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Visa Run

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I’m writing this article after I received an e-mail inquiry regarding the best place to make a visa run. I realized that since I’ve personally been on 13a for a while, that the need for a visa run has not emerged recently. So, having extensively travelled around most of SE Asia for a number of years, I’ll detail the places that I find most interesting, and cheapest, in order to make that visa run.

First off, what exactly is a visa run? Well, the Philippines is a very flexible country for those who arrive on tourist visas. Unlike many countries, your visa is easily extended beyond the initial 30 days that most passports receive upon entry. Very simple, in fact.

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  1. You arrive and get either 30 days immediately, or you can extend on the spot to 59 days by visiting the immigration office before getting your passport stamped. If you are married to a Filipina, and she is travelling with you (more properly, she), can avail of the balikbayan privilege and get one year.
  2. Before the 21 (or 59) days is up, you can extend at any BI office in 60 day increments, up to two years, without needing to leave, as long as you pay the fee.

After two years, you will eventually need to leave the Philippines, for at least one day. This is known as a “Visa Run”. What does a day entail? Well, you could take a 16:00 flight to Hong Kong, arriving at 18:00. Have dinner, and board a 22:00 flight back to Manila, arriving at 0:00 the next day… Not even 24 hours out of the country. This is “worst case.” Your two-year clock now starts ticking all over again.

But why stress about it? Why not take advantage of the time if you need to leave anyway? Why not play “tourist” for a bit? Why not take the opportunity to go shopping for things that are unavailable here or expensive here? SE Asia is highly diverse, with many things to see and do. Take advantage of the opportunity to live a little.

So, the following are my suggestions for the visa run category… Or even just a long weekend away:

Hong Kong

Pros:

  • Flights are dirt cheap in advance, as little as 5,000 pesos return (Tiger, Cebu Pacific, Hong Kong Express, Cathay Pacific, PAL).
  • Tons of things to see and do (Big Buddha, Ocean Park, Disney, Horse Racing, Victoria Peak, HK Harbour, etc., etc., etc.).
  • World-class shopping
  • World-class restaurants, especially any and all Chinese cuisine.
  • Visa-free entry (14 days) for Filipino spouse.

Cons:

  • Expensive hotels

Macao

Pros:

  • Cheap flights (Air Macau, Cebu Pacific, PAL)
  • Cheap accommodations
  • Lots to see and do (casinos, history, architecture, culture different than Hong Kong)
  • World-class casinos, if that’s your thing.
  • Visa Free entry for Filipino Spouse.

Cons:

  • Can become very expensive if you are not a good gambler.
  • Once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it.

Bangkok

Pros:

  • Flights are cheap (Thai, PAL, Cebu Pacific)
  • Good accommodations at excellent price
  • Tons to see and do (Temples, palaces, etc.)
  • Great restaurants
  • Visa free entry for Filipino spouse

Cons:

  • Several periods of instability over the last few years
  • Need “Street Smarts”

Singapore

Pros:

  • Great world-class restaurants
  • Fascinating blending of cultures
  • World-class shopping
  • Lots to do (Sentosa, casinos, Singapore Flyer, hawker centers, cultural enclaves, architecture, concerts, etc.)
  • Probably the cheapest international flights from the RP. (Jetstar, Cebu Pacific, SQ, Tiger)
  • Quick connections by ferry to Malaysia and Indonesia
  • Very safe (probably safest, cleanest city in the world.)
  • Visa Free for Filipino spouse.

Cons:

  • Expensive accommodations
  • Can get “boring” on a long trip
  • No “beach resorts” if that’s your thing.

Kuala Lumpur

Pros:

  • Interesting culture
  • Good restaurants
  • Reasonable accommodations (quality / price)
  • Good shopping
  • Visa Free for Filipino spouse.

Cons:

  • Airport is out in the boonies… not suited to quick return trips.
  • Flights tend to be more expensive, except Air Asia from Clark. (Cebu Pacific, Air Asia, Malaysian)

Kota Kinabalu

Pros:

  • Beautiful ecotourism destination (hiking, orang-utans, tropical setting).
  • Inexpensive, and beautiful, beach resorts.
  • Very unique culture.
  • Flights are cheap on Air Asia and Cebu Pacific from Clark. Expensive on Malaysian.
  • Clean and safe.
  • Visa Free for Filipino spouse.

Cons:

  • It is still a bit remote. Travel outside the city into Sabah can get expensive.

Brunei

Pros:

  • Unique and fascinating culture.
  • Ecotourism opportunities.
  • Visa Free for Filipino spouse.

Cons:

  • Expensive Flights (Though going down, now that Cebu Pacific flies there… Royal Brunei)
  • Can get very expensive on hotels.
  • No liquor or beer.
  • After you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. (Bit boring after a couple of days.)
  • Expensive transport.
  • Close to beach resorts in Miri, Malaysia (Sarawak)

Guam

Pros:

  • Part of the US (If that’s your thing… US shopping / goods)
  • Interesting history.
  • Nice beach resorts. (diving, swimming)

Cons:

  • Expensive flights (Continental, PAL)
  • Expensive resorts / hotels.
  • Can be unsafe.
  • Visa required for Filipino spouse.

Palau

Pros:

  • Unique Pacific culture
  • Off the beaten path
  • Very nice resorts
  • World-class diving / scuba.
  • Visa Free for Filipino Spouse

Cons:

  • Expensive flights.
  • Expensive  accommodation.

Taiwan (Taipei or Kaohsiung)

Pros:

  • Great shopping (especially electronics)
  • World-class Chinese cuisine
  • Lots to see and do

Cons:

  • Flights can get expensive (Air China, Cebu Pacific, Mandarin, Pal)
  • Hotels can get expensive
  • Language issues
  • Visa required for Filipino spouse.

Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Da Nang)

Pros:

  • Unique and interesting culture
  • Lots to see and do (history, markets, etc.)
  • Good restaurants.
  • Nice accommodation, cheap.
  • Great resorts on S. China Sea coast.
  • Visa free for Filipino spouse (Complicated visa on arrival for Westerners).
  • Cheap internal transport

Cons:

  • Air fare can get expensive (PAL)
  • Vietnamese cities can be somewhat chaotic (crowded)

China

Pros:

  • Tons to see and do (In most cities).
  • Shopping for anything and everything
  • Inexpensive accommodations (even luxury hotels are typically much cheaper than elsewhere)
  • Internal transport is cheap.

Cons:

  • Everyone needs a visa.
  • Airfares can get expensive (PAL, Cebu Pacific, Air China, China Southern).
  • Language issues.
  • Food and restaurants are spotty in quality.
  • Pollution issues.

Indonesia

Pros:

  • Inexpensive accommodations
  • Nice beach resorts in certain areas (Bali)… NOT Jakarta.
  • Cheap shopping.
  • Interesting culture (Lots do see and do)
  • Visa Free for Filipino spouse.

Cons:

  • Developing world (Most Indonesian cities are somewhat chaotic)
  • Expensive flights (SQ, PAL, Cebu Pacific, Royal Brunei)
  • Far enough that a quick visa run is impractical
  • Food issues (sanitation)

Korea (Seoul / Busan)

Pros:

  • Interesting, and different, culture
  • Great restaurants
  • Lots to see and do (Temples, the DMZ)
  • Very good shopping

Cons:

  • Language issues
  • Accommodation can get very expensive
  • Flights can get expensive (Though the price is falling…
    Asiana, KAL, Cebu Pacific)
  • Internal transport is expensive
  • Restaurant meals can get very expensive
  • Visa required for Filipino spouse
  • Bit far for a quick visa run

 

Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka)

Pros:

  • Utterly fascinating culture
  • Lots to see and do
  • World-class restaurants
  • Shopping for anything and everything, including many unique
    products (Though expensive)

Cons:

  • Flights tend to be expensive
  • Hotels can get very expensive
  • Internal transport very expensive
  • Restaurant meals very expensive
  • Visa required for Filipino spouse
  • Far for a quick visa run

AND, for those wishing a little different sort of visa run, the Zamboanga – Sandakan ferry offers an interesting possibility. However, the trip is 20 hours in each direction, and only two departures in each direction each week. No online booking, though the travel agents who deal with ferries should be able to help. The trip is safe (terrorism-wise), though the ferries suffer the same navigational, overloading, and equipment issues that other Philippine ferries face. In other words, AT YOUR OWN RISK, KNOW WHERE THE LIFEBOATS AND PRESERVERS ARE AS SOON AS YOU BOARD, AND DON’T BOARD IF YOU SENSE OVERLOADING. Fares average P3,500 each way. I strongly suggest buying first class unless you like a hard deck, lots of salt air, and a really “rustic” experience. Aleson Lines is the ferry operator.

So, this is my list. Keep in mind that it reflects my opinion ONLY, based on my personal experiences (I have been to all of these places, most of them many times)… You may find a package deal online, or just want to live life to its’ fullest. There are many smaller places to see that I have not listed. I only focused on the most common places with nonstop flights from Manila. Many airlines have also started flights from Cebu and Davao, so you do not necessarily have to go from Manila.

See the world! Explore! Take the necessary visa run, and instead of complaining, make the most of the opportunity. You only live once.

 

JohnM

John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.

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Paul
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Paul

John, Awesome article. I personally prefer Thailand and after a day or so in Bangkok would head down to either Pattaya or Phuket. Awesome food, massage, golf and beaches and other things Thai LOL. Some foreigners may want to go check some of these countries out as there will no doubt be a mass exodus from the Philippines if and when the Phil Peso hits the 37 -38 mark to the US Dollar. Bye Bye Philippines and hello Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos for many fixed income Americans living in the Philippines. Bob will have to do LIP sister sites LIV,… Read more »

Rich321 (Rich Bowen)
Guest

Hi Paul, I have noticed a number of post on this website as well as other websites (mostly forums) that suggest if the (PHP) Peso drops to some dreaded ratio to the US dollar, say 37 or 38 to the dollar, it would be time to bail out of the Philippines and move to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam or some other magical place. I’m not an expert in these matters, but I think there is a fundamental flaw in that sort of thinking… Look at this link below, (you will need to “add” the PHP to the chart and also add… Read more »

Ricardo Sumilang
Guest
Ricardo Sumilang

John – I don’t have to take a visa run whenever I visit the Philippines for an extended period, but if I were to be in that situation, I would probably go to Bali, Indonesia, for its breathtaking scenery. No, I have never been there, but I have heard about it — including the fact that it was once the scene of a terrorist bombing. But you can’t always just go through life being afraid to visit a place because of something horrible that happened in the past. Of all the places you mentioned, though, the Zamboanga – Sandakan route… Read more »

John Miele
Guest
John Miele

Ricardo: The problem with Bali is that there are no direct flights from here, so you lose a day each way in making a visa run. There are some really nice resorts and beaches there, though. It is well worth a visit if you’ve never been.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Ricardo you might also consider going by boat from General Santos City to Sarangani Island and then to Manado, Indonesia. A road less traveled let’s say.

Don
Guest
Don

I just booked a flight on Tiger from MNL to SIN, just $135. Thats probably the cheapest I’ve seen in a while. But you are correct that there is no cheap accomodation. If your really on a budget, you can crash at a dorm style room in China Town for about $35 a night. Everything else in Singapore is cheap, except the alcohol and cigarettes (and dont smuggle any in). The food in Singapore alone is worth the trip.

Jim
Guest

Hi John – Great information for those also wishing to just take a break away from the every day humdrum of living here.
I’ve filed it away for later use.
Regards.
Jim.

Tony
Guest
Tony

I’m pretty sure the 2 years of extensions is down to 14 months maximum now.

MindanaoBob
Guest

I believe that it is 16 months.

Tony
Guest
Tony

I stand corrected, with the final extension it does indeed add up to 16.

Hudson
Guest
Hudson

Very good information John. How hard is it to get a visa to China?

Jim
Guest

Hudson – Its very easy your local travel agent will arrange one for you. I visited China last year and I would go back again.
Regards.
Jim.

Lenny
Guest
Lenny

I found that Hong Kong is the easiest and cheapest to get to … food is excellent.. but its a little pricy there,,,and only a couple of hours away….

Gary Wigle
Guest
Gary Wigle

You hit a home run again John. I just got my 13a this past August so I don’t need the visa. Bob is right about the 16 months, at least that is what I was told at the BI office in Davao City. BTW – I love Hong Kong!

Papa Duck
Guest
Papa Duck

John,

Good article. Lots of good info that will come in handy in the future. Is Tiawan the best place to purchase electronics? Thanks so much for the info.

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