Lessons from 99.2% visa success across 9000+ travellers.
I had to reschedule my honeymoon because the German Embassy would not accept a traveller’s cheque guaranteed by an Italian bank. That was the first time I experienced the power of the Schengen Visa.
The Schengen Visa is notorious (after the US H1B) for its rejection rate. It’s one of the most complicated visa processes. For someone who is spending close to 3,00,000 INR, not only are some of the documents and processes quite baffling but also sexist. Take, for instance, a no objection certificate that’s required from the fiancé’s father for her to travel. I have never understood how MATTE and GLOSS photographs ever make a difference to the visa — given that either way my photo on the visa surely does not look like me.
The most absurd of all — the credit card copy. Do they realise first-time travellers might not have that? Especially after having booked flights, hotels, internal flights, car hire, internal trains, showing a bank balance of around 2,00,000 INR and showing FDs – how would a credit card copy make a difference. Like seriously? If you are a banker and are reading this — put up a stall with 45min Credit card issuance below VFS centres, rest assured a sure shot 100% growth in business. If you don’t believe me, ask the photography and Xerox guys in the VFS buildings.
My pet peeve — some embassies want bank statements in A4 paper with bank stamp and seal, some want in those perforated papers. Why? Well, that’s just how it is.
Let us assume you have all this sorted and you head to VFS. If there is one organisation that deserves an award for passing the buck — VFS wins it hands down. Take for example this case when one of our travellers took all the documents but this champ at VFS asked her not to submit the bank documents. No marks for guessing the end result – Her visa application was rejected because there wasn’t enough financial proof!
We can neither change VFS nor the list of documents required, yet we’re deeply affected by this randomness. So, we decided to try and document all our learnings from our vast experience in submitting applications. As always — disclaimer: While this has worked, the final decision rests solely with the embassy.
How easy is it to get Schengen Visa?
Using our data and feedback from other visa agents, we have compiled a list of scenarios you can relate to while applying for a Schengen. With #1 being the easiest to obtain the visa, the scenarios get harder as you go down the list.
1. Folks with fat passports filled with a lot of visa stamps (including Schengen ones)
2. Families in which at least one member has travelled overseas.
3. Couples who have been to countries other than Schengen
4. Couples where either the husband or wife is salaried and have travelled overseas before
5. Couples who are self-employed and are on their first international vacation
6. Group of friends with prior Schengen visa / international travel
7. Friends who are first time travellers — this is an interesting bunch, you never know why your visa got rejected but your friends was approved.
8. Solo with prior travel — second last is the hugely comforting place to be 🙂
9. Solo first time traveller — All the best! It takes a really fat bank balance and compelling reason to get a Schengen visa
Embassy Toughness Index
The below list is purely based on our experience and stories from folks whose visa applications were rejected. Processing time and strictness are the two indexes we have used to arrive at this list. #1 is the easiest of the lot.
1. France/Germany — French and Indian governments have the understanding to process visas in under 72 hours. This is the swiftest of the lot. The complexity of the docs is the same as other Schengen embassies.
2. Italy/Swiss/Netherlands — These are colloquially referred to as ‘honeymoon embassies’ as most of the honeymoon applications are routed through them. Time to process takes anywhere between 7 and 15 working days and the set of docs is standard.
3. Greece/Austria — These embassies are known for a higher than normal share of personal interviews. They also tend to process visa as per departure date and sometimes it can so happen that you wait quite a while for your visa.
4. Spain — One of the toughest embassies to grant the Schengen. They are most notorious for calling up and confirming if the rooms have been booked.
7 things to improve your success ratio
These are a few steps that we have seen work in the past. Like all secret sauces, a combination of these steps is what is helpful.
1. Write outrageous covering letters
Pitch, pitch and pitch. Tell them how much you love their country. Tell them why you are going there just for a trip and tell them that you are not Vijay Mallya. They want to know if you’ll return to India. Give them reasons for that. There are no marks for brevity in covering letters. Here is the letter our Co-Founder and renowned travel hacker Srinath wrote when he applied for his UK visa.
2. Know the rules inside out
Even cricketers like Shikar Dhawan fall prey to visa rules. Do you think we have a chance? Here are some of the most often over-looked rules:
You need to apply in the country you are staying the longest. If there are two countries that you spend equal time in, then you apply in the country of entry.
You need to provide photographs of engagement, marriage cards etc if you are not yet married.
If you are married but don’t have a marriage certificate, then you need a notary attestation (or add your spouse name on the passport).
If you are travelling with a kid, then you need his/her birth certificate.
If you are covering multiple countries within the Schengen area, more often than not, you will need proof of travel (low-cost flights, trains, car rental etc).
Ensure you put in the hotel’s phone numbers and enter all the hotels you are going to be staying in. Don’t be lazy, ever.
MATTE vs GLOSS — there is a difference. Don’t bother arguing. Don’t even goof up on the 80% face and clear background.
Show the leave letter from your company. If you are in-between jobs, then offer letter from the new company and relieving letter from the old company are a must and non-negotiable. Ensure you give a landline that’s working — we have had cases where landlines were called.
Do not transfer money into your bank account 2 days before the visa appointment. And no, don’t PAYTM it.
3. Get your finances in order
ITRs, Bank Statements, FDs, House Documents — show as many documents as possible. Don’t think twice as long as it’s clean money 🙂 There seems to be a direct correlation between how much money you have and visa issuance.
Given Indians plan vacations about 45-60 days in advance, you don’t have enough time to move money into your account after you have booked your visa appointment. Please plan for it in advance. They need to see a working account. Please don’t push money into a dormant account with last entry about 6 months back. That’s sure shot rejection strategy.
4. Plan your trip smartly
Plan in such a manner that you end up spending maximum time in the easier countries. An additional day in France or Italy won’t compromise the experience a lot but can hugely affect your visa success chances.
5. Apply with sufficient buffer
This is mostly going to be that ONE trip that defines that year. Plan well in advance. You not only save on air-tickets (current fares ex-Chennai are 34k for May/June travel — check out here), but you also have enough time to apply for a visa and go for that personal interview or furnish additional documents.
6. Be hawkish about official documents
Classic cases — The embassy calls your office and you are not in that branch. In such cases, please don’t give landline numbers, though it’s good to be there in the documents. Please always give a mobile number (preferably of someone who is not always stuck in meetings 🙂
If you are self-employed ensure that your COI, MOAs are in order.
7. Push back VFS
We have seen that sometimes VFS can be fussy about things that are not mentioned on their website. As long as you have crossed off every document in that checklist, feel free to ask them to take the documents. They might scare you saying, they don’t take responsibility if a visa is rejected. The fact is they don’t either-ways, so don’t be coerced. Worst case, ask them to reschedule the appointment to a later date (free of cost). They would mostly oblige.
8. Carry additional docs
Additional photos, unfilled forms with signatures of applicants. You never know what they want once you are in VFS.
What can Pickyourtrail do to help?
We have also put together a list of documents for visas for the most commonly applied embassies. Feel free to access the sample forms and checklists here. We have tried building as comprehensive a list as possible — the visa application form, covering letters and every possible document that we know the embassy would want. PS: The doc list is currently updated every month so it’s always safe to cross-check with VFS in case they tweak any asks recently.
What’s easier to do? If you are planning a Eurotrip this summer, give Pickyourtrail a spin. We have built industry first routing algorithm that minimizes cost and it’s completely online. Your trains, internal flights, activities, hotels, airlines — all at one go. At online prices + real-time mobile concierge, you don’t have to worry if flights are rescheduled, but instead look forward to surprising your fiance, contextual restaurant suggestions etc). Check out our FB reviews here. I would love to have feedback on the product too. Happy vacations!
Also read: Schengen Visa for Indians
PS: If you are asking if we have AirBnB, the answer is no. Yes, we did have it last summer but have pulled out. One of the main reasons is that there has been a spurt in visa rejections for AirBnB bookings – again this is based on our experience and might not be always so. There are also other customer issues like — hosts blaming guests for breakages and you have to log in and book rooms individually against Pickyourtrail’s one-click book platform.