Friday, April 23, 2010

My VISA Story: Part 2 (Preparing for & Surviving the Interview)

(Sorry I had to remove my tourist visa pic because someone already used it to steal/use my identity for criminal activities. Geeezzz.) 

My VISA Story: Part 2
Lj T. Salceda

Read Part 1 here.

The day of the interview, again I tried to arrive early. My appointment was at 8:30am, but I was at the embassy grounds at 6:30am and the line was already unbelievably long. I only got two hours of sleep the night before, but I didn't feel drowsy at all. I was still overwhelmed with anticipation and nerves.

Gadgets like cellphones, psp, music player and even calculators are not allowed inside the embassy; so are liquids such as bottled water or coffee, unless you have a child with you they allow baby formula/milk. At the gate, they will initially check your documents and look for the receipt from BDO. The Embassy staff will then ask for your passport and will put a sticker/code on the cover if you have all the required documents.

You will then be guided to the “scanning” area and proceed to the FIRST STEP – THOROUGH CHECKING OF FORMS & PASSPORT. I made a mistake of putting NO in the box where they ask if you’ve ever been issued a passport by any country. I assumed that the Philippines is excluded, so I answered NO. The embassy staff told me to put Philippines in the box.

Also, be reminded that you shouldn’t leave boxes/questions unanswered. If something doesn’t apply to you (like National Identification Number/Spouse’s Name) put N/A or None.

Once your forms and passport have been checked and approved, the embassy staff will forward them to the interviewing officer, in exchange they will give you a four digit number. Then the waiting will start. Talk to your seatmates/batchmates to calm your nerves or bring a book to entertain yourself.

They will announce your number/batch for the finger printing section, listen carefully so you won’t miss your turn. Once your number is called, queue to the SECOND STEP – FINGER PRINTING SECTION.

You will be ushered to another window with the finger printing machine (all fingers will be scanned), tell the embassy staff your full name and birth date and follow the instructions by the staff in-charge. This will only take a few seconds/minutes, then you will proceed to the dreaded interview area.

The THIRD & FINAL STAGE (for some) – INTERVIEW PORTION. This is it! Again, you have to wait for your number to be flashed above the window where you will be assigned. While waiting for your turn, try to eavesdrop (the interview is sometimes loud enough for most people near the windows to hear) and study the questions to the applicants being interviewed. You will learn a lot and be more prepared/confident with your answers. If you need an interpreter, inform the embassy beforehand.

After almost an hour of waiting, my number was flashed and I was assigned at the window with a young American lady (probably in her late 20’s.) While she was interviewing a previous applicant, I overheard that she was still new in Manila and that most of her stuff have not yet arrived. The entire time that I was waiting she only rejected two applicants and in both cases the applicants have inconsistent information/answers on their forms/interview. I silently prayed to God to let me be at her window, she seemed nice and friendly. My prayers were answered when my number was flashed above her window!

Most of her questions were about my work and my boyfriend John.

- How did you two meet?

- How long have you been dating?

- Have you seen him (John) in person?

- Any plans of getting married?

- How long have you been working in your company?

- How much do you earn?

- Why such a short time for a vacation?

It’s understandable to be nervous or to even pause for a few seconds, but try to talk sensibly. Give clear, direct and short answers. If the question is answerable by yes or no, just say YES or NO Ma'am/Sir. If the consul asks for an explanation, then be prepared to defend your answers. My brother told me that as long as there are no inconsistencies with what you say and what is written on your forms, your chances of getting approved is really high.

After probably five minutes, she didn’t asked me anymore questions and just typed away on her computer. I thought she was making a letter or a list of reasons why I will be denied, but after almost a few minutes of waiting (while standing, you will not be seated during the entire interview) at the other end of the window, she delivered the good news!

"CONGRATULATIONS! Your visa has been approved. You may now proceed to Air21 for the info on the visa delivery."

I wanted to jump up and down and hug every person I saw after I got out of the interview room. What a relief, joy and an answered prayer! Finally, I can eat! I can sleep! And most important of all, I will see my honey soon! YAY!!!

There were also three important lessons I’ve learned from the research I did regarding the interview portion.


Lying, falsifying documents, bribing people, going through the short cut (if there’s one) will only produce more problems in the long run.

Finally, if it’s the Lord’s will, it will come to pass. Trust Him, He has never failed or made a mistake!

Now if I can only find an affordable flight to LA...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My VISA Story (Not the bank/credit card company, the travel one): Part 1

My VISA story (travel visa): Part 1
Lj T. Salceda

“You’ll never get it!”

“You have a very slim chance of getting approved.”

“You are what they consider a high risk case.” (Me: I beg your pardon???) “Well, you are single, never been out of the Philippines, no fat bank account and you are dating an American. Those things make you a high-risk individual.” (Me: But I’m no terrorist or drug dealer or smuggler! I don’t have any contagious disease that I know of.)

Those were just some of the reactions/comments I’ve heard and tried so hard to dismiss in my head since I’ve informed friends & office mates about my US tourist visa application.

I’ve never expected that applying for a visa would be such a nerve-wracking experience! Restlessness, upset tummy and mind freeze (more like nosebleed) from practicing my English for days (maybe weeks/months for some) for such a coveted stamp. Why would anyone go all these troubles for a piece of paper? I guess you need to read their purpose of visit on the DS 156 form to know their answers.

My online research only escalated my apprehensions. Reading tale after tale after tale of visa denials, inconsiderate consuls, crushed dreams and wasted resources generated nightmares and panic attacks. And I’m the type of person who rarely gets rattled or nervous.

Thank the good Lord for giving me the best boyfriend in the world! He’s been very supportive from day one. He and his friends prayed for me for weeks. Not only that, he also helped me with the expenses and patiently encouraged me during the times that I was ready to back out. He’s been the personification of hope, optimism and faith in the Lord all through out the whole journey. The day before the interview he lovingly assured me with these words, “Honey you will come in and go out of the embassy building blessed.” Is he a prophet or what? :)


First I had my old, never been used, green passport renewed to the latest, maroon-colored, electronic one. I chose the 10 days shorter processing option, plus one day delivery service (by Pilipinas TeleServe), but it still took 13 days before I finally got my brand new passport. The delay, according to the DFA personnel I talked to was due to a machine malfunction at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas office (where the passports are being printed) and because of the Holy Week vacation.

What I do love about the new system and venue for the passport application: it was quicker, more organized and efficient. I can still remember the first time I applied for a passport: traumatic, loooong and exhausting.

FTI of those who want to apply (renew) for a PASSPORT:

First, you need to call or apply on-line for an appointment. After a few days or a week the most, you will be given your confirmation/code through e-mail. Prepare all the requirements before the day of your appointment. On the day of your appointment, arrive at least an hour early. You’ll be surprised to learn that lines get long quick.

Only those that have appointments will be allowed inside the DFA building. After showing/telling the guard your code/confirmation, you will be ushered near the main door and handed a form (with your name and initial info) in order to complete the details you’ve given them on the phone/on-line.

At the main door, you will be handed a number and will be told to sit down while waiting for your turn. Your number will be flashed above the window where your documents will be checked and surrendered. You will then be instructed to go upstairs to pay for the visa (there are 10 days and 20 days processing options). After paying the appropriate amount, you will be given another number for the photograph (this will be taken at the DFA office, no need to bring passport pics) and the signature collection. Make sure you’re wearing a blouse/dress/shirt with collar or bring a blazer with you. Fix yourself before going to the DFA office because you will have no time to do this in line (unless you're a magician).

The DFA personnel will take 2 to 3 shots and will allow you to choose. After selecting your best picture and signature, you may prefer to have your passport delivered or picked up. If you opt the former, you will then go to the booth of the assigned courier to fill out another form and leave them your passport receipt so that they can claim it for you on the day of the release. Pay for the delivery fee and keep the receipt that they will give you. Add an extra day or two to the release date of your passport before you can finally claim it. It took me only less than two hours to complete the whole process.

The day my passport arrived I started working on the basic tourist visa requirements such as DS 156 and DS 157 forms (both downloadable online), visa payment at BDO (they will also give you a copy of the DS 157 form at the bank, so you can choose to use it or the one on the website) and visa picture. (Reminder: always visit the US Embassy website for updates and changes on the requirements.)

I also started preparing my “proof of ties,” a collection of documents or materials that will prove you have legitimate or compelling reasons to come back to the Philippines and not stay as a TNT or tago-ng-tago (illegal alien) in the US. For examples of proof of ties go to the embassy’s webpage. I obtained a certificate of employment, my last ITR (Income Tax Return), pictures of my family and with John (my boyfriend), my last 3 pay slips and I also asked John to write a letter to the embassy in case they ask for a proof that we are indeed in a “dating relationship.”

I also called the US embassy visa hotline for an appointment, however I found out that I need to fill out and print the DS 156 form first and get the barcode from the form before they could let me choose from the available dates/times for the interview. I had to go back to the inter-net shop and fill out the form and call the embassy again for the appointment. Once you’ve chosen the date/time, they’ll give you a code as a “password” through e-mail which you will use at the gate of the embassy.

I was really grateful that God didn’t let me go through a long, agonizing “waiting” period. There were available slots just four days from the day I called. So I chose the earliest date and time and prepared for the BIG DAY.

Read Part 2: Interview Day here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not your usual summer...

Except for the usual camps, summer classes and beach activities; the next two months try to learn a skill, be part of a cause or win something big (or charge it to experience if you don't win). Make it an unforgettable, productive and meaningful vacation by joining these activities/contests.

If you’re a WRITER, here are some contests you might want to consider:
- Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature
- Be a Star Mom Essay writing (write and send an essay with 300 words describing why your mom, grandma or aunt is a Star Mom to, deadline Apr.18,2010)

If you’re a PHOTOGRAPHER, whether amateur or professional try these competitions:
- My City, My SM
- I Love Philippines 3
- Lonely Planet’s Photo Travel Contest

If you're a MUSIC or EVENTS AFFICIONADO, volunteer or attend these events:
- Passion Conference
- Do Hard Things Manila

If you're into NATURE LOVER, join the cause to save planet Earth and win exciting prizes:
- I Love Nature

If you're a BACKPACKER, tell 'em about your (bad) trip and upgrade your experience!
- Pimp My Trip

If you're a TECHIE, who doesn't want the latest gadget by Apple???
- Win an IPAD!!!

I'm not paid to advertise these competitions or connected to any of the companies/sponsors. I did join some of these contests. :)