Keen to take your helper with your fam on European holiday this summer, mama? Here’s our how-to guide on how to get your helper a visa!
I spend a lot of time reading Facebook groups (it’s part of how we monitor what mamas in Singapore want to read about!) and among the questions I see most frequently asked is how to get your helper a visa for Europe.
Having done just this when our family went on a big trip to the Netherlands, France, Italy and Switzerland last year, it’s an area where I have some experience, and I find I’m often giving people advice over PM about what steps to take. So I figured it was high time I put it out there for all the mamas in our audience who might be hoping to bring their helper on holiday this summer.
We brought our helper along on our trip primarily because we consider her a member of our family and were excited for her to be able to take a European vacation; she babysat our daughter sometimes at night so we could go out to dinner, but I wouldn’t classify it as a working holiday. Nonetheless, it was certainly amazing having an extra pair of hands on the airplane (and to chase after our active toddler), and was well worth the copious amounts of paperwork and stressful uncertainty!
Just a heads up: I have heard, anecdotally, that a helper needs to have worked for you for at least a year in order for her visa to be approved, although I didn’t come across specific language about this anywhere. I believe it varies by country, so something to keep in mind if your helper has only recently come on board.
First of all, this advice pertains specifically to the Schengen visa, which covers 26 countries in Western Europe (but not the UK or Ireland). Citizens of countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, India, and Myanmar and Sri Lanka (the countries where most helpers hail from) are all required to get a Schengen visa.
One visa (lasting up to 90 days) covers travel across all Schengen states. Where things get tricky, though, is that some countries have additional rules and requirements for issuing visas (France, for instance, has some very complicated rules to ensure helpers are paid local wages. As long as your visa isn’t issued by France, though, you don’t have to worry about this).
Along these lines, don’t just assume that the “leisure travel visa” guidelines on an embassy’s website are all you need to follow. When I finally figured out that we needed to get our helper a visa issued by Italy, I called to ask about making an appointment and when I mentioned it was for our helper, the very kind woman on the phone said, “Oh! In that case I will need to email you our list of separate requirements.” You can see that list here, mamas.
Tip: Call the Embassy (or visa-issuing entity, such as VFS) to ask for all helper-specific visa requirements.
It’s important to know that Schengen visas are generally based on the country where you’ll spend the most time during your trip (not necessarily your port of entry). On our trip last year we flew into Amsterdam from Singapore, so I assumed we’d need a visa from The Netherlands and spent a lot of time researching their specific requirements, only to then discover that we’d actually need to get one from Italy because that’s where we’d be for the longest period of time. If you’re spending an equal amount of time in two countries, if one is the port of entry, then apply there. If you’re not spending the most time in your port of entry (but equal amounts in two other countries), you can apply to one of those two countries.
Over the course of my research I read helpful posts by a few different Filipino travel bloggers (our helper is Filipina) who’d successfully secured visas from different Schengen countries. I found some really useful tips that weren’t readily obvious on the various embassy websites – more on these below!
Where to get the visa
Once you’ve got a rough idea of your itinerary and know where you’ll be spending the most time, your first web stop should be the Singapore embassy of the country in question. It turns out most Schengen countries in Singapore actually outsource their visa processing duties to a company called VFS. It took me a decent amount of clicking around the Italian Embassy website to figure this out (Google answered the question a lot more quickly). In other cases, countries sometimes share the duties (for instance, you apply for a Portuguese visa through the German embassy). When in doubt, call the Embassy.
How to prepare your itinerary
A common requirement for the Schengen visa application is a detailed itinerary including confirmed flights to/from Europe. What does confirmed mean? It doesn’t mean that you need to purchase a ticket for your helper while taking the risk that her visa will be rejected! There are a few different options here:
- Book a refundable ticket. Bear in mind that these are often quite expensive. Yes you could buy a refundable ticket, then later cancel it and hope a cheaper ticket is still available, but that’s a bit of a hassle.
- Use airline miles, which are generally refundable and can be changed if you need to alter your itinerary.
- Ask a travel agent to create a confirmed itinerary for you. This doesn’t cost anything but shows your travel dates and both you and your helper’s names on the itinerary, and will also come with a confirmation number. We actually did this for our intra-Europe flights between Paris and Rome, and then booked the flights once our helper’s visa was approved.
Besides the return flights, you will also be required to show a detailed itinerary with all transportation (including trains, cars, buses) and accommodation that shows both you and your helper’s names.
We purchased refundable train tickets, and I used this sample itinerary from Filipina travel blogger Wanderlass as my model. I also made sure to include our helper’s name on all of our airbnb bookings. In organizing the reams of paper necessary for the application, I forgot to print out our helper’s train ticket between Amsterdam and Paris and the woman at the visa desk actually noticed (I had to email it to her as soon as I got home!), so they do pay attention to these things.
Tip: Come prepared with a detailed day-by-day itinerary showing all travel, accommodation and confirmation numbers. DON’T stress about having to buy plane tickets beforehand, though.
Schengen-specific travel insurance
Another core requirement is travel insurance covering the entire Schengen area, for the duration of your stay. The minimum required cover is €30,000.
Major insurance companies in Singapore such as AXA and Allianz do offer Schengen-specific policies, but on the recommendation of another Filipino travel blogger I went with a German company called Care Concept, which not only offers affordable Schengen-specific coverage you can purchase online, but is also fully refundable if the visa is rejected. I ended up paying just €17 for our 2.5-week trip – other companies in Singapore had quoted me around $90 so this was a really good deal.
The only tricky bit: most of the policy came to me in German! The woman at the visa desk didn’t seem to mind, as our helper’s name and the dates of our trip were clearly spelled out. However, she did ask me to provide documentation that the policy specifically covered the Schengen area, so I ended up sending her the policy explanation from the Care Concept website and that was sufficient.
Tip: Make sure your insurance is Schengen-area specific; try to get a refundable policy in case the visa is rejected.
Financial records and bank accounts
As an employer, you will be required to provide a bank statement showing the last three months of transactions to demonstrate that you’re financially solvent and can support your helper. This is also required to be a local bank account.
Additionally, helpers are asked to show if they have a bank account, and if not they need to produce a copy of remittances that they’ve sent home. If your helper doesn’t have a bank account, make sure she’s saving those remittance receipts!
I’d strongly suggest getting your helper a bank account if she doesn’t already have one, and ideally showing a minimum balance around $1,000 when you submit all your documentation. This shows financial ties to Singapore, which is something that’s taken into account when determining whether or not to grant a visa. Our helper set a savings account up in January, and we applied for the visa in early February, so she had a little over a month’s worth of transactions to show.
Tip: Make sure your helper has a bank account with a healthy minimum balance.
Letter of support
One final component to our application packet, which wasn’t specifically asked for, was a letter of support. (I did this on the advice of a friend who’d successfully gotten her helper a Schengen visa for Switzerland). In this letter I not only emphasized how wonderful our helper is and her ties to Singapore (she has an aunt here, she has her own bank account, she regularly attends church), but also highlighted exactly why we were so excited to bring her to Italy: in our case we happened to be in Rome over Easter, and she was thrilled at the idea of attending Easter mass at the Vatican.
This is also a good opportunity to reinforce that you will financially cover all of your helper’s expenses (I believe you’re required to provide €34 spending money each day). You can download a dummy version of that letter here.
The Embassy will have a checklist of exactly which documents you need to provide; once you’ve got ALL of your documents in order, make your visa application appointment. At most you can only do this three months ahead of your trip.
I suggest bringing multiple copies of each document, and putting each one into a separate pocket in a tabbed folder so the person doing the processing can easily work their way down the list. I printed out every accommodation and transportation confirmation, and even though she didn’t ask to see everything, it made me feel better having it on hand.
Both you and your helper will be required to attend the visa appointment, which in our case only lasted about five minutes, including paying $145.50 in fees. We weren’t sure if our helper would be interviewed or interrogated, but the kind woman at the VFS Italy desk (sitting right next to agents issuing visas for other countries) simply checked that all our forms were in order and gave our helper some advice about visiting the Vatican.
How long does it take?
We were told it would take up to two weeks to render a decision on the visa, so I was pretty shocked when I received a text message three days later saying we could pick up our helper’s passport (they don’t tell you if the visa’s been approved; you don’t find out until you open the passport and see if the visa is in there. SO much suspense!). My heart nearly beat out of my chest when we saw that she’d been approved.
To this day I still have no idea if we were just lucky or what, but I do feel that being overly prepared and anal with my research helped our case. Our helper loved traveling to the Netherlands and France (sadly a family emergency meant that she had to fly home the day we arrived in Italy). She’d never experienced cold weather before, and was just as awed by Europe’s magnificent buildings, museums, and food as we were.
Please feel free to drop me a line if you have any more questions, mama, and I wish you, your families, and your helpers many happy travels!
Lead image sourced via Student Canada. All other images courtesy of the author.