For Filipinos wishing to travel to other countries, getting through immigration can be difficult. It’s also hard to find reliable information on exactly what the immigration requirements are for Filipinos wishing to travel. Despite planning our trip well in advance, we still faced a nightmare trying to get through immigration at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Therefore, everyone should be aware of the immigration requirements for Filipinos.
I’ll share what we learned about the immigration process, and general advice so that other travelers won’t face any issues.
Our Nightmare with NAIA Immigration
We arrived at NAIA three hours before our flight, as recommended by the airline. We paid the travel tax required for Filipinos of PHP1620, and waited in line for our tickets. The line moved very slowly, but by the time we reached immigration we still had an hour remaining before our departure. As a foreign national, I was able to breeze through immigration with no problems.
Unfortunately, the immigration line for Filipinos was extremely slow. I was forced to wait for my girlfriend while she passed through immigration. But sub par efficiency wasn’t the worst part. Once she reached the immigration officer, our real problems started.
The officer began questioning the seriousness and length of our relationship, acting in a very patronizing way. My girlfriend felt that the immigration officer was intentionally trying to embarrass her. After publicly berating her, the officer had us go into the interview room. At this point, we only had 20 or 30 minutes left before our flight boarding time.
When we arrived at the interview office, we filled out many forms. With minutes to go before our flight departed, we were forced to wait a long time before they called us. It was frustrating seeing no urgency from the officers’ part.
Missing our Flight
Despite researching as much we could and abiding by all instructions we were aware of, we missed our flight. The officer said my girlfriend needed a confirmed return ticket to the Philippines, so she couldn’t depart.
We explained we’d be going on a long journey to many countries. To book a return ticket months in advance would have been impractical. But, it appears this is an absolute requirement, even though we were never made aware of that requirement until the last minute. I tried booking a return flight, but prices were astronomical. We gave up on reaching our flight while we planned what to do next.
At that point, my tourist visa was only days away from expiration, and all the flights out the next few days were extremely overpriced because it was only days in advance. We didn’t have a place to stay that night, and I was forced to make a last minute booking on Airbnb while my phone’s battery was almost empty. If I hadn’t paid for a local data package for my phone to make all that possible, I don’t know what we would have done.
In the end, our horrible immigration experience cost us an extra $350 in flight rebooking, return ticket fees, and finding a last minute hotel. We missed at least a day of the booking we already had in our destination, and had to adjust our travel plans. It is an experience we hope to never repeat, and I hope everyone reading this will avoid the same fate.
Why does Immigration treat Filipinos so harshly?
After going through such a bad experience with Filipino immigration, I was puzzled why they treat their own citizens so harshly when they travel abroad. Officially, they are trying to root out human trafficking, and prevent the kidnapping of their citizens who travel overseas. While I can understand having strict requirements to prevent such a serious issue, I fail to see how the existing policies provide any protections or justify the behavior of the officials we encountered.
We provided ample proof of the seriousness of our relationship, and I carried printouts showing my financial security and lack of criminal record. The Immigration officer never asked for either before attempting to humiliate my companion.
After talking with others who’ve lived in the Philippines and traveled often, we got a few more opinions. Most people we talked to believe the real reason immigration is so strict with Filipinos, is they don’t want them traveling abroad where they might stay permanently. There aren’t many employment opportunities for Filipinos locally, so living in other countries is an attractive idea for some. Of course, having strict immigration requirements justifies having a bloated bureaucracy, and the exorbitant travel tax helps to enrich those near the top of the hierarchy. We recently returned from our long journey abroad, establishing that the harassment we were subjected to was misplaced.
While traveling in the Visayas, we met a Bureau of Immigration Officer who informed us that many of the policies in place are effective at preventing human trafficking and illegal employment of Filipinos abroad. I also want to be clear that I fully support all reasonable measures to protect the safety and security of Filipino travelers.
After hearing of our experience, the officer we met did suggest that the other officer we encountered acted unprofessionally. There may be considerable differences in a traveler’s experience depending on the immigration officer they encounter.
Moving on, let’s get down to what the requirements are for Filipino travelers and their companions. Let’s discuss what you can do to ensure that your travel plans progress smoothly.
Immigration Requirements for Filipinos traveling outside the Philippines
The minimum official requirements for Filipinos traveling outside the country are:
- A ticket to their destination country
- Proof of a hotel or other booking at their destination
- A confirmed booking for a return ticket to the Philippines
- A filled out departure card (provided by the airline when getting your tickets)
- A departure tax receipt (Cost: PHP1620)
Even though these are the official requirements, you may still be denied departure by immigration despite meeting all of the above. Please note, there is no guarantee that this list is 100% accurate, and it may be subject to change, as immigration polices often do. Here are some additional recommendations for increasing your chances of making it through immigration:
- Have proof of financial capability for the Filipino traveler. A bank certificate showing PHP30000 was enough for us, but it may vary for others.
- If the Filipino is traveling outside the country for the first time, it’s recommended that they have a travel companion.
- If the airline tickets and hotel bookings were not booked by the Filipino national (such as with us), be prepared to provide information that establishes the relationship, character, and financial capability of the person who paid for the itinerary. That may include pictures of you together, online conversations between the two of you, bank statements, etc. Immigration may even ask to see the credit card used for booking.
- A signed certificate of employment from the employer of the Filipino, establishing the Filipino as currently employed in the Philippines.
- Additionally, a letter of absence or leave from the same company.
- Photo ID associated with the company of employment, if available.
- Try to establish as many ties to the Philippines that would lower your chances of leaving the country permanently. That could mean proof of real estate, assets, bank accounts, family ties, etc.
What to do the day of your Flight
Unfortunately, the airline ticket and baggage drop services at NAIA move very slowly, and waiting to get your ticket may take a long time. To avoid that, the trick is to be as close to the front of the line as possible. Try to arrive at the airport more than 3 hours before your flight. At NAIA, the front desks for different airlines will change throughout the day. The airline front desks often do not open until 3 hours before the flight is scheduled to depart.
You can ask an airport employee where your airline’s front desk will be when they open, and you can wait there so you’ll be near the front of the line when the airline desk opens. I would begin standing near the entrance to the ticket line at least 15 minutes before the front desks open. Prior to waiting in line, pay for your departure tax and get your receipt. By being near the front of the line, you can save another hour of waiting in line. You might need that extra time if you’re forced to deal with immigration.
Choose your line based on the Officer
After getting your airline ticket, fill out your departure card and head to immigration. Make sure you meet all of the minimum requirements, and as many of the additional requirements listed above. When choosing which line to wait in for immigration, always choose the one where the immigration officer looks most friendly. Because immigration officers have such wide authority on who they let through, it’s critical to choose the right one.
People we’ve talked to said they’ve had bad experiences with a certain middle-aged, overweight female immigration officer. They matched the description of the problem immigration officer we experienced exactly, so it may be the same woman. It was recommended to avoid getting in the line for that officer if possible, especially if the traveler is an attractive woman. It may be favorable to look for a line with an immigration officer who appears friendly and approachable.
When Traveling with a Companion
If a Filipino is traveling together with a foreign national, they should wait just outside the immigration booth after their passport is stamped for departure. The line for Filipino nationals usually takes longer, and the foreign national should be nearby if the immigration needs to ask any questions about the status of your relationship and character.
You may now be asked to enter the interview office. Fill out all the required forms, and have all of your documentation ready to present to the immigration officers. For the cash on hand, it’s recommended that the traveler not take more than PHP10000 with them, or they may be subject to additional requirements or taxes. For us, writing PHP2000 for cash on hand, and PHP30000 for additional financial means on the form were enough.
After going through all of that, hopefully you should be able to make it through immigration, and can proceed to security. It was enough for us to depart, and enjoy our time traveling through Asia together. We wish you the best of luck on your travels!