The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Archives for Italy

Street signs


Street signs are so much a part of city life; it’s very easy to take them for granted. At the corner of any street of consequence back home, you’d find a post from which hangs, or sticks out, a sign that indicates the name of the street. In the case of some low cost subdivisions, the subdivision block number would substitute as a street name. Some signs were large and fancy, with reflective coatings. Others were more austere.

But you could always count on these rectangle-shaped signs to be where they needed to be, and to look the way you expect; as surely as the sun’s rise in the morning, and its replacement by the moon at night. After all, why would anyone do it any other way, right?

Ah . . . assumptions . . . assumptions.

My first overseas destination, Taiwan, was a harbinger of things to come. For one thing, naming conventions there were different. Major thoroughfares were called “roads”. My company’s Taipei office, for example, was situated along Tun Hwa North Road, which could be loosely likened to a wider version of Ayala Avenue in the Makati Central Business District. Yet it was still called a “road”. “Streets” were smaller than roads, and relatively less prominent. Small alleys and side-streets were called “Lanes”.

Taiwanese roads were divided into sections and compass directions relative to a point of reference — a concept that has no Philippine equivalent. This was designed to give people a rough idea where on the road they were. Tun Hwa, for example was divided into North and South by its intersection with another road: ZhongXiao. The further away from the intersection you were, you’d transition to different section numbers. Our office, again as an example, was at the southern end of Tun Hwa called Section 2. Other roads ran from East to West. Some had as many as 7 sections which actually stretched outside Taipei City, deep into Taipei County.

Taipei street signs were also squarer than rectangular. They had to be, because they were bilingual. In keeping with efforts to make the Taiwanese capital an international city, English approximations of Chinese street names, and Hindu-Arabic numerals were included in all signs as an accommodation for the city’s foreign residents.

Canadian streets, at least in Ottawa, had an interesting implementation of a bilingual street naming policy. Since the street names were the same for both French and English, and utilized the same letters, it was a simple matter of adding “St.” and the French equivalent “Rue”. The following photo taken near Parliament Hill shows how they do it.

The Irish like to put both old-Irish and English names of their streets on their signs, as with the sign below for St. Patrick St. in Cork, Ireland.

The photo above also captures a common theme amongst European signs. They often use plaques mounted on the sides of buildings. I first noticed them on a trip to Paris. I didn’t immediately recognize them for what they were, because I instinctively associated signs with posts. It also didn’t help that at the time I hadn’t done my homework and figure out that “Rue” was French for street.

Once I wrapped my head around the fact that the street-name-on-a-post was not a “sacred” rule by any stretch of the imagination, Irish and more recently Italian, street plaques were less of a surprise.

Assumptions are funny things. Sometimes, you can’t even distinguish between fact and assumption because it never occurs to you to re-verify what you’ve already accepted as gospel truth. The nice thing about visa-collecting is that you’re often forced into situations that make re-verification necessary.

I wonder which assumption will be challenged next.

Oct 3, 2010

Visa wait-times


Travel shows give viewers the impression that the world is borderless. Every place . . . accessible with a simple call to a travel agent. The only thing holding you back procrastination or the “newness” of the travel destination. Alas, such care-free flexibility is not assured for the visa-collector. We have the visa application process to think about.

When thinking about travel, keep in mind that we are on our own when it comes to visas. We are ultimately responsible for finding out if we need travel documents to go to, or even just pass through, a country or not. A travel agent — depending on his or her experience — may be able to help, but cannot guarantee anything. Given the unpredictability of changes to visa requirements that may be imposed on the different visa-collecting nationalities, it would be unreasonable to expect the agent to be up-to-date on all possible developments. Online travel sites offer even less help. If you want immigration-hassle free travel, take charge and do you own homework.

As you match prime-travel dates with vacation time, consider how long it would take to find out if we are actually granted entry or not. I learned this the hard way when I started processing a European vacation between two other overseas business trips that were only two weeks apart. It was a really bad move, since I had to leave my passport with the embassy throughout the application process. Although things eventually worked out, having to choose between a trip that had already been booked and ensuring continued employment was not pleasant.

Visa wait-times vary greatly. They depend on the country, and even upon the specific embassy. The type of visa also has a bearing on this as well. Tourism is an encouraged activity, so these visas are comparatively easier to come by. Business visas require your company to vouch for you, but otherwise proceed like most Tourist visas. Immigrant visas . . . are complicated, take much longer, and deserve their own discussion. Here, lets focus on less-than-30-day travel.

Embassy work-schedules also have to be factored into the equation. Different embassies only accept visa applications at certain times of the day. In some cases, on specific days in the week. The photo on the left shows a sample.

Embassy Websites are a god-send. You no longer need to wait in a phone cue, or worse a physical cue at the embassy, to get a list of travel requirements. Just look for the Website of the consulate that has jurisdiction over your location (if there are multiple consulates in your country of residence), and look for the Visa section. Voila!!!

These sites often give information about visa processing lead times. The US embassy is particularly good about this. Others, on the other hand, do not. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and may actually indicate very short wait times. When I processed a multiple-entry Mexican business visa earlier this year, I needed to come in once to have my papers checked, and then set a later appointment for the actual attachment of the visa — while I waited, and watched. Combined time for both visits: less than an hour.

Regardless of what’s posted on the site, giving yourself more than 30-days of processing time can’t hurt. Otherwise, when internal processing issues — that are not related to you — happen, guess who has to live with the consequences?

Jun 8, 2010