Thanks to the popularity of K-dramas and K-culture, South Korea has become one of the most popular destinations for many Filipino travelers.
Unfortunately, traveling there poses an additional challenge because of the visa requirements. Japan, likewise, is another hot destination that also requires a visa for Filipino tourists.
According to local travel agencies, there’s been a surge in travel demand for both Japan and South Korea, that getting an appointment just to file an application takes a long time.
“Some travel agencies accredited by these two embassies stretch until January next year, although its beginning to lighten up,” Marciano Ragaza III, president of Travel Enterprise Inc., told PhilSTAR L!fe.
There’s also a been a surge of requests for other countries that require visas like the US and Turkey. Many US visa holders had multiple 10-year visas that expired during the lockdown. While the process and requirements haven't really changed, it's the volume of requests that is causing complications.
In case you’re planning to visit a visa-required destination this 2022 and beyond, here are some tips to ensuring your visa gets approved.
Allot enough lead time for visa processing
Earlier this year, the Korean Embassy in the Philippines started implementing a travel agency-based visa application system because of the surge in requests.
As of November 2022, there are currently only 36 designated travel agencies operating in the Philippines allowed to process visas for Filipino travelers, which has led to a bottleneck in the applications.
Travel agent Don Rama Tolentino of Journeys and Discoveries Inc. told PhilSTAR L!fe that before 2022, there was no schedule and time for visa applications for Filipino travelers, and individual tourists could walk in at the Korean Embassy as long as their requirements were complete.
However, the travel demand surged once restrictions eased in the 1st quarter of 2022, which led to long lines and a waitlist for those handling applications.
“Karamihan puro students, shouldered ng parents kase gusto pumunta para sa Kpop. Kamin mga agency madaling araw palang nakapila na para lang ma-file namin yung mga inaasikaso namin for visa,” he told L!fe.
While the average waiting time for visa processing is 7 to 10 days, their travel agency only has a limited number of applications they can file per day. In fact, their whole calendar for November and December is fully booked.
In my case, my family and I completed all our documents and turned it over to the travel agency in mid-September, but the actual appointment at the Korean embassy in Manila was last October 24. Our Korean Visa Grant Notices were released on November 2.
Another applicant based in Pagadian shared that it took just a month to get her visa approved. She applied in the last week of September and was able to get her visa in the last week of November, through a Palawan-based travel agency because the offices in Manila and Cebu were fully booked.
The time for visa processing varies, but can now take a minimum of 35 working days from the date of filing for South Korea, so it's best to start applying three months before your trip to be make sure you get an appointment with accredited travel agencies.
For Japan, the time required from visa application to visa issuance is five working days from the day following the date of receipt of the application, but the actual processing could take more than a month, so visa applicants need to apply in advance of the anticipated travel date according to the Japanese Embassy.
Make sure your requirements are complete
While there are various reasons why visas can get rejected, the most common cause is the filing of incomplete documentation requirements and failure to answer the application forms completely or properly.
Follow the size requirements for the applications forms and passport size photos and keep documents clean and free of errors. Make sure the contact information (landline and mobile numbers) in your Certificate of Employment is updated as well.
“Minsan sa sa employment Certificate pag nag-verify, hindi sumasagot,” said Tolentino.
Though the travel agency you will send your requirements to can inform you of the latest requirements and documents you need, other aspects such as incorrect information or wrong contact information on the application form are beyond their control.
Submit only authentic, valid, and current documents
While the completeness of requirements is the most important factor, make sure your documents are legit.
“There is also the possibility that supporting documents submitted are questionable, like fake income tax returns, bank certificates, and dummy tickets. These should be avoided as it can lead to the blacklisting of the applicant,” Ragaza said.
In July this year, the Korean Embassy issued a notice that submitting fake or falsified documents such as certificates of employment, bank certificates, ITR, or other documents for a Korean visa application can be penalized under the Korean Immigration Act and Philippine law.
This can lead to “being penalized by imprisonment of a maximum of 3 years or fine of 30 million won (P1.2 million) pursuant to the Korean Immigration Act. It is also punishable by imprisonment under Articles 171 and 172 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.”
Have enough money in your bank account
Another possible reason why people get denied visas is due to lack of money in their bank account. Before planning an international trip, make sure that you have enough savings to cover your travel expenses and daily allowance at least six months before your trip.
However, Tolentino says that for South Korea, the amount in one’s bank account is not really a factor, especially for students, whose parents shoulder their trip expenses.
“Hindi issue sa Korean Embassy ang laman ng bank mo, basta mahalaga maibigay mo yung mga requirements na hinihingi nila,” Tolentinto told L!fe.
He shared that visa applications of clients who had barely P60,000 in their bank accounts were approved, while other candidates who had large sums in their accounts were denied.
Show proof of travel history
One of the requirements that boosts chances of visa approval is your travel history on old passports. Make sure to include copies of all your OECD visas and arrival stamps from the past five years if you have them.
OECD visas are visas granted by countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Member countries include the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, U.K., Japan, South Korea, Israel, Turkey and Mexico.
Be honest about your travel intentions
Whatever your reason for traveling, be clear and honest in your cover letter. For tourism, you’ll be asked to submit an itinerary or daily schedule, which can be provided by travel agencies if you’re availing of package tours. If you’re attending a concert or event, it’s helpful to include photocopies of tickets to the concerts.
“Be truthful in your answers on the questionnaires in the application form and during personal appearances or interviews. If you think that you are not qualified to get a visa for whatever reason, that is a red flag and decreases your chance of getting approved,” said Ragaza.
Some embassies will also ask you to provide hotel and tour bookings. If your itinerary is unrealistic or doesn't match the funds in your bank account, you may have a problem.
It's also helpful to show proof that you intend to return to your country of origin to let the embassy in your destination country know that you have no intention of settling or working there illegally. If you’ve already booked your flights, include a copy of your return flight ticket. You can also include a certificate of employment, approved leave of absence, an ITR, and other documents.
"Aside from submission of all the requirements, visa approval is still based mainly on the appreciation of the visa officer processing the visa application and/or interview. There are no guarantees,” added Ragaza.