With increased security measures in place, it can be a challenge to secure a visa to travel overseas. Here’s how to tick all the boxes
A fellow “wheelie” asked for advice about getting visas for Europe and the United Kingdom (UK) for him and his caregiver. After I gave him the standard suggestions, he went off to make appointments with the different visa processing companies, only to hit a brick wall…
Despite starting more than two months before the travel date, he was unable to book a date to go to the processing company for his biometrics. Various companies offer a “premium service” that will get you better dates, but at a price. Although he paid all the fees and enlisted a visa company at additional cost, he was still without his one visa three days before he was meant to depart. He chickened out and changed his flights, only to have them contact him the next day to say the visa was ready!
So, how do you get a visa without all the hassle? In the past, it was possible to get the required documentation and photos together and simply hand the completed application forms, the documents and valid passport to a company that would queue and have your visa processed for you.
However, with increased security measures in place, you now have to be present at the visa processing centre for an interview and to gather your biometric information (fingerprints and facial photography). Not an easy process for a person with a disability! Here are the steps to follow when applying for a visa:
Always start this process as soon as possible, so that you have sufficient time to gather all documentation and book your appointments. You may have to get multiple visas if you are travelling to several countries.
For the Schengen states in Europe, you have to apply to the country where you will spend the most time, not necessarily the one where your journey starts. If you’ve done this before, check requirements each time you travel as they may have changed.
Double-check the visa requirements
Make sure a visa is required for the country you are visiting. Do a search on the internet by typing the name of the country and the phrase “visa requirements” into the search engine, or ask your travel agent for this information.
A valid passport is essential
Do you have a valid passport with sufficient open pages for the visa to be entered? A minimum of two free pages is acceptable. Your passport expiry date must be at least six months after your return date. Should you have a valid visa that has not expired in one passport, you need to staple the existing expired or full passport onto the new valid one.
Schedule your appointment
Make an appointment with the relevant visa processing office closest to you. Payment can usually be made using EFT or at your appointment using your credit card.
Get together all the documentation required as stipulated on the visa application requirements form. This may include:
• Flight tickets and proof of accommodation. Should you be staying with family or friends, they will need to provide a letter of invitation stating their address and the dates of your visit. If an original letter is required, they can email this directly to the visa office, but you’ll need to include a copy in your documentation.
• Proof of funds. This entails three months’ original bank statements and a letter from your bank stating that you are using your credit card and the maximum value placed on it. You can usually get these statements via the app.
• Travel insurance. This is mandatory for most international destinations and is highly recommended as comprehensive travel insurance will cover the cost of, for example, medical expenses, lost luggage and cancellations. Read the policies carefully and ensure you have enough to cover the basic expenses of your trip and a minimum of R10 million medical cover.
• Photographs. Check the size requirements of the photos you need to include. Take along your visa requirements form to any outlet that provides passport photos to ensure the correct sizes and amounts are printed. A biometric photograph taken at the visa application centre might also be required.
• Proof of employment. This letter must state that you are in a permanent position and that the leave has been authorised. It must specify the exact dates of your trip and that you will be returning to your position within the company. Should you be the owner of the company, your accountant or a fellow director should sign the letter.
• Marriage certificates or letters of consent from divorced spouses for the travel of minors must all be originals.
• All the documentation should be accompanied by copies. The original official documents will be returned to you.
On the day of the appointment
Be on time for your appointment. Visa processing officers may be quite officious and are very strict about their working times. Often specific delivery times and collection times apply as well. Please read the requirements form carefully. Most process periods vary from seven to ten working days, but emergency visas will be issued sooner. You will have to prove that it is indeed an emergency. You may also apply for priority service at an extra cost.
All visa applicants, save for those benefiting from exemptions, are required to provide biometric data. You will have to go to your nearest visa application centre in person. The finger scans are electronic, so no ink, liquid or chemicals are used. You will have your digital photograph taken at the same time. It should take no more than five minutes.
Make sure you don’t have any decoration (such as henna), cuts or markings on your fingertips before the scans. Biometric digital photographs must be of your full face without sunglasses, a hat or any other head covering (except for cultural or religious reasons, but the face must not be covered). You should also ensure that any cuts or bruises on your face are healed before the photograph is taken.
Visas for caregivers
If your caregiver is accompanying you on your trip, the following needs to be in place:
• If they’re not South African, they need a valid work permit – and check the visa requirements for the country of their origin too, as these may differ from the local requirements;
• Include them on your travel insurance;
• Submit all their documentation along with yours and make an appointment for them at the same time to ensure that the visas are processed at the same time.
• If you are visiting the UK with your caregiver, you will need to apply for a carer visa for them.
Should you require more information, please contact me. Happy travels!
Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: email@example.com