Italy : The costliest Visa ever…

We decide to visit Italy…why? Seemed like a good place; lots of tourists; on the bucket list. So we take the plunge. 19th Sept. seemed like a good date to fly in.

27th July, we go to the VFS  Bangalore with our application to travel to Italy. My son’s passport’s back page had a 1mm space where lamination came off the book. So, VFS tells us, ‘sorry Madam, your son’s passport is damaged and this will get rejected.

Take a look. This is called damaged?

Damaged passport

Damaged passport considered by Italian Consulate. Visa is not issued on such passports.

The representative at VFS – ‘Yes, even if it was less damaged than this, it would have got rejected by Italian Consulate. They need squeaky clean ones. Please apply for new passport and come again. If you don’t get a new appointment, you come directly and contact us.’

I looked at my son and said, ’See you keep opening and looking at your passport, this is what happens’

Son – ‘Sorry Mumma. Now they will not let me go to Italy is it?’

Hmmm, Let’s see…

Applied for the new passport for my son on 29th July, checked status every day, every hour. $50 more and 10 days later, comes the new passport on 8th August, 11.30 am. By 2.30 pm, we rush into VFS office out-muscling and convincing everyone from the guards to officers to the manager. Boy, we are going to Italy.

At the VFS office. ‘Hi! Remember, you had said we can come directly to submit the application after we get a fresh passport.’

The representative – ‘Yes, Madam but rules have changed. No submission without an appointment’

‘But what do we do now, there is no appointment available until 28th August. Please call your manager, we need help.’

Word wrestling goes on for 30 mins. Then, enters Manager.

Manager – ‘Voila! 2 people didn’t turn up for the appointment so we can accept your applications as an exception.’

Surely God resides in Vatican. Our application process starts.

Representative – ‘Madam, now we need original bank account statements with the bank’s seal on it.’

‘But, last time when we came, you had seen all documents. You didn’t ask for it then’

Representative – ‘Yes, Madam. The rules have changed’.

‘When???’

Representative – ‘On 28th July, one day after you had come last time.’

Sudeep (my husband) – ‘I need to go back to the office.’

Representative – ‘Sir, we can’t accept without the seal. Or else you submit the application later.’

My husband now goes to the bank and gets the bank statement sealed – ‘Please take this now and finish the process.’

Representative – ‘Madam internal travel tickets are also required’

‘What? This was never there in the document list.’

Representative – ‘Madam, rules have changed on 28th July. We can’t accept.’

Sudeep – ‘Let us give a letter in writing that rules changed on 28th, however, we have prepared documents as per 27th July checklist already. And VFS did inform us about all documents before accepting our case.’

Representative – ‘Fine we shall submit this with the letter but we have no responsibility if the visa is not granted for lack of internal transport tickets.’

Submitted. A little doubt if God has shifted base from Vatican. Fingers crossed. Still 41 days to go.

Till 18th August, no news. 18th August, someone calls me from Consulate.

The caller from Consulate – ‘Madam, you are single parent traveling with your son right?’

‘Yes, but my husband will join later.’

The caller – ‘Hmm we need legalization of the affidavit for a single parent traveling with a minor.’

‘But I have already submitted the notarized affidavit.’

The caller – ‘Yes, but we need legalization from local home ministry. We also need your FD details etc and a letter from your husband.’

Checked the document list and rules again on VFS. As per rules, we had sent the consent letter for single parent travel which was enough. Sent them a mail immediately.

No reply, Sent mail again … no reply

Called them but in vain. They asked me to call VFS every time which was of no use since they never had a clue.

Tried every number given on Italian Consulate website. All numbers ring. None gets picked up.

Finally, it once got picked up. and a lady replied, ‘When you have 2-3 days left for your travel, then call, not before that’.

In the meantime, my husband applied for his Schengen visa through German Consulate on 1st September. It was granted on 4th Sept.

As the days were passing, we were getting anxious and jittery. I mailed every day but never received any reply. Didn’t even know if the documents I sent through email were enough or I needed to send the hard copies as well. Sending hard copies to Italian Consulate meant the 3rd visit to VFS Bangalore.

I finally decide to send the hard copies as well to the Consulate on 5th Sept along with a letter to expedite the process through VFS. As we visit VFS, the representative non nonchalantly, says ‘Madam there is a request letter by someone whose travel date is a day after tomorrow. Such things happen. You still have time.’

At home – My husband’s visa arrives. God has definitely moved over to Germany!

My son – ‘Mumma if they are not giving me the visa, ask them to provide me a pizza every day for a year free of cost’. Either Visa or Pizza.

At wit’s end –  I wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs, tried contacting random people working in the embassy on LinkedIn, called a couple of friends in the travel industry, explaining the situation of visa vs pizza for my son but to no avail.

2 days later on 9th September, I get another call from the Consulate. I requested once again and told them about my emails, calls and explained to them that I had already sent the consent letter.

The caller from Consulate – ‘We would see if we can accept and accordingly would inform by evening’.

Again no calls. We turned the last stone and tweeted to Sushma Swaraj. Posted an embarrassing post on FB page of Italian PM. Deleted that after 30 mins because it was too embarrassing.

9/11, we received our passports. I opened and checked. Thankfully it was stamped.

This was our costliest Schengen visa ever (and we have 8 of those). It took at least 3-4 calls every day consistently for 15 days to VFS, 30-50 calls to the Mumbai Consulate trying to get to them and finally failing at it, spending time on 20-25 emails and 1 month of anxiety besides higher costs of some last minute bookings.

Friends, if Italy is on mind, read the next 5 bullet points carefully –

Learnings-

  • Don’t ever give passport in your child’s hands.
  • If traveling to Italy only – Apply at least 2 months in advance even though they say 15 days is enough, ours took 30 days to come. Have faith in God.
  • If traveling to other countries as well in Schenghen region – always apply at other countries unless your longest stay period is in Italy. If so, change it. You will save time, energy and money.
  • Don’t expect any replies to emails or calls from Consulate. They are immune to phone rings and computers – it is perhaps the first humanoid robotic Consulate in the world.
  • VFS stands for ‘very few services’. Its a glorified clerical organization with supposedly no reach with Consulates to rationalize. Be prepared!
  • Last but not the least – Apply for other citizenships (try Singapore) which are respected enough for easy entry into many countries without any visa requirement. Kidding!

Germany is really cool!

schengen-visa-passport

courtesy: www.dreamstime.com

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