I didn't want to jinx it by offering visa gyaan before I had my duly stamped passport back in my hands :) Being Indian, I've to re-apply every time I want to travel to Europe. The rules keep changing, so it's always freshly nerve wracking. Here are some tips that worked last month:
1. You need to apply for a visa with the consulate of whichever Schengen country you plan to spend the most time in. If it’s a fairly even spread, apply at the consulate of the country you’re flying into. In my case this was Italy. Given how well Indians treat Sonia Gandhi, you’d think we’d be waved into Italy, no questions asked, but nooo.
2. If you’re flying out of the Schengen zone to a country which requires a visa, you need to have the latter visa before applying for the Schengen one.
3. Go to the relevant consulate’s site to see what documents & bank balance you need. This is a bit of a pain because several websites claim to be the 'official' one. Look for the one that slips back into Italian despite your clicking 'EN' at the top right several times.
4. I highly recommend booking flights & hotels with free cancellation. If your company doesn't cover insurance, you’ll need to buy your own, and Travel Underwriters was the cheapest (reliable) one I found. You'll need to give them 72 hours' notice for a 'proof of coverage' letter.
5. Filling the Schengen visa application form: You need to list all the Schengen countries you’re visiting in the ‘Member State of destination’ field. Similarly, hotel details for all countries are to be listed later in the form. Also, don't stick the photo in the box, just carry it along.
6. Remember you’ll be giving away your passport for 7-20 days after your visa appointment, so don’t schedule international trips in this time. For domestic travel, check if other ID proofs will be accepted by the airline.
7. Most consulates need you to make an appointment before you show up. I wholeheartedly commiserated with the security guard at the Italian Consulate* who had to futilely open & close the door ten times in the five minutes I was there. And no, he can’t answer any of your questions.
8. Bring photo ID along when you come. Keep it out if possible. The queue of people behind you will greatly appreciate this, especially when it’s -10 out. Cell phones & laptops may be confiscated at the gate, so leave them at home if possible.
9. Bring the visa processing fees in cash. No discounts for those who've received Schengen visas before, tragically. The nearest ATM to the Italian Consulate in TO is past the AGO.
10. The Italian Consulate in Toronto is notoriously slow, so factor in 1.5 hours for the appointment. They are super-fast at giving you the visa though – I got mine in 6 days’ time.
11. You can either pay to have the visa couriered to you, or go pick it up. I recommend the latter, because it’s important to check your name & the dates for which the visa’s been issued.
12. FYI, you needn't bother with the nice heels when it’s slippery-snowy out, because the officials can’t see them from behind the tiny window anyway. Lesson learned.
* Did you know the IT consulate in TO is in a historical building dating back to the 1800’s? The Italian government bought the house constructed by a British-born tanner in 1937, and it was confiscated by the Canadian govt in 1939 when WWII began. It was given back to the Italians later, obviously, and they've owned it for over 40 years now. This being Toronto, the building sits right where you’d expect it to – in Koreatown, rather than in Little Italy. Oh, Canada.