I’ve been itching to write this post since I got my Philippines visa stamped back in early May. I was very upset and stressed over the entire ordeal. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
I first visited Philippines in 2011. It ended up becoming my greatest trip till date. The photos I took, the places I visited, and the experiences I had made for a series of blog posts that became very popular — especially among Filipinos! So popular that Philippines is now the third highest country driving traffic to my website. I’ve gotten hundreds of comments, e-mails and messages on Facebook from Filipinos thanking me and praising me for giving Philippines a visit.
When I left Philippines in 2011, I knew I wanted to go back and thought about finally doing it earlier this year. The initial plan was to visit Philippines first and then go to South Korea from Manila. I even got a great deal on a Cathay Pacific flight going from Bangalore → Hong Kong → Manila and the return from Incheon → Hong Kong → Bangalore for around Rs. 32k. Unfortunately in April, some idiot in North Korea decided to issue a bunch of threats to their wealthier neighbour and bragged about dropping bombs there and starting a war. Of course, the situation was made worse by Western media, who made a bigger deal out of it than the South Korean media did.
Still, I kept thinking “what if…” and I was considering cancelling the South Korea portion of my journey. I ended up doing so when I began my visa processing work and found out that Philippines has since opened up a consulate in Chennai, and my passport would have to go there first and then go to New Delhi for my South Korean tourist visa. With under three weeks left before my departure date, I called up Goibibo and sadly cancelled the South Korea portion of my flight. I had to shuffle dates, make fresh bookings to Manila and all-in-all I lost around Rs. 5000.
But my misery wasn’t over. In 2011, I got my Philippines visa done through Thomas Cook, who after charging Rs. 1000 as their service fee, got my passport stamped and sent back from New Delhi in just a week’s time. I went to the same Thomas Cook branch in Koramangala, only to be told that all visa applications are now done at the MG Road office. But just to be sure, they called up the Thomas Cook office in Chennai. Then the guy tells me: “Thomas Cook can’t do Philippines visa”. I’m like, “what?!”. I went back home annoyed and decided to visit the MG Road branch of Thomas Cook the next day for better clarification.
When I went to the MG Road branch with all my documents (as specified on the Philippines Embassy website), the Thomas Cook staff told me I may have to provide an additional document. Annoyed that I had to come back again the next day, I asked her if she was sure Thomas Cook could handle the Philippines visa processing. She assured me “of course,” but when I told her what the guy at the Koramangala branch told me, she decided to call up the Chennai office to confirm. She herself was shocked to hear that the Chennai office said they no longer handle Philippines visa applications.
When I asked her what was the reason, she told me they wouldn’t say but it was a blanket “no, we don’t do that anymore” and that the applicant (me) will have to go in person to the Chennai consulate and apply. Which was ridiculous to me, because I didn’t have to deal with all this the last time! Instead, she suggested sending my passport to the Philippines Embassy in New Delhi. When I asked her how long that would take, she told me 7-10 working days. Which was too risky for me because I saw the number of passports the MG Road branch sends to New Delhi every day — it’s in the hundreds, and to various embassies! Add to that, now the service fee for sending it to New Delhi had gone up to Rs. 1700.
I told her I need to think about this because for that kind of money, I can go to Chennai myself and get it done in a day. When I got back home, I felt frustrated over the days lost and all the running back & forth. I called up the Chennai Philippines consulate to check if I needed to apply in person and I was rudely interrupted by a lady who worked there to be told “of course I could use agents like Thomas Cook!” and there was no need for me to come.
But I didn’t feel like wasting any more time, so I packed up my bag, carried copies of every document, carried extra photographs, and decided to go to Chennai by bus that very night.
I reached Chennai at dawn and called up my cousin brother Nitesh, who offered to pick me up and take me to his place to rest before going to the Philippines Consulate on Mount Road. I didn’t want to bother him, but given I barely slept in the bus (due to the nervousness), I accepted his offer. After breakfast, Nitesh dropped me at the consulate and was nice enough to wait for me, thinking that all I had to do was just drop all my documents and come back later to collect my stamped passport.