As a person who has caught the travel bug, ideally he or she can travel easily, once you buy a ticket, then off you go. But that’s not the case with me, I always have to prepare long before the departure date. That is not because of the logistics, transport or accommodation preparations, but mainly because of the paper work other than the ticket and hotel booking. That is the visa issue, especially if I want to go to Europe, UK or other Western Countries.
Having a British husband is no exception, as my passport is still an Indonesian Passport. I have to do all the leg work in order to go to Europe and apply for a Schengen Visa.
As we live in the Middle East, going for a short holiday to Europe is supposed to be easy, a few short hours journey as well as plenty of airlines to choose from that could take us there relatively cheaply. However, unlike visas for the UK that one could apply for a certain period, thus what I did was apply for a visa for the UK for several years so that I can come and go easily without applying for another visa. Schengen visas are different. Yes, once I get the visa, I can travel freely to 27 countries without any border check. But the downside is that this visa is only valid for 3 months, and you need to leave the Schengen area prior to the expiry date on the visa. Thus each time you apply for another visa (that is if you intend to visit Schengen countries again after you’ve finish your 3 months period in 6 month time) you need to pay another € 60.00. That is why I don’t visit Europe very often, as processing takes time (normally 2 weeks of processing time).
Well, at least that was my understanding of the Schengen visa system and according to my research and as per several blogs I read. There are some loopholes of course, which are explained by Nomadic Matt on how to stay in Schengen Areas for more than 3 months.
To cut the story short this is my experience when I needed a Schengen Visa to go to Hungary last October:
As I approached the visa booth to submit my paper work, the man behind the thick glass window who looked very rough and unfriendly barked at me:
“Do you have the money?” – What money? I assume he was talking about the visa fee…?
“You mean the visa fee?” I replied and trying to smile, even though I was not sure whether he would appreciate my friendliness. Yet it was he who should be the one who’s friendly to me, not the other way around. “How much is it in Riyals…?” I asked him again, as I applied for the visa in Qatar, I assumed the money they were dealing with should be the local currency (or at least that was my experience when I applied for the same visa through the French Embassy some 5 years ago). And I pulled out a QR. 500.00 note from my wallet.
“No, show me Euro! We accept only Euro!” he barked again. I was speechless, as I was not prepared for Euros. Besides, my logic said that in Hungary they don’t operate with Euro money anyway. Why do they need Euros from their future tourist from Qatar????
OK, that means that my visit to the Hungarian Consular was in vain as I needed to go to the money changer and comeback to the Consular Office the next day, as their opening hours were almost over today.
Well I don’t want to go home yet without doing anything, at least he should have accepted my paper work or at least check it in case I missed something, so the next time I come back with the money, I’ll also able to bring the missing paper. Or maybe I could pay the Euros when I collect my passport.
“What about if you check my paper work to see if it’s complete?” I asked him again, wishing that my trip that day was not for nothing.
“No, we will not accept anything before you pay.” He said hardheartedly. And with that I have no choice except comeback the next day with the money….
I returned the next day to the consular, this time, it’s a different person who received me at the counter, it was a very friendly and nice looking woman. She accepted the visa fee, but according to my experience the previous day, the money was the key to the process, so they will now look at my application. As usual I handed her all the requirements, including the ‘table of contents’ of what is inside:
- Completed Visa application form
- My original passport,
- Passport photo,
- Copy of my local ID
- Recommendation from the company I work with, saying that I will resume my work in Doha after the visit to Hungary
- Return Ticket
- Confirmation of my Accommodation
- Bank statement for the last 6 month
- Travel insurance
- Copies of all my previous passport
- Copies of all my obtained Schengen, UK, and US visas (both the expired and valid ones)
- My wedding certificate that shows that I am married to a Brit, including copy of his passport.
Whoaa… I just realized that it was a dozen things to compile...
She checked it out one by one diligently, and pointed out if I missed a column to fill in as well as all the attachment listed above. and then she excused herself, and disapeared to the room behind with my documents. Anxiously I waited in the waiting room and wondered, what else did I miss out from the list.
Less than 3 minutes later she came back with a big smile, “ Good news… “she said.
“You don’t have to pay for your visa, it’s free as you are married to a British passport holder” and she gave me back my € 60.- that delayed me from handing over the documents yesterday. “This is because you also enclosed a copy of your wedding certificate” she said.
I laughed and thanked her, but I cannot help thinking that I wasted my time yesterday, visiting the consular, arguing about checking the paperwork and rushing to the money changer, rushing back to the consular office and realising that I was already too late.
Anyway, I cannot complain more as less than 2 weeks later (less than the predicted processing time), the consular called me and told me that my passport was ready for collection. Better still, when I looked at the visa, it didn’t give me the 90 days touring Schengen area, but 1 year visa…. Hmmm, ‘friends’ with benefit eh?
The thing is aside from that 4 days City Break to Budapest, I have no plans to visit Europe in the coming year, there are so many other interesting and exotic places that is too interesting to miss out.