Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellness: the Best Gift to Give Yourself this Christmas

Most Christmas parties center on revelry, theme costumes, and flowing alcohol that would leave you with the worst hangover the morning after. Fortunately, the recent shindig organized by Friendly Alliances and Media Expression (FAME) Inc. was a breath of fresh air.

FAME Media Appreciation Night, held for media partners, bloggers and contributors in Trianon Plenary Hall in Makati, focused on physical, mental and emotional wellness. As FAME publishes Zen Health, Health and Lifestyle, DiabetEASE, and Travel Plus Magazines, one can expect nothing less.

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FAME Media Appreciation Night

Guests were treated to a lovely dinner and freebies, including free treatments at a nail spa station and cups of super food-enriched coffee (a lot healthier than fizzy drinks or cocktails) throughout the night.

The get-together also served as a media launch for the company’s newest branch – FAME Leaders’ Academy (FLA), an institute that aims to be a topnotch learning provider for organizations to develop their people’s skills, both personal and professional.

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Sleepwell distributing freebies at FAME Media Appreciation Night

Guests were also treated to short lifestyle and wellness talks by FLA Dean Hudson Pelayo, as well as two FLA faculty members: Asian Institute of Lifestyle Medicine founder Dr. Blecenda Varona and international motivational speaker and life coach Richard Tamayo.

A Gift to Give Yourself

Life coach Richard Tamayo’s short talk focused on stress management and emotional wellness – a topic that’s very fitting amid the Holiday hustle and bustle, and just before people try to draft resolutions for the upcoming year.

International motivational speaker Mr. Richard Tamayo gives a sneak peak of interesting workshop topics offered by Fame Leaders' academy during the FLA Official Launch

Did you know that compared to cooler heads, hotheads are six times more likely to suffer heart attacks by age 55? Now that’s one thing to consider before letting rage get the best of you when another driver cuts your lane!

Tamayo also talked about the emotional dangers of resentment and being unforgiving. Other people may have done you wrong, but it’s always your choice if you want that mishap to affect how you live for the rest of your life. As a quotation from an unknown author goes, “Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks, then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die.”

In the end, no matter how much time you spend working out in the gym, or how many servings of fresh fruits and vegetables you get everyday, it wouldn’t do much good if your system is flooded with bitterness and negativity.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free… and to discover that the prisoner was you.” As we bid goodbye to 2018, it’s a good time to let go of unnecessary baggage and welcome a fresh and healthy start for the coming year.

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FAME Media Appreciation Night loot

The FAME Media Appreciation Night was made possible by Accuchek, Jimms Coffee, Sleepwell, Holistix Inc., His & Hers (nails & others), The Zen Institute, Sante Barley MAX, and Calcium Cee.

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FAME Media Appreciation Night

Traveling to Europe from the Philippines: Which Airline to Choose?

One of the main preparations that need to be arranged before going to another country is air travel. It’s important to find an airline that would cater to your needs and also fit within your travel budget.

Traveling to Europe from the Philippines isn’t exactly cheap and could require a little more preparation and research than your average out of the country trip. Luckily, there are loads of flight alternatives that could get you to Europe without having to cost an arm and a leg.

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Finding a Cheap Flight

The internet is every budget travel planner’s best friend. A few searches at Skyscanner, Farecompare, and Cheapflights and you’ll get a good idea about airline price ranges and flight routes. However, it was a combination of online and offline efforts that allowed us to book flights that met our schedule and budget requirements.

Upon searching online, we found that the cheapest flights for our itinerary (Manila to Barcelona, Amsterdam to Manila) was through multiple airlines, some with two or three layovers and some with a total travel time of more than 40 hours. That’s almost two days of vacation time spent just riding planes and waiting in airports – and that’s just one way! It may sound like an adventure for some, but we would rather shell out a little more money than suffer fatigue and endure stress before and after our vacation.

The most reasonable flight we found within our schedule and budget was Qatar Airways’ promo fare flights. The trip only required one layover in Doha and according to reviews online, Hamad International Airport is one of the most comfortable airports in the world. In fact, it was awarded as the 5th best airport by Skytrax in 2018 (since flight prices vary from season to season, I will not mention the actual cost of our flights to avoid false expectations from people researching about traveling to Europe from the Philippines; it’s easy to search for updated fares through the links above).

We took note of the flight schedules and prices but didn’t book online just yet. Instead, we went to a travel expo in SMX Mall of Asia where Qatar Airways was participating in.

Upon talking to a Qatar Airways attendant, we explained our travel itinerary and the details of the flights we were planning to book. We also told her that we were willing to adjust our itinerary if it could get us cheaper flights.

A few clicks on the system computer and she was able to present a few options with varying prices, schedules, and arrangements. In the end, we decided on a flight that departs from Clark* instead of Manila, and an arrival flight that’s a bit later than our original plan. These few adjustments allowed us to save more than P20,000 ($400) compared to our original flight itinerary.

*Qatar Airways offers free daily shuttle transfers from Trinoma to Clark.

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Tips for Finding the Best Flight for Your Trip

  1. Use an incognito window. When searching for flights online, be sure to use an incognito window. You may notice that if you search for a certain flight over and over again, it tends to get more expensive every time you visit the airline website. It’s because your cache records your activities and displays pricier rates to convince you to book right then and there.
  2. Choose a weekday flight. Flights on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays can get a lot more expensive than those on weekdays and you can see this for yourself by making mock bookings on airline websites. According to online sources, the cheapest day to fly is Tuesday. If you want to save extra, book flights that depart late at night or very early in the morning.
  3. Book flights at a travel expo… or at least, talk to an airline agent. Many would say that it’s futile to brave the crowd in travel expos since agencies offer the same deals online anyway. But sometimes, personally talking to an actual agent who can navigate through the airline’s booking system can offer more options and save you a lot of money.
  4. Got friends or relatives in Europe? Don’t use their fare estimate as a gauge. Europe residents can book flights to and from the Philippines way ahead of their trip, which could mean cheaper rates. Most Filipinos however, would only book their flight to Europe after having been granted a Schengen Visa (Applying for a Schengen Visa in the Philippines). And you could only apply for Schengen Visa three months before your planned date of departure (e.g. if you’re planning to go to Europe in April, the earliest you could apply for Schengen Visa is in January). With time allowance for visa processing, the longest lead time you could get between booking your flight and your actual departure flight is 2.5 months. A Dutch resident I know told me that our discounted Qatar Airways flights cost just as much as their Cathay Pacific regular flights – but they booked it 8 months in advance.
  5. Consider factors other than the price of the flight. For budget travelers, booking the cheapest possible flight may seem common sense. There are airline companies offering cheap flights from Manila to Europe, usually via Istanbul, Paris or Amsterdam for as low as P30,000++. But Google those airlines and a ton of bad reviews are sure to come flying in. Who needs a cheap flight if you end up sleeping off the first two days in your destination because you weren’t able to get even just a few minutes of shuteye in the plane? Also, having a 14-hour layover in a not-so-comfortable airport in the middle of nowhere can cost you money as you might need to stay in an airport hotel, visit the airport spa (to pacify your stress), or eat meals at the very least. pexels-photo-1323638

How do you hunt for airline deals and what are your requirements for a good flight? Tell us on the comment section below!

Traveling to Europe from the Philippines? Read These 4 Tips First

With airline trip promos left and right, accessible accommodations bookable online, and truckloads of travel information available through websites and blogs, more and more Filipinos are falling in love with the art and joy of traveling.

Though Asian destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and Japan have been popular out-of-the country options over the last decade, many Pinoy travel junkies are now ready to kick it up a notch and travel to their dream destinations on the other side of the world: Europe.

But before being able to sail away in a gondola in Venice or enjoy those heavenly, buttery croissants in a boulangerie in Paris, everything starts with one simple task: research. Here are some planning and budget tips on how to make traveling to Europe from the Philippines one of the greatest adventures of your life.

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1. Choose your destinations carefully. Before anything else, schedule one quiet, relaxed evening for travel planning or travel brainstorming (if you’re traveling with a bunch of people), and list down the cities you’d want to visit for the trip. This initial list may change as you go along with your research, but you need a working rough draft at least.

The duration of your stay in each city depends on local attractions, as well as how long you’d be travelling. Average package tours to Europe usually last two to three weeks, so that’s a good gauge (Applying For A Schengen Visa In The Philippines – 2018).

In travel forums like TripAdvisor, many North Americans and Australians advice against visiting multiple cities per trip; instead, they suggest “immersing oneself in the local culture” by staying in only one city for a week or two.

In my opinion however, those travelers’ currencies fair better than Philippine Peso giving them the luxury to immerse in the culture longer because they could always go back to see other cities the next time they visit. This may not be the case for average Filipino travelers (and other Southeast Asian travelers for that matter). Airline tickets to and from Europe are bought with hard-earned money, so most Pinoy travelers would prefer to visit at least three cities during their trip to make the most out of their airfare.

Once you have the list of cities you’d want to see, locate them on Google Maps and try to create a possible route that would connect your chosen destinations. Your travel route should be realistic; research for transportation options between your chosen cities.

One thing you could do is browse existing tour itineraries by international travel companies like Trafalgar or Globus and mimic their itineraries. However, you have to note that these travel agencies use their own buses to transport clients, so you might need to adjust your itinerary depending on available commute options.

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2. Travel agent or DIY trip? If you’re the kind of traveler who doesn’t have the time or doesn’t enjoy the legwork of planning an itinerary and booking arrangements yourself, availing the services of a travel agency might be the better option. You need to shell out extra of course. I’ve been on a tour package to Europe before and below are my list of pros and cons:

Tour Package Pros:

  • No need to open that Google Maps app. A private tour coach will herd you from one attraction to the next. The coach is comfortable enough for sleeping especially during long intercity drives (an inflatable neck pillow, eye mask, and noise cancelling headphones would help a lot).
  • A tour guide will fill you in about the attractions you’d be visiting for the day including its history, where to take the best photos, where to eat, and what local delicacies to try.
  • As your luggage will be stored in the tour bus’ compartment every time you check out of a hotel, traveling light need not be a priority.

Tour Package Cons:

  • You have no choice when it comes to what attractions to visit because there is already a planned itinerary.
  • The whole group is working around a tour schedule, so you don’t have the luxury to explore at your own pace. The tour guide will give you one to two hours in an area, and that’s it (except for “free days”). The bus needs to leave on time to remain on schedule.
  • Travel companies encourage clients to avail of “optional tours.” Though you can always say no to these add-ons, there is a possibility that you would be stuck in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere if you choose not to take an “optional” tour like a river cruise.

If you’re traveling to Europe from the Philippines on a budget, DIY travel could be a better option. Aside from saving on agency service fees, you also have the freedom to book the most affordable travel arrangements for your trip like promo airline tickets, or an AirBnb instead of a hotel room.

DIY Travel Pros:

  • You can adjust your itinerary to your own taste and interests. If you’re a bookworm for example, you could add a visit to popular local bookstores in your itinerary (such as Shakespeare & Co. in Paris or Atlantis Books in Santorini). Or if you love beer, you can allot time for a Heineken experience tour in Amsterdam or a Belgian Beer tasting tour in Brussels.
  • You can travel at your own pace. Despite having a planned itinerary, you can always modify it on the spot – something that you can’t do when you’re traveling with a whole tour bus.
  • You can experience how the locals do everyday stuff like riding the Metro and shopping for food at local markets, allowing you to immerse in the culture.

DIY Travel Cons:

  • It requires a lot – and I mean a loooot – of research. Once you’re in a foreign country, you have no one else to rely on but yourself, your research, and Google (if you have WiFi access, that is).
  • You need to organize your bookings and itinerary yourself. You have to be proactive – you have to make sure that your time conversions are correct and that your booking expenses are all within the budget range.
  • There’s no one to herd you from one place to the next, so you have to keep track of time to be able to keep up with your planned itinerary.

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3. Plan your trip ahead of time. When planning a big trip such as traveling to Europe from the Philippines, I’d say it’s best to prepare around six months before your intended travel dates. The first three months would mostly involve light reading on possible destinations, drafting a rough itinerary, and planning which embassy to apply Schengen Visa in.

The next three months would be spent for Schengen Visa application, booking air travel, and arranging accommodations and tickets to tourist attractions.

Your itinerary should be final two weeks before your flight. A week before you fly out to your destination, take the time to sort out your bookings and categorize everything into two piles: booking confirmations that could just be saved on your phone, and booking confirmations that need to be printed out (believe me, there are still museums and tour buses that don’t acknowledge screen shots).

4. Prepare to go off your itinerary in case of unplanned situations. Despite how well you drafted your itinerary, no trip is perfect and there will always be a possibility that things wouldn’t go out as planned. Weather, construction works, transportation maintenance and other factors might get in the way, but that shouldn’t prevent you from having a great time. Be sure to allot extra for a contingency fund.

Schengen Visa Requirements for Filipino Citizens (2018): Airline Tickets, Travel Insurance, etc.

Many Pinoys who dream of going on a Eurotrip are intimidated by the process of having to apply for a Schengen Visa. “Will I get approved?” “Is the money in my bank account enough?” “What will be asked during the visa interview?” These are just some of the questions frequently asked by Filipino Citizens who are planning to travel to Europe.

I’ll recount the process of how my husband and I applied for a Schengen Visa, and hopefully you can find answers to some of your travel queries in this blog post (click here for a previous post, Applying For A Schengen Visa In The Philippines – 2018).

Please note that this blog post is based on my recent experience applying for a Spain Schengen Visa. Though most visa requirements are standard for all Schengen countries, various embassies may have slightly different visa processing systems.

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Applying for Schengen Visa (Short Term)

The first thing to do when applying for a Schengen Visa is to gather all your requirements. I divided the requirements into three categories: 1.) proof of sufficient means, 2.) travel arrangements, and 3.) passport, photos and photocopies.

1. Proof of sufficient means to travel. From my experience, the requirements that took the most time to acquire were the ones that prove you can financially support yourself and your dependents during the trip. These are:

  • Certificate of Employment (or Business Permit if you’re an entrepreneur)
  • Income Tax Return
  • Bank Statement (6 months)
  • Bank Certificate

Depending on your company’s HR policies, you can get a Certificate of Employment within a few hours to up to more than a week after requesting for it. As for bank documents, it would only take your bank teller a few minutes to print your statements and certificate. However, banks have different policies and some may require a depositor to go to his/her actual branch to request these papers so be sure to plan ahead.

2. Travel arrangements. The next batch of documents involve reservations for your upcoming trip. If you’re going to Europe with the assistance of a travel agency, you don’t need to bother yourself with these requirements as the agency will produce these for you. But if you’re going on a DIY trip, this part needs quite a bit of research. Be sure to prepare:

  • Travel itinerary. This is a summary of your planned day-to-day activities in the country(ies) you’ll be staying in, including the attractions to be visited, domestic flights or regional transportation, and accommodations. You don’t need to be too detailed with your itinerary. No need to include 12:00 – lunch at Con Gracia Restaurant, 13:05 – freshen up, 13:15 – walk to the Metro. The itinerary is just a means to assure the embassy that your trip is well-planned.
  •  Round trip airline reservations. Some travelers buy airline tickets even before getting a Schengen Visa, usually to avail of advanced booking discounts or promos. But if you’re not willing to take the risk, you can very well just print an airline reservation of your chosen flight without paying for it (for detailed information on how to do this, visit this link to an article by Schengen Visa Info).
  • Proof of accommodation (e.g. hotel or apartment boking). As with airline reservations, you can make hotel reservations without having to pay upfront. Websites like Agoda and Booking offer free cancellation options for many hotels, hostels and other accommodation types.
  • Travel Insurance. Based on my research, there is no work around for this requirement – you have to acquire an actual travel insurance policy to be able to apply for a Schengen Visa. There are companies offering relatively affordable travel insurance and the cheapest I could find online was €22.30 or roughly P1,200 for a two-week trip with €30,000 coverage. (Important: Check the minimum insurance policy coverage required by the country from which you’re applying Schengen visa from. For Spain, €30,000 is the minimum insurance coverage required). EDIT: I’ve read online that there are travel agencies who help clients secure travel insurance for the purpose of Schengen Visa application at no cost. I haven’t tried this personally, but you can ask your friendly travel agent about it.

3. Passport, photos and photocopies. This last category of requirements don’t need requests or reservations to acquire, and mostly just involves printing, writing, and a trip to the nearest bookstore and ID photo shop:

  • Passport valid at least three months prior to departure with at least two blank pages
  • Photocopies of past and present passport/s including pages with stamps and previous visas (A4 paper)
  • Passport-size photo with white background to be pasted on the application form
  • Accomplished visa application form (A4 paper)
  • 2 photocopies of the accomplished visa application form and 1 photocopy of the rest of the documents (A4 paper)
  • Long brown envelope with the applicant´s surname, name and contact number written in bold letters on the upper left corner

If you’re a Filipino Citizen applying for a Spain Schengen Visa, you can wait until you have all these requirements on hand before booking an appointment with BLS Spain Visa Application Center online (BLS is the outsourced partner to the Embassy of Spain in Philippines and the Consulate General of Spain in Manila; its Spain Visa Application Centre collects and processes visa requests to Spain).

In our case, we booked an appointment online as soon as we had the first batch of requirements (proof of sufficient means to travel) on hand. We organized the rest of the requirements while waiting for our scheduled appointment.

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Submission of Requirements: Personal Appearance

Applying for a Spain Schengen Visa requires personal appearance – you have to personally submit the requirements at the BLS Visa Application Center on the date and time of your scheduled appointment.

Upon entering the BLS Visa Application Center, you would have to present your Appointment Letter to the guard who will then verify your schedule and give you a queue number.

If you’e planning to play a mobile game or browse Instagram while waiting for your number to be called, forget it. Applicants are not allowed to bring bags and cellphones in the waiting area and you will be asked to leave your personal items at the lockers near the guard’s station. Your requirements are the only things that you can bring in the sitting area.

Upon being called by the visa processing officer, you will be asked to hand in your requirements and stay at the counter as the officer encodes your information.

You would then be asked to settle the payment. Schengen Visa fee is P3,560, but with the additional fees for courier service (P370) and SMS service (P120), we paid P4,050 per person. After payment, it’s time to queue for photo and biometrics. And that’s it!

We were told to wait for the SMS advisory regarding our visa application status within the day. The whole process took us around 1 hour and 30 minutes.

How Our Visa Application Went (Timeline)

  • Friday. We went to our visa application appointment in the morning. After lunch, I received an SMS that my visa application has been forwarded to the Spanish Embassy (I’ve been previously granted a Schengen Visa a few years ago). My husband received a message that he is scheduled for an interview in the Spanish Embassy on Monday (it was his first time applying for a Schengen Visa).
  • Monday. My husband went to the Spanish Embassy in the morning for a (very) short interview. That afternoon, I got an SMS that my passport has been forwarded to the courier.
  • Tuesday. My husband got an SMS that his passport has been forwarded to the courier.
  • Thursday. The passports with Schengen Visas were delivered to our address.

Useful Tips

Here are some useful tips to keep in mind for smooth and hassle-free visa application:

  • Organize your requirements a few days before. Make sure that you have everything ready. After checking your requirements, the visa processing officer will keep the photocopies and hand you back the original ones so you may want to clip the photocopies in one pile and the originals in another pile.
  • BLS Center and the Spanish Embassy are in two different locations. This may seem basic, but there are applicants who make the mistake of showing up in the Spanish Embassy when they’re supposed to be at the BLS Center (and vice versa) and by the time they realize so, they’re already too late for their appointment. Though both are in Makati, BLS is in Salcedo while the Spanish Embassy is in Gil Puyat Ave.
  • Be at BLS Center 30 minutes earlier than your schedule. It pays to be early. You wouldn’t want to miss your appointment and go through the process of booking a schedule again.
  • Don’t forget to bring your Appointment Letter. The guard at BLS Center will look for your appointment letter before queuing you in the system.
  • If you’re bringing a bag, choose a small one. As you wouldn’t be allowed to bring your bag in the waiting area, you would have to put it in a locker. During our appointment, bags that didn’t fit inside the compartments had to be left on top of the lockers which is not very secure.
  • Look presentable. Listen girls, this is important! 🙂 The passport-size photo that you paste on your application form? That’s as far as it would ever get – the application form (if you’re applying through the Spanish Embassy, that is). Your Schengen Visa would bear the photo snapped during the visa appointment – the one taken along with your biometrics. So slap on your favorite lipstick and keep your brows on fleek!
  • Don’t get to nervous if you’re scheduled for an interview. A travel agent told me that it’s common practice for the Spanish Embassy to schedule applicants for an interview if they haven’t been granted a Schengen visa before. According to my husband, the interview was somehow relaxed. Upon checking his requirements, he was asked only one question: “What is the purpose of your visit to Spain?” After answering the question, the consul said “Enjoy your trip,” and that was it. It may vary from case to case. But I think that as long as you are able to show your rootedness in the Philippines through your documents, there would be no reason for them to disapprove your application.

There are rumors that the Spanish Embassy in the Philippines is allegedly lax in granting Schengen Visas because apparently, there are  less Filipino citizens illegally staying there compared to other European countries. There is no way to verify this information, but making sure that all your requirements are in order is one way to increase your chances of getting approved.

Applying For A Schengen Visa In The Philippines (2018)

Whether you’re travelling as a digital nomad or you’re in for a no-work-strictly-leisure vacation of a lifetime, Europe is truly one of the grandest places you could ever visit. And for Filipinos, enjoying the rich culture of European countries all start with one document: Schengen Visa.

Schengen visa and how to apply for one

Schengen visa covers the majority of countries in Europe (click here for a complete list of Schengen Member States). How would you know where to apply for a Schengen Visa? Ther are two basic rules:

  1. A traveler should apply for a Schengen Visa from the country where most of one’s stay in Europe would be spent. For example, If you’re staying two days in Paris, five days in Amsterdam, and three days in Rome, you should apply for a visa through the Dutch embassy because you’re staying in Amsterdam the longest.
  2. If a traveler is to stay for equal periods in more than one country, one should seek for a Schengen visa from his or her point of entry. For example, if you’re spending four days in Paris, four days in Rome and four days in Amsterdam, then you should apply for a Schengen visa through the French Embassy because Paris is your point of entry.

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Travel Agency vs. DIY Travel 

I’ve once been granted a Schengen Visa back in 2011 when we went on a European Highlights Cosmos bus tour, which we availed from a travel agency. The agency got our Schengen Visas from the Italian Embassy as it was where we spent most of our stay in Europe. The Italian Embassy didn’t require personal appearance, so all we had to do was to submit the requirements to the travel agency. They took care of the rest and after about a week, our passports with Schengen Visas were delivered to our doorstep.

This year, we decided to travel around Europe sans a tour package. Not only is a DIY Eurotrip a lot more affordable, but it will also give us more time to enjoy Europe at our own pace. If you’re also thinking of touring Europe on your own, be prepared to spend an ample amount of time organizing your requirements and planning your trip from scratch (read about our Schengen Visa personal appearance and submission of requirements in this blog post).

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Basic requirements for Schengen Visa

Schengen Visa requirements may vary from country to country. However, the basic requirements are the following:

  • Accomplished visa application form
  • Passport-size photo taken recently
  • Passport valid at least 3 months prior to departure with at least two blank pages
  • Copies of previous visas
  • Round trip airline reservations
  • Travel itinerary
  • Proof of accommodation (e.g. hotel or apartment boking)
  • Proof of sufficient means of subsistence (e.g. Certificate of Employment, Bank Statements, etc)

Schengen Visa Approval Rate

There are various rumors about European consulates with regard to approving and disapproving Schengen Visa applications. Some say that the Italian embassy screens Filipino applicants more meticulously because apparently, there are many Pinoy illegal immigrants in Italy.

A few years ago, a former colleague of mine applied for a Schengen visa though the Spanish Embassy even though he knew he would be staying in Italy the longest during his Eurotrip. He did so thinking that the Spanish Embassy was laxer in approving Filipino visa applications than the Italian Embassy. He was granted a Schengen Visa by the Spanish Embassy alright, but it doesn’t really prove his theory.

According to 2016 statistics, the top Schengen countries with the lowest rate of denied visas are: Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland (click here for the 10 Easiest Schengen countries to obtain a Schengen Visa). Some travelers may feel the urge to tweak their itineraries just to be able to apply for Schengen visas through these countries. But as long you’re going to Europe for a vacation and don’t have plans of doing anything illegal, the best thing to do is to be honest and stick with your itinerary.