Though Schengen sets uniform requirements for all prospective tourists, each member country has the sole discretion whether to grant or reject your visa application. Some embassies are tourist friendly while others will give you really hard time. If you badly want to see Europe, all you need to do is be SMART.
Know which embassies to avoid
Although Italy granted me a visa, it is the most notorious among the Schengen member countries. Prior to my application, I was warned by two friends to avoid the Italian embassy. One shared that despite invitation from Erasmus stating that her travel is all-expense-paid, she was asked to produce financial documents, and even requested to show the bank account of her parents. Italy is not the most generous either. It will only grant you a pass according the number of days you plan to travel within Europe, with three to four days allowance. It assumes your itinerary is fixed and gives you very little room for spontaneous adventure. Unlike other countries in which visa processing takes 3-5 days, Italy’s processing time stretches to 15 days and sometimes to a month. Worst you are required to report back to the embassy once you returned home. France and Spain are the other countries with high rates of visa rejection.
Do not ask an invitation letter from European friends or partners
Show the embassy that you are an independent traveler. This is especially true for female travelers who could be stereotyped as mail or internet order brides. At the same time, embassies are wary of human trafficking. Getting an invitation from your European friend or boyfriend means allowing yourself to be subjected to intrusive questioning from embassy officials. Visa application process is already burdensome; do not further stress yourself trying to prove that your relationship with their nationals was created in good faith. Further, it is my personal advocacy to prove that women can travel on their own.
Show the embassy that you are a (world) traveler
I liken visa application to applying for my dream job. What do you do to get your dream job? You prepare well and present yourself as the best person for the job. Same principle applies in visa application. To get a tourist visa, you need to present yourself as a traveler. Write a quirky cover letter to the ambassador showing your personality and the kind of traveler you are. Write it in such as a way they will bad rejecting you. For example, in my letter to the Italian embassy I stated that one of my life goals is to visit all World Heritages Sites both cultural and natural, and cited that fact that Italy is the second country with the most number of world heritage sites. I mentioned as well other countries I previously visited with places declared as world heritage sites.
A property under your name is more important than a bank account
Let us face the truth that visa application process is discriminatory and privileges the already privileged individuals and groups of people. Many think that showing a fat bank account will guarantee them a visa. However, embassy is more concern at applicants’ likelihood of returning in their home country. When I applied for my Schengen visa I declared myself as MA student receiving monthly allowance from my parents and at times occasional income from freelance research. My three bank accounts showed a total of Php 87K, not even enough to cover the duration of my stay. Yet, I was granted a visa. I strongly believe it was due to the fact that I showed them a property under my name.
For us Filipinos, visa application is always a daunting task but there is always a way to get around the requirements. Think beyond the paper works and I am sure you will get your visa. I just did.