NEW articles daily! Subscribe below to receive daily updates with our new articles!
When You Decide What Visa To Use, Decide by Facts, not “What Everyone Says”.
One key issue often on foreigner expats already in the Philippines, and especially those planning to come to live in the Philippines, is the question of what residency visa to obtain, or what non-residency visa to use in order to stay here in the Philippines legally.
It’s a Complex Question
An old friend of mine, Canadian, who has lived in the Philippines for nearly 30 years and I were emailing back and forth one day about about some visa questions. I made the comment, almost as a joke, that there must be 20 different visas and options that might be used. By return mail she replied, “Actually I think the number is closer to 30”!
Wow! Thirty different visas/options? Well we have emailed back and forth several times now. We both aren’t done searching yet, but IIRC the official count is up to 28 or 29 by now … so even if we never find another option, my friend was much, much close to her guess of thirty than I was to my guess of only twenty.
Complex. Difficult decisions. Too many options. Almost makes your head explode … or as my Filipino friends are often heard to say, “Gives me a nosebleed”.
But it doesn’t have to be that complex.
It’s only time consuming and hard to understand if you WANT to make it hard to understand.
I hereby offer up my time tested, tried and true KISS principle for deciding this question, getting it out of the way, and moving on to what you really hope to do … enjoy life worry free here in the Philippines.
Just answer a Few Simple Questions, go where the answers to those questions direct you, and “Bob’s Your Uncle.”
Actually he’s our publisher here, but I’m sure he’s someone’s uncle and I’m sure he’ll be an informal uncle to you too if you ask him nice. Bob has also written several eBooks on this subject, which you can check out here.
Simple Question One:
Do you even need a visa?
Surprisingly for many of you who are so immersed in headache inducing research, the answer is absolutely not. My recommendation, shocking to some I must agree is, don’t bother getting a visa until you are sure you are going to stay.
Simple Question Two:
Are You Married, and if So, Is Your Wife a Filipino/former Filipino citizen?
If you are single, just get on a plane and come. You can live for up to three years on a “issued upon arrival” “Tourist Visa Waiver”. You get 30 days upon arrival, just by asking for it. You can even extend it for another 30 days right there at the airport.
After the first 30 or 60 days, you can extend at any Bureau of Immigration field office (in all major and many minor) cites, just by paying a fee. No police checks, complex paperwork, no proof of onward travel, etc., etc.
After the first 60 days you will receive an ACR-I card … something a lot of “scuttle butt” says you need a permanent visa for. Not so.
If you are married to a Filipina or former Filipina, just get on a plane (the both of you) and come.
For absolutely no pain, no Pesos and no hassle, she can ask the immigration office at the airport for a Balikbayan Privilege stamp. This gives you 365 days of stay in the Philippines, hassle free. You don’t even have to visit the immigration office in January or February for the Annual Reporting/head tax which permanent visa holders have to comply with. And if you leave the country at the end of the year, you also don’t have to go through the convoluted Exit Clearance Certificate (ECC) rigmarole and expense at the BI.
Couldn’t be simpler. And despite what some people will tell you, you can also ship the same quantity of household good into the Philippines on the BB Privilege Program as you can with a 13 series Permanent Residency Visa. I know you can, my wife and I did so.
Couldn’t be simpler. Couldn’t have gone any easier for us.
Oh But: Yes there is always an “oh But” isn’t there. This is where a large percentage of you start kicking into the negative thinking mode. “But” you don’t understand, I am married to a Filipina but she is in the Philippines and we can’t possibly travel together. You see she can’t get a US visa, or the time to get one is too long, or the plane fare to the US costs too much, again, etc., etc., etc. Trust me in more than 10 years of answering these sort of questions I have heard most all the “can’t” reasons (although the negative thinkers among you are so inventive I am sure I’ll here more as time goes by). Sometime I secretly wonder if the majority of my American readers are really Ameri-cans or Ameri-can’ts, because some people make a whole career, or at least a darn good hobby, out of thinking up all the reasons they “can’t”.
If your wife Is in the Philippines, and you want to fly to the Philippines and stay there with her, without flying her back to the US so that she can accompany you, there’s a very simple solution.
Instead of booking a flight to the Philippines, book a flight from your home to some place close to the Philippines, like Hong Kong. Not only is the airfare going to be the same or maybe even cheaper, but there are a LOT more flights and airlines to choose from and you won’t be saddled with the extra hassle of coming up with that “onward travel” ticket which seems to trouble a lot of people.
Then, book your wife a round trip ticket from the Philippines to Hong Kong or Macau and book yourself a seat on the same flight that she will be returning home on. Simple.
But I Still Need Onward Travel, Don’t I?
The answer, under the rules of the Balikbayan Privilege program, is no, you do not. If the airline asks for your onward travel ticket when you try to board in Hong Kong or Macau, simply explain, along with your wife, to the agent that you are availing of the Balikbayan Privilege Program and that, in my experience will be that. See also: Did I Say That? and A Few More Thoughts On Onward Travel and Throwaway Tickets.
It’s not that hard, fellows and gals, to come here and live without any permanent visa at all … unless you want to make it so.
Excellent post sir! Clear and concise answer to the question I wrestled with! I was planning to but a throwaway ticket just in case but why waste the capital?! Thank you so much! I don’t want to come from Australia just to be sent back
@ Victor Thanks, Victor. You also want to check with the airline you are going to use to see if they offer full-fare, fully-refundable tickets, as the major US carriers do. We have, in a way, handicapped ourselves with the obsession to always find the cheapest of everything. Full-fare tickets cost a LOT more than discount, non-refundable tickets, but on US airlines, at least, the cost doesn’t matter … because you are going to get a refund for the ticket when you arrive in the Philippines and get checked in through immigration. (no, you do not need an onward travel… Read more »
Dave, i’m a little worried by your statement that you don’t need a return or onward ticket if using the BB privilege. As it is only a privilege and is not guarenteed you will not have received that privilege until you arrive at the immigration gate, it can be refused. The carrier could quite rightfully refuse to let you board unless you can show onward travel arrangments.
Hi Gary, Well I’m sorry that you’re worried. But there’s not much I can do about it. Some folks make a career out of worrying. When it comes to “guarantees” there is no “guarantee” on anything. You are not “guaranteed” a tourist visa waiver stamp either .. it’s at the sole discretion of the Immigration Officer who can refuse entry to anyone s/he sees fit to. The airline has the obligation to carry you on BB status according to their own rules. I’ve referenced this article before … I suggest you read it, it’s eight years worth of coming and… Read more »
thank you for responding. i am married to a filipina and we have a daughter. essentially when i present myself to philippine immigration with my wife and child,she asks the immigration officer for the BB privilege. thats it? i present my passport,etc etc?
that sounds brilliant!?!?
Victor! It doesn`t only sounds brilliant, but it IS brilliant! I think you travel mostly with the family!? That`s why your wife is like a super easy immigration office of Philippines for you! Only thing you have to remember is to travel with her at the same flight to the Philippines and ask the BB stamp into your passport at the passport control! That`s all! If you have to get back to Australia or anywhere abroad by yourself within this 1 year period you loose that BB stamp and coming back ALONE you are given only this 30 days tourist… Read more »
well then,singapore here i come! 😀
thank you for your time and patience.
Dave, I enjoy your informative posts, I almost always learns something I didnt know. For me, when the time comes, the Balikbayan Stamp seems to make the most sense, especially since you said we can still send our things there by container, I didnt know that part. If I forgo the 13 series visa, is there a way I can stay there with my wife, and be able to come and go as we choose, and not have to get permission from the Philippine govt. (ECC) each time we decide to travel someplace outside the Philippines. Can I still be… Read more »
@ Bill S Hi Bill, thanks for writing. Short answer? Yes and Yes. No ECC is required for BB Privilege foreigners. I think I said that, anyway, it’s not required. (and you don’t need your spouse with you to LEAVE, only to ENTER. To ship your duty free allocation of house hold goods, you fill out a simple inventory form (the exact same for you use for any duty-free shipmen, and your spouse fills out a little less than postcard size form that says “I hereby claim my rights of shipment under the Balik Bayan Privilege Program.” Simple as that.… Read more »
Bob, I will be leaving the USA forever within 2 years, maybe one year. We already have land on which to build. What kind of Visa should I seek?
Personally I recommend a 13a resident visa, but that is my personal choice.
I’ll second that, what if you’re sick or hurt and can’t fly when you need to?
Note to the “Popularity contest” aspect.of “which visa” … I state several times and places that someone who enters on a BB stamp may well want to convert to a 13 – series visa down the road. I just hate to see so many people seemingly struggling with “”yet another obstacle” before they even move here for the first time and get the true experience. After all, as we know, a significant number of folks who move here don’t even make it to the end of their first year … what use was it for them to go through the… Read more »
Definitely 13a, and if you get it approved by a Philippine embassy prior to coming to the Philippines it is much faster and cheaper. Got my 13a in less than 2 weeks and it cost maybe $200 USD all said and done.
My only “quibble” if you will, Reese is, as soon as you say Philippine Visa and “Definitely” in the same sentence, you are skating on very thin ice. A friend recently got his 13(a) in the US. By the time he got through with the medical requirements his cost was in the range of thousands of dollars versus the hundreds of dollars range. Consistently Inconsistent. Also, at least half the people I’ve dealt with over the past 10 years moving to the Philippines are NOT married to a Filipina/former Filipina and thus are not able to get a 13 -series… Read more »
Thank you so much! I suffer from lack of information. That’s a big help. I live in NJ so I guess I need to go to NY. My wife already has her dual citizenship. My daughter is going for hers. Maybe I’ll go with her as long as I can get it this far in advance without expiring. I still have a house to sell.
There is a time limit after you get the visa. As I recall, I believe you must go to the Philippines within 6 months after the visa is issued, but that might not be the exact time. It is no more than 6 months, though.
First of all, great article. Thanks for posting it Bob. You’re always right on cue! I live in Wisconsin. I’m thinking I might have to fly to NY, as well.
The Philippine embassies in the USA do road trips to neighboring states about once a month. If you don’t live near one, you can call the nearest one and find out if they will be coming to your neighborhood any time soon. I used the San Francisco embassy when they were on roadtrips to Seattle. Very convenient. (Philippine Embassy personnel actually answer phones)
Did anyone ship all of their furniture? Or should I be looking to buy all new. Thanks for the Visa info, looks Like I need to wait.