Philippine Immigration

Philippines Immigration – A Pleasant Experience

I’m taking a short trip to Thailand in a few weeks, and need to get an exit clearance certificate from the local Philippine Bureau of Immigration office. If you’ve stayed in the Philippines for more than 6 months, you need to obtain an Exit Clearance Certificate, or you’ll get hassled at the airport, and may miss your flight. If you have been in the Philippines on a tourist “visa”, which is really a visa waiver, between 50 days and 6 months, you can simply pay the exit fee at the airport. But, as mentioned, I had already been here for over 6 months, so I needed an Exit Clearance Certificate. Note – there is also a document called the “Emigration Clearance Certificate”. This has nothing to do with people on a tourist visa (waiver).

After living in Panama City, Panama, for three and a half years, I was expecting absolute misery and madness. In Panama, you can stay for up to three months (90 days) on a tourist visa; then you have to either extend your visa, or leave the country for three days. After I extended once, I made the easy decision to go visit Costa Rica or Colombia for a few days, rather than have to experience the hell that is Panama Immigration. First, you can not do it yourself. You MUST have a lawyer with you. Second, it costs a lot. You have to pay the lawyer, and the fees are ridiculous. Third, prepare to stand in a room full of hot, tired, sweaty angry people for, and I’m serious, 6 to 8 hours, while the immigration staff just stares at you from behind their glass windows. You have to be there to get in line at about 5:00 in the morning, because they only accept a certain number of people per day. God forbid they don’t process you before 5:00 – you get to come back the next morning and start over, with no guaranteed place in line.

Anyway, in the Philippines, you can also leave for a day and come back, and start over. Or you can extend. You get 21 days upon arrival at the airport, and you can extend for 38 days, totaling 59 days in country. At that point you need to renew for another 59 days, or leave the Philippines for a day, come back, and start over. It’s far cheaper to renew.

I used to use a travel service to handle my renewals, because of my horrible experiences in Panama. For the exit clearance, I decided to be brave and go with my buddies (who were getting the same thing – they said it was easy). In fact, you have to go in person to get the Exit Clearance Certificate. So, I put on my big girl panties and drove down to the Philippine Bureau of Immigration office in Olongapo CIty.

Note – some websites say you can only get the Exit Clearance Certificate from a main office in Manila or Cebu City. This is not correct. Sub-stations, including Olongapo (Subic) and Clark (Angeles City) can and do issue them all the time.

The first step is to get your photo taken. You need to bring three passport sized photos. The easy way is to walk down Rizal Avenue towards Magsaysay Drive (the first big traffic circle coming from Immigration), and on the left side of the street about 200 yards down you’ll see a photo shot – “something” digital, I believe, but you really can’t miss it. They take you upstairs and snap your photo, then process it in about 20 minutes. It only costs 100 pesos (about $2.00) and they’re fun to chat with while you wait. You will also need some copies of your passport. I believe it’s two copies of the information page, with your photo, etc, and one copy of your last entrance. Further, some people have been requested to present their ticket for their flight out of the country (your confirmation from the airline will do just fine).

We got our photos, and walked back to Immigration. When we walked in, I had a bad feeling that this wasn’t going to turn out well. I walked up to the nearly empty line of windows, and was surprised (very pleasantly) to find I was first in line! The gentleman at the counter smiled (smiled!) and asked what I needed. I handed him my passport and photos, and told him I needed the exit clearance. He handed me a short form to fill out, which I did right there, and handed it to him. He smiled again and pointed to the small row of chairs behind me, asking me to wait. I sat down, and I swear, it wasn’t but four or five minutes before he called me up, and with a very serious look on his face, said “I’m sorry Sir, but you need to renew your visa before I can give you the exit clearance”. I felt my stomach drop and stammered out “how long will that take”? He just grinned and said “about 15 minutes – get a form from that table and give it to me”. I filled out another fairly short form, handed it back, and he again pointed to the chairs. I sat down, thinking “here we go”, and waited. Maybe 10 minutes later, he called me up, and a guy ran out to get my thumb prints for the exit clearance. Back to the chairs. A moment later, and the guy called me up, presenting my total bill: php4,300 – about php1,000 less than having a travel agent handle it for me! I paid the bill and went to sit back down, and the man grinned again and said “don’t you want your paperwork?”. I got up and walked back to the window, where he handed me everything. I was done. The entire process, from walking in the door, to getting everything and being ready to go, was maybe 30 minutes. I was ecstatic! I grinned (maybe for the second time) and thanked the guy profusely. He was already finishing up the exit clearances for my buddies, and we turned and walked out.

I was very impressed by the friendliness, ease of access, efficiency, and professionalism displayed by every person in that office. I have no fear of going back, and almost look forward to it. next time I go I’m bringing some candy or something as a gift.

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