Switzerland demanded a “nonrefundable” hotel reservation — then it denied his visa

Can a country require you to book a prepaid, nonrefundable hotel as part of your visa application? And what happens if that visa application is denied?

Those are the questions confronting Yao Zhao, a Chinese citizen who lives in Washington and wanted to take a ski vacation in Switzerland.

Switzerland has some of the best skiing on Earth. But, in addition to being ridiculously expensive, the Swiss also have a thing for rules. Believe me, I know. I grew up just across the border in Austria. The Swiss love their rules.

I mention the rules because Zhao was told the rules require that in order to process a visa application, he needed a prepaid, nonrefundable hotel reservation in Switzerland. He says he initially booked a refundable reservation in what he believed to be Switzerland (it was actually in France). When an embassy officer told him it needed to be in Switzerland, and it needed to be non-refundable, he says he complied.

And then, for reasons that are “a mystery” to him, Zhao was denied a visa and lost the entire hotel stay. He turned to us for help.

In order to travel to Switzerland, Zhao needed a short-term visa, which he applied for through the Swiss embassy in Washington.

“I had two interviews with the Swiss Embassy. During both interviews, an officer pressured me to make a prepaid nonrefundable hotel reservation,” he says. “even though I had made hotel bookings as instructed on the embassy website.”

He did, and furnished the embassy with the necessary documents.

“The whole application process was unfriendly and adversarial,” he says. “In each of the two interviews, I was interrogated for 40 minutes. As an international professional who travels extensively, and who has reliable employment status and educational background, I was left with the impression of unreasonable and unjust treatment.”

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Does Switzerland want Chinese tourists? Zhao could be forgiven for thinking not.

In a follow-up email, the Swiss embassy confirmed that he needed a nonrefundable reservation — in Switzerland.

Thank you for sending us the requested documents. We verified them; however, we cannot accept your hotel reservation, since the hotel is located in France. This is what we need and what was told to you during your interview:

– Three prepaid nights in a hotel in Switzerland, including the night at the airport hotel. The hotels need to be located in Switzerland and the reservations need to be paid in advance.

Furthermore, by going through your file, we request the additional two things:

– A confirmed return flight from Amsterdam to Washington on February 14, 2016 (which was missing from your file)
– A confirmation from Seven Corners Health Insurance that your current insurance covers you in France as well. If you cannot obtain this confirmation, then please submit an updated Seven Corners Insurance policy valid for France and Switzerland until the date that you return to Washington.

Thank you and best regards,
Embassy of Switzerland in the United States of America
Visa Section
2900 Cathedral Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, USA
Fax: +1 (202) 387 2564
was.visa@eda.admin.ch
www.swissemb.org

Ultimately, Zhao’s visa application was turned down even after he furnished the Swiss with, he says, everything requested on the Swiss embassy website. He says he lost several hundred dollars as a result.

Now, I’m no visa expert, so my next call was to the Swiss embassy to see if it could clarify its policy.

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I asked if it was true — do people who apply for Swiss visas really need prepaid and nonrefundable hotel reservations?

In order to apply for a Schengen visa, hotel reservations for every night applicants of all nationalities intend to spend in a Schengen country are required:
https://www.eda.admin.ch/content/dam/countries/countries-content/united-states-of-america/en/131.30_Merkblatt_Visa_for_tourism.pdf

In individual cases, applicants can be requested to provide additional documents:
21/8: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:02009R0810-20111004&from=DE

If a visa application has been refused, applicants have the right to appeal within 30 days of receipt of the refusal: https://www.sem.admin.ch/sem/en/home/themen/einreise/faq.html#6. Questions on granted or refused visas

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Don’t you love having the book thrown in your face? But I have to be honest, I don’t understand any of this legalese and I still don’t know why he had to prepay for his hotel. Perhaps it’s a secret law?

I asked Zhao about an appeal, which would cost an additional 200 euro. Here’s what he had to say:

I don’t think they have the right to ask me specifically to book nonrefundable accommodation. Isn’t that always the practice when they say “do not prepay any flight tickets or hotels”?

For that, I think they abused their power. I did provide everything they asked for in their follow-up emails.

Anyway, I understand it’s the embassy, right? They can always find some official articles or treaties to shut you down. I don’t intend to “win” over them in this case. I just feel this is a case that could be shared to make more people aware of it.

I’m trying to think of the takeaway. When it comes to visas, don’t mess with the Swiss? Next time, go skiing in France (the food is better)? Or maybe it’s just that there are rules and there are rules. If a country doesn’t want you to visit, they’ll find a way to stop you.

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May I recommend a nice ski vacation right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A.? I hear the snow in Breckenridge, Colo., is really nice this year.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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