Have Visa, Will Travel

I have a continuing love affair with foreign consulates. I'm sure for as long as I remain a "travelholic" Pinoy, my appearances in any of New York's many consulates will go on. As a holder of Philippine passport - that piece of green booklet eyed suspiciously in immigration counters all over the planet - there are plenty of countries that do not permit entrance to a Pinoy without a visa. All of First World and all countries from the West, the Middle East, the Asian subcontinent and Northeast Asia, and even poor Africa require that stamp of approval - the stamp that might as well mean "don't be a TNT" (tago ng tago). I won't be surprised if I will need a visa to go to Mars! I'm an alien after all. Duh!

I've got a Green Card and I've just reached the required 5-year residency in the US for me to apply for citizenship. However, I find that even Americans can't get away with merely waving passports at border controls. In some countries, Americans need to apply for visas too (i.e. China, Brazil, Russia, Cambodia, Vietnam). Even British, Australians and other citizens of western countries face the same music. There's a tit for a tat thing to this: for example, Brazil charges Americans a hefty $100 visa fee as a reciprocity to the amount being levied on Brazilians when they apply for US visas.

The process of applying for visas vary from country to country but despite the obvious hassles of time attached to it, I actually find it pleasantly challenging to be interviewed for a visa by a consular officer. In fact, I so love it! I know I've got nothing to hide but everything to show - bank accounts, credit card accounts, employment history, police record (In New York, it's called Certificate of Good Conduct which is what NBI Clearance is in the Philippines), and of course, my stamp-studded almost-mutilated passport.

As always, I go to these visa interviews feeling confident, looking straight into the eye of the interrogator. I can't forget the first question I was asked at an embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia several years ago: Are you a member or have given material support to any terrorist organization? If I was tactless, I might have blurted out "What a stupid question!". If I was really a terrorist, do you think I would say "Yes"? Some consular officers also asked unusual questions. At the Chilean consulate recently, the guy asked me if there's corruption in the Philippines. At the British consulate, the officer asked why the Philippines has so much nurses to export.

New York, being the host city of the United Nations, has virtually all member countries represented by Permanent Missions/Consulates all over Manhattan. I love the idea that even if I remain a Pinoy all my life in New York, I can always find any country's consulate should a visa application is needed - whether that's Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, you name it, New York has got it. Majority of these are actually within the vicinity of the United Nations itself in midtown area. The Philippines has a surprisingly rich address, right smack in the shopper's lane of Fifth Avenue. Imelda must be very proud. Or Gloria for that matter.

While Imelda currently needs a court's approval to travel outside the Philippines, Gloria the President jets off to anywhere without the rigors of applying for a visa herself. She was recently in town to speak at the UN General Assembly and the last thing I heard, she's landed in India.

But what about us ordinary mortals who need visas before travelling?

Dont' despair. These countries welcome Pinoys with open arms - and less questions asked - allowing entry without visas: Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica,Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador,Fiji, Haiti, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Laos, Macau,Malaysia,Micronesia, Mongolia, Montserrat, Morocco, Niue, Peru, Seychelles, Singapore, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Thailand, Timor Leste, Turks & Caicos,Vanuatu,and Vietnam. Bear in mind that entry regulations could change and it's always prudent to check individual embassies/consulates.


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