For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. My dream started when I was still a snot-nosed eight year old kid with a bad case of crush with Alexis (aka Shaider). In my mind, Japan was the land of flying robots, of magnificent hide outs under volcanoes, of cute felines and their friends. As years passed, I fell more and more in love with the culture of Japan.
When I started working–I made a point to save up in order to travel. I started with visa-free countries, until I got to the nerve to apply for a South Korean and Taiwanese tourist visa. While a part of me wanted to try my luck to get a visa for Japan, a bigger part of me was holding me back–afraid that I might not qualify for a tourist visa. I knew the disappointment will kill me.
However, this year I resolved to throw caution to the wind and just do it.
I began to religiously follow fare guides and forum exchanges for tips and tricks in scoring cheap airline tickets and of course, getting a tourist visa. I made sure to have money available and saved up any extra money six months before the trip. I read and re-read blogs and attended travel fairs. While I cannot control the outcome of my visa application, being ready and preparing for the application has made me more sane and more confident on my chances to get the visa. All the hassles and heartbreaks and stressful moments preparing for the trip has made me more determined than ever.
To give back to the many blogs and forums that helped guide me during my visa application process, I am sharing some tips based on my experience in getting that coveted Japan tourist visa.
First, the list of document requirements — Submitting a completed requirement is winning more than half the battle and in my opinion, will probably dictate the processing of your application. Here are the documents that you will need to prepare:
1. Visa Application Form – downloadable here and here. Note that applying a visa to Japan is only possible through the following accredited travel agencies: Friendship Tours (the one I used. Highly recommended!), Universal Holidays, Discovery Tour, Rajah Travel, Reli Tours, Attic Tours and Pan Pacific Travel (for applications without Japanese guarantor).
Travel agency contact details here
* It’s up to you to choose the embassy of your preference. Note that, technically there is no cost in getting a single entry tourist visa to Japan, but since you have to do the application through an embassy, it is only understandable that the agency will collect a handling fee. Handling fee varies depending on the agency — when my sister applied for her first visa in 2013 via Reli Tours, she paid close to PHP2,500. We only paid Friendship Tours PHP1,200 for our most recent visa application and my sister was even issued a multiple entry visa!
* Fill up the Visa application form electronically – It’s neater and more presentable. Avoid erasures and do not leave blank spaces. Put N/A when the question does not apply to you. Remember: First impression counts!
* Have your photo taken on a professional photo studio. Just tell them that you need visa application photos — more established photo studios have a format already for visa requirements of different countries. For Japan, measurement is 4.5cm x 4.5cm with white background. You will be asked to remove your jewelry. If you are wearing a tank top or collarless blouse, you will need to borrow from the studio’s collection of blazers. If you have a thing against wearing other people’s clothes, I suggest you wear a professional looking top when you have your photo taken.
2. Passport – should be valid for more than six months. I know people who didn’t realized that their passport validity is up until the very last minute, so I suggest you go OC (even for a bit) and check your passport validity before even booking that flight.
3. National Statistics Office (NSO)-issued Birth Certificate and Marriage Contract (if you are married) – The certificates have to be issued the year of your visa application. Avoid the hassle–do not use your old NSO birth certificates, I assure you the agency will double check if your documents are recent. If you can spare a few thousand bucks to go to Japan, I assure you — you can spare a few hundred to get new documents.
If you already have an existing visa to Japan (used or not), you no longer need to submit this. You may skip this part.
4. Tour Itinerary, also called “Schedule of Stay” – there is a recommended format of this downloadable on the travel agency’s website. Bottom line, the Tour Itinerary will be used by the agency to gauge if the money you have is enough based on the activities you plan to do. The schedule of stay contains your whereabouts on the dates you are in Japan, your accommodation options, your contact numbers — in short, it’s your schedule while you are in Japan.
Take note: what you put here is not set in stone. This is just a guide and a reference.
For example, for our five day stay in Tokyo, I indicated the places I will visit per day (but not too specific — just general places no need to indicate specific sites or areas of interests if you are not too familiar). But since I am also a bit OC, I also indicated the possible time where I will return to the hostel.
Just my two cents: if you don’t have too much money in the bank, then do not too much pricey places or attractions. For example, you can’t claim that you will be going to Disneyland, Disney Sea, Hello Kitty Puro Land, a day tour in Mt. Fuji then stay in a posh Shibuya hotel with less than PHP50,000 in your travel budget.
5. Proof of Financial Capability – this is your Bank Certificate, indicating your current bank balance. If you are a BPI bank account holder (like I do), you can get your Bank Certificate in less than an hour. A PHP100-processing fee applies.
Some of you might ask what constitutes an acceptable amount of savings account in the bank in order to qualify for a visa. Honestly, I do not know. I only had PHP7X,XXX in my bank account and yet, I was issued a visa.
6. Proof of strong economic ties to the Philippines – this is to prove that you have a reason to go back to the Philippines. These are usually your Employment Certificate and your most recent Income Tax Returns. For the love of God, please do not be tempted to submit a fake employment certificate. It will be very embarrassing for you if you are caught.
Since I am also traveling with one of my good friends from high school (we were friends since we were 13!) who works independently and does not have an ITR, I was actually a bit nervous if she will be issued a visa. What I know is that she submitted a letter explaining why she doesn’t have an ITR and an employment certificate. I will have to verify with her what she said in the letter. I guess, it also helped that my friend has tons of immigration stamps on her passport already since she is a keen traveler.
If you are in doubt regarding this requirement, do not hesitate to call your travel agency.
Since I am also shamelessly OC, I also attached the following in my application letter:
* A signed leave form annotated by my company’s HR department
* Return airline tickets (MNL-NRT-MNL via Cebu Pacific booked three months before the trip)
* Confirmed hotel reservations from K’s House Tokyo Oasis (rated number 1 on TripAdvisor’s Guesthouses in Taito)
HOW TO APPLY
1. Choose a travel agency and complete your documents even before you drop by the agency. By completing your documents, you have already won half the battle (cos the other half, I believe, is luck). Processing of application usually takes 5 to 7 days (mine took four days) so I will recommend that you apply for your visa a month before your trip.
2. Go to the agency and submit your documents. Pay for the processing fee.
3. Leave and start praying to the Travel Gods for a successful visa application.
Honestly, my travel time from my office in Bonifacio Global City to the Friendship Tours office in Dusit Thani Hotel in Ayala, Makati took longer than the time I have spent inside the agency office. Friendship Tours have very efficient and friendly front liners — who will check your documents one by one before getting your payment and issuing you a receipt. You will present this receipt when you claim your passport after five days.
If you are from Manila, I hope you will find this guide helpful as you make your dreams come true–the same way that I relied on the tips and tricks shared by others online. While there’s talk that there’s a big possibility that Japan will announce visa-free entry to tourists come June, I will definitely believe it once it’s officially posted on the Japan Embassy Manila website. This is a welcome development and something long-awaited by travelers and Japanophiles alike. In fact, I have already dreaming about my next trip should this happen — visit Osaka and Kyoto with the husband this December, perhaps?
However, I have to admit that I still have reservations should this happen. My only prayer is that, if granted, may this privilege be not abused by those who plan on taking advantage of the opportunity to seek long-term employment in Japan. I hope that when and if this privilege is issued to us, we will respect and honor the trust that will be given to us.