Chhavi and I just submitted our applications for a tourist visa to Croatia at the VFS New Delhi and we are now keeping our fingers crossed! In the end we decided to go for a tennis holiday for the summer vacation!
To start the application process I went to the VFS website and thoroughly checked the list of documents required! I found the list quite similar to a Schengen Visa but additional documents are required for a Croatian Visa. I also have to admit I totally missed out on point 14!
Apart from the usual- tickets, holiday booking, income tax returns, bank statement, travel insurance, for Croatia I submitted credit card statement and a copy of the credit card too. They also asked for purchase of foreign currency but I said in my cover letter that I would rather withdraw it from a ATM than purchase it here.
Over the years I have learned the importance of writing a good cover letter. I do not try to be modest in it anymore. I clearly mention that I have traveled to 30 countries and quote our history of taking vacations. I also mention my blog in the cover letter.
I filled the visa application form online using the following link. I also uploaded the documents online, through in the end I had to print the application and submit all the documents to the VFS.
After collecting all the documents, getting the correct photo clicked and printing them, Chhavi and I went to the VFS New Delhi.
I prefer an early morning appointment as the VFS still has some sanity in those hours. Around 11 am it starts resembling a fish market particularly when the summer school holidays are about to start in India! In the process we reached really early and sat down for breakfast. There are a few dining options right next to the VFS. Also, it helps that VFS New Delhi is so easily accessible by the Delhi Metro.
You gain entry by showing your visa appointment booking and passport. For all the previous applications I went alone but I thought this time each applicant was to be present. It was my mistake, I had no need to take Chhavi along. I am glad in a way though that she went, as the experience was educational for her. She never imagined the amount of paperwork it takes to submit a visa application!
And while I am able to submit the application because I have made many in the past, I wonder why section 13- for the documents for minors traveling is so small. There is nothing on a minor traveling with one parent and that is my case almost every time! It is expensive to travel abroad and Seshadri prefers to take a vacation where he can play some music! No, he is not a musician, he is a regular IT guy, but he loves playing violin and has qualifications in that area too! He would be traveling to United Kingdom in August on one such musical vacation.
The staff at the VFS New Delhi was polite as usual. However, there were two surprises for me at the counter. They wanted a photocopy of all the stamped pages of my current and previous passport. I ran out of pages on my previous passport 3 years earlier so that meant a lot of last minute photocopying. I am so thankful that there is a photocopying facility available at the VFS New Delhi. A minor jam developed behind me in the photocopying queue as the gentleman patiently went through my passports. It was my mistake that I did not look at section 14 of the list of documents carefully.
The second surprise was that VFS New Delhi has stopped accepting visa fee by cards! I had to exit the VFS Office, go to the nearest ATM and withdraw cash, come back again and pay the fee. It has happened to me before but it was because of a server error. But this time there was no other way to pay the fee other than by giving it in cash!
I was pleasantly surprised that Croatia doesn’t charge visa fee for kids under 12! So I had to pay only VFS handling charges for Chhavi. The visa fee as of now is 5000 rupees per person, VFS handling charges are extra. We stopped at our favorite mall after submitting the application!
And as I am typing this post, I got a mail from the embassy saying they need a photocopy of the father’s passport. I have emailed it and asked if I need to submit it physically? I hope they will accept it just by email but I am quite willing to do the running around if I need to submit it physically.
The visa application has been made, the wait has started. I have always got a visa in the past. So, I am hoping to get this one smoothly too. After all the visa gods have been kind to me!
As always I will update the post once I get the decision!
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.