An international student’s guide to the Schengen visa

schengen visa application
Take advantage of travel to Europe with a Schengen visa. Source: Alex Mita/AFP

If you’re an international student in the UK or Europe, you must be excited by the prospect of potentially visiting the countries around you. After all, most cities in Europe are easily traversable, being only a train ride or short flight away at most.

The tricky part? You’ll need to submit a Schengen visa application to travel.

The Schengen visa — which grants holders free travel into 26 Schengen EU passport-free zones — is a short-stay visa that generally lasts up to 90 days. An added benefit of this: the visa usually grants you re-entry to these countries, giving you the chance to make your way across the largest free travel area in the world. 

Still, the Schengen visa application is a notoriously long process. Many applicants have complained about the massive amounts of paperwork required. 

For example, one Twitter user said, “Applying for a tourist visa to one of the most developed countries of the world. This is amount of paper I’m supposed to carry to prove that I have the money to stay there and come back.”

If you plan on going through the Schengen visa application process, here’s what you should know — including if you need one, what you should expect, and more. 

Who needs a Schengen visa?

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re wondering if you might need a Schengen visa to travel around Europe. Most international students don’t need one, especially if you’re from a country which has not reached a visa-liberation agreement with Schengen member states. 

However, it’s best to check in advance to avoid any issues upon entry into a country. You would need a Schengen visa if you’re from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Indonesia, or any of the countries listed here.

Be sure to prepare your application in advance. Source: Ina Fassbender / AFP

Schengen visa entry categories

There are many different types of entry categories for Schengen visas. Most visas are valid for 90 days, which means that you could aim to travel over weekends until your visa runs out.

However, if you want to do this, you should be sure to submit a multiple-entry Schengen visa application. Failing to do so might mean that you’ll be granted the single-entry visa, which will only allow you to visit the Schengen area once. 

When should I apply for a Schengen visa?

Generally speaking, you should submit your Schengen visa application a minimum of three weeks before you are looking to travel. Processing times tend to be around two weeks, though this may vary. 

Certain Schengen member states might have their own specific requirements, so be sure to check in advance for those to ensure your application will be successful.
Source: Pau Barrena/AFP

What do you need to prepare for a Schengen visa application?

This is often the tricky part of a Schengen visa application, because it simply requires you to dedicate so much time to the process. However, you’ll save time by preparing your basic documents in advance. 

In general, here’s what you might need for a Schengen visa application: 

  • Your passport
  • Two passport photos 
  • Basic application form
  • Proof of accommodation 
  • Your bank statements to show that you can afford travel
  • Travel medical insurance 
  • Your visa payment receipt 
  • Biometric information

It’s likely that you’ll need to prepare a range of other documents, as well. Certain Schengen member states might have their own specific requirements, so be sure to check in advance for those to ensure your application will be successful. 

In general, you might expect to be asked for your travel itinerary if you plan to visit the Schengen states on holiday. Be sure to plan in advance and print a day-to-day itinerary out to bring for your appointment.