Procuring a visa to visit EU, US when you hold a passport of a third-world country is an incredibly frustrating experience. My wife and I have spent countless hours planing, arranging docs, driving, spending frivolous amount of money to apply for a visa - which we’ll most likely get for the duration of our trip. Rant aside, I understand the incentives (money, illegal immigration) and how things are not likely going to change anytime soon; I still want to take a moment to write down all the things we had to do to get a Schengen visa - because lord knows we’ll have to do this again.

🌟 Learnings 🌟

  • You can apply for a Schengen visa 90 to 180d in advance. If you’re visiting a popular country (Italy, Greece, France), appointments are hard to come by; so do make sure to apply as soon as possible. Anecdotally, for Italy, the earliest appointment we could find was 2.5 months in the future, i.e., appointment available in late September while looking for them in July.
  • Make sure to apply for an appointment in an embassy that’s designated to serve your jurisdiction. While Italy has an embassy in DC, it does not serve residents in Virginia.
  • The embassy websites are utter trash (looking at you Italy and Spain). Prenotami Esteri — the website for Italy — was straight-up unavailable, logged you out frequently and was in general nightmarish to use. The BLS Spain website didn’t 404 much, but there’s a lot of wrong information (jurisdiction, payment options). We tried emailing / DM’ing our initial questions directly to the embassy, but depending on the embassy, the replies took time (1-2 weeks).
  • You can apply for Schengen at a different country than your intended destination. There are several articles across the internet (1, 2) describing this, and we are planning to do the same.
  • Getting a multi-trip Schengen visa was an important goal for us, as we want to avoid going through the process again. We stayed away from using online templates for the cover letters and personalized the heck out of our letters mentioning anecdotes, detailing why we want to travel and tying it to our hobbies / personal lives.
  • The appointment itself was chaotic (one family straight up accused the visa folks as rude). We carried a lot of documents that they eventually did not need (W2, 1099). It was however essential to show how you are planning to travel between cities. While we mentioned in our cover letter that we planned to use RENFE / buses, the visa folks asked us to book a rental car during the appointment. Also, be sure to carry spare cash to pay for the appointment (the card machine was conveniently broken). Spain also accepted photos in the US passport size format.
  • There are free bots available online that will notify you about appointment availability. While they were not useful for us, they may be useful to you based on the countries the bot supports.
  • The overall processing time (appointment to passport delivery) for Spain was ~1 week for us.

🌟 Resources 🌟