I have been asked A LOT: Hi Dom, can you share your itinerary with us?
And the funniest thing was, we didn’t have an itinerary and all of you knew that because we crowdsourced our itinerary on Instagram stories. I’m just really happy that all of you got very interested in this trip. I hope I didn’t make too much fun of myself (or did I? That’s why y’all so hyped haha) But thank you for your interest in our misadventure to Seoul and as promised in my direct messages, I will be sharing with you all of the details of our South Korea trip in these blog series.
First Up: What really happened? Why do you not have an itinerary?
Me and two of my friends were already planning to go to South Korea for about 6 months. But between the time we booked our ticket and the month before our trip so much stuff has happened between the lives of all three of us that our initial plans started to disintegrate.
Even with both of their visas approved, one of us was still unable to go. And at that time, I also was unemployed and was looking on how to get my visa approved with the current situation I have.
A month before our trip: Of bad experiences with travel agencies
I already had my papers/requirements for South Korea all ready and sent to the agency at February 1st and my flight is at the 19th. The agency had promised that they will provide feedback within 7-10 working days and release my passport on the 10th day. I kept checking my inbox and I still have not received any email.
The 11th day came and I had received an email from the agency asking me to check out a page from the application form because there was a mistake. I immediately checked my copy of the digital application form and reviewed it thoroughly, I have not seen that mistake that she was referring to nor any mistakes, in fact.
My copy is correct because I have brought my laptop last February 1 to the agency office just in case there were any corrections needed to be made so I can do them on my laptop and have them printed out in the nearest print shop. We have gone over the application process so many times already and I have provided all the requirements they have asked from me with no questions or objections on my end. I have also informed the agency that I will be leaving at the 19th, they had assured me that it will only take 7-10 working days to get the result of my application. It even states on their website that their turnaround period was 7-10 working days so I was sure I still had time.
I replied that I have gone throughly the digital copy and I have not seen any mistake yet I attached the application form to the email just in case. She replied, “this is noted, will keep you posted”. I was confident that my application was already in progress within the embassy so imagine my surprise when I checked my visa application status in the Korean embassy website and saw this result: no search data has been found .
Alarm bells started ringing but before getting ahead of myself, I checked first with the agency via email why I am seeing that no-status result, they came back to me and told me that it would take longer since this was my first time to apply for a visa and they are now asking for an expedited fee of additional 1,000.00php if I want to my passport to be released in the next few days and with that callous email I just lost all my cool. Hence, below:
“Thanks for coming back to me. But I was informed when I applied that the visa will be released at maximum by the 18th. I have already passed last Feb 1 and counting all the working days since Feb 1 until Feb 18 already constitutes to 10 working days (Chinese NY deducted and allowing 1 day allowance since my submission), the maximum days I was ensured and [NAME OF AGENCY] policy (7-10 working day guarantee) to know if the visa will be approved or not. This is unacceptable at this stage. If I was informed of this before I applied in this agency, I could have considered the additional 1,000php. I just need to know if the visa was applied immediately after my submission? As per my research it only takes 5-7 days for the Korean embassy to issue a result if the visa is approved or not. And that should have been yesterday.
Please let me know if these facts are incorrect? I wished I was informed of this ahead of time since my schedule is a bit tight. “
First of all, they came back to me February 13, my flight is next Tuesday, 19th. How on Earth can I know if my Visa is approved? So another sequence of back and forth emails were exchanged and at February 14, I saw this unfortunate update:
They have just submitted my application at February 14.
14 days after I submitted all my requirements and that was really frustrating. At that stage, me and my friend Che were just too dumbstruck and sure that I will not be able to join our South Korea trip. February 14 was on a Thursday, our flight was next Tuesday. The most expedited visas, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Visa takes about 3-4 days to get approved and between the 14th and 19th since the visa was received, we only had 2 working days remaining. There was no way I was getting on that plane, because there was no way I was getting that visa. I had already accepted that and was re-arranging everything for my friend to prepare for her now solo trip. Which if you can imagine was really hard because it was Winter, our accommodations were already booked for three people, and it will be her first time to go to South Korea. Everything was just a mess. I had booked for her additional baggage and processed her online check-in with CebuPacific and and we had already informed the hostel that we were cancelling our booking. All three of us were prepared to pay for the cancellation fee because the accommodations were too much for just one person. We have now accepted that maybe this trip with the three of us is not yet meant to be at this time.
Now that all of that was arranged, I moved on to other things yet I still had little hope left so I checked the Korean embassy site at the 15th and look what I saw.
(of course I would not have screenshots because I was just too happy to take a screenshot) I immediately video-called Che to tell her that I would be joining our trip and she jumped out of her chair at her office. We were so happy and so excited and really thankful because this is really a miracle. MILAGRO TALAGA SIYA GUYS. KASI WALA NG PAG-ASA.
But of course, getting that passport back was another story if its own and was just painful and stressful to share so I’ll be cutting it here. All I want to say is, what we experienced was lessons on its own:
- Be careful with the agency you engage with, know all the details and their policies and ensure that you follow all of their requirements. I wouldn’t be able to get back to them and ask them to expedite my application if I was not a good follower. When they asked me that my requirements were incomplete last Jan 31st, I complied and returned the next day and brought my own laptop so I can get all of my T’s crossed. (that Jan 31st and Feb 1st visit at their office was also another story on its own which I will not repeat) I know that what I am asking for is in good faith because I have provided them with all the requirements needed from my end. I also knew their policies and I knew that they weren’t living up to their promises on their website, on their social media, and in their actual office. I also know that they took longer than the Korean embassy to get things done.
- If you already have the resources and have the time, get that visa prepared 3 months before your trip. This will ultimately save you from stressful situations like this.
- Always be polite. I know I was angry. I know it was unfair. But I know I don’t need to be impolite. You don’t have to stress a point with writing in all caps or screaming on the phone or by cussing. Nobody wins by that method. And of course, there were ins and outs of that business that I might not know about. Maybe they were just swamped with work and couldn’t live up to their 7-10 day guarantee. Not an excuse I know. But it always pays to be fair.
- I prayed for this trip. I really prayed hard. I swear it was a miracle. And that’s when we knew, our South Korea trip is a blessing.
For those of you who want to know the name of the agency and who will DM me regarding it, I will not answer because:
- Ultimately, they did their job. They gave me an approved visa. They released my passport the day before my flight. And I am sure they have expedited this on their end.
- I am sure that with the exchanges we’ve had and the tension on both our ends, we both learned our lessons and I know they will ensure that this will not happen again. Let’s give them that benefit of the doubt and let other travellers have a better experience than I did.
With that, let’s kick it off with Day 1: Exploring Myeongdong and getting lost in Seoul aka #Seoulsearching. OK, I’ll stop.