Since I was just involved in a small way with someone running afoul of Philippine Immigration regulations I though I ought to post some more clarification on this … there never seems to be any lack of self-styled information on this subject, but there is always a lot of information that is partially or totally incorrect. Mine comes from official sources at the time of writing … updated 10 March 2010.
Do you need a visa to visit as a tourist? Simple question, two different answers depending on your answer to this question … are you planning to stay longer than 21 days in the Philippines. (you count this from the first full day you are in the Philippines, that is the calendar day after the calendar your plane arrives to the calendar day your outbound plane lifts off the ground.) 21 full days or less? No visa required. 22 days or more, visa required. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it, yet more people seem to have a problem with this simple rule than anything else I can think of with traveling to the Philippines.
One reason I suppose this is often confused is that it is not always routinely applied. The persons I mentioned at the beginning of the article arrive here on US passports for an actual 22 day stay. They should have gotten a visa, both by law and for a very practical consideration …. cost … but 90% percent of the Americans I’ve dealt with on these issues just travel onward, expecting the lovely blue US passport to heal all wounds.
By law these ladies’ airline should have refused them boarding … the airlines use a database called Timatic which keeps track of all these immigration and documentation niceties) and it is very commonly for ‘name brand’ airline to deny boarding in these cases … since they can be heavily fined by the Philippine government for failing to comply with the law.
However, like many things I write about here, it didn’t happen the ‘book’ way … they both got on the airplane, landed at NAIA and met two separate Immigration Officers. One stamped the first lady’s passport with a visa waiver that expired March 8. 2008. I have no idea where he got that date from. The second lady had her passport stamped with a visa waiver expiring(correctly, according to the law) on 30 January 2008, exactly 21 full days of presence allowed.
Again, why different? Why are certain regulations followed while others don’t seem to be? Why do different airlines seem to have different ways of applying the rules? I can not answer these questions. I can only report on what the law says and on what happens to people in particular situations.
Since both ladies were leaving together on the 31st of January … 22 days after arrival, they were concerned when this matter came up. So I drove both of them to the closest Bureau of Immigration office for a ‘reading’ on their status.
Person one … with the strange expiration date in March?
“AOK, you need nothing, just leave on Jan 31st and enjoy your stay.”
Person two, with the correctly dated stamp expiring one day before her flight.
“You will be fined for overstaying if you wait until 31 Jan … better fill up this form and purchase a 30 day extension (the shortest one sold) for 3,800 pesos while you are here.”
So that’s what we did. And all was well. All would have been just as well, if not better, though, had they ladies done their home work. If you are staying longer than 21 days … even ‘just one day’, then you need a visa.
If you are wanting to avoid getting a visa, easy, just select your arrival and departure dates that are 21 days or less apart … seems simple enough to me.
I want to stay longer, is it hard to get a tourist visa?
Nope, it is absolutely simple. Where you get one depends upon where you live in the US> See this page to tell you the embassy or consulate to use and download and fill up this tourist visa application form to apply.
You send the form, a 2×2 ID picture, your US passport and the fee of $30 USD and a USPS Express Mail envelope addresses back to you in a USPS (post office) Express mail envelope and in a few days you’ll have your passport complete with visa … nor visa waiver … stamped inside.
That gives you 59 days in the Philippines. If you want to stay longer, you can renew for two months at a time for at least a year. Do not by the more expensive multi-entry visas unless you are planning to come and go from the Philippines. All the tourist visas grant 59 days per stay or until renewal … the cheapest single entry is the best.
Now, to wind this up I hear the question coming from many people already … why not come on the 21 day visa waiver program and then extend as your friend, person two, did. Dave?
Answer, there is no reason you can not do this … aside from the fact you are the person who will know that you are violating the laws of the Philippines by doing so, intentionally. But in 8 years I have never heard of anyone having a problem in extending their 21 day Visa Waiver stamp. I am not your lawyer nor your conscience.
I will note this, from the schedule of fees to get a tourist visa issued in advance:
US $ 30.00 for single entry visa valid for three (3) months
US $ 60.00 for multiple entry visa valid for six (6) months
US $ 90.00 for multiple entry visa valid for twelve (12) months
(For each entry, a visa is usually good for an initial stay of 59 days)
PAYMENTS MUST BE MADE IN CASH, POSTAL MONEY ORDER, BANK DRAFT, OR CASHIER’S CHECK ONLY. PERSONAL CHECKS ARE NOT ACCEPTED.
And these fees from the schedule of fees for renewing tourist visa waivers and tourist visas:
TOURIST (NON-RESTRICTED) ADMITTED INITIALLY FOR 21 DAYS MAY BE EXTENDED FOR ANOTHER 38 DAYS
Visa Waiver Application Fee P1,000.00
Visa Waiver P 500.00
LRF P 30.00
Express lane fee P 500.00
Add it all up and it comes out to right at $50 USD at today’s exchange rate … so since even a 10 peso overcharge is a big thing to a lot of visitors, tell me why you think it’s smarter to ‘skirt’ the law if not out an out breaking it, pay nearly twice as much and lose at least a day of your vacation wearing shoes and long pants (you know you can’t go in shorts and sandals, don’t you?) at the Bureau of Immigration.
Myself, when the legal way is also the easiest and cheapest way, the choice seems clear. YMMV.
There’s more on the subject of Philippine Visas and Philippine Visa Waivers here.
All information contained in this article and the entire website is personal opinion/experience only. If you need legal advice, seek it from a competent practitioner.