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:
- You have to apply at the consulate (or their designated agent) of the country you are visiting. If you are travelling to more than one country in the Schengen area, you must apply through the country where you intend to stay longest. If you will be staying in each Schengen country for the same amount of time, you must apply through the first Schengen country you intend to visit.
- The cost of the visa is 60 Euros for adults and 35 Euros for children aged 6 to 12 (in 2014). It is non-refundable. During the period that we booked the appointment and paid at the Capago offices, the rand had weakened so we ended up paying more than we had initially calculated.
- Tourist visas cannot be applied for more than 3 months and less than 2 weeks before travel and are issued for up to 90 days. This is unlike the US visas which are issued for up to 10 years.
- Two photos per person are required. There are specific requirements for the photos but most photo shops adhere to these anyway. We did ours at Kodak Express.
- You need to have your flights and accommodation booked for the entire period of your stay. Make sure that they are cancellable as your visa application could be rejected.
- Three months bank statements and proof of employment are also required.
- You need to have adequate travel insurance. We have free travel insurance with our FNB credit card as well as with Discovery medical aid. The agent took the Discovery insurance documents as it covered us for a longer period.
- Additional requirements for minors are unabridged birth certificates, a letter from their school, parents’ marriage certificates (if applicable) and a letter from the parents/guardians to the effect that the minors live with them and that they will be supporting the minors during the trip. Proof of employment and funds for one parent needs to be attached to the minors’ applications. If you have a religious marriage certificate and it is not in English, you will need to have it translated. Although the Capago website says that it has to be translated by the nearest Italian consular authority, I was informed by the agent that it could be translated by anyone.
- You can track your applications online after submitting your application. I used the online tracking facility almost daily.
- Do follow the requirements by the book. I know of several people whose applications were rejected because one of the required items were missing.
For more information and application forms, visit the Capago website .
For information on how to apply for your passport online, click here.
For more travel tips, click here.