Saturday, January 27, 2024

Planning for a tourist Schengen visa? Go DIY. It's not as hard as it looks

 Do you have upcoming plans for Europe? If you're like me, you must have watched tonnes of YouTube videos, Instagram reels, on how to apply for a Schengen visa, what documents are required, and what if my visa gets rejected? These videos and reels tend to scare you rather than help as most of the videos try fear-mongering to increase watchtime. I was in the same boat as I was planning for a trip to Austria in April 2024. I came across a lot of influencers on Instagram, Twitter, and even YouTube, who try to offer their help and assistance but for a fee. Otherwise, they won't answer your query and refer you to their videos and reels. It's not all bad in the influencer space. I came across some really helpful videos as well, which I'll share in this blog.  

Once I had a rough itinerary and tentative plan finalized, I first started with figuring out which consulate should I apply to for the Schengen visa. There are a few options you have to think about and come to a conclusion.
  • Which country is your main destination: Suppose you're travelling to Italy, France, Germany for 16 days. You'll be staying in italy for 8 days, and 4 days each in France and Germany. In this case as you're spending the most time in Italy, so Italy should be the consulate where you need to apply for the Schengen visa.
  • Which country is your port of entry: Let's take another example. Suppose you're travelling to Italy, France, and Germany for 15 days. But in this plan, you're staying for 5 days each in the countries. As there's no clear main destination, in this case you can apply at the consulate you're flying to from India. If you're first destination is Milan, Italy, then Italy should be the consulate where you need to apply for your Schengen visa. If you're flying to Paris first, then France should be the consulate where you should apply at.
I'm travelling to Germany, Austria, and Italy. I'm flying to Munich, and I'm staying 1 day there, 6 days in Italy, and 8 days in Austria. Which country do you think I should select to apply for Schengen visa? That's right. It will be Austria, as that is where I'm staying the most, so it is my main destination.

The next step is to find out whatever information you can from the consulate's website, and the VFS page for that country. When you go to VFS website for the first time, you have to select the country you're applying from, and the country you're applying to. Once you select these options, you're redirected to the relevant VFS page.

This site has pretty much all the information you need about the forms, documents required, checklist, visa fees, etc. But I've heard a few instances where for some countries, the documents and forms on the VFS page was not the latest, and they made the applicants run around a few times. That's why the next best page to rely on, is the consulate's own website about the visa requirements. My focus of this blog is tourist visa, so I'm writing for that specifically. I checked on the Austria consulate's site for their latest requirements for a tourist visa and matched with what VFS has mentioned in their checklist.

There are a couple of documents which are the most important and kinda decides if you're going to get the visa or not. This is from my research based on the articles and videos.
  • Personalized cover letter: There was lots of templates available on the site, and lot of people use the same format, update the name and date, and they get the visa as well. I feel the cover letter is really important and should be personalized based on your profile and personality. You can include some important information right on the cover letter that you're financially stable and can easily afford the trip. You're a passionate traveller and would love to click photos or make videos of the European state. You have a strong reason to return to India, and will not overstay the visa period. Here's my letter which I personalized by referring to multiple templates, and adding my own flavour. See if you like it and want to use it.
  • A strong reason for returning to India: If you're employed, make sure you get an NOC from your employer on the company's letterhead, clearly mentioning your travel dates and leaves are approved, and company has no objection to it. It can also mention the date when you'll resume work. Along with it, you should also get the employee contract certificate, mentioning your current role, tenure, salary. I'm not sure what the self-employed folks can show for this.
  • Detailed Itinerary: Along with the cover letter, I also shared a detailed itinerary mentioning my travel plan for every single day, the hotel details with phone number. Now this should be detailed but I'm sure the plan can change in realtime. So do not stress much on it. You can even mention something like "Arrive in Munich. Relax for the day", or visit main city centre in the afternoon, relax in the evening. 
Finally, take the appointment and visit the VFS centre with confidence, and all the documents, of course :). Feel free to drop any questions, and I'll try my best to respond to the best of my knowledge. Bon Voyage.

Here are a few YouTube videos I found useful while looking out for information.

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