Significantly updates in Octobe4, 2014. Part of a series on living in the Philippines on the BB (Balik Bayan) Privilege stamp.
Part One is here: Why I Left The Philippines
Part Two: Why I Left The Philippines Again
Part Four: Coming Soon
This year was my 68th birthday. What did I do to celebrate? Easy, like I did last year I took a trip back to the USA.
Expensive? Nope, less than $350 round trip. ($700 for the two of us, since I needed to travel with my wife in order to get my one year free BB immigration stamp when I returned to Manila) (Yes and I did get it, as usual, absolutely no problem at all)
Time consuming? Not so bad, 3 hours and 30 minutes outbound, 3 hours 11 minutes back to Manila. Non-stop.
Wow! Was that some super-new airliner?
Nope, good old Boeing 737.
So How Can This Be True?
- 0.1 So How Can This Be True?
- 0.2 So This Sounds Too Good To Be True. What’s The Catch?
- 0.3 Are There Any Advantages to Guam?
- 0.4 Making an Annual Visa Trip Suits My Wife and I Just Fine.
- 0.5 Would I Go to Guam Again?
- 0.6 Tips on the BB process and a Note On Onward Travel:
- 0.7 Onward Travel Ticket
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A beautiful little (very little) island paradise, less than 4 hours from the Philippines, Guam is a full-fledged territory of the USA. Your first clue is when you see their license plate. Instead of the “Garden State” or “Live Free or Die”, they read “Guam – USA”.
Quite similar to New Mexico, actually, which for several years used the slogan, “New Mexico — USA”. (Actually I heard New Mexico might change to “What’s My Name” soon, but probably that’s just idle rumor )
In Guam you find US Post offices, Zip Codes, school buses (they are yellow and people even stop for them when lights are flashing) (you don’t get to watch all the tricky running through traffic Filipino kids learn to do here … if they don’t die early under a Jeepney, that is).
US Social Security/Medicare offices, regular US phone numbers (Area Code 617).
US Car rental companies, right at the airport with near instant checkout and check in, just like you are used to renting cars back in the continental US.
US Citizens and LPR’s (Green Card holders) also won’t find (or hassle with) Visas, and other entry hoops to go through, you can stay as long as you want to, any time you want to …
and of course the language is English and the currency is good old US dollars … no worry abut “exchange rates”, it’s always 1 to 1!
So This Sounds Too Good To Be True. What’s The Catch?
There are some negative factors. A few that come to mind for me:
- My wife is a US citizen, so she has no issue with passport or visa. Those reading here who are NOT US citizens will have to go through the standard (expensive and tedious) US Visitor Visa process.
- Guam is not a low-cost place to live. Prices are pretty much comparable to California. It is a real part of the USA, after all.
- If you don’t have access to the US military medical system, medical issues are the same as the mainland USA … few docs and hospitals who take Medicare and other US medical plans.
- It’s a really small place, only 30-odd miles long and never more than 8 miles wide. Nation-wide speed limit, 35 mph, and you won’t get up to that speed often.
- You do have to follow traffic laws when you drive. Many of us who have been in the Philippines a long time may find this a hassle
- There are cheaper destinations. Typically Philippine discount carriers fly more cheaply to Hong Kong or Macau or Singapore … so you pay your money and take your choice.
Are There Any Advantages to Guam?
Yep, quite a few that I can think of:
- You can deal directly with US government offices like Social Security, Medicare, US INS (you can’t, for example, get a Green Card or be sworn in anywhere _EXCEPT_ an INS office … the Embassy just won’t do.
- You can go to familiar US-brand stores and shop
- You can stop in places like Navy Federal Credit Union (they have off-base as well as on-base locations) and join/do business if you are eligible. You know how many times I have tried to warn you about thieving, crooked UAS banks … and they’re getting worse. not better.
- You can order things from US-based online catalogs and they get delivered with no restrictions on non-US addresses, customs penalties and such.
- There’s no sales tax (you know the Philippines 12% VAT (Value Added Tax) really ads up, even applied to prescription drugs, no less.
- Ad IF (here’s the big if), you are a US military retiree (as I am), you get access to all the great facilities on two different large, clean, modern US installations, to include Medical Care.
- Air. Living as I do just outside the Metro Manila area, the air on Guam is AMAZING!. It’s like wine, seriously. No place on the island is more than 5 miles or so from the sea, so it’s always fresh and clean. The air on Guam is like WINE. I loved it.
- No DAMN polluting, stinky, noisy, dangerous tricks and Jeepneys The difference in the noise level alone, for me, was fantastic.
Making an Annual Visa Trip Suits My Wife and I Just Fine.
It’s great to get away once a year for us. I realize many people don’t care to do this … and that’s fine too. I’m not trying to argue or “convert” anyone. Everyone should do as they find best for them. But to me and my beloved, travelling at least once a year is one of the big advantages to the retiree life.
Would I Go to Guam Again?
You bet! All in all, a very enjoy able trip .. I just wish we could have carried more back. Next time maybe we’ll ship ourselves a balik bayan box. Anyway, my BB stamp is good for another year, and I’m a happy camper.
Tips on the BB process and a Note On Onward Travel:
When we checked in to board our return flight from Guam to Manila, the very polite (Filipino) United reservation clerk hesitated for a moment, studying his computer screen. The he looked up and said, “Sir, are you aware that there is an onward travel requirement for flights to the Philippines”?
“Yes”, I replied. “ My wife is also a Philippine citizen”, (handing over her Philippine Citizenship certificate which she got when she reacquired her citizenship some years ago) and then I continued to explain, “And I will be claiming t
he Balik Bayan Privilege stamp as her spouse”., handing him the copy of our marriage certificate which we also always carry in our travel documents folder.
His face lit up and he flashed a big smile as he hit the key to print our our boarding passes. “Thank you sir, for being so well prepared, this makes it so much easier for all of us. have a great trip to Manila”.
So far I have never had a problem boarding without a follow on ticket AS LONG AS MY WIFE WAS WITH ME and we were prepared with the SIMPLE DOCUMENTATION. The problem many people seem to have is they either get angry and nasty when questioned, or else they don’t know the rules for the BB program and come unprepared. It only takes proof of your Filipino spouse’s Philippine or former-Philippine citizenship and proof of your marriage. AND YOUR SPOUSE MUST BE TRAVELING WITH YOU!
Oh, and it also takes a few moments patience and courtesy to the clerks who are only doing their job.
Onward Travel Ticket
After we arrived in Manila the immigration officer took one quick look at our documents, stamped both out passports and sent us immediately on our way. One more year “in the bank”.
But I did notice something new I had not seen before in more than 10 years of going to and fro through NAIA. On each immigration offices booth there was a sign which said, “Please Present you Passport, Arrival Card and Proof of Onward Travel for Tourists”.
I never saw such a notice before. I think the rules are certainly tightening. I have written about a number of ways to be prepared for the “Onward travel” issue. My advice? Be prepared, or be prepared to be on an airplane heading home MUCH sooner than you expected to.