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My girlfriend and I have South African passports with 5 year ancestral visas for the UK valid until 2018; we've been working here for a few months and have UK bank accounts. We're planning on saving up our earnings to tour around Europe in a few months. We don't know where exactly we'd like to go or for how long - just go where we want when we want.

A Schengen visa would be ideal as it would open a few countries to us. However two Schengen requirements may pose a problem:

  1. We require tickets in and out of the Schengen zone (not much of a problem since we could get ferry/plane tickets from and to the UK a few weeks apart).
  2. We require proof of hotel books or offers of accommodation from whoever we're staying with (this is the big issue as we don't know where we want to go).

Does anyone know whether not having firm travel plans would absolutely prevent us from being granted visas? Does it make a difference that we are UK residents (we have UK bank accounts and an address we can use but not Right of Residence or citizenship) or that we have leave to return to the UK after our Schengen visa would expire?

Surely you can go to the Schengen zone without knowing where we want to go or exactly where we want to be on a certain date; isn't that the point of a Schengen zone - one visa for all countries?

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    The point is first and foremost opening borders inside the Schengen area (the rest, including the common visa policy, the Dublin system for asylum, etc. kind of logically follows from that; otherwise it would be easy to use countries with the most favorable rules to circumvent restrictions put in place by other countries and the more restrictive countries would not have consented to the plan to begin with). It also means you only need one visa (i.e. only one application and one fee) but not necessarily that you can get one without deciding and revealing where you want to go. – Relaxed Apr 23 '14 at 20:13
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Not having firm travel plans or proof of accommodation does not absolutely prevent you from getting a visa. In fact, article 14 of the Schengen Visa Code reads:

  1. When applying for a uniform visa, the applicant shall present:

(a) documents indicating the purpose of the journey;

(b) documents in relation to accommodation, or proof of sufficient means to cover his accommodation;

[…]

This clearly implies that not having booked anything yet but showing you have money to pay for it should be enough. Even that requirement can be waived (e.g. for people who regularly visit the Schengen area and have used visas lawfully before) so it's definitely not formally required to book accommodation for every night in advance. Note that being comfortable with cheap accommodation does not help you with this requirement, each country has its own definition of “sufficient means”. For example, for France it's something like €65 a day.

At the same time, the more credible your plan is and the more details and supporting documentation you can provide, the more likely you are to get your application processed (see the comment below), convince the consulate and get the visa. “I just want to roam freely and don't know when I will come back” will probably invite scrutiny. “I want to see Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Berlin, haven't booked my accommodation but have a return ticket to the UK” already sounds much better. A day-by-day itinerary with hotel confirmations would seem even better. See also What does "copy of itinerary" mean when applying for a Schengen visa?

Being a UK resident does not exempt you from any requirement but it does help a little bit here as it shows you have a stable situation to return to and you are not seeking to immigrate illegally in the Schengen area. Same thing if you would own a house, etc.

Incidentally, if you want to visit any of the Schengen countries, you don't have much of a choice, you will need a Schengen visa. Once you have it, there is nothing stopping you from altering your plan, staying a little longer somewhere, changing hotels, adding a country to your tour, etc. Downright lying about where you want to go could in principle be grounds for a cancellation of the visa and denial of entry but in practice you could even go to another country entirely without anyone caring.

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    One other case. As most embassies have outsourced the document collection, I would doubt they would even accept the application. The outsourcers aren't so knowledgable about the rules, from experience, and probably would refuse. Even if you quote them the rules, I seriously doubt if they would understand to pass on the application to the embassy. If you deposit directly at the embassy, still then you would need some convincing but they would relent. – DumbCoder Apr 24 '14 at 7:38
  • @DumbCoder Yes, good point, that's very likely to be an issue as well. – Relaxed Apr 24 '14 at 9:44

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