Friday, 8 November 2013

On applying for a visa...

You may have noticed that I've been writing the last few posts from Toronto.  I'm back in Canada for a while, and doing a few different things while I'm here.  Visiting family, catching up with friends, having various lessons and coachings, taking a masterclass with Tafelmusik... and applying for my visa to stay in Germany.

This is the fourth visa that I have applied for in  five years.  I have applied for student visas in the UK and Belgium, and I have applied for a post-study work visa which allowed me to stay in the UK for two years after graduating.  You would think that after applying for this many visas, I would get the hang of it.  You would think that it would get easier every time.

You would think wrong.

This is me applying for a visa.
Every time that I apply for a visa, it is a stressful, complicated, and enraging process.  It is probably taking several years off of my life.  I swear I'm not being overdramatic here.  You have not fully experienced the absurdities of government bureaucracy until you have applied for a visa to stay in a foreign country.

If you want to stay in another country in the long-term, chances are that you will need to apply for a visa.  I have written before about the process of applying for a visa, but I thought this time I might write something a bit more realistic and practical, with less humorous exaggerations and references to dodos.

Here is a dodo.  I promise not to mention him anymore in this post.
Like I said, it's not an easy process.  But I have learned some things that are helpful to know:

1. Start early.  I can't stress this one enough.  You should start looking into your visa as soon as possible - at least 6 months in advance.  This is because you will probably need to do things which require long-term planning.  You might need to hold a certain amount of money in an account for several months.  You might need to apply from the embassy or consulate in a particular city, which means planning some travel.  Or you might need documents which will take a very long time to process.  When it comes to visas, the early bird will get the worm.

Mmmmm worm.
2. Do your research.  What kind of visa do you need?  What can you qualify for?  You may be eligible for some kind of special consideration.  For instance, if your spouse, parents, or grandparents are citizens of this country, you may qualify for citizenship, or an ancestry visa.  If you are under 35, you may qualify for a youth mobility scheme, which allows young adults to spend time living and working in certain countries.  Make sure you understand the rights and restrictions for the type of visa you are applying for.  Will you be able to work?  Which kinds of work will you be able to do?  How many hours per week?  Will you be able to receive benefits such as healthcare and insurance, or should you make sure that's covered via your home country?  Make sure you know exactly what you're getting yourself into.

3. Make a list.  Check it twice.  Then check it twice again.  You will have various requirements for your visa application.  Some will be very easy, and some will be more complicated.  Make sure you understand exactly what is required for your application.  It's so easy to miss a little detail about how something has to be officially signed and stamped.  So be extra-careful with your list.

Santa doesn't need to check his list as much as you do.
4. Assemble all your requirements.  Keep track of everything carefully.  Use a specially designated folder or box to organise all of your documents.  Print out the list of what you need, and check things off as you go.  Make sure you keep everything in one place.

5. It's all about the money, money, money.  Applying for a visa is expensive.  Expect to pay large amounts of money for things like postage, administration fees, and travel as you prepare your application.  And unless you are applying for a full-time work visa (i.e. you can prove that you have a full-time job with a salary waiting for you when you arrive) you will also need to show that you have a certain amount of money to support yourself while you are abroad.  This is probably the most important requirement for your visa application.  The last thing this country wants is for you to end up broke and unemployed, and become a drain on their economy.  So make sure you have your finances sorted out and you can afford everything you need.

Sorry, Jessie J.  We can't forget about the cha-ching, cha-ching.

6. Plan your travel carefully.  For your application, you will need to know exactly when you are leaving and how long you will stay.  You will probably be required to show tickets as evidence of your travel dates.  You will also need to know where you are staying once you arrive, so make sure that you have your accommodation sorted out.

7. Even when you think you have everything in order, you probably don't.  Check that list again.  And again.  There might be something in fine print which you've missed.  If you're in doubt, find a phone number and call to ask for clarification.  It may take some time before you're able to talk to someone; chances are that the visa helpline will only be open for one hour, one day a week.  But it's worth the hassle just to make sure.

8. Bring a good book.  Once you arrive at the embassy or consulate to formally apply for your visa, you may have to wait a long time before seeing someone - even if you have made an appointment.  Last week I had an appointment, and I still waited 90 minutes to speak to someone at the German Consulate.  And this is Germany, the country that's supposed to be renowned for its punctuality!

9. Allow for the maximum application processing time.  When you are told that your application will take up to 6 weeks to process, it probably won't take 6 weeks to process.  The maximum processing time is something the visa office tells you to cover their backs.  In other words, it doesn't usually take this long, but there have been some cases - when the office was very busy, or there were complications - where it has taken this long.  Obviously you hope that your application will be processed quickly.  Nonetheless, you should prepare for the worst.  You will be giving up your passport with your application, which means that you will be landlocked until your application is processed and you have your visa.  The last thing you want is to book an early plane ticket, only to discover that you won't be able to leave when you were planning.  Changing flights can cost a fortune.  So pay attention to the maximum processing time, and be prepared to stay put for a while.

10. Surrender to the absurdity.  You will be asked to provide some completely unreasonable things for your visa application.  For example, my visa application required me to book a flight back to Canada in a year's time.  Which is understandable, right?  They wanted to make sure I wouldn't just stay in Germany illegally after my visa expires.  The problem is, it's virtually impossible to buy a flight this far in advance!  Most airlines will only let you book a flight up to 8 months ahead of time.
You will be asked for all kinds of unreasonable things like this as you're applying for your visa.  And once you have collected all of these unreasonable things, it will turn out that they didn't need half of them in the first place.  After spending all that time and money, after going through all that stress, they will airily hand it back to you.
You could get annoyed by this.  You could get indignant.  But really, what is the point?  When it comes down to it, the visa office has all the power to accept or deny your application.  If they ask you to jump through a hoop, you will jump through that hoop, and no amount of complaining will change that.  Trust me, for the sake of your sanity - do not get worked up about all this irrational bureaucracy.  Do not rage against the machine.  Be a Zen master and go with the flow.  Accept the absurdity.  Surrender to it.  Laugh about it if you can.  It's the only way to cope.

Be at one with the red tape ridiculousness.
As for me, I handed in my visa application last week, and immediately collapsed in a heap of exhaustion.  I hadn't realised until then just how much it had been stressing me out.  But once I handed in the application and the decision was out of my hands, I relaxed a bit.  I sat down and I couldn't get up.  (Luckily, it happened to be Halloween, which meant it was socially acceptable to spend all evening on the couch eating candy and watching scary movies.)

Another visa application has been sent off.  All that's left now is to wait, and to hope I haven't missed any details.  I should also find some hair dye to cover up all these grey hairs I seem to be sprouting...

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