New process for French Schengen Visa (guest post)

Guest post by Kunal. He is a US resident, currently in the UK on a short-term visa (6 to 9 months).
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Visa Type: Schengen Visa (tourist)
Issuing Country: France
Application Centre: TLS Contact Center, near Olympia Tube station, London

Duration of Visa Granted: 6 months
Number of days stay granted: 90 days
Time taken for processing: 2 days

Requirements:
All the standard Schengen visa documents — hotel bookings, flight bookings, photo, passport, application form, travel insurance, letter from employer, covering letter, bank statements, paychecks.

Experience:
We were able to make an appointment for one week later. There was a queue at the center and we were issued a number. Our number was not called and we saw people who came in after us being processed. When we brought that to the supervisor’s attention, she blamed it on a glitch and immediately asked us to proceed to the next available counter. The lady at the counter was nice and courteous and confirmed that we had submitted everything on the check list. The process took about 10 minutes.
We had submitted one confirmed itinerary and multiple travel plans over the next 4 months. We also had a one-year travel insurance policy. Our travel plans were for 10-12 days after the appointment. While they did not promise that we would receive the visa by that date, we received it on the third day.
Got an SMS e Email from VFS telling us that the application was sent to the French Embassy, and another SMS and Email when the Embassy returned our passports. Passport collection was painless as well.

Special Circumstances:
Since we are in London for a short-term (6-9 months) only, all our paychecks, bank statements were American. That did not seem to be a problem in obtaining the visa. There was also no problem with submitting printed copies of our paychecks and bank statements. We did have an employment verification letter from my employer in the UK.

Key points to keep in mind:
1. Book an appointment for applying. Plan ahead because appointments fill up fast.
2. Have all documents in order based on the checklist. They follow that checklist very strictly and having your documents in order will mean you spend less time on the counter.
3. List multiple travel plans over the duration that you wish to request visa for. This ensures that your need for a longer-term visa is explicit.
4. Make sure your travel insurance is valid across all planned trips otherwise you might end up with a shorter duration visa.

Tip about France: Get off the beaten path. Skip Paris and go south to the Alps. The pics below show a peak near Chamonix and sunset over Lac Leman.

Sunset over Lac Leman View from St Gervais
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Entering Schengen Area before Visa Start date – not possible :)

Well that is not surprising, now is it?

Someone I know closely recently planned to visit Paris. When they had checked in on the Eurostar at St. Pancras Station, and were at the immigration window, did they they realize there was a problem. The officer pointed out that they visa started 2 weeks later.

The officer then called a policeman, who escorted them out of the Eurostar area, and gave them a ‘refused entry’ paper. Not sure if this will affect their future visa applications.

But the lesson is, be sure that you don’t try to travel to the Schengen area before the visa start date.

French Efficiency (Schengen visa application experience – France)

Target Country: France (Schengen Zone)
Passport: Indian Passport
Visa Type: Tourist Visa (Schengen Visa)
Processing Consulate/Embassy: French Embassy, London, UK
Documents submitted:

Tickets to and from France (electronic itinerary was acceptable).
Hotel bookings for every night spent in Schengen Zone (must be direct email/fax from the hotel, not from a travel agency).
As I applied for a multiple entry visa, I submitted supporting documents for 2 trips (to the Schengen zone), but they only took the documents for France and ignored the rest. So, I bought air tickets and accommodation for Germany in a hurry for nothing!

GBP £52 (approx) fee in Cash or Card (credit & debit accepted).
Filled application form
2 additional filled forms

Valid passport (at least 3 months validity)
Letter from my School saying that I’m a student (less than 1 month old!!)
Bank statements for the last 1 month (online printout acceptable).
1 Photo
Proof of Travel Insurance for the entire period you wish to have a visa for(Certificate stating my name and details of policy).

Experience:
Quite smooth. Appointment was made online. They release new appointments every Thursday at 3 PM. By 3.30 PM all slots are taken. So be quick!

There was a long queue to enter the embassy. Despite an “appointment” I had to wait 30 mins to enter the embassy. Then it took about 1.5 hours further to pay the fee and submit the application. After submitting, I got my passport with the visa in 45 mins. The whole process from Queuing to getting the visa took under 3 hours. Very impressive!! Compare this to Czech republic and Finland.

They gave me only a 2 month multiple entry Schengen visa – despite my having insurance for the next 18 months!
The staff were very nice enough. I did not try contacting them before the appointment, so I can’t comment on their responsiveness.