Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Land Down Under - Planning Stage

     For as long as I can remember, my aunt, who lives in Australia, has always been inviting me to visit her and at the same time to take a nice long vacation in Sydney.  But due to conflicting schedules, other commitments,  and money matters, I always seem to find a reason to say no.  
    But last 2012, I decided to finally take her offer to come and visit the land down under.  Besides, I figured it was high time to reward myself for all those years of studying very hard, surviving such a busy year at work, passing the level I of CFA and getting promoted.

    It would actually be my second time to visit Australia.  The first time I had the chance to go there was way back in year 2000, with my parents.  I think I was just about to start grade 7 and my mom decided for us to have a family vacation in Sydney.  Back then, I had my mom to do all the preparations for our trip: applying for our visa, booking the tickets, scheduling our trip, and so on.  All I had to before was to just help in the packing of my clothes.  My mom was always prepared for anything and she was such a good planner that I no longer had to worry about a single thing.  But this time, I'm all on my own... So let me share with you the things I've had to do so that I could actualize my plans of going back to Sydney:

  • Scheduling the Vacation
              Since going to Australia is not that cheap, I wanted to ensure that I would be making the most out of my trip. A handful of days would definitely not be enough, so I was looking  for at least a two to three weeks stay at the most. Since I also have work, I needed my vacation to coincide with as much Philippine holidays as I can so that I won't go over the allowed number of leaves.  Taking all these into consideration, and after checking the available flights, the best time for me would be from December 21, 2012 to January 12, 2013.  A total of 21 days, not including the days of departure and arrival.  Given that four of those days were holidays, I ended up using only 11 days for my vacation leave.  And yes, that means I spent my Christmas and New Year there.  In terms of the weather, it would be summer there so at least, I was supposed to be packing light

  • Lodging
             Fortunately for me, I have quite a number of relatives living in Australia, and as I've mentioned, one of them is staying in Sydney and was the one who offered the invitation. So thanks to my aunt, I didn't have to worry about the place where I will stay and the expenses that will go with it.  She lives only about a 45-minutes to an hour drive from the city, so I won't have any trouble getting around.  
  • Permission from the Bosses and COE 
             Since I would be gone for quite some time in the office, I needed to ask permission from my bosses.  Besides, since I would also be applying for an Australian visa, I had to obtain a Certificate of Employment (COE) as it was one of the requirements.  But before I can request for that, I first needed an approval from the Partner of our firm.  Thankfully, I was given the approval with the qualification that I manage my work commitments and to ensure that all bases would be covered.

  • Visa Application
          Before I booked my ticket, I wanted to ensure that I would have my visa approved.  After all, it would be such a waste of money if I ended up buying the plane tickets only to find out that I have a denied visa application.  So the first step is to obtain the visa application form.  There are different types of visa, but what I needed was the tourist visa.  Application forms are found in the website of the Australian Government: Department of Immigration and Citizenship.  After filling up the form, I also obtained a letter of invitation from my aunt, and she also sent me her proof of financial capacity. Also, as I mentioned, a COE from your current employer would also be needed, plus the usual passport size pictures.
           Another document to get hold of is your bank statement, showing the average balance over the last 2-3 months.  The processing of this document just normally takes a day or two.  The visa application charge (VAC) amounts to PHP5,100. It should be noted however that the VAC should be paid in the form of a Manager's check. This could easily be requested from any bank and can be received within a few minutes.  Cash payments for the VAC are not accepted.  On top of that, a service fee of PhP700, for the submission of the application would also be paid, and can be in the form of cash.  This already includes a one-way nation-wide delivery by courier.  For more information and updates on the fees, you can visit this site:  The Visa Information and Application Center where you can lodge the application is open on weekdays and Saturdays. It is located at the third floor of Allegro Center in Makati.  Since I was very busy during weekdays, the only time I had was to go on a Saturday before heading to my French class.  Luckily, when I went there at around 8 in the morning, there were just a few people. Thus, I was able to submit all documents in less than hour.  They also have their own photo copying machines in case you would need that particular service.  

         The release of the results of your visa application can vary.  As for me, I think it was on the 10th day, after lodging the application, when I received the passport together with letter that contains the result. Before, they used to put a sticker on your passport to represent the approved visa, but due to rule changes, they just provide you with a letter.  For a moment there, I thought that I was denied of my visa. It's good that I didn't immediately panic and just read the letter.
  • Airplane tickets
        Once I have secured my approved visa, the next thing to do was book my tickets for the trip.  For short trips, I can usually go with budget airlines.  Since despite the limited leg room and no food, the air fare could be very affordable especially during seat sales.  However, since I didn't want to waste any time on my trip, I figured it would be better for me to take a straight flight to Sydney, which is around 7-8 hours.  I've checked the possible budget airlines, but all of them involved a stop-over that would cost at least an additional 3-4 hours of air travel.  So, I decided to just book a flight with Philippine Airlines and had the following as my itinerary:

          Definitely, the tickets were pricey, but as I've mentioned, this trip was to reward myself.  Besides, what I may have lost in monetary terms, was more than made up for by all those experiences, sights, memories, and bonding time I have gained on my trip.

Up next... Departure from Manila....Stay tuned for more... :)

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