Traveling outside the Philippines for the first time? You might be very excited but I bet you’re a little anxious, too! There might be a lot of questions brewing in your head right now so here’s a little something to shed light on some of the things you need to know before your trip. (These tips are for Filipino travelers only.)
Every country has its own Immigration rules. Some require visas from Filipino visitors, others don’t. Some have stricter rules, others don’t. It is important that you know these rules and requirements before your flight.
But here are some frequently asked questions that I thought I could answer. Again, I’m only relying on personal experience and some knowledge that I gained in my years of working in the airline industry. Some of these might already be outdated but I’ll try my best to keep them current.
What are the processes at the airport?
The usual process is this:
- Pay the Travel Tax. IDEALLY, the travel tax and departure fee are already included when you book your ticket, so please check your ticket. But there are times when it isn’t the case. If not sure, check-in first. The check-in agent will tell you if you still need to settle the tax. At NAIA Terminal 3, the travel tax counters should be on your far right when you’re facing the check-in counters. It’s P1,620 per person.
- Check in! Present the Departure Card together with the Travel Tax receipt, printed ticket and passport to the check-in agent. The Agent will give you your boarding pass.
- Fill out a copy of Immigration Form (aka Departure Card). You will get it at the Check-in Counter. Note that you will need to indicate your address abroad (address of the hotel or the friend you’re visiting).
- Proceed to the Immigration Booths. They will be asking questions like: How long will you be staying abroad? What are you going to do there? What’s your occupation? Where will you stay? The key is to convince them that you’re going there to tour and not to find work. When they’re satisfied, they will put a stamp on your passport.
- Final security check. Remove all gadgets and metal items (including belts and coins) from your body. Remove your shoes only when instructed.
That’s about it. It’s a long process and it involves a lot of queueing so make sure you’re at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight.
How early should I be at the airport?
At least 2 hours before your scheduled departure.
I personally like showing up at the airport 3-4 hours earlier just in case something untoward happens. I once lost my old passport and visa at the airport on two different occasions (yeah, I was careless, haha), but good thing I had enough time to search. Also, I like staying at airports. Hehe.
What are the things that I should bring to the airport?
I made a short checklist here. You might want to check it out.
What can I do to make sure I won’t be offloaded by the Immigration?
The Bureau of Immigration has been implementing stricter rules lately. According to the bureau, every day around 40 people are offloaded at NAIA Terminal 1 alone. Three to four in every 50 of these offloaded passengers actually have legitimate reasons to go abroad. You don’t want to be one of them.
If you want to make sure you won’t be offloaded, you need to follow the guidelines released to Immigration Officers by the bureau. A 2012 memorandum enumerates what the officers must require from departing passengers:
- Visa (if applicable)
- Filled out departure card
- Roundtrip ticket
They usually also ask for your company ID. Then, if they deem necessary, you will be assessed based on the following criteria:
- Educational attainment
- Financial capability to travel
What does the last item mean? Well, in a nutshell, tourists with no steady source of income in the Philippines and no benefactors who appear to have a different reason for traveling other than for leisure are more likely to be offloaded. So if in case you are subjected to a secondary inspection, you would want to have the following with you:
- If you’re an employee, Certificate of Employment (best if it indicates your salary and how long you have been with the company)
- If you’re self-employed, a copy of your Business Registration Certificate
- If you’re a freelancer, you should still have an ITR. If your clients pay it for you, you may ask for a copy from the client. You may also ask your client to produce a document that would certify that they have hired you and the details of the project/contract.
I always have a copy of both my ITR and a “Certificate of Employment” from my clients to be safe.
For more info about this, check out: How to Avoid Getting Offloaded
Should I present all these documents at the Immigration booth?
No. Again, most of the time, the Officer will only ask for the following:
- Passport (with visa, if applicable)
- Accomplished departure card
- Round-trip ticket
- Company ID
Don’t present other documents when they don’t ask for them. All the other documents are more like safety nets IN CASE you need to prove you’re employed.
Just answer their questions confidently.
Do I need to have a hotel reservation before my flight?
It is BEST to always book accommodations first before your flight. You will be required to indicate the address of your hotel on your departure and arrival cards, and Immigration officers on both sides sometimes ask for hotel documents. Even when I’m backpacking across more than one country, I usually make sure I have booked accommodations on at least my first night in the next country I’m visiting. Again, you could go there without prior reservations but if you want to avoid the hassle of getting asked too many questions and the stress that comes with it, better book in advance.
I’ll be staying at a friend’s house, do I need an invitation letter?
If you could produce one, go ahead. They might just ask for it if they deem necessary. You will be asked to indicate your “address abroad” so make sure you have that. To be on the safe side, be sure you have your friend’s contact number, too.
Is there a show money? How much do I need to have for them to let me through?
I have never been asked to show money, but I know people who have been. I have been asked many times how much money I have with me, though, but never to show it.
My pocket money depends on the destination country. Some are more expensive than others. For example, the cost of living in Singapore is definitely higher than in Thailand. In countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, I usually bring USD400 for a 4-day trip, USD500 for a week-long trip. But that’s way more than I actually spend. In cheaper countries like Cambodia and Thailand, I allot USD50 per day. Again, that has a big allowance.
I also bring a credit card, just in case.
Where should I exchange currencies? Is it best to exchange in the Philippines before the trip?
It depends on the country I’m visiting. In countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, where the PH peso is not widely accepted in banks/money changers, I usually exchange my pesos with US dollars here in the Philippines before the trip.
In countries like Singapore and Hong Kong where the PHP is widely accepted, I exchange directly when I’m already there. At the airport, I usually exchange a small amount, just enough to get me to my hotel. But when the airport rate isn’t that bad or the difference is very little, I exchange more. Sometimes, what you lose in the conversion might even be smaller than the money you’re gonna spend to get to a better money changer.
Based on experience, however, the best way to acquire foreign currencies is still through ATM withdrawal. Some banks collect transaction fees, some don’t. So if you’re setting up a travel account, choose your bank wisely.
Further reading: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Traveling
Should I bring an ID?
Your passport is a valid ID. But Immigration Officers in the Philippines have started to ask for company ID to validate the occupation you indicated on your departure card.
I’m a freelancer so I don’t have a company ID. What is a good alternative?
When I was a freelancer, I didn’t have a company ID either. I would usually tell them that I was a consultant. I always had a copy of an Employment Certificate (which I got from my clients) and a copy of my ITR handy. I never had any problems with it ever.
Now that I am a registered sole proprietor, I also bring a copy of my business registration documents although I have never been asked for a copy of it.
Well, that’s all I can think of now. I’ll be adding more to this when I encounter other questions so keep them coming. Again, these are just my personal preferences based on experience. For more accurate and detailed answers, always check with your carrier for airline-related concerns and the embassy of the country you’re visiting for immigration requirements and policies.