When you apply for a visa you’ll need to provide a stack of documents to support your application.
These ‘supporting documents’ can be difficult to prepare – especially if there are very specific requirements for what they need to show – so it’s best to actually start preparing your supporting documents well in advance of your actual travel.
Troublesome visa supporting documents
Sometimes the simplest supporting documents can also be the most troublesome to prepare.
Bank statements are a big source of trouble as different governments have different rules on what they’ll accept.
- Do you need to be personally named on the bank statement?
- How recent do the bank statements need to be?
- What actually counts as an ‘original’ document these days?
- For how long do you need to show sufficient funds?
Travel insurance documents can also cause major issues, especially if they’re issued in a partner’s name or don’t explicitly call-out the level of medical repatriation cover you have.
Hotel bookings can cause similar problems when a partner or other person is named on the booking but not the visa applicant themselves.
So how can you avoid these pitfalls?
We’ve run visa application centres for more than a dozen governments in 90 countries, and based on our experience here are 6 things you can do to make sure your visa supporting documents are properly prepared.
And as you’ll see, you’ll have to start making preparation well in advance of your intended travel dates.
1) Always ask for paper statements
We know, we know!
Paper statements should be a relic of the past and are awfully bad for the environment compared to electronic statements, but paper does solve a lot of problems when applying for a visa.
This usually impacts bank statements, but utility bills also suffer from the same issue if used to prove your address.
While Canadian and UK visa applications make greater use of electronic statements, many Schengen visa applications still require ‘original’ paper statements as supporting documents.
If you’ve not asked your bank or utility company for paper statements you may find that printed versions of your electronic statements are not eligible for use in your visa application.
Even if a government will accept a printed version of an electronic statement (either printed by you at home or, if it’s a bank statement, printed in one of their branches) they may require the statement issuer to stamp the print-out with their seal to confirm it’s legit.
Seals are still in common use in a lot of countries but many places – such as in the UK – don’t tend to use seals any more. So even if a government is asking for a printed statement stamped by the issuer (such as a bank), you might find the issuer cannot – or will not – do so.
Which brings us back to requesting paper statements.
With bank statements you might have the option to use electronic statements and then specially request printed versions to be sent to you, but having used this service several times ourselves the results have been mixed. Sometime the bank statements took weeks to arrive – by which time it was too late to use them in our visa application – while other times they never arrived at all.
So while making these special requests can save on a lot of paper, it doesn’t always work to your timeframes.
If you know you’re going to apply for a visa soon, or apply for lots of visas due to your work, it’s worth setting up paper statements several months in advance so you’re sure to have theme when you need them.
2) Choose monthly statements
On the subject of statements, if you have the option to choose between monthly or quarterly statements, always choose ‘monthly’.
When making your visa application your supporting documents will typically need to have been issued within the last three months.
So with quarterly statements you’ll always have a ‘blind spot’ for a period of time where you don’t have your most current statement.
And chances are, this blind spot is exactly when you need to make your visa application!
With monthly statements you’ll always have a sufficiently recent document that will be acceptable for your visa application – even if it’s a month old.
But if the most recent month in a quarterly statement is three or four months old, then that’s going to be a problem.
The consular official assessing your visa application has no way of knowing if you still have the required funds to meet the rules of your visa.
And as proof of financial means is a key supporting document, you risk a delay in your visa decision – or worse, a rejection.
So to avoid any gaps in your statement coverage, request monthly statements so that you know you’ll always be able to supply the most timely documentation.
3) Name all people on all documents and accounts
You might live in the kind of household where one adult takes care of all the bills, bookings and accounts.
Or maybe you share the workload.
But whatever approach you take to account management at home, wherever possible, name all people on all documents, bookings and accounts.
This approach lets any named party use documents or statements you have from your bank, utility suppliers, local council, travel service provider or other organisation as a supporting document for their visa application without any hassle.
Otherwise, if a different person is named on an account for a supporting document you intend to use for your visa application, you’ll also need to prove that relationship.
If you’re married or in a civil partnership, that can be as straightforward as providing a copy of your marriage or partnership certificate, but if you live together with someone as unmarried partners or even a house share, that’s where it starts to get more complicated.
Any children also applying for visas with adults should also be named on documents such as travel insurance, airline/ train/ ferry tickets and hotel bookings, wherever this is possible.
The bottom line is, to avoid any hassle in proving that a supporting document covers one of your travel party, wherever you can name more than one person on a document, booking or account, do so.
4) Name the (lead) visa applicant on accounts and travel documents
Having two names on a statement or account gives you maximum flexibility in how you use those documents to support a visa application, but what if only one person in a travel group needs to apply for a visa?
Perhaps your partner holds a different passport to you and they need a visa to travel to your destination, but you don’t.
If you’re not both named on accounts or travel documents, it’s better to have the visa applicant named on any supporting documents you intend to use.
For example, when booking a hotel room, if you need to use the booking confirmation in your partner’s visa application, it’s best to book the room in your partner’s name so that you’re 100% sure that name will appear on the hotel booking confirmation (as not all hotels name all guests on their booking confirmations). This makes it easier when preparing the visa application and avoids having to then prove the relationship between the visa applicant and the person whose name is on the booking.
If both you and your partner are applying for a visa, make a decision on who will be considered the ‘lead’ applicant and make all bookings in their name. This makes it easier for the consular official reviewing your visa application as there will be a consistent set of supporting documents all in the same lead applicant’s name.
5) Make sure copies are in the correct format
When you submit original supporting documents you’ll also need to provide a photocopy.
Do pay attention to the format requirements for copies as your visa application can be delayed or even rejected for not following the rules.
The most common format mistakes include:
- Using the wrong paper size – A4 is typically used by most governments, but you may find US Letter or other paper sizes are required for copies. If your original document is a different size, make sure you set the photocopier or printer to print using the correct size paper and scale the original page to fit without distortion.
- Printing double sided – unfortunately, the visa application process loves paper and most governments will only accept single-sided printed documents, so make sure you don’t print double-sided.
- Copies not containing all required information – make sure your photocopy or print out contains all required information that’s on the original and that nothing’s chopped off. This frequently occurs when trying to photocopy non-standard size documents (e.g. a UK marriage certificate) or printing a US Letter pdf on A4 paper without re-sizing to fit.
Make sure you check the required formats before you copy so that you don’t end up having to re-do everything again using the correct format.
6) Highlight or mark-up relevant information on photocopies
You’ll help the consular official immensely if you use a highlighter to underline relevant information they’ll need to see on your photocopies.
For example, you can highlight your name, dates or any other relevant information you believe they’ll be looking for, such as certain financial transactions on a bank statement.
If you’re submitting several documents of the same type – perhaps you’ll be staying at several different hotels and have booking confirmations for each of them – it’s also useful to write the sequence of your stay in the margin of each booking print out.
So if you’re staying at three different hotels, on the booking confirmation for the first hotel you can write ‘Hotel Booking 1 of 3’, then on the second hotel write ‘Hotel Booking 2 of 3’, etc.
A similar approach is also useful if different members of your travel party are using different documents for the same purpose, such as, for example, if you have one member of your group named on one travel insurance policy but the rest of the group named on a second policy.
In this case, it may be helpful to write in the margin ‘Travel insurance for Person A’ on the first policy and ‘Travel insurance for Persons B, C and D’ on the second policy.
This makes it easier for the consular official to confirm you have accommodation booked or travel insurance for your entire stay, and if you’ve also highlighted your name and the dates you’ll make their life even easier.
So there you have it, 6 ways to properly prepare your supporting documents for a visa application.
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