I think it’s every girl’s dream to see Europe even just for once in her lifetime. Many transgender Filipino women nowadays involve themselves into travelling which opens a lot of new perspectives, widens their horizon and simply gives them the feeling that they can conquer the world, the universe rather. Seeing Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and all those majestic European cities has always been on the wish list of a globetrotting trans woman.
But how is traveling to Europe like for a Filipino transgender woman who has a Philippine-issued passport? Let me share with you my experience in going thru the process of getting a Schengen visa and how I amazingly got it in 2 days! (Note: This is a visa application guide that will help you if your purpose of travel is tourism/visiting friends or family of no more than 90 days.)
Before we go through the whole process, let me answer first a few questions.
- What is a Schengen visa?
Schengen visa is a document granted by an embassy of a Schengen state that will allow you a stay of up to 90 days . This document allows you a borderless travel to 26 European countries (embassies refer to them as Schengen states).Here’s the complete list:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
- When can you apply for a Schengen visa?
You can lodge your visa application as early as 3 months before your intended date of travel.
- Which embassy do I submit my application to?
It’s crucial to know which embassy you can lodge your application. If you happen to apply in the wrong one, you’ll definitely get declined. You need to essentially consider the country where you will stay the longest.
Say for example,you will be visiting a friend in Germany for a week but you will also spend 3 days in France and 12 days in Netherlands. You have to get your visa processed thru the Embassy of Netherlands or its visa processing center (in this case, it’s VFS) In the event that you’ll be spending an equal amount of time in 2 or more different Schengen states, (for example: 5 days in France, 5 days in Switzerland, 5 days Germany and 5 days Austria) you have to get your visa processed thru the embassy of the country where you will be entering first. In the given example, if France is where you will be entering first, you need to apply thru the French Embassy.
Now that I have answered all of those, I’ll now share with you how this Schengen visa application went for me.
SCHENGEN VISA APPLICATION GUIDE
Right after my trip to South Korea, I planned to travel central Europe and explore its scenic places, wanted to see my boyfriend again who is Slovak whom I haven’t seen for a couple of months, make memories and just have fun together. I decided to lodge my application through the Slovak embassy. Sadly,I found out that they didn’t (and still don’t) have an embassy in the Philippines that can process visa applications. The second option was the Czech embassy. I felt relieved that they actually process visa applications in behalf of the Slovak consulate for people who intend to go to Slovakia.
I read their requirements and it was slightly similar to the embassies of the other Schengen states except that they require a waiver of rights to release financial information (that information can be found here.) My bank can’t secure such document because they don’t allow disclosing information to any institution or people other than myself.
Lost all hope but hey! The plan was 7 days Austria and 7 days Slovakia. By making a few changes on the plans, ensuring that Austria is going to be my first point of entry, I then decided to lodge my application thru the Embassy of Austria in Manila.
Among the visa applications I’ve had in the past, applying for a Schengen visa had the most paperwork involved. Some Filipinos resort to hiring a travel agency to help them and pay an astronomical amount of money just to get it done. But believe me, the whole process is easy. As long as you have all the documents needed (and of course, all of them must be authentic), you should be good to go.
BOOKING AN APPOINTMENT
You can book your appointment in 2 ways:
By scheduling it thru the VFS website. Philippine passport holders can now lodge their application thru VFS (Manila and Cebu).
By scheduling it thru the website of the Embassy of Austria.
- A completely filled out Schengen visa application form.
- Your personal appearance. Basically, you have to personally submit your application.
- Valid passport. Make sure you still have at least 2 blank pages.
- Old, expired passports (if you have any)
- 2 recent, passport-sized colored photo. The Austrian embassy has a certain guideline for this requirement which can be found here.
- All risk travel insurance that has a minimum coverage of 30,000 Euros. Here’s a list of Schengen accredited insurance companies.
- Proof of financial means which include bank certificates, bank books, bank statements and credit card statements.
- Proof of accommodation. I showed my hotel reservations booked thru booking.com
- Proof of family ties. This is necessary if you’re traveling with spouse/children. You need to present a valid birth certificate and/or marriage certificate
- Proof of occupation/will to return. If you’re employed, you can submit a copy of an employment contract and/or a copy of employment certificate. A copy of ITR will also be needed. If you run a business, a DTI registration of business is what you actually need. I also submitted a copy of my SSS contributions
- If a friend or a family member is going to finance your trip, it would be necessary to show an invitation or a letter of guarantee plus the bio page of the passport of the person who invited you. In my case, though my boyfriend and I have been in a relationship for a long time now, and after having several experiences of getting a visa, I find it a little quicker with less hassle if I just submit my application as a solo traveler. Technically, he didn’t invite me. I decided to go there to see him and explore central Europe with him. *wink*
- Day to day travel itinerary
- Airline ticket reservation (I got mine thru the travel agency I bought my travel insurance from. They gave it to me for free as long as I will buy the insurance from them. It usually costs between 350 pesos to 500 pesos here in Manila)
- 60 Euros for the application fee (nonrefundable)
SUBMISSION OF REQUIREMENTS
After completing all the necessary requirements, you just have to wait for the appointment day to come. The day before my appointment, I checked all the requirements gazillion times just to make sure they were complete. 8am of August 16, 2016 was my scheduled appointment. I arrived at the embassy 10 minutes early. Their address is:
Austrian Embassy Manila
8th floor, One Orion Building
11th Avenue corner 38th street
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
I had to go thru security checks and had to leave my electronics at the concierge. They handed me a baggage number and asked me to sign a book where visitors log in before going up.
Based on what I have observed, the embassy accommodates only 4 to 6 visa applications in a day. I was the first one on the list and I was so nervous. The embassy was not as huge as I imagined. Inside was a huge couch where applicants can wait. There were some magazines on the center table to entertain us (interestingly, a few of them were in German). There was an armed police guy making sure the place is secured.
I was going through my requirements again and few minutes later, the visa adjudicator called my name. With the features she had, I thought she’s from central Europe, maybe Austria. She’s very pretty with long brown hair. My tummy turned upside down, inside out, whatever the heck that feeling is when human beings are nervous. Still don’t understand why I feel this way every time I go thru this. I was a little shaky. I tried my best to appear normal so I smiled at her and said “guten morgen”.
That’s the only German thing I could say fluently. She smiled and said the same thing. She reviewed my requirements thoroughly and only asked one question. “Are you excited to see Austria?”. I tersely replied, “yes”. I thought my passport said it all about my travel history and that she didn’t need any more questions answered at that time. She again smiled said that the application was for 60 Euros. I couldn’t believe I forgot to hand her the payment along with the requirements which was little embarrassing.
After confirming that the documents were all okay, she handed me a receipt and told me that I’d get an email when to claim my passport. 2 days later, I got an email stating that my visa was approved and that I can come back to get my passport. When I got my passport, I saw the shiny Schengen visa stamp and it all came to me that I was going to see my boyfriend and travel central Europe together!
SOME TIPS I COULD GIVE
- Make sure to have a checklist. I encourage you because there’s a lot of paperwork.
- Complete the requirements. Incomplete requirements can slow the whole process or even cause you to get denied.
- Exact amount of payment is advised. Just bring bills and coins with you of every denomination to pay for the visa fee. They’re not gonna give you change.
- The Embassy of Austria replies to email messages so if you have questions, do not hesitate to ask.
- Most Filipinos think that you need millions to show the embassy so you’d get approved. My advice is to ensure 100,000 pesos for the first 7 days of travel and add 5,000 pesos for every day after the first 7. This, in my opinion, is a reasonable amount for the purpose of tourism/visiting friends or family.
- Never submit a fake document and always be honest with what you state on your application.
- Photocopy all documents just so you have personal copies. Some of the original copies (like the airline reservation) have to be submitted and it’ll be convenient to have copies on your file.
- I saw some applicants being asked a lot of questions. Consistency is the key. Make sure your answers coincide with what you have stated on your application.
- Lastly, the statements written above are based on my experience. Visa applications are always case to case basis and no one could actually tell (even that travel agency you paid thousands to help you) your chances of getting approved or denied. The only thing I know is, these embassies, the consuls in particular, process thousands of visa applications in a year. Having that said, never give them the slightest doubt to approve your application. A minor inconsistency can cause visa denial.
Having a dream is a good start and you gotta turn that dream into a journey. The journey doesn’t start until you make a move. And when you make a move is when you realize that you’re going somewhere. Don’t let visa applications hinder you to see the beauty of Europe, to see the beauty of the world!