I love traveling to Europe. I’ve been lucky enough to make the trip a number of times, and they all leave lasting memories for me to fondly remember. But what I do hate is the preparation. After the initial excitement fades, the weeks leading to the actual departure is riddled with anxiety and second thoughts about pushing through. Can I afford it? What am I going to do if something goes wrong? Isn’t there something more important for me to spend my money on first? Will I be able to eat anything there? All these questions circulate in my head.
The anxiety comes to a head when I start the Schengen Visa Application process. In my experience, it was by far, the most tedious process to go through as far as visa applications went. My first two times were in the Netherlands embassy which subjected me and my documents through a long and strict process. I’m not complaining, though. I distinctly remember sharing the waiting area with a lot of people having a more difficult time. The third time was in the Belgian embassy, which was even stricter and dealing with them was a less pleasant experience. By the time I prepared for my fourth trip, this time to Hungary and Austria, VFS Global had taken over just about all the embassies of the countries in the Schengen area, at least as far as dealing directly with applicants are concerned. With the whole thing now having a middleman, the overall cost of applying for a Schengen visa increased. But in exchange, you get a friendlier vibe where you get the feeling that you’re being assisted by people to ensure approval rather than being interrogated with the intention of being caught with something that would be grounds for the rejection of your application. It also sped up the process with the booking of appointments being so much less of a pain, with queues being significantly shorter, without processing time having any apparent delay due to having a middleman.
I recently went through the process for a fifth time. I was now heading to Estonia, who’s represented by the Norweigian embassy in the Philippines. It meant I’d be heading back to VFS Global in Manila, but before that, I encountered Norway’s online application form. It was a lot more convenient than what I was used to in the past. Printing the form wasn't even necessary. I did leave it hanging longer than I wanted, though, due to circumstances affecting my schedule and finances.
Scheduling my appointment to submit the necessary documents was also easy. It's probably even possible to set it the day after on many cases, which is just as well. I tend to err towards the side of caution, making sure I already have all the documents I need in hand before setting that appointment. In that regard, there was nothing outside the usual for Schengen visa applications -- invitation, certificate of employment, permission from your employer, bank statement, itinerary... those sorts of things. I did note that I didn't need to submit a copy of my income tax return this time (I've needed to in two out of the four previous applications).
So, I set my appointment on Wednesday, August 22. I could have booked it the following day, but opted for August 24, Friday, 8:45AM instead. I arrived at the building early (6:45AM) to avoid traffic. So I tried to take a short nap in the car. By 7:45AM, I went to the entrance to check if they'd let me in early. They did. Once again, I noted how friendlier VFS Global staff are, compared to those in the actual embassies. Considering how much they charge for processing visas (on top of the 60 Euros charged upon submission of the online form, I paid nearly 2,000 Pesos for the processing and courier fee), I suppose it's something I should expect. I also noted that people are now allowed to use their mobile devices more freely. Picture taking is probably the only thing that's explicitly prohibited now. There's no need to check bags in a locker anymore. If I knew that prior, I'd probably have been able to bring in a book to read. I was hoping that I'd be processed early. But it looked like everyone who booked appointments before me were there, as well. But to VFS Global's credit, I was called right on the clock at 8:45AM. And in 15 minutes, all my documents were inspected and accepted. By 9:20AM, I was done with my biometrics and was on my way to the parking area.
That was pretty fast. But what I found even more surprising was that by Monday, September 27, I had already received a text message that my visa has been approved. And by the following day, my passport had been delivered. I got it back within three business days. This was the fastest visa application I've ever gone through.
This was not the end of my headaches as I had other problems to deal with regarding my travel plan, but this part was surprisingly quick and hassle-free. It certainly helped in lowering my anxiety. I have a few other visa applications looming already. But this experience has given me confidence that they won't be much of a problem when the time comes.