The Schengen Visa – what is it?
Anyone planning a visit to Europe from Sierra Leone should be aware of the Schengen Visa. This is an important consideration for Sierra Leonean nationals as the visa has great benefits. The visa is currently valid in a total of 26 member countries across the European continent (known collectively as the Schengen Area). This article provides comprehensive information on the Schengen Visa for Sierra Leonean Citizens.
The Schengen Visa is a travel document that allows the holder to travel freely within the Schengen Area, without the need for additional paperwork. For example, if you begin your travel in France and wish to move on to Germany or Spain (or any other of the 26 member states) you can do so without the need to obtain additional visas. There are no internal borders to negotiate across the Schengen Area, making it simple move from one country to another.
Schengen Visa types for Sierra Leonean Citizens
Before applying, you need to determine the type of visa you require. The following criteria will help you decide which visa is suitable for you:
A Uniform Schengen Visa permits the holder to stay in, or travel within, any country in the Schengen Area, for up to a maximum of 90 days at a time within a six-month period from the date of issue. These can be issued as:
• a single entry visa, meaning the holder can only enter/exit the Schengen Area once
• a double entry visa allowing a second entry within the time period
• a multiple entry visa which can be used multiple times (within the permitted time limits of the visa)
A Limited Territorial Validity Visa is available for travel only in the particular Schengen country that originally issued the visa. Holders of this type of visa are not permitted to enter any other Schengen member state. These visas are most often used in emergency/humanitarian situations where travel documents are not normally available.
Thirdly, there is a National Visa. This particular visa is suitable for those who wish to study or work in any one of the Schengen countries and again is available as either a single or multiple entry.
Applying for a visa
Sierra Leonean citizens wishing to apply for a visa must begin the process by arranging an appointment at an embassy. The embassy you choose for this should be either the one relating to the country you will begin your trip (first point of entry within the Schengen Area) or to the country in which you be spending the majority of your time. You can schedule your appointment online on the VFS website or, if you prefer, in person at a local VFS centre.
You should be aware that it may take up to 2 weeks to complete the process and you will probably wait up to another 10 days for the embassy to contact you; we would therefore recommend that you apply for your visa at least one full month prior to the date you wish to travel.
The following fees currently apply:
Adult visa: 60 EUROS
Long stay visa (>90 days): 99 EUROS
Child visa (6-12 years): 35 EUROS
There will be no fee payable under certain conditions, such as for:
children under the age of 6; diplomatic passport holders, students and accompanying teachers; researchers from third world countries and participants aged 25 and under at educational non-profit conferences or other events.
You will need to obtain an application form which can be downloaded from the embassy website or you may collect a hard copy from the embassy office. Along with the completed form, you will also be required to produce the following documentary evidence:
• two passport sized photographs adhering to the official standard (full-frontal head image between 32-36mm in height with a plain background; no red-eye, reflections or shadows)
• a valid passport with at least two available blank pages
• a sponsorship letter explaining the reason/objective of the visit and stating the duration
• evidence of travel insurance purchased showing a minimum coverage of 30,000 EUROS
• copies of all relevant travel tickets and a full itinerary for the trip, including accommodation bookings and any tourist packages
• proof of applicant’s status, such as birth/marriage certificates and any national identity documents or cards
• employment details, such as contracts, proof of income for the past six months, leave entitlement consent from your employer and any other documentation as requested
• business credentials and licenses for self-employed persons along with IT returns and proof of financial means
• for retirees, pension payment documents/evidence for past six months
• for students, proof of enrolment and verification from school or college
The information and documentation provided by you will be scrutinised carefully by the embassy for authenticity. Once this process has been completed, you will be invited to attend an interview with an embassy official.
This is a very important part of the visa application process and it’s useful to know what to expect before you attend. The interviewer will ask you a series of questions to ascertain the reason for your travel. You will be asked to confirm all dates and your intended itinerary. Them, you will also be expected to confirm your financial status and may be asked to provide further evidence or documentation in support of this. Lastly, you will need to be able to prove that all necessary arrangements are in place and that you understand your obligations regarding the laws of the country/countries you are intending to visit, and confirm that you will return to Sierra Leone at the end of the visit as planned.
Biometric testing will take place at the end of the interview and the results of this will be electronically associated with your identity documentation.
You can expect to hear from the embassy within 10-15 days. If accepted, your visa will be posted out to you in due course. If, however, your application is not successful you will receive a letter stating the reasons why. Possible reasons for rejection could be:
• providing insufficient or incorrect personal information
• the necessary travel documentation and/or a fully completed itinerary was not provided
• no sponsorship letter was submitted with the application (this is essential where the travel is being sponsored)
• the discovery of criminal convictions or any previous history of criminal activity
• insufficient financial means or proof of income for travel
• passport expiry date – the Sierra Leonean government requires that passports need a minimum of three year’s validity
• any evidence of forged documentation or incorrect information supplied
• insufficient travel insurance coverage (less than 30,000 EUROS) or insurance that does not meet the required terms and conditions for the country/countries being visited
• a lack of evidence relating to booked accommodation and any travel/tourist tickets (if a sponsor is organising this on applicant’s behalf, they must send the necessary documents to the embassy)
• possible damage or any evidence of tampering with the applicant’s passport
• any other form of non-compliance with the procedural requirements of obtaining a visa
Tips for a successful application
There are steps you can take to ensure that your application is successful. First, you should take care to read all the guidance and application forms thoroughly before you begin your application. You should also gather together all the necessary personal information and documentation you will need during the process. The important things to remember are:
• to check that your current passport has at least three year’s validity; if it doesn’t, you must renew it immediately – also ensure there is no damage to the passport
• ensure that you explain fully your reasons for travel to the Schengen Area
• make sure that all of your personal details are correct and that supporting documents are available and in the correct format
• include all relevant educational/professional qualifications and evidence
• organise and purchase the required amount of travel insurance
• obtain sponsorship letters (where required) and collate all travel/accommodation documentation
• do not, under any circumstances, provide incorrect or misleading information or attempt to forge signatures
• check and double check that you have followed the correct procedures all the way through the process