Visa application process is generally known to be administrative-intensive, exhaustive and time-consuming but VFS Joint Visa Application Centre, which handles visa services for most Schengen countries is doubly so.
Applicants are expected to arrive 10 minutes ahead of their scheduled appointment and carry a print out of the appointment letter. But the centre is so busy that invariably, the appointments are delayed be at least 20-30 minutes, so account for more time.
While you may visit the embassy website for a general guidance on document checklist, it is always a good idea to check VFS’s microsite for a particular Schengen country’s document requirements. It lists additional documents such as photocopies of the first and last pages of your passport and your UK residence permit.
Failure to bring the documents means, applicants have to use the photocopy machine at the centre which charges £0.10p per page and is cumbersome to use.
The VFS Joint Visa Application Centre is also very strict about the visa photo to meet the exact standards and not be older than three months. Those that fail to meet the photo-specifications will have to either reschedule an appointment or use the centre’s photo booth. The photo booth is not very sophisticated and costs £4 for the passport-size pictures. The self-help Kiosk means that some novice applicants will have to retake pictures costing them more. And the centre does not provide receipt for the photo service.
There is an IT service provider on the first floor of the application centre from where applicants can print documents that they may have forgotten. Although the cost is £0.20p per page, using the network for up to 30 minutes cost £3.00. So, even if you use your own laptop and do not connect to the internet but connect to the printer, you will still need to pay the £3.00 “network charges”. A majority of applicants use the service for an average of 5-7 minutes for £3.00 in addition to the printing charges.
In addition to the extra costs, the photocopier, printer and photo booths are crowded and chaotic and the centre’s staff provide little help or direction.
The centre charges a service fee to process your application of about £20 including VAT. This is in addition to the Schengen Visa costs which come at about £50.
The VFS Schengen visa application centre also offers a Special Delivery facility for the return of processed applications for a fee of £14.80 (Inclusive of VAT) per application. This is an optional service and applicants can also personally go to the centre to collect their passports and visas when they are ready. This process of showing the receipt and collecting the passport is a lot quicker.
The centre also offers an SMS facility for application update for £1.44 – again an optional service. All fees are non-refundable.
If you are lucky to deal with an embassy directly than going through VFS, then that will be faster and cheaper option. Some European embassies such as the French embassy handle visa-issuance service in-house and does not outsource it to VFS. The embassy appointments are fairly straightforward and applicants need not pay the additional visa handling charges.
But one of the biggest drawbacks is that even if you are a business visa applicant with proof of return travel and accommodation for all your trips, the visa issued is never for the longest possible duration contrary to the experience of applicants to embassies directly.
This means, if you are a frequent traveller in need of a Schengen visa, you have to visit VFS Joint Visa Application Centre multiple times in a year and go through the hassling experience of obtaining a visa.
VFS seems to have complete monopoly in this field. Wish there would be more service providers for Schengen visas where applicants would have the luxury to choose a lesser evil. Until then if you are travelling to Schengen countries, you have to, unfortunately, go through the hassling and chaotic experience at VFS Global Joint Visa Application Centre in Paddington.
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