And the first question is probably "What The? Where is Schengen?".
Schengen Countries is actually a term used for European states that participate in Schengen Agreement. By signing it, they lift the border controls between themselves. This means that people like us (tourists they'd say) can travel between these countries without having a different visa. Yes, one visa for all! It's like having a combo pass that you can use up to your visa validity. Wiki about this.
Anyway I have drawn a map of the countries below.
(click to enlarge)
Please do remember that countries like UK, Ireland,
UPDATE 2009: Switzerland implemented Schengen treaty though they're not in EU. And I also forgot to mentioned about San Marino, Vatican City and Monaco. They have open border with surrounding countries, so you won't need another visa to enter these tiny countries.
(click to enlarge)However, if you are a citizen from the 'unfortunate' countries that require you a visa to enter --even for a short stay (up to 90 days)-- like Indonesia, the process can be tedious. Altough the requirements are straightforward, it's not so simple to comply. I'll try my best to explain...
First, about the good news; you can apply in any embassy of those listed countries. However, it is recommended to apply in the embassy of the main destination country. For example, if you're entering through Germany but you wanted to stay the longest in Poland, then it's probably better to apply to the Polish Embassy.
But what if there's no Polish Embassy in your country? Then google it, they usually have an agreement with other countries' embassies, in where you can apply. For example, you can apply Slovenian and Malta Schengen visa through Austrian Embassy in Jakarta.
Second, here's a long complete list of documents you need to prepare:
- 60 euro administration fee (this can/must be paid on the equivalent value with the currency of the country where the embassy is; e.g. Indonesian Rupiah equivalent to 60 euro to pay the embassy in Jakarta);
- Filled visa application form, can be downloaded from here or here, or wherever;
- Your valid passport, minimum 3 months validity on the time you (intended) to get out from the Schengen countries;
- Copy of your passport;
- 2 recent photo (35 mm x 45 mm) with light background;
- Private invitation letter OR hotel reservation (will be explained below...);
- Scan of the inviter's passport (will be explained below...);
- Travel Insurance that covering the country your visiting (must worth minimum 30,000 euro). There are many insurance package that specified for Schengen out there, google for one and then your insurance is only some clicks --and credit card input-- away;
- Booking of a return flight, can be itinerary or paid ticket. Your travel agent can arrange this booking so that you don't need to pay for your ticket before your visa application is approved;
- Proof of financial means (bank statement from your bank etc.);
- Letter of employment from your employer in English, stating the applicant’s name, position, guarantee for leave for the duration of the trip as well as salary. The certificate has to include address, telephone and fax numbers and seal of the company or the school with the name, signature and position of the signer;
- Pay slips of the last 3 months;
- Copy of residence permit, if you're living outside your country. This must be also valid for at least 3 months (in some cases, 6 months) after leaving the Schengen countries;
- Last but not least: Your luck! Don't take it hard if in the end, you didn't get the visa. People do got rejected, eventough they seem to complete all requirements.
The other option is by invitation. Of course, this can work only if you have someone who reside (or better, a citizen) in a Schengen country that you can mess with. The poor guy/girl must go to his/her town hall where he/she lives, submit the filled guarantee letter, pay and get the letter legalized. Sometime he/she also needs to show that he/she afford your stay but showing his/her bank statement. And it doesn't end there, he/she then needs to send the invitation letter to you, along with his/her passport scan. All this work however, would save you a lot from doing stupid booking for your hotel.
UPDATE 2009: Good news! Please update and check the visa consular website or call the officers-- some of them began to implement Electronic Invitation Letter. For example, Austria (June 2009). So the inviter can do the declaration at the competent aliens police office in Austria. It is quicker because the data are electronically transmitted to the Embassy and cheaper because no legalization is anymore necessary.
Fourth, the visa application process takes forever! It can be only 10 days, but can also be almost a month, so please plan ahead! Also remember that eventhough you must submit your passport when you apply, you still can ask them to give your passport back if you need it for traveling or whatever. Once your visa got approved, you return it to have them stamp the visa on your passport.
Fifth, please be aware that this page is written on September 2008. Changes in requirements and procedures are highly possible in the future. Do check on the embassies' websites for more accurate and up-to-date information.
So, good luck and happy traveling!