The appetite for travel to the 27 European Schengen destinations remains strong among South African passport holders despite the complexity, costs and delays associated with obtaining Schengen visas, according to Flight Centre South Africa.
According to a report published on 7 July 2023, Schengen Statistics reported that South Africans had spent a whopping €13.2 million in Schengen visa application fees in 2022, as 165,893 people paid a €80 fee to apply for the permit.
While the costs, documentation required and time-consuming aspect of applying for Schengen visas is not new for South Africans, post the COVID-19 pandemic, delays during Europe’s peak season period from June to August have risen as travel has rebounded.
“Our recent data shows that travel volumes to the Schengen area have remained strong this year, even during the highly sought-after summer peak period,” says Lynette Machiri, Customer Experience Team Leader at Flight Centre South Africa.
“Recent data speaks to the continued resilience of the South African traveller and the popularity of Europe even amidst challenges. While we continue to see interest in visa-free destinations, often also destinations where our rand stretches that much further, it’s clear that Europe has always been a bestseller and is set to continue to be one in our market.”
The complexity and costliness of the current Schengen visa application procedure continue to be the subject of much debate. In some cases, travellers are required to journey to other hub cities for their applications if there is no representation in their own city or town. Additionally, a vast amount of supporting documentation is mandatory, even for frequent travellers to the Schengen zone who need to apply each year.
Not all Schengen visas are issued with the same validity, which can vary from 1 year to 5 years for multi-entry visas. The most common Schengen visa issued for South African travellers is a short stay visa which allows travellers a maximum stay of 90 days over a 180-day period.
The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) has long advocatedfor a simpler and more cost-effective Schengen visa application process.
Machiri agrees: “Flight Centre is in full support of a more streamlined visa application process. Digital applications would be a game-changer, not only saving our travellers significant time and admin but also alleviating the extra costs.”
In an encouraging development, last year the European Union Parliament and Council agreed to transform Schengen visa application procedures from lengthy paper documentation into an online process in the near future. This progressive step toward simplification reflects a shared commitment to meeting the demand for travel to the Schengen area while making the process more traveller-friendly. And in a much-anticipated step to finally get the ball rolling, last month the EU Parliament and the Council of the European Union finally agreed on rules to digitalise the procedure for Schengen visas. However, the agreement still needs to be approved by the Member States of the EU. If successful, the new online system will allow travellers to apply, process, pay and monitor their application through a single website. There are no definite timelines as to how long this approval process will take.
To assist a smoother Schengen visa application experience, Flight Centre and ASATA offer the following tips:
1. Allow Sufficient Time: Start the application process at least 6-8 weeks before your intended departure date. It’s strongly advised to apply earlier during peak travel periods if possible with the processing centre or Embassy of the country you intend to visit.
2. Gather Supporting Documentation: Ensure you have all the required documents as specified by the Embassy or processing centre and submit them together for a comprehensive application.
3. Passport Photos: Obtain correctly-sized passport photos from trusted retail stores such as Kodak or Postnet, familiar with Schengen visa application requirements.
4. Prioritise Visa Order: If applying for multiple visas (e.g., UK and Schengen), determine which visa to apply for first and allocate sufficient time for each application.
5. Choose the Right Embassy: Apply at the Embassy of the country where you plan to stay the longest or, if staying an equal amount of time in multiple countries, the first port of entry.
6. Multi-Entry or Single-Entry Visa: If you will be entering and exiting the Schengen area multiple times, ensure you apply for a multi-entry visa to facilitate your travel plans. A single-entry visa allows you to enter the Schengen territory once, however, you cannot leave and re-enter the territory.
7. Check Travel Insurance: Confirm whether your travel insurance covers visa denials and understand the extent of coverage provided.
8. Timely Appointments: Arrive punctually for your visa application appointment, as missing or rescheduling can cause delays and disrupt your travel plans.
9. Review Terms & Conditions: Thoroughly read and understand the terms and conditions associated with your visa application.
10. Research Application Locations: Familiarise yourself with the locations of Embassies or processing centres for Schengen visa applications, as you may need to travel to a different city if there is no representation in your own city or town.
While we wait for a more streamlined system in the future, Flight Centre South Africa advises travellers to take heed of the above tips and seek expert guidance for greater peace of mind.