Growing up, I went through phases where I would spend weeks wrestling with major wanderlust. The kind that makes you want to quit everything, pack your most important possessions into a piece of cloth tied to the end of a stick, like a cartoon hobo and buy a ticket on the first flight going somewhere you’ve always wanted to. Of course that means having some money in your account and a passport that’s conducive to spontaneous travel plans. Neither of which applied to 15-year old me. My list was long but a lot of European cities were right up there on top. It was many years later, in my early twenties, that I was lucky enough to get my first taste of European travel for a work trip. There’s been no looking back ever since. However, I still remember the anxiety of applying for my first ever Schengen visa. And, in conversations and on travel groups, I keep seeing other people going through the same thing.
I thought I’d put together this blog post and try and answer some of the questions most frequently asked in relation to Schengen visas based on my own experience. I believe it would be apt to insert my disclaimer here before we proceed.
Disclaimer: For anyone reading this, please know that I am not an authority on the subject. I have merely shared any information I gathered in the process of applying for and obtaining my own visas. I’ve put it down into this blog post with the intention of helping others make a more informed decision. I am not responsible or take any guarantees for any individual’s approval through immigration. Thanks.
Now that that’s out of the way let’s begin.
Question: Which countries can I visit on a Schengen visa?
The Schengen area is made up of 26 countries and you can travel to any one with a Schengen visa. In alphabetical order these are: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. There are also some non-Schengen countries you can visit on a Schengen visa which Anam from Girl with Green Passport has listed here.
Question: Which consulate/embassy should I apply from for my Schengen visa?
Your choice of consulate/embassy should be based on the country where you intend to enter the Schengen area from. Ideally, you should also show that you’ll be spending a major chunk of your time there when submitting your itinerary. Plans can always change later, of course. However, it does help to show that you have a real interest in visiting the country you’re applying from rather than just using it to gain entry into the Schengen area.
Question: Which consulate/embassy is the easiest to get a Schengen visa from?
I don’t think any specific consulate/embassy is “easier” to apply from. I’ve applied through the German, Italian and Netherlands Consulates and found that they all pretty much ask for the same information and documents. The only difference is that when applying via the German consulate, you get to do it directly hence you don’t have to pay the extra processing fee. You also have to give an interview of sorts while applying. Whereas all the other countries’ visas are outsourced and processed through Gerry’s International (VFS Global) or BLS International (for Spain).
Despite having a lot of similar requirements, consulates may also have their own specific demands. For example, in a lot of cases, when applying from the Italian Consulate you may be asked to “report back” once you’ve returned to Pakistan. All this means is that you go to the consulate with your passport and get a stamp once you’re back in the country. It may be worthwhile to mention here that some consulates/embassies process visas for other countries as well, for example the Netherlands Embassy also represents Finland in Pakistan, Italy represents Malta, Belgium represents Luxembourg etc. Also remember, that there are certain Schengen countries that don’t process visas within Pakistan at all for example, Estonia or Lithuania.
Question: Can I fly out from a different country than the one I entered from?
Yes. You don’t necessarily need to exit from the same country where you entered from. For example, you may have applied for a visa through Netherlands and entered from there but you can exit from any country within the Schengen area.
Question: Do I need to pay for tickets, hotel bookings and all internal travel before I get the Schengen visa?
This is a tricky one. Your itinerary is one of the most important things you provide with your application. While it’s completely legal for plans to change later, you do have to show tickets, hotel bookings etc. for the plan you have in mind when applying. For your main ticket, you can get any travel agent to do a temporary booking that you can attach with your application. For hotels, I’ve always used refundable options on Booking.com. When it comes to inter-Schengen travel, you’ll have to do your research to find refundable transport options. There are some trains or buses that are refundable but most aren’t. This means you can either:
1) NOT show the inter-Schengen travel at all (if it’s your first time applying for a Schengen visa, I wouldn’t recommend this)
2) Take the risk and do the actual bookings if you’re confident you’ll get the visa
3) Show an itinerary where there isn’t a lot of travel within the Schengen area. For example, you may show that you’re spending most of your time in Rome and not travelling to any other cities.
Question: How can I get a Schengen visa for a longer duration?
Sometimes Schengen visas are granted for the exact duration that you’ve shown in your attached itinerary, sometimes they may give you a three to six month multiple entry visa. It’s totally up to consulate/embassy’s discretion. However, just to give yourself some leeway, you can show an itinerary that’s a bit longer than your actual plan. You can do this by adding a few more days to your hotel bookings and showing a later return date on your ticket.
Question: What documents do I need for my Schengen visa application?
Ah, the big one. I’m adding here a list of the basic documents that are needed for any Schengen application. Additional documents may be required depending on the type of visa you’re applying for. An important thing to remember: it’s always better to attach MORE documents if you’re unsure about something than less. The more transparent you are about your circumstances, the easier the process is for you.
- A completed and signed visa application form. You can find this on the website for the country where you’re applying from. I’ve also linked one here.
- Three recently taken photographs. They must fulfil the Schengen visa photo specifications.
- A valid passport.
- A full travel itinerary.
- Travel insurance policy. A document that proves you have travel health insurance for the whole Schengen territory, with a minimum coverage of 30,000 euros in case of any medical emergency.
- Proof of accommodation. This can be your hotel bookings or an invitation letter from someone you will be staying with.
- Proof of financial means. Evidence that you have enough money to support yourself financially throughout your stay in the Schengen area.
- Proof of strong ties to your country. This is any evidence that convinces the visa officer that you have reason to return to your country – can include a letter from your employer, assets owned etc.
- Proof of paid visa fee. €60 for adults and €35 for children from 6 to 12 years old.
A more comprehensive list of documents required will be available on the website of the country where you’re applying from. I’m also linking to the documents required for Italy here since that seems to be one of the most popular countries Pakistanis apply from.
Question: Do I really need travel insurance?
YES. I cannot emphasise this enough! Apart from being a Schengen visa requirement, this is actually SUCH an important travel prerequisite. This fact really hit home on our last trip when my dad fractured his foot in Bratislava and we needed emergency medical services. Without travel insurance we would have had to pay thousands of euros just to get the tests, treatment and medicine he needed. You can never predict what will happen on a holiday so it’s best to be prepared. Click here for a list of approved travel insurance companies for Schengen countries in Pakistan.
Question: How much does a Schengen visa cost?
As at the time of writing this post, the cost of a Schengen visa is €60 for adults and €35 for children. If applying through Gerry’s, you also have to pay a processing fee of €28 (approx. PKR 4400) or PKR 2421 if applying through BLS for Spain.
Question: Should I get an agent to help me with my Schengen visa application?
This is completely your call but I personally believe that it’s much better to manage these things on your own. No one else knows your plans or circumstances better than you and it’s really not that difficult a process as long as you’re equipped with the most important tool – the right information. Which, hopefully, you will be after reading this post.
That’s all I’ve got for now!
I’m hoping this helps answer some of the more common questions associated with Schengen visas for Pakistanis. If you feel like I’ve missed anything, feel free to comment below and I shall do my best to get you answers 🙂
Until next time.
If you, like me, are a fan of collecting visa information for no particular reason, you can check out my other visa-related blog posts here: