Applying for a Korean Visa in Cebu (October 2019)
My family and I are hoping to travel to South Korea this winter so, last week, we applied for a visa at the Korean consulate in Cebu. Our passports are scheduled for release mid-November so we still don’t know if we’ve gotten approved for a visa — keep your fingers crossed for us, please! In the meantime, I thought I’d share our Korean visa application experience here, in the hope that other applicants out there will find it useful.
First of all, apply for a visa ASAP!
Friends who’ve been to South Korea before tell me they got their passports back within 3-5 days of applying BUT that’s no longer the case. Apparently, there’s been a great surge in the number of applicants this year, and so the Korean embassy has had to significantly extend its visa processing time.
In our case, we applied for a visa in Cebu on October 8 and were told to come back for our passports on November 13 — that’s roughly 25 business days processing time.
The lengthened processing time took effect just the day before we were there and took many by surprise (although there had been announcements in their website). What’s worse was that they no longer offer “rush” visa processing except in special circumstances. I do know of at least one applicant scheduled to travel in early November who pleaded with the staff and was able to obtain an earlier release date, so if necessary, you could try that, but I doubt that will work once the new processing times become more widely known.
The Korean embassy has taken to posting processing times in their website HERE — keep yourself updated because processing times can vary from week to week, depending on the number of applications they’re receiving. I’ve seen processing times ranging from 24 to 35 days but, really, to keep things simple, just apply as soon as you can, starting as early as 3 months before your intended date of departure.
Walk-in applicants are still accepted in Cebu
Travellers applying for a visa at the Korean embassy in Manila are required to engage the services of an accredited travel agency.
My sister, who works in Manila and opted to apply there, had to look for another agency after the first one she approached told her they would not be able to submit her documents and get back her passport in time for our trip. Apparently, agencies have a “quota” — a maximum number of applications they can submit in one day — and the first one my sister approached already had a two-week backlog of applications that needed to be filed. Fortunately, the second agency she went to had only a one-week backlog and was able to submit her application just in time (barely — her passport release date is the very day before our trip).
Luckily, as of now, applicants can still walk into the Korean consulate in Cebu and personally hand in their documents.
This would have been my sister’s Plan C: to actually fly home to Cebu and submit her application here. In the end, she didn’t have to, but this is still at least an option for other applicants.
Having said all that, if you want to get a travel agency to process your visa for you here in Cebu, you absolutely can. Some friends used and recommend Bindle Travel & Tours and I’ve asked them for help with plane reservations before, so I can personally recommend them as well.
How to get to the Korean consulate in Cebu
The consulate is located at the 12th floor of the Chinabank building in Cebu Business Park — you can search for “Korean Consulate in Cebu” in Google Maps.
If you’re going there by public transportation, you can take any jeepney going to Ayala and simply walk over. If you want, you can also take a 13C jeepney from their stop in Ayala (the one near the Terraces, on their way downtown) and get off right in front of the Chinabank building.
If you’re driving, there are actually parking spaces outside the building, and you can find a spot if you arrive early enough. Parking was full when we arrived just before 9 AM, though, so we just parked at Ayala — that is, my dad did, after kindly dropping us off ^_^ — and walked over.
What to expect
- When you enter the building lobby, a guard will ask you to sign in and leave your ID so make sure you bring one ID that you won’t need to present as part of your requirements. If you’re in a group, only one person needs to leave his/her ID.
- At the 12th floor, the guard at the door will inspect your bags, then the guard at the first table inside will give you a priority number, ask you to log in, and put tape over your phone’s cameras. (You’re not allowed to take photos or videos inside.)
- There are a lot of seats inside, though they do tend to fill up quickly. I had to stand for a couple of minutes — ten, say — before a seat was vacated.
- While waiting for your number to be called — or better yet, prior to going to the consulate — arrange your documents according to the list of requirements in the Korean embassy website. If you haven’t done this, and you forgot to print out the list, the guard who gives out priority numbers also has tiny drawers full of lists.
- The process was fairly fast. We arrived at around 9 AM and were given a #62 priority number — just one number for all 9 of us travelling in a group — but we were still able to finish at around 10:30 AM. It was just enough time for us to watch one Kdrama on the TV they thoughtfully provided in the waiting area (playing soundlessly but with subtitles). (It was Masquerade, if you want to know.)
Requirements for a Korean visa
You can download a list here:
- Requirements for employees
- Requirements for businessmen
- Requirements for housewives
- Requirements for students
- Requirements for retired senior citizens
- The page for employees currently states “Frequent travellers who have travelled as tourist to OECD member countries (excluding Japan) within 5 years are exempted from submitting ITR.” However, at the consulate, there were a bunch of notices on the wall stating that previous visitors to OECD countries are not exempted from submitting an ITR, so I would suggest just preparing an ITR to be safe.
- There’s also a notice on the wall saying that the embassy/consulate will not be returning documents — just the passport — and so applicants should make sure they only provide photocopies of PSA certificates and stuff like that. I actually put both the original and photocopy in the papers I submitted because I expected the lady who received them would verify the authenticity of the photocopy by comparing it with the original, but she didn’t bother. So…that’s my originals gone for nothing. 🙂 Oh well.
- Personal appearance isn’t really necessary as long as your documents are in order. Not everyone in our group even met the strict definition of family — let’s see…aside from the 4 of us, there was my cousin, two nieces, and my two godmothers — but we were able to present our documents as a group. The kids didn’t come with us to the consulate, as they had school. Unlike Schengen visa applications where you really have to be physically present because they have to take biometrics and such, personal appearance isn’t absolutely mandatory for a Korean visa.
- Priority numbers are handed out starting 7:30 AM. Even though the process is fairly fast, try not to go too late — especially the day after a holiday, when you can expect more than the usual number of applicants — because the consulate only accepts applications in the morning. A friend of mine got a priority number of #123 (yes, really) but unfortunately could not be accommodated before 12 noon. Since the staff break for lunch from 12 to 2, and afternoons (2-4 PM) are allotted for passport releasing, she was asked to just come back the next day.
- I asked my friends who had previously applied for a Korean visa if they also submitted their plane tickets, hotel bookings, etc. They said no — one tried to but he was given the printouts back. 😀 So I didn’t include them in my papers either. However, there’s a part in the application form that asks what your estimated budget for your trip is. I wrote the amount plus “see attached budget.” I then included an extra sheet of paper that contained our itinerary — including our flight details, accommodations, ground transpo, tours — along with the corresponding budget for each. I’ve read some blogs that recommend you just multiply X amount with the number of days you will be there but I always feel like it helps your credibility if you really have a close estimate of your budget based on the things that you will actually do and the places you will actually visit or stay in. I booked through these websites:
- Hotels with free cancellation – Booking.com
- Tours with free cancellation – Klook
- Ground transportation – because we’re travelling in a large group, it made better sense (and often came out cheaper) to book private transpo
- Hotels with free cancellation – Booking.com
Korean Visa Portal for Checking Application Status
There’s this Korea Visa Portal where you can supposedly check the status of your application but I can’t really say that it’s been very useful to me as an [anxious] applicant. It only says “Application received” from the day you file your application up to the day you get back your passport — like, I literally checked it just before leaving home to go to the consulate and its status was still “Application received” — and then when I arrived back home the status had been changed to “Approved” which is nice but kinda anticlimactic as I’d already seen my passport.
I think it’s more useful for people who are getting an agency or someone else to process their visas, because they just give their papers to the agency, and they could use the portal to find out when the agency has actually submitted their application to the consulate. Also, if their agency tells them when their passports are due to be claimed, they could verify that they’ve gotten a visa, even if they haven’t had the time to get back their passport from the agency.
Well, we got our visas, so…yay! Thanks to everyone who wished us well.
The procedure for claiming passports was more or less the same as during application. We got a priority number from the second guard and waited till our number was called. When I was called, the lady checked her files, asked me if I was one of the applicants (I was claiming for our group of 9 people), then said to wait a bit more — she would just call my name when our passports were ready. The same thing happened to the people who came after me. After she called up 4 more numbers, she called my name and handed me our passports. The whole thing took…maybe 30 minutes? Enough time to watch the end of My New Sassy Girl and the beginning of Masquerade (again!).