Joy, oh, joy! Lola and I finally got our Schengen visas today, thereby making our trip to Geneva, Paris and Amsterdam officially on. Yay!
What’s a Schengen visa anyway?
The word ‘Schengen‘ is actually the name of a small village in Luxembourg (population: 400), where officials from France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed in 1985 an agreement on the gradual abolition of checks at common borders. This agreement became known as the Schengen Agreement.
In 1990, the Schengen Convention was signed in the same village by the initial signatory countries, with the addition of several other EU Member States (Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece). The Schengen Convention supplemented the original Schengen agreement and laid down the arrangements and safeguards for implementing freedom of movement.
Today, the full Schengen members are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia,Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, plus Iceland and Norway (which are not EU members).
Mind you, Ireland and the United Kingdom are not part of the Schengen zone, hence, you need to apply for a separate visa if you want to kiss the Blarney Stone or see Buckingham Palace. These two countries, however, are said “to participate, in the future, in those aspects of Schengen that entail cooperation between police forces and the judiciary”. Certain countries can enter the UK without a visa (you can check here if you do need one) but I know for sure that I’ll be needing one. Blame it on the curse of the Philippine passport!
Since the Schengen Convention abolished the checks at internal borders of the signatory States and introduced a common visa policy, this means that Schengen visa holders can travel freely from one Schengen State to another without having to apply for a separate visa for each of these countries and without having to produce your passport as you go through the borders. Take note, however, that border officials in EU countries may still ask from you other supporting documents such as an invitation letter, proof of lodging, return or round-trip ticket, even if you already have a Schengen visa.
The implication is mind-boggling and is every traveller’s dream. As Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said, one “can travel 4,000km (2,485 miles) from Tallinn in Estonia to Lisbon in Portugal without any border controls”.
With this in mind, it is perfectly understandable why the process of applying for a Schengen visa is very lengthy and very detailed. You need to give full disclosure of your itinerary, provide copies of flight bookings and hotel bookings, give actual dates of entry for each country, apply for travel insurance with a maximum coverage of 30,000 Euro, show invitation letters (for business visa applications), as well as the usual requirement of proof of financial means (bank statements for the past two months, letter from employer, etc), among other things.
Oh, and a day before they actually issue the Schengen visa, they will want to see the original plane and/or train tickets and the original insurance policy.
The application fee is the equivalent of 60 Euro in your local currency and is non-refundable, whether your application is approved or not.
The worst part for me was the waiting, as the processing time for a Schengen visa is 15 working days!
The funny thing is, I have applied for and was granted all sorts of visas before — US, Swiss, Australian, Mexican, Korean, Chinese, even a Schengen visa two times in the past — but I’ve never felt so apprehensive about an application as this one. I’ve never had to give full and complete disclosure of each and every step of my trip (what date I’m arriving in Paris, where I’m staying, when do I leave Paris, when do I enter Amsterdam, where will I stay in Amsterdam, etc) and I never had to show all the originals of all my supporting documents before, including the original of my marriage certificate.
So yeah, I was scared. And I’m so relieved that the long wait is over. And I’m so elated that we got a 30-day multiple entry visa!
So the only problem now is…where do I get the funds to have a longer trip so that I can go see the other Schengen countries to make the most of my visa? ;)
“As from the middle of December 2008 Switzerland will issue Schengen visas.” (Source: Swiss Embassy’s website)