Anti-Offloading Tips from an Immigration Officer

Anti-Offloading Tips from an Immigration Officer | SGMT —
Plus guidance straight from the Bureau of Immigration and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).


I recently had the chance to put a few questions to an Immigration officer and he kindly agreed to give me a few tips for travelers who might be nervous about getting offloaded. (I promised him I would keep his identity confidential, even though he didn’t really require this as a condition to answering my questions, and I also assured him he didn’t have to reveal any “trade secrets” from the Bureau of Immigration.) Please take note that these tips are for legit tourists, particularly first time travelers who might understandably be worried about the possibility of being offloaded. If you’re reading this so you can find out how to fool the Immigration officer at NAIA, I urge you to please, please reconsider your plans. You may have good intentions — maybe you just want to work so you can send your kids to school and get your family out of poverty — but the risks can be very high. It might be your family who will end up having to sell everything to save you, so please think about it.

Required Documents: The Basics

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First of all, if you haven’t read “Pinoy Abroad: List of Documents Required by Immigration for International Travel” please do so right now. (The link will open in a separate tab so you don’t have to leave this page.) That article will give you a list of documents you have to bring when you travel — the basic requirements, the additional documents that may be required if the Immigration officer has doubts about you, the requirements if someone else is paying for your trip, and the list of people who need a DSWD travel clearance or a Travel Authority. If you want to be really prepared — to the point of being over-prepared sometimes — you’ll find even more tips here: “Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs.”
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An Immigration Officer’s Tips

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Here’s the gist of what the immigration officer said when I asked him for tips for first time travelers:
Continue reading

Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs

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What documents are required by the Bureau of Immigration?

I get this question all the time, so I thought I’d create another post just for this.

Technically, there are only 3 documents that are required:

  1. Passport
  2. Round trip ticket
  3. Visa (if necessary)

So, for those who are asking: “Kailangan pa ba talaga ang…” the answer is only the three documents above are technically required. You don’t need those other documents in the sense that they are not technically required.

Related post: Filipina offloaded from flight at NAIA 3 for not bringing her grandfather’s birth certificate? Here’s what probably happened — and how you can stop it from happening to you)

However, the Immigration officer will want to make sure that:

  1. You can afford your trip;
  2. You are only going there for your stated purpose (tourism); and
  3. You are coming back to the Philippines.

I am not an Immigration officer and I can’t predict what other documents or questions the IO will ask from you. But based on my experience and the experience of others, here is what I suggest you bring:

  • Passport.
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  • Your old passports – to show that you have traveled before and that you came back to the Philippines of your own free will.
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  • Visa – if necessary for your destination.
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  • Round-trip ticket with receipt or other proof that the ticket has been fully paid – to show that you intend to return to the Philippines.
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  • Hotel reservations, preferably with receipt or other proof that the entire stay has been fully paid – to show that you can afford your accommodations (and in fact have fully paid for it) and to help show that you are there as a tourist (and not living in another person’s house as, for example, an illegally recruited helper).
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  • Bank statement (if available) – to prove that you can afford your trip. Even better than a bank statement, which will only show your account balance and transactions within a limited period of time (usually the last quarter), is a bank certification, which includes information like YTD balance and the date the account was opened — data that will show that the account was not opened for the sole purpose of supporting your trip. The Bureau of Immigration, as far as I know, has not set a minimum account balance. And please do not think of this as show money. It is not just for show. You need to have enough money to cover your expenses during the trip and still have savings left when you return to the Philippines — because if you spend all your savings on a vacation, that will be highly suspicious.
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  • Proof of ownership of assets such as land, house, car, etc. (if available) – to show that you can afford your trip and that you do not need to work abroad illegally and that therefore you are coming back to the Philippines.
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  • Certificate of employment (stating your position and salary) and approved leave of absence with a photocopy of the company ID of the signatory of these documents (if applicable) – to show that you can afford your trip and that you are likely to return to the Philippines because you already have a job here. If, instead of a regular job, you have your own business, bring the papers related to your business (DTI, SEC, BIR, etc.).
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  • Income tax return (ITR) – to show that you can afford your trip.
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  • Affidavit of support (if necessary) – instead of, or in addition to, proof of your own income. The affidavit must include proof of the income of the person paying for your trip. This person must be a close relative, ideally your parent, child, or sibling. I’m not sure which other relatives are accepted — the BI says up to the 3rd degree of consanguinity — but one reader said an affidavit from her mom’s cousin was not accepted by the IO. You can see an example of an Affidavit of Support / Guaranty here and a general Affidavit form here (courtesy of the Embassy of the Philippines in Singapore).
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  • Tour itinerary – to help prove that your purpose for travel is tourism only. Not only should you have an itinerary, you should know your itinerary, in case the IO asks you about it.
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  • Tickets/reservations/confirmations to the attractions listed in your itinerary – to prove that you are going to those attractions and that your purpose really is just tourism.
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  • Marriage certificate and birth certificate of children (if applicable) – to show that you have family in the Philippines and are therefore likely to come back.
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  • CFO certificate (if applicable) – if you are meeting a foreign spouse or boyfriend, you will mostly be required to present the Guidance and Counseling Certificate from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO).

(I will update this list if I think of other documents to bring.)
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Anti-offloading tips from an Immigration officer

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Do you have to bring all these documents?
No, you don’t have to bring all these documents; again, they are not technically required. It’s possible that the IO will just let you board the plane without asking any questions at all or without asking for any documents. But it’s better that you have these documents on hand, even if the IO does not ask for them — rather than if the IO asks for them and you have nothing to show. Better safe than sorry.

Is a bank statement necessary? Can you just bring cash?
Again, the bank statement (and most of these other documents) are not technically required. Perhaps you know of some people who just brought cash, with no bank statement, and they were allowed to board their plane. That’s very possible. But it’s also possible that the IO will ask for your bank statement so you might as well prepare it — again, better safe than sorry. Remember that Mary Jane Veloso had lots of cash on hand when she left the Philippines for Kuala Lumpur. After what happened to her, you can be sure the Immigration officers will be stricter than ever.

If you bring all these documents, can you be sure that you will not be offloaded? Can you be sure that the IO will not ask for other documents?
No. Like I said, I’m not an Immigration officer, and I can’t predict what they will ask from you. And even if I were an Immigration officer, I still can’t guarantee anything anyway, because IOs differ. They rely partly on their experience and intuition, partly on the answers that you give in your Immigration form and to their initial questions. And they have different personalities too — some are strict by nature, some become strict when they think something’s fishy with the answers you give, some are nice, some are not so nice. So it all depends.

My advice is: bring ALL the documents that you can bring. All.
This applies especially if:

  • You’re young.
  • You’re female.
  • You’re single.
  • It’s your first time traveling abroad.
  • You have a history of being offloaded.
  • Someone else is paying for your trip.

Some people are lucky. Some people, especially those who are mukhang mayaman, pass through Immigration with no problem at all. The rest of us don’t like it, but it’s the reality. The IOs have a difficult job — trying to determine who’s lying without the benefit of a lie detector or veritaserum — and sometimes they really just have to resort to profiling. Now, there’s nothing we can do about the color of our skin, but we can improve our chances of being believed by being as prepared as possibledressing decently and being confident when we answer the IO’s questions.

Good luck!

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Please read What Filipinos Need to Know About Traveling Abroad: Guidelines from the Bureau of Immigration for more information.

 

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“Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

 


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Getting a Schengen Visa at the Netherlands Embassy: What You Need to Know

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amsterdam

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Both the Netherlands Embassy website and the VFS Global Services website contain useful information on the application process for a Schengen visa. (VFS is the company that assists the Netherlands embassy in processing visa applications.) It can be a little confusing, navigating both websites and all their visa-related pages, so we put together this step-by-step guide.

To secure a Schengen visa for a trip to the Netherlands, here’s a summary of what you need to do:

  1. Before anything else, make sure you’re applying for a Schengen visa at the right embassy. The Netherlands must be your main destination.
  2. Pay the visa fees at Unionbank.
  3. Schedule an appointment through the VFS website. Wait at least 1 business day after paying the visa fees before making the appointment.
  4. Prepare the required documents.
  5. Go to the embassy at the appointed time to personally lodge your application and submit your requirements.
  6. Wait for the decision.
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Should you be applying at the Netherlands embassy?

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A Schengen visa allows you to travel to the Netherlands and/or any of the other countries in the Schengen Area. In other words, once you obtain a visa from any of the Schengen countries, you can travel to all of the Schengen countries. That said, you can’t just apply for a visa in any Schengen country. The rule is: your visa application should be lodged at the embassy/consulate of the country that constitutes the main destination of your trip in terms of purpose or length of stay.

  1. Are you traveling only to the Netherlands?
  2. Is the main purpose of your trip in the Netherlands, even though you will be visiting other countries?
  3. Is the Netherlands the country where you will be spending the most time?

If you answer yes to any of the questions above, then, yes, you should apply for a visa at the Netherlands embassy.

Please note that “purpose” in no. 2 usually refers to business or some other official engagement. If you spend 3 days in Amsterdam and 4 days in Paris, you need to apply for a visa at the French embassy, no matter how much you protest that the main purpose of your trip is to see a windmill.

If you are spending equal time in 2 countries — say, 3 days in the Netherlands and 3 days in Belgium — that is when other factors are taken into consideration, such as where your flight from the Philippines will actually land.


Pay the visa application fees.

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The total fee for an adult is PHP 4,540
— this includes the actual visa application fee (PHP 3,700), the VFS service fee (PHP 740), and the bank charge (PHP 100). This amount is payable at any Unionbank branch in the country. Bring your passport with you when you make the payment, and fill out a bank payment form (download it here) in advance.

Schedule an appointment.

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First of all, take note that you need to pay the visa application fees before scheduling an appointment. The appointment system will require your receipt number and date of payment, so it’s just not possible to make the appointment before paying. Second, you need to wait at least 1 business day after paying, to make sure that your payment details have been entered into the system.

When deciding on your appointment date, there are certain factors you need to consider:

  • A visa application may only be lodged 3 months prior to intended departure at the earliest. (I know — the suspense kills me too.)
  • After lodging your application and requirements, you will usually receive a decision within 10 calendar days. That said, you may be asked to submit additional documents, or your application might need to be referred to authorities in the Netherlands, which will certainly take time. Procrastinate at your own risk.
  • Your embassy appointment is when you will be handing over your requirements. Make sure you give yourself enough time to secure things like bank certifications, confirmed hotel reservations, etc.
  • If you need to fly to Manila, make sure there are flights available on your appointment date.

Ready?

You can schedule an appointment here. Again, you will need your Unionbank receipt number and your payment date, so have those info on hand.


Prepare your requirements.

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Here are the documents you need to submit in support of your visa application:

  1. Completed and signed Schengen visa application form with photo. (Application Form | Consent Form | Photo Specifications)
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  2. One passport picture, 35 x 45 mm, white background — this is in addition to the photo attached to your application form.
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  3. Valid passport. Schengen countries require that your passport be valid a mere 3 months from the end of your intended stay. However, be aware that some countries (including those you might have a layover in) require 6 months’ validity. In addition, your passport must have at least two blank pages available; otherwise, you need to get a new one. (A passport with only one page left — oh, what a nice problem to have!)
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  4. International travel insurance with a minimum coverage of EUR 30,000. The Netherlands embassy doesn’t specify that your insurance should be issued from Schengen-approved companies; however, it’s best to cover your bases. Here’s a helpful list of Schengen-approved insurance companies from the French embassy. (I used Blue Cross, as it is extremely easy to apply for their insurance online. See the following articles for more info: Travel Insurance for European TripsSample Itineraries and Prices from Blue Cross.)
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  5. Detailed travel itinerary. This means where you’re planning to go on which day (and “why” might be something they’ll ask during your interview). Make your itinerary as detailed as possible; it’s one way you can reduce the risk of being suspected of planning to stay in the Netherlands illegally. I put in flight numbers and train schedules; whenever possible, I actually specified which station the train was departing from, the coach number, and the seat number. (I don’t know if that really helps but…I got a visa. With no fuss. So.)
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  6. Documents proving sufficient means for the entire visit — at least 34 euros per day of your trip. The VFS website just states “such as bank statement or copy of bank book” but, again, it’s best to cover all your bases. Get bank certificates and statements of account; prepare a copy of your latest income tax return too, just in case.
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  7. Copy of hotel reservations for the entire trip, including in any other Schengen country you will be visiting.
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  8. Copy of flight booking. (“The Embassy advises you not make any payment for…flight tickets before you are granted a visa.”)
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  9. Letter of employment or other proof of livelihood, such as your official business registration.
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    PLUS
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  10. 1 copy of all the documents above. For the passport, photocopy those pages with your photograph, personal data and previous visas.

Download the VFS checklist here.

Screenshot (161)

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Show up at the embassy.

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Before you ask, yes, you have to be there in person, even if you have a travel agency handling your application, because the embassy needs to get your fingerprints.

I was lucky enough to be interviewed at the Netherlands consulate in Cebu on the very last day that they were accepting visa applications. (The Cebu visa desk was closed on November 11, 2013.) It was actually less of an interview and more of making sure that all my documents were in order. The papers were examined thoroughly but there were no raised eyebrows or suspicious tones. The lady who interviewed me was nice enough; she even gave me a chance to tweak my itinerary (long story) and come back later that day. It was a pretty straightforward interview and, overall, a more pleasant experience than the one I had at the French embassy.

Wait for the decision.

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After your documents are accepted by the embassy staff, they will be sent on to the Regional Support Office in Kuala Lumpur, which will decide on the merits of your application. Processing time is usually 10 calendar days. You can track your application here.

visa

One week after I filed my visa application, I received a package from the Netherlands office in Kuala Lumpur. My fingers trembling, I tore open the plastic and anxiously examined my passport…and there it was, a Schengen visa issued by the Netherlands. At that time, Typhoon Haiyan had just struck the Philippines and I was up to my neck in relief operations; my birthday was also coming up in a few days. The visa felt like a birthday gift and a pat on the back from the universe at the same time. Small pleasures, I guess, but for someone who loved to travel, who had spent the last few months researching and organizing and preparing, who desperately needed a break…that visa could not have come at a better time.

Good luck with your visa application!

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Getting a Schengen Visa at the Netherlands Embassy: What You Need to Know
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Contents verified as of 08-April-2014.

 

 


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Getting a Schengen Visa at the French Embassy: What You Need to Know

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The French embassy in the Philippines has just recently delegated processing of Schengen visa applications to VFS Global. Continue reading this article — including the Comments section! — for my personal experience and tips on applying for a visa, then head to my new article How to Get A Schengen Visa Through the French Embassy (2016) to learn all about the NEW procedure for getting a Schengen visa through the French embassy.
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To secure a Schengen visa for a trip to France, here’s a summary of what you need to do:

  1. Make sure you’re applying for a Schengen visa at the right embassy.
  2. Set an appointment through the embassy’s designated Call Center.
  3. Prepare the required documents.
  4. Go to the embassy at the appointed time to personally lodge your application.
  5. Wait for the results.

Should you be applying at the French embassy?

A Schengen visa allows you to travel to France and/or any of the other countries in the Schengen Area. In other words, once you obtain a visa from ANY of the Schengen countries, you can travel to ALL of the Schengen countries. That said, you can’t just apply for a visa in any Schengen country. The rule is: your visa application should be lodged at the embassy/consulate of the country that constitutes the MAIN destination of your trip in terms of purpose or length of stay.

  1. Are you traveling only to France?
  2. Is the main purpose of your trip in France, even though you will be visiting other countries?
  3. Is France the country where you will be spending the most time?

If you answer yes to any of the questions above, then, yes, you should apply for a visa at the French embassy.

Please note that “purpose” in no. 2 usually refers to business or some other official engagement. If you spend 3 days in France and 4 days in Germany, you need to apply for a visa at the German embassy, no matter how much you protest that the main purpose of your trip is to visit the Eiffel tower.

If you are spending equal time in 2 countries — say, 3 days in France and 3 days in Germany — that is when other factors are taken into consideration, such as where your flight from the Philippines will actually land.


Set an appointment.

First of all, you should know that:

  • The French embassy is in Manila. If you’re from other parts of the Philippines, you’ll have to fly there. No exceptions.
  • Applications may only be submitted 3 months prior to departure at the earliest. If you’re one of those people (like me) who want to prepare things well ahead of time, sorry, we will just have to deal with our anxieties till 3 months prior.
  • On the flip side of the coin: waiting times for appointments can sometimes take a month or more. Moreover, the embassy warns that while visa processing usually takes just 5-7 days from the date of interview, it’s possible it will take up to 8 weeks — for instance, if they ask you to provide additional documents. Procrastinate, therefore, at your own risk.
  • Your embassy appointment is when you will be handing over your requirements. Make sure you give yourself enough time to secure things like bank certifications and marriage contracts.
  • Visa application interviews are held from Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Ready?

You can set an appointment by calling any of these numbers anytime from 8am to 6pm, Mondays thru Saturdays except public holidays.

  • For PLDT/Smart/Touchcard Subscribers: 1 (909) 101- 3333
  • For Globe/Innove/Touchmobile Subscribers: 1 (900) 101- 3333
  • For Bayantel Subscribers: 1 (903) 101- 3333

Screenshot (157)
Prepare your requirements.

Here are the documents you need to submit in support of your visa application:

  1. Signed Schengen visa application form with photo. (Get the form here. See the photo specs here.)
  2. Valid passport and photocopy of valid and former visas. Schengen countries require that your passport be valid a mere 3 months from the end of your intended stay. However, be aware that some countries (including those you might have a layover in) require 6 months’ validity.
  3. Cover letter explaining the purpose of your trip and proposed day-to-day itinerary. (See a sample here.)
  4. Round trip flight booking. (The embassy says not to purchase a ticket unless and until you’re given a visa, but as airline bargain hunters out there know, this sort of prudence is not always possible.)
  5. Proof of accommodations. You need to present confirmed reservations from the hotels you will be staying in. Most hotels in Booking.com will allow you to reserve without paying, and many even let you cancel up to a few days before your stay without charges. Paris hotels we’ve stayed in and recommend:
  6. Proof of employment. You need to submit:
    • A certificate of employment with monthly salary, and
    • A leave of absence form approved by your employer, OR
    • If you’re self employed, your official business registration for the current and previous years.
  7. Proof of income. You need to prove that you can actually afford your trip. This means you should submit a copy of your income tax return from the previous year (if you have one). In addition, most Schengen countries require that you have cash on hand equivalent to at least €34 per day of travel. (Of course, if you only have that much money in your bank account, that would raise some eyebrows, yeah?) At any rate, you should obtain the following documents from your bank:
    • Recent bank certification, AND
    • Statement of account of the same bank account from the last three months.
      If someone else is paying for your trip, it would be best to have him/her execute a notarized Affidavit of Support. See sample HERE.
  8. Proof of identity and marital status. This means a birth certificate and, if you’re married, a copy of your marriage contract.
  9. International travel insurance from Schengen-approved insurance companies with a minimum coverage of €30,000. See the following articles for more info: Travel Insurance for European TripsSample Itineraries and Prices from Blue Cross.
  10. Visa fee of €60, to be paid in cash, in Philippine pesos. The embassy will only accept the exact amount; they will not let you say “keep the change.” This means you’ll have to bring lots of change to make sure you can pay the exact amount as dictated by the day’s exchange rate.


Qatar Airways HQ 300x250

Special requirements:

  • If your purpose is to visit family in France, you’ll need to present proof of your relationship, such as birth certificates and/or marriage certificates, his/hers and yours.
  • If you’re staying with a French resident, you can forego #5 and instead submit an original “Attestation d’accueil” from the City Hall of the area where your host resides, PLUS a copy of your host’s national ID or residence permit.

You have to prepare TWO sets of documents: the originals in one set, photocopies in the other.

Tip from personal experience: don’t put your documents in a clear book. They won’t accept the clear book and you’ll have a hell of a time pulling all those papers out of the plastic sleeves while the embassy staff look on impatiently.

Show up at the embassy.

Before you ask, YES, you have to be there in person, even if you have a travel agency handling your application, because the embassy needs to get your fingerprints.

Please, please make sure your documents are complete — again, even if a travel agency prepared your paperwork. The staff at the French embassy are not known for their kindness and I have personally witnessed an elderly couple being grilled in a rather humiliating manner by one of the interviewers, all because they were not able to bring a bank certificate. Their agency had apparently overlooked the omission. Sometimes, you will be given additional time to submit lacking documents, but this may not always be the case. Some embassies take the position that if you did not care enough to make sure your paperwork was complete, that means you’re not serious enough about traveling to their country.

There is no actual prescribed dress code, but you need to look like you can afford the trip. Don’t try too hard, though: an ill-fitting suit that you’re obviously uncomfortable in won’t do you any favors.

As for the interview itself, when I was there in 2011, the process was: we first had to present our documents to one of the staff, who checked it for completeness. We were then interviewed more thoroughly by another member of the staff. Be prepared for questions from both. Make sure you know your itinerary and that, if necessary, you can explain why you’re going to this place or that. Be prepared for some snark if you’re from the medical professions or other industries prone to immigration, legal or otherwise. Unlike courts of law, embassies are not required to presume that you’re innocent until proven guilty.

At this stage, some visa applicants are already turned away, based on initial examination of their papers. If you’re lucky enough to escape unscathed, your documents will be accepted, your fingerprints taken, and you’re advised to return at a later date. This does not mean that they’ve already decided to give you a visa (as I presumed during my time). Rather, your application will be subjected to a more thorough study — you may even be contacted and asked to provide more information. When you come back at the appointed date, that’s when you’ll know the verdict.

Good luck!

 

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Getting a Schengen Visa at the French Embassy: What You Need to Know” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Contents verified as of 02-April-2014.

 


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