So I am finally writing about this. I previously decided not to do this anymore, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish the Siargao blog so I changed my mind and thought about writing about this instead. This is not an informational blog, I’m sure there are so many out there if you just search on Google. I will be talking about my own experience. Or maybe I will provide some info after all, by sharing my experience, you decide.
I did this, too, when I applied for my Japan visa for the first time in 2017, so I thought I’d write about my Korean visa application as well.
Before we proceed, I want to put out a disclaimer. Our trip was supposed to be in (early) March 2020, and during the time that we applied, there was almost a 6-week waiting period for approval so we decided to apply in Dec 2019. On the Korean Embassy’s website, they update the waiting period every week, so you have an idea on when’s the best time to apply for your visa. So everything I will be talking about will be the process back then. If there have been any changes from then to now, most likely, I will not be aware.
The main important information you need to know is the requirements. Different travel agencies have their own requirements page, but best to go directly to the Korean embassy’s website. This is the Korean visa page on their website. These are my requirements since I’m an employee, applying for a tourist visa. I’ll also add my comments (if I have any) after each item.
So what were my requirements?
(1) Application Form A4 size (computerized, handwritten not allowed)
Ok, honestly, my friends and I got a bit impatient with this. We had a group chat where we talk about this trip and it was the general consensus that the application form is not user-friendly. I didn’t have this issue at all when I was applying for my Japan visa because their form is so easy to fill out.
So, you can download this form either on the travel agency’s website or directly from the Korean embassy’s website. There are two types of file formats, doc and pdf. My tip is to stay away from the doc file and fill out the pdf. The problem with the doc file is that it “moves” as you type and try to make your info fit some fields that are too small for the info needed (for example, they don’t have enough space for some addresses). And you can’t have that on your application form. If the application form is 5 pages and starts and ends on a specific question, it has to stay that way. So the way to go to is to fill out the pdf form using Fill & Sign on Adobe Acrobat Reader.
There is a part where you need to write down your travel history and they only have a few spaces for this. If you have a long travel history, the tip here is to put what you can in the space provided and if it’s not enough, just continue it on another sheet of paper and staple it to your application form.
(2) 1 pc. Passport size colored picture (35mm × 45mm)
This is one of the easiest requirements. I just went to my usual photo place in Market Market, told them I need photos for my Korean visa and that was it. It is the same as the ones I took for my Japan visa.
(3) Passport (6 months validity)
If you have more than one passport, submit that (or those) as well. I had my first Japan visa in my old passport so I submitted both passports and photocopied both visas.
(4) Photocopy of Passport First Page (bio-data page)
(5) Original & photocopy of valid visa and arrival stamps to OECD member countries for the past 5 years (if applicable)
OECD countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxemburg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, & United States
I only had my Japan visa so I just had to photocopy those. You don’t need to include any other visas you have if they are not an OECD member.
(6) Original Certificate of Employment – must include applicant’s position, date hired, compensation, company address, HR landline number (cellphone number is not allowed), HR e-mail address
Yup, all these info are needed, especially the landline number. I had to go back a few times to our HR just because of this COE. It was so troublesome because I ended up still working on this after we have started the Christmas break and our HR was already on vacation. Good thing, a new HR assistant started around the same time, so I was able to get it from her. This was literally the last requirement I needed before I went to the travel agency.
(7) Bank Statement – original or certified true copy of bank statements/passbook for the last 3 months
This is a pretty easy requirement as well. My bank is BPI and I go to their branch at Infinity Towers in BGC because there aren’t a lot of people there. I went early in the morning so I will be the first one in customer service. You just need to inform them that you need a bank statement for the past 3 months and that it is for your Korean visa application. This is what’s different from Japan visa because they only require a bank certificate which just shows how much you have in your bank account on the day you obtain that document. But for a Korean visa, they need to see the transactions for the past 3 months. I obtained my bank certificate after getting my 13th-month pay and Christmas bonus so I have a pretty good amount in my bank account. (This is also why I wanted to get this done in December so I can spend my money during Christmas, LOL.)
(8) Copy of ITR (Income Tax Return) or Form 2316
The employer on your ITR should be the same as what’s on your COE. I started working for my current company in Feb 2019 so my most recent ITR then (2018) is still with my previous company so I can’t submit that. What you can do is to write a letter of explanation why you don’t have one. I kept it short and simple and directly said in my letter that I don’t have an ITR because I started working for my current company in February. It was literally one paragraph and just a few sentences. Just go straight to the point. I don’t think it needs a lot of words.
I considered different travel agencies and there was one that I would totally not recommend because I didn’t think they were super helpful. I ended up submitting my requirements to Constellation Travels, because it’s owned by the same company my friend Celine works for and is just on a different floor of the same building where she works. The submission was so quick and easy, unlike my experience with the first travel agency I went to. I finally submitted it on Dec 23rd and they were able to submit it to the Korean Embassy on Dec 26th, which is the next business day. (Obvs, 24th to 25th are holidays.)
Once submitted, you can monitor it yourself on the Korean Embassy’s website by going to Home > Check Application Status. Then, you need to enter your information and then you will be able to see the status (submitted, approved, etc). The travel agency also sends us emails for any updates. I got my visa approved on Feb 7th, which is 6 weeks from the time it was submitted to the embassy. You can also download your visa from the website.
I haven’t actually seen my visa on my passport because it’s still with Celine, in her office. COVID-19 hit us in the face and I haven’t seen her since and have not visited her office so I have not been able to get it from her. I actually don’t know when I’ll be able to visit her office to get it. LOL.
Our trip was supposed to be on Mar 7th so I got my visa exactly a month before our trip. Whew. It’s better to be early than get too close to the date when you need to leave. I would be destroyed because of worrying too much. Obviously, because of COVID-19, I wasn’t able to use this visa. Cebu Pacific cancelled our flight about a week before and we got a full refund. After waiting for months, I finally got my refund on May 21st. It took almost 3 months and a few emails with my bank. I had to dispute it with my bank because I couldn’t wait any longer. My friends are still dealing with their refunds, sadly. I got an email about my friend’s refund (I was the one who booked it but she paid for it so the emails go to me) and they literally just initiated it on Jul 27th. Crazy! Now, I’m so thankful to BPI for processing my refund!
And that is my whole Korean visa / trip saga. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go, but I still want to, no matter how many years it takes.