A freelancer’s application for a tourist visa to Japan

When I booked my flight to Japan last year, I was still a regular employee, and the Embassy had just announced that they were relaxing the visa application requirements. I was very confident that I was finally going to be able to fly to my dream destination since I was a child.

Fast forward to July 2015, my plans had changed, and instead of working in a new company, I chose to be a freelancer, instead.

Cue panic over my visa application.

Fast forward again to September 2015, and I’m smiling like an idiot while staring at my shiny new visa to Japan, watermarked with Mt. Fuji and pretty cherry blossoms.

Like most people with blogs who successfully obtain a tourist visa to Japan, I am now sharing my experience and the answers to the questions I kept asking people so that others may benefit from it.

I started prepping at least five months before my trip
Since the validity of the visa is three months, the earliest we should apply is…tada!–three months before the trip. I took two months to prepare for the application–I’m paranoid like that–but I think you can take just a month, maybe, especially if you already know where you’re going to in Japan.

  • xx months before the trip: start raising Japan trip funds
  • 5 months before the trip: Read the embassy’s website and related blogs about the requirements, selected my travel agency, and maximized japan-guide.com to draft my itinerary. Also explored the Japan visa thread in Pinoy Exchange.
  • 4 months before the trip: Ordered a birth cert, got a photo, gathered my documents into one folder. Also finalized my draft itinerary, and made hotel reservations on booking.com. More on that later.
  • 3 months before the trip: Got my bank certificate, submitted my application to the agency at 4PM. The next day, my visa was approved. A couple of days later, my agency called me at 10 AM to notify me of my visa approval.

I really needed a travel agency
All visa applications have to go through one of the accredited travel agencies listed here. You can’t go directly to the embassy except for very special cases.

I chose Friendship Tours because I personally know a friend who processed her visa there. There is no fee for the visa, but agencies charge a processing fee. For Friendship Tours, their processing fee for a tourist visa with no guarantor is 1200PHP.

While I was being all nervous about my freelancer status, Friendship Tours patiently answered my questions through email. When I went to their office, I saw that it’s clean and arranged in a way that you’ll know what to do even without help from the staff, and when you finally do talk to their staff, they are friendly, helpful, and efficient. Highly recommended!

Friendship Tours
Dusit Thani Manila, Ayala Center, Makati
Tel. Japanese (2) 840-1060
Tel. Filipino 893-8180/893-8183
E-mail (English) visa@friendshipmanila.com

There are a few basic documents to prepare
The Japanese Embassy lists the visa requirements on their website. There are requirements that are required for some, but not for others, like if you’re married or if you’re visiting someone, in which case you’ll need their documents, too. Be sure you’ve read the official list.

I also used other bloggers’ posts as reference. I’ve bookmarked the one by Adventure Accounting and the one by The Poor Traveller.

If you’re like me and you’re an unmarried person looking to get a single entry tourist visa to Japan from the Philippines, the basic requirements are:

  • Philippine passport
  • Visa application form
  • Photo with correct specs
  • Original Birth certificate issued within the year
  • ITR
  • Daily schedule
  • Bank certificate

Let’s get into each one.

I brought all my passports to the agency
The Embassy’s website says that the passport has to have my signature and have at least two (2) blank pages. Check and check.

It also says that broken lamination of the photo part is not accepted. Mine had a soft fold near the photo part, so I panicked a little, but since the lamination wasn’t broken, it turned out okay.

I brought all my passports that had stamps on them, but my agency only took my current one, and the next most recent.

My current passport has a used China visa, and a couple of stamps from Singapore and Malaysia, while my previous passport showed that I had travelled the Banana Pancake Trail (Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand) and came back without overstaying. My agency attached the two using rubber bands to automatically open to the important pages.

The application form is an editable PDF
The Embassy has the visa application form available for download. Accredited tourist agencies also have printed forms available.

I typed my answers into the PDF because I did not trust my handwriting, and I was afraid of getting something wrong and needing to start over. It has to be completely filled out with no blanks. (Use N/A if not applicable.)

For the Current Position blank in the work info section, I indicated Web Developer (FREELANCE). For the Name and Address of employer, I put N/A.

Photo studios know the specs
The Embassy’s website has a page dedicated to the photo specifications. I was a little paranoid that the photo studio might get it wrong, so I brought a copy of the specs, plus I fixed my hair, and practiced my head position and facial expression based on this very helpful guide by Kodak Express Camden. (The facial expression practice doesn’t seem to do much, but I am very thankful I don’t look super duper haggard unlike my other passport and visa photos.)

I went to the Mitsubishi Studio in SM North EDSA, and they chuckled at my paranoia. They knew what they were doing.

The Embassy’s website also says that the photo must be attached to the application form. But I’d heard of stories where the agency asked the applicant to get another photo, so I didn’t immediately paste mine onto my application form. On the day I submitted my application, I asked my agency to check if my photo was good. The travel agency had stick glue for moments like this, of course, but I brought my own because I didn’t know. Hehe.

Birth Certificate issued within the year
It doesn’t say so in the Embassy’s website, but I decided to get a new birth certificate, anyway. You can order a copy from NSO online for 315 PHP, and they’ll even deliver it anywhere. But there was an SM mall near our house, so I ordered mine from the SM Business Center for 140PHP + 20 PHP service fee. (Try this blog post for a detailed description of the process.) Ayala malls have government counters like this, as well.

Draft your schedule
The Embassy requires you to submit a daily schedule to Japan to see if you know what you’re doing. It’s a simple document, and you don’t need to write down everything to the last detail. Download the form here. The second page has a sample itinerary! You can use that as reference.

You do need to put your hotel info, but hotel bookings are not required. You can just put the info of the hotel that you’re thinking of staying in. Or, if you’re playing safe like me, choose backpacker hostels that have free cancellation in booking.com, and just remember to cancel your reservation if you’re not staying there, after all. You can print your reservation and include it to your visa application package.

Get the bank certificate on a day that you have the most money
I have no idea what the actual minimum is, and I have seen blog and forum posts that claim to successfully obtain a visa even if their bank balances are only 50,000PHP. I think it’s best to gather as much funds as you can, or get a bank cert on payroll day, and before you pay your regular bills.  And, no, they don’t look at your average daily balance.

My bank is BPI. When they issue a bank certificate, they can make it reflect ALL your accounts. That’s what I requested.

I had the two unexpected but happy circumstances of several checks still not cashed, for some reason, and a client suddenly depositing a hefty sum into my account, so my bank certificate reflected 15x,xxx. Hooray! (Of course, after I paid my bills and the checks were encashed, my bank balance today is very different to the one on that day.)

I’ve also been told that it’s best to get a bank certificate right before submitting your application form. In my case, I got it on the same day that I submitted my application. It took me about 30 minutes including waiting time. I went to a bank branch that I knew only a few people went to for customer service.

Submit an ITR, or explain why you’re not submitting one
The embassy lists that you’ll need to submit Income Tax Return (Form 2316) original and photocopy. No ITR? Try what Rox did and write a letter of explanation.  Another way is to submit a current contract from a client like what Douxie Girl did. Myleene from Freelance Escapade also submitted a Form 1700.

Since I was still a regular employee until recently, I had my Form 2316 from 2014. (I think I’ll have to study what kind of ITR Form I need for next year!) I brought an original and photocopy, as the Embassy’s website said, but Friendship Tours only took the photocopy.

This is originally one of the things that I kept asking people: was it cause for concern that, on my ITR, the name of my previous employer was indicated, and this wasn’t true anymore? Turns out that I didn’t have to be concerned, of course, because people change jobs all the time. This was normal, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one employer in the ITR, and another in the visa application form.

Bring all the documents you can bring
The objective of additional documents is to prove that you can afford your trip to Japan, and that you’re not going to overstay.

I brought a print-out of my plane tickets. The agency attached that to my application. They also asked if I had a printout of my hotel reservation, but I wasn’t able to bring mine. I also brought my most recent credit card bills, and statement of account for my investment and savings account. My agency didn’t get them from me, though.

For other visa applications, a certificate of employment is like a magic ingredient of sorts, and it makes application packages little more palatable. As a freelancer, I didn’t have one, and the closest thing would have been a contract of my current project. (I didn’t submit one, though.)

It’s best to bring everything you can bring, and let the agency decide what to include and what to leave, depending on the combination of what else you have.

Relax while waiting
After you submit your application, there’s nothing else you can do aside from pray that the Embassy approves of it. There’s no use in worrying and fussing about it.

Like I said in the start of this post, it was three days after I sent my application that I found out that it was approved. But in reality, I imagine it looked like this:

Day 0: I submitted my application at 4PM
Day 1: Friendship Tours took my application to the Embassy, Embassy approves it. (But I didn’t know this yet.)
Day 2: The application gets sent back to Friendship Tours.
Day 3: Friendship Tours calls me at 10 AM, after which I did a victory dance in a cab. My driver probably thought I was crazy.

I can’t say if it’s always this fast, though I’ve seen many similar reports. It’s standard procedure for agencies to tell you that the process takes 7 days, though, in case there’s a heavy load of applications, I guess.

After I was notified that my application was approved, I went to Friendship Tours to pick up my passport. (I did it about a week later, though, because that was the available time for me to go to that area.)

So there you go! I hope that was helpful to someone.

Were you a freelancer or ITR-less Japanese visa applicant? Share your experience in the comments below!


The Wish-Not List, 2015

It’s a little hilarious and embarrassing to look at wish lists from a decade ago.

While writing my wish list yesterday, I looked through my published wish lists from 2005 to 2009. At the time, I was age 21-25, and from the lists, you can see how I was at that age of acquisition, when I had removed schoolgirl things in my life and was gathering new stuff and experiences for working-person-hood. I had begun to be able to afford to buy things for myself, and I did buy things for myself (most of them from bargain stores, I think) and collected a great variety of things from the many things that interested me.

It was a time of acquisition and trying out the things I liked.

Now, ten years after my first wish list post, is the time of minimalization and focusing on the things I actually need. Continue reading The Wish-Not List, 2015

The Wish List, 2015

Wish lists are good things. They can be bad, too, when we expect and end up being disappointed when people don’t to give us the stuff we listed, but I think they’re mostly good because they help us know what to give people on their birthday, Christmas, or even on normal days with no occasion. I also found that maintaining my own wish list helps me focus my spending. After actually listing down what I want, I remember it better, especially when I’m being tempted to buy something I don’t really need. Continue reading The Wish List, 2015

A bite of Marco Polo’s Quinoa Salad

Quinoa has been an extremely popular grain for in the past couple of years. It’s a little expensive for my everyday budget, though, so I don’t get to have it often. But when I do, my taste buds rejoice. Continue reading A bite of Marco Polo’s Quinoa Salad

On the Eighth Year

Last year, I realized that I was being called out of the place where I’d worked for the last seven and a half years. The things I went through before I had this realization were gruelling. And even though this realization was a huge sigh of relief, it was still a difficult thing to process. I’d still be leaving something I enjoyed, something I’d invested sweat and tears in. I’d be changing my life as I knew it.

So to deal with all this, I made a playlist.

Naturally. Continue reading On the Eighth Year

At least sixteen percent of the Philippines

Tomorrow is the 117th anniversary of the Philippine Declaration of Independence, and to celebrate, I took the Lakbayan Quiz again. When I took it in 2007, I got a D, which means that I’d visited 5-10% of the Philippines. Now, five years later, I’ve visited 16-23% of the country, which gave me a C. Ha! Progress!

On a related note, I wrote a blog post about how many Philippine islands I’ve visited.

The Lakbayan Quiz is a project by Eugene Villar of Vista Pilipinas. It asks you where you’ve been in the Philippines, and how frequently visit each place–just passed by, been there once or twice, visit frequently, or if you’ve lived there. The grading system is discussed in this blog post.

If you like travelling around the Philippines and you haven’t tried the Lakbayan or something similar, I highly recommend taking it. It’s not to brag about how high your score is–or wallow in self-pity when you get a low one. To me, it’s a reminder that there’s still so much of the Philippines waiting for me; a realization that I’ve actually quite forgotten some of the provinces and islands that I’d studied in school before; and a reissued challenge to know my country and visit as much of it as I can.

My Lakbayan grade is C!

How much of the Philippines have you visited? Find out at Lakbayan!

Created by Eugene Villar.

Happiness in a Cream Cheese Salmon Maki

A layer of vinegar-infused white rice. A sheet of nori. A fresh slice of salmon sashimi. These are some of my favorite things in my favorite cuisine. And when they’re all rolled together with an important addition of cream cheese, it becomes a mouthful of happiness called a Cream Cheese Salmon Maki.

I get giddy just thinking about it. Continue reading Happiness in a Cream Cheese Salmon Maki