Schengen Visa Application: The Interview

VISA Appointment:  March 29, 2012,  8AM – French Embassy, 16F Pacific Star Bldg, Makati Ave cor Buendia Ave, Makati City

What you’re about the read is a first-hand info.  Though questions may vary per applicant, I’m sharing this to give you an idea on the types of question to expect.  In any tourist visa application interview, a consular office probably has these primary objectives:  to assess whether an applicant or his/her sponsor is financially capable to spend for the trip; and to ascertain the applicant’s return to home country (in simple words, hindi mag TNT).

It was one of those days when driving in Makati CBD was a breeze.  I arrived at Pacific Star a bit before 7:30AM, and I got a parking slot along the narrow street between the old Equitable Bldg. (now BDO), and Pacific Star – and the space was right across the building.  Positive vibe! =)

Pacific Star’s guest registration is at Basement 1, and it opens at 7:50AM.

At exactly 8AM, I was at the Embassy, and the guard was calling out names of applicants.  The guard gave me a stub.  I was Applicant #1 for that day.

Next step…

1.  Reception Area.  I was asked to leave my mobile phones at the front desk, and in exchange, a claim stub was given to me.  I was advised by the security officer to double-check my documents as I wait for my name to be called for the first interview.  (Interview is in two-fold).

2.  The first interviewer – a polite French officer.

He asked for my cover letter, passport, flight and hotel vouchers.  I handed the documents to him. He began skimming, and spent extra seconds examining my valid US visa (attached to 1 of my 2 passports).

Officer:  How long do you intend to stay in France, Ms. Sales?  Only in France?

Me:  10 days maximum, may be I’ll go on a site trip to Brussels and Amsterdam.

Officer:  Okay.  Please prepare the payment.  60Euros, that’s P3,430.00 in Philippine Peso. Exact amount, please.

I handed him the payment, and he issued a receipt, with text in French.

Officer:  Thank you for the payment, Ms. Sales.  (He gave me back the documents.) Now, you need to go back to your seat.  The second interviewer will call you and will ask for all the documents, so you need to take them out of that folder.  Have a nice day!

I said ‘thank you’, as courtesy.  I went back to my seat, and I prepared the documents as advised.  In about 3 minutes, I was called to another booth for a second interview.

3.  The second interviewer – a no-nonsense, fierce-looking Filipina.  Rumor has it that Filipino employees of the Embassy are not that friendly.  Somehow, there’s truth to that rumor, as I could hear some applicants getting yelled at because of incomplete documents. Most of the applicants would get rattled, instead of getting the feeling that they were being assisted. 

The officer asked for all the documents.  Then she quickly checked each document – starting from the cover letter.  She took my biometrics and photo.  She informed me that the documents would go to their file, and she asked whether I would need photocopies.  I did not bother because I obtained the documents specifically for this visa application (banks, company HR do indicate the purpose in the certificates), and I scanned the docs for my personal electronic backup (paperless!).  She checked again my bank account statements, passports – carefully examined the details of my past visas, especially the valid US visa. 

Officer:  Do you work in HK or in SG?

Me:  No. I’m just a frequent visitor.

Officer:  (She suddenly became friendly, when she saw my Certificate of Employment) Oh, so you work for SM?

Me: Yes, for almost seven years now.

Officer:  (Stamped my receipt) 5-working days for the visa.  It is Holy Week already, long holidays, you may claim your visa on April 10, 11AM. You may send a representative, with authorization letter.  Here’s your passport.  Kindly check again the details in the receipt.

Me:  All correct.  Thank you.

At 8:20AM, I completed the interview process.  It was quick and painless.  I was also able to claim my visa, as scheduled.  =)

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Hello is Haluou??? – Appointment for the visa app interview

January 2012 – I wasn’t sure what to do with my career this Year of the Dragon.  (Do I have a career, in the first place?)  I was desperate for a long break, a  w  a  y  (awaaaaay, awaaaaaaaay, awaaaaaaaay)  from it all. If not, then there’s no telling what could have happened – ah…tattoo???

Feb 8 – I dialed my soul sister Cashmer’s number.  She is currently based in Singapore.  I told her that I need to visit her again for some serious soul searching.  She invited me to go with her to Paris, instead.  I didn’t sleep well that night.  I always wanted to go to Paris, but I never had a timeline for it.

Feb 9 – I sent a note to Cashmer.  Bonjour! We’re going to Paris.  Ang dali ko kausap!  =)

Feb 13 – I dialed the French Embassy hotline.  I wasn’t surprised that a guy with a thick nasal accent would pick up the phone, and greet me with ‘Bonjour! (Bon shouw!).  I read in some travel web fora that the Filipinos who are working in the French Embassy have this kind of ‘air‘ – as if they are superior beings, and they do speak English with a French accent.  I was prepared to engage at that ‘level of conversation’ . I simply stated what I needed in straight, firm words – English, without the slightest attempt to sound French.

Though, I had one ‘laglag-panga’ (jaw-dropping) moment, when towards the end of our conversation, the guy suddenly spoke in plain Tagalog.  All the while I thought I was talking to a mean French guy (na medyo ‘gwapo’ man lang sa isip ko, yun na nga lang, eh!).

Me:  Is your calendar still open for an appointment either on March 13 or 14?  I plan to leave on April 21.

Officer :  (akala ko French, tapos bigla nag-Tagalog, at parang may kaaway lang) Ay wala na!  5 days lang naman ang visa.  Sa March 29 kita ilalagay. 8AM! (at binababa ang telepono ng walang ni ha, ni ho).

It was enough for me to say that by the way he responded, he is not our best role model for customer service.  I didn’t waste time trying to make myself angry with the level of service I got (wala ako panahon galitin ang sarili ko).  Just to be in the safe side, I opted to send a short email to the Embassy to confirm the schedule, and in 2 hours, they sent me a very straight-forward message:  “Confirmed.”  (Prompt and in plain English.)

Starting April 10, 2012, requests for visa appointment must be coursed through their hotlines.  Though, there’s a tradeoff in terms of cost.  With the high call rates, which is close to the current Peso-to-Euro exchange rate, I’m under the impression that the service would have improved this time around.  The numbers to dial, plus the call rates are posted in my previous blog entry.  Here’s the link:    https://meowthmoments.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/schengen-visa-application-for-pinoy-tourists/

I initially requested for the interview be conducted on March 13 or 14, but the earliest schedule given was March 29.  The volume of visa application has probably gone up.  Take note of the period of application, as well – tourism activity in Europe peaks during spring and summer seasons.  To avoid unnecessary stress, it is advisable for you to set an appointment, at least 3 months before your planned date of entry. The buffer could give you enough time to prepare the required documents – it’s a tedious process, especially for busy folks.  Complete and consistent supporting documents could mean a ‘quick and painless’ interview.

C’est tout pour aujourd’hui!  (Tha’ts all for now!)  =)

Schengen Visa Application for Pinoy Tourists

Howdy! Starting January 1, 2013, I’m moving my blog to http://meowthlovescoffee.blogspot.com .  I’ve reposted this article (with updated web links) in my new blog called ‘Meowth!’ 

Should you feel inclined to follow my blog for its informative or entertainment value, please feel free click on this link –  http://meowthlovescoffee.blogspot.com

New Year! New life! New home for my blog!  =)  

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Traveling or even the prospect of travel could cost you some good nights’ worth of sleep; especially when it is about traveling to a territory, which requires you to obtain a visa prior to a formal entry .  If you are a Pinoy traveler with a Philippine-issued passport, then you’re in for a lot of pre-travel ‘adventures’ just working on the VISA alone.

I applied for several VISAs in the past, and fortunately, I never got rejected in any of those applications.  Each application process required effort.  I just feel inclined to share with you, the step-by-step process in applying for a Schengen Visa.  This Visa is valid in 25 territories, covered by the Schengen Agreement: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. 

1.  When to apply – at least 90 days before your planned entry to a Schengen territory.

2.  Where to file – for multiple destinations, file your visa application to the Consulate of your main destination, or where length of stay is the longest.  If length of stay is almost equal, then file application to the Consulate of the first country in your itinerary. 

3.  Set an appointment with the Consulate / Embassy.  Be ready with the following info:  applicants name, email address and contact number, purpose of travel, preferred travel dates and length of stay, and preferred schedule of interview. 

I applied through the French Embassy – I made an appointment through their visa hotline.  Starting April 10, 2012, applicants may reach the Embassy through its call center hotlines: for PLDT/Smart/Touchcard Subscribers 1 (909) 101- 3333;
for Globe/Innove/Touchmobile Subscribers 1 (900) 101- 3333; and for Bayantel Subscribers 1 (903) 101- 3333.  Calls are accepted Mondays through Saturdays, from 8AM – 6PM.  Call charge is Php 32.00 per minute, excluding VAT and applicable NDD charges for calls made outside Metro Manila.  These hotlines are intended for calls made within the Philippines.

The French Embassy conducts interview for Visa applicants, Monday – Friday, 8AM -12NN.   

4.  Prepare your application form and supporting documents.  Please do take note of the turn-around time when requesting for certain documents.  Here is the list of the required documents:

*  Application form  – Formulaire_SCH_eng  – you need to fill this up and attach (paste) a 45mm x 35mm ID picture / white background / no face cover / no headgear / no eyeglasses / no frowning / ‘Mona Lisa’ smile only.  Clip (paper clip) another copy of the ID photo to the application form. 

*  Cover letter explaining the purpose of travel and itinerary – I’m posting a copy of my cover letter, for your reference.  – Schengen Visa Cover Letter.

*  Itinerary – flight reservation (you do not have to buy tickets yet, just contact a travel agent to provide you with a travel voucher free of charge / you may also try http://www.klm.com for free reservation – they could hold the ticket for you for a certain number of days); hotel voucher (you may book through http://www.agoda.com, a good number of hotels allow for free cancellation; and if you’re an HSBC card holder, that’s less 5% for every booking made via Agoda –  you need to start browsing from the HSBC website – travel promos, and then follow the link to Agoda website.). 

*  Travel insurance – a minimum insurance of EURO 30,000, cashless settlement, with toll-free hotline, coverage valid in 25 Schengen territories.  For a list of Schengen-accredited insurance providers, you may click on this document – assurances_contacts_site_internet-2.  You may also apply online.  I applied through http://www.bluecross.com.ph.  A Schengen package costs about Php 2,500.00.  If you plan to buy a policy from BPI MS, a coverage costs around Php 4,000.00. 

*  Financial documents / proof income – (1) latest bank certification, (2) bank account statement indicating transactions/balance in the last three months – You have to request for these documents preferably from your branch of account.  The bank will require you to fill up and sign a request form, and you have to indicate that the certificate is for your Schengen Visa application.  At BPI, they could release the certification in an hour or less – for accounts, which you opened online (example: BPI Direct and BPI Trade – the lead time is about 3 – 5 banking days.  You may include your Mutual Fund / Equity Fund Statements, if available.  (3) latest Income Tax Return (ITR).

*  Proof of employment(1) Certificate of Employment, indicating tenure / position title / annual compensation;  (2)  approved leave of absence (I just photocopied my approved VL, as signed by my boss, using our company VL form);  (3)  For self-employed, official business registration for current and previous years. 

*  Identity – (1) Passport, valid for at least 6 months from the planned date of entry; (2) photocopy of the first page of passport and all travel visas issued to you; (3)  NSO-authenticated birth certificate – a hassle-free request may be facilitated online via  http://nso.citizenservices.com.ph/; lead time is 3 – 4 days;  (4) if married, bring a photocopy of marriage contract.

*  Non-refundable visa application fee, cash basis to be settled in Philippine Peso only –  Short stay visa (30 – 90 days),  EURO 60.00 (or about Php 3,430, prevailing FOREX rate);  Long stay visa (over 90 days), EURO 99.00Bring smaller bills and coins (P5.00 / P1.00).  The French Embassy in Manila accepts exact amount only

5.  Interview – for applications lodged through the French Embassy, interviews are conducted at their office – 16F Pacific Star Building, Buendia cor. Makati Avenue, Makati City.  Please be prompt.  If your interview is scheduled at 8AM, Pacific Star’s guest registration at Basement 1 opens at 7:50AM.  You need to register first with the Admin at Basement 1, before you could go up to the Embassy located at the 16th Floor. 

Note:  Most of the time, the French Embassy approves/denies application on the spot.  For approved applications, the average Visa issuance lead time is 5 working-days.  The interviewer will tell you when to claim your Visa.  The Embassy may or may not require you to leave your passport while you wait for the Visa.

For other Visa-related matters, you may visit the French Embassy website Visa section:  http://www.ambafrance-ph.org/Visas,1261

I hope you find this informative. Don’t get overwhelmed with the requirements.  Go through the steps, as if you are in a travel drill of some sort.  Patience is a virtue. 

In my next blog entry, I intend to write about my experience during the actual interview at the French Embassy.  =)