Preparing your Schengen Visa requirements

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Sunset in Pisa - one of the most beautiful skies I've ever seen
We tried to get a tour company to arrange our tour for the places we wanted to visit, but what they basically did was get my itinerary and place them in time slots, so we decided to do it on our own.

And if you're applying for the Schengen Visa in Italy (this is important -- more on this later!), you have to apply it yourself. Even the tour agency cannot be the one to apply for you because the PIASI, thru Via.ph (the contracted agency that files the visa applications for those who apply thru Italy), collects your biometric data (thumbprint and electronic signature). I hope you get a good agency because there were applicants there for the tourist visa who were asked to come back because their documents were inadequate, and they said that the tour agency didn't tell them to prepare those documents.

For this post, I will walk you through the requirements. We applied through Italy for two very important reasons:

1) It was our point of entry
2) It was the country of our longest stay

#2 is very important, because you MUST apply in the first country of longest stay, even if that country is not your point of entry.

Example: You will be going to Italy (3 days) then to Switzerland (5 days) then to France (5 days), which is the point where you'll go back to Manila.

You must apply through the embassy of Switzerland because that is where you'll be in the longest. Even if the number of days is equivalent to your stay in France, if you're passing through Switzerland first, then you must apply in Switzerland.

Note: If applying to the Italian embassy, they will only accept applications whose trips are within three months of your visa application.

If you're applying as a group/family, each person must have the following documents:

1. Valid passport with no less than 6 months' validity after the visa expiration

  • If your trip will be in September, your passport must be valid until March
  • Must include your current passport and all your expired passports
  • Photocopy the following: Biographical page and back page of each passport (current and expired), any visas you have (even if they're expired), and immigration stamps
  • Arrange the following photocopied pages by date: Current passport's biographical page and last page on top > Visa or immigration stamps within that current passport > Expired passport biographical page and back page > Visa or immigration stamps within that expired passport
  • If you have any passport covers, remove them as Via/PIASI will only get the actual passports. They will need this to stamp the Visa. But even if your application is denied, your passport will be returned.

2. Original copy of the COMPLETELY accomplished application form (guide to follow)

OR

Note: Do not paste your picture on the photo box


3. TWO passport-sized or two 2x2 pictures with the following requirements (Original copy):

  • Haven been taken within the past three months from the date of filing your application (if you file in July, the oldest date of the photo must be May)
  • Your ears must be showing. A neighbor who filed her application on the same day was asked to return because her photo didn't show her ears
  • You must be wearing a collared blouse/polo or a blazer. Photo studios usually have blazers you can wear for free.


4. Letter of introduction to the Embassy (Original copy)

  • Address it to the Italian Consul, must include the address of the embassy. 
  • State your reason for applying. Introduce yourself, your job, hobbies, why you want to go to Italy, etc.
  • Your signature at the end must include your phone number and e-mail address
  • If you're applying as a group/family, each of your letter must include the name of your companion(s). For example, in my letter, I stated: I will be travelling with my mother [name], father [name], and sister [name]. My mother's letter stated: I will be travelling with my husband [name] and two daughters [name 1] and [name 2].


5. Employment/student record

a: If employed:

  • Original copy of your Certificate of Employment
  • Original copy of your Leave of absence letter from your HR department approving your leave. Ask your HR if they can include in the letter that it is for your vacation, and should state when you are expected back in the office.

b: If self-employed, photocopies of the following (but also bring the original copies):

  • Business license/permits, registration and financial statement
  • This includes your SEC registration, City permit, BIR registration, DTI (if applicable)

I state here to also bring the original copies because another applicant beside us was asked if he can procure the original copies as well.

c: If a student:

  • Certificate of enrolment
  • Approved leave of absence
Hello from Luzern, Switzerland!


6. Declaration of annual income

a. If self-employed:

  • Company's SEC certificate
  • City license
  • BIR registration
  • Business registration
  • ITR and proof of payment
  • Financial statement and proof of payment

In my case, since I was a self-employed freelancer until the end of May, and started a company in June, I submitted photocopies of my business registration and ITR (including proof of payment) as a freelancer and our company's SEC, city license, and BIR registration. I stated clearly in my introduction letter my employment history since I didn't have an ITR of the new business.

Since papa has a small business that has been operating for over ten years, he also had to photocopy his financial statement and proof of payment, aside from his ITR.

b. If employed:
  • Ask from your company a copy of your ITR
  • Photocopy of your payslips at least three months' worth.
My father and I did not present payslips. Only my mother and sister, who are both employees, presented their payslips for the past three months' prior to filing their application (i.e. April 30-July 15).


7. Proof of economic means:

  • Original copy of Bank certification for peso and/or dollar (and other currency) accounts
    • This is to be requested from your bank. This is usually processed from 1-3 days, depending on your bank. BPI processed mine in about one-two hours. Metrobank took three days.
    • There is a P100 fee for every certification. Even if your account is in dollar, the fee is still P100. The fee may vary per bank.
    • This must also show that you have the capacity to live in Europe for at least P3000 to P5000 per day, e.g. we were in Europe for 15 days, so P5000 x 15 days = P75,000. We submitted certifications of bank accounts showing an upwards of P100,000 just to make sure we'll get approved.
    • Don't suddenly put huge chunks of money into an account! They will wonder where the money suddenly came from and can be a basis for your visa to be rejected, like in the case of a friend of mine.
  • Original copy of your bank statement
    • Ask your bank for a statement of account for each account you had certified. If possible, have at least 6 months' to 1 year's worth. This is free, depending on which bank.
      • When my sister and I asked for a statement of account from our bank, we were only given 3 months' worth. We had to write on the spot, during our Visa application, individual letters to the Italian embassy explaining why this was so. We signed our respective letters with our names and cellphone numbers.
    • The account(s) in your statement's must show movement, i.e. money goes in and out
  • Photocopy: Passbook records (if available) from 6 months' up to 1 year's worth
  • Photocopies: Time Deposits - and statement of account (if available)
  • Photocopy: Your credit card and its statement of account (including proof of payment) at least 3 statements' worth. Make sure you have good credit! And also that your credit limit is displayed on the page.
  • Photocopy: Land/property/car titles (if available)

8. Original AND photocopy of your NSO-issued birth certificate and, if applicable, Marriage Contract.

  • We applied for this through SM four months prior to our trip. We got it within a week.
  • Your original and photocopied certificates must have the receipt attached.
  • This applies to both male and female spouses.

9. Travel plan

  • A one-sheet basic itinerary
Sample basic itinerary we submitted to the embassy
    • The itinerary I submitted clearly stated where we will be for particular city, and what we will do, e.g. September 5: Rome - Vatican City
  • Confirmed round trip flight booking. Booked, not bought, tickets.
  • I also included a computation of the number of days per country e.g.
    • Italy - 5
    • Austria - 1
    • Germany - 2
    • Switzerland - 3
    • France - 4
    • Total: 15 + 2 days in transit = 17 days

10. Accommodation plan

  • If in a hotel or Airbnb: Hotel vouchers or hotel booking under the name of the traveler(s)
    • We booked a lot of apartments thru Airbnb, and just to be safe in case our visas are not approved, we chose the ones that have Flexible or at least Moderate cancellation policies.
  • If staying with a friend or relative: A letter of invitation addressed to the Embassy, (format of this letter may be secured at the Italian Embassy or downloaded from www.ambmanila.esteri.it). The invitation may be made by an Italian national or a foreign resident legally staying in Italy. A document of identity or permit of stay should accompany the letter of invitation.

11. Travel insurance

  • Make three photocopies of your travel insurance: One to submit to the embassy, one to leave with your relative(s) at home and one to leave in your luggage especially if your insurance covers lost luggage. Carry the original copy of your insurance with you in case of emergencies.
  • Be sure of your dates because once you pay for a travel policy, it will not be refunded even if your visa is denied
  • Must have an additional 15 days after your last day in the Schengen area. Since we were going home on the 19th, our travel insurance was until October 4
  • We bought through Worldwide insurance. They were easy to talk to and their insurance was pretty comprehensive. They also accepted cash on delivery. Our policy only cost us P1,700+.
  • Make sure to only book with a Schengen-accredited insurance company in the Philippines! Even if a Philippine-based insurance company is pretty popular, it might not be Schengen accredited.

l2. Payment

  • You will be told the total amount you will need to bring once you book your VIA application appointment.
    • This includes the Visa fee and Delivery fee of your visa/passport once done
    • You must give the exact amount. Example, I was told that we need to pay P4,362 each, so I prepared 4 x P1000, 3 x P100, 1 x P50 (or 3 x 20) and 2 x P1.
    • Or via a Manager's check, payable to PIASI -- ask them for more details

Stopover in Verona. Oh Romeo!
NOTES:
1) For ALL minors: NSO birth certificate, affidavit of Support and Consent from BOTH parents. In addition, a DSWD clearance for minors not travelling with parents. This must be inserted between the hotel vouchers/letter of invitation and travel insurance. We did not travel with a minor so ask PIASI for more details.

2) If not a Filipino citizen, the applicant needs to show proof of permanent residency in the Philippines (ACR). This must be inserted after your travel insurance. We did not travel with a foreign resident so ask PIASI for more details.

3) The office of the Embassy Consul may send you a letter and ask you to submit more requirements or for a face-to-face interview.

4) Even if you're just required to submit photocopies, bring the original documents anyway, just in case!

5) Back up all your soft copies to your email or cloud storage, in case you forgot/left something and need to print it out. They have a printer, photocopy machine and internet access at the VIA center, and these are available for a fee.



All notes are based on our experience. These are just guides and tips. If you have any other questions, it would be best if you call VIA thru their FREE information hotline 845-9200. If your visa is denied, please don't blame me. I don't decide the approval of your visa :-)



Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 1
Rome day 2
Florence day 3-4
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Innsbruck day 6
Munich day 7-8

Other links you might find helpful:

Getting ready for Europe  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

Getting ready for Europe

12:00:00 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

From Innsbruck, Austria, to Munich, Germany
The next few blog posts will be a series of stories about our trip to Europe -- including the preparation for our visa application, our itinerary, and our actual trip.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision for our family to go to Europe. What was initially supposed to be a trip for two (me and my sister) became a trip for four when my parents asked if they can go with us, too.

When we searched for a tour company and read their detailed itineraries, I realized that we won't get to do what we actually wanted to do. One tour company included Paris in their itinerary, which is my ultimate dream destination, but we weren't going to go up the Eiffel Tower (which was also at the top of my bucket list), and that we weren't even going to enter the Louvre. Basically, we were just going to take pictures. My sister wasn't going to get to do her wine tasting in Tuscany, and my parents weren't going to see the Pope.

So I convinced them to just let me do the itinerary, I said I'll plan everything, from the train rides to the accommodations to the activities. I'll also do an estimate costing, and research everything on how to get from Point A to Point B. Maybe it helped that they trusted me to get things done (i.e. I planned a trip to Singapore, Camiguin, and Iloilo even though I haven't been to any of these places).

I don't advise doing this unless you're ready for the stress, sleepless nights, and lots of research and paperwork for at least a month. And maybe make up to five train itineraries in case your companions change their mind about which countries they want to visit or what activity they want to do.

I had to change our itineraries several times because

First: Too much time constraint per activity since mama initially asked if we could go to 8 countries

Second: Papa kept saying he only wanted to go to Rome

Third: Mama asked if we can go to Lourdes in France

Fourth: Mama asked if we can incorporate Spain, to which papa said I should prepare two itineraries

Fifth: Ate Mako asked if we can include Hamburg

Sixth: Mama asked me three times if we can include Switzerland because she wanted to see the Swiss Alps

Seventh: I had to figure out the shortest train rides we can go to reach Paris, since we just wanted to take the regional trains to avoid reservation fees (more on this later).

So after all these requests, I had to make an itinerary with the following conditions:

  • Must spend at least 3 days in Rome
  • Must go to the Via Appia in Rome
  • Must have a wine tasting tour (hence, 2 days in Florence)
  • Must see the Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Must go to Venice and see David
  • Must see the Swiss Alps
  • Must be within budget (papa said just P150,000/pax average although our trip was KKB)
  • Must be able to spend time in the Louvre
  • Must be able to ride the Eiffel Tower
  • Must see the Notredame
  • Must see the Sacre-cour
  • Must have free time or time we'll just spend walking around
  • Must maximize our 15-day vacation

The result:
1) A 17-day (including transit to and fro Europe) vacation

2) A trip to 10 destinations and 5 countries: Rome, Vatican, Florence, Pisa and Venice in Italy; Innsbruck in Austria; Munich in Germany; Zurich, the town of Engelberg, and Geneva in Switzerland; and Paris in France.

3) A 30-page flexible itinerary. This included the following:

  • A one-page detailed itinerary that includes the exact time of departure and arrival and station/airport for every train and plane ride.
  • A 25-page detailed daily itinerary, from the time we land in Rome, to the time we departed for Manila at the end of our stay.

Since you never know what could happen, I had the "must-see" activities memorized, so even if we couldn't go to every stop in our itinerary, at least we were able to visit or do all the activities that were top priority for each of us.

Draft of our walking tour in Munich
With the "walking time" requested by my sister, what I did was incorporate that with the sites that we can tour by walking. So I mapped out our walking tour in Google Maps so we can also see the estimated time of our tour, and the shortest possible route.

I also included facts and trivia about the sights we were going to visit. Since we weren't joining any tours or even joining free tours, I had to make notes about the places we were visiting so they know why we're actually going there. For example, since we were going to Rome and see the Trevi Fountain, I made sure to include what makes Trevi Fountain interesting. I also included the artist and details about the artwork we can see for a certain church we were visiting, especially the works of Bernini, Michaelangelo, etc.

I also added pertinent details such as the electricity output, notable scams in Europe and contact details of the Philippine embassy for each country we were visiting.

4) A detailed estimated costing per person
This included the cost for our plane ride, Visa application, museum passes, accommodation, Eurail, Paris Pass, and meals. I allotted 8 euros for every meal, just to be on the safe side. I also included a budget for snacks if the day was going to be particularly filled, or if we were going on a long train ride. What I forgot to allot were the bus/train passes in each city, as well as allotment for water and the toilets! Since we were each paying for our own trip, we needed to know how much exactly we would need to bring, and I also asked them to make an allowance for other emergencies. Thankfully, my parents and I brought more than enough.

I divided the costing per day, per location, per activity, in Euro, total in Euro, total in Peso, and Notes.

Sample of my costing for Europe
Since we pre-booked our accommodation by credit card, I made sure to include the conversion charges that will be incurred. I used BPI because they had the lowest conversion charge at 1.75%. But since we were paying in Euros, I computed the charge from Euro to USD, then from USD to PHP, then PHP x 1.75%. I computed this either with the base amount divided by 4 (since we were 4 in the group) or the total divided by 4.

All other charges that will only be paid in Euro (i.e. meals) are left in Euro. For the subtotal, I just converted the amount straight from Euro to PHP then added everything to get the total amount in Pesos.

Again, Google's currency converter was so handy.

5) STRESS. Lots of stress, so make sure you have the time, patience, and energy if you want to prepare this on your own, for the first time, like I did!

Good luck!

Next post will be about the Schengen Visa requirements.

All notes are based on our experience. These are just guides and tips. If your visa is denied, please don't blame me. I don't decide on the approval of your visa :-)



Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 1
Rome day 2
Florence day 3-4
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Innsbruck day 6
Munich day 7-8

Other links you might find helpful:

Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

Davao: Kadayawan Festival and other trippings

11:14:00 PM 0 Comments A+ a-


Woke up to this view!
As part of my sister's wish to attend the various festivals in the Philippines, we also booked a trip to Davao to see the Kadayawan Festival. We were very excited because we've never been to that festival even though we've been to Davao thrice!

Thankfully, despite the rainy weather in Manila, the sun cooperated throughout our long weekend in Davao. In fact, it was so hot, it felt like my skin was burning! Weekend trip tip: Bring sunscreen.

We stayed for one night at our house in Davao, where my cousins stay for free. Thankfully, I've booked us a room in Marco Polo because there was no room for us at home. Despite the long weekend, none of my cousins went home to the province because we were there. That's also just an excuse, because I wanted to try the Marco Polo in Davao -- another one off my bucket list!

As soon as we landed, we went straight to McDonalds for breakfast. The taxi drivers are so much nicer compared to the ones here in Manila. They will give you back the change up to the last peso. And thanks to GrabTaxi, we were able to get discounted taxi fare, too.

After breakfast, we went straight to our house to drop off our bags and meet our cousins. Then off we went to Samal Island!

Samal Island

We were so unprepared for our trip. I thought Samal Island was like Boracay Island or Panglao beach where we can just pick any resort, and that the access was going to be easy. Nope. Our cousins made us look up resorts online. We had to pick a pretty cheap one because my sister and I had a budget, and we ended up paying for everything whenever we were with our cousins.

When we got off the roro at the port in Samal, we rode a tricycle at P40/head. That was pretty expensive! But the road to the resort we chose was pretty difficult, so we felt that it was worth it. If you could book a resort with a transfer, that would be so much better.

And when we got to the resort, that had a private gate and the guard wouldn't let us in without a reservation, we found out that they were already full and we can only stay for their daytime tour. Since the resorts in Samal are pretty far apart, we had no choice but to stay. Too bad the resort didn't have any snorkel or boat facilities so we were only able to enjoy the scenery, go swimming in the sea or in their infinity pools. But their pools also had salty water!


It was definitely not how I envisioned my trip to Samal Island! I forgot the name of the resort, but for the price we paid, it was good enough. You get what you pay for, I suppose.

It was definitely not how I envisioned Samal -- and ate Mako was so surprised why I kept saying we had to go. So despite the forgettable experience we had this year, I'm hoping I can come back, but visit a different part of the island, and book with a different resort!

We went back to the city and had a quick dinner with other cousins. My nephew invited us to the street foam party as part of Kadayawan Festival. So off we went, and along the way I couldn't help but notice the heavy military presence in the vicinity. But no one seemed to be bothered or afraid! They said it's common in their area, especially with the ongoing festival celebration.
I'm not much of a party girl, but it was so much fun! My cousins were so nervous because it was such a crush, and the roads were a bit slippery from all the foam, but it was nice to just dance in the dark and forget all my worries, especially after such a tiring week.

We had to get out soon after because they wanted to go home. I admit I was also afraid because the people started pushing. I think people pushing + slippery roads = disaster, so off we went. That was unforgettable, though!

The next day, we checked in at Marco Polo. We chose the Marco Polo because of its proximity to the dances (there's a stage right outside!) and when I contacted them they said its free for guests of Marco Polo but on a first come, first serve basis. So at eight in the morning, my sister and I checked in and I asked for two seats to the stage.

They said we can't, the seats are reserved for those in their membership program. I was so surprised and I complained that we were assured that seats were available to the guests, but to no avail. My sister and I just walked for thirty minutes under the sun because of the road blocks, we couldn't get seats to the stage, there was no room available yet, and we were thirsty and so sweaty. The receptionist finally told us we can avail of the pool area and facilities if we wanted to rest.

But we went to Davao for the festival, so we went to watch the dancing instead and ignored the sun, heat, and sweat.

Ahhh no regrets!





There are several stages set, and even though they didn't dance their full routine at the stage at Marco Polo, there was still a huge crowd! Their energy was certainly infectious, and the crowds endured the scorching heat just to watch the lively dances and colorful costumes.

Afterwards, I received a text from Marco Polo saying our room was ready. It turns out they upgraded us from their standard room to a deluxe room so that they can accommodate us early (at only 10am!).

For some reason, they also added an extra single bed and extra amenities even though there were only two of us. Ate Mako opted to sleep in the extra bed. Their extra bed actually felt more newer than the king-sized bed, but I'm not complaining.




After a quick lunch and shopping at Aldevinco, we were back at the hotel and enjoyed their pool. Their pool is actually pretty large, and there was plenty of space for everyone. There were two spaces that were roped off for those who wanted to do laps, and my sister and I had fun going back and forth. It was definitely a treat for us because we love to swim, but we rarely get the chance to do it unless we're on vacation.

Afterwards, my cousins and I met up again for dinner at Perch. They recommended it, and I've read it on other blogs too, so off we went. We tried the candied bacon, their steak rice, and a slab of steak. The servings are pretty generous for five people. Their cocktail drink wasn't as tasty as I wanted it to be, though, although the alcohol was pretty strong.





We left with full and happy bellies, that's for sure.

While my cousins went back to the festivities, ate Mako and I went back to the hotel for our spa appointment at Lazuli. Since their air conditioning wasn't working, we opted to have the full body massage at our room. I had my body scrub at the spa, and it was pretty good. The positioning of the in-room shower was awkward though, as anyone walking past your room outside will be able to see you if your room attendant opens the door.

My only complaint with Lazuli is that it took them 30 minutes past our massage appointment for them to go up to our room. We were already so sleepy and we just wanted to leave. Thankfully we already paid for the massages before we got started. Even though we were in Davao, we still locked up all our valuables in the in-room safe before we started the massage.

I think our Davao trip was a half and half success. In terms of enjoying the festival, I think we were able to do so, but aside from that, there were plenty of near misses! I hope our next trip will be so much better.

Thank you for the pleasant stay, Davao!