One million? Half-million? People always ask me “How much show money should I have in my bank account?” and the answer is not what they think.
One of the questions that visa applicants frequently ask me is how much money they should have in their bank account. I’d actually heard of the term “show money” way before I applied for my first visa and I thought that people really needed to have a specific amount in their bank account to guarantee visa approval. However, as I’ve learned since then, that’s not necessarily true.
When you apply for a tourist visa and the embassy asks for your bank documents, what they really want to know is that:
- You can afford your trip; and
- What you say in your visa application is true:
- You’re only going to be a tourist and not planning to secretly work in their country.
- You’re going back to the Philippines and not planning to stay there illegally.
So how much money should you have in your bank account? The money that is already in your bank account.
Okay, let me explain.
When I wrote “Budget itinerary: A week in London for P50,000” for Rappler, one of the most common objections was along the lines of, “This is ridiculous! If you only have P50,000 in your bank account, there’s no way the British embassy will give you a visa.”
That may be true but let me ask you this: if you only have P50,000 in your bank account, why the heck would you blow it all off on a trip to London?
You’re applying for a tourist visa. That means, by definition, that you’re traveling for pleasure. You want to go, see, do, experience — that’s all. It’s not a matter of life and death; you don’t actually need to be there. You travel because you want to. But people do have needs — food, shelter, clothing, etc. — and a responsible person would take care of their needs first before indulging their wants. Therefore, ideally, before you travel you should have enough money set aside not only for your trip but for your life — your day-to-day expenses as well as any emergencies that might come along.
In the end, it really goes back to the basics of financial responsibility:
- Don’t spend money you don’t have.
- Set up an emergency fund.
You’ll find that once you have savings and an emergency fund, you won’t need to pad your bank account with borrowed “show money.” All you have to do is show that the money you do have — your “extra” money, not counting your funds for day-to-day expenses and emergencies — is enough to pay for your trip.
“Show Money” Hack 1: Detailed Budget
How do you prove you can afford your trip?
A few embassies actually specify the minimum amount you should allot for what they call “subsistence expenses”:
However, most other embassies don’t have a “magic number” so for those visa applicants at the French, Italian, or other embassies — and even for those applying at the Dutch or German embassies — I would suggest this:
Prepare a budget for your trip, make it as detailed as possible, and submit it to the embassy.
This isn’t technically a requirement but I’ve found that preparing a budget for my trip helps me “prove” that I can afford it. The last time I applied for a Schengen visa, I actually included a budget column in the itinerary I submitted, such that every train I was planning to take, every hotel I was planning to stay at, every meal, every bus ride, every activity, there was a corresponding budget for it. If I didn’t know the actual cost, I would make an estimate. (This is where Google and Numbeo comes in handy.) I included a budget for miscellaneous expenses and at the end I totaled everything up. I wanted to show the consul: look, this is what my trip is going to cost me, and this is the money I have in my bank account. See, I can afford it.
A budget shows — or aims to show, anyway — that you’re a responsible human being. And the fact that you went through all that effort to put together an itinerary you can afford means that you probably are going to follow that itinerary, that you are what you say you are: a tourist.
Now, if you’re someone who has millions in their bank account, you probably don’t need to do this. But if you’re, say, a backpacker or an otherwise frugal traveler who may not have an absolutely impressive bank balance, but you’ve done the math and you know you can make it work, a detailed, carefully thought out budget will definitely be useful, especially if you’re going to a country that has a high cost of living.
“Show Money” Hack 2: Affidavit of Support
For all my talk above about being prudent and financially responsible, my first trip to Europe was actually a very spur-of-the-moment thing. My sister had spotted tickets from KL to Paris for just around P15,000 round-trip and it was too good an opportunity to miss. But because I’d had zero time to save up for the trip before actually buying the tickets, my bank balance by the time I applied for a visa at the French embassy was not impressive at all.
Cue my father’s Affidavit of Support.
I was really planning on paying for the entire trip myself — I’d make it work by being ridiculously frugal — but I knew my bank balance would likely raise eyebrows at the French embassy. (And this was back in 2011, when you actually had to go to the embassy to submit your documents and undergo an interview, unlike today when documents are submitted through the VFS and an interview may not be necessary.) So my father went to a notary public, executed an Affidavit of Support for both me and my sister, and attached his financial documents, which were a mite more respectable than mine.
Long story short, I got a visa.
(Actually what the lady at the embassy said was, “Hmp. I’ll give you a chance.” Ouch. 😀 But a visa’s a visa — I’ll take it.)
“Show Money” Hack 3: Borrow Money
Actually, this one I don’t recommend at all, but I’m mentioning it here because I know that a lot of people do resort to this and I want to point out a few things.
Embassies usually require a Bank Certification as part of their requirements for a visa, and not only will it state the current balance of your bank account, it will also report:
- Your average daily balance (ADB) in the past year (YTD)
- The date your bank account was opened
This is important to know because:
- If your bank account was opened only recently, the embassy peeps might wonder why. Did you open an account just because you were going to apply for a visa? Why didn’t you have one before? Where did the money in your account come from? It’s all well and good if you can explain everything satisfactorily, but if not, a newly opened account might be a red flag.
- The average daily balance reveals a lot about your finances.
For example, if you initially have P10,000 in your account and you add P10,000 every month, at the end of the year your bank balance might be “only” P120,000 but your ADB/YTD will be around P65,000. Which isn’t bad at all!
But if you initially have P10,000 and it stays at P10,000 for most of the year, and then 1 week before you apply for a visa, you suddenly deposit P1.2 million, your ADB will still only be around P33,000. That’s right, your ADB will actually be less than that of the person who “only” has P120,000 — as opposed to your P1.2 million — but achieved that balance by saving slowly and steadily.
Moreover your sudden wealth will be kind of suspicious, especially if you don’t have a legitimate source for it. Did you have a timely windfall? Did you have an extremely generous aunt who died and left you a million? (And do you have the papers to prove it?) If it turns out that you only got that amount from a money-lender, the consul might wonder why you’re so desperate to go abroad as a tourist that you’re actually willing to pay a lender’s exorbitant interest rates.
So that’s something to think about.
“Show Money” Should Not Just Be For Show: Practical Tips
It’s a common misconception — I thought so too, at first — that proving financial capability is about having “show money.” That it’s about having a certain amount in one’s bank account. And consequently some people take enormous risks just to secure that sum.
But that’s not really necessary.
More than anything, it’s about proving that you can afford your trip and that you’re only what you say you are: a tourist. Countries want to make sure you will not be a drain on their resources. So, if you have this much money, make sure your trip will only cost you that much. Try to prove through documents that you have a steady source of income, that you have sufficient ties to the Philippines, and that therefore you’re not likely to remain illegally in the other country.
In practical terms, you can do this:
- If your savings aren’t that big yet, at least make sure you have an emergency fund that you do not touch for travel. (An emergency fund is usually calculated as your monthly budget for expenses x 6.) Subtract that amount from your bank balance and what’s left is the maximum amount you can spend on your trip.
- If you’ve already booked your trip and you’re only just now worrying about your bank balance — don’t worry, it happens to the best of us 😀 — try to make sure the whole trip will cost you less than half of the amount in your account.
- If someone else is paying for your trip — or if you’re paying for it yourself but you think your bank balance might not be able to convince the consul to give you a visa — submit an Affidavit of Support with your sponsor’s financial papers attached.
- What I personally do, since I really like traveling, is to keep a separate Travel Fund. Every month, I set aside a portion of my earnings and save it specifically for travel. Then, when there’s a seat sale, I check my Travel Fund and try to calculate if I can afford another trip. If I can’t, I can’t, and that’s the end of it.
- And always: make a detailed budget, not only for the sake of your visa, but for your own sake, so your trip doesn’t leave you penniless when you get home.