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Want to Live in the Philippines?
The 13A Resident Visa Might be right for you!
In my opinion, the 13A Resident Visa is the premier visa for anybody who wants to live in the Philippines. Why?
- There is no requirement to ever travel outside the country on a visa run.
- It is a permanent visa that is good for the rest of your life.
- Personal feeling that the permanency of the visa kind of makes my living here more “official”.
- Very little hassle involved.
No Need To Travel
As I said in point #1, if you are living here on a 13A resident visa you don’t ever have to make a visa run. You never have to leave the country to re-start your visa. Once you are here, this is where you live and you can come and go as you please, and only when you wish to.
On many other types of visas, you have to leave the country after a certain amount of time (the length of time depends on the visa) and then return to start your visa over again. To me, this is a hassle. If you are a person that travels outside the country frequently that may not be a concern at all. For me, I enjoy traveling, but I travel the Philippines as this is my new home and I want to explore the place, particularly in Mindanao.
To date, I have lived in the Philippines since 2000 and I have never left the country during those years. So, the 13A resident visa that I have just works great for me.
The 13A Resident Visa is a lifelong visa. There is never a need to renew it, there is no expiration date.
Some people, in fact many, get confused about this and insist that a 13A resident visa must be renewed every 5 years. This is incorrect. The ACR-I Card must be renewed every 5 years, but not the visa. The ACR-I Card is only an Identification card, it is not a visa. It is also very simple to renew.
Personal Sense of Permanency
This is only a personal feeling, so take it for what it is worth. I simply feel that having a 13A resident visa shows more permanency. It shows that you are a resident here, you live here and this is your home. Other visas require you to leave the country at set intervals. I simply feel that you don’t have that sense of permanency. Nothing wrong with that, but I feel a sense of pride in being permanent, having been accepted as an official resident of the Philippines. Is that an important thing? Probably not for most people, I just like the feeling that it gives me.
This may sound stupid to some people, and that is OK with me, but I often think of my ancestors who came from Ireland to the USA and compare myself with them. We are on similar journeys. They had permanent visas and then became US Citizens. I feel that I am on the same path that they took, although (so far) I have not pursued Philippine Citizenship. So, to reiterate, this is purely a personal feeling that makes me like having the 13A resident visa.
Very Little Hassle
I have heard others say that there are hoops to jump through and hassles in obtaining a 13A resident visa. I respectfully disagree with that. Yes, of course, there are things that you have to do to obtain it, but I did not find those things to be a hassle or difficult at all to obtain. No matter what type of visa you have there are hoops and hassles to some degree. There are no visas that require no hassle at all.
For me, I applied for my 13A resident visa through the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco. I called them on the telephone and requested an application, which they mailed to me. I filled out the application, went and had some simple medical tests done and went to our local Sheriff’s Department to get a copy of my Police Record (or actually a paper to state that I had no record). At that point, I mailed in my application and the supporting documentation. Within a few days the Consulate called me and interviewed me over the telephone and I had my visa about 3 days later. It was all very simple and painless.
Now, was it a hassle? Well, there were things I had to do, so there was some “hassle” involved. But, I did it once, back in 2000, and I have never had to do it again. I have also never had to go in and extend or renew my visa. I have never had to leave the country to keep my visa current. I just live my life and enjoy myself.
The only other requirement for a 13A resident visa holder is that we must go into the Bureau of Immigration once each year to pay our head tax. Generally, this takes about 15 to 30 minutes each year and must be done in either January or February. The amount of tax that I am required to pay is P310 per year, about $6. Certainly much cheaper than a once per year airline ticket to leave the country. Some people may enjoy going out of the country yearly, and that’s great! But, the fact is that if I want to leave the country for a pleasure trip, I am free to leave at any time I wish to do so.
How Often do I have to Renew?
As I noted above, there is a lot of confusion about this. The only thing you have to renew is your ACR card, which is not the visa. Many people are confused about this.
You only need to renew the ACR every 5 years and make your annual police report… no other action necessary. You never have to renew a 13A resident visa once it is permanent. There is a lot of confusion about this. The only thing you have to renew is your ACR card, which is not the visa.
13A Resident Visa Experience
Some years back, John Miele wrote an article about his experience in obtaining a 13A resident visa in the Philippines. You should remember that John applied for his visa here in the Philippines. If you file for the 13A resident visa in the Philippines it is a one-year probationary visa and must be re-processed after one year before it becomes permanent.
On the other hand, if you apply for a 13A Resident Visa outside the Philippines, the visa is permanent immediately. No need to re-file after a one-year probationary period.
Here is an explanation of John’s 13A Resident Visa experience:
Living here on a tourist visa is entirely possible, though there are a few hiccups that you may encounter:
- An ACR is normally required for any type of loans, like a credit card, mortgage or a car loan. (NOT all banks, and some will accept an ACR issued after the second extension)
- Likewise, some utilities, like postpaid mobile accounts, normally require residency.
- A Philippine driver’s license requires residency.
- If you work here and require DOL clearance, residency is required.
- If you leave the Philippines and return frequently, without a residence visa, you need to show a ticket out of the country (My job travel occasionally made this a pain)
- You normally need residency to buy life or health insurance.
- A year of extensions can start getting expensive (Each visit I have made to immigration usually uses up the majority of a workday, with travel and traffic included).
That’s about it, and most of these issues can be circumvented in various ways. However, if you are staying here long-term, it is generally beneficial to obtain residency of some type, if you qualify for the visa. In my case, since Rebecca is Filipina, the 13A resident visa is possible.
Advantages and disadvantages of the 13A resident visa:
- Much easier to get loans and such. Even if in the spouse’s name, your income can be shown.
- Easier to buy insurance.
- No need for a ticket leaving the Philippines. You can come and go as you please.
- After the one-year probationary period, the visa is permanent (Though you need to renew your ACR I-card every five years).
- You are complying with the spirit of the law (This is a technicality, but if you come as a tourist, it is expected that you leave.)
- No need for visa runs.
- You are subject to an exit travel tax each time you leave. This is in addition to the terminal fee that everyone pays. (I checked with immigration. On a “permanent” ACR, the exit clearance and re-entry permits are part of the I-card, so no need to apply in advance of leaving the country. You do, however, still need to pay the tax.) This is an issue for me, since I travel frequently for work, probably adding 40,000 pesos per year to my expenses.
- It takes time and patience with the process. (Though it is not difficult, it could be a hassle if you are living far from an immigration office.)
In theory, you should obtain the 13A Resident Visa before leaving your home country. However, in reality, if your spouse applies after you are here (more on that further down), it is not a big deal as long as you have a minimum of 30 days of stay on your passport. You can extend before applying if you need more time than you have to remain. This was the major rub with me: At my last job, I didn’t sit still long enough to complete the process, due to work obligations. I was in and out so often that I didn’t have time.
The process was simple, though it took four separate trips to immigration for the entire process. The biggest pain will be getting the authenticated copies of all of the documents that you will need. As a precaution, obtain extras of all documents for future use. NOTE: I DID NOT NEED, NOR DID I USE, A FIXER. Repeat that. Repeat it again. When you look online, you will read many, many horrible stories about how much hassle the visa is, how much it costs, or how much time it takes. All of that is pure, 100% bulls**t. The process is easy, and, through immigration can be crowded (and a bit confusing), the staff are generally helpful, respectful, and polite. In fact, it was the other foreigners there who were causing more problems.
What was needed (Direct from the BI web site):
Checklist of Requirements for Non-Quota Immigrant by Marriage Under Section 13A Resident Visa
- Duly notarized letter of application by the Filipino spouse; (Your spouse is actually requesting your admittance on your behalf. The BI website has the sample text to download and they have a notary inside the BI building. Just like anywhere else, notarized documents must be signed in the presence of the notary).
- General Application Form duly accomplished and notarized (BI Form No. MCL-07-01); (Notarize at BI. They have photographs available there for 4 for 100 pesos).
- NSO authenticated copy of Birth certificate of Filipino spouse; (This must be ordered in advance and can be a real hassle. Note that the certificate must be on security paper. Old certificates are not valid.)
- NSO authenticated copy of the Marriage Contract of alien and Filipino spouse or authenticated by the Philippine embassy/consulate nearest to or in the place where the marriage was solemnized; (We were married in the province. It took 8 months for the authenticated copy to be available at the NSO. Plan in advance and be prepared to wait.)
- Bureau of Immigration (BI) Clearance Certificate; and (They give you this at immigration when you file the application).
- Plain photocopy of the passport of alien spouse showing dates of arrival and authorized stay.(You can make copies at the BI. Bring your spouse’s passport for ID also. If you need to extend, do this first and ask for at least two months extension to allow for any delays.)
First Visit Process
So, we headed to the BI in Intramuros, documents ready to go. I needed to extend, so that process took one hour (Remember to bring the extension fees in addition). We then queued for around 15 minutes for an officer to check our copies and documents (important!), and gathered the missing extra copies. Another queue for notarization, about 30 minutes. We filed the application, paid at the cashier, and were given a receipt for my passport, along with a hearing date five days later. This is a court hearing and is covered under the next section.
Second Visit Process
So, the hearing was scheduled five days later, at 14:00. Your spouse MUST accompany you in person. This hearing is the actual formal petitioning by your spouse for your continued residence in the Philippines. The hearing is not in front of a judge, but rather, a BI attorney who reviews the application verifies that your spouse exists, and “signs off” on the application. There is a 30-day waiting period for the application to be reviewed by BI officials. If you need to leave the Philippines during this period (I did), you need to advise the BI at this time. The hearing took approximately 10 minutes total time, though, be aware NOT to be late and miss the hearing, or the process begins again and the fees are charged again. You are given a telephone number after the hearing to call and check your application’s status after the 30 day period. Keep ALL receipts. Your passport is returned to you now (Not yet stamped).
Third Visit Process
So, I called on the 30th day and was notified that my application was approved. You can finalize the visa on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Intramuros. You have the option of paying an extra 500 pesos for “Double Express” for 2 – 4-hour service, or “Single Express” for 10-hour service. I chose double so that I could get the process finished.
Short queue, you give them your passport, and they obtain your file. Wait 30 minutes for processing. Pay the fees at the cashier. You then return, depending on the Double or Single express service chosen, at the appointed time. You are given your now-stamped passport and directed to the ACR application queue.
Fourth Visit Process
Very simple. Stand in a short queue to pick up your new ACR I-card after calling to verify that it is ready. Total time: 10 minutes, no additional cost.
The 13A Resident Visa you are issued is valid for one year, and probationary. In other words, don’t do anything stupid and break the law. After one year (90 days before it expires… IMPORTANT!), you can petition for the probationary visa to become permanent. You still have to appear at the BI during the first two months of the new year and pay the fee.
This process was very simple, even though you feel like cattle a bit. I really don’t believe that a fixer would have made anything any quicker. Perhaps on the review after the hearing, but I can’t see why it would be worth the risk unless you needed to travel far to reach immigration and get things done in a more timely manner. Keep in mind that I am not an attorney, nor an expert. Complicated or unusual cases probably would go smoother with an attorney involved, or one may be necessary. In my case, it was straightforward, since I was married here, and my wife and I have both behaved ourselves with no legal snafus. The first step, should you have questions, is to simply call immigration and ASK. Please note: It can be tough to find answers on these topics that are reliable. The small canteen connected to immigration is where the employees all take their breaks (smoke and otherwise). Chit chatting with them informally is a great way to find out the real scoop. They are friendly and are acting like people there, rather than government officials. Just mind your manners and remember that they are taking a break! They were very helpful in answering questions with which I was unclear. You might as well, since you will have a good bit of wait time.
Keep in mind, though this seems like a real hassle, this is much easier than most other countries’ immigration procedures.
Amendment of a Probationary 13A Resident Visa to Permanent
In his next article, John explained how to amend the 13A resident visa to permanent, one year after the probationary visa was issued.
Here is the process that John went through:
The Conversion Process
I amended from probationary to permanent status, converting probationary to permanent in June.
It was simple but took three visits to Intramuros. Since there were several inquiries, here is the detailing of my procedure in Manila. Converting in the provinces may be different or take differing amounts of time. Unfortunately, the BI website is not really clear on the requirements, and the request letter text differs from the initial probationary letter… I’m the first to admit that the process is confusing. Stick with it, don’t forget your documents, and just be patient. The conversion process is much easier than the initial application.
Rebecca needed to go with me. Conversion (Amendment, technically, since you really have the same visa, but the terms are changed) requires a letter similar to the letter required for the probationary application but differing slightly.
The text of the letter below:
May I respectfully request for the amendment to permanent a non-quota immigrant visa under Section 13, Paragraph A of the Philippine Immigration Act as amended, in favor of my foreign spouse, John Francis Miele, a United States national.
I am Rebecca Carrao Miele, a Philippine citizen. We were married in Abulug, Cagayan on October 8, 2008.
I am enclosing here a copy of the necessary documents to prove my above-cited information and that all documents submitted were legally obtained from the corresponding government agencies.
The letter is signed and notarized onsite, at the public attorney desk in BI. (You can also use one of the notaries standing outside if you need a reprint or change to the letter… Most charge around P300 per document.) You fill out a new application, bringing passport and your ACR. You are then directed to the immigration attorney section upstairs immediately, an interview with the attorney (Have you behaved? Are you intending to stay? Those sorts of questions. Your spouse MUST be present with you.)
The entire process, including the interview, took about three hours. When submitted, they return your passport and tell you to look up the status on the BI website for approval in two weeks (It took three actually… It appears that the website updates about 1 week behind… Note that you have to scroll through each page… Not searchable).
When your name appears on the BI website, you can come in and complete the process. They process the 13a resident visa at Intramuros on Tuesdays and Fridays. Pay “double express” again, and they stamp your passport with your new permanent resident visa. Then, you go apply for a new ACR. $50 for the new ACR card, but you don’t need new photos/fingerprints. They give you a receipt for your ACR (Don’t lose this, or face around an hour of running around trying to document your lost receipt… I’m speaking from my own stupid experience), with a phone number to call after 5 business days. When you call, they tell you if the ACR is ready. Total time for me: 3 hours.
Less than 5 minutes to pick up new ACR.
Again, though seemingly complicated, the process isn’t so bad, and you can take heart that you need not visit immigration again except for the annual 5-minute police report and renewal of your ACR after 5 years or changing addresses. I hope you find this information useful.
Can you Lose your 13A Resident Visa?
However, it probably can’t happen as easily as you may imagine. I recently received a question from Martyn through my Expat Answer Man voicemail line (if you have a question you can leave me a message below) asking what would happen if his wife dies?
Well, our wife (or spouse I should say) has to sponsor us to receive a 13A resident visa, so what if she dies? Do we lose our visa in that event? Well, the answer may surprise you, so be sure to listen to the Podcast today.
Should you become divorced or even separated from your spouse you will lose your 13A Resient Visa.
This post is meant as a comprehensive guide to obtaining and living in the Philippines in a 13A Resident Visa. The visa is easy to get, inexpensive and gives you a cheap and easy way to live permanently in the Philippines.
Good luck with your 13A Resident Visa!