It’s been a dream of mine for some time now to walk to Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain — a 750km 5 week walk from just inside France all the way across Spain to the town of Santiago. It’s also been a dream of Susan’s to visit Europe for years and we talked about our wishes to travel to Europe together on our very first date. But there has always been one thing preventing us booking a trip to Europe and that is the problem that Indonesians have with applying for a visa to Europe — the elusive Schengen Visa.
“Why is it elusive?”, I hear you say. Well, because the airfares to Europe are so expensive and we want to maximise our stay in the region. And sticking to our philosophy of slow travel, we wanted to apply for the maximum stay possible — 90 days.
Almost everyone we spoke to told us how difficult applying for the Schengen Visa is and told us about the crazy requirements such as needing every single day of accommodation booked, a sponsor letter and a full itinerary including transport links. We had none of that and we still had Susan’s visa approved in 4 days without an interview — we’ll tell you how we did it.
We told the truth.
We were very honest from day one when we applied for our visa. Everything we wanted to do, our financial situation and our planned itinerary was laid out for them. We also made sure we met all the requirements of the European regulation for the granting of the Schengen Visa. And those requirements aren’t as strict as you might think and certainly not as strict as everyone told us. Here they are:
- documents showing your ability to pay your travel and accommodation expenses;
- hotel reservations, an invitation from private individuals or business connections, a legalized letter of invitation, or a guarantor’s declaration;
- documents showing that you intend to return to your country of origin (such as an employer’s declaration or the deeds to your home);
- a medical travel insurance policy that will cover any costs of repatriation on medical grounds, urgent medical care, or emergency hospital treatment. The insurance policy must be valid for the entire Schengen Area, for the entire duration of your stay, and it must provide minimum cover of €30,000. If you cannot make an advance arrangement with your insurance provider that the costs will be repaid if the visa is refused, you will not have to produce this insurance policy until you collect your visa;
- Proof of reservations for the journey.
Not all of these are mandatory.
So what does this mean? It means the minimum requirement does not include having to book accommodation. It does not include having to have a sponsor letter. It doesn’t even include having a return ticket! Of course, if you don’t have any of these things, you are going to have to explain why not.
Our first recommendation is to have a return airfare booked. Back home is preferable, but to another country is possible (such as Turkey), but it must be to a country for which you are reasonably entitled to enter. We recommend getting a visa for this country BEFORE applying for the Schengen Visa, but we understand that this is not a hard requirement — just a strong recommendation.
Our next recommendation is to get a sponsor letter if you have friends or family in the Schengen Area. We don’t have people close enough to us that would be willing to sponsor us, so we didn’t do this. Why is a sponsor letter important? Because it removes the financial requirement which we talk about below. It means you can enter the Schengen Area with far less money than you would normally need.
Have enough money in your bank account. Europe is expensive and there is a minimum bank balance required for visiting. The current rate is €34 per day according the Netherlands and €64 according to Spain. We’re actually unsure about why this differs between embassies, but we advise applying to an embassy based on the country you will spend most time in and NOT because monetary requirements are lower elsewhere. You must have this money in your bank account if you don’t have a sponsor letter. The regulation is very clear that this money is to cover the cost of accommodation and living expenses when in Europe. What does this mean? That if you do not pre-book your accommodation (you don’t have to) you must have the daily rate of money in your account. If you do pre-book your accommodation, you don’t need as much money in your account, but you should explain why you don’t have as much money as is required (because you pre-booked accommodation) in a separate letter.
We strongly recommend writing a cover letter and attaching it to your application.
Why? Because if you explain the whole situation, there will be no need for an interview. Susan wasn’t interviewed because we explained everything. We explained our purpose of travel (Camino & travelling around Europe), how we planned to book accommodation, our financial situation (that is, we have enough money in the bank), Susan’s ties to Indonesia (to prove that she will return home — her name is attached to some of her father’s assets, our blog, the twitter community we are close to etc), her work situation. Write this letter and put as much detail in it as possible. Tell the truth!
We needed to explain Susan’s work situation. For most people, you should provide a letter from your employer stating that you have a job and that you will be going back to that job. Susan doesn’t have a job. So we needed to explain how she gets money. We firstly explained that she has written two books that are about to be published and that she has more offers on the table. We provided the name and phone number of her publisher so that the embassy could verify our claim about the books. We also stated that she freelances for various other publications, even though this money is small. We just basically wanted to prove that she is not a bum and that she has a reason to come back to Indonesia.
Accommodation. To book or not to book. It is totally your choice. We believe that if you pre-book your accommodation, you are more likely to get the visa. But here is the thing. No one who is going to Europe for 1 month or more is going to pre-book their accommodation unless they are on a tour. The embassy knows this. So if you do apply for a 3 month visa and do have all of your accommodation pre-booked, they are going to know that you are lying and are just going to cancel it anyway. It’s the oldest trick in the book. So we recommend not pre-booking your accommodation unless you truly are going to use it. If you simply plan to cancel it after the visa is approved, don’t book the accommodation as they will know your are lying.
Lying = DENIED.
Make sure you have travel insurance booked and paid for. We used ACA who proved to be very cheap. Just visit their office and book the insurance. The insurance must end at least 15 days after you arrive back in Indonesia.
We think that you are more likely to have a long Schengen Visa approved if you have travelled quite a lot aleady especially if these countries include Western countries such as Australia. If you have travelled to the places, make sure you make that point in your cover letter.
Should you use an agent or not? We advise that you DO NOT use an agent for longer stays. Why? Because the agents we spoke to do not understand the rules of the Schengen Visa despite sounding very knowledgeable. They also all said it is not possible for an Indonesian to get the visa for 3 months without a sponsor letter. They also said we needed to book all of our accommodation in advance. This is not true. Agents are fine when the travel arrangements are straightforward of the visit is short.
At the end of the day, it’s all about telling the truth. If you have enough money to travel to Europe and can prove you will return home, you will get the visa if you tell the truth.
One last thing. Don’t believe people when they say you need to pre-book accommodation and/or have a sponsorship letter. It also doesn’t matter which embassy you apply to as long as it is the one for the country in which you will spend the most time. They all must follow the same European regulation.
Easy yeah? Semangat? Give us like and we’ll answer any questions you have in English or Indonesian. 🙂