First Time Abroad: Tips and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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.

An AirAsia Aircraft at Clark Airport --- tongue-twister! Try nyo!
An AirAsia Aircraft at Clark Airport — tongue-twister! Try nyo!

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 Some of these might already be outdated but I’ll try my best to keep them current.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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

SEARCH FOR DEALS!

 

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:

  1. Passport
  2. Visa (if applicable)
  3. Filled out departure card
  4. Roundtrip ticket

They usually also ask for your company ID. Then, if they deem necessary, you will be assessed based on the following criteria:

  1. Age
  2. Educational attainment
  3. 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.


     

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  • You’re blog is really a must read for travelers locally or going abroad. Keep it up you’re providing great service to us , god bless

    • The Poor Traveler

      Thanks Serafin! I’ll continue writing tips and guides! 🙂

  • Vi

    Hi there! Thanks for this very informative post. I’d like to ask of it’s necessary to have medical exam certificates if you’re going out as a tourist? And also, how much money should I bring for a two-week trip around South East Asia? I’m looking at $600 since Im not a big spender and all hotels have been booked already. Do you think it’s enough? Thanks in advance 🙂

    • The Poor Traveler

      Hi Vi! Yes, I think that’s enough. Just don’t drink too much, haha. Beer is not as cheap as what we have here in PH.

      If you’re SEAsia-bound, there’s no need for medical certificates. 🙂

      • Vi

        Thank you! I don’t drink anyways. hehe

  • Jigz

    yup same question here, me and my cousin are going to travel to Thailand by october and we want to start at Clark airport.. are the Immigration Officers there are strict? and is there a chance for us to offload? It’s gonna infuriating if it happen,, please tell Thanks .me what to say and do at the Immigration..

    • The Poor Traveler

      Hi Jigz, there’s always that chance since most airlines today overbook. You might want to check in early or use web check-in to secure seats. As for the immigration, just follow the tips above and you’ll be fine as long as you’re not doing anything illegal.

  • Esse

    Hello po, my trip is near na this aug 21 which I availed as piso fair promo last year bound for vietnam but will also cross boarders thru cambodia and thailand. Sept. 5 po yund date ng return ticket. Currently my source of income is my online job with a net salary of 23k/month. Allowable po ba yun as employment proof? I booked the ticket nung nagwowork pa ako as a guidance counselor (but only one semester).

    My documents are:

    Passport
    Complete tickets
    Hotel bookings
    Bank Statement (can provide for individual (70k), and joint accounts with my name and my grandmother’s name(six figures)
    Paypal Statements
    Can also ask for previous employment certificate
    I have 3 debit cards, but will bring only 1.

    kung kayo po yung IO okay na ba sa inyo? I’m really nervous po. :< thanks in advance!

  • dd

    very informative.. thank you.

    what are the other fees in NAIA 4 going to Kuala lumpur? flying via zest air..

    if they need a hardcopy of hotel booking, is it ok for me to print the invoice from the hostel and the paypal receipt?

    • The hotel invoice will do.

      No other fees except the Travel Tax and Departure Fee

  • Sierra

    Question! First time kaming magttravel ng mama ko abroad (Korea), and question ko is dun sa immigration. Since 2 kami, anu yun iinterviewhin kaming dalawa? or individual interview?

    • Hi! Sa Philippine Immigration, most likely sabay na kayo kasi family kayo. But I have no idea sa Korea. 😀

  • Grace

    Hi! You might want to add that in Brunei, they collect tax at the airport when you get out of the country. We had the unfortunate experience of having no Brunei dollars anymore when we were about to go home (and there were seven of us!). Good thing was that I had a friend who saw us off and lent us the Brunei dollars. I forgot how much it was, but it’s a good thing to keep a few dollars on hand. 😉

    So far, that’s the only country I’ve been to where you have to pay something at the airport as you go home. 🙂

    I also have a little (dirty) secret. One time, I got a lot of those departure forms at the airport and brought them home, so that whenever I have to go out of the country, I fill them up at home and I don’t have to stand at the airport, filling out these forms. Sneaky…ha ha ha!

    Thanks for this very informative blog, by the way! Will go around more when I have the time. 🙂

    Grace
    kumarenggrace.wordpress.com

  • Mary D.

    Hi! I just want to thank you. Your blog helped a lot in my travel to Cambodia last Sept. 🙂

  • Jr

    Hi magtravel kami ng bf ko sa SG sa monday.. Do i need to bring b our family business permits? Kasi firstt ime namin baka maoffload kami thanks

  • Finne

    A tip to those travelling abroad, who dread the immigration officers: Dress like you have money and be assertive.

  • disqus_UNubETLDE4

    Let me just add that government employees even those with GOCC’s need to have a letter of authority from their superiors if they are travelling abroad. Our travel companion before who happens to be a rank and file employee was asked by the Immigration officer to produce such letter. Being a first time traveler abroad he did not know then that such a ruling exists. Good thing was that our supposed flight was during office hours and he phoned in his superior to send in a fax indicating such letter of authority.

    • yoshke

      Hi! Thanks for sharing this crucial bit! Will add your input soon! 🙂

    • Nicolai Rivera

      OMG!!! ETO YUNG MATAGAL KO NANG HINAHANAP NA SAGOT SA KATANUNGAN KOOO. WEW.. Thank youuuu. Kahit mejo late na tong reply ko. Haha

    • jeralyn malazarte

      pwede ba na authorization letter lang signed by the department head/ director at hindi ng agency head?? Late ko na kasi nalaman na needed at matagal iprocees ang travel authority kaya baka di lumabas bago ang flight ko.. Iaaccept kaya nila ung authorization letter?? Supported naman sya ng leave form approved din ng director namin??

  • Zia

    Hi! My best friend and I are planning a trip to Thailand she’s based in gold coast so we’ll just meet there and she’ll be the one to book our hotel accommodation. If immigration asks for printed receipts for our hotel booking will it be okay if it’s under her name? or do I need to book at least 2 days of hotel accommodation under my name as well?

    • yoshke

      Based on my experience (again, just my experience), it doesn’t have to be under your name. Also, keep the phone number of your friend handy in case they want to confirm.

  • sam

    I was browsing the internet looking for requirements to travel abroad and came across your blog. Eventhough I’m a frequent traveler, I have fears that immigration will decide not to let me depart to my location. Especially now that I heard that they stricter.

    Luckily, I haven’t experienced an IO asking for requirements other than Passport and the departure card at NAIA. They usually just look at you and stamp the passport. Sometimes they ask when you are coming back.

  • nyje

    hi . ask ko lang .. kasi i have 2 ticket na to SG ung isa para sa bf ko ung isa ay sa akin the problem is.. ung bf ko .di na makaksama kasi ung passport nya di pa namen makuha within the time of our departure .. kasi this april 22 na dfa advised him na sa april 29 pa makukuha ang passport… may hotel booking na din kasi kame.. so my boyfriend decided na ipagamit nalang sa bestfriend ko ung ticket nya.. so magchange name nalng hndi na kame super mapapamahal.. but my bestfriend and i are 21 years old.. we will go to sg for 2 nights and 3 days do you think the immigration will allow us to leave? anong documents ang need ko ipakita sa kanila?

  • maureen

    hello there…
    were going to clark airport by 26May via hkg and we are traveling by a group / composed of 15 pax including my sons aged 15 & 17; unfortunately my eldest son’s passport is still under my maiden name since i am not married by then — we just applied a deed of legitimacy however DFA did not honor that; school records, school ID, baptismal cert and student permit license is under my husband’s last name…if immigration authorities will ask for another ID like school ID for minors? or if the passport is valid then? thank you…

    • Hi Maureen! I wish I could answer your question, but I have no idea either. Have you tried asking DFA regarding this? They will give you a definitive answer for sure. 🙂

  • meilyn

    I actually bought a ticket for Cebu to Singapore and going back, but aside from a valid passport I didn’t know that they would ask for more documents. I am going there for a 3 days and 2 nights vacation with my 3 years japanese boyfriend ( he is not living in SG we will go there for a vacation) but he will arrived in Singapore the day before me since he is in japan right now, which means I will travel alone and more to that I am a first time traveler. As of the moment I don’t have a job and a credit card as well. My boyfriend will be covering the expenses for the hotel and food. Right now I’m scared to be off loaded… I hope someone can give me advice on what I should do.

    • carrisse

      Hi, I plan to go to sg also to be wit my bf, I wonder if I need to have cfo. . Nakalusot kb sa in?

  • carrise

    Hi, I’m a first time flyer and plan to go to sg, I’m afraid if the is will let me pass if I tell them the truth that il stay at my bf ‘ s house in Singapore. . Il go to sg to meet my bf’ s family. . Do I need a cfo? My bf is a singaporean national..what documents I need to pass through io?

  • Patrick

    Wow this is very informative

    Anyways i would like to share with you my “flawless” experience with the IO

    I travelled to Bangkok last week and and was my first time traveling and alone outside the PH. Beforehand i do research on how’s the Immigration process here and i would say it was really quite frightening since there are legit travelers who have been offloaded on the airport

    To cut the long story short, i was looking on all the IOs on the floor and have a look on whom i think was easiest i could pass. I queue on this middle aged lady because her face is somewhat kind. 🙂

    And yeah i am right she just asked me few questions like:

    First time mo?
    Bakit ikaw lang mag isa?
    San ka nagwowork at ano work mo?
    Kelan balik mo dito?

    I even insisted on handing her my return ticket and accomodation but told me my answers are enough then stamped my passport and let me in

    Oh diba naka chamba lang ako mg mabait na IO since yung katabi nyang IO eh mukhang maldita, though pretty since lahing koreana pero di sya yung pinuntahan ko kasi meron syang ni reject

    • jc

      hi! is this also possible when you are going to hk? i am a solo traveller as well. i am really afraid to io since i read dreadful things about them.

    • Roselle Espiritu Rebelala

      may work ka po ba nung nagtravel ka.]
      San ka nagwowork at ano work mo?
      ano po sagot nyo jan

  • reneboy lamata

    hi flight ko po this coming feb 1 going to hong kong, i am a boutique manager po and i already have my company i.d need ko pa po ba mag present nang ITR or hindi na po?

    thanks

  • Jean Mendoza Santos

    Hi sir! Very informative blog 🙂 Sir do you have any idea what documents are needed to show to the IO if you’re working in the local government unit as an employee? thank you and God bless!

  • monic

    Hi, this blog is very helpful. I just wanna ask your oppinions, i am going to tour for five days this holly week to SG, my british bf is waitingfor me there, he fixed everything i need. For now i have my passport, roundtrip eticket, hotel reservation,company id(i am a minimum and contractual employee), i also have a copy of his passport and the credit card he used.

    Is this enough for the immigration officer? What are the possible questions they may ask? Thank you!

    • ilmgp

      How was it Moniq? Any advice? Thanks

  • Ace

    kinakabahan ako kasi for the first time pupunta akong abroad at the age of 20 para mag tour, student pa lang po ako and currently taking BSBA, tips naman po para sa mga young traveller para sa pagharap sa IO

  • Lee

    My bf is working in macau right now and I’m planning to go there to visit him just only me coz we already have 2 kids and they’re too young to go there and his the only source of our income so what should I present to the IO sakaling matuloy ako

    • Janice Madamba

      hi lee! nasa macau rin common-law husband ko, roundtrip ticket and invitation letter will do. 🙂

  • Samantha

    Hi. mag travel po kami ng bf this aug sa hk. the problem is yung bf ko po works for their family business wala po siyang ma poprovide na company i.d sa immigration. Ano po kaya pwede namin gawin or ipresent nalang sa IOs. Thank you. 🙂

  • arceli

    Hi ask ko lng po ,plan po naming mag vacation sa thailand with my foreigner boyfriend for 30 days , ano po ba ang dapat kung dalhin na requarmints

  • Gamerabii

    After reading the article and doing some research, my fear for the IO increased. It will be my first time travelling abroad and the last thing I want is to be offloaded. I just hope for a smooth departure.

    • ilmgp

      Hi Gamerabii 🙂 What happened to your trip? Any tips? Questions asked?

  • lizab

    hi, ask ko lang po if 2nd time mo ng mgtravel abroad hindi naba ganon kahigpit ang IO, they will let me pass na ba even i dont have an invitation letter. thanks

  • Marvie Fernandez

    hello .. what if for student like me . what questions are they asking . thanks :))

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  • Some information in your blog is wrong. Airport taxes are now incorporated in the ticket prices for most airlines. OFWs can get a refund.

    No need to pay taxes at the airport any longer; unless this was not inluded in the airfare.

    Other countries do not collect airport taxes because they may also be already incorporated into the airfare. Take note that in Indonesia they still collect taxes at the airport.

  • Ma. Jessica Taleon

    Thank for this informative blog!

  • Racquel Caballa

    Hi everyone….I’m upcoming student modular class ,class start on August….my question are what I gonna write at immigration departure form (occupation /work).I don’t have work.should I write student but I don’t have I’d…I only have enrolment cert.anyone pls tnx

    • Student. Show your enrolment certificate if they ask for it. 🙂

  • John Mark Grancapal

    Please help. I’m a freelancer, me and my wife are first timers going to Singapore. I don’t have ITR. But she have a business, so she can bring Business Registration Certificate. Is that enough for both of us?

  • Tina Carpio

    hi what if I have a sister in Japan who invited me to go there and she will be the one who will provide all the expenses and i have a japanesse guarantor, what are the papers should i give to the immigration?

  • Miriam

    Hi! Thank you for your informative blog. Just like to ask, me and my boyfriend will be celebrating our anniversary in hongkong. I have no problem on my side because I have work and it is not my first time to travel. However my problem is with my boyfriend. His last day of work is this month, December 2016, and he will be jobless at the time we will be leaving the country, also, this is his first time to travel. We will be staying with her sister in hongkong. What are the documents that we need to provide and what should we say for them to allow us to leave the country?

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