My tension did not go away after I was accepted at University College London, I still had two last things left on my excessively long Study Abroad To-Do List: apply for a UK visa and apply for a Schengen visa. As a Chinese passport holder, I was required to have a UK Short-term study visa for my semester-long UCL program. I also wanted to visit other European countries, so I needed a Schengen visa as well. The visa process is complicated and I spent many nights doing research and tried to be as well prepared as possible. Below are my five tips that can make your visa process easier.
Simply imagining being one week away from my departure flight without having received my Visas made me panic! To avoid that, I created a schedule with deadlines. As long as I followed my schedule, the application process should be stress free. I submitted the UK visa application in mid-October and expected to get it back in two weeks.
Surprisingly, I received it in just eight days, which I thought would give me extra time for the Schengen visa application. I was very happy that I could have everything done ahead of time, but this was not the case. One of the Schengen visa requirements was to make an appointment for a personal interview. I failed to take into account how hard it would be. Even though it was still October, I found everything was booked until early December. It’s important to realize that your available time might not be available for an appointment. Therefore, the earlier you apply, the better!
Make sure you have all of the documents requested
I found it very helpful to print out the list of required documents from the UK consulate websites and the Schengen visa website. I crossed out each document from the checklist once I had it ready. For the UK visa, there were two documents I didn’t need, even though they were on the required documents checklist.
My acceptance letter of my study program and my proof of financial support were both provided by IFSA-Butler. This saved me a trip to the bank to request my bank statements although I still needed proof of financial support for my Schengen visa.
Make a reservation with a free cancellation option
Proof of accommodation and round-trip flight itineraries are required documents for the Schengen visa. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finalize my flight and hotel plans since I didn’t know my university class schedule for the coming semester yet.
What if I booked the flight and hotel but then found myself unavailable on that date? To avoid risking so much money, I started to look for hotel and flight reservations with free cancellation options. My friend Hanyang, who went to England and had a great trip around Europe last year, gave me a lot of information and resources on where to get free cancellation flight and hotel bookings.
He recommended that I use Booking.com, a hotel booking website that has a free cancellation option. Similarly, for my flight reservation many flight companies such as Priceline.com have 24-hour free cancellations. It is important to remember to cancel the reservation within 24 hours. Besides, I also found that many travel agencies sell flight itineraries and allow a certain amount of changes on the itinerary. I bought mine from Travelvisabookings, an agency referred by the German embassy.
Ask IFSA-Butler for the proof of insurance
Another required document for the Schengen visa is proof of insurance while abroad.
The Good news is the health insurance provided by the IFSA-Butler study abroad program gives me worldwide coverage. I will be covered wherever I travel during my six months abroad. How amazing is that! My program advisor Michelle helped me contact the insurance company, and they provided me with a letter proving my coverage abroad. This saved me at least $25 from buying my own insurance for a 20-day trip to Europe.
Apply for your Schengen visa in the United States instead of in the UK!
I initially thought it would be a better option to wait until I got to the UK and apply for a Schengen visa there. Strictly following my first rule—the earlier the better—I chose to apply for my Schengen visa before I left for the UK. This decision prevented me from making a critical mistake. During my personal interview, the officer at the French Consulate in Boston stressed that UK Short-term study visa holders are not eligible to apply in the UK. You must apply for the Schengen visa before you leave the US.
The visa application is never a simple process. When I heard the officer at the UK passport control desk say to me, “You are all set. Enjoy your time in London”, I felt so relieved. My researching effort finally paid off. My dream of studying abroad finally came true.
Wenli Bao is a Student at Brandeis University studying Business and Psychology who studied abroad with IFSA-Butler in England at University College London in 2017. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.