I actually had no plans to take my kids to Prague this year. Suddenly in January my younger nephew, also known as Brat 2 asked me to plan a trip. By the time I was near completion he backed out sighting too much work at office. By then I was hooked and I decided to travel to Prague with my daughter and niece- Chhavi and Vasu, also known as double trouble! And therein lies the story of applying for Czech Republic Visa with minors in India.
I was able to submit our applications successfully today. I still need to get the passports back but then I will update this post once I get know the outcome.
To get the Czech visa one needs to apply for Schengen Visa. They have a VFS office in Delhi. There is a comprehensive Czech Republic VFS website which lists the documents to be submitted along with the application form for each type of visa. The application form can also be downloaded from the website. We clearly need the tourist visa. The visa fee can be paid in cash at the VFS which is a blessing as I do not need to get demand draft made.
Even though I have taken the girls abroad before, it was Hong Kong which used to be visa on arrival when we visited in 2014. This time it was different as we all need a visa.
If you are traveling with a minor, the first thing to be careful about is parental authority. In my case my husband is not traveling and in Vasu’s case both her parents are not traveling along with us. I needed a no objection from my husband and a parental authority letter from my sister and brother-in-law, signed by both. It had to be done by a notary on a stamp paper. Photocopies of parents passport irrespective of whether they are traveling or not is also to be submitted. The logic is clear, one parent should not be able to run away with the child to another country. I totally get it. I had to submit their school ids as well along with their applications.
I am a little surprised tough because last year when Seshadri (my husband) took Chhavi to USA no such document was required even though I was not traveling. Also last year Vasu went to USA on her school trip and only one of the parents signature was required for the authority letter to the school.
For the kids I could sign off their visa application forms as both are under 12 years of age. Kids under 12 are exempt from bio metrics too. So, thankfully I could go and apply the visa for all three of us, there was no need to bring in the hyper kids in tow!
The rest of the documents are routine- completed application forms, valid passport, the return tickets, recent photos, the hotel booking, proof of funds, IT returns, six months bank statement with bank seal and signed by a bank employee! The bank seal and signature bit also surprised me a bit because even UK accepts online bank statements! But such are the vagaries of visa rules and the trick is to follow them to the letter!
After gathering all the documents, I took an online appointment and got it for the next day. I took the 9.00 am time as the VFS is not too busy at that point of the day. I needed to take the token and then go to the relevant counter. The VFS staff was super efficient. They took my forms and asked me to wait. After a while I was asked to proceed to pay the visa fee and bio metrics. Even though mine was not a very straight forward application, at no point did they ask me any irrelevant questions. They were professionals and I am thankful for that.
When I went for the bio metrics there were three passports in my kit. I did my finger scan and then the lady asked me to send in the next applicant. I looked out and said there is no next applicant! Then I realized that I didn’t have a receipt of any kind. So I randomly stopped an employee and asked him how come I don’t have a receipt even though I have done all the formalities. He took me back to the bio metric room and the lady smiled and said my kit had two more applicants! I too laughed and told her they are minors. She said she asked me to send in the next candidate because she saw two more passports in my kit. And I thought it was a general request. She promptly handed me the receipt and I walked off after thanking her and the two young boys would initially accepted my application!
Now let us see how long does it takes for the passports to arrive and what is the outcome! I will update this post once I know the outcome.
PS. All the passports in the picture belong to my family members! Three of them are mine, one current passport and two expired ones.
I am bad at dealing with visas. I like them to get out of my way as soon as possible. However, on many trips I have no control over them, my sponsors take care of it. There have been instances when I have got a visa on the last possible day! But applying for the Philippines Visa in New Delhi was a relatively straight forward experience. I would be traveling to Philippines in October to attend TBEX Asia Pacific 2016 in Manila.
If you are lucky you will get a visa on arrival for Philippines. For that one needs to have a valid US, Japan, Australia, Canada, Schengen, Singapore or UK visa as an Indian national. It is my luck that even though I have a valid UK visa, it expires midway through my forthcoming Philippines trip. I have never been adventurous when it comes to visas so I decided to apply for a Philippines visa well in advance, right here in New Delhi. And before I forget, I am a speaker at TBEX Asia Pacific 2016 and I am so excited!
My first stop for understanding the visa process was the Philippines Embassy website in New Delhi. It spells out the process quite clearly. The visa form can be downloaded from the website. The document requirements are not huge. The only thing to watch out is that they accept the visa fee only through a demand draft. Nothing else is allowed, there is no provision of paying the fee online as of now. After I got all my documents in order, the next step was to go and apply in person.
The Philippines Embassy accepts the visa applications at its Chankya Puri premises directly. As of now no VFS is involved. The timings for submitting the visa application is 9.00 am to 11.00 am Monday to Friday barring public holidays. The gate from which they accept the visa applications is close to the National Rail Museum.
There were seven people and one child in the queue when I went there on a Tuesday morning. The gate opened a little later than 9.00 am. By then a woman started tapping at the guard window pointing at her watch. They said the visa officer was not there, so we had to wait.
Once the gates opened we were allowed in one by one after signing in a register with our names, addresses, phone numbers and time in and signature. I was in for a surprise here. They do not allow even the ladies handbag inside (even the UK VFS allows woman with handbags). Now if you know anything about ladies handbags you will understand why I was surprised. I would still have understood if they allowed me to keep the bag in the guard’s room. You have to leave it at the gate, almost on the road! I was taken aback. I even exchanged a few terse words with the young security guard. Of course a few minutes later I realized it was not his fault at all. They take your mobile phone for safekeeping and give a token in lieu of it. The phones are kept in the guard room.
We all waited for our turns in the open courtyard. There are a few chairs and a tin shade over the area. There is a cooler there for the visitors. The visa officer sits behind a darkened glass window inside the building. They accept applications through a slit in the window. It is a little like our metro token windows other than the darkened glass bit. The first pair who went to give in the application were not lucky. After an argument the lady visa officer called the security guard!
The lady who tapped on the guard window earlier, jumped the queue. I didn’t mind, there were hardly any people around. Soon it was my turn. The lady officer scrutinized my form. She told me the letter of sponsorship from TBEX was not signed. She also wanted a letter from the Ministry of Tourism which is involved in organizing the event.
For a while I thought she would not accept my application and I would have to come back. But I pointed it out to her that I had a valid UK visa. Had it been valid for a few more days I could have availed visa on arrival for my trip. She told me, “if you insist I will take the form but you may have to submit additional letters.” She said I could ask them to mail the letters to the New Delhi Embassy email. She then inquired if I was applying for a normal visa or expedited visa. I was applying for the normal visa as there is ample time. She told me she was not the signing authority so her accepting the application did not guarantee a visa. I assured her that I understood. I thanked her and walked off to submit the demand draft.
The visa lady opened the locked door which led to the counter where visa fee (2840 Indian rupees as of now) was to be submitted. The accountant was mild mannered. We greeted each-other, he took the demand draft and gave me a receipt. And I walked out.
When I looked at the receipt it said nothing about the collection date. I asked the young security guard, the same one I exchanged a few harsh words with about the handbag. He was nothing but kind, he asked if it was a normal visa? When I said yes, he told me I could collect it between 5 pm to 6 pm on Thursday. Now that was fast!
I alerted both the TBEX team and the ministry team about the additional letters. I was wondering if I would get a call for additional documents throughout Wednesday. Nothing happened.
On Thursday I reached the Embassy by 4.15 am. With ample time in my hand I visited the National Rail Museum which is next door! Then at 4.55 pm I came to stand in the queue. The gate did not open at 5.00 pm. The lady who tapped on the security window while submitting the visa, tapped on the window again. The security guard told her that the visa officer was not there yet!
The travel agents in the queue started telling stories. One of them said the system was much better now. Last year they opened the gate at 9.00 pm once. I muttered a silent prayer.
The gate opened soon enough, my prayer was answered. This time I knew I would have to keep the bag outside. I did it without a fuss. I waited my turn to collect the passport. When I went to the window, there was a mild mannered gentleman on the other side (but not the accountant from the morning of the visa submission). He pronounced my name ‘Mridula Dwivedi’ slowly, and he got it almost right! Then he asked if I had an extra photo as the one that I pasted on my application had gone missing. I told him I would have to fetch it from my handbag which was just outside the gate. He gave me the go ahead.
When I came back another person was at the window. So, I stood aside at a distance. He called me to the window and took the photo. He pasted it on the form as well. Then he gave 4 passports to the gentleman by the window, after that he handed me my passport and asked me to sign the receiving. I did it with glee.
As I walked away I flipped through my passport. It opened straight at the shiny new Philippines visa page! As I walked out, I took out two chocolates that I had bought for the security guards. I told the younger one, “one is for you and the other is for your friend, it is because I exchanged harsh words with you in the morning when I came to submit my visa.” He protested, saying it was not needed. I told him to take it anyway, I would be happy if they did. Smiling shyly he took the chocolates. I knew it was not his decision to keep the bags outside and yet I argued with him the first time!
As I walked to the auto guy, he said, “so visa lag gaya!” (You got your visa!) I laughed and asked him if he would drop me to the metro station. He said yes, when I asked for the fare, he said, “give anything you want after all you got the visa.” There was a woman outside on the pavement asking for money. I was not in a mood to give her any money, but the auto driver said “give her 10 rupees or she will start cursing.” I was still not in a mood but then I decided to hand her some change anyway. I realized she will do this to every person coming out of the embassy! And auto drivers will say the same, maybe they will not talk to the travel agents in the same way, because they collect visas as a matter of routine.
When I reached the Race Course Metro Station I hand the auto driver 80 rupees for less than 4 kilometer drive. He was still not happy. I thanked him and I walked away. I paid him 20 rupees per kilometer and yet he was not happy. I realized I could not make everyone happy.
So, ladies and gentleman that is how I got my Philippines visa! And I am so looking forward to the trip in mid October to TBEX and the FAM trip to Boracay Island after the conference.
Waking up at 5.30 am is not a pleasant task for me. But I had an 8.00 am appointment today for applying for UK Visa in Delhi and I would not like to goof up at any cost. This is the sixth time I was applying for a UK visa but there was a difference. The last trip was way back in 2011. There have been a few changes in the procedure since then.
The VFS Global for UK in Delhi at Shivaji Stadium Metro
First of all, the VFS Global for most of the destinations have shifted from Nehru Place to the Metro Station premises at Shivaji Stadium on the Airport Express Line. I saw it on the appointment letter and yet it didn’t register. It was a chance discussion with a friend that saved me from going to Nehru Place! I realized this just a day before!
As I am a big fan of Delhi Metro, I decided to go to New Delhi and then change for the Airport Express Line to go to the Shivaji Stadium Metro. Google maps pinned the VFS and the Metro Station almost on top of each other.
To change to the Airport Line I had to exit out of the yellow line and swipe my card again at the Airport Express Line. Shivaji Stadium is the next stop after New Delhi. As I took the escalators, I saw a big board of VFS Global on the landing itself. No wonder Google Maps pinned them on top of each other. I was there in good time for my appointment.
Security at the VFS Global
There are barriers to entry. The security guards are courteous but they need to see the appointment letter for permitting entry. A lot of electronic devices are not allowed inside, like laptop which is obvious but pen drives are prohibited too! However, there are locker facilities available if you end up with any of the prohibited items. I had two pen drives lounging in my handbag since ages and I had to put them in safe keeping. Someone else was depositing his big headphone. My small ear phones went in though.
At the gate there is a separate line for women. I passed through the scanners, gave my handbag for inspection and the guard opened the barriers, I was inside.
UK Visa Application Center is in Zone C
After entering, I went to zone C, there was still some time. The young man at the counter told me that his system starts only at 8.00 am so I would have to wait for a few minutes.
At 8.00 am all of us who had the appointment queued up and got our tokens. Mine was no. 7. I was also given a checklist to mark against the documents I was submitting. The counter token and the application area are separate. As soon as I went in the application area, I was called to counter number 20. There are a lot of counters, early in the morning I did not have to wait at all.
Submitting the Application
The girl at the counter was efficient. As I had filled my application online, I just need to print it and present it with supporting documents. They do not need a passport size photo now. The girl asked if I would like to submit my previous passports and I did. She asked if I would like to receive the passport in person or by courier to which I said I would collect it myself. She also asked if I would like a SMS alert to which I said I would track it online. Earlier it was possible. But I do not see the online tracking facility anywhere on the website now. Instead it is mentioned that I would get an email when my passport is ready for collection. She did confirm my email while I as at the counter.
She made a bundle of my application, packed it in a cover and asked me to proceed to bio-metric section.
The Bio-Metric Section
The bio-metric room I went to, was managed by a girl even younger than the one at the application counter. The retina scan and the finger printing went fine. But when it came to taking my picture, the camera was not working!
Initially the girl asked me a few details related to my passport. But the camera was still not working. I think she started fidgeting after a while. She banged the walls of the cubical next to her and a while a girl appeared from somewhere. She asked her to tell the person in-charge that the camera was not working. We waited, after a while she asked me if I would call a staff by walking outside? I happily did it for her.
Still no one came and the camera was not working. I asked the girl if her cubical was that hot throughout the day? The air-conditioning was good in the hall but her cabin was hot. I would have not noticed it if I did not spend the extra time because of the non-functional camera. She said it becomes fine after a while in her room too. She glanced through the ‘past ten year international travel history excluding UK section’ of my visa application and I thought her eyes widened for a moment. I must have mentioned at least 20 trips!
Then came a boy, who was the camera expert. He did something on the monitor, poked the camera with a pen a few times and viola the camera started working. After that it took me less than a minute to get clicked and walk out with the receipt for my application. The girl apologized to me for the delay.
I exited happily. Even though it was my sixth visa application to the UK, all my past visas were on business for academic work. This is my first blogger/freelance visa application to UK. I had major butterflies in my stomach the night before. But the application was a breeze!
I hope the Visa God will be kind to me this time too, as they have been always. The trip is slated for late May. It is going to be a cruise, my first, if everything goes according to the plan!
Within a week, a got a confirmation that my documents were returned to the VFS. It was on a Saturday. On Monday I got a mail from VFS saying they will handle my documents according to my instructions. I did not opt for courier services. So I went to the Shivaji Metro VFS and collected my passport. I got the visa.