The Visa Collector

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

Archives for Mexico

Out of breath in Mexico City


After graduating from university a lifetime ago, my friends and I decided to celebrate the end of the school year with a hike to Mt. Apo, the tallest peak in the Philippines. Aside from the breathtaking views, the one enduring memory I have of the hike was a pervasive feeling of exhaustion. I felt it during the hike, and it was still there even when I woke up in the morning. Nowadays I can’t look at a mountain or steep hill without flashbacks of that aspect of the adventure.

Fast forward to April 2010. My company sent me for a week to Mexico City to take part in an event organized for our Latin American resellers. This was a great event, where I met a lot of great people, and ate a lot of fantastic food. But I’ll reserve those details for another post.

My hotel was situated between the office and the event venue. So after being driven to and from the hotel for the first two days, I started walking to my destinations. Minutes into these walks, I couldn’t believe how quickly I was getting tired. It was like Mt. Apo again, but without the steep inclines. The part of Mexico City where we were was pretty flat, so how I felt didn’t make sense. I knew I had been slacking off on my Eliptical machine time, but man . . . was I that out of shape? Or was I just getting old?

Half way through the week, I was having a chat with the manager of the Mexican business unit. After wrapping up the business-side of the conversation, he asked with the impish smile of a person who’d been holding something back: “Are you feeling tired?” Apparently I wasn’t the only one that felt out of breath. Other participants from other countries were complaining about the same thing. Turns out it all had to do with the fact that Mexico City was 7,200 feet above sea level.

The city was so high up, the air was thinner. So I was getting less oxygen with each breath. The manager himself found himself panting for the first few days when he moved from the comparatively low-altitude city of Tijuana to Mexico City a few years earlier. He had come to the same conclusion that I did about my health, until his father — a doctor — set the record straight. It apparently takes a few weeks to become acclimatized to local conditions.

I had read about how the city’s altitude had affected the 1968 Olympics (e.g., slower runs, longer jumps, etc.). But I had failed to make the connection between what I was feeling with that stored knowledge. If there were ever any lingering doubts about the difference between theoretical knowledge, and knowledge-through-experience, Mexico banished them completely.

The Mexico trip also gifted me with one more insight: the reason why I kept waking up tired on the trail to Mt. Apo’s 9,692 ft. peak. Armed with that knowledge, hills that I see in my travels now don’t look as daunting.

Filed under Mexico, Slices of life
Sep 30, 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

How this site came about


A Filipino, a Chinese mainlander, and an Australian found themselves in an idle moment during a training session at their company’s technical support center in Libis, Quezon City, Philippines. All three had flown in for the training, including the Pinoy who was a US-based expat. As the conversation wound through the arsenal of icebreakers that erstwhile strangers with a common employer typically share, the discussion eventually shifted to their travel experiences.

Enter a discussion about visas. The Filipino, accustomed to his own visa difficulties when traveling overseas, was surprised to hear that his Chinese colleague required a visa to enter the Philippines. Chinese nationals apparently needed a visa to go anywhere — and the Philippines was no exception.

This started a pleasant comparison of visas in their respective passports. The same way that different countries had different currencies, visas apparently came in a fascinating variety of shapes and colors. European visas, for the most part, all look the same: predominantly green. The Indian visa was a tasteful blend of light shades of orange, blue and violet. Mexican visas had a washed out look but used heavy colors. The Canadian visa was in a category all its own, with the Canadian maple leaf cut into the visa itself creating a unique outline, and only part covered by a plastic security strip with holographic mounties ensuring its integrity.

Their Australian colleague, however, was hard pressed to contribute to the discussion. He had no visas on his passport. This wasn’t really because he was not well travelled. His citizenship simply exempted him from the travel requirements that Chinese, Filipinos, and other 3rd World nationals faced. While it offered him the convenience of easy travel . . .

. . . it also prevented him from forming his own visa collection. Apparently, having a third-world country passport has it’s upsides. 🙂

Needing to go through the visa application process to go anywhere is not something to which people aspire. But as the cliche goes, when given lemons . . . might as well make Lemon Marangue Pie.

Jun 6, 2010