How to Survive Visa Denials

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sole Sister Lois relives a painful experience of getting denied a visa and shares how you can avoid it, or deal with your own visa woes.

It's been over 4 years ago since I've received my last visa denial from Spain. I would have thought that that story was over. But I've been forced to remember the incident while applying for yet another elusive visa, this time for the United Kingdom.

On the application form, question number 30 of 136 asked:


I had to think about it long and hard. Should I declare that I had been previously denied a visa? 

This was my thought process:

Option 1 Be Honest

Pros: Obviously, this was the right thing to do. I was obliged to answer truthfully and it was clearly stated at the bottom of the form that:

"I am also aware that my application will be automatically refused and I may be banned from going to the UK for 10 years if I use a false document, lie or withhold relevant information. I may also be banned if I have breached immigration laws in the UK. I am further aware that should I use a false document, lie or withhold relevant information my details may be passed to law enforcement agencies."

Cons: If I declare that I had been previously denied a visa, there's a big chance that I ruin my chances of getting an approval. My application can be deemed suspicious because of that. Especially that it was a denial from another European country.  

Option 2 Omit Facts

Pros: If I simply skipped this question, it would be the same as declaring that I had not been denied a visa within the last 10 years. This might improve my chances of getting a visa. 

Cons: If caught withholding information, not only will I risk my chances of getting a visa approval. I may also get banned from going to the UK and possibly to other European countries in the future.

What should I do?

I reluctantly scanned my passport to the offending page stamped with an E for España. It was a small stamp, hardly worth noticing. There wasn't anything revealing about it. Just that letter and some numbers around it. Could they tell I had been previously denied a visa?

I decided to be truthful.


If you're wondering what the reason for refusal means, simply put, the consul had the suspicion that I would overstay in Europe. Given my circumstances during that time, he had reason. I was 

-in my early 30's
-not permanently employed 
-had not had a permanent address within the last 5 years

If you're reading this article, you've probably faced visa problems in the past or are in the process of applying for one. As the title suggest, this is all about getting past your visa denial and figuring out what to do next.

But say you're in the (lucky) group that has still avoided the dreaded visa denial, here are a few tips.

Philippine Passport1

 How To Improve Your Chances of Getting a Visa Approved

1 Apply early. It's best to get your required visa 3 months before your planned trip. This gives you time to re-apply or appeal in case the decision isn't in your favor. But also check with the consulate of the visa you're applying for how far ahead you can send in the application. Some embassies only allow up to 90 days prior to the start of the visit.

2 Be meticulous. Gather all the necessary documents at least a month before your interview. Carefully fill out forms and always be honest. Keep photocopies of important documents in case they are needed. Organize them in folders or envelopes with labels or sticky notes attached so you can easily find them. 

3 Do your research well. Ask others who have recently applied for the same visa for some tips and advice.

4 Travel more. If you have previous visas and entry stamps from other countries, this may increase your chances of getting approved. If you have a clean slate on your passport, try to visit visa free countries first.

5 Know your trip details. Make sure you have memorised all the details of your trip (i.e. accommodations, contact person, reason for visit). These come in handy during your interview. The more confident you seem, the more credible you will appear.

6 Be above suspicion. A consul will always have a nagging doubt in mind: "Is this person going to overstay in my country?" Reassure him as much as possible by showing all possible ties you have to your home country (i.e. a stable, well-paying job, assets, properties and strong relationships).

8 Be confident. While you are at your interview, assert yourself but stay humble. Never lie. Embassies make a thorough background check for sure. Being able to speak English fluently is a major plus.

9 Stay on point. Don't give out unnecessary information or documents when it's not asked. Keep your answers brief and straight to the point.

10 Be positive. Visualize yourself as already arriving in that country. Sometimes, all it takes are positive thoughts and a dream.

But if all else fails, and you still got DENIED, this is what you can do:

- Find out why you got denied. Most embassies will give you the reason for the denial. If it is not provided, try to get more information either in person or in writing. If you do get a reason, and you couldn't figure it out because of the jargon used, try to get a second opinion from people in the know. 

- Check if you can still appeal. You may be given a timeframe to appeal for a reconsideration. If you have the reason for the denial and think that you can provide other documents or information that were not presented before, try to appeal or re-apply. Also, if your circumstances have changed, for instance, you have taken on a new job, have a new source of income or had recently gotten married, these may also be reasons for applying again. 

Mhe-Anne Ojeda, a Filipina lawyer and travel blogger  at My Comings and Goings shares her personal story:

"I had applied for a US Visa on Aug 10, 2000 but got denied. 9 days later, I wrote a Letter of Reconsideration stating that I respect the consular decision since my documentation did not establish strong ties to the Philippines. I did not give them sufficient evidence that I would return to the Philippines after my trip. 

At that time, I did not have any significant savings in the my bank account and I had no properties in my name. I had also been recently employed and had not previously traveled abroad. I also stated in my letter that I was not allowed to present additional evidence to prove my eligibility for the US visa. I then pointed out that the grass is greener for me here in the Philippines rather than in the US, referring to my employment as a new lawyer and that I am a trustworthy individual who has no intent to violate my visa limitations.

My intention was only to request for a chance to be interviewed again as an exception to their then 6-month waiting period before you can re-apply. But the chief consul of the US embassy called me immediately and told me to bring my passport since I wrote a very convincing letter! Not only was I granted a 10 year multiple entry visa, I was also given a tour of the embassy."

What can we learn from Mhe-Anne's story? First, to not take (the initial) no for an answer. If you think that the reason for your denial is not justified and you have sufficient proof to change the decision, it's best to give it a try. 

Secondly, sending a Letter of Reconsideration that is well-written, polite, and hopeful might help reverse the decision. Certainly, Mhe-Anne has an edge that she is a lawyer and can express herself well and can be seen in a different light with respect to her profession. But I think this is something that you can also do. And perhaps with the help of a friend or two.

Philippine Passport2

When should you NOT appeal or re-apply? If you have no new evidence, documents or circumstances to present that will help your situation. 

- Accept the decision. If you think that the decision is reasonable and there is nothing further you can do, just accept the reality that this country is closed to you for the time-being. The sooner you can accept it, the faster you can move on. And make travel plans for elsewhere. Sometimes, a visa denial can be a beautiful thing.

-Don't take things personally. I have to admit I was bitter towards Spain for a while after the incident. I found it insulting to get  a visa denial even after I had already been in Europe previously and never overstayed my welcome in any country.

I couldn't help but blame myself. For choosing a different lifestyle. For not keeping a well-paid, stable job. For always moving from one place to another. For being too naive and idealistic. Maybe those were reasons for the denial. But I couldn't change my circumstances at the time. And if I couldn't do anything about it, I had to make other plans rather than wallow in self-pity.

-Plan your next trip. I don't know what passport you're holding. But I'm sure that the world will not turn its back on you because of a visa denial. I'm pretty sure that you can still look at a map and find places that will welcome you with open arms. I know how disappointing it is for you to have to deal with this rejection.

But I always believe that no good thing that was truly meant for you will get away.

Book a Ticket

-For your next visa application. So after all this has happened, the big question is, "Will my previous denial negatively affect my future visa applications?" I really don't know the answer to this. It's definitely going to be considered and weighed. But this next story makes me hopeful:

Filipino travel blogger, Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap of EAZY Traveler shares his account of getting a visa denied and later on, approved:

"I had applied for a US Visa in 2006 but I got denied. But I applied again for the same visa in 2012 and it was approved. The big difference was that when I reapplied in 2012 I had already traveled to several other countries in Asia and returned to the Philippines, thereby establishing my ties to my home country. I was only applying for a business trip that would last a few months, but instead, I was granted a 10-year multiple entry visa. 

I think that really spelled the difference — beefing up my travel history."

My Visa Stories

In my case, I have a different situation. In 2012, when I applied for a visa from Spain and got denied, I had still been single. On my last Schengen visa application through France in 2014, I was already engaged to be married to a European citizen. And 2 weeks ago, when I had applied for the visa from the UK embassy, I was already married and have a baby.

You'd think I would have immunity to all these visa hassles. But frankly, I don't. I am still waiting nervously for the decision of the UK consulate and I honestly don't know if it will be granted. I'll be sure to update this article when I get the result.

 Final Advice

If you come from a "developing nation", you're sure to realize that the world of travel does play favorites. Not all passports are created equal. Some can actually open more doors than others. But I like to take Randy Pausch's advice on this one.

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

In the end, it doesn't matter what passport you are given. It doesn't matter what country you're born into. It doesn't matter what your job is or how much money you have. 

What does matter is your desire. I hope you never give up on your dreams. I hope you don't take NO for an answer. I hope you choose to travel as far as you can go.

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"
-Robert Browning
Aubrey - The Love Assembly12
Image Credit: The Love Assembly

Always moving forward,
Sole Sister Lois

Disclaimer: Any advice stated here is from my personal experiences through applying for visas in many different countries. I am not an expert in this field and the information provided here should be taken with caution and at your own risk. I wrote this article to share my own story, and those of others, that it may shed light on some of your questions and help you make your next decision. Your experience may vary.

Sole Sister Lois has traveled extensively and has lived in Asia, the United States, and Europe. She is currently based in Europe with her husband and daughter. She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of We Are Sole Sisters.

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4 sole trails

  1. I guess they would find out about the visa rejection history some way or another. I know Schengen countries share a visa database so you really can't conceal information from them. Not sure with UK if they access that database as well but I'm sure these G7 countries somehow share information with each other so it's best to just come clean vs trying to conceal information they would treat as important. :)

  2. Did you eventually get your UK Visa? :)

  3. Hi. My first schengen visa application for France was denied. I got the result of that application after 5 days. Then, decided to reapply last May 31 but up to now, I havent heard anything from them and as I track the application, it is still processing. It is way too taxing.. :( I

  4. Thank you for sharing the post! I hope I could see more updates from you.
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