They say Schengen visas are among the most difficult to get when you’re from the Philippines. I’ve been wanting to go to Europe since I was in my teens. When I got pregnant and had a baby last year, I never thought I’d still be able to achieve this dream. But that I did.
My husband already had a scheduled trip to Germany for training. Given that opportunity, we decided it was time to fly my little one on her first long-haul flight. We had to get a Schengen visa as tourists. This is how we did it.
First, understand what a Schengen Visa is and if you need it for the place you are visiting. We decided to meet my husband in Munich (Germany) after his training, Then we’ll head on to Rome (Italy) then off to Paris (France) to cap off our trip. All three countries are members of the Schengen Agreement. I wanted to go to London but that required a different visa and we didn’t have time to get those.
Only the following countries are members of the Schengen Agreement:
- Czech Republic
Once you’ve decided on your itinerary, you will need to choose the embassy where you will file your visa application. It will have to be file in the country where you will stay the longest. Note that this does not have to be the same country where you enter and exit from (although I’ve read in some blogs that some embassies require that you enter Europe from the country where you received your visa from)
Most of the embassies under the Schengen agreement will have the same set of requirements. However, I do not know if the ease of approval for each one varies. We applied via the Embassy of the Republic of Germany at RCBC Tower following these steps:
- Go to the embassy website and find out what the requirements are. You do not need to have all the requirements on-hand by the time you call to set an appointment. However, you must have the hotel name and address ready and your passports. If you can, print out a copy of the application form so you already know what the call center will ask. I will talk more about the required documents later.
- Call the embassy to set your appointment. As they are usually booked for one to two weeks, it is important to call early if you already have a set schedule for your trip. The call center agent will be the one to fill up the form (which will be printed and ready for your signatures once you get to the embassy for your appointment). This call will cost you about P32/minute
- The visa processing fee is EUR 60. It is free for children under 6 yrs (yehey!). The fee is non-refundable even if your visa application is unsuccessful. Payments are made directly to the Embassy after your interview.
- Get your photo taken. Colored photo against a white background measuring 45mm x 45 mm, facing forward with nothing covering the face. For the German Embassy, you’ll find the photo guidelines here: http://www.manila.diplo.de/Vertretung/manila/en/05/1_20Visabestimmungen/Visa_20photo.html
- Make sure that your passport has at least 3 months of validity at the conclusion of your travel and it has to have at least 2 empty pages
- Create your cover letter which includes your simple itinerary. You can do it in a table on a Word document. It should have the entry and exit dates into the Shengen member countries, where you will be staying by what date. Again, it should show that the longest time you will stay in a particular country should be the same country as the embassy where you are applying at.
- Get your travel health insurance. You will need to purchase insurance that coincides with your travel dates and cover you for the full duration of your stay. Check with the embassy if they have a particular list for the accredited insurance providers. Minimum coverage is EUR 30,000. My husband got his from Blue Cross, I got mine and my baby’s from Malayan Insurance.
- Prepare your documents that show proof that you will come back after your trip (rootedness in the Philippines). If you are employed, you will need to present your most recent tax return, your certificate of employment which includes the details of your poistion, income and duration of stay in the company. You will also need a letter of approved leave of absence signed by the employer. If self-employed, you will need your DTI or SEC registraion, tax returns and bank certificates for your company accounts. If you are a student, you will need a school certificate and proof of enrollment. Land titles and deed of sales also show that you own real estate property that you will come back for.
- Prepare your travel documents which includes proof of reservation of a round trip ticket as well as hotel vouchers that show the accommodation has been paid for.
- Prepare proof of financial ability to fund your trip — this can be in the form of bank statements or a formal letter of obiligation if you are getting support from a host
- If you are travelling with a baby, you will need his/her NSO birth certificate, your NSO marriage contract and the appearance of both parents for the interview. It is not necessary to bring the child to the embassy.
- Once the interview is done, they will get your biometrics
Secret Tips for Getting a Schengen Visa You Won’t Find Anywhere Else:
- Get your insurance from Malayan Insurance. I did my research. It’s the cheapest that is also accredited and has sufficient coverage. The package is called Travel Master Global. 8 days of coverage is only P770. Add +P330 for 15 days. They have tiered pricing depending on how long you intend to stay. They will email you the policy once you pay for it.
- You need to prepare your baby’s visa application separately. When you are called for the interview, you will be interviewed first as the parent. You will have to submit your paperwork. Your partner may be called to a different window at the same time (which was the case for us). Once you are done answering the questions and turning over your passport and payment, they will collect the documentation for your baby. This includes the baby’s application form, his/her own travel insurance, NSO birth certificate and your marriage contract. Your husband will be asked to join you for the interview.
- The big question is always: how much money do I need? That really depends on your itinerary. You can have as little as P100,000 if you are showing that you are flying via budget airlines, going to different countries via buses and trains and staying at backpackers inns and hostels — this is a pretty realistic budget. In our case, we are bringing a baby and traveling to three diffent countries. A safe number to present would be PHP500,000.
- Do we really have to have half a million in our account? Of course not. An alternative to having all that cash is to have part of it in credit. This means you can present a platinum card or any credit card (not debit card) with a high credit limit and 6 months worth of statements for that.
- The next big question is about the flights. This is why I hesitated for so long about getting a Schengen visa. Is it worth the risk of buying airline tickets if you don’t have an approved visa yet. The quick answer: you don’t need to buy the tickets…at least not immediately. Go to a travel agency and ask them to BOOK the flight for your trip. This means they are only reserving it and confirming it yet. Let them know that you will need it for your visa application and they will show the flights as confirmed. Any decent travel agency can do this. You can also try to do it yourself via PAL, but the holding period is only 24 hours (visa processing takes much longer so it might not be valid by then)
- How about the hotel bookings? Do I really need to book that? Yes, there’s no way around that. What I would suggest though is that you go to one of the online travel agencies (like Agoda or Booking.com) which does not require an upfront payment. Booking.com will get your credit card details for holding only, but payment will be made at the hotel. Agoda has some hotels participating in delayed charging (ie you won’t get charged until x days before the booked check-in date). Make sure that you get hotels that have good cancellation policies so you don’t get charged with a no-show or late cancellation in case you do not push through with your trip.
This is how we got a Schengen visa for myself and my two-year-old for tourism purposes. This blog post is based on our experience. There is no guarantee that you will get a Schengen visa even if you follow these tips to a T; only the consul can decide on that. If you would like professional opinion regarding getting a Schengen Visa, please don’t hesitate to call your specific embassy. They have a landline number you can call for free during office hours.