I had been avoiding Europe for a while. But when Italy and a Mediterranean cruise beckoned, I couldn’t resist any longer. This, of course, meant that I had to apply for a Schengen visa . Not for the first time, I bemoaned the fact that I was a South African passport holder. It seemed that the other countries were determined to see how much of an effort we were prepared to make in order to set foot in their lands.
I met a well-travelled Canadian couple on my trip and they were horrified to hear of our visa application processes. The worse they have had to experience when crossing borders is getting asked a few extra questions at border control. This is why we often look at the list of visa-free countries for South Africans when deciding where to travel to next.
When I saw the list of requirements for a Schengen visa, I was tempted to change course. The last time I visited Europe (apart from visiting Turkey three years ago - for which no visa was required) was about 17 years ago and at that time the agent did everything for me. This time I had to do it for myself and my family.
It is possible to use an agent –although you have to go in yourself for the biometric data requirements - but I thought that since I was the only one who could gather all the necessary personal documents, I might as well do it myself. As we were travelling with minors, the requirements were even more onerous. My son’s batch of documents alone consisted of 34 pages. It took me a week in between my other work to get the necessary documents together. This included the time taken to nag home affairs to rush with my son’s unabridged birth certificate.
My stress levels were at an all-time high that week. What stressed me out more was that some family members had applied for UK visas twice recently and their applications had been rejected both times. They lost R20000 in the process.
I referred to the Capago website which deals with the Italian and French Schengen visa applications and pestered the staff daily with questions on the requirements. When I had all the necessary documents, I made an appointment via the website. Our appointment was on a Friday afternoon at 3 pm. We had to sit in the waiting area till we were called up to the counter at 4:10 pm. The agent was quite friendly, not the monster I was expecting. We were done by 5:10 pm.
Exactly one week later, I received an email from Capago to say that our passports had been returned from the consulate. It didn’t mention whether the visa was approved or declined. I asked the Capago agent and was told that we would only know when we opened the envelope containing the passport which only the passport holder or their authorised representative could do.
My husband went to collect the passports on our behalf. I had to give him an authorisation letter as well as my ID document with strict instructions to tell me the news as soon as he knew. He had to open the sealed envelopes and passports in front of the agent to see that everything was in order. The visas were approved. And with that a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.
This is what you need to know when applying:
For more information and application forms, visit the Capago website .
For more travel tips, click here.