26 June, 2012

Getting a Belgian Student Visa through the Mail

Because I've got a golden ticket!
So a plethora of things are going on this summer. I'm slowly preparing to study abroad through UNCG's international program, and ISEP, in Brussels Belgium next fall. It's been filled with its pitfalls, and the overgrowing cost seems overwhelming at times. To make matters worse, the visa process in intense. As I went through the process, I found myself searching the web for clarification on the Belgian student visa process from individuals who've done it before, and found none. I made the promise that when I received mine, I'd post a how-to, for others. I'd hope at some time in the future, Belgium decides to go to some sort of online visa process like Australia does, or even better, offer a tourist-student visa (6 months without the formal visa process) for those of us who only attend one semester. At the very least, a better transliteration would be nice. I'm a third year college student, and I found the task daunting. So here's the process:

  1. The very first thing you want to do, before anything else is start your FBI check. It takes about 6-8 weeks, so do it immediately. Go to your central Sheriff's department and ask for a FBI finger-print card. Mine was about $15. When you mail it, you can only mail it Delivery Confirmation, as US government organizations are exempt from signing for mail
  2. Buy a bunch of organizational stuff. Folders, paper-clips, black binding clips. You'll need it! Stay organized, and mail the stuff organized. Make it easy for them to approve it!
  3. For clarity, the name of the visa you're trying to obtain is a Schengen long-stay Belgian visa.
  4. Grab a language form in FrenchDutch or German. This will be how any embassy inquiries are conveyed to you. Pick the one you're likely to understand the best. It does not have to be the same language that your application is in, as my school sent a Dutch letter, but I speak (or mangle) French. This is the only document you don't have to notarize.
  5. Go to your local drug-store, and get a half-dozen passport photos. I went to CVS and paid $9.99. Take three, sign the back. Make three copies, photo-copy the back. Paperclip them all together.
  6. The Financial Support form is the confusing one. This is the document that is filled out by your parents or sponsor, and despite the Belgian embassy's website stating not to use the English version, you actually DO use it if you're submitting by mail. In fact you need both the Dutch form -(or French form if your school letter is in French), and the English translation of it (Dutch/English  - French/English). What you'll want to do is fill out both copies of the corresponding documents. Since my University sent it in Dutch, I would use the Dutch form, and the Dutch/English form. Then have your sponsor, take the English copy and have it notarized. The Dutch version- you do not notarize, however your sponsor will need to write in their own handwriting on the bottom of the document IN DUTCH (or French if it's the French version) the phrase:  "Geizen voor weittiging van de handtekening" and attach a money order from a bank (separate from your application fee) of $19.50 USD.  Basically once the Embassy gets it, they'll look at the English version which is notarized, and seal the Dutch version which isn't notarized with the official embassy seal which circumvents your sponsor having to go to the embassy in person. Attached to this via binder clip should be three months bank statements and the most recent year's tax records of your sponsor. A notarized letter from their financial institution saying the date the account was open, and that they're in good standing (no financial amounts needed.) They'll also need a letter of employment verification from their employer. I bound all this documents with the clip, and added a sticky note to the top indicating this was my "SPONSOR".
  7. If you've made this far, you're doing good. Now it's time to get your stuff in order. Fill out the visa application form twice, then have them both notarized. Be sure to mark "multiple entries" so you can travel in and out of the country if you so prefer. 
  8. Go to your doctor and have them fill out this form. It must be notarized as well. My doctor did not have a notary on staff, so it took a few days, but it may also require setting up an appointment and testing, so be aware that this may be something you want to begin early in the process.
  9. Now paper clip each multi-page document, then binder clip the student bundle of papers with a binder clip. Include your bank/postal money order of $234 (though be sure to check current fees, as they do change.) Post it note this bundle "STUDENT".
  10. Now that the hard work is done, you'll binder clip the STUDENT bundle and the SPONSOR bundle together with your passport on top.
  11. Obtain 1 USPS Priority Mail envelope. It's a flat rate, so just make sure you buy the postage up front. Also ask to purchase delivery confirmation, and prepare the envelope so it can be sent back to you (SASE).  Place this behind your documents.
  12. Insert all documents and return envelope inside a second larger envelope. I used a plain manila envelope, which I re-enforced with packaging tape on the seams and corners. Address it to the consulate that serves your state, and take it to the post-office. Choose the method of delivery of your choice. Priority mail is likely a good choice, and ask for Signature Confirmation. The Belgian Embassy will sign for it. This will also allow you to track the movement of the package.
  13. Now breathe! It took me about three weeks from the day I mailed it to receiving it back. It was technically in the mail on week two, but it took nearly a week to get back. While the hard part is done, remember that you still have to register at city hall once you arrive in Belgium. The embassy will send you back your passport with your visa attached, and a few of the forms you will need on arrival. It's best to put all of that in a plastic sheet covered binder to take on your carry-on for arrival in the Schengen Area.
** Just a friendly reminder, only certain states can mail their application in. Definitely check and follow the latest guidelines from the embassy, but hopefully the above clarifications will assist those of us who are confused and bewildered by the process.