Philippine Tourist VISA
There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding and confusion surrounding tourist visas in the Philippines. I have heard a lot of expats telling different stories about their experiences and the information they’ve been given regarding their visas. It’s actually quite a simple process, and not too expensive if you go to the right places.
Photo by Scott M.Allford
For most foreigners entry into the Philippines is simple. You will receive a 21 day tourist visa upon arrival. There are some countries which do require visas before entering though. Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia, and many African nations are just a few. For those nationalities who receive the 21 day visa upon entry you must also have a ticket to a destination outside of the Philippines when you arrive. This is not always checked at immigration, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
For a lot of people who just want to visit Boracay and maybe jump over to Bohol to see the Chocolate Hills or head down to Palawan, 21 days is enough. However, for those who really want to travel this amazingly beautiful and culturally diverse country, a longer stay is needed. An American friend of mine travelled to the Philippines last year and thought that since this is such as small country, in comparison to the States, he would be able to see most of it in 2 weeks. He went up into the Cordillera and spent a little bit of time in Manila and that was all. He didn’t even make it to the beach or leave Luzon Island.
On a tourist visa you can extend for up to 1 year before you have to leave the country. After the initial 21 day stay you renew for a further 38 days. From then on you renew your visa every 2 months for a period of 1 year. After the year you have to leave the country for a few days and then come back and start the whole process again. If you are leaving the country at the end of 1 year the cheapest destination is Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. Air Asia flies to KK from Clark Airport. Alternatively you can make the more expensive trip to Hong Kong.
If you have been in the Philippines for less than 6 months you can just leave when you’re ready. Yet if you have stayed for more than 6 months you will have to get exit clearance to leave the country. This is just to check you haven’t been doing bad things during your stay here.
Renewing your visa can be easy or stressful depending on how you go about it. A lot of people make the trip out to Magallanes Drive in Intramuros and wait in line for hours on end at the Bureau of Immigration. This can be quite stressful, especially if you are organising an ACR-I Card as this is in another building 5 minutes walk away. This is how I got my first Philippine tourist visa extension. In the pouring rain, on a humid day, the whole process took 3-4 hours. To receive the ACR-I Card you are meant to come back and pick it up a week later. A trick is to get some food or something nice for those lovely ladies at the Bureau of Immigration and suddenly you have your ACR-I Card and don’t have to wait a week to get it. However, after this experience, I don’t want to go back to the Bureau of Immigration and I don’t have to. Travel agencies usually organise tourist visa extensions. So all you have to do is drop off your passport and pay the fee plus their service charge and then come back and pick up your passport when it’s ready. The fees charged by travel agencies and the time it takes for you to get your passport back will differ from place to place. I went to a couple of places in the north of Makati, around Burgos Street. One Korean travel agency charged over 4,000 pesos per extension and took 2 weeks to get my passport back to me. A Japanese run Travel agency was slightly cheaper and took about a week to get my passport back to me. I have also found out that that travel agency is about a 2 minute walk from a lesser known immigration office.
On Buendia in the Department of Trade and Industry building near the corner of Paseo de Roxas in Makati there is a small Bureau of Immigration office. When you walk in the front door go straight and there will be a little corridor on your right with a small wooden sign saying Bureau of Immigration. This is actually the office that travel agencies send their people to. There are hardly any people at this office and everyone you need to speak to is right there. The longest I spent at this office was 2 hours (due to everyone going on their lunch break) and one of my friends got his extension sorted out in 30 minutes.
I would like to post the visa extension prices here, but they seem to change from month to month. Just be prepared to spend around 5,000 pesos for a two month extension and you should be ok. It is about 1,000 pesos for an ACR I-Card and Exit Clearance is about 500 pesos. Hopefully this clears up some of the confusion when it comes to staying as a tourist in the Philippines. Once you get the immigration requirements out of the way you can get on with seeing the sights and meeting the people in this great country.
Scott M. Allford has lived and worked in Australia and South Korea and has travelled extensively throughout Asia- Mongolia, China, Tibet, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and Japan – fell in love with the Philippines and decided to allocate at least two years to comprehensively cover the country.
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