schengen Visa in as fast as five days from lodging my application? How did I do it? Nothing really special. I just stuck to my real purpose of travel and spoke truthfully about my finances.
THE SCHENGEN VISA APPLICATION PROCESS
Rather than spending additional money on travel agencies, I decided to lodge my visa application on my own. My travel was a legitimate vacation so I had nothing to worry right? Besides, it was my second application for a Schengen Visa and I was approved last time, so I pretty much know the process. However, having secured a previous visa (my first one was a sponsored trip) is not a guarantee you can get one. This is especially true if your second trip is a personal one.
I decided to lodge my application before the Czech Embassy because I wanted to stay longer in Prague. Also, I received a tip from a friend who travels frequently, that they have a higher visa approval rate since they have fewer applicants, compared to say France, Italy or Spain (which has one of the lowest approval rate because of too many Filipino workers there).
I checked their website and scheduled an appointment. You cannot submit an application without prior appointment which is true for nearly all Schengen embassies. To secure an appointment check this website https://visapoint.eu/disclaimer or this http://www.mzv.cz/manila/en/visa_and_consular_services/visa_information/index.html
After completing the appointment application, a confirmation will be emailed to you using your preferred email. You have to print this and bring it to the embassy on your appointment date to gain entry to the embassy.
Then it is time to prepare all the documents you need for your Schengen Visa
1. Schengen Visa application form. This is free and you can download it from this site http://www.mzv.cz/public/b/41/a4/545396_443768_ZOV_short_term_en.pdf. I attached a passport sized photo with the required size and dimensions. Most photo companies know this already.
2. Proof of Travel History. To prove the consul that you are indeed an avid traveler, you have to furnish him/her a copy of all your previous passports, visas and stamps. In my case, I photocopied all my arrival and departure stamps and all previous visas (Japan, Taiwan, China, Australia, South Korea and Schengen).
3. Proof of Travel Intention. To convince the embassy that you are really traveling to Europe, you have to furnish him with a copy of your return tickets reservation. It is important to note that this should be reserved tickets only since you havent secured your visa. A purchased ticket might seem too desperate for the embassy. If you purchased the ticket already, then dont volunteer the information. Just say you have reserved tickets. I reserved round-trip tickets from Manila to Berlin thru KLM. You can check skyscanner.com to find the cheapest and the most convenient flights.
For the hotel reservations, it is important to secure reserved hotels in all the countries you are visiting within the Schengen Visa. In my case, I visited Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, Rome, Paris, and Copenhagen. I reserved hostels in all those cities using Hostelworld.com. It is quite adviseable since it has a deposit security feature which protects your money in case you decide to cancel the trip or in case you fail to secure your visa. I also used Agoda.com in checking out the cheapest available hotel rooms.
Now, what about the train, bus and plane tickets within the Schengen region?
As mentioned, the embassy understands that you are only reserving tickets so it not imperative to buy these tickets. You can reserve plane tickets from one European country to another but this will not work for bus and train tickets since you they are always book and buy.
What I did is I researched all the connections I needed to do within Europe and confimed all the ticket prices of the buses and trains I needed to make. I printed it in a separate sheet detailing all my planned expenses (tickets, hotels, daily cost of living which is around 50 Euro daily).
I also prepared a complete travel itinerary which included the sights/museums/attractions I wanted to see in each of the countries I visited. It is important to research these sights so you will have a better appreciation of the countries you want to visit. Should the consul ask you what you wanted to see, you’ll have lots of ammunition.
4. Proof of Income and Finances. I must confess that I am not the richest traveler hence, the backpacking. At the time of my application, I only had P145,000 in the bank. I secured my bank certificate and bank statement (3 months) from BPI at a cost of P100 deductible from your account.
I also submitted a Certificate of Employment detailing my current position and tenure in the company. The certificate also explicitly mentioned my annual and monthly income including all allowances and de minimis.
To leave no stone unturned, I also submitted my recent 3-months payslip and ITR.
5. Travel Insurance. Unlike other visas, it is important to secure a travel insurance for the Schengen Visa. Medical bills in Europe are exorbitant and Schengen governments dont want to shoulder your bills in case you meet some sort of accident during your European adventure. Your travel medical insurance must have a coverage of up to 30,000 Euro. I checked the embassy for a list of their accredited insurance companies through this website http://www.mzv.cz/manila/en/visa_and_consular_services/visa_information/schengen_visa_stay_of_up_to_90_days/travel_medical_insurance_for_schengen.html.
I chose Ace Insurance and contacted them immediately. They emailed me the form which I filled up and emailed back to them. They gave me their bank account number for the payment of P1887 (for 16 days) and sent them a scanned copy of the deposit slip. The following day, they delivered to my preferred address the booklet and certificate detailing my insurance coverage and benefits.
INTERVIEW FOR SCHENGEN VISA
Duriny my application appointment, I proceeded to the Czech Embassy at the 30F of Rufino Plaza in Makati. I arrived 30 minutes early and wore proper attire that would convince them of my traveler persona.
As expected, they required the appointment confirmation and once I handed it to them, they ushered me to the waiting area. Plastered all over the waiting room are pertinent details about Prague and the schengen visa application.
The current visa fee was also indicated (P2,920 at that time).
When it was finally my time to be interviewed, I was led into a small, private room where I waited for a minute or two. When the consul lifted the blinds covering the glass panels, I was surprised to find a young, very good looking consul. He has Filipino blood I can tell. He asked me my intentions for traveling to Europe. I replied candidly that I intended to backpack all around Europe.
He also asked my I chose Prague to be my main destination. I told him the truth that Prague is considered one of the most gorgeous cities in Europe. I told him that I wanted to check the Prague Castle, the John Lennon Wall, and the Petrin Tower and I wanted to experience riding the funicular up the tower. He smiled and gave me advice on how best to reach the castle and the tower. He told me to take the stairs instead of the funicular and then he smiled. Definitely a good sign.
He checked my previous visas and stamps and was satisfied with my substantial travel history. He nonetheless asked me how I did my backpacking before in Asia and Australia. He then checked the hostels and plane ticket reservations and was satisfied that I covered all bases.
Finally, he checked my bank statement and was a bit surprised to see that I had less than 3,000 Euro or P145,000 in the bank. He categorically asked me how I will survive with such small money in Europe.
It was really a good thing that I prepared a sheet detailing my planned expenses. I showed it to him and explained that the cost of the return tickets, hostels and the 50 Euro daily cost of living in Europe were well within that amount.
I also showed him that even with my planned bus and train connections, museums fees etc, my money in the bank was still sufficient.
He was really satisfied with my explanation and started to smile. He was later joined by a more senior consul and he explained my planned trip. They concurred for a while and both of them smiled eventually since they can find no loophole in my application.
Now, the processing of Schengen visa usually takes 7 to 15 days but since I was leaving soon, I told him that any effort to expedite the processing would be greatly appreciated. He gave me a small piece of paper with the embassy’s hotline and told me to call in five days to check my visa status.
After five days, I called the embassy and almost cried with joy after learning that my visa was ready for pick-up. I ran to the embassy from our office in Makati and was smiling all throughout my trip back.
Two days after getting the visa, I flew to Europe and had the best two weeks of my life.