Contributed by Faye de Jesus
What went wrong
I quit my full-time corporate job in January 2017. By the time I lodged my application at the Italian Embassy’s visa centre in May, I was an “early retiree” managing and leasing out property (listed as my main source of income) while taking on freelance writing and editing jobs.
I was unmarried, childless, fresh off a regular job, bravely taking a painful, huge pay cut doing odd freelance jobs and I was planning to travel across western Europe alone. No family or friends in tow. Just a lone Filipino tourist. Flying 6,500 miles across the world for a vacation. A leisure trip. Using my own savings. Not to find some lucrative work in Paris or Rome. Not to find a rich German fiance and husband. Not to deal drugs in Amsterdam. Not to get myself employed at a car factory in Munich or a watch shop in Switzerland.
It’s like I had “Warning: Potential TNT” (“tago nang tago” or illegal immigrant) stamped on my forehead.
Realistically speaking, the odds weren’t looking good. It didn’t help that I had already checked and completed the required documents I submitted to the Embassy, or that I fully paid for round-trip air tickets and had confirmed hotel bookings, or that I was just a solo joiner in a packaged group tour with more than 40 participants.
I booked the international coach tour operator via a local travel agency when I attended a travel and tour expo. As the agency representative was logging details about her clients who booked at the expo, she asked about my occupation.
No holds barred, I told the rep I was newly resigned and unemployed at the moment (it was February then). I received a quizzical look (and heard the sound of crickets). After a pause, the representative then asked if I had a US visa. When I replied “yes”, she said “that’s okay”.
I didn’t think it would be a problem. She was, after all, just doing her job to the letter. The thing is, I was prepped and coached SO MUCH by the agency (as part of the visa assistance) prior to the mere submission of the documents and the interview proper that I sensed something must be so wrong with me or my application.
The agency representative casually mentioned that the Italian Embassy is very strict in screening visa applicants and that no one is exempted from scrutiny, especially when there had been documented cases of even religious nuns overstaying illegally in Europe after they had entered the Vatican City, supposedly for pilgrimage.
I was told the Embassy doesn’t really require face-to-face interviews, they just need complete documents. They do grant visas without interviews. Special cases may require either a face-to-face or a telephone interview when there’s something in the application documents that need to be clarified or explained further.
The agency told me that if the Embassy doesn’t call, there’s no problem with my application.
And so, the Embassy called.
What saved me
The prepping and coaching of the agency
The Embassy asked me: “Are you travelling alone? Are you meeting someone in Europe? Are you married? Do you have children? Do you live alone? Do you live with your parents? Did you go to university? Where did you study? What course did you take? Did you finish your course?”
Tips/insights: You can hire a travel agency to process the visa for you or you can do it yourself, but the bottomline is that it pays to be prepared. Complete all documentary requirements and know by heart the important details of every document you submitted and every form you filled out. If and when you get interviewed, be confident, honest and direct to the point when answering questions. Yes, it’s kind of like a job interview, but way more intrusive.
US Visa and previous travels
The Embassy asked me: “What countries have you travelled to? When was your last international travel? Did you go to the US? What did you do in the US? When did you travel to the US? Where did you stay in the US?”
Tips/insights: Previous travels will prove that you are a leisure traveller, not a potential illegal worker in a foreign land. You have to show that travelling is part of your lifestyle and that you will come back to your own country after the trip.
The Embassy asked me: “What was your first job? Walk me through your work history, the names of the companies and the year you were employed there.”
Tips/insights: The fact that you can hold a job will prove that you are mature and responsible enough and able to financially support yourself. Ergo, it means you can afford a trip to Europe for leisure and that you will be returning to your own country after the tour. So, love your job. It just might save you. Know your CV by heart, if you must. Be proud of what you do. Be prepared to explain exactly what you do for a living.
The Embassy asked me: “Do you have siblings? Where do they live? What are their jobs? Do you still see your parents?”
Tips/insights: Close family ties will prove that (you guessed it!) you will be returning to your own country after the tour and that you won’t go to Europe to live a new life there. You need to prove that you have roots in the Philippines and that you have to come back for your family.
Savings, no matter how small
The Embassy asked me: NOTHING. But I had a feeling it somehow saved me and sealed the deal for me. Since I was not asked about it, I just assumed the official documents from the bank were enough.
Tips/insights: Bank certificates and statements will prove that you have financial ties in the Philippines. Savings will show that you are financially responsible and can support yourself throughout your European holiday.
My application timeline
January: I started canvassing the itineraries and prices for European tours.
February: I decided on the tour operator and airline arrangements when I attended the annual Philippine Travel and Tour Expo at the SMX Convention Center.
April: I prepared the visa application form and supporting documents with the assistance of a local travel agency. I then scheduled a visit to the VIA Allegro Center, which was authorized by the Italian Embassy to process all visa applications.
May 16: I submitted all documentary requirements and logged my biometrics at the VIA Allegro Center.
May 30 – June 6: I made frantic follow-ups with the travel agency.
June 7: I had the phone interview with the Italian Embassy.
June 8: I did more follow-ups with the travel agency.
June 9: I received my Schengen Visa granted by the Italian Embassy.
June 12: I departed for Europe
What I learned the hard way
I received my visa on a Friday (late afternoon). My flight was on a Monday. I knew if I didn’t receive my passport on the last working day of the week, I was screwed. I blindly secured my tour arrangements with a $500 down-payment four months prior.
Looking back, I knew I should have made tentative bookings of all arrangements and secured a visa first. Tentative, so I could cancel should the visa application go south. But I got excited over the cheap airline tickets in February that I threw caution to the wind and bought round-trip tickets even without a visa. In this case, I was just lucky my impulsiveness paid off.
It wouldn’t hurt also to be engaged or married, with a child and enjoying a regular high-paying job at the time of the visa application. I didn’t have all that. So yes, I guess I was just lucky.