I’ve no doubt that much has been documented online by other bloggers with regards to the tourist visa (otherwise referred to as “guidelines for the entry of temporary visitors to the Philippines”) necessities in the Philippines and for all other countries in South East Asia. Nevertheless, there are changes made to the process and the pricing on a relatively frequent basis, so I decided to document my own experiences to keep abreast of the scenario.
Manila Immigration Office
I have only been to the Manila immigration office the one time, so I can’t really comment about that particular office. Nevertheless, the process involved in applying for a tourist visa are precisely the same in every immigration office regardless of which city (or town) the office is located in.
Cebu Immigration Office
I’ve been to the Cebu immigration office many times, and that was quite an ordeal. It was a case of “packed in like sardines,” where the office space was far too small and the seating far too limited for the number of visitors at any given time.
Add to this fact that the staff were, generally, rather miserable and not at all polite, and that the office space was kept cool only by a few fans as opposed to a properly functioning air conditioning system, and you have something close to the aforementioned nightmare scenario to deal with.
But it was worse still. When I first arrived at the Cebu office some five years ago, I wasn’t aware that you needed to wear “proper” footwear as opposed to sandals, in addition to long pants to gain entry. Of course, I arrived wearing what I wore every day, and that was shorts and sandals.
Fortunately, there were a few “punters” at the entryway that were only too well aware of the fact that very many tourist visa applicants would arrive wearing something similar to myself. Thus, they were all too happy to rent out a pair of long pants and an old pair of Nike training shoes, shoes that had already seen 500 different pairs of sweaty feet, for a rip-off price.
But there’s more…
I remember on that first time, after having spent only three weeks in the Philippines, I had to wait for around five hours to have my visa processed. Imagine sitting in this “sardine-like” situation waiting in this heat for five hours. Then, you’re greeted by some miserable staff member who really couldn’t give a f… about you. To them, you were merely a statistic, and the job was simply a way to make a monthly income.
By happy chance, after about one year of having to go to the Cebu immigration office every two months to update my visa, a new office in Lapu-Lapu opened. And because I was still a Lapu-Lapu inhabitant at the time, it made entire sense to go there as opposed to the more distant Cebu-based office.
The Lapu office still demands, or did do four years ago, that you wear the “appropriate” footwear and long pants, but processing was far quicker than at the Cebu office. Plus, because it was new and because there were far fewer people that frequented it, the waiting area was pleasant enough. Within a half hour and you’re done.
Dumaguete Immigration Office
These days, I have to travel from Siquhijor, which is where I’m situated, over in the ferry to the Dumaguete immigration office. The Dumaguete office is pretty old and beaten up, but the good thing about the policy here is that they fill out a single form with your details and then you hand over your passport to be told to come back in around three hours to collect your visa.
This said, on my previous visit to Dumaguete I was informed that the visa processing officer was not in the office so I would have to return the next working day which was a Monday. Well, it takes pretty much an entire day to get to Dumaguete and back to Siquijor, so you can imagine that I was rather rude to the staff on being informed that I had to return at a later date. Dare I say this but it’s a further sign of governmental office incompetence.
Anyways, I was asked to pay 3,100 pesos (approximately $68 US) for a two-month tourist visa, which is rather odd because on my previous visit only three months prior, I was asked to pay 4,100 pesos for a one-month tourist visa. Hmmm… something not quite right there. But I did not make any enquiries for fear that they had made a mistake and thus the charge would rise to $4,100 instead. Sometimes, it makes good sense to remain tight lipped.
As it happens, when I did return to collect the visa I was told that it was for a single month as opposed to two months. Then, on my next arrival, which would be on June 5, when I returned after a further month, I was told that I could apply for a six-month extension.
This six-month extension is a relatively new thing. Previously, you could only have a two-month extension at most. So that, for obvious reasons, is a good thing if you wish to remain in the Philippines over the longer term.
What’s more, you no longer have to bring with you four passport-sized photos, and there are less forms to fill out than before. Plus, although it states on the door of the Dumaguete immigration office that all attendees must wear long pants and “proper” shoes, the staff do not make a demand for this and you can enter the premises wearing sandals and shorts. So the policies are fairly relaxed here. It’s not all bad, then!
How much is it for a six-month visa extension in the Philippines, you may be wondering?
For a six-month extension, otherwise known as a Long Stay Visitor Visa Extension (LSVVE) you’re looking at 13,900 Philippine pesos as of May, 2017. That’s equivalent to around $290 US. Doing the math and that’s equivalent to 2,316 pesos for each month, or almost $50 US per month. Not exactly cheap, and obviously a very good earner for the government.
What does this fee include?
Well, there’s all sorts of add-ons to the actual fee that you pay for the tourist visa. There’s stuff like the “Application Fee,” which is 1,810; there’s what is stated as the “ACR,” whatever that is, which is a further 1,810 pesos; there’s the “Head Tax” (now, what might that be??) which is an additional 250; there’s the “ECC” (?) which is 710; and there’s also my favorite – the “Express Lane Fee” (3,000 pesos) and the “Express Lane Fee (Cert.)” (1,000 pesos). Honestly, there’s very little “express” about the visa process, and the “Express Lane” tag is merely a nonsense that is obligatory for everyone to pay, regardless it takes 72 hours to process your visa as it did for myself.
So, again, and just to make it crystal clear with regards to the pricing for Long Stay Visitor Visa Extension (LSVVE) , the prices given below were last updated on the Philippine government website as of March 2014 and are the latest prices as of May 2017.
Extension Fee Php 3,010.00
Application Fee 1,810.00
Head Tax 250.002
Certification Fee 510.00
Express Lane Fee 3,000.00
Express Lane Fee (Cert.) 1,000.005
Express Lane Fee (I-Card) 500.00
Exit Clearance (ECC) for the Philippines
Do bear in mind that there’s something referred to as an “exit visa,” too, which is correctly termed as an “Emigration Clearance Certificate” or an “ECC-A.” If you remain in the Philippines for long enough, meaning for anything over six months, you MUST have an exit visa for the time that you wish to leave the country.
And you can take it from me, given that I have first-hand experience, that if you do not have an exit visa when you are leaving the country and you have been in the Philippines for longer than six months you will not be permitted to leave.
What’s more, you can only get an exit visa from the Cebu and the Manila immigration offices. You cannot get an exit visa from any alternative immigration offices, so do not even try.
And what’s even more, you must apply for the exit visa (ECC-A) at least 72 hours prior to your departure.
How much is this “Emigration Clearance Certificate”?
At the time of writing, the exit visa (or EEC-A) costs 1,010 Philippine pesos. But do watch out for a price change which would be reflected on the government’s website, or you can ask at your nearest immigration office, because, as I mentioned previously, there are pricing alterations made here and there.
How long are you permitted to remain in the Philippines before having to leave to fulfill your visa obligations? The previous law on this was for no longer than 18 months, but that has also been altered and it is currently two years maximum.
Cheap Return Flights from the Philippines
When you do have to exit the country for visa reasons, and you do wish to return as soon as you can to your place in the Philippines, I would suggest that you check out online prices for flights from either Cebu or from Manila to a place called Kota Kinabalu in south Malaysia. I’ve found that these flights are the cheapest to be found, and frequently you can get this as a return flight for around 50 or 60 US bucks.
To find cheaper flights online, I tend to use Farecompare.com or Kayak.com. In fact, I compare both of these flight broker sites to see which is cheapest at the time. Otherwise, if I need an internal flight, I’ll check directly with the PAL (Philippines Airlines) website because I’ve found it to be cheaper that way. If you do book with PAL and you do not, for whatever reason, get on the flight, you can apply for a part refund of your payment.
I missed one flight with PAL recently and I sent an e-mail to their ticketing office after the date of my intended travel. One month later, the PAL representative refunded my ticket to the tune of 6,000 pesos. That’s very good, given that I believe the full price was 7,200. Thus, I’m a new fan of Philippine Airlines, even though their flights are frequently delayed.
Wouldn’t the world be a far better place for those that like to travel and remain in a particular country for a time without the necessity for the tourist visa?