How to travel to Europe on a Schengen Visa

Note: this article was originally published on Zonotho, a financial education start-up, in November 2019. After my experiences travelling to Italy and the Netherlands, I was asked about the stringent process of getting a Schengen Visa, so I wrote this.

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If you’re travelling to Europe and you don’t have a European passport, you’ll need a Schengen Visa to enter. The process can be complicated, so here’s what you need to know.

What is a Schengen Visa?

The Schengen Area is a group of countries in Europe that share a common visa. To enter any of these countries as a foreigner, you’ll need a Schengen Visa. Once you enter the Schengen Area, you can move between these countries freely. So you could apply for a Visa to Italy, and use the same Visa to go to Spain or France.

There are 26 countries in the Schengen Area (the blue and purple countries below). These are all the European Union countries except for Ireland, the UK, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus (the green countries).

Picture taken from the Schengen Website

How to apply for a Schengen Visa

There are three basic steps you need to follow:

  1. Book an appointment with the appropriate Visa Centre
  2. Submit your application with all documentation
  3. Collect your passport

Let’s look at each of these steps in more detail.

1. Book an appointment with the appropriate Visa Centre

Every Schengen country has its own visa centre. You must book an appointment at least two weeks before your travel date. As there can be a waiting time before an appointment becomes available, it is recommended to begin this process at least a month before you plan to travel.

There are Visa Centres all over South Africa, mostly in Cape Town and Pretoria. You can check the table below to see which Visa Centre you need to make an appointment with, depending on the country you are travelling to. Most allow you to book an appointment on their website.

CountryVisa Centre
France, Italy, MaltaCapago
Austria, Czech, Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, LiechtensteinVFS Global
Belgium & LuxembourgTLS Connect
Germany & SloveniaIntergate Visalink
GreeceGlobal Visa Center World
SpainBLS International
Hungary & LatviaEmbassy of Hungary
LithuaniaEmbassy of Lithuania
PolandEmbassy of Poland
SlovakiaEmbassy of Slovakia

You can find a full list of South African addresses, contact numbers, and e-mail addresses on the Schengen Visa website here. For other countries, see here.

2. Submit your application with all documentation

When your appointment comes, you will need to submit the required documents and pay the application fee. This means your flights and accommodation need to be booked before your appointment date.

You will need different documents depending on whether you are travelling for business or as a tourist. It is best to read the website of the Visa Centre to see exactly what is required.

Here I’ll use Italy as an example. From my own experience, the documents required by other Schengen countries are almost the same.

The documents you’ll typically need are:

  • Passport (they will keep your passport until the Visa is approved)
  • Visa Application form
  • Colour ID Photos
  • Accommodation Booking Confirmation
  • Airline Tickets
  • Travel Insurance (Your Medical Aid may provide this already. Call them)
  • Three Months Bank Statements with required funds (For Italy, you need to have at least 30 Euros per day you will be travelling)
  • Proof of South African Address
  • Employment Documents (For tourists, a letter from your company confirming your employment. For business, more documents are required)
  • Proof of Payment of Application Fee

It’s a lot of paperwork!

3. Collect your Passport

If all goes well, you should receive a notification within two weeks that your visa has been approved.

Check that all the details on your visa are correct. If you are issued a multiple entry visa, you can travel to and from the Schengen Area as many times as you wish until your visa expires. You just need to make sure not to stay longer than the allowed number of days.

Happy travels!

You can find more detailed information on the Schengen Visa website