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Beat the Schengen Odds: Your Guide to Visa Success for South African Travellers

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Let’s be honest – no one handles rejection well, especially not when it’s coming from your consular office. According to the recent Africa Wealth Report by Henley & Partners, titled ‘Predetermined Bias: Comparing the Visa Rejection Rate of Africans versus the Rest of the World’, the rejection rate for African applicants seeking Schengen visas went up 12% in the last eight years, reaching a shocking 30%. This surpassed the global average by 12.5%.

Like any relationship, though, you can avoid getting rejected if you put in the hard work. In this guide, we break down how you can ensure your Schengen visa application is successful from the start.

It’s not you, it’s them

Closure is important. So is understanding the reason applications are being denied so you don’t end up with the same big red letters. While the report indicated a strong correlation between rejection rates and the gross national income per capita of countries, as well as their ranking on the Henley Passport Index, several reasons contribute to a denied visa application. This can include incomplete documentation, insufficient financial proof, lack of comprehensive travel insurance, travel itinerary issues or previous visa violations.

It can also help to identify areas in Schengen with high visa denial rates to avoid:

  • France, Italy and Spain – the high demand and volumes of applications that come with being a popular tourist destination lead to more rigorous security.
  • Germany – strict rules and thorough documentation requirements can be challenging for applicants who aren’t well-prepared or have complexities in their application.
  • Switzerland and the Netherlands – meticulous examination of the purpose and financial means behind a visit can hinder visa applications.

Working with travel experts can help you avoid these pitfalls. Their expertise ensures that all your documents are in order, complete, and properly attested, reducing the risk of errors that could lead to rejection.

Gather all the information

You wouldn’t swipe on a profile without reading their bio first, so don’t submit an application without making sure you have all the information.

There are three different types of Schengen visas travellers can apply for:

  1. Short-stay visa – ideal for tourism, business trips, or family visits, this visa allows you to stay in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within a 180-day period.
  2. Airport transit visa – necessary for some nationalities when transiting through airports.
  3. Limited territorial validity visa – specific to certain circumstances and limited to certain countries.

Each Schengen country may also have slightly different requirements.

“It is important to familiarise yourself with these before you start the application process, because even a single missing or incorrect document could render the application incomplete,” says Antionette Turner, General Manager at Flight Centre South Africa.

Applying at the wrong embassy could also lead to rejection. If you are only travelling to one Schengen country, you need to apply at the embassy or consulate for that country. If you are travelling to more than one Schengen country, you need to apply at the embassy or consulate of the country you will spend most of your time in. If you will be spending an equal amount of time in each Schengen country, you need to apply at the embassy or consulate of the first country you will be visiting.

Clearly state your plans and intentions

When filling in your visa application, make sure the documents you submit are clear and complete. “Every document serves as evidence supporting your stay in the Schengen area, incomplete or unclear documents can lead to doubts about the legitimacy of your travel plans and financial status,” Turner explains. “While it may seem small, there have been cases where a surname in the place of a first name has led to a rejection.”

Make sure you provide the following documentation:

  • Passport – must be valid for at least three months beyond your planned departure from the Schengen area.
  • Purpose – must give a clearly defined reason for visit (tourism, business, visiting family or friends, etc).
  • Proof of accommodation – can be hotel bookings, invitation letter from a host or other forms of proof.
  • Plan of your trip – a detailed travel itinerary including entry and exit dates

“Some countries also require that applicants submit their bank statements, duly attested, as it reflects whether they have the financial means and credit hygiene to pursue the trip,” Turner adds. Not having these statements attested is a common error.

Schengen countries require comprehensive travel insurance that covers at least €30,000 of any expenses that might arise in connection with repatriation for medical reasons, urgent medical attention, and/or emergency hospital treatment. The insurance should be valid throughout the Schengen Area and for the entire duration of the stay.

Make sure your policy is accepted by all the Schengen countries you are visiting and that your policy terms meet their requirements.

Sponsor details, where required, also help consular officers understand the applicant’s support system in the country of travel, so they must be correct.

Timing is everything

Every country has a different turnaround time for processing a visa application. This process can also vary depending on peak travel seasons. Most countries accept applications up to 90 days prior to the date of travel. Applying for a visa well in advance allows enough time to deal with delays.

A Schengen visa can be issued for short stays or longer, depending on the purpose of your trip. However, travellers should heed the 90/180 rule, which says you can stay for up to 90 days within any 180-day period. This allows for flexibility in travel but requires careful planning to avoid overstaying – which could result in visa violations and can prevent you from going on future trips.

It’s never too late to try again

Unlike a breakup, you can appeal a denied visa application by either reapplying for your visa or writing a letter appealing the decision made on your first application. A well-prepared and sincere appeal can significantly improve your chances of overturning a rejection.

Write a concise and persuasive appeal letter addressing each refusal reason with evidence. This appeal needs to adhere to the embassy’s appeal submission instructions. Maintain honesty throughout the process, especially when you are addressing previous violations.

Applying for a visa takes time and can seem like a treacherous task to tackle, but with a travel expert at your side, your Schengen visa pursuit can be greatly simplified.

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