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Saturday, 23 September 2017

⑬ Proof of Relationship Cohabitation Visa: What to Submit to Belgian Immigration Office?

Proof of Relationship: What to Submit for Legal Cohabitation Visa?

On 4 August 2016, I submitted my proof of relationship and documents for my legal cohabitation visa to two different email address. Following that, I will explain briefly below the two reference number files mentioned in the previous article (WS and CL).

The first submission sent was to Districtshuis Deurne given by the Districsthuis Antwerpen on the day of declaring a legal cohabitation. The file reference is WS’ (wettelijk samenwonen). However, it was a one-time-off submission and no further communication on this file reference thereafter.

The second email submission was in response to Registration of newcomer in Antwerp. The file reference is CL’. All my future correspondences on the cohabitation visa used this reference code. I submitted the proof four days late. It proved me later that delayed submission was not a deterrence to get my F-Card (Belgian eID).

I have a 6-year relationship with my Belgian partner. Therefore, you can imagine that I had to work more to submit MORE proof than others for my legal cohabitation visa application. It was a big headache and the primary reason for taking four full days to work out the cohabitation presentation format.


What is Considered “Proof of Relationship” for Cohabitation Visa?

The Belgian Immigration Office will request all cohabitation visa applicants to submit documents and photos to prove the journey of your relationship of two years. If you have lived together for at least a year in Belgium, or in another country, submit the housing contract with both your names as proof of living together.

Some useful cohabitation visa relationship evidence is as follows: –

  • Photos
  • Conversation messages
  • Email
  • Air tickets / Train Tickets
  • Accommodation Booking Record
  • Social Media
  • Blogs with photos
  • Co-purchase receipts or invoices

You can submit other documents not listed as long as it helps you in getting your visa approval. There are no hard and fast rules on this.


Different Stage of Document Submission

Not everyone goes through the same stage of document submission for the cohabitation visa in Belgium. Some of my friends gave the documents and proof of relationship in other cities just one time. That is right after receiving the Orange Card.

Despite that, there are also people who submitted the documents more than once like me. In Antwerp, the commune will usually ask the applicants to give proof of the relationship twice. During the two times, the documents required may differ.

On the other hand, the commune could ask for the same document repeatedly. The method of procedure used and the frequency of submission is highly dependent on the regions and cities. The commune will also decide at which stage do they want the applicant to submit the documents. There are no fixed rules for it.


Make Your Presentation Format Clear and Easy to Read

My expectation was high. The cohabitation presentation template had to be neat and impressive. Every sentence and explanation should be short and easy to understand. The referencing of the proof of relationship must be easy to relate and understand at one glance. Moreover, I knew there were others who had the process as me at the same time. I hoped the authority paid more attention to my documents first if I gave them an easier time to read.

I devised a table creation. Part of my idea was to upload all my documents into the cloud storage. Otherwise known as remote servers like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox, etc. Consider it especially if you have a lot of files or high-res photos with big file size. However, I have to warn you first. It takes more time to upload photos and documents to cloud storage as compared to zipping all your attachments together.


Pay Attention to Email File Size Limit

Ensure the total size of one email must not exceed 25 MB after all the file attachments. Otherwise, the email will bounce back. I did not pay attention to this universal email file size rule. The documents that I emailed to the commune could not go through due to overlooking on my part.

Even after zipping documents which could not perform using the cloud storage, the file size still exceeded 25 MB limit. One easy way is to split the zipped files into several emails. Label the emails in numbers such as 1, 2, 3 etc.

The Districtshuis in Antwerp wanted me to label the document in this order for the cohabitation evidence. Reference Number followed by my full name. Hence, the subject would be “CL/xx/xxx – Full Name (1/2/3)” if you want to send more than one email attachment.


Do Not Compress The Photo Size

The cloud storage method is more practical for large-size files such as high-res photos. Some photo size can go up to 8 MB or more per photo. If your photo sizes are large, it is a problem to email even when you zip the documents. The idea of photo compression may come into your mind.

Please do not compress the photos. As a result, it will strip off the metadata and adjust the date to the day of your compression. Consequently, you cannot prove the length of the relationship when the dates on the photos change.

For example, the original photo date is on 15 December 2014. After compression, it modifies to 15 February 2017 which is the date of photo compression. The date is the most important source of information for your proof of relationship history.


Manipulating Photo Dates

One should be aware that the Brussels Immigration takes the proof of knowing each other for two years seriously. The duration of the relationship will indeed affect the Immigration Office’s decision in the cohabitation visa residence permit F Card.

What is the solution for people who has a shortage of photos evidence as proof of relationship? Adjust the dates in the new photographs before you take them. It is useful for couples who do not have two years of relationship yet. Likewise, for some couples who have already two years of relationship but a lack of photos, this method is handy.

Firstly, set the date on your phone or camera to the date and year that you want. Snap some photos. The new photos will bear the intended dates. Secondly, if you want the whole plot to be more realistic, take the photos with your partner in different settings. Below are some examples for illustration:-

  • Take photos in different country, city or place
  • Take advantage when there is a change of seasons
    • Background with trees full of leaves (spring, summer, autumn) and leafless trees (winter)
  • Take the photos in different timing (day and night)
  • Change your clothes. You do not want to have a set of photos with the same clothes
  • Change hairstyle especially for men who have regular haircuts more often
  • Weight change
    • Women are more susceptible to it. It is particularly helpful when the face is puffy due to water retention. Think about that time of the month again – the Red Army.


Submission of Tickets & Receipts

» Air Tickets

The extra effort above is for creating an impression of a photo timeline within a short span of time. This manipulation could help those who are in need of photos for legal cohabitation visa submission. On the contrary, one should not see it as having the “Proof of Relationship” solved.

Having photos alone might not be enough. Consider submitting the air tickets (or invoices, receipts, boarding pass) that both of you had visited each other. In my honest opinion, air tickets are the best proof to manifest a genuine relationship. The couple makes time and spends money on airfares to visit each other. What is not real about such a relationship?

Furthermore, one cannot modify the date on the air ticket. It is an accurate indication of how long you indeed know each other. Especially when the first and the last air tickets show a difference of more than two years, you score a bullseye. Even so, if the difference is less than two years, one can still estimate the relationship duration from other sources of proof.

Do not despair if you think you might have discarded the air tickets. You could retrieve that air ticket, invoices or receipts from your past email if you purchase your air ticket online.


» Train, Bus and Paid Carpool Trip

Submit tickets by other means of transportation if seeing each other is not by plane. Other modes of transportation include cross-border trains and international buses. When I lived in Paris, I took paid carpool trips called Blablacar regularly to visit my partner in Antwerp. Anyone who uses the same method can capture a screenshot to display the frequency of regular meetings.


» Hotel Reservation

Although my partner and I had several holidays in Europe and Asia, I did not submit any hotel reservation. Usually, I booked the hotel with one name only. Hence, I find that the information is irrelevant in my case. If the hotel reservation does not contain both your name on it, what kind of proof can it provide?

Only submit the hotel reservation ticket as relationship proof unless the reservation form had both your names on it. Similarly for Airbnb, if an email had your partner name on it, submit a screenshot of that email as well.


Other Proof of Relationship and Method Used

Chat history of emails, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp were other proof of relationship which I had submitted. For chat history, there are two methods to do it.


1. Screenshot of Emails, Facebook Photos and FB Messenger

Provision of 2 to 3 screenshots would be ideal. Take the first screenshot of the date when you first communicate with your partner. The second shot with the recent chat history. The third screenshot would be somewhere in between the dates. For the proof from emails, I took the screenshot on the inbox summary containing the name and the date clearly.

We did not use Facebook Messenger for communication. I merely took six screenshots of the photo albums timeline summary with my partner’s face on it. Undoubtedly, not all Facebook photo albums contain solely about us. There are many other photo albums in the screenshots which have nothing to do with my partner.

Nevertheless, I screenshot the whole page as long as there is one album with our faces on the profile pics. Subsequently, I merged the six screenshots into a PDF file. For this Facebook photo album method, most dates are missing due to the space constraint on the laptop.


2. Generated Chat History

Some communication phone apps like WhatsApp allows the user to generate the chat history. Thus, you can email the chat history to yourself as an attachment. I use WhatsApp to communicate with my Belgian partner in a long distance relationship. Consequently, I was able to generate the last 1.5 years of recent conversation from it.


→ How to Generate Chat History from WhatsApp?

  1. Open the communication thread between you and your partner
  2. On the top right-hand corner, click «MORE»
  3. Under MORE, select «EMAIL CHAT HISTORY»

You will receive a .txt file format for the WhatsApp Chat History. This file format is ready for sending out immediately. The other alternative is to upload the .txt file into cloud storage services such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and DropBox.

Despite that, there are more methods of communication like Viber, Wechat, Line, Skype, MSN. The list goes on. The easiest approach is to check whether the app that you use can generate a copy of the chat history. I submitted a part of MSN chat. But, I found it to be rather troublesome.


3. Retrieve Backup Format of Skype and MSN

Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger) discontinued its instant messaging service since 2013 after the acquisition of Skype in 2011. Henceforth, Skype is a popular method for long distance relationships communication.

Skype can store the conversation up to 30 days in its cloud storage service. Nonetheless, older message threads are saved on the hard drive, according to the history settings. For more information how to retrieve message backup history of Skype on your desktop, please click on the link.

Before the cease of MSN service in 2013, I was using it to communicate with my boyfriend when we first knew each other. So, I will only briefly explain about this dead service. Just in case you want to submit the chat history as proof of relationship to the commune.

For MSN, I could not read the chat history as a standalone file, unlike the .txt file format of WhatsApp. Neither can I upload the file directly to the cloud storage. In another word, the cloud storage cannot read the text file without the accompaniment of another file – MessageLog.xml.

In this situation, I had to zip the two files together and emailed to the commune. Then, I had to wonder how tech savvy the people working there would be. And, whether they had a problem to read a file like this.

Tips: Whatever you want to send, always reflect the earliest date of knowing each other. That is primarily the essence of what everything is all about – proof of relationship. The big hoo-ha of knowing each other for a minimum of two years.


Merge Documents into a Single PDF File Online

For presenting the same files such as partner’s payslips, I would encourage strongly to combine them into a single PDF file. If you have a problem merging them with an application on your desktop, I recommend using CutePDF Editor.

CutePDF Editor is a free online application that you can merge all your files. Furthermore, there is no need to download any application. Overall, extremely user-friendly and idiot-proof to grasp the concept. Making use of PDF will make your presentation less cluttered. Furthermore, it helps the commune save more time to download and print your files.

Every time the authority saves time when reviewing your documents, you are helping yourself by not giving them an opportunity to delay your cohabitation visa.


» How to Combine and Merge Documents into a Single PDF File Online?

  • ① On the left sidebar, choose «Merge PDFs».
  • ② Select all the documents, photos or PDFs that you want to combine and merge into one file.
  • ③ Note: All individual files have to be less that 5 MB. The size of all files added together must be less than 10 MB in total.
  • ④ The arrangement of the pages is on the right-hand corner.
  • ⑤ If you are satisfied with the arrangement of the pages, press «save» and then, choose the location you want for your saved document.
  • ⑥ Review your saved file.

If you want to adjust the position of the PDF page, select «Advanced Tool» on the left sidebar. Shift and arrange the PDF file to where you want. Press «OK» when done.

Cute PDF Writer is my favourite PDF online tool. It is very easy to use even for people who are not tech-savvy. There are more functions you can use on the left sidebar during the process of merging such as deleting, cropping and resizing files.


My Proof of Relationship Submission

To wrap up, I submitted the below proof of relationship to the commune for my legal cohabitation visa application.

  • WhatsApp Chat Message of 1.5 years (Mar 2015 to Jul 2017)
  • MSN Message Log (Feb 2011 to  Nov 2012)
  • Inbox Mail Summary (2010)
  • 10 Return Air Tickets (2011 to 2016)
  • 75 High-Res Photos (2011 to 2016)
  • Facebook Photo Album Screenshot (No exact date shown)
  • Photos of Postcards and Letters (with postage dates)
  • Purchase of TV in Belgium (Dec 2014 with my name on the receipt for my tax refund in the airport)
  • Prepaid SIM Card sent to our residential address with my name and date of purchase (2015) on the welcome letter


Presentation Format

In another article, I will present my legal cohabitation visa template on how I submit my proof of relationship above. My format will help the commune to verify the information step by step. It will give you some idea of presenting your case.

Overall, my effort paid off and was a success counting from the first day of my arrival in Belgium. The commune gave approval to my residence permit F card in just four months. Not counting my 3-weeks holiday in France.

There was a bit of delay in submitting my documents in August. I could do it earlier in July or August if I did not travel. For the second submission in October, I emailed my final documents late as well. Eventually, I submitted on 30 October 2016 after collecting my Orange Card in mid-September.

I will receive my eID at the end of my Orange Card period in March 2017. ThereafterI have absolutely no stress about my permanent status in Belgium. Likewise, I assume that the presentation of my 6-years relationship was easy for the authorities to read and verify. Consequently, they gave me a quick reply on my result.


About Live in Belgium

Hello, my name is MissSJ. I am a Singaporean. I am living with my Belgian partner since July 2016 in a cosmopolitan city, Antwerp. However, I had been travelling to and fro Belgium since 2011 as a tourist. The creation of this blog is to document my new journey in Belgium which I would like to call 'home'. Join me in discovering the fascinating Belgium from the eyes of an expat.

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