The Visa Collector

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

Archives for Visa collection

US green card holders and Canadian visas


While processing my visa for a business trip to our Canadian office, I was directed to the following interesting factoid:

Visas and Immigration

Q. I am a US permanent resident and I hold another country’s valid passport. Do I need a visa to go to Canada?

A. As a US permanent resident (green card holder) you will not need a visa to go to Canada as a tourist. Your green card acts in lieu of a visa but only in conjunction with a valid passport from your country of citizenship.

Looks like that trip to Niagara Falls that we were planning next year won’t be as complicated as I originally thought.

It also means that’s one less visa for me to collect (I’m almost tempted to say bummer).

Filed under Canada, US, Visa collection
Oct 19, 2011

Green to brown: New passport arrived


Finally got my replacement passport last Friday. I’m all set till 2016.

Unlike the good old days of the plain green passport, which you turned in for renewal in the morning and then picked up in the afternoon after lunch, the new brown passport with embedded electronics takes weeks. The standard timetable, as per the embassy claim stub, is set at “approximately” six weeks. In my case, it took 54 working days (August 3 to October 14). So if you know you have a trip planned, best to process your passport renewal well in advance.

Emergency extensions of passports, however, are possible. When my wife had to fly to the Philippines for a medical emergency early this year, and her passport was set to expire while she was out of the US, the embassy stamped a temporary extension on her passport so that she could travel while the renewal was being processed. This apparently isn’t a privilege that is given automatically. When I tried applying for a similar extension in the middle of this year, because I suspected that I would have to travel for business before my new passport could arrive, I was turned down. Reportedly, to qualify for an emergency I had to already have a flight scheduled. They also required me to have an affidavit explaining the nature of my travel.

The embassy staff didn’t really say so, but from the looks of it, there may have been people who were abusing the extension process. So now they have to clamp down on everyone. Bummer.

The new passport is great!!! The identity page isn’t protected by a brittle piece of lamination that seemed vulnerable to cracking if some immigration officer decided to twist it the wrong way (which happened to a friend . . . twice). Now it’s flexible, with a number of attractive-looking security features. Hold it against the light at different angles and you’ll see a variety of not-so-obvious marks.

At the back, it had the usual next-of-kin information in case something happens to you while travelling. It still asks for name, address, and telephone number. I would have thought that a 21st century passport would ask for an email address, but it didn’t. I put my wife’s email address anyway since it is arguably the most portable of our communication options.

Other than that trivial detail, I really like this passport. This 44-page booklet so beautiful, its almost a shame to use it. It’s a silly sentiment really given that’s what this $60 travel instrument is for, to filled with stamps and stickers. I guess it’s just the collector in me.

Happily, the first visa I’ll be working to put on it is also one of the nicer ones out there: a Canadian visa. A colorfully fitting start to an all-new visa collection.

Oct 16, 2011

4th season encounters: A surreal walk to work


I travel a lot for work, and my company has a fair number of offices in cities that receive their share of snow. So it was really only a matter of time before I was sent to a snow-bound office.

One of the projects to which I am assigned is based in Kanata, Canada — a suburb of Ottawa. I travel there periodically, and half-expected that this would be the place where I’d eventually have to walk through a field of white. Although I am fascinated by snow, I do not look forward to driving in it. So thus far, I’ve been careful to plan my travels ahead, or before, any possibility of “black ice”. As of writing my efforts have been successful.

Then came a trip to Munich . . . a week before Christmas.

It was only my second visit to Germany. My first, back in 2004, had been in summer so this was going to be a completely different visit. I touched base with colleagues at our Munich office well in advance of the trip, and they all reported that the most I needed to worry about was cold rain, since it never really snowed that early. But as luck would have it, Munich went through an unusually cold winter in 2010. So I was greeted by the following.

The part of this trip that will be most memorable, is arguably the part that everyone else around me probably felt was the most mundane: the walk to work. Anyone who’s grown up with snow will, in all likelihood, have sloshed through snow more times than they care to remember. But for a tropical person who hadn’t put together a snowball till earlier in the year . . . this was still coool (figuratively). Check out an older blog post about winter: Encounters with the fourth season.

The hotel was a mere 10 minutes from the office, so getting a taxi was absurd. So everyday that week, I walked the path shown below.

I can only imagine how odd I must have looked to the folks driving by: a grown man stopping by plants along the path, taking off his gloves, and then scooping the soft literally powdery ice off the tops of leaves. When faced with fleeting opportunities, curiosity trumps awkwardness . . . as well as the feeling of “freezer burn”.

With fields of powder white visible from our office window all week, two words eventually formed in my head “snow” + “angel”. Hook or by crook I was going to make one before I turned 40. After taking pointers from incredulous friends about snow-patch selection and the “proper” technique for angel fabrication . . . voila!

My coldest evening ever happened while at the Munich Christmas markets, on the last night of my visit: -9C (15.8F). It was a mercury value to which my Canadian friends (who’ve been openly plotting to send me on a one-way trip to Manitoba in January to get me over my cold-weather curiosity), simply shook their heads. Mild weather for folks accustomed to -40C weather . . . but still a first for me.

The unexpected discovery of the evening was how cold could actually make you lose facial sensation. It felt like dental anesthesia, and actually added a level of difficulty to speaking. You don’t see that in the movies.

Here are a few other things that Hollywood doesn’t show that I found on this trip:

– Snow “cakes” everything. Shoes, mud guards, road surfaces, etc. The stuff forms a substantial layer on everything. You can’t easily scrape the stuff off the pavement to see the asphalt.

– Stores can get very wet and messy as patrons walk in from the cold with their snow-covered boots. Leaving tracks and even pools of water as they move about.

– You can still sweat in -9C if you exert yourself and you’re bound up like a burrito

The warmth of good camaraderie trumps cold

Many thanks to the locals that added the many highlights on this trip. You know who you are.

Jan 9, 2011

Visas for cruises: Not just for the intended destination


When my wife and I booked a cruise to Alaska, one must-have that surprised us was the Canadian visa. A visa . . . to go to Alaska. Huh?

The cruise line explained that they had this requirement because we would be traveling through Canadian waters. Given that we were just passing through Canada, and the ultimate destination was US territory, that explanation never really made much sense at the time.

That disconnect disappeared last Monday with what happened to the Carnival Splendor on November 8, 2010. The ship was on a 7-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera when a fire broke out in the engine room, thus depriving the ship of power. According to a report on CNN, the boat is was being towed to Ensenada, Mexico where the passengers would be offloaded.

Switching back to our cruise. Had the unthinkable happened, and we had to be evacuated off our ship, imagine the immigration puzzles, for us, the cruise line, and the host country, that would have cropped up if authorities had to think about what to do with a pair of Filipino evacuees that didn’t have Canadian visas.

Am I over thinking this? Perhaps. I’m not familiar with prevailing practices with regard to immigration rules and disasters. So this line of thinking may be out of whack. I also never really clarified the matter with the cruise company further since we simply took them at their word.

But this belated worry isn’t really far fetched. As reported on last April, Filipinos on board Cathay Airways flight CX275 (Hong Kong to London) unexpectedly found themselves in Frankfurt, Germany. Their plane had to make an emergency landing because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland, and like thousands of travelers that month found themselves stranded in an airport. Since they didn’t have visas for Germany, they had to stay at the airport pending the approval of their 3-day visas. Eventually, the visas were issued, but reportedly long after other nationalities on the flight had been allowed to leave the airport.

Acquaintances working at the Department of Foreign Affairs reported that the Inquirer article had a touch of hyperbole and sensationalism to it. Nevertheless, the report does give food for thought when it comes to expectations about treatment. We are, after all, a visa-collecting nation. Just a fact of life — for now at least.

The Frankfurt misadventure happened in an airport that is accustomed to handling emerging visa situations. Had it happened on the shores of a small town, with local law enforcement unaccustomed to dealing with immigration matters . . . as would have happened to us had our ship run into trouble . . . hmmm. While past experience with Canadian hospitality had been positive, this is still an unknown that I’d rather not have to deal with. Apparently, neither did the cruise line, so they played safe and issued that requirement.

The visas added to the cost of the cruise, but in the final analysis it was a prudent measure. Side-benefit: It added my first Canadian visa to my collection.

Filed under Canada, Visa collection
Nov 10, 2010

Number One


The first visa was undoubtedly the most unexpected. The destination was Taiwan, a country to which I had never dreamed of going.

I grew up with a world map above my bed, so it wasn’t a geographic mystery. But beyond being a source of affordable, albeit not-so-durable goods, all that Taiwan was for me was a place to which one hoped typhoons during typhoon season went directly. A Taiwan-bound typhoon was one that would cause the Philippines no harm. Little did I know that I would eventually be where I hoped the deluge would end up.

It was the year 2000. Tough times for a banking industry that was still clawing its way out of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and a bad time to be working in the credit department of a medium-sized commercial bank. It was time to get out. “Out” came in the form of a technical writing job at a Taiwanese software company. I applied, passed the entrance exam, and thereafter joined the ranks of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW).

Check out the immigration stamp in the photo below. I became a migrant worker on September 11, 2000. Ring a bell?

Filed under Visa collection
Jun 13, 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