Many Pinoys who dream of going on a Eurotrip are intimidated by the process of having to apply for a Schengen Visa. “Will I get approved?” “Is the money in my bank account enough?” “What will be asked during the visa interview?” These are just some of the questions frequently asked by Filipino Citizens who are planning to travel to Europe.
I’ll recount the process of how my husband and I applied for a Schengen Visa, and hopefully you can find answers to some of your travel queries in this blog post (click here for a previous post, Applying For A Schengen Visa In The Philippines – 2018).
Please note that this blog post is based on my recent experience applying for a Spain Schengen Visa. Though most visa requirements are standard for all Schengen countries, various embassies may have slightly different visa processing systems.
Applying for Schengen Visa (Short Term)
The first thing to do when applying for a Schengen Visa is to gather all your requirements. I divided the requirements into three categories: 1.) proof of sufficient means, 2.) travel arrangements, and 3.) passport, photos and photocopies.
1. Proof of sufficient means to travel. From my experience, the requirements that took the most time to acquire were the ones that prove you can financially support yourself and your dependents during the trip. These are:
- Certificate of Employment (or Business Permit if you’re an entrepreneur)
- Income Tax Return
- Bank Statement (6 months)
- Bank Certificate
Depending on your company’s HR policies, you can get a Certificate of Employment within a few hours to up to more than a week after requesting for it. As for bank documents, it would only take your bank teller a few minutes to print your statements and certificate. However, banks have different policies and some may require a depositor to go to his/her actual branch to request these papers so be sure to plan ahead.
2. Travel arrangements. The next batch of documents involve reservations for your upcoming trip. If you’re going to Europe with the assistance of a travel agency, you don’t need to bother yourself with these requirements as the agency will produce these for you. But if you’re going on a DIY trip, this part needs quite a bit of research. Be sure to prepare:
- Travel itinerary. This is a summary of your planned day-to-day activities in the country(ies) you’ll be staying in, including the attractions to be visited, domestic flights or regional transportation, and accommodations. You don’t need to be too detailed with your itinerary. No need to include 12:00 – lunch at Con Gracia Restaurant, 13:05 – freshen up, 13:15 – walk to the Metro. The itinerary is just a means to assure the embassy that your trip is well-planned.
- Round trip airline reservations. Some travelers buy airline tickets even before getting a Schengen Visa, usually to avail of advanced booking discounts or promos. But if you’re not willing to take the risk, you can very well just print an airline reservation of your chosen flight without paying for it (for detailed information on how to do this, visit this link to an article by Schengen Visa Info).
- Proof of accommodation (e.g. hotel or apartment boking). As with airline reservations, you can make hotel reservations without having to pay upfront. Websites like Agoda and Booking offer free cancellation options for many hotels, hostels and other accommodation types.
- Travel Insurance. Based on my research, there is no work around for this requirement – you have to acquire an actual travel insurance policy to be able to apply for a Schengen Visa. There are companies offering relatively affordable travel insurance and the cheapest I could find online was €22.30 or roughly P1,200 for a two-week trip with €30,000 coverage. (Important: Check the minimum insurance policy coverage required by the country from which you’re applying Schengen visa from. For Spain, €30,000 is the minimum insurance coverage required). EDIT: I’ve read online that there are travel agencies who help clients secure travel insurance for the purpose of Schengen Visa application at no cost. I haven’t tried this personally, but you can ask your friendly travel agent about it.
3. Passport, photos and photocopies. This last category of requirements don’t need requests or reservations to acquire, and mostly just involves printing, writing, and a trip to the nearest bookstore and ID photo shop:
- Passport valid at least three months prior to departure with at least two blank pages
- Photocopies of past and present passport/s including pages with stamps and previous visas (A4 paper)
- Passport-size photo with white background to be pasted on the application form
- Accomplished visa application form (A4 paper)
- 2 photocopies of the accomplished visa application form and 1 photocopy of the rest of the documents (A4 paper)
- Long brown envelope with the applicant´s surname, name and contact number written in bold letters on the upper left corner
If you’re a Filipino Citizen applying for a Spain Schengen Visa, you can wait until you have all these requirements on hand before booking an appointment with BLS Spain Visa Application Center online (BLS is the outsourced partner to the Embassy of Spain in Philippines and the Consulate General of Spain in Manila; its Spain Visa Application Centre collects and processes visa requests to Spain).
In our case, we booked an appointment online as soon as we had the first batch of requirements (proof of sufficient means to travel) on hand. We organized the rest of the requirements while waiting for our scheduled appointment.
Submission of Requirements: Personal Appearance
Applying for a Spain Schengen Visa requires personal appearance – you have to personally submit the requirements at the BLS Visa Application Center on the date and time of your scheduled appointment.
Upon entering the BLS Visa Application Center, you would have to present your Appointment Letter to the guard who will then verify your schedule and give you a queue number.
If you’e planning to play a mobile game or browse Instagram while waiting for your number to be called, forget it. Applicants are not allowed to bring bags and cellphones in the waiting area and you will be asked to leave your personal items at the lockers near the guard’s station. Your requirements are the only things that you can bring in the sitting area.
Upon being called by the visa processing officer, you will be asked to hand in your requirements and stay at the counter as the officer encodes your information.
You would then be asked to settle the payment. Schengen Visa fee is P3,560, but with the additional fees for courier service (P370) and SMS service (P120), we paid P4,050 per person. After payment, it’s time to queue for photo and biometrics. And that’s it!
We were told to wait for the SMS advisory regarding our visa application status within the day. The whole process took us around 1 hour and 30 minutes.
How Our Visa Application Went (Timeline)
- Friday. We went to our visa application appointment in the morning. After lunch, I received an SMS that my visa application has been forwarded to the Spanish Embassy (I’ve been previously granted a Schengen Visa a few years ago). My husband received a message that he is scheduled for an interview in the Spanish Embassy on Monday (it was his first time applying for a Schengen Visa).
- Monday. My husband went to the Spanish Embassy in the morning for a (very) short interview. That afternoon, I got an SMS that my passport has been forwarded to the courier.
- Tuesday. My husband got an SMS that his passport has been forwarded to the courier.
- Thursday. The passports with Schengen Visas were delivered to our address.
Here are some useful tips to keep in mind for smooth and hassle-free visa application:
- Organize your requirements a few days before. Make sure that you have everything ready. After checking your requirements, the visa processing officer will keep the photocopies and hand you back the original ones so you may want to clip the photocopies in one pile and the originals in another pile.
- BLS Center and the Spanish Embassy are in two different locations. This may seem basic, but there are applicants who make the mistake of showing up in the Spanish Embassy when they’re supposed to be at the BLS Center (and vice versa) and by the time they realize so, they’re already too late for their appointment. Though both are in Makati, BLS is in Salcedo while the Spanish Embassy is in Gil Puyat Ave.
- Be at BLS Center 30 minutes earlier than your schedule. It pays to be early. You wouldn’t want to miss your appointment and go through the process of booking a schedule again.
- Don’t forget to bring your Appointment Letter. The guard at BLS Center will look for your appointment letter before queuing you in the system.
- If you’re bringing a bag, choose a small one. As you wouldn’t be allowed to bring your bag in the waiting area, you would have to put it in a locker. During our appointment, bags that didn’t fit inside the compartments had to be left on top of the lockers which is not very secure.
- Look presentable. Listen girls, this is important! 🙂 The passport-size photo that you paste on your application form? That’s as far as it would ever get – the application form (if you’re applying through the Spanish Embassy, that is). Your Schengen Visa would bear the photo snapped during the visa appointment – the one taken along with your biometrics. So slap on your favorite lipstick and keep your brows on fleek!
- Don’t get to nervous if you’re scheduled for an interview. A travel agent told me that it’s common practice for the Spanish Embassy to schedule applicants for an interview if they haven’t been granted a Schengen visa before. According to my husband, the interview was somehow relaxed. Upon checking his requirements, he was asked only one question: “What is the purpose of your visit to Spain?” After answering the question, the consul said “Enjoy your trip,” and that was it. It may vary from case to case. But I think that as long as you are able to show your rootedness in the Philippines through your documents, there would be no reason for them to disapprove your application.
There are rumors that the Spanish Embassy in the Philippines is allegedly lax in granting Schengen Visas because apparently, there are less Filipino citizens illegally staying there compared to other European countries. There is no way to verify this information, but making sure that all your requirements are in order is one way to increase your chances of getting approved.