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Immigration Tips for Filipinos: A Guide to Philippine Immigration

Philippine immigration photo

I wrote this guide in response to many questions in my blog about answering the questions in Philippine immigration. This guide is about how to handle Philippine immigration as a tourist and not as an OFW.

The first time I heard the word “offloaded” was in my blog. ‘Offloading’ is a Filipino English word that means you are denied entry to another country a.k.a. cannot leave the Philippines because you were unable to pass the Filipino immigration inspection.

If you want to minimize the risk of being offloaded as a Filipino, here are some tips:

Past travel experience is a must.

When I quit my job in China and returned to the Philippines jobless, I was a little scared to travel because I was unemployed. It didn’t become a problem because the immigration officer saw many stamps in my passport and let me through.

The more you travel, the less likely the immigration officer will ask you questions. I know many Filipinos travel with copies of their company ID, bank certificates, income tax return (ITR), etc. I don’t. I was unemployed and single. I just bring and show my return ticket. I think these are important for first time travelers but not for those who are frequent travelers. I have already been to more than 20 countries. I have not worked illegally and my stamps can prove I have always returned to my country. Of course, this is not the same for all cases. This is just my experience.

Even if you’ve been to only one or two countries, as long as he’s seen you’ve got past travel experience and have returned, he will less likely ask you many questions.

Always show a return ticket

Filipinos who have left me questions in my blog are often scared of the immigration officer (IO). They don’t know there’s another gate they have to go through first before the IO and sometimes they can be tougher than the officer.

The airline check-in.

cebupacific

That’s right. These people make sure you have all the proper documentation before you leave, especially the staff at our friendly budget airline, Cebu Pacific. They won’t let you go through immigration if you don’t have the right documents. They will usually ask for the return ticket to ensure a.) you’re coming back b.) you’re complying with the travel regulations of the country you’re traveling to. E.g. Malaysia law requires travelers to have a return ticket when they travel to Malaysia.

When you go to the immigration officer, always show your boarding pass and your return ticket.

I have forgotten to show my boarding pass and return ticket a couple of times because I’m struggling to organize the paperwork I accumulate during the check-in process (terminal fee, travel tax receipts and copies, Cebu Pacific itinerary, etc). Luckily the IOs are often nice about it and gently remind me. Whoops! They’re people too.

The main reason people get offloaded (from what I’ve read in the blogs) is that they weren’t able to show the return ticket. Even if you’re someone who’s traveled to several countries, if you won’t show your return ticket  (again, this depends on the country you’re traveling t0) they won’t let you through.

Be confident. Don’t be nervous.

IOs are taught to profile people. Any signs of nervousness are cause for them to make you more nervous by asking you more questions. If you’re nervous, it means you’ve got something to hide. Further interrogation is a scare tactic used by many immigration officers around the world. The theory behind it is by making you nervous, you’ll slip up and reveal your true intentions. You might say, “But I’ve got nothing to hide. They’re making it worse by making me nervous.” It doesn’t matter. Immigration officers think they are cops and they will bully the answers out of you. So stand your guard, smile and answer confidently with a heart ala Ms Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach.

If you have all your documents in order, what reason do they have to detain you? Unless they are looking for a bribe, of course.

Only answer what IOs ask you but do not elaborate.

There is really no need to give them further reason to ask more questions. Just answer as simply as possible.

IO: What’s your job?

Me: I work as an assistant manager in my family business.

IO: Family business? What do you sell?

Me: Plastic. Pots and pans. Brooms. Lots of household items.

IO: (stamp stamp)

Common questions Filipinos IOs ask you:

  • Where do you work? Follow up questions were what was position in the company? What did we sell?
  • Where will you be staying?

Have a rough idea of your itinerary/what you will do in the country. Just in case the officer ask you, just be ready with a short list.

IO: What will you do in India?

Me: Sightseeing. See Taj Mahal, the Pink City, Hindu temples. Shopping.

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WHAT IFs SCENARIOS

The following answers are collected from other sites or what I would do if I was in that situation. I have by no means encountered them personally so it’s not 100% reliable and you will still need to do your own research. IMPORTANT: No immigration officer is the same. One would let you travel and the other might take you aside for second questioning.

1.) I haven’t traveled before.

You’re a first time traveler. This is probably the most nerve wracking because you’ll be more under scrutiny by the immigration officer. You’ll be less likely to be asked questions if you mention you’re traveling with someone who’s traveled before or if you’re in a tour group/package tour.

I have not done the following below because I was only 6 years old when I first started traveling internationally.

Here are documents you need to prepare:

  • Return ticket (a must)

The following are what I got from other Filipino traveler websites. For more information I’ve included their links at the bottom of this article.

  • Company ID
  • Certificate of employment or if you’re a student, a student ID
  • Original or photocopy of your passbook or bank certificate
  • ITR (income tax return- just in case)
  • The addresses and numbers of the places you’re staying

Proof of financial funds

  • I have never encountered this in the 20 countries I’ve traveled to. My friend who visited the US wanted to prove he had sufficient funds by “show money” when the US immigration officer stopped him. “You should never show your money,” he warned.

I personally think “show money” is a Filipino or developing country thing. Proof of sufficient funds for other countries usually means a bank certificate or a copy of your passbook to show how much income you have.

2.) I’m a housewife.

I don’t think it’s really a problem if you can show you have sufficient funds in your bank account even if it’s a joint one. You can also show your husband’s employment certificate to prove he is still employed.

3.) I was employed when applied for a US/Schengen/whatever country’s visa and now I’m unemployed. My current plans do not match the one in my visa application form.

Let me tell you something.

The immigration officer on both sides don’t care.

Government bureaucracy is so bloated that I don’t think consulates share your information to the immigration officer unless requested. As long as you’re returning to your native country and you’re not planning to do anything illegal, they’ll let you in.

My current itinerary certainly did not match the one in my Schengen visa application. Plans change. I didn’t get in trouble for that.

In case the officer ask you your occupation, just tell them your old job.

4.) I’m unemployed.

As long as you’re not applying for a visa, it should be easy if you’re going to countries Filipinos can enter visa free (Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, etc).

Prepare the following documents:

  • Proof of sufficient funds (even if it’s a joint account)
  • Your spouse or partner’s certificate of employment
  • Less of a problem if you’ve traveled before or traveling with your husband or with a tour group. Just mention that to the officer.
  • See documents for #1 I’m haven’t traveled before.

5.) I’m a freelancer.

I’m afraid I do not have experience with this or what documents you need to provide. Click on the link below for more detailed instructions on freelancers.

FIRST TIME ABROAD: Tips and Frequently Asked Questions

6.) I’m traveling abroad on a brand new passport. I’ve had a pretty good travel history but it’s all in my old passport. Do I show my old passport too with my new one to the officer?

 Yes.

7.) I’m sponsored by my relative/boyfriend/fiancé.

This is probably the hardest especially if you’re unemployed, single, traveling alone and it’s your first time traveling. If your friend/family member is with you and also single and unemployed, you can share the requirements. He/she must have the same copies or you can go to the IO box together.

Prepare the following:

  • Invitation letter and say he/she is supporting your travels
  • Proof of sufficient funds from your sponsor or the person paying for the trip (copy of passbook or bank certificate)
  • If you have enough money in your bank account, prepare a copy of your passbook or bank certificate
  • A photocopy of his/her credit card, if possible
  • Return ticket (a must)

You’re less suspicious if you travel with someone or are in a package tour.

I have an invitation letter but I can support myself and am planning to pay for my own trip.

Unless they ask where you’ll be staying, there’s no need to show the invitation letter. Just show your proof of sufficient funds.

8.) My boyfriend/friend/sister is traveling with me. Should I ask my sponsor to include them in the invitation letter?

Yes. In the letter, describe your relationship together and you’re traveling with your sister/friend/boyfriend.

9.) I have been offloaded before. Would this affect my chances?

It might but it will not prevent them from keeping you if you have all proper documentation. Show all the necessary paperwork and answer the questions confidently and you might be able to board your flight. This isn’t 100% foolproof because it will depend on your circumstance and your immigration officer.

This has been a comprehensive list. I hope this article has been helpful to my fellow Filipinos. Again, this isn’t 100% fool proof. It is more of a guide to help you.

The most important thing is all will still depend on the immigration officer who interviews you. 

If you haven’t found the answer to your specific immigration dilemma in this guide, check out the resources links below or call the Philippine Bureau of Immigration customer service hotline. They would be your best best bet in addressing your concerns.

Due to my new busy schedule, I found I couldn’t answer the comments in a timely manner. It wouldn’t be fair to the readers so I’ve decided to disable the comments section. If you have a question that can’t be answered in this post, you might find your answer in the comment section. Good luck!

Bureau of Immigration contact number

Bureau of Immigration main office

Good luck and happy traveling!

Read my related post on immigration.

What to Expect at the Border: A Guide to Immigration Interview Questions

Resources Links:

FIRST TIME ABROAD: Tips and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How to Avoid Getting Offloaded

For OFWs: 9 Tips To Avoid Being Offloaded at NAIA

Photo credit:

Immigration booth

Philippine passport

Cebu Pacific

A Year of Change- What Happens After Travel – Part 4

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It was a brightly lit cell measuring a few meters in area. The walls were devoid of any design and color. There was no furniture except for three seats. Covered in slabs of depressing office grey concrete, it was the perfect place for an interrogation.

This was where they cornered me.

The staff started bombarding me that I wasn’t “stepping up” and that they were issuing me a verbal warning, mind you without showing proof of any evidence/documentation. They went about things like primary teachers not like professionals, immediately accusing people without giving them the benefit of the doubt, talking them “down”.  Always believing that like little kids, people lied pettily all the time and don’t have the capabilities to show proof or to fight back. They act like they have all the authority and mediate like a pack of sharks on the scent of blood, abusing people with a metaphorical switch, tone sharp, condescending, eyes narrowed into predatory crocodiles slits, compulsively and pathologically lying to cover their backs because of course, teachers are often right. They have to convince themselves that. They have to believe it because if they don’t, they have nothing. They build shards of lies and invention to live in a glass castle of pure fantasy where they are in complete perfect control, where they do not mess up. Because once they realize the cracks in the glass, they realize it’s all going to crumble. So they hurt people with their lies just to save that castle. They spread these lies to others thereby, poisoning them.  The sad part is they believe in their lies and refuse to hear the truth from others.

I couldn’t stand working with those people.

With a shaking voice, I handed in my one week’s notice. I had carefully looked at my contract and Vietnam’s Labor Law for foreigners and it had said nothing about even giving notice since you are not obliged to if you are in your first probation month. I decided to give one week anyway to settle all my affairs and say goodbye to my students.

One of the staff (the head of High School) hissed, “You can’t give one week. We need a month.”

“The contract –“

“You didn’t sign a contract. You signed an offer letter.”

“Then I’m not bound—“

“Doesn’t matter. A month. It is required of professionalism.”

“It’s a case to case basis. In other countries, it’s two weeks.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he insisted like he was some kind of mafia boss about to knife me. “It is standard in all countries to give a month.”

Lies again. When would they stop spinning? When would they stop?

They were grasping their straws, trying to hold me, pin me down to my “professional integrity.” They were desperate. It was hard to find a good teacher with decent education qualifications in Vietnam. Most were backpackers with a measly TEFL certificate they bought online and magic tricks to entertain kids.

Then it began.

They started spinning more, digging a grave for themselves. They began to say that I should be grateful I got hired in the first place because I was Filipino. That it was hard for Filipinos to find work in Vietnam.

Huh?

I couldn’t believe they started dealing the race card. What? Because of my color and nationality, I couldn’t find a job?!!

WTF?

The coordinator said that the head of staff had gone to a meeting with the Ministry of Education to fight for me, fight for my case.

Bullshit.

I knew for a fact that he went there to cover their asses and put out some serious public relations fire because a kid had drowned in their school. Also, there was only a certain quota of “Asians” they can hire in their school and they had happened to fill it. There was no need to fight.

Another lie again.

Then it got worse from there. They realize they couldn’t stop so might as well run to the finish line. They said I was tainting the Filipino community with my actions, that I was somehow doing a disservice to my countrymen. That because of me, they will not hire a Filipino again.

Just putting all the stops.

What? So I represent the whole Filipino community? I am NOT my community. One Filipino is different from the other. We are not a walking caricature, all encompassing stereotype.

You know what? I bet you won’t say the same thing to a white American, Irish, British, Kiwi, Australian, Canadian in that interrogation room. Any white Anglo Saxon/Caucasian for that matter. “You are doing a disservice to the whole American community with your actions. I’m not going to hire any American because of you.”

This is probably why you were never able to work in the US/UK/Canada what have you because you were blatantly racist and they kicked you out. And you will always be racist, that you love working in Asia where they worship that kind of thing. Where we still do things in your old glory nostalgic years of slavery, colonialism, pre civil rights, of “cleaning” out natives from their rightful lands.  Where it’s acceptable for you to think, “hey, I’m white and you want me. Never mind I am a big racist but you know I’m awesome cuz hey, I’m white.”

All the while this was happening I was speechless. The head of high school was practically foaming in his mouth with all the outright hostile racist comments and lording all over it. He loved harassing me and abusing his position of power.  He stood over me like he was a superior being, a plantation master and I was a servant who had done something wrong. “You know what? Just email the resignation letter whatever. Have your boyfriend write it for you, I don’t care. I bet you can’t even write your own,” he sneered.

He looked down upon me like I was nothing but a mere fly he wanted to swat away. “This is over. I’m so busy you are not even worth my time,” he said. Then he showed me the door.

 

The next day I quit.

 

Now with no job in Vietnam, where was I going to go next? To be continued….

A Year of Change Series

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Photo credit

Do I know Kung-fu? Other Asian Misconceptions in South America and China

“Do you know kung fu?”

It was an innocuous question. The Chilean taxi driver looked at me nervously.

This must be what’s running in his mind.

Asian face = Jet Li protégé = Kung-fu Panda

Never mind, I’m 5’0 and can barely lift a table. In his imagination, I was as skilled as a Shaolin monk and could capture a fly with a snap of my chopsticks.

I told him no.

I’m Filipino. I wasn’t raised in a monastery in Henan province.

But I should’ve said yes. Because he scammed me. What happened was he took me for a 15 minute joyride and I had to pay $10 for what should have been a $5 cab fee.

Times like this, Drunk-Eagle-Monkey-Panda combination would’ve come handy.

The joys of going to a country that doesn’t know much about other cultures. A country where I can count with one hand how many Asians I see in a day.

See, I’ve been bowed at by Chileans here. I’m not Japanese.

Yelled at, “Viva China!” I’m not Chinese.

Greeted, “Anyonghaseyo!” I’m not Korean.

 

The other strange thing was that some Chileans have asked me if I’m either from Peru or Brazil. That’s a first. I thought I blended in before I realized those were the two biggest South American countries that receive an influx of Asian invasion immigration.

 my friend Cade, demonstrating his “Asian-ness”

In China, I’m often mistaken as Chinese. Fair enough. But when the Chinese start probing where I’m from, it takes them awhile.

First we go through East Asia. Japanese, Korean.

Then my accent. American. Canadian.

And then finally we go through Southeast Asia. Bingo! Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore…..

Then we finally hit the sweet jackpot. Philippines.

And trust the Chinese to ask me, “So how come you’re not black?”

*Slaps forehead*

It’s not racist. It’s just that most Filipinos have a nice bronze color whereas I’m as yellow as a banana. This is the part where I explain I’m half Chinese and half Filipino.

Mixed blood is not a common concept among isolated Chinese whose society largely remains purist Han.

Hence the blank stares from my answer.

Mr Park demonstrating ‘Korean Pride’ in a Mexican restaurant in Chile. Walking down the streets, he’d yell, “I’m Koreano!” to the amusement of the Chileans. Yes, that’s PSY on the flat screen. 

 

I’ve noticed everywhere I go people are often confused and they can’t place me. That makes them scared. Because there is something out there that sticks out in their ordinary world. I’m that splash of orange on Mona Lisa’s face.

But that’s the fun part.

In class, one American girl asked me, “I’m quite confused. So you have worked in China and have traveled to all these Asian countries. You speak excellent English. Are you Mexican?”

Well, there’s always a first. 😀

Photos courtesy  of Wikipedia, China.org.cn