Notes on applying for a UK visa in Cebu

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Image by Laszlo Ilyes (CC BY 2-0)

Image by Laszlo Ilyes (CC BY 2-0)

Because I had a semi-traumatic experience at the US embassy, and quite a few there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I moments at the French embassy, I always think of applying for a visa as just slightly more enjoyable than going to the dentist. My UK visa experience a few days ago wasn’t so bad though. I won’t know if they’ve approved my application till July — and if I find out I’ve been denied, it’s possible I’ll be singing a different tune — but the process itself wasn’t so stressful. Here’s a few notes for the benefit of those who want to get a UK visa.

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Preparing Your Application

  • Read Getting a UK Visa in Cebu: What You Need to Know for a step-by-step guide to visa application.
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  • You’ll have to answer questions like:
    So much for spontaneous, let-the-wind-take-you-where-it-will trips :)

    So much for spontaneous, let-the-wind-take-you-where-it-will trips 🙂

    I don't know if they've ever given a visa to anyone who's answered "my plan is to have no plan" -- but I wouldn't bet on it

    I don’t know if they’ve ever given a visa to anyone who’s answered “my plan is to have no plan” — but I wouldn’t bet on it

  • The new list of requirements in the GOV.UK website said you should not submit documents such as flight and hotel bookings unless specifically asked to do so. I prepared and brought them along, just in case, and when I got to the VFS office, the VFS’ checklist of documents included flight and hotel bookings, so I just submitted them too. Not sure if I should have done that but, well, what’s done is done. (Does one get minus points for not following instructions, I wonder.)

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Submitting Your Application

  • This is the Keppel building where the VFS office is:

    Image from Google Maps Street View

    Image from Google Maps Street View

  • When you schedule your appointment (right after you fill up the online application form), you can choose what time you want to submit your documents. If I remember correctly, the choices ranged from 7 AM, and every 10 minutes thereafter, till 12 NN. I chose 11:50 AM and finished at around 1:40 PM. The UK website says submitting your documents will take 10 minutes, but that’s more the exception than the rule, because there will be tons of people who haven’t thoroughly prepared and organized their documents, and some of them take half an hour or more. When that happens, though, just take a chill pill and don’t vent your frustration on the VFS people because they’re sure to have been there longer than you have, and they don’t get to eat their lunch until the last application has been processed, so.
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  • Processing time for the usual tourist visa is 15 working days, but if you’re visiting family, it’s 15-30 working days — or so I heard the VFS lady tell a couple of applicants — so make sure you take that into consideration when you schedule your appointment. An elderly lady planning to attend her daughter’s wedding on July 3rd was aghast to learn she would have to pay as much as PHP 42,000 (~USD 930) for her application to be super-prioritized, plus another PHP 42,000 for the niece who will be accompanying her.
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  • The process was otherwise smooth. There is no interview; the VFS lady just makes sure your documents are in order.

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And now let the waiting begin. 🙂



Qatar Airways HQ 300x250

Update, August 2015

  • I got a visa! Yay!
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  • I signed up for SMS updates but actually they send you an email at the exact same time they send a text message to your mobile phone, so if you have internet access and can regularly check your email, there’s really no need to sign up for SMS updates.
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  • If you choose to personally claim your passport at the VFS office — I did; it’s only a PHP 7 jeepney ride from home — they won’t let you open the package inside the office. (It’s for security reasons; apparently, in the past, some people didn’t take rejection very well.) But when they hand you the package, and it only contains your passport, no other paper, that’s a good sign. That probably means they didn’t give you a rejection letter. Yay!

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Notes on applying for a UK visa in Cebu
Created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.
 

 


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How to get a Schengen visa through Norway’s Visa Application Center in Cebu

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Filipinos planning  to travel to Norway, Estonia, Finland, Iceland and Sweden can apply for a Schengen visa at the Norway Visa Application Center in Cebu starting May 7, 2015.

Quick facts and links:

  • Address:
    Norway Visa Application Centre – Cebu
    Unit 503, 5th Floor, Keppel Center, Samar Loop cor. Cardinal Rosales Ave.
    Cebu Business Park, Cebu City 6000
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  • “Please be advised that visa applicants can walk in/go directly to the Centre in Cebu and submit their application after they have registered their application in the Application Portal. There is no need to book for an appointment before applicants can proceed.”
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  • Visa Fee: PHP 1,233 (Source: VFS)
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  • Process: How to Apply
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  • Requirements: Norway | Estonia | Finland | Iceland | Sweden

When I have more time I will update this post with detailed information; in the meantime, I hope this helps.

(Yay! More options!) happy dance

How to get a Schengen visa through Norway’s Visa Application Center in Cebu” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Special thanks to Analyn for the heads up. 🙂

 


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Why I’ve Never Traveled To The US

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It was 2009, only a day after Tropical Storm Ondoy (international name Ketsana) wreaked watery havoc on the Philippine capital of Manila, causing landslides and floods of up to 20 feet (20 feet!) in some rural areas, and where was I? In Manila, naturally, walking up muddy pedestrian bridges, sidestepping enormous puddles, and waiting hours (literally hours!) for a taxi, all because I was due for a US visa interview the next day.

The thing is: I didn’t even want to go to the US. Oh, I know there are tons of beautiful places in America, and I suppose I would love to visit it someday, but it’s always been the proverbial land of milk and honey for many of my countrymen, and so, of course, its appeal to my occasionally counter-conformist, lactose-intolerant, honey-disdainful self has always been close to zero. And I didn’t even like being in Manila under ordinary circumstances. But this, this — having to make my way through mud and debris clutching my precious embassy-demanded papers, having to deal with the entirely different specie that is the Manila taxi driver — was the closest one place had ever come to making me cry.

Why was I there? Because my boss wanted me there. So stupidly simple. We were working with an American healthcare organization, and the company that made the software we used at the office had organized a conference to be held in the US. My boss was sending 3 of us to attend it as a “reward” for our hard work — my boss having this unshakable notion that it’s every Filipino’s dream to go, work, and eventually live in the US — and who was I to say no to free travel?

And so the next day I heard myself called to a glass-enclosed counter at the embassy to present the case for Why The United States of America Should Let Good Old Me In. As I approached, I saw that the guy behind the counter, a Filipino, had gotten up, apparently to go on a break. “Just one more,” an unseen lady told him, and he unsmilingly sat back down. He wordlessly leafed through my documents, probably noted that I was single and childless and not exactly wealthy, read the letter of invitation to the conference, then asked just one question.

“You’re a medical professional…and you want to go to a software conference?”

“Well, yes,” I said. Put that way, it did sound a bit dodgy, but I had a rational explanation for that. “You see, it’s the software we use for…”

He didn’t even wait for me to finish my answer. He sighed, grabbed a sheet of blue-colored paper, checked a box, and handed it to me along with my other documents. Visa application denied for “lack of sufficient ties” to my home country — a nice way of saying they don’t think there’s anything in the Philippines that would make me want to return and therefore I’m likely to stay illegally in the US.

Up until that point, I had been ambivalent about the outcome I wanted. I had half-hoped my visa application would be denied so that I wouldn’t have to go to the US and be in close contact with my boss (he is overwhelming as it is over the internet). But I didn’t want the application denied that way — in a manner that suggested I was a liar. Without meaning to sound melodramatic, it felt like a failure, one of the very first of my life, and an undeserved one too; in school, if you don’t study, you fail an exam, you deserve it, but here, I was telling the truth, I had no evil intentions, and I still didn’t get a passing grade. It was a tough lesson about the inherent unfairness of life, and though it’s actually a very good lesson to learn, and though I’ve had much tougher ones since then, I admit I still carry a bit of a grudge. It’s why the US still isn’t on my bucket list (not that it cares) nor will be anytime soon.

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Why I’ve Never Traveled To The US” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

 


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Filipinos don’t need a visa to go to Israel! Here are the 4 documents you need to go on a pilgrimage or tour.

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Image by Ester Inbar via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Ester Inbar via Wikimedia Commons

According to the Embassy of Israel in Manila, Filipinos don’t need to obtain a tourist visa before departing for Israel. Instead, visitors will be interviewed at the port of entry.

These are the documents you will need to present:

  1. Confirmed round trip ticket with onward flight
  2. Philippine passports – must be valid for more than six months after the intended date of return
  3. Sufficient pocket money worth at least US$2,000 (cash or travellers cheque)
  4. Confirmed hotel reservations

Note:

  • If an establishment or tourist agency is sponsoring your trip, you will also need to present a letter of invitation from them.
  • Entry to Israel is not guaranteed even if you have the documents listed above.
  • Visas are required for people who intend to work or study in Israel. To schedule an appointment, scan the data page of your passport, indicate the intended date of travel to Israel, and email it to cao-assistant@manila.mfa.gov.il. Answer the security questionnaire that will be sent to you. You will then receive an email indicating your appointment schedule along with a list of documents required for your visa application.
  • Do not transact with people who claim they can obtain Israeli visas for a fee.
Image by Yaakov Shoham (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Yaakov Shoham (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

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Filipinos don’t need a visa to go to Israel! Here are the 4 documents you need to go on a pilgrimage or tour.
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I Have A Dream

Dreamy_Visa_01

I have a dream that one day the whole world will truly live out this creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that someday someone from my country can say on a Thursday: “Let’s go to [first world destination] this weekend,” buy the ticket on Friday, and fly out on Saturday — and not have to go through a multi-week visa application process where they are asked questions like “How much of your monthly income do you give to your family?” or “Do you plan to engage in terrorist activities?” (If only all terrorists would be so honest!)

I have a dream that everyone and their four little children will one day live in a world where their intent to travel will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

In the meantime, I have a dream that I will get to use this hard-earned visa again before it expires end of this year! 🙂 Not very likely, to be honest, but…is anything on this dream-list?

 

I Have A Dream” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

Getting a UK Visa in Cebu: What You Need to Know

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City Wonders Tour_Stonehenge_04

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Thinking of traveling to England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, or Wales?

The United Kingdom has a Visa Application Center (VAC) in Cebu City. (Yay!)

VAC Cebu

VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc. 9th Floor, Keppel Center, Unit 905 Samar Loop cor. Cardinal Rosales Avenue Cebu Business Park, Cebu City 6000

Here’s the catch: you’ll have to shell out an additional service fee of USD 92. It’s a bit heavy on the pocket — really heavy, actually; I’m trying my hand at British understatement, heh — but the alternative is to book a flight to Manila, pay terminal fees and cab fares, maybe even stay overnight, and deal with the heavy traffic.

See Notes on applying for a UK visa in Cebu to read about my visa application experience.
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The Steps

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In a nutshell, here’s what you need to do to get a UK visa:

  • Online:
    • Fill up an application form.
    • Book an appointment.
  • At the VAC:
    • Submit your documents.
    • Provide biometric information.
  • Wait for the results.

(Click here for a more detailed explanation of the steps.)

When to apply

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You can apply for a visa up to 3 months before your date of travel to the UK.

How much

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Application fee: USD 133
Cebu service fee: USD 92
Total: ~PHP 11,000
(As of January 7, 2016)

Apply online

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Apply here.

You will have to fill up the visa application form online, but if you want an idea of the information that you will need to provide, check out this PDF version of the application form.

Book an appointment

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You will be able to book an appointment with your nearest VAC online after you fill up the application form online.

SGMT Watermark Logo_Hibiscus_Colored_BlackSGMT

Submit your documents

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The documents you will need to submit to the VAC during your appointment are as follows:

  1. Your appointment confirmation
  2. A valid passport or travel document with at least 1 page that is blank on both sides
  3. 1 recent passport-sized (45mm x 35mm) colour photograph (Specs)
  4. A printout of your online application form, signed and dated
  5. Original and photocopy of supporting documents relevant to your application

Source: VFS Global

These are the supporting documents recommended by GOV.UK (please verify list of supporting documents using this link, as the list may not be updated as regularly as the list in the official website):

  • Valid travel document (national passport or other document that allows the holder to travel internationally)
  • One passport-sized photograph
  • Previous travel documents/passports, which show previous travel
  • Financial documents that show you have sufficient funds available and that you have access to the funds. Examples:
    • Bank statements
    • Proof of earnings such as a letter from employer confirming employment details (start date of employment, salary, role, company contact details)
    • Where a third party is providing financial support, documents to show they have sufficient resources to support you in addition to themselves and any dependant family

Details of employment or studies where you have stated in your application that you are either employed or in full-time studies, such as:

  • A letter from your employer on company headed paper, detailing your role, salary and length of employment
  • A letter from your education provider, on headed paper, confirming your enrolment and leave of absence
  • If self employed: business registration documents confirming the business owner’s name and the date the business started trading
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Documents that should not be submitted unless specifically requested:

  • Bank statements or letters issued more than 1 year before the date of application
  • Driving licence
  • Photographs (other than passport photograph)
  • Notarial certificates
  • Business cards
  • Hotel bookings
  • Flight bookings
  • Photocopies of bank cards
  • Credit card statements
  • Certificates relating to leisure activities
  • Evidence of car ownership
  • Travel insurance
  • Sponsor’s utility bills
  • Sponsor’s council tax bills

Submit the original documents plus one photocopy of each document.

Travel insurance isn’t one of the requirements but if you want to play safe, see the following articles for more info: Travel Insurance for European TripsSample Itineraries and Prices from Blue Cross.

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Results

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You should get a decision on your visa application within 3 weeks. You can have your passport (with the visa) delivered to you via courier for an additional PHP 500, or you can claim it personally from the VAC. You can also sign up for SMS status updates for PHP 150.

Other optional services from VFS include:

  • Super priority visa service – PHP 43,200
  • Priority visa service (settlement applications) – PHP 25,920
  • Priority visa service (non-settlement applications) – PHP 8,640
  • Passport passback service – PHP 2,880
  • Primetime appointment service – PHP 3,600
  • VIP premium lounge service – PHP 2,500
  • Courier service – PHP 500
  • Photocopying service – PHP 5/page
  • Photograph service – PHP 150/4 photos
  • Cloakroom – PHP 100

(Click here for details.)

Good luck!

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Getting a UK Visa in Cebu: What You Need to Know
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Getting a Schengen Visa at the Netherlands Embassy: What You Need to Know

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amsterdam

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Both the Netherlands Embassy website and the VFS Global Services website contain useful information on the application process for a Schengen visa. (VFS is the company that assists the Netherlands embassy in processing visa applications.) It can be a little confusing, navigating both websites and all their visa-related pages, so we put together this step-by-step guide.

To secure a Schengen visa for a trip to the Netherlands, here’s a summary of what you need to do:

  1. Before anything else, make sure you’re applying for a Schengen visa at the right embassy. The Netherlands must be your main destination.
  2. Pay the visa fees at Unionbank.
  3. Schedule an appointment through the VFS website. Wait at least 1 business day after paying the visa fees before making the appointment.
  4. Prepare the required documents.
  5. Go to the embassy at the appointed time to personally lodge your application and submit your requirements.
  6. Wait for the decision.
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Should you be applying at the Netherlands embassy?

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A Schengen visa allows you to travel to the Netherlands and/or any of the other countries in the Schengen Area. In other words, once you obtain a visa from any of the Schengen countries, you can travel to all of the Schengen countries. That said, you can’t just apply for a visa in any Schengen country. The rule is: your visa application should be lodged at the embassy/consulate of the country that constitutes the main destination of your trip in terms of purpose or length of stay.

  1. Are you traveling only to the Netherlands?
  2. Is the main purpose of your trip in the Netherlands, even though you will be visiting other countries?
  3. Is the Netherlands the country where you will be spending the most time?

If you answer yes to any of the questions above, then, yes, you should apply for a visa at the Netherlands embassy.

Please note that “purpose” in no. 2 usually refers to business or some other official engagement. If you spend 3 days in Amsterdam and 4 days in Paris, you need to apply for a visa at the French embassy, no matter how much you protest that the main purpose of your trip is to see a windmill.

If you are spending equal time in 2 countries — say, 3 days in the Netherlands and 3 days in Belgium — that is when other factors are taken into consideration, such as where your flight from the Philippines will actually land.


Pay the visa application fees.

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The total fee for an adult is PHP 4,540
— this includes the actual visa application fee (PHP 3,700), the VFS service fee (PHP 740), and the bank charge (PHP 100). This amount is payable at any Unionbank branch in the country. Bring your passport with you when you make the payment, and fill out a bank payment form (download it here) in advance.

Schedule an appointment.

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First of all, take note that you need to pay the visa application fees before scheduling an appointment. The appointment system will require your receipt number and date of payment, so it’s just not possible to make the appointment before paying. Second, you need to wait at least 1 business day after paying, to make sure that your payment details have been entered into the system.

When deciding on your appointment date, there are certain factors you need to consider:

  • A visa application may only be lodged 3 months prior to intended departure at the earliest. (I know — the suspense kills me too.)
  • After lodging your application and requirements, you will usually receive a decision within 10 calendar days. That said, you may be asked to submit additional documents, or your application might need to be referred to authorities in the Netherlands, which will certainly take time. Procrastinate at your own risk.
  • Your embassy appointment is when you will be handing over your requirements. Make sure you give yourself enough time to secure things like bank certifications, confirmed hotel reservations, etc.
  • If you need to fly to Manila, make sure there are flights available on your appointment date.

Ready?

You can schedule an appointment here. Again, you will need your Unionbank receipt number and your payment date, so have those info on hand.


Prepare your requirements.

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Here are the documents you need to submit in support of your visa application:

  1. Completed and signed Schengen visa application form with photo. (Application Form | Consent Form | Photo Specifications)
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  2. One passport picture, 35 x 45 mm, white background — this is in addition to the photo attached to your application form.
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  3. Valid passport. Schengen countries require that your passport be valid a mere 3 months from the end of your intended stay. However, be aware that some countries (including those you might have a layover in) require 6 months’ validity. In addition, your passport must have at least two blank pages available; otherwise, you need to get a new one. (A passport with only one page left — oh, what a nice problem to have!)
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  4. International travel insurance with a minimum coverage of EUR 30,000. The Netherlands embassy doesn’t specify that your insurance should be issued from Schengen-approved companies; however, it’s best to cover your bases. Here’s a helpful list of Schengen-approved insurance companies from the French embassy. (I used Blue Cross, as it is extremely easy to apply for their insurance online. See the following articles for more info: Travel Insurance for European TripsSample Itineraries and Prices from Blue Cross.)
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  5. Detailed travel itinerary. This means where you’re planning to go on which day (and “why” might be something they’ll ask during your interview). Make your itinerary as detailed as possible; it’s one way you can reduce the risk of being suspected of planning to stay in the Netherlands illegally. I put in flight numbers and train schedules; whenever possible, I actually specified which station the train was departing from, the coach number, and the seat number. (I don’t know if that really helps but…I got a visa. With no fuss. So.)
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  6. Documents proving sufficient means for the entire visit — at least 34 euros per day of your trip. The VFS website just states “such as bank statement or copy of bank book” but, again, it’s best to cover all your bases. Get bank certificates and statements of account; prepare a copy of your latest income tax return too, just in case.
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  7. Copy of hotel reservations for the entire trip, including in any other Schengen country you will be visiting.
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  8. Copy of flight booking. (“The Embassy advises you not make any payment for…flight tickets before you are granted a visa.”)
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  9. Letter of employment or other proof of livelihood, such as your official business registration.
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    PLUS
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  10. 1 copy of all the documents above. For the passport, photocopy those pages with your photograph, personal data and previous visas.

Download the VFS checklist here.

Screenshot (161)

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Show up at the embassy.

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Before you ask, yes, you have to be there in person, even if you have a travel agency handling your application, because the embassy needs to get your fingerprints.

I was lucky enough to be interviewed at the Netherlands consulate in Cebu on the very last day that they were accepting visa applications. (The Cebu visa desk was closed on November 11, 2013.) It was actually less of an interview and more of making sure that all my documents were in order. The papers were examined thoroughly but there were no raised eyebrows or suspicious tones. The lady who interviewed me was nice enough; she even gave me a chance to tweak my itinerary (long story) and come back later that day. It was a pretty straightforward interview and, overall, a more pleasant experience than the one I had at the French embassy.

Wait for the decision.

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After your documents are accepted by the embassy staff, they will be sent on to the Regional Support Office in Kuala Lumpur, which will decide on the merits of your application. Processing time is usually 10 calendar days. You can track your application here.

visa

One week after I filed my visa application, I received a package from the Netherlands office in Kuala Lumpur. My fingers trembling, I tore open the plastic and anxiously examined my passport…and there it was, a Schengen visa issued by the Netherlands. At that time, Typhoon Haiyan had just struck the Philippines and I was up to my neck in relief operations; my birthday was also coming up in a few days. The visa felt like a birthday gift and a pat on the back from the universe at the same time. Small pleasures, I guess, but for someone who loved to travel, who had spent the last few months researching and organizing and preparing, who desperately needed a break…that visa could not have come at a better time.

Good luck with your visa application!

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Getting a Schengen Visa at the Netherlands Embassy: What You Need to Know
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