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.
To secure a Schengen visa for a trip to France, here’s a summary of what you need to do:
- Make sure you’re applying for a Schengen visa at the right embassy.
- Set an appointment through the embassy’s designated Call Center.
- Prepare the required documents.
- Go to the embassy at the appointed time to personally lodge your application.
- 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.
- Are you traveling only to France?
- Is the main purpose of your trip in France, even though you will be visiting other countries?
- 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.
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
Here are the documents you need to submit in support of your visa application:
- Signed Schengen visa application form with photo. (Get the form here. See the photo specs here.)
- 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.
- Cover letter explaining the purpose of your trip and proposed day-to-day itinerary. (See a sample here.)
- 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.)
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Proof of identity and marital status. This means a birth certificate and, if you’re married, a copy of your marriage contract.
- 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 Trips | Sample Itineraries and Prices from Blue Cross.
- 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.
- 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.