Remember when Vader told Luke that he was his father? Yeah that was about my reaction when I found out I might have to reschedule my independent travel plans due to delays processing my student visa. At the time it seemed like a great idea. After all, my semester abroad in Milan started five days after my birthday, so why not take advantage of the extra time to travel western Europe? Visa appointments were also made optional, meaning I could mail in my application to the Italian Consulate. A few days after Halloween I mailed in my application and decided to let bureaucracy work its magic. As my departure date inched closer and closer however I was still missing one crucial item. My passport. I was freaking out. It also didn't help that an unresponsive Italian consulate provided no guidance whatsoever.
Fortunately, everything ended up working itself out. I traveled to London, Paris, and Amsterdam before finally arriving in Milan. It goes without saying; however, that the visa process can be a scary thing. Below are a couple tips from a fellow student if you're also considering applying for your student visa independently by mail.
- Send Everything With Tracking
Personally, I mailed in my visa application because the consulate from my jurisdiction was all the way out in San Francisco. Adding a tracking number to your application is a must! Being able to see when your physical application arrived gives you the peace of mind that it wasn’t lost in shipping and that the consulate is working on it.
- Be Patient
Consulates are unfortunately not in the business of customer service and will do things in their own time. There is often one person processing thousands of visas, so you have to go into the process with the assumption that things will take longer than expected . My advice? Mail your application out as soon as humanly possible to help avoid a headache.
- Communicate Persistently
From my experience, when it comes to dealing with the consulates you have to have a strong follow up game. Most visa offices operate by email only, and you won’t always get a response. During my situation, I went without a reply for two months, and ended up sending an email inquiring about the status of my visa application nearly every other day. You advocate for yourself because at the end of the day it’s your responsibility. Be persistent and keep trying to reach the visa office, even if you don't get an immediate reply.
- Have a Contingency Plan
The most dangerous part of the visa process is the waiting game. If you play with fire, you’re going to eventually get burned. If you’re the type of person (like me) that generally waits until the last minute to do everything, keep in mind that mailing in your application late can dispute your travel plans. Book flexible, refundable flights so you adjust on the fly if any delays in processing occur.
It’s universally known that the visa process is the most tedious part of the study abroad preparation process. If you plan on applying independently for your student visa prepare roundtrip tracking information, have patience, advocate for yourself, and most importantly have a backup plan to ensure a seamless process.
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Hello! My name is Leonardo Hall, I'm a senior studying International Business and Economics at the University of Puget Sound. I'm studying abroad in Milan to study business and explore Italian culture. I love running, music, and traveling. This spring, I hope to have tons of new and exciting experiences in Italy, and that sharing them with you helps you get the most out of your time abroad!