Long waiting times for Schengen visas and a desire to see family for the first time in years are determining where many UAE residents will spend their summer holidays.
The National spoke to several people who said that thanks to difficulties in completing the necessary paperwork, they had little choice but to travel to countries not requiring a Schengen visa.
Schengen visas are required by citizens of most countries before they are allowed to travel to Europe.
These include people from India, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Pakistan.
However, Emiratis do not need a visa to visit Schengen countries.
A surge in demand for travel, now that pandemic restrictions have been eased, has led to a rise in requests for Schengen visas, with residents of some countries facing waits of up to two months.
Other residents said their summer breaks would be spent visiting family members they had not seen since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finding alternative destinations
“I was hoping to go to Europe with my husband and daughter but the waiting lists for a Schengen visa were so long that we decided to go to Bali instead,” said Clarise Morris, an HR manager from India.
“It’s our first proper holiday since the pandemic began and we have to go before the end of August because my daughter starts school then.”
Demand for the visas has increased as countries reopen their borders after Covid-19 restrictions, with people eager to travel again.
However, there is an added difficulty in obtaining the visas due to a backlog of requests, caused by the sudden rise in people hoping to travel, the website schengenvisainfo.com says.
A spokesperson for VFS Global in Dubai, an outsourcing services company for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide, said each country has a different timeline for its visa processing.
"During the peak season, visa processing can take longer than anticipated," he said.
"Each application is unique and thus the processing time may differ for each case.
"It is also important to review this situation in context of the massive spike in visa demand.
"The number of visa applications has risen significantly after Q1 2022 and in Q2 & Q3 we expect around 85 per cent of our 2019 counts to return."
According to the revised Schengen Visa Code, you can now apply for a Schengen visa up to six months before your date of travel, he said.
"Particularly this year with higher demand and limited appointment slots available, we urge applicants to apply for their visa as early as possible.
"VFS Global processes applications as per the mandates of the embassy/consulate."
Per the website, Schengen visas for most countries require about 15 days to process but it is recommended travellers apply at least a month in advance. In some cases, applicants could wait for up to 30 to 60 days depending on demand, documentation and the review process.
Revisiting home countries
Another Dubai resident who had to plan holidays around the lack of visa availability was Raoul Dsouza.
“My wife and I decided to go on a tour of north India because we didn’t want to have to wait ages for a visa,” said Mr Dsouza, who works for a company building interiors for events.
“Being Indian, we need the visas to travel to Europe. It’s a chance, though, to check out the natural beauty of our home country, which we’ve never really fully appreciated before.”
Other travellers are taking their first proper holidays in years, eager to be reunited with family and friends.
Events planner Nadine Manning said she was travelling for that very reason.
“We are travelling because it is the holidays and we desperately need to see family and friends,” said the Australian living in Dubai.
“My 8-year-old son and I are travelling to Singapore and then Sydney.
“Then we are going to Bodrum [in Turkey] for a month to spend it with family. I own a home there but have not been able to go for the last three years.”
The increasing cost of air travel was a factor for other UAE residents planning their summer breaks.
Mother-of-two Bassant Kamal is planning to travel home to Egypt for one month.
She said it is too expensive to travel anywhere else for a summer holiday and as a family of four they would be forced to spend only a week or two in another destination other than home.
“We paid Dh10,000 [$2,722] for a transit flight as direct flights would have cost us around Dh15,000,” she said.
“Last year we took a direct flight home and it cost us Dh7,000 for four of us. This year it has more than doubled.
“There is no affordable destination for us to travel to during the Eid holidays and summer break, so we had no choice other than go home to Egypt.
"The other alternative was stay in Dubai and spend even more money on hotels and kids entertainment.”
Irish citizen Bernadette Ann said she will not travel back to her homeland this summer, because the prices of flights and car rental have skyrocketed.
“I usually go home for two weeks in July or August but it’s just not feasible this year,” she said.
“I looked at flights and they were more than Dh4,500. Usually I pay about Dh3,000.
“Then I have to factor in hiring a car when I arrive in Ireland and that was the biggest shock when I went to get a quote. To hire a basic car for a week was going to cost close to £500, that’s about Dh2,200.
“I’ve paid less than half that in previous years. Then to add fuel to the fire, excuse the pun, but the cost of petrol is crippling back home at the moment, so I decided to bypass it altogether.”
Instead, Ms Ann booked a flight to Armenia for Dh1,600 and secured a room for a week on Airbnb for less than Dh1,000.
“I don’t need a visa to travel and my flight and accommodation for Armenia cost less than what my flight to Ireland would have cost,” she said.