Friday, March 17, 2017

More on Visa Hassles

So, the last time I wrote about the challenges in figuring out the forms and documents that are required to apply for a Schegen visa. The latest news is I applied for the visa and appeared at the Swiss embassy in Washington DC last week, and today I received my visa. Yayyyyyyy!!! Hopefully, there will be no more immigration hassles before I reach Germany (my first destination in Europe).

The visa interview went rather smoothly. My appointment was at 9:15 am on March 9. I reached the embassy at around half past eight along with Rabih, who is also going to Europe with the Global Perspectives Program (GPP) group. We waited for half an hour before we got inside the embassy. When it was time, they called my name and I went in for the interview. The interview went smoothly in that the officer asked me about my purpose for going to Switzerland (and Europe in general) and how I will fund the trip. They also asked for proofs of my enrollment at Virginia Tech, details about my stay in Europe, and my medical insurance. A complete list of the documents required to obtain a Schengen visa can be found here.

One of the requirements for obtaining tourist visa to visit any Schegen area is that the visitor needs to provide proof of stay in the Schengen area, either in the form of hotel reservations or letter from family or friend that specifies that the visitor will stay with them. I had already gotten the required letter from my friend in Germany but the officer wanted my friend to email the letter directly to them. So, my visa got approved on the condition that the embassy receives a letter from my friend directly.

The next morning, I got an email from the embassy that said my medical insurance for the trip was not adequate as it did not cover the entire duration of the trip, and I needed to purchase another insurance that covers the entire duration of the trip. The university had only purchased insurance for the duration of the GPP program. And the visa officer had earlier told me that they do not accept Aetna, the insurance that I currently have. After spending many hours in figuring out the documents that were required to apply for the visa and traveling to DC, I now had to spend more time in figuring out how to extend my insurance duration. It did take an hour and $60 to get that.

So, each time I apply for visa, the entire process of obtaining the documents and making sure I have all the forms filled up correctly seems more difficult than actually planning the trip abroad. At these times, I really feel jealous of people who can do visa-free travel to most countries. More about that in a later blog.

P.S. 1) I had done a blunder in filling out the visa application form. In the place of birth field, I had filled in Blacksburg and in the country of birth filed, I had written USA. The visa officer corrected that for me.
2) The Swiss embassy had minimal level of security I could have imagined for an embassy. There were no security guards at the entrance.
3) There were no restrooms (for visitors I guess) in the embassy.
4) The visa officer did not take the visa fee from me. She told me that as my purpose of visit is study, I do not need to pay the fee. This is interesting because someone else who is going on the same trip was asked to pay a visa fee of 60 euros.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trip to Europe and Visa Hassle

The new year brought good news for me in that I was accepted as one of the 15 participants to the Global Perspectives Program (GPP) offered by the Graduate School at Virginia Tech. The trip entails visiting universities in Switzerland, France, and Italy to learn about higher education in those countries. And to add to that joy, the Graduate School pays for most of the trip to minimize the financial burden on students. I assume this learning experience would be one of its kind where one is not only gaining knowledge along with traveling abroad but also having all this experience with minimal cost out of one's pocket. Everything great. But is it?

The first challenge I have been facing is in obtaining the Visa for my travel. Given I am an Indian passport holder, I require a Schengen Visa to go to either Switzerland, France, or Italy. And there are multiple hassles in obtaining any Visa (I have applied and obtained Visa for the USA and Canada in the past).

So my hassles in trying to obtain a Schengen Visa started with finding out the right website to figure out what I need to do in order to apply for the Visa. And it was not easy - there were numerous websites that gave information about which documents I need or how I can apply for the Visa but none of them were official. So, while I had the information, I did not know how much I could believe that information. After talking to many people, I finally found out the website of the Swiss embassy that gave me more legitimate information about what I need to do to get a Schengen Visa.

But my pain did not get over here. Once I figured out which documents I need to apply for a Visa, the list seemed unfair and almost like a nightmare. I am required to provide them with a medical insurance during the period of my stay, which makes sense. But they also require me to get my travel tickets and hotel bookings for my entire stay. The Graduate School has been helpful in getting the tickets and accommodation confirmation well ahead of time, but what do I do for the duration when I travel on my own in Europe? How do I plan a trip so much ahead of time and also get my hotel reservations done? And never to mention that I will have to travel to DC to appear for an in-person interview.

I hope the Visa interview goes smoothly but I sure will write another post about it if it does not. And definitely, I will write more posts about Visa policies across the wold and how it is skewed in favor of "richer" countries.

Till then, Tada!!