5 expert tips to help you successfully apply for a Schengen visa

A passport is the your key to travelling the world. Picture: Supplied

A passport is the your key to travelling the world. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 3, 2024


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 by 12% in the last eight years, reaching a shocking 30%.

This surpassed the global average by 12.5%.

Flight Centre South Africa noted that like any relationship, though, you can avoid getting rejected if you put in the hard work.

The travel management company has put together a useful guide on how South African travellers can ensure their Schengen visa application is successful from the start.

Understand the reasons behind application denials

According to Flight Centre GM Antoinette Turner, understanding the reason for applications being denied is important so you don’t end up with the same big red letter.

She said that 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,” said Turner.

She added that familiarising yourself with areas in Schengen with high visa denial rates to avoid, can help. For instance, France, Italy and Spain have high demand and volumes of applications that come with being a popular tourist destination leading to more rigorous security.

While Germany has strict rules and thorough documentation requirements, which can be challenging for applicants who aren’t well-prepared or have complexities in their application.

“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,” said Turner.

Gather all the information

The travel expert explained that just as you wouldn’t swipe on a profile without reading their bio first, don’t submit an application without making sure you have all the information.

She noted that there were three different types of Schengen visas travellers can apply for, including a short-stay visa ideal for tourism, business trips or family visits, which allows you to stay in the Schengen area for up to 90 days within a 180-day period, an airport transit visa necessary for some nationalities when transiting through airports, and a limited territorial validity visa specific to certain circumstances and limited to certain countries.

Turner said that each Schengen country may also have slightly different requirements so 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.

Clearly state your plans and intentions

When filling in your visa application, Turner advised that you 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,” said Turner.

She also said that while it may seem small, there have been cases where a surname in the place of a first name has led to a rejection.

The travel expert also advised travellers to make sure they provided their passport valid for at least three months beyond their planned departure from the Schengen area, purpose of their visit giving a clearly defined reason, proof of accommodation in the form of a hotel bookings or invitation letter from a host or other forms of proof, and a plan of their trip providing 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 added.

Not having these statements attested is a common error.

She also noted that Schengen countries required 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.

Timing is everything

The travel expert noted that the timing for your application is also key as 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,” she said.

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,” she said.

It’s never too late to try again

And lastly, Turner noted, that 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.

She said that 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,” Turner advised.