Getting a Schengen visa to travel to Europe, it can be a long, hard, and frustrating process. Fortunately however, there are a few hacks that you can use to get one relatively easily and quickly.
Just scan your passport, enter your travel details and let Atlys do the work for you. The more times use it, the better it becomes since all your information is saved and reused.
Here's the trick most people miss. Germany is one of the few select Schengen countries that lets you mail-in applications if you've been to the Schengen-area in the last 5 years. This can save you a day's worth of trouble. It's even more helpful when you don't live in a city with German consulate and have to travel to one to attend the visa interview.
Even if your destination in Europe is not Germany, I still recommend going this route because it's so much easier getting everything done without going for a visa interview.
That said, mailing in your visa application doesn't come without its own troubles. In addition to all the paperwork, you need to get your application notarized - Germany wants to know that its really you thats applying. If you haven't done this before, its a painful and expensive exercise - find a notary near you, go to one, wait in line, pay them $40-$50 and get a stamp. If you live near a FedEx or a UPS store, you can save yourself a lot of time here since most of them have a public notary but make sure to check before. Or you can use Atlys to talk to one over video and get your application notarized instantly.
While Hack #2 is convenient, it still takes around 2 weeks to get your passport back. For the last-minute travelers, this can be too late. In such situations, I recommend applying for a Schengen visa at a smaller country. My preference is Luxembourg - you simply have to email them with your dates and they usually will make a concerted effort to get your passport back in time. Of course, you have to remember to tweak your 'draft' itineraries to show majority of your trip in that country - but thats okay. Once you get your Schengen visa, you are free to travel to any of the Schengen countries.
I say this is a hack because you can save a lot of time and money by not dealing with VFS. They are known for their terrible customer experience - often charging exorbitantly on top of the visa fees (such as charging $35 for SMS updates), not having enough appointment slots, and delaying sending your applications thru to the embassies for processing.
It's pretty easy to avoid them - just pick from countries they don't support like Germany, Spain, or Italy.
It's actually easier to work with the embassy staff directly than with VFS customer support.
If your employer has an office in the Schengen area, apply for a work visa. It's the same as the tourist visa but it can significantly increase your odds of getting a 1-year Schengen visa. All you have to do is have 'needs to travel occasionally for business-related meetings...'
in your invitation letter. It is little bit more work than applying for a travel visa but its worth it if you can get a longer-term Schengen visa.
If you are applying for a visa for the first time, there's a slight chance that your visa may be rejected. There are many reasons why but one of them is because the consulate can't be sure that you will return after you leave.
To overcome this hurdle, you can write a support letter to the consulate. The letter needs to be from a reputable and trustworthy source like your place of employment, your bank, your landlord, or another trusted source.
This is not a guarantee but it can definitely help you in your quest for a Schengen visa.
If you are applying for a visa, make sure you have the following:-
more than 2 blank pages
more than 6 months until your passport expires
more than 1 visa page with entry stamp
more than 1 visa page with exit stamp
passport is in good condition and not damaged passport.
If you do have any of these, you might want to consider applying for a new passport. I've seen time & again visas being rejected because of passport issues. If you use Atlys, it'll check all these for you.
If you are planning on going on a long journey through Europe, applying for a multiple entry visa can be a good idea. As the name suggests, a multiple entry visa lets you enter and exit the Schengen zone up to a certain number of times. This is a good option for those that want to travel around Europe without having to apply for a new visa each time.
Now, most countries might not give you a multiple entry visa but there's no downside applying for this. I'd recommend Germany as the best bet to get a longer-term, multiple entry Schengen visa.
The earlier you apply for a visa, the better. In the past, it was difficult to get a Schengen visa in a short period of time. But things have changed - you can now mail-in your visa application as long as you have the documents ready.
I've seen countless visas being rejected because applicants waited until the last minute to apply and missed an important document in hurry. A good rule of thumb is 3-4 weeks before.
Visa appointments usually run late, and they also tend to be scheduled during lunch time. For this reason, it's often best to get the earliest appointment you can.
The best time to go is in the morning, before everyone starts to move around town.
Some countries such as Portugal do not accept B&W copies of your identity documents. As strange as this sounds, this is true and causes a lot of hassle. It's best to take color copies.