Anti-Offloading Tips from an Immigration Officer

Anti-Offloading Tips from an Immigration Officer | SGMT —
Plus guidance straight from the Bureau of Immigration and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).


I recently had the chance to put a few questions to an Immigration officer and he kindly agreed to give me a few tips for travelers who might be nervous about getting offloaded. (I promised him I would keep his identity confidential, even though he didn’t really require this as a condition to answering my questions, and I also assured him he didn’t have to reveal any “trade secrets” from the Bureau of Immigration.) Please take note that these tips are for legit tourists, particularly first time travelers who might understandably be worried about the possibility of being offloaded. If you’re reading this so you can find out how to fool the Immigration officer at NAIA, I urge you to please, please reconsider your plans. You may have good intentions — maybe you just want to work so you can send your kids to school and get your family out of poverty — but the risks can be very high. It might be your family who will end up having to sell everything to save you, so please think about it.

Required Documents: The Basics

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First of all, if you haven’t read “Pinoy Abroad: List of Documents Required by Immigration for International Travel” please do so right now. (The link will open in a separate tab so you don’t have to leave this page.) That article will give you a list of documents you have to bring when you travel — the basic requirements, the additional documents that may be required if the Immigration officer has doubts about you, the requirements if someone else is paying for your trip, and the list of people who need a DSWD travel clearance or a Travel Authority. If you want to be really prepared — to the point of being over-prepared sometimes — you’ll find even more tips here: “Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs.”
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An Immigration Officer’s Tips

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Here’s the gist of what the immigration officer said when I asked him for tips for first time travelers:
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Pinoy Abroad: List of Documents Required by Immigration for International Travel

SGMT | List of Documents Required by Immigration — 
In 2014, I wrote a post titled “What Filipinos Need to Know About Traveling Abroad: Guidelines from the Bureau of Immigration” and since then, I’ve had a lot of people writing to me and asking for advice on how to “pass” the Immigration screening. Two years have gone by since that article first came out so I thought I’d create this updated list of documents that travelers may be required to show at the Immigration counter.
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What documents are required for ALL Filipinos who are traveling abroad as tourists?
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  1. Passport issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) – must be unexpired with at least 6 months remaining validity*
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  2. Visa – if required at the final destination
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  3. Return ticket

*I emailed Immigration some time ago and they verified that the passport must be valid for 6 months from the date of departure.

The visa must be unexpired.

You must have a ticket for your flight back to the Philippines. A few people have asked if return tickets are still needed if, for example, they plan to go backpacking around Southeast Asia and don’t want to set their schedule in stone. I asked an Immigration officer about this and, yes, you still need a return ticket. This is because the country you are heading to — and most other countries — will almost certainly require tourists to present a return/onward ticket upon arrival, as proof that you don’t intend to stay in their country illegally or for longer than you’re permitted. Without a return/onward ticket, you could be sent back to the Philippines.

  • If you really intend to go on a trip without making specific plans for return, I suggest you set an estimated date of return and: (a) buy a ticket back to the Philippines from a budget airline, so it won’t hurt your pocket too much if you decide not to use it, OR (b) buy a ticket from an airline that will let you change travel dates. This strategy might cost you a bit more but that’s better than being sent back — prudence is cheaper than regret.
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Do it.

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Rappler offloading article screenshot

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An article I wrote for Rappler about how to minimize one’s chances of being offloaded by the Bureau of Immigration was published just yesterday and I think it’s worth bringing up a few points:

  • I think we can all agree that the system at the Bureau of Immigration needs improvement. As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m no fan of the Immigration people and their profiling methods. As a 5’1″ brown-skinned girl with a relatively high-risk profession, I’ve had my share of raised eyebrows and skeptical tones, and that pisses me off. I hate that you have to prove your innocence instead of them having to prove your guilt. I can rant with the best of ’em, but I choose not to, for the simple reason that it usually doesn’t help. Change the system, yes, by all means! No one is stopping you. But I refuse to be uselessly negative; change is unlikely to be brought about by people rabidly spewing inane analogies and shortsighted generalities from the comforts of their keyboards.
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  • There are a lot of issues here than just the right to travel. Even in the event that someone manages to weed out all the corrupt Immigration officials, there is still human trafficking, drug trafficking, and poverty to contend with. There’s no denying that a lot of people do go abroad with less than pure motives. I don’t blame them — most of them do it to feed their families — but that doesn’t make it any less of a problem. I’m sure that anyone who steps forward with a foolproof way — actually, not even a foolproof way, but even just a better way — to combat human/drug trafficking without subjecting innocent passengers to undue burden would be hailed as a hero.
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  • One thing people always complain about when they get offloaded is that they didn’t know that they should have brought all those extra documents. I strongly believe the Bureau of Immigration should do a better job of educating people. It’s a real problem but a solvable one, so I went ahead and did something about it.
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  • Rappler accepts contributions from everyone —  you can email your articles to desk@rappler.com. Stop saying I should do this and I should do that. If you feel so strongly about it, stop yapping about what other people should do and do it yourself. I will be the first to stand up and clap.

In the meantime, I would rather make a little progress and help a few people, than make a lot of noise and accomplish nothing.

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© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

Filipina offloaded from flight at NAIA 3 for not bringing her grandfather’s birth certificate? Here’s what probably happened — and how you can stop it from happening to you

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Just a few days ago, a Filipina posted on Facebook about her experience being offloaded from her June 17 flight to Singapore. She reports that she was made to wait for 1.5 hours for her interview with an Immigration official and that she was eventually offloaded for not being able to present her grandfather’s birth certificate. As of June 25, 2015, 12:01 AM, her post has been Liked by 9,907 people and shared 11,258 times.

Now, Immigration officers aren’t exactly my favorite people in the world and offloading is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. (Well, okay, it is, but only on my worst enemies. Heh.)

That said, before we join the bandwagon and question the ludicrousness of having to bring your dead grandfather’s birth certificate just to board an international flight, I think it’s worth examining the situation more closely.

Let’s get two points out of the way first:

  • We only know the side of the offloaded passenger. (Let’s refer to her as Ms. dela Cruz, though her complete name and her Facebook name are obvious enough in her post, which she made Public.) As people are never likely to divulge their own shortcomings when ranting, it would be nice if we also heard the side of the IO, just to have a more complete understanding of what happened. (See 26 June update below for the BI’s subsequent explanation.) Details that we don’t know — that might have proved to be important — include:
    • Is this Ms. dela Cruz’s first time to go out of the country?
    • Is this her first time to go to Singapore? (Her Facebook page states that she lives in “Bedok, Singapore.”)
    • How long was she going to stay in Singapore?
    • What was her itinerary?
    • Does she have a job here in the Philippines? (Her Facebook page states that she works in “Pbcom Tower.”)
    • Did she have proof of financial capacity? Or was her relative going to support her stay? If it’s the latter, was her relative able to provide her with the Affidavit of Support & Guaranty and was it duly authenticated by the Philippine embassy in Singapore?
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      At any rate, here’s a screenshot of Ms. dela Cruz’s Facebook post — please just click to enlarge it (it’s rather long).

      From Ms. JA de la Cruz's Facebook page (Public post)

      From Ms. JA de la Cruz’s Facebook page (Public post)

  • Second, I definitely agree that she shouldn’t have been made to wait for an hour and a half for secondary inspection, especially as her boarding time was nearing.

 

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Anti-offloading tips from an Immigration officer

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The most important point, though — and the one that we should be most concerned about, since we don’t want the same thing to happen to us — is the fact that she was offloaded.

Apparently, Ms. dela Cruz was going to be staying with a relative in Singapore. She doesn’t mention in her post how exactly she was related to her host, but she says that the IO asked for “PROOF LANG NA KAPAMILYA KO DAW YUNG TITIRHAN KO” (proof that the person she will be staying with is a relative). She says she gave the IO a copy of her relative’s passport, invitation letter, Singapore ID and Philippine ID. However, the IO asked for proof that she was truly related to her host “KASI MASYADO NA DAW COMMON YUNG DELA CRUZ” (because dela Cruz is a common family name) — that is, it’s possible that they just have the same family names but aren’t truly related.

It was at this point that the IO apparently asked for Ms. dela Cruz’s grandfather’s birth certificate.

According to Ms. dela Cruz, “ANG SABI KO NAMAN, PAG BINIGYAN BA KITA NG BIRTHCERTIFICATE NG LOLO KO NAKALAGAY BA DUN NA GODDAUGHTER NYA KO?” (“I said, if I give you my grandfather’s birth certificate, will it show that I’m his goddaughter?”) This actually confuses me a bit — is “goddaughter” a typo, and she actually meant “granddaughter,” or did she mean that she was her host’s goddaughter, and if it’s the latter, are they really related? Either way, to cut the long story short, Ms. dela Cruz apparently could not present proof that she was related to the person she will be staying with in Singapore, and so she was offloaded.

As a footnote, it’s worth mentioning that Ms. dela Cruz made another attempt to fly to Singapore on June 19, and she was offloaded again, though she didn’t elaborate why.

From Ms. JA dela Cruz's Facebook page (Public post)

From Ms. JA dela Cruz’s Facebook page (Public post)

Why would someone need her grandfather’s birth certificate to fly abroad?

Ms. dela Cruz needed to present proof that she was related to the person she was going to stay with in Singapore. I suspect that the grandfather’s birth certificate was only mentioned as an example of a document that would prove the relationship — say, if she was going to be staying with an aunt, birth certificates would be a way to trace the family tree. If the IO did not explain that, then that’s quite an omission on her part, and Ms. dela Cruz is justified in complaining — though it wouldn’t change the fact that Ms. dela Cruz wasn’t able to prove her relationship to her would-be host. (I think it’s worth pointing out that the IO was right — dela Cruz is a common family name. In fact, the name Juan dela Cruz is our equivalent of John Doe.)

Why is it the Bureau of Immigration’s business whether one is related to one’s host?

According to the BI website, “a traveler will be subjected to a secondary inspection, when deemed necessary, for the purpose of protecting vulnerable victims of human trafficking, illegal recruitment and other related offenses. As such, Immigration Officers (IOs) are allowed to propound clarificatory questions relating to any documents presented or the purpose of travel. Based on answers provided, the traveler will be given a list of additional requirements to support his alleged purpose of travel.”

There have been thousands of cases of people going to other countries as “tourists” only to stay there as illegal workers. This month alone, the BI was able to catch strangers pretending to be friends going on a tour and women pretending to be missionaries, all of them on their way to undocumented jobs abroad as domestic helpers. Mary Jane Veloso flew to Kuala Lumpur as a “tourist” with a “friend” and $500 cash, and look where that got her.

Basically, Immigration officers have seen it all. So when a young girl traveling alone to Singapore says that she will be staying with a relative, but she can’t give definitive proof that she is indeed related to her host, I can imagine that would raise alarm bells for the Immigration officer.

Again, let me emphasize that I am not defending the Bureau of Immigration — I am just trying to put myself in their shoes. It’s a flawed system, and a lot of innocent people get trapped in the net along with the guilty ones, but since Immigration officers don’t have veritaserum or lie detectors, they have to rely on, well, less reliable methods like instinct and experience. That’s why it’s so important for travelers to prepare their documents.

What can we learn from this?

The lesson here is NOT that we should bring our dead grandfathers’ birth certificates when we travel.

What we should bring is proof that whatever we’re going to say to the Immigration officer is true.

If you’re flying to another country soon, here are some articles that might help:

What Filipinos Need to Know About Traveling Abroad: Guidelines from the Bureau of Immigration

Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs

I can’t stress this enough — it’s really better to over-prepare than to under-prepare. OA na kung OA, ‘wag lang ma-offload.


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Update 26 June 2015: The Bureau of Immigration’s Response

According to the Inquirer, BI spokesperson Elaine Tan spoke to them in a phone interview and said that the IO asked Ms. dela Cruz to provide “the marriage certificate of her father and marriage certificate of her father’s cousin in Singapore whom Dela Cruz was going to visit” because “she was assessed to be financially incapable to travel in the secondary inspection.” Tan said, “Hindi rin po na-establish ‘yung employment niya. So based on the totality of circumstances, she is likely to be a victim of human trafficking. High risk po.” I don’t totally understand it — Is the person in Singapore only her father’s cousin by marriage? Or is the cousin married to a Singapore national which would explain her residency in Singapore? — but, still, the lesson here is to provide proof of your claims.

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© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

 


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Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs

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What documents are required by the Bureau of Immigration?

I get this question all the time, so I thought I’d create another post just for this.

Technically, there are only 3 documents that are required:

  1. Passport
  2. Round trip ticket
  3. Visa (if necessary)

So, for those who are asking: “Kailangan pa ba talaga ang…” the answer is only the three documents above are technically required. You don’t need those other documents in the sense that they are not technically required.

Related post: Filipina offloaded from flight at NAIA 3 for not bringing her grandfather’s birth certificate? Here’s what probably happened — and how you can stop it from happening to you)

However, the Immigration officer will want to make sure that:

  1. You can afford your trip;
  2. You are only going there for your stated purpose (tourism); and
  3. You are coming back to the Philippines.

I am not an Immigration officer and I can’t predict what other documents or questions the IO will ask from you. But based on my experience and the experience of others, here is what I suggest you bring:

  • Passport.
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  • Your old passports – to show that you have traveled before and that you came back to the Philippines of your own free will.
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  • Visa – if necessary for your destination.
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  • Round-trip ticket with receipt or other proof that the ticket has been fully paid – to show that you intend to return to the Philippines.
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  • Hotel reservations, preferably with receipt or other proof that the entire stay has been fully paid – to show that you can afford your accommodations (and in fact have fully paid for it) and to help show that you are there as a tourist (and not living in another person’s house as, for example, an illegally recruited helper).
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  • Bank statement (if available) – to prove that you can afford your trip. Even better than a bank statement, which will only show your account balance and transactions within a limited period of time (usually the last quarter), is a bank certification, which includes information like YTD balance and the date the account was opened — data that will show that the account was not opened for the sole purpose of supporting your trip. The Bureau of Immigration, as far as I know, has not set a minimum account balance. And please do not think of this as show money. It is not just for show. You need to have enough money to cover your expenses during the trip and still have savings left when you return to the Philippines — because if you spend all your savings on a vacation, that will be highly suspicious.
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  • Proof of ownership of assets such as land, house, car, etc. (if available) – to show that you can afford your trip and that you do not need to work abroad illegally and that therefore you are coming back to the Philippines.
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  • Certificate of employment (stating your position and salary) and approved leave of absence with a photocopy of the company ID of the signatory of these documents (if applicable) – to show that you can afford your trip and that you are likely to return to the Philippines because you already have a job here. If, instead of a regular job, you have your own business, bring the papers related to your business (DTI, SEC, BIR, etc.).
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  • Income tax return (ITR) – to show that you can afford your trip.
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  • Affidavit of support (if necessary) – instead of, or in addition to, proof of your own income. The affidavit must include proof of the income of the person paying for your trip. This person must be a close relative, ideally your parent, child, or sibling. I’m not sure which other relatives are accepted — the BI says up to the 3rd degree of consanguinity — but one reader said an affidavit from her mom’s cousin was not accepted by the IO. You can see an example of an Affidavit of Support / Guaranty here and a general Affidavit form here (courtesy of the Embassy of the Philippines in Singapore).
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  • Tour itinerary – to help prove that your purpose for travel is tourism only. Not only should you have an itinerary, you should know your itinerary, in case the IO asks you about it.
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  • Tickets/reservations/confirmations to the attractions listed in your itinerary – to prove that you are going to those attractions and that your purpose really is just tourism.
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  • Marriage certificate and birth certificate of children (if applicable) – to show that you have family in the Philippines and are therefore likely to come back.
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  • CFO certificate (if applicable) – if you are meeting a foreign spouse or boyfriend, you will mostly be required to present the Guidance and Counseling Certificate from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO).

(I will update this list if I think of other documents to bring.)
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Anti-offloading tips from an Immigration officer

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Do you have to bring all these documents?
No, you don’t have to bring all these documents; again, they are not technically required. It’s possible that the IO will just let you board the plane without asking any questions at all or without asking for any documents. But it’s better that you have these documents on hand, even if the IO does not ask for them — rather than if the IO asks for them and you have nothing to show. Better safe than sorry.

Is a bank statement necessary? Can you just bring cash?
Again, the bank statement (and most of these other documents) are not technically required. Perhaps you know of some people who just brought cash, with no bank statement, and they were allowed to board their plane. That’s very possible. But it’s also possible that the IO will ask for your bank statement so you might as well prepare it — again, better safe than sorry. Remember that Mary Jane Veloso had lots of cash on hand when she left the Philippines for Kuala Lumpur. After what happened to her, you can be sure the Immigration officers will be stricter than ever.

If you bring all these documents, can you be sure that you will not be offloaded? Can you be sure that the IO will not ask for other documents?
No. Like I said, I’m not an Immigration officer, and I can’t predict what they will ask from you. And even if I were an Immigration officer, I still can’t guarantee anything anyway, because IOs differ. They rely partly on their experience and intuition, partly on the answers that you give in your Immigration form and to their initial questions. And they have different personalities too — some are strict by nature, some become strict when they think something’s fishy with the answers you give, some are nice, some are not so nice. So it all depends.

My advice is: bring ALL the documents that you can bring. All.
This applies especially if:

  • You’re young.
  • You’re female.
  • You’re single.
  • It’s your first time traveling abroad.
  • You have a history of being offloaded.
  • Someone else is paying for your trip.

Some people are lucky. Some people, especially those who are mukhang mayaman, pass through Immigration with no problem at all. The rest of us don’t like it, but it’s the reality. The IOs have a difficult job — trying to determine who’s lying without the benefit of a lie detector or veritaserum — and sometimes they really just have to resort to profiling. Now, there’s nothing we can do about the color of our skin, but we can improve our chances of being believed by being as prepared as possibledressing decently and being confident when we answer the IO’s questions.

Good luck!

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Please read What Filipinos Need to Know About Traveling Abroad: Guidelines from the Bureau of Immigration for more information.

 

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“Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

 


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What Filipinos Need to Know About Traveling Abroad: Guidelines from the Bureau of Immigration

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The Bureau of Immigration sparked furious discussions a few months ago when they announced they will be asking Filipinos traveling abroad to show proof of financial means.

You mean only the rich have a right to travel?” was the outraged question from citizens all over the country. There were also those who pointed out that — for those traveling to such areas as the US or Europe — we wouldn’t be granted a visa if we hadn’t already proven our capacity to pay for our trip. It’s bad enough we have to prove our innocence(!) to foreigners; do we have to prove it again to our own countrymen?

Related post: Filipina offloaded from flight at NAIA 3 for not bringing her grandfather’s birth certificate? Here’s what probably happened — and how you can stop it from happening to you

I have my own strong opinions about how the Immigration guys seem to pick who to interrogate and who to let breeze by, but those opinions will help no one. 🙂 Here, instead, are the actual rules of the Bureau of Immigration regarding:

  • What documents will be required during “primary inspection” of Filipino citizens traveling abroad
  • What circumstances may prompt the immigration officer to ask for additional requirements
  • Which travelers will automatically be subjected to “secondary inspection”
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  • If you’re traveling with a child, make sure to read this as well: Must-Knows for Filipinos Traveling with Children. (The link will open in another window so you won’t have to leave this page.)
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DOCUMENTS REQUIRED DURING PRIMARY INSPECTION

  1. Passport valid for at least 6 months from the date of departure
  2. Visa (when required)
  3. Round trip ticket

WHEN ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTS MAY BE REQUIRED

The Immigration Officer will consider the following factors when deciding whether or not to require additional documents:

  • Age
  • Educational attainment
  • Financial capability to travel

Regarding financial capability, the Bureau of Immigration says:

  • “If not financially capable to travel, an authenticated Affidavit of Support or Letter of Invitation, indicating therein the relationship within the 4th civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, together with the supporting documents may be entertained; and
  • Affidavit of Undertaking/Guaranty may likewise be entertained.”

(To be honest, this sounds reasonable enough, and the BI says they are doing this to curtail human trafficking, illegal recruitment, etc. There is still something annoying and just wrong about having to prove your innocence — instead of them having to prove your guilt — but until the system is improved, there isn’t much we can do, and there’s no point fighting a battle you can’t win, so…what the heck, dalhin na ang mga diploma at mga gold bars!)

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WHO WILL AUTOMATICALLY BE SUBJECTED TO FURTHER INSPECTION

The Bureau of Immigration says they will automatically subject to secondary inspection those people who fit into either of the following categories, so be prepared.

  • “Travelers without financial capacity to travel escorted/accompanied by a foreigner who is not related;
  • Minor traveling alone or unaccompanied by either parent or legal guardian without the required travel clearance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD);
  • Repatriated irregular workers, in which case, travel may not be allowed without the clearance from the IACAT (generate data);
  • Partners and spouses of foreign nationals intending to depart to meet and/or marry his/her fiancé without the CFO Guidance and Counseling Certificate;
  • Passengers traveling to counties with existing deployment bans, alert levels and travel advisories and those in possession of visas to the said countries; and
  • Passengers who stayed abroad for more than one (1) year during a previous departure from the country as a tourist/temporary visitor, intending to depart for the second and/or subsequent time.”

For more tips on documents that might be required by the Bureau of Immigration, read: offloading faqs

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OFFLOADING / DEFERRED DEPARTURE

As travelers, one of our most dreaded scenarios is being unreasonably detained on the whim of an Immigration/Border Control officer, missing our flight, and consequently having all our travel plans (and expenses!) messed up. (Or is it just me? A friend and I were once detained on arrival in Singapore, fingerprinted, and released with no explanation given…but that’s another story.)

Here’s what the Bureau of Immigration has to say about offloading, or deferring the departure, of Filipino travelers:

BI_Screenshot_DeferredDeparture

There have been incidents involving abusive Immigration officials — and, to be fair, I’m sure there have been incidents of abusive passengers as well — and while knowing the rules won’t necessarily protect us from profiling (or extortion attempts), we can at least minimize our chances of being detained by having all the documents we need (and might need) on hand. Happy travels!

Sources:

  1. Bureau of Immigration > FAQs > Travel Requirements
  2. “Guidelines on Departure Formalities for International-Bound Passengers in All Airports and Seaports in the Country”

Note: I am not an authority on Philippine travel regulations, just a girl who did some research. While I will try my best to answer any questions you might have, you will definitely get a more authoritative answer from the Bureau of Immigration (contact details HERE). If I answer your query with a succint “Please contact the BI” that means I don’t know the answer (and probably that I’m ridiculously busy at the time and can’t manage a lengthier reply). 🙂 Good luck and happy travels!

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QUESTIONS I WAS ASKED BY IMMIGRATION

I’ll update this section every time I go through Immigration. They won’t ask the same for all travelers — experienced travelers will probably get asked less questions than first-timers — but I hope this will give you an idea of what the IOs might ask you.

March 2015

  1. You’re a [my occupation]?
  2. When are you coming back?

September 2015

  1. Where are you going?

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What Filipinos Need to Know About Traveling Abroad: Guidelines from the Bureau of Immigration” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 


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