You will not undergo an interview with the French consulate, you will not be required to visit the French Embassy, nevertheless, you will have to spend a bit of your time and money. Last October, I went through the process of Schengen visa application in preparation for my upcoming Europe trip. There are several countries where you can apply for this type of visa, but this guide specifically shows how to get it from France for Filipinos.
What is a Schengen Visa
Schengen visa is a short-stay visa that you can use to gain entry into any Schengen areas in Europe. The following are the 26 member states: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Note that not all EU countries are members of Schengen like Ireland and the United Kingdom.Paris Museum Pass
In 1985, five countries signed the Schengen Agreement in Schengen, Luxembourg (thus, the name). It’s a concession among participating European nations to abolish border control to allow unrestricted movement of people traveling within these areas. From 5 members, there are now 26. To put it simply, you can travel in all 26 countries with just one visa.
Which countries are required to get Schengen visa
To see the list of countries required to obtain this visa, go to this link. The Philippines is among these countries.
What are the different types of Schengen visa
There are 3, National Visas, Limited Territorial Validity Visas (LTV), and Uniform Schengen Visas (USV). If your purpose is travel, you get the USV, which provides permission to transit or live in a Schengen territory for a certain period of time. USV applies to categories “A” and “C”.
- A – Airport Transport Visa, as the name implies only allows traveling through the international zone of the Schengen country airport. In other words, this is used for transit, you cannot leave the airport.
- C – Short-term visa is what you use to gain entry to the Schengen area. It has 3 types: Single-entry visa, Double-entry visa, and Multiple-entry visa.
How long is the validity of a Schengen Visa
There is a difference between Duration of Stay (DOS) and Visa Validity (VV). DOS is the maximum of days you can stay in the Schengen area; the count begins the moment you enter Schengen. VV, on the other hand, pertains to the period of time you can use your Schengen visa. A Schengen-visa holder may stay within the Schengen zone, whether for business or tourism purposes, for up to 90 days. You can find a detailed explanation about this in this link, Schengen Visa Types & Validity.
Which embassy/country to obtain Schengen visa from
All Schengen members can issue this visa and as a general rule, you should apply to the one where you will be entering first or the country where you will be staying the longest. In my case, I submitted my visa application to the country of my first point of entry, France.
Where can I go for Schengen visa application in the Philippines
Generally, you need to apply to the Embassy/Consulate of the country you are visiting. The good thing about this is, even if you are visiting more than one country you only need to get one Schengen visa. I applied to France for my visa but I didn’t have to go to the French Embassy myself. That’s because there is an outsourcing company that processed my visa application for me called VFS Global.
VFS Global worldwide manages administrative and tasks related to visa, passport, identity management, and other citizen services for its client governments. They serve as a sort of a middleman between the applicants and the embassies, doing the nitty-gritty of facing the applicants, gathering and assessing their documents, then passing them all to the embassies for approval. However, they do not cater to all Schengen countries. You may get their services if you are visiting any of these countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland.
How to process Schengen visa application through France
Okay, it’s about to get brutal but before I go on, let me clarify that this process follows the procedures set forth by VFS for France. I have a friend who submitted her application via Austria and it seemed like the steps we went through are roughly similar. For instructions on other Schengen countries, check the website of VFS.
The first thing you need to do is to create an account at France-Visas website. This is where you will fill out the application form that you need to print and take to the visa center. Likewise, this is where you will book your visa appointment.
VFS sent me instruction on how to schedule an appointment, which you may download below.
If you have any queries, you may contact VFS directly at their email address, Info.frph@Vfsglobal.com. Their help center is very responsive, addressing my inquiries within business hours, the next day at the latest.
What are the required documents for Schengen visa application
This is the part of this whole visa application that took me a couple of days to finish. Remember that you must have all of the required documents before going to VFS. They do not deal with anyone who came with incomplete docs. Here
1. Application Summary Sheet: This is the application form that you need to fill out from the France-Visas website. Enter your information then print out a copy.
2. Appointment Letter: Walk-ins are not allowed in visa centers, you need to make an appointment first. Schedule your visit at France-Visas website then print the appointment letter that they will send you.
3. Letter to the Embassy: Think of it as a cover letter; make the necessary introductions about yourself, write down the reason for your visit and why you chose to apply for Schengen visa to their embassy. Do mention something about your travel history especially the countries you have visited in the past. Lastly, make a promise that you will not violate the terms of your visa. You may see the actual letter that I sent to the embassy in the PDF file below.
4. Itinerary: Create an itinerary that includes the countries you are visiting, the number of days of your visit, and the attractions/tourist destinations that you are planning to see. It doesn’t matter if your itinerary change during your actual trip, they just need to see how you are planning to spend your days in the Schengen area. Here’s a copy of my itinerary for your reference. It included Ireland (a non-Schengen country) because it’s part of my planned Europe trip.
5. Accommodation Booking: There are travel agencies that can make a hotel reservation for you for a price. But why pay when you can have it for free? You can easily book accommodation at Booking.com. Use their filter options to find the hotels that offer free cancellation and no prepayment. Most hotels allow cancellation a few days before your confirmed booking date. This way, you don’t have to worry about wasting money in case your visa application was rejected or if for some reason, you can no longer continue with the trip.
Note: Some hotels will test if your credit card is working by deducting a little amount. I used my Paymaya that doesn’t have enough balance. The hotels automatically canceled my booking whenever they tried to confirm my card. Thus, I had to book a few times until I found hotels that didn’t do card confirmation. On which hotels perform this, I cannot say for sure.
6. Airline Ticket Reservation: Just like your place of accommodation, you don’t have to pay for an actual flight ticket just yet. Even the embassies discourage people from doing this until they already have a visa. What you need to present is an airline ticket reservation and I got mine from Flightreservationforvisa.com. For this, I paid, ₱1,390 ($26.35).
7. Passport: If your passport is expiring soon, best to renew it before applying for a Schengen visa. It should be valid for 3 more months beyond the date of your departure from the Schengen area. It means that if your flight back home from Europe is in January and your passport is expiring in April For example, your passport is no longer valid for Schengen application. Also, bring your old passport if there is any. In my case,
8. Travel History: One of the proofs that you are a good tourist is your travel history. Make a photocopy of all the pages of your passport with stamps and visas. If the visa is printed as in the case of an Australian visa, bring a hard copy of it.
9. Travel Insurance: Unlike the hotel or flight accommodation that you have the option to reserve, getting travel insurance is a done deal regardless of your visa application status. Some agencies though offer to reimburse a portion of your payment in case of a denied visa.
I purchased my travel insurance from Pacific Cross. They offer individual plans for ages between 15 to 75 years old. You can ask for a quotation through their website, after which you will be contacted by their representative via email. Minimum coverage for Schengen states is €30,000, however, Pacific Cross asks for minimum coverage of €45,000. To cover my entire trip, I paid ₱2,826 ($53.58).
10. Birth Certificate: If you are married, you need to show your marriage certificate, but for single people, a copy of birth certificate will suffice.
11. Passport-sized photo: I brought two but they only require 1 piece of 45 mm x 35 mm photo for the application form. Wear a collared shirt when getting your photo taken, in a white background. Make sure your ears are showing and not covered by your hair. Your head must be on a level with the camera, and as much as possible, do not smile.
12. Bank Certificate: The next requirements you have to prepare is the proof of your financial capability starting with a Bank Certificate. Some banks like BDO will only issue this from the branch where you opened your account. Thankfully, this is not a problem with BPI where you can get one from any of their branches for ₱200 ($3.79).
13. Bank Statement: Another document you need to submit is the bank statement. It needs to show at least 3 months’ worth of bank transactions. As with the amount of the show money, there is no specific amount that they require, but you have enough to cover all of your expenses for your trip. A general tip is that you have at least a budget of €65 (₱3,902.21) per day. For example, you must have at least €650 (₱39,022.06) in your bank account if you are staying for 10 days. This, however only applies to people who have provided proof of booked accommodation. Without it, your daily budget should be €120 (₱7,204.07).
Note: For business owners, submit a company bank statement from the last 6 months along with the business license.
14. ITR: This document is the best thing to present if you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur. No need to pass the original, a certified copy will do.
15. Payslip: Aside from the ITR, employed applicants must present their payslips for 3 months.
16. Certificate of Employment: Another requirement for the employed, request this from your HR, make sure that your hired date and your annual salary are indicated.
17. Letter of Leave Approval from Employer: This letter must show that your employer is aware and has approved your leave vacation for this trip, as well as the date you are expected to return to work.
How to submit the documents to VFS Global
On the day of your visa appointment, go to the VFS Global office at Mezzanine Floor, Ecoplaza Bldg., Don Chino Roces Ave Ext, Makati. I cannot emphasize this enough but make sure you have a complete set of documents. I put them all in a clear book thinking that it would help the consultant check the documents easily, but I was told to take out the files from the clear book. So it’s best to just put them all in a long brown envelope.
You can apply 90 days before your desired entry date to the Schengen area. You will not be accommodated even if you were just one day early. I made a mistake of going there 2 days in advance so the consultant asked me to get another appointment and come back 2 days later. Still, my documents were assessed and she found that I was going to Ireland. She asked why I didn’t have an Irish visa yet when it’s my premier destination to Europe. I said that I was also in the process of getting an Irish visa.
The real reason, however, is that the friend that I’m visiting in Ireland advised me to get a Schengen first. Apparently, it’s harder to get an Irish visa so my friend thinks that if I have a Schengen already it will increase my chances of visa approval. Anyway, the consultant said that I should state in my letter to the embassy why I am applying for Schengen before the Irish visa.
VFS has photocopy and printing services but they are ridiculously expensive. I also discourage you from carrying a bag because they don’t allow it inside the visa consultation rooms. However, if you cannot go without a bag, there’s a locker area where you can leave it for a fee. Check the rates below for reference.
Internet & Computer use – 7 mins – ₱50 ($0.95) / 30 mins – ₱120 ($2.28) / 60 mins – ₱240 ($4.55)
Printing per page – ₱20 ($0.38)
Photocopying per page – ₱10 ($0.19)
Scanning per page – ₱20 ($0.38)
Locker use – 100
I met the same consultant when I came back to VFS. Since she had seen my documents already everything went smoothly. I wouldn’t say we had an interview when the only thing she asked me is my reason for application, to which I answered, tourism. Everything she needed to know was already provided for in my documents. This is not a business or a sponsored trip and I will be shouldering all of my expenses including my flight and accommodation.
She asked if I wanted to pick up the passport or if I want it to be delivered. Not wanting the hassle of returning just to get my passport, I chose the second option. After that, she instructed me to go to the cashier to settle my payment. Here’s the breakdown:
Schengen Visa Fee – ₱3,770 ($71.48)
VFS Global Consultation Fee – ₱1,600 ($30.34)
Passport delivery – ₱350 ($6.64)
After payment is the biometrics where the will take your digital photo and fingerprints. When your visa gets approved, this is the photo that they will use for it.
That’s it, you’ve completed your visa application. You will be receiving text messages from VFS regarding your visa status. Processing time varies, in my case, I got my passport back after just a week. In case you’re wondering, they don’t return the documents to you.
Opening the parcel was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life. My heart sunk when I flipped through the pages and didn’t see the visa. I wondered if there is anything in my documents that the embassy found to be insufficient.
I leafed through my passport once again just in case I missed something. Apparently, I did because this time, I found the Schengen visa in one of the pages. I could hardly believe it! Finally, my Europe dream is coming true!
Next, the Irish visa, but that’s a story for next time.
There is a new hiking destination that has been making rounds on social media of late. It is known for the two hand-shaped wooden stages in the summit. Never had I been to a mountain with such an attraction that I felt compelled to make the climb. When I started posting my own photos on Instagram I received many comments and private messages asking the specifics about this mountain. There aren’t many blog posts to date that the top Google search is a personal post, not a guide. So let me address your questions in this post. Here’s a day hike guide on this newly opened hiking spot in Rizal, Mt. Mapalad.
Mt. Mapalad specs
Mt. Mapalad is named after a plant that looks like the palm of a hand. It’s located at Barangay San Andres, Tanay in the mountainous province of Rizal. It stands at about 750+ meters above sea level (MASL) with a trail class of 1-3 and a difficulty level of 3/9. Depending on your pace, you can reach the summit in 2 to 3 hours.
How to reach Mt. Mapalad
If you know how to get to Mt. Batolusong, follow the same path. The jump-off point of Mt. Mapalad is just a few minutes away from that of Mt. Batolusong. But if you haven’t been to Batolusong or just like me, you’re just bad at memorizing directions then here it goes…
- From Cubao, ride a jeep with the Antipolo Cogeo route.
- Take off at Cogeo Gate 2 or Cogeo Public Market and walk towards Cogeo City Mall where you will see the jeep terminal.
- Get inside one of the jeepneys, get off at Barangay San Andres.
- In Barangay San Andres, there are tricycles on the side of the road, hire one of those, and inform the driver to take you to Mt. Mapalad registration area.
Voila, you’ve reached the jump-off point.
By hiring a vehicle
If you want to hire a van as we did, I recommend Aloha Transport Services. Shoot them a message on their Facebook page and ask for a quotation. Our group paid ₱5,500 in total exclusive of the driver’s meal. I’m not sure what will happen in the coming months but during our trek, there were no parking
We traveled from Makati to Rizal for an hour and stopped in one of the rolling stores for breakfast. At around 7:00 a.m. we reached the jump-off point where we registered and paid an eco fee of ₱100 per head. We were a group of 7, led by two hiking guides, Carlo and Rialyn. Each guide has a fee of ₱500 for a max of 5 people per group.
Note: I don’t have the contact number of the guides. Don’t worry, you will be assigned one in the registration area.
The climb commenced at 7:28 a.m., the terrain was mostly flat in the first 20 to 30 minutes. One hour into the trek, the slopes began to climb gentle rocky hills; the soil was generally dry. We crossed over a few small river streams along the way, thankfully we didn’t have to walk through them. I wasn’t keen on the idea of soaking my feet and legs during the hike.
My friend, Krish and her boyfriend, a French guy named, Arthur got a head start over us. They had long strides and they moved quickly, taking little to no rests. Soon they were way ahead of us that we lost track of them in the trail. I spent the better part of the climb with my other friends, Cai, Alchris, and Mechelle. This was the first mountain climbing experience of Arrianne, thus she was a little bit slower than the rest of the group.
Somewhere along the way, Cai started singing, reasoning that it distracts him from the physical challenge of the climb. It soon turned into a little game in which we sang a song and used the last word of it to continue with another song. I quit the game when they asked me to sing a song starting with “amen,” like, what the fudge.
Alone in the woods
I snacked on
I found a big boulder and decided to stay there as I awaited my friends. When I heard some voices, I breathed a sigh of relief. M
Moments later they went on their way and I stood there considering my next step; should I follow them or should I just wait for my friends? I did the former. 10 minutes into my walk I saw the other guide, Carlo, running towards me. He apologized for leaving us behind and reported that Krish and Arthur were waiting for us in one of the resting spots along the trail. He shared that he’s amazed at how fast the two moved. I told him that the couple likes climbing mountains, in fact, Krish includes a trek in most of her trips here and abroad. Arthur, on the other hand, has climbed more mountains than any other person in our group.
We reached the summit at 10:15 a.m. and saw a queue of hikers waiting to take photos at the wooden hand structures (Palad 1 and Palad 2). The weather was beautiful, I didn’t mind the wait.
Palad 1 is more aesthetically pleasing than Palad 2, but the latter was built on a spot with a much better view. By the time it was our turn, many hikers were already gone. I learned from our guide that most hikers start to climb as early as 3:00 to 4:00 in the morning to set camp and wait for the sea of clouds.
At 11:45 a.m. we decided to head back. During our climb it was hot and the trail was dry, but shortly before our descent, the rain came pouring making the trail a bit muddy and slippery. A mountain climb wouldn’t be complete unless I slip, and so I did, this time, all the way to the side sending me off the trail. The only thing that stopped me from slithering further was a tree that happened to be on the way, hitting the side of my head. I heard my neck making a cracking sound (kinda like when a masseuse adjusts your neck). Disoriented, I stayed sitting on the ground for a moment to check if I had any injuries. Thankfully, I wasn’t badly hurt that I was able to get up on my feet with no difficulty.
We passed by a river where we spotted several hikers enjoying a swim. Arthur, looking excited, asked if we were going swimming but the rest of the group had no energy to go for it. Personally, all I wanted was to shower and change into clean clothing. The slipping incident got me all muddied, I didn’t want to soil the van seat.
Finally, we were back at the jump-off point at 1:39 p.m and saw the other climbers waiting for their turn to take a bath. They charge ₱20 for shower use.
Tips & other information
- What to bring – Aside from the usual e.g., water snacks, bring extra clothes to change into, as well as slippers. Also, I recommend using a trekking pole, it’s quite useful especially during descent.
- Can I bring a car? – You may bring a car and park on the side of the road near the jump-off point. To my knowledge, there is no parking fee, but this may change in the future.
- Is it ideal for beginners? – Honestly, it would be challenging for a beginner, but I think it’s doable. Just go on a pace that is comfortable for you, there’s no need to hurry, take your own sweet time if you have to.
- How much is the damage? – Excluding other expenses (food, transportation), expect to spend around 300 pesos.
- How long is the trek? – It depends on your pace, in our case, it took us 3 hours.