Suggested Itinerary: 5 days in London, UK

I’ve always dreamed of visiting London since I first saw that Lindsay Lohan movie ‘The Parent Trap’. It was my first recollection of hearing a British accent and I was sold into the British dream. Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, the Royal Family–these are just some things London is most known for. There’s so much to see and do in London!
By the way, Philippine passport holders need a UK visa to visit United Kingdom. For more information, refer to my blog post on how to apply for a UK visa.

Here’s my suggested itinerary for 5 days in London, England for first time visitors.

Day 1: Hop-on Hop-off, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Piccadilly Circus

Take a Hop On Hop Off London bus tour to go around the city and enjoy the scenic view.
Spend the morning at the Tower of London, the heritage site of the famed Crowned Jewels. The historic castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. The Tower of London has served as a fortress, royal residence, prison cell, menagerie, treasury, and now a museum.
While in the Tower of London, don’t miss the Beefeater tour, the Yeoman Warders or standing guards in the Tower.

Other places you can see via Hop On Hop Off is the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, London Zoo, London Eye, Imperial War Museum, Madame Tussaud’s and Piccadilly Circus, depending on the 3 routes you choose.

Day 2: Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Tate Modern, Natural History Museum

Save Day 2 for Museum Day! I love all kinds of museums–whether it be about art, history, science or weird, random things. Let’s be realistic though–one can’t visit all museums in one go. Choose 2 or 3 museums to cover towards your trip, depending on your interest.
First of all, start your day at Trafalgar Square. It’s the center of west end London and can get to anywhere from there.
If there was only one art museum you had to go to, I would suggest you to go to the National Gallery in Traflagar Square. The National Gallery is home to works of the masters such as Monet, Delacroix, Cezanne, Van Gogh and more. Best of all–it’s free!
national gallery museum art

If you’re more into postmodern art, you will enjoy Tate Modern. Tate Modern houses modern and contemporary art from 1900 to present.

The Natural History Museum houses scientific specimens and historical artifacts to wow museophiles. I was instantly sold when I was told there were dinosaurs! Admission is also free.
The British Museum is dedicated to art, historical artifacts and culture from Ancient Britain and other lost worlds.

Day 3: Road Trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath

By the third day you’re probably already tired of the city, so why not take a road trip and see Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. I would recommend getting a tour to see the three iconic attractions to save you time as the three are located in different places.
Windsor Castle is the oldest & largest inhabited castle in the world, the official residence of the Queen. It has been the family home of British royalty for almost 1,000 years.
Stonehenge is the most famous neolithic structure in the world, which sits literally in the middle of nowhere. Sure it is now just a ruin but the 5,000-year-old monument served as an important religious site back in the day. You can learn more about Stonehenge and the prehistoric people who built it in their visitor centre. You can read about my Stonehenge experience here.

After lunch, head to another world heritage site, Bath, Avon. Bath is an ancient Roman spa town with magnificent Georgian heritage and architecture. Bath is among Britain’s oldest tourist attractions and is the only place in Britain where you can bat in hot natural springs. It is 48km south of Stonehenge by the River Avon.
The Roman Baths is the most famous tourist attraction in Bath. You can’t bathe in the original Roman baths but can do so at Thermae Bath Spa, just a block over the ancient baths. They also offer massages, steam baths, and an outdoor pool.



Day 4: Buckingham Palace, House of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, The Shard

In the morning, go to Buckingham Palace to witness the changing of the guards at 11:15AM (worth checking schedules). The Buckingham Palace was as the official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837. Today it serves as the sovereign administrative headquarters.
The House of Parliament is a 20-minute walk from the Buckingham Palace. House of Parliament or Palace of Westminster is the ‘heart of British politics’, the meeting place of the two houses of parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It was built in the Middle Ages. You can’t miss the quintessential Big Ben.

As you walk to the Tower Bridge, you can stop over HMS Belfast to learn more about WWII history. The former Royal Navy ship is permanently moored in the River Thames and now serves as a ship museum.

Of course, your London trip isn’t complete without seeing the recognizable Tower Bridge, which is truly the symbol of London. 

The Shard is a 95-storey skyscraper and is currently the tallest building in London. It is a short 10-minute walk from the Tower Bridge. One of my favorite places in London to have a drink is Aqua Shard, which provides a striking 360-degree view of London. Whether you plan a romantic evening or just want a swanky nightcap, Aqua is worth seeing and spending on.

Day 5: Relax, Shop, Watch a Show

By the last day of your vacation, you’ll probably be busy packing up and preparing yourself to come back home to your normal lives. Keep your last day chill and simple. For me, I like to treat myself to shopping–every girl deserves some form of retail therapy.
Every Filipino’s trip is never complete without some pasalubong shopping. Spend the day shopping for gifts and souvenirs at some of London’s most famous shopping streets: Regent Street, Oxford Street and Carnaby Street, all located in the West end of London.

Regent Street is most famous for its Christmas illuminations. It is home to popular stores such as Hamley’s, Liberty, Hollister, Superdry and more. If you’re shopping for kids, Hamley’s is London’s most famous toy store. It is located right down Regent Street.
Harrod’s is probably the most famous store in the world, located in Brompton Road, Knightsbridge. It is a 5-acre site with 330 departments and 1 million square feet. Aside from the shopping, it is well worth visiting Harrod’s for its historical value–it is almost 200 years old.

In the evening, complete the London experience by watching a West end show. As a Disney baby, I decided to watch Lion King in Lyceum Theatre.

lyceum theatre lion king
Magical and unforgettable experience!

Other popular shows include The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and The Book of Mormon. If you’re feeling a bit braver, you can check out the avant-garde immersive theatre ‘Sleep No More’ or ‘The Drowned Man’ by Punchdrunk.


Off to Stonehenge!

I was anxious to see Stonehenge.

It is the giddy sort of feeling only art teachers might understand.

As an art history teacher, this is among the first point of entry to the subject–Stonehenge, Lascaux cave paintings, Venus of WIllendorf and other prehistoric art. To finally be in England and the Stonehenge so nearby–I couldn’t pass it up.

Of course, I didn’t want to expect too much. I talked to a few people who have seen the Stonehenge already–half of them said Stonehenge has a life of its own, while the other half says it’s not worth seeing just a bunch of stones.

Stonehenge is located in Salisbury Plain in Southern England. There are tons of Stonehenge tours offered with bus transfer. Tours often range £45 to £105 per person, and they may or may not include entrance fee and food. We chose a cheaper option and commute from London to Salisbury via train (1 hr 30 min) where Ejay’s friend, Eric, fetched us at the station and drove us to Stonehenge. stonehenge-salisbury-plain-museum Their official website states that advance booking is required, but we arrived at 1pm without booking and came in fine. As of 2015, their entrance fee is £14.50 and opening hours vary widely depending on the season. Be informed that the last admission is two hours before closing time. See more information on their site here.

We opted to see the Stonehenge Visitor Centre first instead of heading straight away to Stonehenge to learn more about it.The visitor centre holds a collection of prehistoric tools, weapons and artifacts, even jewelry and household items excavated in the area. It provides great insight on how the people lived during those times. The centre attempts to answer frequently asked questions about Stonehenge: Why was the Stonehenge made? How was it made? Who built the Stonehenge? What was its purpose? Why did Ylvis have to write a song about it? 360-degree-projection-visitor-centre-stonehenge The first room is a 360-degree projection of Stonehenge, gives us a pretty good idea on how massive the stones are in comparison. It gives a realistic projection of Stonehenge on certain times and dates of the year, e.g. rising and setting of the sun, winter and summer solstice.

Neolithic Skeleton and reconstructed face, found within the area
Neolithic Skeleton and reconstructed face, found within the area

Here stands the skeleton & face reconstruction of a man who lived in the Neolithic times. You’ll notice the short stature– the neolithic people averaged only from about 5″1 to 5″5! That’s the average height of a Filipino. If I could go back in time to the Neolithic era I’d probably hate it. It’s like high school and I’m-unable-to-find-a-date-because-I’m-taller-than-most-boys once again.

Despite the short stature handicap, our ancestors reconciled by working as a group. A man alone is helpless, but men together are formidable. Dangerous. Hence, how else could they have built the Stonehenge?

Interestingly, humans who lived pre-Neolithic times were much taller, averaging 5″6 to 5″10. It isn’t only until the 20th century that humans returned to the pre-Neolithic height averages. This was mostly due to the shift from the more balanced and healthy hunter-gatherer diet to the limiting agricultural diet. Neolithic people were found to have vitamin deficiencies and health issues. Hence, your cousin doing that Paleo diet is probably on to something.

neolithic-village-uk-united-kingdom-salisbury-stonehenge Outside, there is a reconstructed Neolithic village which got me all giddy again. This part was a significant to me, I remember chanting: I can’t believe I get to be in an actual neolithic hut and bed and fireplace and clothing! (albeit they were only reproductions, it was exciting nonetheless.)

The Neolithic Revolution marks the human development of agriculture and  animaldomestication, which led to a shift from hunting/gathering to a sedentary lifestyle. Food is now more available, and people can now settle in one area rather than continue to wander for food.

Because milk was now more available, mothers can raise a younger babe and older children concurrently–this was not possible before. The neolithic revolution also led to rapidly rising populations, deep social divisions, gender inequality and land disputes leading to the earliest wars. Why? Because we don’t need to constantly struggle against nature for survival anymore–humans learned to fight within themselves. Humans were now at the top of the food chain, after all.

Inside the huts you can see what the weapons, pottery, tools and pieces of clothing were like during the Neolithic era
Inside the huts you can see what the weapons, pottery, tools and pieces of clothing were like during the Neolithic era

I am amazed at how many of the earliest settlements look the same in all parts of the world–in Europe, South America, or wherever. The tepee-looking huts look like our very own Philippine nipa huts. How was knowledge shared to all parts of the world without present technology? Without Google providing answers to our ancestors ‘how to build a village’? Even their weapons, tools and pottery are almost the same across continents. Were they learned by different communities at roughly the same time, or where they shared from one generation to another and through constant human migrations? Or, aliens?

This stone is roughly 12 feet tall and weighs 5 tons!
This stone is roughly 12 feet tall and weighs 15 tons!

Another fact that dumbfounded everyone is the mysterious stones used to erect Stonehenge. They weren’t local to the area. The biggest stones called ‘sarsens‘ were around 30 feet tall and weighed 30 tons. They were transported from Marlborough Downs, some 32 km up north.

More interestingly, 80-something of the smaller stones were from Preswell Mountains in Western Wales (that’s 230 km away and from a different country. It’s not an easy feat of transporting it to the site–when I said ‘smaller stones’, I meant that they were 10-12 ft tall and weighed around 5 tons each! Until now, scholars are still arguing how the ancient people were able to transport the big stones, and why they had such the will to do so. stonehenge-beautiful-sunset-sky-blue-uk-england The Stonehenge’s site was built in Salisbury Plain, a chalk plateau. The open landscape would’ve been an unusual contrast of the landscape of South England, most of which were dense woodlands back then. This is probably why it was the chosen site for the Neolithic monument.

In awe.
In awe.

Thousands flock to Stonehenge to celebrate the marking of the annual winter and summer solstice. The summer solstice is every June 21, what’s remarkable is that observers standing within the stone circle would see the sun rise in the exact alignment of the heel stone.

During winter solstice every December 21, observers can also see the perfect alignment of the sun setting. The Stonehenge is already 5,000 years old and it shows us how carefully the first humans watched the sun. They relied on such astronomical observations on their way of living–harvesting crops, hunting animals, marriage, commemoration and more.

The real purpose of Stonehenge is still unknown. But, judging by the perfect alignment of the stones, it was probably used as an astronomical tool or a sun worshipping ritual. Whatever the purpose, it held a very important part of the ancient people’s lives.

Ejay's buddy from university, Eric. He's so photogenic.
Ejay’s buddy from university, Eric. He’s so photogenic.

By the way, because of the area’s vast openness, it was so windy that day. I never felt so cold in England than I did in Stonehenge. Prepare and bulk up in several layers! stonehenge-salisbury-plain-uk-england The Stonehenge was beautiful and massive. I left ‘in awe’; with a big smile on my face; and that’s an understatement. Happily, Stonehenge wasn’t just ‘a bunch of stones’ for me–it was a sight to behold.

I left Salisbury Plain with more questions about humanity and philosophy. There is poetry written in the stones, and it opened my eyes at how human faith could move mountains, if there need be.

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10 Moments of Culture Shock in Europe as a Filipino

This post was written on 2014.

Traveling to an unfamiliar place is always full of surprises. Traveling takes you out of your comfort zone and urges you to leap unto the unknown. That’s why traveling can be so liberating and beautiful. Seeing the world gives you a whole change of perspective. The customs and beliefs you’ve learned since you were young suddenly get challenged when in a strange and new place.


Europe has always been a place of wonder and romance for me–a place from dreams of a little child. I thought I’ve read enough books seen enough Downton Abbey to prepare myself on what Europe is like. But, just like marriage, you can never be fully prepared for what’s to come.

Here are 10 moments of culture shock you’ll likely experience as a Filipino traveler!

1.  Sparkling Water

The first culture shock I experienced was in Venice after a long-haul flight & three stopovers from the Philippines. Thirsty and famished, my family and I found the first restaurant we could find in Venice. I ordered one bottle of water, and when it arrived I drank it up immediately, only to spit it out in shock because it tasted like gas.

People, why do you drink this.

In Europe, they serve two types of water but Filipinos are only used to drinking the still water kind.In some other areas, they serve two types of iced tea too–the still and carbonated kind. So be specific if you want your drinks without the bubbles.

2. You have to do a lot of walking.

You’ll get to do a lot of walking. A lot. One time, I was told we were going to visit a friend’s place and not to worry because it’s ‘just a five-minute walk away’. To me, a ‘five-minute walk’ meant walking to the next block. To them, it means a 1-km walk. I wasn’t prepared with layers so was not happy freezing to death.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 2.08.16 PM
Lovely view, but it’s been a long day!

The Philippines does not have the ideal setting to nurture the pedestrian culture. Blame it on a combination of climate, politics, urban planning and discipline (or lack thereof), but we grew up in a car-priority society. To get from point A to point B, we mostly ride the jeepney or taxi, we drive our cars (and get our licenses without taking any driver’s test). The option to walk is very limited in the Philippines, mainly because our cities are built to discourage walking. There are no safe place for pedestrians on the road, and walkers have to run for their lives even when walking on pedestrian lanes. Doctors say that walking is good for the heart, but how can we eliminate the risk of dying every time– either by getting run over or developing a pollution-causing terminal illness?

3. Sorry, we’re closing.

While in Europe, I’ve been refused by shops a number of times because they were going to close in a few minutes. I was appalled at first (the entrepreneur in me wanted to scream: but don’t you want my money?!?!). 

We are so used to the 24-hour convenience of Asia that the idea early closing times is distressing. What if I crave for 7-Eleven ice cream or Korean instant noodles in the middle of the night? What if I suddenly want to work out at Citigym Waterfront because I feel fat at 3am? In Cebu, many shops, restaurants and even gyms are open 24/7. In Europe, shops close early at around 5pm-7pm.

Many shops close on Sundays and holidays (museums close on Mondays, by the way). On some occasions, you will find your favorite store suddenly closed for the whole summer because the storekeeper is on vacation. Or closed for winter because no one really wants to work on winter. Did I mention that they don’t have 24 hour drive-thru? Nor a pizza delivery service? Tsk.

4. Don’t they feel just a little bit claustrophobic?

For such tall people, the Europeans seem to like everything tiny and cramped. All over Europe everything feels like it’s specifically Asian-tailored–their hotel rooms, wardrobes, toilets, cars… While I don’t mind, being Asian and all. But I wonder, If I’m a six-foot-tall European, I would probably feel just a little claustrophobic.

I wish Europeans would better take care of their cars though. Drivers would bump on to other people’s cars just to squeeze in a tiny parking space. But just as one Italian friend put it: ‘what’s the use of the bumper but to bump on it?’

5. Thinking about Clothes.

Dressing in the Philippines is relatively easy. You put on a shirt, shorts or jeans, snickers (slippers if you’re feeling more casual), and you’re good to go. Some people choose to suffer for fashion and put on boots and suits in this sweltering 30-degree weather. Dressing up in a place with four seasons is fun at first. Later on, it gets tedious. Dressing up takes at least 30 minutes for me on winter. I hate the fact that I have to wear five layers of clothing–and make sure all the clothes match together. I hate the fact that it adds 5kg to my weight. I hate that I couldn’t look cute if I wanted to. Nor the fact that clothes and shoes I got for UK would be impossible for me to use when I’m back in the Philippines.

5.1 …or the lack thereof.

I’ve seen a lot foreigners in Philippine beaches and it’s easy to tell which one’s American and which one’s European–their swimwear. Americans settle for the long swim shorts that Filipinos wear too. Again, Europeans seem to like everything teeny-weeny. (If I were male, I’d probably feel claustrophobic inside those Speedos too)

To illustrate my point…

Nude beaches are all the range in Europe. They are laissez-faire when it comes to public display of personal goods. However,  if you’re a little squeamish about nudity, do research on which beaches are ‘family-friendly’. All other beaches that aren’t family-friendly will most probably give you some degrees of a good boob show. I’ve been to a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea and have seen women go topless by the pool or on beaches in Greece. I have no problem with that but… based on my experience, most women who don’t go topless, should. Most women who go topless–really shouldn’t. I’m talking about you, Grandma.

6. Feels like you’re back in the past

It still amazes me how people in Europe still prefer to read a book in the subway, or sketch outdoors in the park, or actually talk to people and make actual eye contact. In cafes you’re forced to talk to your acquaintances because wi-fi is mostly not available (or horrible).

Sketching new ideas
Sketching new ideas

I remember coming back to Hong Kong from London and the moment I stepped out of the airport– each face is glued to their respective screens–and I’m suddenly reminded that I’m back in Asia. Technology hasn’t escaped Europe though, and you’ll find some people in their mobile phones. They aren’t as selfie-crazed. The kids still prefer to play in parks rather than stare down at tablets all the time.

I'm trying to take a selfie as subtle as possible or I might embarrass myself
I’m trying to take a selfie as subtle as possible because I don’t want to embarrass myself

7. Nothing ever costs like peanuts.

I remember exchanging my months’ worth of savings to euros–a thick wad of peso bills changed into five notes in the euro currency. Five notes–all my months’ salary worth and my confidence down the drain. Coming from a third world country, I can’t help but convert everything to local currency. Shopping in Europe means I would mentally convert it in peso and think really hard if I really need it. Who wouldn’t feel bad if a cup of nuts in the UK would be able to be feed you lunch and dinner in the Philippines?

Smile and pretend you didn’t regret buying this, Rachel…

8. PDA

Everywhere in Europe, especially Paris, I am forced to watch soft core porn–whether it’s on the romantic lock bridge by the river Seine or while queuing up for a crepe.

Even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.
Even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.

Yes, even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.

9. European smiles take a bit of effort.

Filipinos are generally cheerful– we love to laugh and smile. We give it openly and freely. We laugh when we’re happy, excited, embarrassed or even when we’re a little annoyed. In fact, even when I’m chatting with friends, if I don’t put a ‘hahaha’ at the end of every sentence they would think something’s wrong with me. That’s how we take our jovial attitude seriously.

Europeans look more stern and very serious. They keep a straight face when telling a joke. I thought at first that it probably hurts for them to move their zygomaticus major muscle. Or,maybe they have poor dental care. hehe. Kidding aside, Europeans aren’t really aloof or miserable, as is the common misconception– but they just don’t like to smile without reason. They are generally more reserved and somber compared to Americans or Filipinos.

10. The churches are empty.

I come from a country where it’s dominantly Catholic, people are very religious, and the church is still relatively powerful when it came to people’s and government’s decisions. Most Filipinos from middle to upper class studied in a Catholic institution where we were taught to memorize our prayers and observe religious practices strictly. Going to church every Sunday is part of every Filipino’s lives. So to get to Europe and to see all these beautiful churches and cathedrals–and to find their Sunday service almost empty–feels a bit weird. Most of Europe’s churches now work as museums for tourists to gawk at. While some churches still hold Sunday mass, attendees are sparse and few. Even the shoddiest chapel in a Philippine barangay get more attendees–and observers are willing to pack in like sardines just to observe mass.

Beautiful Florence Cathedral
Beautiful Florence Cathedral
Sunday Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Sunday Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

What are your personal moments of culture shock while you’re in Europe, or Asia, or other parts of the world? Share your own experiences in the comment box and let me know!

How to apply for UK Visa in Cebu, Philippines


Last December, I traded lechon, fruit salad and queso de bola for turkey, pudding and scones. I had a white Christmas in the UK with my one-year-old son.

My boy had been on a few domestic and Asian flights before, but it was his first long haul flight. If you want to know more about it you can read on my blog post on practical tips on How to Fly and Travel with Baby! (spoiler: we survived!)

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I love DIY travel arrangements: I plan flights and apply visas sans travel agencies. Travel agencies’ processing fees range from PHP 9,000 to 15,000 (screw that).It saves me money and I find joy in being my own travel planner! It can be time-consuming, but entirely doable (and pleasurable, at least in my case). Many friends and colleagues have asked me how I applied for my UK, US and Schengen visa, so to make it easier to everyone, I’ll be writing a series of Visa Applications 101.

All Filipino passport holders require a UK Visa if you plan to visit the following territories: England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. If you plan to visit other parts of Europe, you will need to apply for another type of visa. In my case, we made a short side trip to Paris so I needed to get a Schengen visa as well.

Applying for a UK visa doesn’t need to be stressful. You just need to be prepared and do ample research far ahead. If you’re reading my blog right now–good job! You just aced the research part. I have divided the UK tourist visa application process in four steps: 1. Preparation, 2. Online Application, 3. Appointment and 4. Waiting Period.

By the way, if you’re planning to make a side trip to other European countries, you will need another visa, a Schengen visa. Click on this link to read on How to Apply for a Schengen Visa.

I. Preparation

1. Type of Visa 

What is your purpose for visiting United Kingdom? Are you there to see family or friends, to get married, to study or to relocate?There are different types of visas for different purposes, and you can check UK website’s Visa and Immigration page to know what type of visa you need. For marriage, study or other types of visas, they require different requirements and information; but this blog can only provide information on how to get UK tourist and short stay visas only.

It is important to always be truthful regarding your purpose to visit UK. Any inconsistencies stated in your application or documents will get be refused a visa, or even get blacklisted. For General Visitor short stay visa (as is the focus on this blog), your maximum stay is only six months. You cannot work, study, or get married during your stay as a General Visitor.

Initially, I filled out the online application form for a General Visitor visa, but then after careful reading I realized that we actually needed a Family Visitor visa instead. Our primary purpose was to see my partner and his family to spend Christmas together; sightseeing and leisure being secondary. I canceled my primary applications and made new applications under Family Visitor. Again, be mindful of what type of visa you’ll need! 

2. When to Apply?

Applications are accepted up to three months before your travel date. You should apply for your visa as soon as you’ve finalized your travel schedule and booked that ticket! (you don’t need to buy a ticket just yet, a booked reservation will do). I recommend to apply 6-8 weeks before your travel date.

3. How to Apply?

Once you have all your travel information, passport and contact details on hand, you can start your visa application process. The only way to do it here is online. You can start your online application here and read through the second phase to guide you on how to fill up the online form. There’s no need to panic if you don’t have all the information on hand–you can always log in and out of your account any day and fill up the details when you have them ready.

4. Other Important Information

UK visa applications are done on a third party application center (currently VFS Global Services) and not submitted directly to the British Embassy. VFS does not have any control towards your visa application decision. Here are important details you might need to know (information lifted from VFS Website)

Manila Address:

VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc.,
Mezzanine Floor Unit M01, Ecoplaza Building, 
2305 Chino Roces Avenue Extension Makati City, Metro Manila 1231

Cebu Address:

VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc., 
9th Floor, Keppel Center, Unit 905, Samar Loop
cor. Cardinal Rosales Avenue, 
Cebu Business Park, Cebu City 6000

Opening Hours:

Application submission – with a prior appointment:
Monday to Friday
07:00 – 13:00

Application submission –prime time appointment (presently in Manila only)
Monday to Thursday
16:00 – 19:00

Pick up Time –
Monday to Friday
14:00 – 15:00

II. Online Application

In the Online Application process, you need to register for an account. Afterwards, you’ll need to fill in details of the following:

  • Applicant Basic Details and Contact Information
  • Your Visa Type
  • Passport details and Travel History
  • Family Details
  • Employment and Income
  • Family and Friends in the UK

Read through your applications twice before you click send! Once you submitted the application and paid the fee you cannot change any details anymore. Confirm that everything is correct, Book an Appointment, Pay the Visa fee and Print your Application.

  • UK Visa Fee

The UK visa fee is steep- on 2014 the short stay visa fee in the Philippines was USD 120-150, but since we lodged our applications in Cebu we had to pay an additional service fee of USD 101. Total cost per application was USD 143 or around PHP 11,000+. I paid the same amount for my son’s application and mine.

III. Appointment

In the online application, you are given the option to choose the date and time of your appointment. If I recall right, appointment times can be done on weekdays and from 8:00-12:00 only. I chose my appointment date on November 11, 2014 at 11am (not a morning person here). This gave me approximately two weeks to collect all the necessary documents I need.

For UK visa appointments in Cebu, you need to go to VFS Global Services which is at the 9th floor of Keppel Building, in Ayala Cebu Business Park. It’s not hard to find.

Keppel Building, image from Skyscrapercity

On the day of your Appointment, come early and be prepared. They are strict with their rule and will not let anyone in until 15 minutes before your appointment to avoid crowding in the center. If you came 16 minutes or earlier, you will have to wait outside.

You need to bring all necessary documents and need to take your biometrics (photo and fingerprints taken). The documents should be properly organized and arranged so you wouldn’t be fumbling around your papers on your appointment. Basically these documents support your purpose of UK visit, and show your ties in the Philippines (job, family, children, school, properties, business, etc.) and establish proof that you are coming back.

Checklist of supporting documents to bring:

  • Confirmation of Booking Appointment – this is sent to you via email which indicates the time and date of your appointment. I was not able to print this because I thought VFS already has a schedule of confirmed names and appointments. Since I came early, I had enough time to go down, look for an internet cafe and print the booking confirmation and return just in time.
  • Printed Application Form with Photo – print out your complete and signed application form and affix a photo (glue it in!).
    • Photograph Requirements – Most photo shops would already know the specifications needed for visa requirements-just tell them it’s for a UK visa. I had ours taken in Ayala Center Cebu.
      • recent photo taken within six months
      • 45mm x 35mm
      • White or cream background
      • Taken with nothing covering the face, without sunglasses or tinted spectacles, or a head covering unless for religious or medical reasons. The subject should have their mouth closed (no grinning, frowning or raised eye brows). Applicant should be facing forwarding, looking straight ahead.
  • Personal Supporting Documents – proof of your identification details & personal circumstances
    • NSO Birth Certificate
    • Marriage Certificate, if married
    • Current Passport and Previous Passport, to see travel history
  • Financial Supporting Documents – documents that prove you don’t need to work while you’re in the UK. This can include bank statements, pay slips, credit card statements, property titles; within the last six months or so.
  • School & Employment Supporting Documents – provides proof of coming back to the Philippines.
    • Student – a letter from your school or education provider confirming your enrollment and leave of absence
    • Employee – tax returns, pay slips, letter from your employer confirming employment, and confirming leave of absence.
    • Business Owner – tax returns, business registration documents (stating your name as business owner)
  • Travel Plans – this includes your flight ticket details, hotel/accommodation bookings and your itinerary. (Need help in your UK itinerary? Refer to my blog post, Suggested Itinerary: 5 Days in London!)
  • Supporting Documents from friends and family in the UK – If you’re planning to visit friends or family, include a letter of invitation from them, their financial documents and bio data of their passports attached as well.

Complete submission of these documents will be helpful in obtaining that visa, but does not guarantee a visa issuance. Missing or incomplete supporting documents may also result in a UK visa refusal.

Other Important Information:

  • No need to dress to kill–just look presentable. Wear comfortable, smart casual clothes that cover all the right areas. The application center’s task is to receive your application and documents only–a personal appearance is required but no interviews will be conducted for tourist visas, unless deemed necessary.
  • For the biometrics, you will need your photo and fingerprints taken, hence the need for a personal appearance. My baby boy needed to be there for his biometrics. Even newborn babies are now required to show up in the visa center.
  • You can not to bring your bags, mobile phone and other personal belongings inside, and you’ll be asked to leave them in the reception’s storage counter.
  • Store your documents in a transparent envelope. An enclosed folder or even a brown envelope is not allowed.
  • All transactions will be paid online.

It only took me an hour and a half to go through the process, although I heard the female guard comment that it was unusually not busy that day.

IV. Waiting Period

The most tedious part for me was the waiting game. Once you’ve done with the appointment phase and submitted all documents, I was told by VFS Cebu to wait 14 working days to get my results. This works for Cebu area, but Manila is said to take 7 working days only.

You can sign up for an SMS service to update you throughout your visa’s processing, but I haven’t tried it. Also, they will request for your email address and will email you if your documents and visa is ready for pickup.

I received two emails from them, and you will probably expect the same. I received the first email on November 14 and it looked something like this:

Your decision will be despatched shortly.  Passports can normally be collected from the Visa Application Centre after 3 working days unless you have been advised it will be returned by courier or have paid an additional courier fee.

This email means that the UK Embassy in Manila has already made a decision towards your application. This may mean either way that you’ve been approved a visa or not. I received this email on Friday, probably sent deliberately to give me an awfully nerve-wrecking weekend.

On November 17, I received another email from VFS, which looked like this:

The processed visa application for GWF reference number –  GWF___________ was received at the UK Visa Application Centre on date time.

If a courier service was purchased from VFS Global, your processed application will be delivered to the chosen address.

If not, your documents can be collected during the designated passport collection times.

This email means that your visa has landed in Cebu and is now ready for pickup. I got mine the day after on November 18.

V. Results!

You can choose to have your documents returned to you via courier or pick-up at the center. I chose the latter as I only lived nearby anyway.

As soon as I got my email, I went to the visa center the next day. I had my appointment on November 11, and on November 18, I was able to get our UK visas! That’s exactly 8 days, or 6 working days. Doesn’t it look lovely?

UK visas

Need help with planning your London, UK trip? Read my blog post, Suggested Itinerary: 5 Days in London, UK to help you through!

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