Planning an overseas trip is always fun and exciting... up until the point when you actually have to apply for a visa.
At that point it may be tempting to just let go of the dream and opt for one of the delightfully easy 'no visa required' destinations instead. Understandable, but unwise! Imagine all the regrets you'd be faced with a few years down the line.
So, in an effort to make things easier for you, we've put together a quick guide to applying for entry to Schengen territory, one of the most admin-heavy visa applications around.
READ: SA travellers' 5 favourite European escapes according to Schengen Visa applications
What is the Schengen Visa?
Although you may find that the name has a deceptively oriental ring to it, it is in fact the document that will get you into most European countries.
To be more specific Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lituania, Luxembourg, Maltea, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland all require the Schengen visa.
Where does the name come from?
It comes from a treaty that was signed by member states of the European Economic Community in Schengen, Luxembourg in 1985.
The Schengen Area comprises the territories of twenty-five European countries that have implemented this agreement.
Where to apply?
The most important thing to know about Schengen visa applications, is that you are required to appear in person at the consulate/embassy of the country through whom you will be acquiring the visa.
The country you will apply through depends entirely on the structure of your trip:
- If you are only visiting one country, you apply at that country's Embassy or Consulate.
- If you are visiting a few, but staying longer in one country, you apply at the Embassy or Consulate of the country you will be visiting for the longest period of time, i.e. your main destination.
- If you plan on visiting a number of countries, and staying in each one for the exact same amount of time, you apply at the Embassy or Consulate of your first point of entry.
Types of Visas:
There are four different types of Schengen visa, but only three are applicable to South African citizens.
- Short stay visa: this spans a period of 1-90 days and includes single, double or multiple entry.
- Long stay visa: Visas for visits exceeding 90 days are national visas, and are issued by member states in accordance with national legislation.
- Transit visa: this spans a period of 1 - 5 days and is required for those who are travelling from one non-Schengen state to another, but crossing Schengen territory. If the main destination happens to be in Schengen territory, a short stay visa will be issued instead.
Airport transit visas are required for certain nationals, but not for South African citizens.
Documentation to be submitted:
Now this is the real tough part: collecting all of your important documents, making sure everything is up to date and having a fully-planned itinerary. But if you make a check list of the following items at the very beginning of planning your trip things might go surprisingly smoothly. You can also cross-check it here
1. A Common Schengen Application Form
- available from Consular websites or offices.
2. Your SA passport. Ensure that it is valid for a period of at least 3 months after your last day of stay in Schengen territory.
3. Passport photo - a recent one in colour.
4. The visa of the final country of destination (if needed) must be obtained before applying for a
Schengen visa eg. United Kingdom.
5. Round trip air-ticket and itinerary with dates and flight numbers specifying entry and exit from
6. Proof of sufficient funds for duration of stay - including bank certified statements for the last 3 months. The minimum requirement differs from place to place, so check with the consulate of each country. Tax receipts of foreign exchange purchased, traveller's cheques and credit card statements/an original letter from the bank manager stating credit amount available serve as proof.
7. Travel/health/accident insurance with minimum medical coverage of the Rand equivalent of Euro 30.000,00. The policy number and dates of cover must appear on the document. No quotations will be accepted.
8. Proof of Accommodation. Either confirmed hotel/backpacker/B&B reservations, or a letter from the family member or friend who will be hosting you along with a copy of their ID or passport.
9.Proof of Employment: eg letter from company stating continuing employment after period of leave detailing your dates of travel as well as you ID number.
10. If applicant is a student: letter from school/college/university confirming attendance/registration.
For business: an official business letter from a company in a Schengen state and from the employer in South Africa, stating purpose of visit must be presented. For conferences: proof of registration and payment is required.
11. Certified parental consent -
- by both parents for children under 18 travelling alone or with school group.
- If the child travels with only one parent, the other parent must produce the notarized/certified consent.
- If only one parent has guardianship of minor, the court documents stating so must be presented. Certain consular authorities require that both parents sign before a consular official.
Take note: The Schengen State's Consular offices reserves the right to request further documentation should it be deemed necessary and a personal interview with the applicant may be requested at any time.
PLEASE NOTE: Certain countries have specific requirements that other countries don't have. Best to check with the Embassy or consulate BEFORE going through the whole schlep only to find you missed out on one crucial point!
Fees and exemption
You can expect to pay about 60 Euros for the transit and short stay visas - certain visa facilitation centres also charge an additional administration fee. For long stay visa fees, you will have to contact the Embassy or consulate.
Schengen Visa costs to increase by 33.3% from February 2020 - currently grant you access to 26 European countries for €60 (about R960). This fee is set to change from February 2020, according to schengenvisainfo.com. Going up a whopping 33.3%, the cost will now jump to €80 (about R1300).
Children aged 0 to 6 remain exempt from the visa fees.
This could also mean extended application submission periods. But, on the other side, more applications will be done online, and frequent travellers with a positive visa history could benefit from visas with lengthier validity.
Why the hike in fees?
The EU is changing some of the rules to the Schengen Visa Code which regulates visa issuance and benefits, in an effort to facilitate the application procedures for travellers and consulate staff.
"The new code also introduces a mechanism that asserts, whether the visa fees should change or remain the same, for every three years. Another mechanism that will use visa processing as leverage will also be introduced, in a bid to improve cooperation with third countries on readmission," says schengenvisainfo.com.
If you fall into one of the following categories you are lucky enough to be exempt from visa fees:
- Children under 6 years of age
- School pupils, students, post grad students or teachers who undertake trips for the purpose of study or educational training.
- Researchers carrying out scientific studies.
- Spouses of EU/EEA citizens and their children under the age of 21 years, who are accompanying the EU/EEA citizens. You will need to submit copies of EU/EEA passport, full marriage certificate as well as full birth certificates