My sister, Jo, is going to be coming to stay with us for a while. She was originally supposed to come this week, but it took much longer than we expected to get her visa sorted out, so now the plan is for her to come over in a few weeks.
The whole visa process was more complicated and significantly less clear than we anticipated, and it has ended up costing us more (through change fees to the airlines) than we expected. We were surprised at how hard it was to get correct answers to important, straightforward questions as we went through the process.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far, in the hopes it might save someone else a headache. As a note, I think a lot of this is true for all of the Schengen Agreement countries, but I only know that it’s true for Austria, and, actually, I can’t even swear to that — Jo’s visa hasn’t been approved yet.
You only need a visa if you are staying more than 3 months but less than 6 months, or if you intend to work while you’re here. For stays of less than 3 months, no visa is needed (again, unless you want to work while you’re here). For stays of over 6 months, you need a residence permit. (I can’t speak to the process of acquiring one, although I have one — the IAEA handled it for us. I have heard it is “more expensive” to get than a visa, and can take up to 6 months to acquire. Ours did not take that long.) If you come without a visa, you are limited to a 3 month stay in ALL of the Schengen Agreement countries, and then you have to stay out of all of those countries for at least 3 months before coming back in.
For the “D” visa (which is the one Jo got — not a work visa, not a student visa, just a tourist visa) the paperwork must be done in person at an Austrian embassy or consulate and must be approved and issued BEFORE coming to Austria. It cannot be completed here. (Residence permits can be applied for while in Austria. This is one of the distinctions we misunderstood — we thought she could start the paperwork in the US and finish it while she was here, as long as it was done before her 3 month long non-visa period ended. Nope — that’s ok for residence permits, but not for visas.)
Travel to and from Austria has to be booked before you can apply for the visa (but you can’t actually travel without the visa).
The hosts in Austria have to fill out paperwork showing their ability to take financial responsibility for the person getting the visa, and this has to be done BEFORE the application can be put together. (Otherwise, I believe, the applicant has to show evidence of financial means to support themselves.) To turn in that paperwork, the hosts have to make an appointment with the correct person at the Austrian police department, during very limited hours (all of which are during business hours). We were really surprised to have to wait almost 2 weeks for an appointment. This paperwork has to be filed and approved before the applicant can even make their appointment in the US to apply for their visa. (This is why we had to reschedule Jo’s flight. We did not count on such a long wait for an appointment.)
Applicant has to show proof of health insurance that will cover them in Austria.
After weeks of trying to get the right answers from the right people, one (expensively) changed plane ticket, a few woefully incorrect answers from Austrian officials, and at least two trips to the Austrian embassy in DC (that was my sister, though, not me) Jo finally got to turn her application in yesterday. Whew.
After all of this, we’ve come to one conclusion: they don’t really seem to want tourists here longer than 3 months. Unless you have a pressing need (or infinite patience) just come and stay for 3 months. However, if you do decide to apply, keep these things in mind:
- Do the Austrian paperwork first, before buying your ticket (or buy your ticket months in advance and start the paperwork immediately).
- Remember that you must have both directions of travel booked before applying, but that it can take up to 2 weeks for the visa to be approved, so allow at least that long between application and your departure date.
- The visa has to be approved and issued before you leave the US, so if it isn’t, you’ll have to delay your trip or limit yourself to a 3 month stay.
I hope that helps. I wish we’d known all of those things before we started this process. Fingers crossed that it all actually works out!