TL;DR: If you are visiting the Schengen area and your itinerary allows it (i.e. your first point of entry is not Italy or you’re not staying the longest in Italy), I highly recommend you don’t apply for a visa through the Italian consular office.
I waited until I was issued a Schengen visa to write this but I really wanted to share my experience with the Italian consulate in Boston.
I love to travel. However, I am citizen of the Philippines. This means that for most countries on earth I need a pre-entry visa before I can travel (except for the ASEAN, Israel, Brazil, and a few others). Although I’m not a terrorist for sure and not a threat to their national security, I need to be cleared before I can enter their sovereignty and pay all those ridiculously high visa fees.
Now, let me put things in context, I am currently residing in the United States of America (good ‘ol USA — home of the brave and land of the free) on F-1 visa since 2009. I am a student at one of the top schools in the world and I have valid visitor visas for Canada and the United Kingdom. I have never been denied a visa from any country before and the fact that the US, Canada, UK have issued me multiple entry visas for at least six months, I am pretty well trusted by these big and powerful countries and with a pretty good history as an alien and certainly does not pose a threat to any country’s security.
So I wanted to travel in the Schengen area over winter break. And for you who don’t know what the Schengen area is (oh please — read some history books!), it’s an area of 26 countries within Europe that signed the Schengen agreement removing internal borders between their countries. And for those who know what it is but are confused, for heaven’s sake it’s not the same as the EU or the Eurozone and not all of the states in the Schengen area is part of the EU or use the Euro as their currency!
Going back, I needed to get a Schengen visa before I can travel. Given that I am staying in Italy for the most part of the trip, the EU law as provided by the Amsterdam Treaty requires me to apply for the visa in an Italian consular office. Now, at first it looked fine with me. I mean, as long as I could be issued a visa it didn’t really matter which consular office issues it. Or so I thought.
My appointment with the Italian consulate was at 9 AM on a Wednesday morning (pretty early huh). That was the only time I could make since I was flying to San Francisco after and staying there for five days. I didn’t want to delay my visa process so I took the trouble of going there that morning. The Italian consulate is located inside the Federal Reserve building. After going through the routine security check with the Feds (which btw was like going through the airport but much better because they were much nicer than the TSA), I went up to the 17th floor and waited to be called by the visa officer. As I was the first person to be in there, it didn’t really take time until I was in front of the booth.
With my application completely filled out and all my supporting documents ready, I handed them to the visa officer. The guy seemed friendly. He asked for my I-20 (a US government form proving my F-1 status), a letter from the school, my itinerary and the rest of the documents. It was a relaxed process, or at least at first. He went through my itinerary (see below) and asked a couple of questions.
New York, USA (exit from USA) -> London, UK (non-Schengen)-> Berlin, Germany (entry to Schengen) -> Prague, Czech Republic -> Amsterdam, The Netherlands -> Paris, France -> Barcelona, Spain -> Oslo, Norway ->Tromso, Norway -> Oslo, Norway -> Milan, Italy (entry to Italy) -> Genoa, Italy -> Milan, Italy (exit from Schengen) -> London, UK (non-Schengen) -> Boston, USA (entry to USA)
So although my point of entry is Germany, I needed a visa from the Italian consulate because my current plan dictates that I am staying in Italy the longest. The visa guy seemed fine with it and with an invitation letter from my friend in Italy, I asked for a multiple entry visa valid for at most 90 days because I have a multiple entry to the UK and might have some side trips there while my clearance is still valid. He said 90 days was a little too much and he’d give me 50 days multiple instead. I said ‘sure’ since that’d be enough for my travel plans.
And then this other lady came and joined the process…
She seemed really nice and a cute mature lady, until she started asking questions. She asked me questions about where I live and my parents. I told her that I am currently residing in Cambridge, my parents are in the Philippines, and I don’t have any relatives in the Schengen area let alone the entire European Union. And then she dug deeper about my school status, graduation, and my finances. I showed her my US bank statements as well as statements from my banks in the Philippines. I explained that I am a student and don’t have a lot of income but would have enough support to fund this trip. And then, she started telling me that she wouldn’t acknowledge my Philippine bank statements unless it is signed and verified by their embassy in Manila. How the heck would I be able to do that? I showed my BDO bank card and Metrobank credit card with Mastercard logos on it and told her that these can be accessed internationally; she wouldn’t buy it.
At this point it felt that I wouldn’t get my visa. She asked for further proof that I wouldn’t over stay in the Schengen area. I told her that I am graduating college in June and showed her the letter from the school to prove that. It wasn’t enough proof, she responded. I was shocked to the thought of how I can jeopardize my graduation (and of course, my future) by over staying in the Schengen area let alone Italy when I for one don’t speak their language and have no ties in Europe.
And so then I had to prove that I will be leaving the Schengen area at the end of my trip. The only way to do that is to show them confirmed travel reservations. She asked for them. Good thing I had enough available credit in my credit cards that I was able to purchase my entry and exit flights that same day. While other consulates like the US and the UK don’t recommend buying tickets before the visa is issued, it seems like the Italian consulate wanted me to buy them ahead of time. Chicken and egg problem.
To make the matters worse, she told me that the invitation letter isn’t valid — that it has to be sent to them directly from the person in Italy. Now I said, that’s ridiculous because they never mentioned anything about it in their website. But then again I need the visa, so I complied.
Man, she has the lips of Marilyn Monroe but the eyes of Caligula.
Overall, it took me more than an hour to finish the ordeal with the visa office. They weren’t as nice as I expected them to be. Both the visa officer speak Italian when they talk about my application with each other, so I felt lost and disrespected as well. At the end, the guy changed his mind and decided to give me a 45-day double entry visa as opposed to the 50-day multiple he told me earlier. I guess it would be fine, since it was enough anyway. But it felt like it wasn’t really a rule but more of a number they simply figured out after.
My experience in the Italian consulate wasn’t the best of all my visa experience. The longest I have been in a visa office before that was a 5-minute interview with an officer at the US Embassy in Manila and I never had to personally appear before the Canadian and British consulates. With the same documents I presented to the Italian consulate, the British consulate in New York issued me a 180-day multiple entry visa with no questions asked.
At the end of the day, I received my Schengen visa a little less than two weeks after my interview. I don’t know if it was just a bad day or the Italians are just like that (read the review of the Italian consulate in San Francisco with so many people complaining), but it certainly wasn’t the best. And when I visit the Schengen area in the future, I’ll probably make sure to avoid the Italian consulate. And oh, I heard the Spanish are much more friendly!