They were ready to engage the Germans. Mom had meticulously executed a forest’s worth of Schengen visa application documents – and Dad had donned his jaghoed en baadjie. Unfortunately, Dad’s choice in wardrobe had pushed Mom’s ragged nerves straight to breaking point: even after swallowing half a bottle of wine and chasing it with a sleeping pill the night before, she’d been repeatedly jolted awake by nightmares of Dad stalking round the German Embassy brandishing his 6mm rifle.
‘Herman, I need you to behave today – and please, no cracks about the Gestapo,’ she pleads with Dad, as she swerves past taxis on the N2 to Cape Town. ‘Di, did I tell you I found this new thing on the Internet called Google?’ Dad rebuts mutinously. ‘There you can type in “Croatia” and then look at all these full-colour photos on the screen; it’s like you’re there – and it will save me a lot of money! And like I keep telling you: why go sailing on the Adriatic Sea when the Orange River is right on our doorstep?’ Narrowly missing another taxi, Mom finally loses her rag: ‘Herman, if you mention the bloody Orange River one more time, I am taking your daughter to Croatia with me!’ Dad retreats, muttering under his breath that the Gestapo probably want his dog’s unabridged birth certificate too.
Two hours later and Mom is wiping away tears of abject disappointment, while Dad tries to console her: ‘Di, I promise you the Orange River will be lekker this time of year…’ Their visa application has been denied: even though Germany is their first port of call, they’re spending more time in Austria so need to apply to the Austrian Embassy for a Schengen visa, they’re informed kindly but firmly.
Their visa misadventure continues: Mom and Dad are turned down by the Austrian Embassy too, as their letter of invitation does not have the original signature of their Austrian host. A week later they return with the newlyminted signature only to be told, after much shuffling of paper, that they first need to apply for a Croatian visa. ‘But a Croatian visa will cost us R5 000!’ Mom laments. Finally, in desperation, my battered parents turn to an old travel agent friend who manages to save their seemingly cursed trip by helping them secure a Shengen visa via the Italian consulate – and the rest of their trip finally falls into place. In celebration, Mom guzzles down a bottle of Prosecco, and Dad googles ‘fishing Adriatic Sea’ and starts plotting the downfall of shoals of albacore, amberjack and mahi-mahi.
The lack of power of the SA passport is never more obvious – nor painful – than when negotiating labyrinthine, often expensive, visa application processes. Last year Henley & Partners, a global firm specialising in residency and citizenship planning, conducted an analysis of the visa regulations of all the countries in the world. The Henley Visa Restrictions Index reported that the United States, United Kingdom, Finland, Germany and Sweden topped this global ranking of international travel freedom – their lucky citizens can travel to 174 countries without needing a visa. South Africans, however, can get to a mere 97 visa-free. ›
We turned to two local visa specialists, Michele Kendall from Visalogix (www.visalogix.co.za) and Carla Douglas from MDS VisaPak (www.visas.co.za) for the lowdown on successfully negotiating an often tricky process.
1. ‘It sounds obvious but please ensure your passport hasn’t expired,’ advises Kendall. Your passport has to be valid for at least another six months after your return home, adds Douglas. ‘Make sure too that you have at least two consecutive pages open when applying for a visa,’ she adds.
2. Be honest, says Douglas. ‘If an embassy identifies even a hint that you’re going to their country to live or work, you will be denied entry.’ Two hours later and Mom is wiping away tears of abject disappointment, while Dad tries to console her: ‘Di, I promise you the Orange River will be lekker this time of year…’ Their visa application has been denied: even though Germany is their first port of call, they’re spending more time in Austria so need to apply to the Austrian Embassy for a Schengen visa, they’re informed kindly but firmly.
3. Apply well in advance. ‘Remember there are hundreds of applicants each day and your file is just a number in a queue,’ cautions Kendall.
4. Comply with application requirements by signing in all the correct places and completing all information asked for. Do not hand over unnecessary documents, says Kendall. ‘If 10 documents are asked for, then hand in the 10 required ones only. This reduces delays and makes the officer happy to deal with your application,’ she explains.
5. ‘Always include as much detail and provide as much evidence about your itinerary as you can, from flights to accommodation, land and/or cruise arrangements,’ says Kendall.
6. Fortunately, embassies are more lenient about approving visas for business trips than they are for leisure travel. ‘However, if a business visa is last minute, submit a supporting letter from your company confirming the lateness and reasons for it,’ says Kendall. ‘This will not only show respect to the consular office, but could enhance the decision to release your visa in time for departure.’ Also, always find out if there is an expediting option so that if you have an urgent meeting to attend, you’ll arrive in time, advises Douglas.
7. Being called for an interview is not an interrogation – it is mainly for biometric tests, says Douglas.
8. It is not a right that a visa will be authorised, says Kendall. ‘It is also not a right that the application fees be refunded should you be denied a visa,’ she adds.
9. Visa application rules can change without notice. Call the local consulate or visa specialists for updates.
10. Unabridged birth certificates for your minor children will be needed, so please ensure that you apply for these from the Department of Home Affairs well in advance, says Kendall. ‘Although it is not a worldwide requirement, this certificate is required on exit and entry into South Africa.’
11. Check and re-check that your visa has been issued correctly. This includes that the spelling of your name concurs on visa, passport and air ticket.
12. When applying for a Schengen visa, the country you apply to should be the one you’re staying in longest. ‘However, if you’re staying in more than one Schengen country and stays are of equal duration, apply to the first country you’re entering,’ concludes Kendall.