Many of our readers here are living in the Philippines on various permanent visas, so they never HAVE to leave the Philippines for periodic “visa runs”. Some, (like me), prefer living on the Balik Bayan Privilege Stamp (BB Visa) and making annual trips out of the country.
I’m not advocating one plan over another, there are advantages to both methods, but for those of you who, like me, want some fresh air, to stretch your legs so to speak, and to actually see something different from time to time, here are some thoughts on nearby “target” countries and my personal likes and dislikes.
12 Closest International Airport On the Map
Mileage and Flight Times
Hong Kong: 711 mi 1h 25m
Macau: 717 mi 1h 26m
Taipei: 727 mi 1h 27m
Brunei: 777 mi 1h 33m
Naha: 911 mi 1m 49m
Saigon: 1002 mi 2h 00m
Palau: 1041 mi 2h 05m
Bangkok: 1361 mi 2h 43m
Singapore: 1474 mi 2h 57m
Kuala Lumpur 1546 mi 3h 06m
Guam: 1597 mi 3h 12m
Bali: 1648 mi 3h 18M
Hong Kong is a SAR (Special Administrative Region) of China. As most everyone knows it is a former colony of Great Britain. Signs, transportation systems and the general ‘way things work” are quite British in nature. English is widely spoken 9akthougyh often with a very heavy accent. Hotels then to be expensive, but the better class hotels have a very high standard of service. Food is the big attraction in Hong Kong, along with shopping. If you go there and don’t see the Flower market (well worth getting up for) and the Ladies market, the Men’s Market and the Night Market, shame on you … you will have missed something really unique. Be sure to take the Star ferry back and forth across the bay a time or two, ride on the upper deck of a few of the dole-decker trams (trolley cars)(both exceedingly cheap) and go to the top of Victoria Peak by funicular. Also the airport alone is nearly worth the trip. I like Hong Kong, I’ll be going back there some trip in the future, you can be sure of that. No visa needed for US citizens or Philippine citizens.
This is a favorite destination for my wife and I, and it’s likely to stay near the top of our list. We’ve been there several times already, and each experience was better than the one before. The air fares, especially from Clark, are about the cheapest. Hotels are no longer cheap because Macau has become a major casino hub, but the upside to that is, many hotels work to a much higher standard than anything you typically see in the Philippines. And the food? Great. Chinese, Portuguese (Macau used to be a colony of Portugal) Ease of communicating? Pretty good, especially if you stick to major tourist areas, because most everyone you run into on hotel and restaurant staffs are Filipinos, with excellent English, working there as OFW’s. I’ll be back there again sooner or later. US citizens require no visa for Macau and neither do Filipino citizens. Convenient.
Third closest destination. I haven’t yet visited (except to transit through the airport, which is … well not quite NAIA, but it’s close). I do know there are a lot of shopping opportunities and a lot of traditional Chinese tourist attractions .. and like the destinations earlier in the list, both US passport holders can enter without a visa. Philippines citizens have some complicated rules unless they also hold US or certain other country’s long term stay permission. Research here: Visa-Exempt Entry
I never even thought of this destination before I started writing this article. But Brunei is close by and has quite a history. Although Malay is the official language, like many former British colonies and protectorates, English is in wide use. For those “put off” by so-called “backward Third-World” countries, Brunei ranks second only to Singapore on the list of developed nations in SEA. Us and Pinoy citizens may both enter with no visa.
Capital city of Okinawa, Naha is very familiar to many Americans due to the large US military presence there. It’s a tropical island resort destination for tourists, and should be a very interesting place for a visit. Mita and I will probably go there some year soon.
One thing for our US military retiree readers to keep in mind is, non-SOFA (Status Of Forces Agreement) visors,m even if they have a valid US military ID card, are not going to be able to use the commissary stores on US bases, and may also be subject to other restrictions. Check before you go. US passport holders can enter with no problem, Pinoys will need a visa.
Not many readers will fail to connect with this city … although today the proper name is “Ho Chi Min City”, capital of the republic of Vietnam. This is another destination quite close to the Philippines which my wife and I have not yet traveled too …but it is certainly on the list. We have a close cousin 9single woman who is a former Filipino, now US citizen, who lives here in the Metro Manila area fill-time now. For whatever reason, she doesn’t wish to reacquire her Philippine citizenship and so she goes out of the Philippines once a year for a short vacation and gets her BB stamp upon return. Just like many expats, but she doesn’t need a Filipino spouse to travel with her.
This cousin went to Vietnam for her very first “Visa Run” after returning to the Philippines and has gone back every year, she loves it there and one of the main reasons is that the cost of living and value received in areas like restaurants, hotels and local travel she feels are even better than her “Rate Of Return” living in the Philippines.
Air fares are cheap and like many of the destinations I mention here, both US citizens and Filipinos can come and go with no visa hassles.
This one I suspect many readers haven’t considered. It’s not a name that rolls off the lips like Vietnam. But if you see pictures of Palau you immediately think of nothing short of a tropical island paradise … tiny green islands scattered across striking blue and green waters .. and yet not so remote, about a two hour non-stop from Manila. Again this is a country I have not visited yet, but it’s certainly convenient and on our list of target destinations. Currency is the good old US Dollar and both American citizens and Philippine citizens can vest with no visa requirements.
Capital of Thailand, the land of smiles. I have lived in Thailand two years. What can I say .. nothing much except that if I wasn’t kind of “married” to the Philippines I would be as likely to live in Thailand than in any other Asian country. It’s a great place, a fun place, and, if you stay the heck ou5t of Bangkok, especially the entertainment districts, it can be a very cheap place as well. Both American and Filipino citizens can enter with no visa hassles.
A lot of people seem to think Singapore is much closer to the Philippines than it is. It’s getting right up there at three hours away, but because it’s a very popular destination, air fares are often as cheap as some other closer locations. Singapore is easily the most dewlapped city in all of Asia. A former British colony, English is widely spoken and there is practically no “first World” amenity you won’t be able to find in Singapore. Of course prices are going to reflect that situation. But for shopping, casinos and other westernized attractions, Singapore can’t be beat. Like most of my other “closest dozen” visa run destinations here, both US and Filipino citizens can enter with no visa needed.
As Malaysia’s largest city, “K-L” as it’s often called has a lot to offer. I haven’t yet been there, but I have it on my list. Prices should average less than Singapore, although I doubt it will make anyone’s list of cheapest cities. Americans and Filipinos can both enter without visas.
Guam is unique on this list as the only “:US soil” within easy “Visa Run” distance from the Philippines. At a hair over three hours it is getting to the very end of the “close” list and you will not find many ultra cheap fares. But it has an undeniable appeal to retired military Americans (like me). A large, well equipped US Navy base and a very nice, friendly USAF base. My wife and I went to Guam on our last visa trip, and while we were there we got her DEERS iD card renewed (15 minute job and no PITA hassles like the US Embassy gives), and we filled up all our luggage allowance, almost to the pound with goodies from the commissary (yes, retirees and their dependents can shop at the commissaries on Guam). Guam advertises itself as “Guam USA”, and of course it is. Laws, rules of business and other US things you are used to back in the USA all work the same. The currency, of course, is the US dollar. Disadvantage to some is the fact that Filipino citizens must have a US visitor visa. One opposite advantage is, those of you with spouses holding US Green card get credited with a return to the USA upon re-entry. Thus a couple needing a new BB stamp for the US spouse can also satisfy the requirement that the foreign spouse return the USA requirement annually. My wife and I really enjoyed our trip to Guam.
Perhaps I saved the best until last, Just a few miles farter than Guam is Bali, also known as Denpasar International Airport. I have not yet travelled to Bali, but I certainly intend to some year soon. I’m not going to delve much into a place I haven’t yet seen, but Bali has an unpatrolled reputation is a fantastic resort area. Decent hotel packages and air fares seem to be readily available, especially some two or three night package deals that would be just the thing to take you spouse on for a romantic second honeymoon. As with most of my other picks above, both US and Filipino citizens can enter with no visa hassles.
So, there you are, a dozen nearby locations to chose from. You still feel that an annual trip for a new Balik Bayan stamp cost too much or takes too long? Live a little, that’s my motto 😉