Monday, 27 March 2017

How to apply for a South African tourist visa extension

When you hear the words ‘visa’, it’s not a nice reaction, is it? It’s the kind of reaction you have when, let’s say, you have to ring your internet provider or your bank, when you have to take your car in for an MOT - it’s just annoying and inconvenient and wholeheartedly boring…but nonetheless, entirely necessary.

Applying for a holiday or tourist visa whilst you’re back in your home country can be a little stressful, depending on the situation however applying for a visa extension whilst in that same country adds another little ‘oh my good lord I could actually end up being deported’ stress just you know, for good measure.


Recently, I received my visa application decision regarding my request to extend my South African Visitors Visa (section 11(1)) and despite sitting here now, happy and content in the knowledge I’ve been allowed to legally stay, the actual application process itself was…a lot and not quite so plain sailing for the old noggin as I now so rosily remember.

Whilst trying to find out exactly how to go about applying for the extension, there were many questions that, despite multiple google searches, phone calls and pulling of hair out of scalp, remained unanswered. There really is very little information out there for people who simply want to apply themselves, without help from a lawyer or VCP (Very Clever Person) who understands all the official lingo and whilst I’m definitely neither of these two options, I thought I would document my experience and try to answer any questions you have that have led you to this blog post…

Here we go…

APPLYING FOR VISA EXTENSION

I am a UK citizen therefore the South Africa visa laws allow me a free 90 day tourist visa. The amount of days your visa allows depends on the country you are from therefore check on the government website for your own allowance.

To extend your South African tourist visa, you can ONLY apply through vfsglobal.com - you cannot apply independently from this company. When you google information online, it can get pretty confusing as there are lots of forums where people have gone to apply at Home Affairs themselves and paid just R450/500 however this is outdated information and trust me, from personal experience, you cannot simply arrive at Home Affairs and apply - they have NOTHING to do with visa extensions any longer.

The advice, which of course, my friend and I did not follow, is to apply within the first 30 days of arriving in the country because application processing times can take up to 10 weeks. With the excitement of Christmas, New Year and my friend’s family coming to visit, we ended up applying on our 29th day in the country…and could not get an appointment for another month - cue LOTS OF STRESSING.

To apply for the extension, you must first create an account with vfsglobal.com, pay the VFS service fee of R1350 and the visa fee of R425 and then select a convenient appointment date and time. Once you’ve done this, you can sit back, relax and chill until the day before your appointment, right?

WRONG.

We did this, and it created a whole lot of unnecessary stress on the day of our appointment and whilst there are so many horror stories about how awful the whole process is, with clear information and a degree of organisational skills, it would actually be perfectly fine and very easy to do by yourself.

On the day of our appointment, we arrived with our passports, our letters detailing the reasons we wanted to stay, our bank statements and our proof of onward travel. Sound about right? Well..it wasn’t. Once we arrived, we were sent up to the VFS offices and were asked to produce our appointment letter…which we did not have, cue mad dash to the nearest internet cafe to print it off.

We were then told on our return that, and I’m really not kidding here, we were at the wrong building so off we run to the ABSA Building in Cape Town. We get there, are allowed up and the centre is pretty much empty, so don’t worry about it being jam packed and there being no time for you to apply - once you’re actually at the application offices, it’s very well organised and chilled. SO! We did it - we managed to get to the right office, at the right time, with the right documents, right? Wrong.

Our ticket number was called, we dashed up to the desk and the first question we were asked…’Can I have online application form please?’

*cue silence*

I mean, the lady humoured us and simply pointed to a computer and printer at the back of the room so…off we went again to produce another document which we had not managed to get prior to our appointment. (Yes, we hated ourselves at this point).

Once we had managed to navigate to our proof of payments, it was then pretty smooth sailing however to make sure you don’t end up in our position, these are the documents you will need to apply for your visa extension:



- APPOINTMENT LETTER
- ONLINE FILLED VISA APPLICATION FORM

- PASSPORT
- SCAN OF PASSPORT
- PROOF OF ONWARD TRAVEL (OUT OF THE COUNTRY)
- PROOF OF FINANCIAL MEANS TO STAY IN COUNTRY (BANK STATEMENTS)
- PROOF OF PAYMENT FOR APPLICATION
- LETTER OF REASONS TO STAY IN COUNTRY

After you have submitted these documents, you will be given a receipt which has your application tracking number on. This receipt is absolutely VITAL as this piece of paper proves you are allowed to stay in the country if you’re original visa runs out whilst your application is still being processed and believe me, this information is like gold dust.

I rang, I googled, I prayed to the Gods of the world for an answer to the question ‘what happens if my visa runs out whilst my extension application is still being processed?’ and I here now, this daft blog written by someone who thinks she’s a lot funnier than she actually is, has the answer.

IF YOUR VISA APPLICATION IS STILL BEING PROCESSED AND YOUR ORIGINAL VISA RUNS OUT, YOU ARE ALLOWED TO STAY IN THE COUNTRY UNTIL A DECISION HAS BEEN MADE.

Worriers of the world, relax - there you go, now have a cup of Rooibos and chill out, I stressed so you don’t have too.

COLLECTING VISA APPLICATION

Now, due to the ongoing warnings of processing times taking between 8-10 weeks, I wasn’t expecting any communication for a long while however VFS actually keep in contact with you through the whole process. You are emailed the exact whereabouts of your application, as well as what is happening to it, a total of seven times after applying and my extension decision was back in Cape Town and ready to be collected 25 days after handing my documents in (and just 2 days before my original visa ran out!)

To collect your visa, you simply need your passport and your receipt which you were handed when you applied and decisions can only be collected between 10am-3pm weekdays (I’m not sure about Saturdays however you cannot collect at any time on Sundays). You are advised to get there as early as possible therefore of course, myself and my friend got there at dinner time, seemingly the busiest part of the day.

The collection process is very simple - you simply arrive and show your passport and receipt, are given a number, told to take a seat and simply wait until your number is called out. You sit down in a separate room with a person who opens your application in front of you to ensure no one has tampered with it, shown the decision and as mine was granted, the new visa dates are stuck into your passport.

And, that’s it! You remain a legal tourist! Woo! No prison time for you!

THOUGHTS ON VFSGLOBAL

Of course, once your application has been accepted and everything has worked out, it all seems peachy and to be honest, compared to the scare stories people seem enthralled in describing in such minute detail, my experience with VFS Global in extending my tourist visa was absolutely fine.

The only problem you face throughout this whole process is finding the correct and relevant information that you need. At one point, as we were trying to decide if there was any point in applying now we were going to have to wait a full month for an appointment, I rang the customer helpline 3 times with 2 questions and received…3 different answers for both questions.

This though, is the polar opposite service we received on the actual day of applying and when we collected our visas, with the staff helpful, friendly and surprisingly understanding for how ill organised we both were.

I hope this was of at least some help to those of you out there who are wanting to apply for a tourist visa extension - it can be stressful at times and a lot less exciting than seeing the sights of this beautiful country of South Africa but in the long run, it really couldn't be more worth it.

Good luck with your applications and feel free to ask any questions you may have about the process in the comments or over on my social media.

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Thursday, 23 March 2017

5 amazing places to eat in Observatory, Cape Town

For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of living in Observatory, home to one of the largest residential art communities in South Africa and also named Cape Town’s ‘most bohemian suburb’. Now, I can’t offer you much commentary on ‘the arts’ (like really truly I can offer you very little) however something I can deliver an expert opinion on is great food and where to find it.

Sound interesting?

Mmmhmm, you bet it is.


Obz is home to some great cafes, bars and restaurants and somehow, I’ve managed to put myself through trying out a whole lot of them to give my verdict on my top five places you simply have to visit whilst in the area…

1. Panchos



A Mexican restaurant that boasts great quality food for budget friendly prices in a friendly and warm environment, Panchos won’t disappoint even the fussiest of eaters. If you’re feeling like a hearty plate of nachos or a burrito set to keep you satisfied for approximately three days (no but for real, you choose 2 fillings and it’s…huge!), this is definitely somewhere you need to take a visit. They are also known for their fabulous frozen margaritas so I recommend going all in with a group of friends and ordering a couple of jugs - I can almost bet your bottom dollar you won’t regret it…


2. Honeybun




As my favourite brunch spot in Observatory, you can pretty much assume I can be found in the cosy nook of Honeybun any day of the week. From a fabulous salmon eggs benedict and cappuccinos for breakfast to quirky open sandwich options and frozen fruit smoothies for lunch, this quaint little cafe along Lower Main Road is a solid choice for any foodies out there. 


3. Obz Cafe




This place is one of the most infamous restaurants in Observatory - known for their fabulous pizzas, great burgers (oooo mama, the nacho burger is a stunner!|) and it’s chilled out vibe, Obz Cafe is a popular choice among those in the know around the area. 


4. Cocoa Cha Chi




A little walk along Lower Main Road will take you to Cocoa Chi, a classy spot for any time of the day. Whilst a lot of the restaurants in Obz Cafe are pretty loud and lead you to Stone’s (a pool bar open until 3am, say no more), Cocoa Chi is the place to go for a catch up with friends over a bottle of wine and stunning food at affordable prices. (Don’t miss out on their incredible Monday offer of R49 pasta dishes!)


5. Jerry’s



Source
Burger lovers rejoice - you have found your heaven! Jerry’s Burger Bar is pretty self explanatory - it’s known for it’s deliciously juicy burgers and so they should be because holy moly, you won’t find much better anywhere else. From the original beef burger with no frills attached to the ‘drunken chicken’ (aka a whole lot of tequila involved) and the 7 deadly sinners which have a heap of flavoursome goods stuffed between two (yep, seriously) patties, there’s something for even the most daring of burger eaters.

So there we have it - five of my favourite places to eat (far too much) at in Observatory… What are your favourite spots in the suburb? I’d love to hear about your hidden gems!


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Thursday, 9 March 2017

Feeling down whilst travelling the world

*Disclaimer: This post was written last month and has been sitting in my drafts for a few weeks before I could pluck up the courage to press 'Publish'. I've never really spoken about this kind of thing before but travelling is seen as the most perfect, problem fixing thing to do in the world yet...your mind is still your mind wherever you take yourself and it still needs to be taken care of. Anyway, let's get into what the flipping flip I'm actually talking about...

Some days, over the last nine months, I’ve woken up and had to physically pinch myself that this is my life. Physically pinch myself that I’ve been merely a yard away from lions in the Maasai Mara, that I’ve gone wine tasting in one of the most stunning wine regions in the world, that I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many incredible people from all over the world that I’m now lucky enough to call my friends.

It’s truly a privilege to have been able to be this free for so long, to have so little responsibility and so much possibility. Yet, with all this, with all of these amazing times I’ve experienced over the past nine months and all of the laughs and memories I’ve made with my BFF in tow, the past month has been one of the most personally difficult yet.

I don’t know what happened or when it happened, but suddenly I came to realise that something had gone amiss, something wasn’t quite right. At first, I thought I was just in a bad mood, a slump if you like, because my Christmas, New Year and beginning of January had been better than I could ever have imagined. A few days passed and hot damn, this mood wouldn't shake itself and it was getting frustrating because we were in a brand new environment and I wasn’t being myself at all. Hostels aren’t the best place if you want some alone time and looking back now, thank all that’s good and pure that I was in a hostel because you best believe if I’d have been at home I’d have holed myself up in my room, my laptop and some Dairy Milk for company.

For a while I didn’t really know what was happening - it sounds dramatic and it really wasn’t to the extent I’m perhaps describing it, however it was only when my BFF Rosie sat me down and basically, asked me what the flipping flip was going on that I had to finally admit to myself, and to her that yep, this actually isn't just a ‘bit of a bad mood’ is it.

The fact is that I couldn't be bothered. With anything. It would be the most stunning day outside, and I’d just want to stay inside in my room. I’d do things but I wouldn't suggest them and if there were other people Rosie could go and do things with, I’d sigh a breath of relief and stalk back up to my room, away from people. I’d turn down nights out and if I did go out, I’d be anxious and kind of miserable and whilst I’d go home early and tell people I’d be fine, (‘I’m just tired that’s all’) I’d get into bed and cry…over…nothing?

I couldn't actually answer the question of ‘what’s wrong?’ because I had absolutely no idea, which was probably the most frustrating part for myself and others. All I knew was that I was meant to be having the best time of my entire life and everyone so wished they could be doing what I was doing and yet I felt, empty. But then guilty for feeling that way. Scared that I couldn't seem to get myself out of whatever the heck it was. And so forth, that cycle carried on for a while.

It was one of the first times in my life when I've actually had to sit back and admit to myself that, actually, I'm not okay. Speak to any of my friends, specifically those I lived with at university, and they'll tell you that I was that person to always indignantly say, 'I never get ill, I'm never unwell - I actually can't even REMEMBER the last time I was even SLIGHTLY under the weather' and I used it as a badge of honour. It seems ridiculous now, and kind of embarrassing but I've had to sit myself and my annoying little brain down and tell it some home truths.

You have a cold, you buy some lozenges, you get a virus, you get a prescription from the doctor - but what happens when it's your mind that takes a tumble? Unfortunately, I don’t have a particular ‘thing’ that somehow let my mind escape whatever it was getting up to and this post isn’t going to particularly set the world alight. There isn't an exciting ending but it's just a post trying to keep it real because whilst my Instagram feed is pretty A* if I do say so myself, travelling the world doesn't mean you escape life’s down periods. You’re still facing some of the problems that life decides to throw your way, just without the worry of paying bills and unloading the dishwasher, y’know. I mean, whilst many of us might want to get a brain transplant much of the time, unfortunately, technology is too selfish for us at this point and this little thing beneath your hair is apparently following us around for life so...maybe it's time for me to look after it a little more.

Really, I wanted to write this post for two reasons: to say that whilst travelling is really, truly incredible and I'm so grateful to be doing what I'm doing, it doesn't 'fix' you. Also, I just want to document it for my future self to look back on, mostly for my future self to look back on when things might not be that rosey to read and say, ‘hey, you’re going to be fine, listen to yourself, ride whatever it is out and then get back to it’.

I suppose what the past month has really taught me is to practise a little more self care, a lot more self love and to stop trying to do everything alone because there are people right there by your side waiting for you to let them in and let them help.

I've just started reading this book as a start and I'll let you know how and if it helps but oh boy, when
Kylie Jenner said 2016 was the year of realising things, did she extend that for another year because jeezzz.

Can any of you relate to feeling down whilst travelling? It would be great to hear from others about their experiences. 


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