Maxing out the Schengen Visa in the Balkans

We travelled to a number of non-schengen countries in the Balkans recently, using our multiple entry Schengen visa issued by Slovenia. Some details are below.

  • Serbia. Technically Indian passport holders don’t need a visa. But the immigration authorities at Belgrade airport and at the Mali Dvornik road border crossing both checked and scanned our Schengen visa. At road border they also checked our car papers for car insurance documents.
  • Croatia. We entered Croatia at a number of road border crossings. Each time they checked our Schengen visa. They never checked car documents. Ours was a Serbia registered rental car.
  • Bosnia-i-Hercegovina. They also checked our Schengen visa and let us in (at two different border crossings including one between Montenegro and Bosnia). They also checked car insurance papers.
  • Montenegro. They also checked our Schengen visa and let us in . They also checked car insurance papers.

Overall the Schengen visa was very useful in the Balkans! And these countries are a pleasure to drive in. I found Bosnia to be especially beautiful.

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Slovenia – Schengen Visa

My wife and I recently got a multiple entry tourist Schengen visa from Slovenia in New Delhi. Below is an outline of the process and experience:

Application Centre: VFS at Baba Kharak Singh Marg in Delhi

Key Documents needed:

  • Filled Application Form
  • Hotel Bookings in Schengen Zone (had to have more time in Slovenia than in other countries).
  • Flight Bookings (they demanded confirmed paid-for flights)
  • Travel Insurance (I bought from ICICI Prudential).
  • About Rs. 13,000 (for two people) Application Fee paid in Cash (no credit card accepted) at VFS

We were also visiting Croatia on this trip and intended to use our Slovenia visa for Croatia as well. The VFS officer advised us that if we showed less time in Schengen zone than in Croatia, the visa will get denied.

We had to show that we were entering Slovenia multiple times, in order to get a multiple entry visa.

It took 3-4 working days to process after submitting the documents.

Overall easy process. And Slovenia is a country well worth visiting!

An Indian in Luxembourg

Hello Travellers & Visa Lovers 🙂

The better-half and I recently spent a weekend in Luxembourg. I know! Who goes to Luxembourg!! But it was totally worth it. An affordable luxury holiday in beautiful surroundings.

Highlights of the trip were:
1. Excellent Hotel — we stayed at the Sofitel Grand Ducal, which Tripadvisor ranks as the best hotel in Luxembourg. And it was surprisingly affordable! Service was impeccable and location was great too.

2. Beautiful Country — Luxembourg City itself is quite striking in appearance. Its full of beautiful valleys and via ducts. Think of it as Edinburgh without the grunge and drunk teenagers. Echternach and Remich were beautiful too!

Echternach
Vases in Luxembourg

3. Chilli Red Mini Convertible — From SixT rental. Was a pleasure to drive. The scenery was excellent too.

4. Very few tourists! — On the whole there were hardly any tourists. Only one group of Chinese school children and some pensioners.

5. Surprisingly Cheap — food, tourist attractions (or what few there were), public transport are all quite cheap for Western Europe standards!

6. Schengen — Visa lovers will love this 🙂 … we actually went to Schengen. The town where the agreement of the same name was signed, forming the Schengen zone and the ever elusive Schengen Visa. It was like a pilgrimage.

This is a pic of the scenery near Schengen …
Near Schengen

7. City tours that can only be described as ‘cute’. They had the offices of Arcelor Mittal on the tour. Awww … Luxembourg has a multinational.

The Downside …

1. Lack of decent vegetarian food … but we found a nice french style cafe (can’t remember the name for the life of me) near the main town square.
2. Bit dead overall — not much to do after Day 1 (we hoofed it to Brugge on Day 2).
3. Hard to get there from London, unless you fly.

Overall, I would recommend going there. But for no longer than 2 days.
If you have questions, message me on Twitter — @villdre

New process for French Schengen Visa (guest post)

Guest post by Kunal. He is a US resident, currently in the UK on a short-term visa (6 to 9 months).
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Visa Type: Schengen Visa (tourist)
Issuing Country: France
Application Centre: TLS Contact Center, near Olympia Tube station, London

Duration of Visa Granted: 6 months
Number of days stay granted: 90 days
Time taken for processing: 2 days

Requirements:
All the standard Schengen visa documents — hotel bookings, flight bookings, photo, passport, application form, travel insurance, letter from employer, covering letter, bank statements, paychecks.

Experience:
We were able to make an appointment for one week later. There was a queue at the center and we were issued a number. Our number was not called and we saw people who came in after us being processed. When we brought that to the supervisor’s attention, she blamed it on a glitch and immediately asked us to proceed to the next available counter. The lady at the counter was nice and courteous and confirmed that we had submitted everything on the check list. The process took about 10 minutes.
We had submitted one confirmed itinerary and multiple travel plans over the next 4 months. We also had a one-year travel insurance policy. Our travel plans were for 10-12 days after the appointment. While they did not promise that we would receive the visa by that date, we received it on the third day.
Got an SMS e Email from VFS telling us that the application was sent to the French Embassy, and another SMS and Email when the Embassy returned our passports. Passport collection was painless as well.

Special Circumstances:
Since we are in London for a short-term (6-9 months) only, all our paychecks, bank statements were American. That did not seem to be a problem in obtaining the visa. There was also no problem with submitting printed copies of our paychecks and bank statements. We did have an employment verification letter from my employer in the UK.

Key points to keep in mind:
1. Book an appointment for applying. Plan ahead because appointments fill up fast.
2. Have all documents in order based on the checklist. They follow that checklist very strictly and having your documents in order will mean you spend less time on the counter.
3. List multiple travel plans over the duration that you wish to request visa for. This ensures that your need for a longer-term visa is explicit.
4. Make sure your travel insurance is valid across all planned trips otherwise you might end up with a shorter duration visa.

Tip about France: Get off the beaten path. Skip Paris and go south to the Alps. The pics below show a peak near Chamonix and sunset over Lac Leman.

Sunset over Lac Leman View from St Gervais

Belgium Schengen Visa experience in London

Visa Type: Schengen Visa (tourist)
Issuing Country: Belgium
Application Centre: VFS, Soho Square, London

Duration of Visa Granted: 3 months
Number of days stay granted: 14 days
Time taken for processing: 2 days

Requirements:
All the standard Schengen visa documents — hotel bookings, flight bookings, photo, passport, application form, travel insurance, letter from employer, covering letter.

Experience:
There was a long queue at the VFS centre, but it moved quickly. Once inside the centre, we were issued a number. Our number was called within 10 minutes. We spent another 10 mins with the lady at the counter.

Got an SMS and Email from VFS telling us when the application was sent to the Belgian Embassy, and another SMS and Email when the Embassy returned our passports.

There was another queue to collect the passports. No appointment system for collection.

Overall very smooth experience.

Key points to keep in mind:
1. Book an appointment for applying.
2. Arrive 10-15 mins before appointment time (no earlier than that).
3. Arrive 15 mins early for collecting passport
4. Be prepared to stand in line (in the open-air) for 15-20 minutes at application and collection.
5. Costs an extra £26 per head to apply at VFS.

Entering Schengen Area before Visa Start date – not possible :)

Well that is not surprising, now is it?

Someone I know closely recently planned to visit Paris. When they had checked in on the Eurostar at St. Pancras Station, and were at the immigration window, did they they realize there was a problem. The officer pointed out that they visa started 2 weeks later.

The officer then called a policeman, who escorted them out of the Eurostar area, and gave them a ‘refused entry’ paper. Not sure if this will affect their future visa applications.

But the lesson is, be sure that you don’t try to travel to the Schengen area before the visa start date.

Lack of Polish – visa application mess at embassy of Poland

Note: This is a description of my experience. I do not guarantee this will work for you. Please check with the relevant Poland consulate before applying. If you have further questions about the process, please comment on this post and ask.

Target Country: Poland / Schengen Area
Passport: India
Purpose: Tourism
Processing Office: Polish Consulate, London
Processing time: 2 weeks (10 working days)

Documents submitted:
1. Filled out form

2. Letter from Employer saying that I’m employed

3. Bank statements from last 3 months

4. One passport sized photograph, as per their specifications. Any regular photographer in London should be able to give you these.

5. Current passport

6. £58 processing fee per person. My wife and I applied together, so we paid £106

7. Flight bookings to and from the Schengen area, where the first/main destination is Poland.

8. Hotel bookings for each night in the Schengen area.

9. Travel insurance covering your entire stay.

Top Tips:
1. Get an appointment online before going

2. Appointment time doesn’t mean anything. It will let you in through the door. Besides that, arrive at your convenience while the embassy is open.

3.Plan to spend at least 1 hour in queues, even with appointment.

4. If you want multiple entries, make sure you submit hotel and flight bookings for multiple journeys.

5. Don’t get fooled by the long line outside the consulate. That is for people coming for passport renewals. With a visa appointment letter, you can go straight to the door.

Process & Experience:
First we got fooled by the long line outside the consulate. We stood there for 10 minutes, before someone suggested that we go to the door straight away, since we have an appointment letter. That was a huge time saver.

After entering the consulate, there was another queue. They have only 1 visa window, and typically take 10-15 mins to accept each application. We had about 6 applicants in front of us – so had to wait over an hour.

The lady at the window took photocopies of all our documents herself. So we didn’t really have to take photocopies ourselves.

We submitted a copy of our marriage certificate too – but not sure that was necessary.

They took full 2 weeks to process the application. No plea for a quick processing made any difference to them. But the real Shock came when my wife went and picked up the passports.

They had given us a 2-week Mutliple entry visa!!!! How useless is that!! So we can only go on one trip!! This puts us in a difficult situation, since we were planning 2 trips to Europe about 3 weeks apart.

Complete mess. The lady at the counter then graciously (sarcasm!!) says that we should have submitted bookings for future travel as well. No where on their website did it say so. And my previous experience with Schengen visas from other countries taught me that you don’t really need to show bookings for future trips, when applying for the visa. Just for the first trip!! Clearly the Polish consulate does not have well defined or well documented processes. They don’t follow what other embassies do, and they don’t make their own requirements clear up front.

This was overall a disappointing experience for us. I see no reason for applying to the Polish embassy again. The only reason we applied now was because we got a quick appointment. But obviously that was because of f***ed up processes at the embassy.