I come across this question all the time, it is very common. Especially during the pandemic where people's travel plans changed due to last minute restrictions.
There are 3. things to consider here.
- The process when applying for the visa and which consulate to apply to.
- What you then do with the visa once issued.
- How that affects future travel and applications to the Schengen area.
Applying for the visa
When you apply for a Schengen visa it is issued on the basis of the application being submitted. You would need to provide proof of round trip tickets and hotel bookings. If the trip is for tourism or business the documents provided would reflect this and the activity on the visa would also reflect this. In your case tourism. The correct Schengen country to apply to is either the first (or only) country you will visit or the main destination if you visit multiple countries in one trip to the Schengen area. The main destination would be the country where you will stay the longest... if you would stay in more than one country for the same amount of days then it would be the first country in the trip:
- Travel to France and then home: Apply to France
- Travel to Austria for one day and then straight to France for two days and then home: Apply to France
- Travel to Austria for one day, Germany for two days France for three days, Italy for three days: Apply to France
Travel on the visa
Now you have a Schengen visa you are free to travel anywhere in the Schengen area, even if you you do not actually travel to the country that issued the visa... but this is not a great idea and it will be come clearer for various reasons below! When you arrive in the Schengen area your passport will be stamped by the country where you first cross the border, it is unlikely to be stamped anywhere else within the Schengen area until you exit. This is important because if you correctly applied for a visa to France as the main destination but entered Austria first then you will most likely have an entry stamp to Austria and an exit stamp from France and nothing in your passport to explain how long you were actually in either country.
Also while a Schengen visa will be endorsed with the activity selected when initially applying, a Schengen visa can actually be used for any activity permissible on a Schengen visa. So if you have a 5 year Schengen visa endorsed "tourism" it will be fine to use this for business trips. Thinking that they are limited by the initial activity mentioned when they are first issued is a very common misconception. At the same time, if your visa was issued for tourism then the first trip should be tourism... it would misleading to apply for a visa for tourism if your intention was to travel on business because there are less documents required for example, when you are applying for a visa your intentions should be truthful, in the same way that you should be trying to stick to the travel dates/information you provided. Any deviations to the original travel should be recorded and evidence kept as you will need this in the future, I explain more on this below.
Reapplying for a Schengen visa
So now you used your visa and you need to travel again so you reapply... when the application documents are being reviewed the consular officer will be looking at the full pack of documents, but one of the key factors they will look for is a good or bad Schengen travel history. A person who has been issued a French visa for tourism and then travelled to France (for tourism, though this is hard to check by the authorities) will be deemed to have had a positive history, and conversely a person who had a visa issued by France but who then has an Austrian entry stamp on a different entry date will be deemed to have misused the visa, and this will be a negative travel history. As per the Schengen code, the guidelines for issuing longer validity multiple entry visas are as follows (keeping in mind the consulate can issue up to 6 months multiple entry on the first visa application at their discretion):
Multiple-entry visas with long validity may be issued for one, two or
multiple entries. The Visa Code sets out rules on the issuing of multiple entry visas with a progressively longer length of validity:
- 1 year, if the applicant has used three visas within the previous 2
- 2 years, if the applicant has already used a 1-year multiple-entry visa within the previous 2 years;
- 5 years, if the applicant has already used a 2-year multiple-entry visa within the
previous 3 years.
Airport transit visas and visas limited to
particular countries are not taken into account when taking decisions
on the issuing of multiple-entry visas with a long validity.
This is important because any question marks surrounding the trustworthiness of the application will through the above rules for the issuance of longer visas out of the window. To counter this, if your travel plans changed and it was not your fault, you can preempt this by providing an explanatory letter and then evidence of the changes and leave the decision to the visa officer's discretion.
- Perhaps your flights to France were cancelled at the last minute and the only available flights were to Austria and then on to France. You should provide evidence of the cancelled flights and communication with your travel agent when looking for other options and any other helpful documents such as your hotel bookings in France to proof you were there for x days.
- An urgent business trip came up that was critical you attend and you had to cancel your holiday. When you came to travel next it was to a different Schengen destination but your visa was still valid and so it was used. This should be evidence with communication showing the urgency of the business need and why the original trip was cancelled, and any other helpful documents to back this up, such as communications to the consulate of the Schengen country you now intend to apply to asking if this trip will be OK on the existing visa.
- You travelled to France as planned, you were stamped arriving in Austria, and have no stamp entering France. You should provide evidence of the flights (internally to France) and the hotel bookings/receipts that evidence you were in fact in France.
The list of possible scenarios is obviously limitless and each one will be unique but the above examples are very very common. Once you apply it will now be at the discretion of the visa officer, if this is a one off then usually you would expect to be given the benefit of the doubt (especially if you have strong evidence to show you were not intentionally misleading). But if you are a repeat offender, you provide little or no evidence to explain the misuse or you just have a very strict visa officer review your documents you may find that the next visa(s) you are issued are single entry, perhaps limited to the exact dates of travel as per your itinerary and in some cases the visa may be refused for several reasons:
- There are reasonable doubts as to the reliability of the statements made
- There are reasonable doubts as to the reliability, as to the authenticity of the supporting documents submitted or as to the veracity of their contents
It might be possible to add more reasons to reject an application but these would be the easiest for the visa officer to apply.
Visa shopping (around)
This is a really common situation where travellers look to apply to a specific consulate because they think they will be treated better/more favourably and is usually based on... which country will issue the longest multiple entry visa? which country is the quickest to process visas? which country has earliest appointment? Or bad advice from a friend or colleague who think they are some kind of expert because they applied on time. If you are ever asking these questions then you are making a big mistake for all the reasons I mention above. If you are asking these questions because you are being repeatedly issued single entry visas then your whole approach is probably the cause and not the solution.
- Always be truthful when applying for visa applications.
- If your plans changed through no fault of your own that you can evidence, it is not ideal but it should be salvageable without damaging your travel history.
- Do not make a habit of changing your travel plans, if you want to be treated favourably by a consulate, think about how you will come across when you are applying.
- NEVER apply for a visa solely based on what you believe will be the best consulate to issue you the longest visa or the easiest process rather than the intended country to visit, this is something you will almost certainly come to regret.