It's great to imagine a spontaneous visit to the UK or Europe. If you are from one of the following countries you don't need a visa for a tourist stay of up to 90 days: UK, European Union, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and this list is by no means a complete one.
However, if your passport is from India, China, Pakistan, Indonesia, any African country, most South American countries and many others, then you must apply for a visa for the UK and the 'Schengen Area'. First, however, it would be helpful to understand some background information in order to understand what the Schengen Area actually is.
The background to the Schengen Area stems from the formation of the European Union (EU) in 1993. The EU is a group of 28 mostly European countries that participate in the world economy as one economic unit and have one official currency, the euro.
From this European Union, the Schengen Agreement was signed which created the Schengen Area. Countries in the Schengen Area have removed border controls with the other Schengen members and strengthened border controls with non-Schengen states. Of the 26 countries bound by the Schengen agreement, 22 are part of the EU and the other 4 are part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
The countries that are not part of the EU but are part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) include Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. The other six EU members that do not form part of the Schengen Area include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The first 4 are legally obliged and wish to join the area, while the last 2 have opted-out.
This may all sound very complicated, but for the benefit of travelling around Europe, it does have its advantages as only one visa is needed to cover your journey - the Schengen Visa. To apply for the Schengen Visa it is advisable to allow at least 8 weeks for the process as you have to pay for your travel arrangements in advance, and these travel arrangements form part of the evidence you need to show to the consulate where you are applying. Correct paperwork is also essential for the consulate to issue a visa, so checking you have the right information beforehand is very important.
Notably, the booking conditions of most tour and travel arrangements do not provide a full refund within 8 weeks of travel. A sliding scale of cancellation charges kicks in usually within 8-10 weeks before departure. If you have to cancel your travel plans you will lose your airfare, your tour deposit and probably a lot more since you won't know if your visa has been granted until possibly a couple of weeks before travel. Unfortunately, visa refusal is not an insurable event. The best thing to do is make sure you have all the information you need in the first place to obtain your visa.
Key points to remember:
Apply to consulate of your main destination. If you are visiting different countries in the Schengen area, but one country in the Schengen area is where you will be spending most of the time (in number of days) that is your MAIN destination.
If you are visiting different countries in the Schengen area, but you are spending an equal number of days in each country, your first port of entry in the Schengen area is the country you apply to. BOOK YOUR APPOINTMENT NOW - Allow minimum 10 working days to have your passport returned after the appointment date!
Apply in your country of residence. If you are currently living in the UK as a student or worker you can apply in the UK as long as your UK residence permit is valid at least three months beyond the return date of the tour.
For the Schengen Visa Global Coach Tours will write you an application support letter when you have booked and paid in full for one of their tours. Again, you must have a UK resident permit to apply in the UK and not just here for a short visit. Your UK residence permit must be valid at least three months beyond the return date of the tour. You should apply in the consulate of the country where you spend the most time. Allow several weeks before your tour as you will be seen by appointment only.