Thursday, March 9, 2017

Schengen Visa Application via French Embassy in the Philippines

I am not a Schengen visa expert. I cannot assess your chance of getting a visa. I am only sharing what happened in my experience.

Less than a year after my Europe III trip (which I haven’t blogged about), I found myself applying for my 4th Schengen visa. This was for our two-week family vacation in Europe in Italy, France and UK. Since we were staying at France the longest, we lodged our Schengen visa application with the French embassy.

This time, we applied via the French Embassy. VFS Global handles the visa applications for the French embassy. I hope that before you found this blog, you already read the very informative website of VFS France in the Philippines. Now if you haven’t, I suggest stop reading this blog entry for a while and go and click that link and spend some time reading the information there.

Then go click on these to read about my past Schengen visa applications:
1.    Italy, 2011 (denied-reapplied-approved)
2.    Spain, 2013 (approved)
3.    Germany, 2016 (approved)

The website of VFS Global France is pretty detailed, except that it does not mention this rule: If you are applying for a Schengen visa in the French Embassy and your itinerary starts or ends in the UK, you’ll have to obtain a UK visa first. Since our itinerary ends in UK, we should apply for a UK visa first.

VFS France informed us that should we insist on submitting our application without the UK visa, we risk a denial. We didn’t want that. We somewhat attempted trying our luck to get an appointment for a UK visa that same morning (the VFS UK was just in the same building, in the same floor) but nope, not possible. Ugh. What a wasted morning. We were able to book an appointment for the UK visa application after two weeks. I was thinking we would’ve gotten the Schengen visa by the time we applied for a UK visa but it turned out to be the other way around. Fine, that's the rule. But they should've put that in their website or checklist.

Here’s the updated checklist as of September 23, 2016. Please check if they have an updated version of this (check the website of VFS). I deleted the items which were not applicable in our case.

1.    Signed Schengen visa application form with photo (35mm x 45mm, white background). There’s a digital version where you can type out the answers. Alternatively, if you are applying for a UK visa, you can download a filled-out application form of the Schengen visa at the end – they use your applicable details reflected in your UK visa application (name, passport number, address etc). Cost: photo – Php 75 at Kodak Express in Trinoma.

2.    Valid passport (3 months' validity from the end of intended stay), photocopy of valid and former visas, pages of the passport with Immigration stamps and previous refusal stamps, if any.

I submitted three passports (2 expired, 1 brand new) and photocopies of the pages with stamps.

3.    Cover letter explaining the purpose of the trip and proposed day-to-day itinerary

4.    Proof of Accommodation
We submitted our bookings made in and one accommodation booked in Airbnb. Please select those which do not charge a prebooking fee and allow free cancellation. After getting our UK and Schengen visas, I cancelled the reservations and booked our accommodations via Airbnb. We needed accommodations with two bathrooms (both shower and toilets). There’s 6 of us travelling (with 5 ladies in the group) so two bathrooms are crucial.

A note on Airbnb: Payment is immediately charged when you book an accommodation with an Instabook feature. My credit card was charged immediately.

5.    Round Trip Airline Reservation PHL – SCH - PHL
We scored decently-priced open-jaw tickets from Cathay Pacific when they had a sale last September 2016. Got 6 tickets flying into Rome and flying out of London for $1,100 each. Probably not the cheapest ticket but given the caliber of CX and we were flying an open-jaw route, I’d consider this as a really good deal. The price was actually $200 more expensive because of our flight dates. So if you’re flying in their off-peak season, the ticket would’ve been at $900 only. 

6.    Transfer tickets within Schengen countries (train, coach, flight reservations, etc)
We already booked our flight from Venice to Paris via Easyjet. We got a really good deal for €43 including a 20kg luggage. We did not book any intra-Schengen train tickets. Our cover letter reflected that we will buy these tickets after we receive the Schengen visa.

7.    Certificate of employment with monthly salary and leave of absence approved by employer, or if self employed, official business registration (DTI Permit and /or SEC papers) for current and previous year 

This is the first time I’ve submitted a certificate which reflects my monthly salary. In the past visa applications, I didn’t include the salary and submitted my payslips only. 

8.    Latest personal income tax return
This is BIR form No. 2316 for employees or BIR form no. 1701 for consultants like me. I file my tax return around February to avoid the April 15 madness.

9.    Recent (issued within the last month) personal bank certification
Got one with BPI. Charge: Php 100, takes them around 15-20 minutes to complete, excluding waiting time in the queue. The bank certificate just reflected the current amount of my accounts and the dates they were opened. The ADB (average daily balance) was not reflected anymore – this was different from the bank certificate that was issued to me for a previous Schengen visa application. My guess is they are confusing “Schengen” vs. “Shenzen”/China. The ADB has to be reflected for bank certificates for China visa applications

While my dad was the one who fully sponsored this trip, we still submitted these financial documents to establish our rootedness in the Philippines. 

10.    Photocopy of the last three months’ statement of account of the same bank account
Easily downloaded in BPI Online. Thank you technology for this convenience. I wish bank certificates can also be obtained online.

11.    Identity/Marital Status
If married: photocopy of your marriage contract and birth certificate
If single: photocopy of your birth certificate
I was able to get a copy in the Business Center of SM North Edsa – Php 160. Got it after 7 working days – though they said sometimes it takes 12 working days to process this. If you want to get one without getting out of your seat, you can order this from NSO and the certificate will be delivered to you for Php 330 (just Google how to get this).

12.    An international travel insurance (medical expenses and repatriation) covering the entire period of the person’s intended stay and valid for all Schengen states. Minimum coverage should be EUR 30,000. Just to be clear, this is the insurance coverage and not the cost of the premium. 

Got one from Malayan Insurance. Booked and paid online via credit card. So convenient. We just printed and submitted the digital policy. The cost is around Php 10,000 for 6 adults.

13.    Visa Fee  - 60 euros/ PHp 3,140
We also paid for:
•    SMS/Email notification– Php 110 (optional)
•    Courier – Php 330 per passport
•    Logistics fee – Php 1,361

Day of Visa Application
France Visa Application Centre is located at:
Unit M02 Mezzanine Floor Ecoplaza Bldg. Don Chino Roces Ave. Extention, Makati City

You can get off MRT Magallanes station then take a jeep.
We drove from Quezon City. We left at 5:30am and arrived at 7:40am. Oh EDSA. We spent the morning having breakfast at the foodcourt below and doing some last-minute document checking. You can also photocopy your documents at the second for Php 5 (pricey! The price of being unprepared). Travel insurance is also sold at the 2nd floor.

This second appointment was during early March which I booked mid-February. Our passports now had UK visas. This time, VFS was filled with people. There was one counter which seemed to cater people who joined group tours.

We waited for a while before our application was checked and lodged.
We waited longer for our names to be called to pay for fees.
We waited a bit long for the fingerprint-scanned and photo-taking process.
We entered the application center at 9:30 am and left at 12:00nn.

Such a long wait. The room were already full of applicants when we left.

Family profile
Father - working, traveled to Jordan, Israel, Dubai, HK, Singapore, been to UK back in the 80s/early90s.
Mother - not working,  traveled to Jordan, Israel, Dubai, HK, Singapore
Me - working, had 3 previous Schengen visas, US, Peru, Bolivia, and various countries in Asia
Sister 1 - working, travelled to US, Japan, SEA countries
Sister 2 - working, travelled to South korea, HK, Singapore, Malaysia Taiwan,
Sister 3 - working, travelled to HK, Singapore

After four excruciating days, the passports were delivered! All our Schengen visas were granted. I was able to get a short-stay visa valid for one year!


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