Yesterday, I needed to visit the BIR in order to obtain a Tax ID Number (TIN). This number is used by the government in the assessment and collection of a myriad of taxes here, from income tax to VAT. Now, my income is wholly earned outside of the Philippines, so I’ve never needed to obtain the number before. However, I needed to open a new bank account, and a TIN was required by the bank. Getting the number was easy, albeit in a very crowded, somewhat chaotic, BIR office. The whole procedure took about five minutes, plus travel time, once I figured out what to do, where to go, and navigated the crowd. (As a side note, the number can be obtained online for SOME people, but it depends on what you will use the number for as to whether you are eligible to apply online.)
As with most tasks related to government offices here, I had an enormous envelope full of documents, much bulkier since I was headed to the bank immediately afterwards. When you move to the Philippines, one of the first things that you will notice is that accomplishing many tasks requires an inordinate number of documents, some authenticated (more on that below), and some that are not easily or quickly obtainable once you are here. Therefore, as a personal policy, whenever I need to get a document, I will order two or three copies, so that they are on-hand, should I require them.
What documents should you obtain?
Well, there are some general ones that will nearly always be required (I have needed all of these at one time or another… mostly multiple times).
- Passport: Your most basic document, and required for many, many things if you are a foreigner. I have scanned the information page into my computer, and have printed many copies. The bank account and TIN I mentioned above? Both required copies of the data page. Also scan the page that contains your visa stamp, should the passport be lost or stolen. NEVER leave your passport in anyone’s control, short of being in an embassy or police station.
- ACR: Nearly always required for anything related to the government, utilities, or finance. They are a hassle to replace, if lost.
- FBI and police clearances: Mostly related to visas, but you will need them for some tasks (Like when we adopted Juanito).
- Marriage Certificate: Get several copies from the NSO, on SECURITY PAPER (What the priest or minister gives you normally does not count). Needed if you travel on Balikbayan Privilege. Needed for insurance, setting up bank accounts (usually), and connecting utilities (with some… If you are married, some utilities are less hassle).
- Divorce Certificate: Needed if you were previously married in order to get the CENOMAR. I needed this for Juanito’s adoption. You can normally obtain this in the United States from the county clerk where the divorce was finalized. Most will mail / FEDEX, but it takes time.
- Birth Certificate: Needed for some bank accounts, marriage, immigration, and by courts. In the USA, you can normally get certified copies from the county clerk where you were born. Note that I needed to get one authenticated, which can be a real pain, especially once you are living here. Order several copies.
- Tax Returns (Foreign or Filipino): Some banks, especially if applying for credit, and some government agencies require that you provide proof of income (For instance, I needed to show them in order to get a post-paid mobile account). Tax returns are very useful in satisfying these requirements. Though not always required, and bank statements, pay stubs, etc. will often suffice, 90% of the time a copy of last year’s tax return satisfies the purpose.
- Lease: Many utilities, banks, and insurance require you show your current lease and amount of rent paid. (or proof of amount paid, like mortgage payments).
- Barangay Certificate: This is issued by the barangay where you live. Often required in order to connect utilities, and some banks require it (Metrobank did not, RCBC did). Get a couple of copies so you don’t need to run and get them on the spot. Though not officially required by immigration, I was asked if I had one (I did (from connecting Sky Cable), and they said “thank you”).
- School Transcripts: These are occasionally needed for visit visas to some countries (Saudi, Russia and China sometimes want these if you are applying outside your country of residence). If you take paid employment in the Philippines, you will most likely be asked to provide it (Most companies here will not take your word on your resume or CV). If you want to take ANY university classes here (degree program or not), they will be required. I needed to document education obtained for Juanito’s adoption. Most universities will deal with this by mail, but will only issue them if you do not owe any fees (even for 20 years ago… I had an old $5 library fine that I never knew I had). If you need them, order several copies so that you have them.
- Driver’s License: You will need to show your foreign license if stopped by the police (non-resident), or in getting a Philippines license. You keep this, even with your new license.
- Credit Cards: Some utilities (like post-paid mobile), will only open an account if you have existing credit cards. Remember that there are no credit bureaus here, so this may be your only proof of credit worthiness. If you are overseas and do not have credit cards, consider opening at least one before moving here. Also note that if you travel, some countries require proof of funds for entry, and showing a MC or Visa card will satisfy immigration 99% of the time (Canada is notorious for this).
- Original Receipts: Also abbreviated O.R., are often required when renewing licenses, picking up documents, etc. Never throw any receipt away, especially formal government receipts. No receipt, you didn’t pay, is the likely response you will receive.
The list above is for the most common documents needed… There are many others that can crop up occasionally. My neighbor, for instance, had a problem with his pension deposits in Europe. He needed to obtain a report from the Department of Health that stated that he was, in fact, still alive. He also needed to submit an NBI clearance form that verified that his fingerprints did, indeed, belong to him. The NBI actually issued him a card (looked like a credit card) that he was able to take to Holland for the pension people. As a general rule of thumb, any time you are issued a certificate or clearance of some sort here, file it away and keep it: You never know when bit may again be needed.
Forged or fraudulent documents are a big problem in the Philippines. A quick trip to Quiapo can get you a forged document (a whole identity even) that will fool even the most seasoned experts. Because of this prevalence, many government agencies here (especially regarding visas), require that all documents be authenticated. This process is familiar to most Filipinos, but is very unusual for people coming from the West. What is Authentication? Quite simply, the Philippine Embassy located in the country where the document originates examines the document and places a ribbon, with seal, on the document, verifying its’ authenticity. With Juanito’s adoption, for instance, I needed to have my birth certificate authenticated in the United States (despite the raised seal and security paper, which suffices in most places). This is VERY difficult and time consuming to get accomplished once you are living here. The best way to get it done is to ask a relative to do it for you. The process of ordering birth certificate to authentication took six weeks, and four FEDEXES for me, since the consulate in Miami would not authenticate a North Carolina document. Therefore, it needed to be done by the embassy in Washington. Again, most Filipinos are familiar with the requirements, and your spouse will know what is needed, but sometimes it can be a hassle. Notoriously difficult are police clearances, since many people have lived or worked in several countries.
Official dealings in the Philippines can be difficult or time consuming. It is often frustrating for foreigners not used to the bureaucracy and can be intimidating. Things that are relatively simple in the West, like opening a bank account or buying a mobile plan, can become highly bureaucratic here. For the bank account I mentioned at the start of this article, I needed around 10 documents and filled out about 15 forms. As a general rule of thumb, we keep all document copies in a large expandable file, sorted myself, Rebecca, and Juanito, and they are always ready when we need them. Whenever we go to a government office or a utility or a bank, we bring copies of any and all documents we could possibly need… They usually are necessary.