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This question is inspired by this meta answer.

Applying for a tourist visa in a Schengen country gives you access to the entire Schengen area.

Generally, you should apply for the visa in the country you intend to spend the most time in while abroad. But if there are multiple countries you are looking to visit that fit this criteria, or you are flexible in your willingness to design your itinerary, you might want to apply at the country you'd have the best chance at.

Are there Schengen countries through which it might be easier to get a visa than others? i.e. countries that tend to approve more requests, have lower costs or documentation burdens, or are otherwise preferred?

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    @o.m. actually the rule is that if there is no main destination you apply to the country of entry. – phoog Jun 11 '16 at 6:13
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    If you are still in the planning stage, you can make the country where you intent to apply for the visa the first or the longest stay country and that is completely within the rules. – Willeke Jun 11 '16 at 9:25
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    @o.m., Yes. The words of the Visa Code are "the Member State whose external border the applicant intends to cross in order to enter the territory of the Member States". – Henning Makholm Jun 11 '16 at 12:42
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    @o.m. The truth is that I have seen many people, even consular staff, who seem to think that's the rule. But the actual text of the visa code is crytal clear, there is no reason a transit would not count and there is no notion of a first or second tier of destinations. – Relaxed Jun 11 '16 at 13:08
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    At the same time, the premise of the question is still wrong, there is no situation in which you are free to choose where to apply. The only way to do that is by adjusting your itinerary. – Relaxed Jun 11 '16 at 13:12
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The first thing to note is that there are in principle no situations in which you are free to choose where you should lodge your application. The rule is that you have to apply to the consulate of your main destination country serving your place of residence and, if there is no main destination, to the relevant consulate of the country through which you will enter the Schengen area. If you are planning a tour involving several countries, you could plan to stay a little longer somewhere or add a transit to target a specific country but this always involve adjusting your stated itinerary.

  • The visa fee are defined in the visa code and thus exactly the same for all countries/consulates (€60 for most pople, €35 for children between 6 and 12 and nationals of a handful of countries, and free for some special categories of applicants including infants and family members of EU citizens).

    Some consulates outsource some part of the process to a subcontractor (often VFS Global, but France uses a company called TLScontact) and they can add a processing fee on top of that. But that's consulate-specific rather than country-specific.

  • The documentary requirements should be more-or-less the same. The actual legal requirements (and thus the standard an applicant has to meet and the valid reasons to refuse an application) are also defined in the Schengen visa code and thus fully harmonized.

    That said, the requirements in question are pretty high-level requirements, e.g. "documents in relation to accommodation, or proof of sufficient means to cover his accommodation" which does leave quite a bit of room for interpretation.

    One example would be visits to friends and family: You need an official invitation but getting one involves quite a bit of hassle and the requirements do vary from one country to the next. However, it's not easy to use these differences to your advantage as you obviously have to get the invitation from the place where your sponsor lives...

  • I don't have any recent statistics at hand but those I have seen a few years ago show that there are indeed rather sizable differences in the refusal rates from one country to the next. However it's not clear that targeting a country with a lower refusal rate can really help you. Among many other factors, consider this: There are also large differences in the origin of the applications processed by each country's consular network.

    For example, Belgium processes nearly all applications for Schengen visas lodged in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the Belgian embassy there runs something called the Maison Schengen and handles applications on behalf of 18 different Schengen countries) and this represents a large part of all applications processed by Belgium worldwide. There are many reasons why applications from the DRC tend to be weaker, or perhaps examined more rigorously than elsewhere and the refusal rate is indeed high, driving Belgium's average up. But this is certainly not predictive of the odds of getting a visa from the Belgium consulate in London for a UK resident with a stable situation.

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