Today we have an article from a new contributor to the site, Doug Thompson. Doug says that he may not be a frequent writer, but hopes to contribute from time to time when he has something to say. Welcome aboard, Doug, and thank you for sharing your experience. MindanaoBob
There have been a number of posts on this site concerning the various types of visas for living here in the Philippines. Like others who have written here, I decided on the 13a visa since my wife is a Filipina and we decided to retire to the Philippines. While I certainly could have done perfectly well with the balikbayan stamps and made visa runs every year, I was going to have to get an ACR-I card anyway [Editor’s note: those on Balikbayan Visas are not required to get an ACR card] so I decided to make it permanent. The ACR card is the equivalent of the US “Green Card.” The law requires any foreigner remaining in the country more than 59 days register with the Bureau of Immigration and receive the card. The Alien Certificate of Registry card is my official form of identification here in my new home country. Getting the card was an interesting process, as was my entrance into the Philippines in March.
Having left the US on March 9th, what with 16-hour flights and time changes, we arrived in Manila on March 11th. I had with me a large brown envelope sealed with impressively thick clear tape and stamped all over with “TO BE OPENED ONLY BY IMMIGRATION OFFICERS IN THE PHILIPPINES.” This envelope was given to me at the Philippine Consulate office in Los Angeles when my Immigrant Visa was issued. It contained all of my visa paperwork along with all of my medical documentation. When I got to the Immigration line at the airport, I showed them my passport with my 13a visa and handed them my sealed envelope. The officer stamped my passport with an entry visa and, instead of an expiration date, he wrote “13a.” He then, much to my consternation, handed my impressively sealed brown envelope back to me, explaining I needed to take it to the Bureau of Immigration office nearest my new home. Okay, no problem. We’re living in Cabanatuan City, and there’s an immigration office that bills itself as “one stop shopping” in the Clark Freeport Zone (the old Clark Air Force Base), about 90 minutes away.
After about 10 days or so, we bought our vehicle and drove out to Clark to turn in my brown envelope. Nope. Not happening. Initial entries into the country on 13a visas must go to Intramuros office. Cue dramatic musical schting: DUN DUN DUUUUUN! Intramuros is an area in Metro Manila. Yes, we had to go into Manila to get this done! I’ve been driving around Cabanatuan City, and even down in Olongapo City, since my second day visiting this country in 2013. However, driving in Manila was NOT something I was prepared to do. The traffic and drivers there must be seen to be believed! We called one of our nephews who drives for a living. He met us on the way to Manila and drove us into the city. We got into town kind of early in the day, so we decided to drop by the Bureau of Immigration to see if we could get anything at all done on my application process. It was probably around 1pm that we got into the office, having had some lunch a few blocks away. Here’s the way things went:
We walked in the door and were directed to Window 37, the Alien Registration check-in window. After waiting in line for 30-45 minutes, we presented my passport and the package to the officer behind the window. He explained to us that I was missing my Bureau of Quarantine stamp. Bureau of Quarantine? Nobody told us to go to the Bureau of Quarantine! The officers and the airport told us to come here! Well, apparently the process changes from time to time, and not everyone gets the message. So after looking it up on our trusty AVT navigation system built into our Toyota Innova, we arrived at the Bureau of Quarantine where my impressively sealed brown envelope, stamped “TO BE OPENED ONLY BY IMMIGRATION OFFICERS IN THE PHILIPPINES” was expertly slit open by a nurse who looked as if she was 13 years old. I was a bit nervous at this point. This young lady was NOT an Immigration Officer in the Philippines, and I mentioned that to her. She assured me that the new policy was Bureau of Quarantine personnel now open the impressively sealed envelopes. What could I do?
She looked though all of my paperwork and x-rays, nodding as she checked items off of a list. Suddenly a little frown appeared on her face. “Sir, you are missing your serology paperwork.” I explained to her that I have all of the paperwork given to me by the medical people I visited in the US after showing them the requirements on the Los Angeles Philippine Consulate website. I even brought the website up for her on my phone. She took my phone and went to her supervisor; they discussed my case for a few minutes. The supervisor came back and explained to me that the specific serology test they needed was a syphilis test. They were embarrassed by the fact that the LA Consulate website did not have the correct information, but they absolutely needed to know that I didn’t have syphilis.
“No problem,” I tell them…just tell me where to go and I’ll go get the test. Actually, they had their own lab, but it’s now 3:00pm and the lab stops taking people at 2:30. One of the ladies apparently knew someone in the lab and went to call in a personal favor. They saw me, drew my blood and did the test in one hour. Non-reactive…thank heavens…after 15 years of marriage, it would have been distressing to discover that I had syphilis! After an interview with a very nice doctor, I got another impressive stamp in my passport and called it a day.
The next morning, it was back to good old Window 37, where my documents and application were reviewed. The officer liked what she saw and directed me to Window 22.
At Window 22, my documents were again scrutinized, we paid I-don’t-know-how-many pesos (equivalent of 500 pesos, $50 US dollars, and other associated fees), and received an Official Receipt. Kuya money-grabber sent us back to Window 37.
At Window 37, our Official Receipt was reviewed and a copy confiscated, and we were directed to Window 43.
The gentleman at Window 43 was a bit vexed that we did not have with us a legal sized file folder. Actually, that information is on the website, but I forgot about it. He rummaged around in some old about-to-be-discarded documents and found one for us. He told us to have a seat “for awhile” and wait for Window 44.
***Side note: “For Awhile” in the Philippines means, “please wait.”
After about 20 minutes, we got paged to Window 44. They took digital pictures of me, electronically captured my signature, and digitally encoded my fingerprints.
I was then given a stub from my application and told to call in 2 weeks.
I called a few days short of two weeks, and was told my ACR card was ready for release. Unfortunately, my license plate ends with a “3” which means I cannot be in Metro Manila on Tuesdays, so we went on Wednesday; this time, I drove us there.
I was told to report to Window 4. August stayed to try and park the Innova while I went inside. I walked up to Window 4, showed my passport, signed a ledger, and received my card. I was out of there before August could find a parking spot!
A few interesting tidbits for any folks trying to get a 13a visa to the Philippines:
- The websites say blood serology. What they want is a syphilis test. Tell the doctor you’re seeing to give you a syphilis test.
- Your first stop after the airport is Bureau of Quarantine. It’s in Manila. Try to do it right away.
- They tell you on the websites that you need two 2″x2″ passport photos. They never asked for them.
All it all, it wasn’t a really difficult process. The only thing I need to do now is work on my package to change my one-year provisional status to permanent. But, I have a few months before that becomes an issue!