I’m writing this blog to share my roller-coaster experience in the application of Schengen Visa at the Italian Embasssy in Manila.
What is a Schengen Visa?
A Schengen Visa is the document that Philippine passport holders like me needs in order to travel to majority of Europe (except for UK, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Ireland)
There are several types of Schengen visa but I will focus on the short-term type of visa with the purpose of Tourism.
Here’s what I did.
PLAN THE TRIP.
When to go. I started planning around August of 2016 and I already know I wanted to travel in spring (April-May 2017). According to my research, spring time this is the best time to travel around Europe, aside from fall around September-October, because the weather is not too cold nor too hot, less tourists and you can expect beautiful landscape of bloomed flowers and greenery. Summer might be too hot and the places might be overcrowded with tourists so I tried to avoid to travel during summer months.
How long? A short-term visa allows you to stay in the Schengen area not more than 90 days. Definitely I cannot stay that long because I have a full-time job with only 15 days vacation leave credits. But I wanted to travel to Europe longer, so I decided to travel from holy week (April 11) to labor day (May 1) to cover the holidays and weekends. My total length of stay is 21 days.
Where to go. Europe has so many beautiful cities but I only have 21 days. I listed down the places that I want to visit and trimmed them down to my non-negotiable-must-sees. Eventually I came up with Italy, Spain and France. I want my first time to Europe to be all about history, art, architecture and these countries have all the things that I’ve been studying since college.
Next is to decide where to fly in and fly out. Most travelers opt for a round trip ticket in one city which can be cheaper but I prefer a multi-city ticket, so I decided to fly in to Rome and fly out from Paris.
Then I listed down the cities that I want to visit in each country and distributed the number of days I want to stay in each city. APPLY FOR THE VISA
Since I will visit 3 countries in the Schengen area, I must lodge my application to the embassy of the country where I will stay the longest, and that is Italy with a total of 13 days.
Where to apply. There are two ways to apply for a Schengen Visa thru the Italian Embassy,
1. Apply directly at the Italian Embassy , or
2. Apply thru VIA Centre, the accredited service facility of the Italian Embassy where applicants can submit their visa application.
I decided to apply directly to the Italian Embassy because I thought the application would be faster and cheaper compared to the VIA Centre. Since it’s direct, my application will be prioritized.
Schedule an appointment. I logged in to the website of the Italian Embassy to schedule an appointment. Click here to go directly to the appointment booking page. However, you can only schedule an appointment not more than 3 months before your departure. My intended date of departure is April 11 and I scheduled an appointment on February 22, 2017 Wednesday at 9:30 am. I still have more than a month to prepare my documents so I think it should be fine.
Prepare the requirements. According to the Italian Embassy’s website, the requirements for the Schengen Tourist Visa are the following:
- Accomplished Application Form – click here to download the application form. Do not leave blank spaces, write “N/A” if it does not apply to you.
- 2×2 colored photo with white background – no earrings, ears out, must wear something with collar. Then the photo must be pasted or glued not stapled onto the application form.
- Old and Current Passport – valid passport with no less than 6 months before the expiry. Don’t forget to bring all your old passport as they will require you to show it.
- Photocopy of Passport’s Biographical page and previous stamps and visas.
- Letter of Introduction / Invitation Letter – If you are staying with your friend’s or relative’s house, you need to submit a letter of invitation addressed to the Italian Embassy . There is a standard format that can be downloaded from their website. It must be written by the friend or relative and must be accompanied with a proof of identity (passport) or permit of stay. But since I’m traveling solo, I made a Letter of Introduction addressed to the Consul of the Italian Embassy. After reading travel blogs like the Wanderlass, Kristine Camins and The Poor Traveler, I came up with my letter of introduction below.This document lets the Embassy know who you are, what is your purpose and the details of your trip. It must also be signed by you.
- Proof of Accommodation. If you are staying at a friend or relative’s house, it must be specified in your invitation letter. If you are staying in a hotel, hostel or Airbnb, you need to print the confirmed booking reservation sent to you via email. The reservation must be under your name and needs to show the duration of stay. You need to put the details of your accommodation to your daily itinerary.
- Daily Itinerary. Reading travel blogs really helped me a lot in formulating my DIY itinerary since I am not a fan of availing travel packages or tours. In your itinerary you need to show where will you travel on each day and where will you stay during those days. Here is a sample of the itinerary I submitted.
- Round Trip Flight Reservation. Take note that the Italian Embassy does not require you to purchase the ticket yet. They only need a flight reservation. What is a flight reservation? It is a document showing the flight itinerary and schedule of your journey. You can get in thru calling the airline company of your choice and ask if they could give you a flight reservation only. You can also try to call travel agencies that offer this service, though you might need to pay a certain amount to get a confirmed flight reservation. But since I’m stubborn and too excited, I already bought my round trip plane ticket from Etihad Airways. It’s not recommended but for me, purchasing the plane ticket ahead gives me a sense of assurance and relief because I fear that if by the time I get my visa, the fare prices will be more expensive. (Warning: Do not mock me. I still highly suggest to get a Flight Reservation ONLY)
This is an example of a flight reservation. The embassy only wants to see your round trip itinerary and flight schedule.
- Certificate of Employment and Approved Leave of Absence. If employed, you need to request an employment certificate from your HR Department. You also need to show proof that your supervisor/manager approved your leave. This may come in any written or printed form. If self-employed, you need to show Business Permit, BIR Registration and Financial Statements.
- Income Tax Return. If employed, you may request this from your HR.
- PRC License (if available).
- Bank Certificate, Bank Statement and Photocopy of credit cards and statements (if available). This is one of the major requirements for the visa application. You need to prove to the Embassy that you have sufficient funds. You can request the certificate and statement from your bank, some might charge for a few hundred pesos. From the checklists and blogs I read, your bank statement must show your bank transactions for the past 6 months. You also need to show statements of your credit card for the past 3 months. TIP: If you are planning to travel months ahead, you need to start putting money in your bank account. Don’t put a huge amount in just one transaction.
- Travel Health Insurance. A coverage of at least 30,000 Euros for expenses for emergency hospitalization and repatriation (with 15 days allowance beyond travel period). Valid throughout the Schengen area and must be bought from an accredited Insurance company by the Italian Embassy. I got the Travel Master Global Plan (Peso Policy) from Malayan Insurance.
- NSO Birth Certificate.
- Visa Fee. It is important to bring the exact amount. The visa fee is 60 Euros and you need to give the exact amount of Php 3,190 on your day of appointment. The Embassy does not give change. However, there is a Cafe France at the ground floor of the building so exchange some bills.
- Photocopy of ALL the requirements mentioned above.
Submit the application. The Italian Embassy’s office is in 6th floor Zeta II Building, 191 Salcedo St., Legaspi Village, Makati City (just a few blocks away from the back of Makati Medical Center)
Don’t forget to print the appointment letter emailed to you by the Embassy. Arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled time.
Upon entering the building, the security guards will check the completeness of your documents but if you forget to photocopy some documents there is a photocopying service at the 2nd floor (you may take the elevator or the stairs)
The security guards may ask you to leave your phone before you enter the interview area. They will also assist you in getting a queue number for the submission of your application. You’ll pass through the security check and wait till your number is called on the screen.
First, the visa officer will collect your documents and your visa fee payment of Php 3,190. The visa officer asked me if it’s my first time to apply for a Schengen Visa. I said yes.
Then you will go back to your seat and wait for your number to be called again for “The Interview” – yes, the dreaded interview round that feels like Miss Universe Q&A haha.
When your number is called again, a different visa officer will interview you.
First thing, the visa officer, who is a Filipina, asked me to scan my fingerprints for biometrics.
Then, she checked my documents and made sure they are complete. She returned all the photocopies to me though (weird)
She asked me what is the purpose of my trip. – I said Tourism.
Who are you traveling with? – I’m traveling solo. I added that I have been traveling solo since 2014 around Asia. She looked astonished.
Single or Married? – I said single
Who’s going to pay for your trip? – I said myself, by cash and a credit card for backup.
From this point I already felt something weird from the visa officer. Like she cannot believe that I can travel alone.
How long is your stay? – I said 21 days.
She asked me how much is my estimated budget – I said around Php 180,000 (which I believe is more than enough considering my mid-range travel style, somewhere between budget and a splurge)
Then I was asked about how much is my monthly net salary.
It got more personal when I was asked where did I get the money in my bank certificate. – I said part of it is from the savings in my salary and part is from the earnings from my freelance projects as an Interior designer
Then she gave me a questioning look and asked if I could give proof of my freelance projects. – I was worried because I did not bring anything and was not prepared for it. She told me I could go back to submit them.
Then she ran through my documents and asked me where will I stay and which dates. (I was thinking maybe she’s testing if I know my itinerary by heart)
She asked me how much did I pay for the hostels.
She asked me if I have friends or relatives in Italy – I said no (although I have some, i just prefer to say no to prevent further questioning)
Then I was given 2 sets of questionnaires. One is about my family background and the other is a set of questions that I need to answer in essay form.
Questions such as “Who are you traveling with? How long is your stay”, “Are you aware of the consequences if you do not return after the expiry of your visa?” , “Will you accept employment during your stay?” (that one is tricky) and the most Miss Universe worthy question “Why do you think the consul should give you a Schengen Visa?” I did my best to answer everything from the heart and I know I have clean intentions of traveling so I felt confident.
After the interview and questionnaires, the visa officer told me to go back because I lack some documents such as my old passport (damn I thought it’s not necessary) and proof of my freelance work (signed contracts, photos, etc.). She gave me a schedule on when I can submit the additional documents but I decided to come back the next day.
I felt good after the interview because I thought I did well. Aside from the lacking documents, I thought I did a good job.
The next day was Wednesday and the visa officer is available only from 12pm to 1pm. I skipped my lunch break to rush into the Italian Embassy to submit the additional documents. I literally had to run because I don’t want to be late and put my application in jeopardy.
I arrived at 12:45pm, sweaty and gasping for air, I went straight to the visa officer to submit my documents. Then the Consul approached the visa officer interviewing me and I hear them talking in Italian. I’m not sure what they are talking about but I’m sure it’s about me. After their conversation, the visa officer told me this, “Oh ang sabi ni Consul, you’re funds might not be enough. Wala ka na ba ibang proof of financial means? Like properties, land title or car.”
I was shocked and my heart beat fast as I replied, “I don’t have those, I only have my savings in my bank account. I already paid my round trip airline ticket and my estimated future expenses is less than the amount in my bank, therefore I will not get bankrupted when I come back.”
The visa officer does not seem convinced. I told her I have another bank account but it was recently opened so I did not request a bank certificate for it. I hurriedly pulled out the passbook from my bag and showed it to the visa officer. She said, “Ok sige pwede na yan, i-photocopy mo”. So I rushed to the 2nd floor to have it photocopied and went back to the visa officer. She then told me to go back after 7 working days for the result of my application. But after that conversation I already felt that I’m going to get denied 😦
I cried in the taxi and I didn’t care if the driver heard me sobbing lol. I cried because I felt like all my efforts are going to waste after everything I heard from the visa officer, that my visa application will be refused.
After 6 working days I received a call from the Italian Embassy. The staff told me that there is already a result for my visa application and I can already pick up my passport. It was Friday afternoon but they only entertain applicants from 12pm to 1pm so I told him I’ll go there on Monday. It was the most nerve-wracking weekend.
Then it’s Monday. The day when I will find out the verdict. I came in with my pretty dress and looking very professional so that whatever happens I still look fabulous 😛 After waiting for about an hour, my number was called to get the results.
It was a different visa officer. She handed some paper over the window and asked me to sign the last page and told me that my visa was denied. That paper was a REFUSAL LETTER. She also gave back my old and current passport. I immediately checked my passport to see if there is any stamp. And there is none.
I was speechless and pretended I didn’t hear what she said. Before I signed the refusal letter I read the content first. The letter said that the embassy had examined my application and my visa is being refused due to the following reasons. There are 11 possible reasons for visa refusal and I saw 3 x-marks in my refusal letter.
- You have not provided proof of sufficient means of subsistence, for the duration of the intended stay or for the return to the country of origin or residence, or for the transit to a third country into which you are certain to be admitted, or you are not in a position to acquire such means lawfully.
- The information submitted regarding the justification for the purpose and conditions of the intended stay was not reliable.
- Your intention to leave the territory of the Member States before the expiry of the visa could not be ascertained.
I was appalled. I asked the visa officer if she could give back my documents but she refused and told me that they will keep it in file. I was upset as I walked out of the building. I was dumbfounded. All the effort, all the months of planning, all the hardwork to save up were all put to waste. I texted my family and friends about the result and they are sad for me. I cried myself to sleep that night.
The next day I was furious. I cannot accept the refusal of my Schengen Visa application. I will not allow that injustice that’s why I immediately made an Appeal Letter. Yes, I am fighting for my right, for my dream. I am appealing to the Italian Embassy!
….to be continued