What is a Schengen visa and how to get one

If you're not a citizen of a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) and want to travel to Europe and other countries in the Schengen area, you will most likely require a Schengen visa before you travel.

The Schengen Visa Scheme is a scheme that allows people wanting to visit certain countries within the European Union to travel between these countries using only one visa.  A Schengen visa covers most European countries, except for the United Kingdom. 

Countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Ireland will soon to be part of the agreement. There are also countries outisde of the EU such as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein who belong to the Schengen area and allow free movement.

Together the following countries make up the Schengen space:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

If you are a student and want to travel to countries outside of the Schengen space, you should contact that country's embassy in your UK for information about immigration procedures there. For a list of foreign embassies in the UK go to www.fco.gov.uk and enter 'London Diplomatic List' in the search box, and click on 'London Diplomatic List' when it appears in the list.

What type of Schengen visa will I need?

There are three types of Schengen visa:

  1. A short stay or travel visa which allows you to visit a country for up to 3 months in a 6 month period. This is the visa that you'll most likely need to travel within the Schengen area as a tourist or to attend a conference.
  2. The airport transit visa allows you to pass through an airport in the Schengen space, but you cannot leave the airport unless connecting onto another flight to your next destination.
  3. A transit visa enables you to travel through a territory of any Schengen country on the way to your destination. They can only be issued for a maximum of 5 days.
  4. You can apply for a 'multiple entry visa' if you're thinking about travelling more than once to a Schengen country during a three-month period. However, you may have to prove your travel arrangements and bookings with your application. Again, it's best to check with the relevant embassy to find out more.

If you are intending to study in the country you are visiting, we recommend that you ask the appropriate embassy what type of visa you require before entering the country. What you can do using a Schengen visa is decided by the member country you are visiting.

Where do I apply for a Schengen visa?

If you plan on only visiting one country in the Schengen space, you can apply to the embassy of that country for a Schengen visa.

If you're going to visit several of the 26 countries, you should apply to the embassy of whichever country is going to be your main destination. That is, the country where you'll spend the most amount of time during your trip.

If you're visiting several countries in the Schengen area without having a main destination, then you can apply to the embassy of the first Schengen country you will enter/visit.

How do I apply for a Schengen visa?

The Schengen visa fee and documentation you need to provide are different depending on which type of visa you need and the country you're applying to,

The best thing to do is check with the appropriate embassy you'll be applying to, either by looking on their website or calling them up, about what you need to submit to apply for a Schengen visa.

How long does a Schengen visa application take?

Applications for a Schengen visa should be made as quick as you can to allow for time in case there are any unexpected delays in processing the visa. Some countries ask that you apply in person and then make another trip to collect your passport once the visa has been issued. You should think ahead about how many trips you're willing to make.

What documents do I need to submit for a Schengen visa?

  1. A completed application form. Applications for a Schengen visa will not be accepted without the correct application form and each country has its own version — even though the questions are the same! The cost of the visa is also different between Schengen countries.
  2. Your original passport or official travel documents.
  3. Recent photographs. The number of photographs you'll need to send is different for each Schengen country.
  4. Proof of purpose of the visit. You may have to show some type of invitation letter from your friends or event organisers as evidence of why you're travelling. You may also have to show bookings of hotel reservations and any tours you plan to go on.
  5. You should check that your student immigration permission will allow you to return to the country where you're studying after your trip. Many Schengen countries insist that you have at least six months of immigration permission remaining upon your return.
  6. Proof of funds to support your complete trip.  You'll have to show that you can fund yourself during your trip. You can evidence this by way of bank statements and credit card statements. Borrowing limits are also taken into account so if it's on your statements that would be ideal, however cash is not always accepted as proof. Also not all countries say how much money you should have, but as an example The Netherlands (Holland) suggest you'll need at least £30 per day.
  7. The visa fee. Always check the current cost of a Schengen visa, and what types of payment they accept, with the embassy that you're applying to before sending your application. You should be able to pay in Euros or British Pound Sterling (GBP). You would most likely have to pay this by cash or postal order as most embassies don't accept cheques or card payments. They won't refund your fee even if your Schengen visa application is refused.
  8. Evidence of your student status. You'll have to show evidence (a letter on official paper should be enough) from your institution that you are a student.
  9. Proof of travel insurance. Many Schengen countries want you to have travel/medical insurance in place that will cover your entire trip.