As I write this, I still may or may not make this trip to London which I had been thinking about for the past month. But it didn't stop me from applying for a visa despite the cost, anyway.
Applying for a visa is always a stressful undertaking for me, as it may be for many of you. I believe I have already earned the credentials to go to just about wherever I want and be allowed to do so. Being an academic makes things even easier. But still, the thought of someone you don't know judging as to whether or not you are worthy of entering another country kind of affects my self-esteem. Even more stressful is having to compile all the documents required of you and have those closely examined. Applying for a Schengen visa is just that.
However, the UK visa application process outwardly looked more similar to the US visa application as far as requirements are concerned -- an exhaustive application form, a rather high application/processing fee and a suspiciously short list of required supporting documents. After all, being used to going through the eye of a needle with Schengen visa applications, I can't help but think that what if they suddenly ask for something I did not bring with me and all that shit.
So, I searched the Web for all the instructions and pointers I could fine. Aside from the information from the UK Embassy's own website, I came across Wanderlass's blog, which I found to be helpful and encouraging. I will now attempt to fill in whatever blanks her blog left and updates to what she laid out (the blog was written back in 2011) which I think might prove useful for everyone.
Everything starts with the online application form. It is long -- perhaps longer than the US Embassy's DS160. It requires information whose relevance you might question. For example, I can't for the life of me, understand why a savings accounts' income (interest rate for the rest of us) be more relevant than the actual balance. But I filled it, anyway (which turns out to be close to nothing).
After taking a few days to gradually fill that form, I finally submitted it, and set my appointment for the biometric scan and whatever interview that may arise. This was back in February 10, 2016. The good news is that I had the option to schedule my appointment for as early as February 12, and that's exactly what I did. I chose to be processed at 8:10AM and then paid US$128 by credit card. Then I waited.
The UK Embassy doesn't deal with applicants directly. Instead, a third party, VFS Global along Chino Roces Ave. extension at Makati, does it for them. Apparently, they process visas for many other countries, including Australia and some Schengen states, which I found surprising. Maybe I can experience applying for one through them next time. But at the time, I was focused on my immediate need.
I was there early and relaxed a bit. I fell in line exactly at 8:10AM. Then I realized that bags are not allowed beyond the waiting area. It would have been nice to know that prior to my going there. The good news is that VFS Global offers a locker service. The not so good news is that it will cost you P150.
Coming in to the processing area, I was surprised to see a largely vacant seat of benches, especially when you're accounting for all the countries they represent. This was no US embassy, that's for sure. I have barely started filling the checklist the receptionist gave me when my number was called. I took a deep breath, assuming that if there was going to be an interview, it would be then and there. I was expecting to have to answer questions of why I did not carry this or that supporting document. Instead, the young man at the counter asked me:
Man: Is this all that your going to submit?
Me: Well, is there anything else I need to submit?
Man: That's up to you, sir.
Me: Uh... ok. If that's the case, that's all of them.
I mostly felt relieved, but not completely, lol. I submitted a certificate of employment, a bank statement, information on the conference I was planning on attending and a hotel reservation confirmation. I thought it was enough, but I can never really know and that would be totally on me. Well played, VFS Global.
I was then asked if I would prefer my passport to be sent back to me via courier and be sent notifications via SMS. I quickly said yes to both, and then got surprised when I looked down at his counter. I saw that the return delivery cost P500 and the SMS notification cost P150. Wow. I was beginning to realize how lucrative a business VFS Global has going. Then again, it is hardly my concern. I just wanted to get this over with.
I waited for a bit to have my picture taken and fingerprints scanned. Then I was done. I fell in line on time at 8:10AM and was out of the building before 9:00AM.
I was told to wait three weeks. But I knew full well that it was a safe and conservative estimate. I was confident that this will not take long in my case. My guess my application will be processed within two weeks. But on February 17, I received my SMS notification that my application has been processed. My passport was delivered back to me the following day. That was six days from my personal appearance at VFS Global to my passport being delivered back to me. Even my original supporting documents along with the passport were returned to me.
This application is on the costly side, but it was quick and smooth. Not bad at all.