Traveling for a balikbayan stamp

Balikbayan Stamp 1

Photo credit: Anton Zelenov

I have been doing the tourist visa extensions for a couple years.  While easy, it does get a bit expensive. For a breakdown of fees, and my experiences you can read this post: https://expatinphilippines.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/visa-extensions-iloilo.  Since we got married we need to apply for 13a… one of these days… but until then we decided a balikbayan stamp might be fun.   The BB stamp is easy to get. All you have to do is enter the country with your Filipino spouse,  show your marriage license, and get a 1 year stamp. It is a single entry stamp – meaning if you leave during the 1 year period you lose any time left on the stamp.  But there is no dealing with immigration at all. No fees, no paperwork, no ACR card, no ECC… it has it’s benefits. And you get to go on a vacation once a year to get a new stamp ha ha

I had just returned from a visit to the US 5 months prior, so some big fees were almost due at immigration.   Generally you get your ACR card on your 2nd extension, but my existing card was still current at the 2nd extension, and they said to wait until it expired (it would expire when I hit 6 months).  After 6 months you also have to get an ECC (Emigration Clearance) to leave the country.  So if we left before my next extension, I would not need the ECC, or need to renew my ACR.  The time to leave was now!

Melane had never left the country before so we had to decide where to go. Singapore has Universal Studios and Hong Kong has Disneyland.  So she chose Hong Kong.  She had a passport in her maiden name, but had never used it. Before we go, she wants to change her name on her passport.  A bit more complicated than in the US…  When a Filipina marries a foreigner and wants to change her name on the passport she has to attend a CFO seminar (Commission on Filipino Overseas).  Unfortunately, the seminar is only offered in Manila & Cebu. Oddly inconvenient for the size of the country. Seems like each Region should offer it.  But, such is life. So we get to go to Cebu. She has never been there either – so it is a vacation in preparation for a vacation.

The CFO appointment process is online, and very easy.  There is a list of documents to bring with you.  When we get there, the first thing they say is that I am not even allowed in the building.  So I go to the mall, and get a massage.  Then they tell Melane she cannot attend because she does not have a copy of my divorce papers.  She tells them it was not on the list of required documents (and shows them the printed list from their website) and tells them that we already showed it to the courts – or we would not have been allowed to get married.  So, the grudgingly “allow” her to attend.  Good thing I was not there.   She said the whole seminar was about going to the US – which we are not planning on doing anytime soon.  Also, she said almost the whole seminar was in Cebuano, which she does not speak, so really a waste of time (she told me a lot of the women kept asking what was being said, but finally just gave up). All we wanted was a name change, so kind of a waste of time, and airfare, and hotel costs…. But it is done and we had some fun in Cebu. Oh, if you want to keep a copy of your wedding picture you better make one before you go. They require you to bring a picture… and they keep it?  Again… just odd.

So, CFO certificate in hand we go and get her passport remade.  The DFA has branches at Robinson’s mall here, in Iloilo.  So it was very easy, and a painless procedure.  A really nice office. Friendly and helpful staff.  Actually the Robinson’s mall here has a lot of great offices: DFA, PhilHealth, Post Office, LTO, Social Security, an OFW office, and a few others I forgot the name of.  We did have to go twice because we got there too late in the day and all the slots were filled. They said come back early in the morning to get appointment for that day. The next day we got there about 8 AM and she got a 1 PM appointment (should have got there at 7 ha ha).  So we hung out at the mall (after they opened), had lunch, and went to the appointment.  It all went very well.  The passport clerks at the Dallas County courthouse were very rude and actually quite bitchy. Not a pleasant experience.  I worked at Dallas County and those clerks were always bitchy ha ha.

Now, finally, passport in hand we are ready to face the airport! Online all I seem to find are the horror stories.  Everyone talks about long lines, rude clerks, bad service, getting offloaded (not allowed to leave the country).  So many horror stories.  This is not one of them.  I guess most people only write about the bad.  Which is why, when I read an online review that is positive, it means more to me than the negative. Most people don’t take the time to say something nice.  Melane had also heard all the horror stories and was very concerned. Imagine getting to the immigration counter, airfare & hotel paid for, and being told you cannot leave. Americans are very spoiled. We do not know what much of the world has to go through.

She looked online to see what were the required documents. Then put together a folder of about half our safe! She was taking everything. She had electric bills, our apartment lease, bank statements, our itinerary…  After the CFO experience in Cebu I cannot blame her.  She was very nervous about her first time leaving the country and was sure immigration would turn her away.  Turns out I had a harder time than she did.

The new terminal at the Manila airport is very nice. When we get to the immigration counters there are no lines! Even better.  I get to my counter and the clerk asks for my ECC. I tell her I have been there less than 6 months and do not need it.  So she looks at my passport, does the math, and says ‘oh, you are lucky’. I smiled and said ‘No, I planned it’.  That was the extent of my trouble.  Not much really.  So I ask the clerk if I can go help my wife because she is nervous, having never gone through immigration before. By the time I walk over to her she had already filled out the one small form and was walking back to the immigration officer.  He takes her form, looks at her passport, looks at her, looks at her passport, looks at her, stamps the passport, and says ‘have a nice flight’.   He asks no questions, does not ask to see any of mass amounts of paperwork she brought.  Nothing.  So easy.

We have a pleasant flight to Hong Kong. A nice visit with Mickey Mouse. A beautiful hotel room! And back 4 days later. The Hong Kong trip can be found here: https://expatinphilippines.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/hong-kong-disneyland

 

Coming into Manila can be hectic – it is just the way Manila is.  But the new international terminal is so nice. The manila airport was ‘winning’ nominations as one of the worst airports in the world. Well, that is no longer the case.   It is a very nice terminal.  To get the balikbayan stamp you have to go through the immigration counter with your spouse. There is a ‘foreign’ line and a ‘local’ line. For the BB stamp you get in the local line with your spouse.  We had our marriage license ready for him but the agent never asked for it.  There was a very short line, only our plane, it seems.  We hand him both passports, he never said a word. Just stamped them and handed them back, and nodded to us.   I said ‘thanks, have a nice day, sir’ and moved on. I am certainly not complaining. It was easy. I looked and it is an entrance stamp marked “1 year”. I like it.  The airport has a free shuttle service to take you from the international to the domestic terminal. So we waited for it, and boarded our flight back to Iloilo.  Overall a very easy trip. Glad we did not have any horror stories to tell.

 

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