I’m the first person to admit that it’s a “high class” problem to be worrying about whether the 90 days in 180 Shengen post-Brexit visa restrictions will interfere with our travel plans. Many friends who are constrained by work, family, finance or other considerations would be delighted with a fortnight, so I’m not writing this post looking for sympathy!
However, we’ve been lucky enough to be able to spend large chunks of the colder seasons in southern Europe, travelling and “euro-cragging” in our van over the last 7 years or so, and have been exploring ways of continuing to do so. The same issue faces other “van-lifers” and gap-year euro-craggers, so hopefully the following will be useful to some of you. If not – feel free to skip to the next post, which I promise will feature some actual climbing 🙂
We’re a month into a tour of France, enjoying (apart from a 48hrs deluge!) some great weather and cragging. …and the best thing is that we haven’t used ANY of our 90 days in 180 Shengen allowance! How so, I hear you ask? Thanks to the French Long Stay visa – VLS-T (Visa de Long Séjour Temporaire)
This can be used for visits to France of up to 6 months; You can make multiple entries in that period; You cannot work; EHIC and GHIC are accepted for medical insurance. It costs €100 per person plus an admin fee, and can be renewed annually.
There’s a great website that has been put together by some Brit Francophiles which offers very clear guidance through what looks at first to be a somewhat daunting process:
Rather than try to replicate this, I’m just going to add a few specific points relating to “van lifers” (as the more usual circumstances would be second home owners, people visiting friends and family, or long-term renters), and add some notes on our own experience of the application process which might be of interest to more typical applicants.
The biggest potential stumbling block for our application was that you need to provide evidence of your “Accommodation” and for us this is our van and a series of campsites. We raised this question via the “contact form” at TLScontact who administer the process in UK on behalf of the French embassy, and got the following reply:
Please be kindly informed to prove your accommodation you should provide
1. Car rental agreement/ownership documents + car insurance; Log book;
2. Driver’s license;
3. Detailed travel plan along with a cover letter since the circumstances are a bit extortionary
A further query clarified that the travel plans should include details of ferry / Eurotunnel bookings and an itinerary of campsite bookings – and that’s what we did.
To cut a long story short, after submitting our application and attending our “interview”, we headed off on a trip to Scotland with fingers crossed – uncertain as to whether our “extraordinary circumstances” would be acceptable and fully expecting the process to take at least the nominal 3 weeks (with warnings of extended processing times due to covid staff shortages and high demand). Imagine our surprise (and delight) as an email pinged into my phone as we picked up a whif of reception on the way back from climbing the Old Man of Stoer – your visas are ready for collection. (note – you can choose to get them posted). Total turnaround time from interview to visa return was 6 working days!
A few observations, hints and potential pitfalls:
– use the guidance in the website referenced above – it’s really useful!
– for a couple, you need to make 2 applications, but you link the applications in the online process and end up with just one form. You then book a single, shared interview. Somewhat confusingly you still need 2 copies of all of the documents / evidence you are submitting.
– The word “interview” is a bit misleading; we half expected a grilling about our itinerary – did we really think conditions in Briancon would be suitable for climbing in October 😉 In reality it’s simply a process for you to handover your supporting documents and for these to be checked and copies verified against originals where necessary (you need to bring both eg your original log book plus TWO copies ie one each)
– The set up at TLS Contact is well organised and slick (we used the Manchester office on Salford Quays – there are also offices in London and Edinburgh). We were seen at the appointed time, and taken through the “document submission” process by a helpful young woman who spoke excellent English. You can pay for a “Premium Service” for this to take place in a separate “lounge” but this wasn’t available at the time of our application due to Covid restrictions, but it was absolutely fine doing it over a counter.
– The role of TLS very much seems to be to facilitate the process and make sure all documents are in order – not to “catch you out”. A good example of this is that we erroneously used a copy of Helen’s passport photo as the “recent photo” for the visa. The passport is over a year old, so obviously the photo couldn’t be “within the last 3 months” even though of course she hasn’t changed a bit. The helpful TLS staff spotted our error, and rather than it being a big drama or a deal-breaker, we just had to get a new photo (they have a photo booth at the Manchester office). Apparently incorrect photos is the most common reason for an application to be rejected.
– We probably went overboard on the amount of documentation we provided, for example to prove our funding, with details of savings and current accounts plus bank statements, income and employment status. This ends up with loads of paper, but it seemed better to be “safe than sorry”. One thing to be careful of is that if you are presenting any joint evidence (eg joint bank account statement) you need a marriage certificate or similar to prove it applies to both applicants.
So, in conclusion, whilst it’s all a bit bureaucratic and involves a lot of paper, the VLS-T visa seems a quite practical way to continue to enjoy the benefits of extended travel in Europe post-Brexit (don’t get me started on ranting about how we should never have lost the right in the first place!!!) Good luck with your application and Bon Voyage!