It’s not uncommon to hear horror stories about the Philippines Immigration. Just browse any immigration-related post or video online and you’ll see hundreds of comments attesting to the extreme strictness of our own Bureau of Immigration. More than a few of our beloved kababayans have been turned away because of one reason or another, which I’m going to list down below.
If it’s your first flight, it’s understandable if you might get a little nervous before your first brush with the Immigration officers. But don’t worry, you’re not alone! We’re here to help!
Here’s a Filipino’s complete guide to immigration, also known as how to NOT get offloaded for your flight!
My own Immigration experience
Honestly, although I’m a already a ‘seasoned’ traveler, my experience only goes as far as the Philippines. I’ve flown dozens of times to various places in the country but hey, what does that matter to the Immigration Officer, right? Domestic flights aren’t counted after all.
So when I traveled outside of the country for the first time, you can bet that my knees were literally shaking during my turn at the IO’s booth before boarding my flight. As in grabe ang kaba ko, mga sizt!
There were three main reasons for my nervousness:
- It was my first time to travel outside of the country.
- I wasn’t employed in a traditional sense. (Hooray for us self-employed ladies!)
- I didn’t know offloading was even a thing for non-visa countries so I didn’t prepare a single supporting document. (Shunga lang, diba?)
Thankfully, my experience didn’t end up in tears and I managed to fly abroad without a hitch. In fact, I only spent a total of maybe 5 minutes in front of the IO. Yay!
Now, if it’s also your first time, it’s understandable if you’re nervous as well. The best way to combat nervousness? Make sure you’re all prepared well before your trip.
Things you need to prepare for Immigration
- Must not be expiring within 6 months of your departure
- Must not be damaged in any way, shape, or form
- Must have your signature on the first page
- Must not have a passport holder when you present it to the IO
Your passport is, without a doubt, the most important thing that you have to prepare when you’re flying out of the country. You have to make sure that it’s at tip-top shape, without any damages whatsoever. Damages include tears and even earmarks, so be careful when stashing it away in your bag. It also can’t have any markings on it, which means it’s probably best to keep it away from your 3-year-old nephew who’s just starting to learn how to write his name.
- Must contain both the departure and return dates
You can either print out your flight itinerary or just take a screenshot on your phone. Personally, I never have anything printed out whenever I travel, international or otherwise. What’s important is that your flight itinerary clearly shows both your departure and return dates. Especially if you’re a first-timer, you better have a return ticket to prove that you’re still planning to come back to our country.
One girl on YouTube revealed that she was offloaded on her first attempt to go abroad because she didn’t know that she had to have a return ticket. She had only booked one way, thinking that she could just book a return ticket whenever she felt like it. Quite obviously, the IO offloaded her immediately.
- Must state the dates of your stay
- If staying at relatives or friends, must have proof showing the relationship
You can’t just visit another country without having a place to stay, right? Make sure to prepare your print-outs or screenshots of your accommodation. The IO is going to make sure that your stay dates match your departure and arrival dates, so there better not be any contradictions there.
If you’re staying with family or other people you know, though, you may be asked to show sufficient proof that you’re really related to then in some way.
- Not required, but it would help
Booked tours aren’t required at all, but if you have any, it would help to show the IO that you’re really just a tourist.
- Includes financial documents like bank statements, bank certificates, stock certificates, property titles, proof of financial assets
- Also includes supplementary documents like company ID, leave of absence with your employer’s signature (if you’re employed)
- Not required for non-visa countries, but it would help
- May be required if someone else is sponsoring your trip (i.e. you’re unemployed or still studying)
If you’re just going to a non-visa country like Hong Kong, Singapore, or Thailand, supporting documents aren’t really required. However, it would still help to have them on-hand, in case you get questioned further. For example, if your IO asks you if you’re employed and you say yes, you may be asked to present a company ID and a leave of absence signed by your employer.
I don’t have any of those since I’m not employed in a traditional sense, but I always have a copy of my business registration, bank statements, and other certificates in my laptop, just in case I get asked additional questions.
Common questions asked at the Immigration
The IO just asked me four main questions on my first flight overseas, and these questions have got to be the most common, most typical questions that officers ask aspiring travelers, especially if it’s their first time.
- What’s your purpose of visit? Leisure. (If you’re planning to work there illegally, I promise you, it’s not worth it.)
- When are you coming back? I told her the date indicated on my return ticket.
- Where are you staying? I showed her the confirmed bookings to all my accommodations. She didn’t even look at the third one. After looking at the second accommodation (a 4-star hotel, so baka naisip nung ate gurl, “uy, di naman siguro to mag-b-book ng 4-star if TNT lang” hehe ) she already returned my phone to me.
- Are you a college graduate? (Yes) Where did you graduate from? I found this question really weird, to be honest. Like, no offense Miss IO, but why do you care? Are we supposed to discriminate against those who didn’t graduate from college? And why do you have to know where I graduated? What if I didn’t graduate from college? Or what if the college I graduated from wasn’t considered good enough? Does that mean I won’t be allowed to go outside of the country? It’s weird, huh.
But anyway, I just told her my university to answer the last question and that was it – she gave me that sweet, sweet first stamp on my passport. I finally managed to let out my breath that I didn’t even know I was holding in. Thank you so much!
Now, those questions are actually some of the most common questions. Almost everyone gets the questions “what’s your purpose” and “when are you coming back” on their first time. However, others have gotten more questions.
Other common questions
Here’s a list of some other questions I saw while searching about other immigration stories online. Just in case you’re extra worried, you might want to prepare your answers to these questions too.
- Who are you coming with? Solo travelers, especially young women, are actually more likely to get offloaded than someone who’s going in a group. Why? Simply put, the Philippines is well known for human trafficking. Remember that one of the Immigration Office’s main jobs is to protect us, which includes protecting us from the possibility of being sold as sex slaves abroad. I know it must be annoying to be questioned over and over again by the IO, as a 24-year-old strong, independent woman who just wants to see the world all by herself, but please keep in mind that they’re just doing their jobs.
- Female travelers who say that they are coming with their foreign boyfriends also tend to be questioned more, at least based on other people’s experiences. Immigration officers usually ask more questions to these women such as, “How long have you been together? When did you meet? Have you ever seen him in person?” Some have even experienced getting asked to show pictures and conversations as proof of their relationship. I’ve personally experienced this too, somehow, during my trip to Thailand with K. That’s a post for another day, though.
- What do you do for work? Aside from their first job, which is to protect Filipino citizens from potential human trafficking, the IO’s second job is to prevent unemployed Filipinos from illegally applying to jobs overseas. This honestly irks me so much because… well, it’s true. There are a lot of Filipinos who do this. Many pretend to be tourists and then never come back. In fact, we even have a term for them: TNT or Tago Nang Tago which literally means “always hiding”. Yes, because TNTs are always hiding. They have to hide from the law since they’re illegally employed in a country that they’re not supposed to be working in.
- Who is funding your trip? Once again, this is asked to weed out people who just want to go overseas for employment purposes. Unemployed people wouldn’t be able to fund themselves (unless they have loads of savings), so the IO will use your answer to determine whether you’re capable of supporting yourself overseas without having to look for a job.
- If your trip is being funded by your parents, or someone else, you should have documents prepared to prove it.
- Where are you going? Travelers going to Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore are more likely to be questioned longer than others. According to BI, these countries are popular points of transit for human trafficking operations, so it’s only natural that travelers heading to these destinations will be placed under greater scrutiny.
Unfortunately, if the IO finds your answers insufficient, suspicious, or not matching the documents that you’ve presented, you’ll be sent for a secondary inspection at the office.
According to the official guidelins from the Department of Foreign Affairs, these are the people who are almost always subject to automatic secondary inspection:
- Travelers without financial capacity to travel escorted/accompanied by a foreigner who is not related;
- Minor traveling alone or unaccompanied by either parent or legal guardian without the required travel clearance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD);
- Repatriated irregular workers, in which case, travel may not be allowed without the clearance from the IACAT (generate data);
- Partners and spouses of foreign nationals intending to depart to meet and/or marry his/her fiancé without the CFO Guidance and Counseling Certificate;
- Passengers traveling to counties with existing deployment bans, alert levels and travel advisories and those in possession of a visa to the said countries; and
- Passengers who stayed abroad for more than one (1) year during a previous departure from the country as a tourist/temporary visitor, intending to depart for the second and/or subsequent time
Tips for a smooth interview
- Prepare beforehand. This one goes without saying, I think. You know that old adage, “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail”? It’s a perfect quote to describe this situation. If you don’t have all your required documents on you before your flight, there’s a 100% chance that you’ll be relying on luck the whole time. For instance, I was just lucky that I wasn’t asked about my financial capacity during my first flight. If I had, I would’ve been offloaded for sure as I didn’t have any bank statements or certificates with me that time.
- Answer questions honestly. Unless you’re planning to do something nefarious abroad, there’s absolutely no reason for you not to answer questions honestly. Always remember that your IO just wants to protect you. Once you leave our country’s territory, you’ll be completely at risk and vulnerable out there, so obviously, our government wants to avoid that.
- Dress well. Now, this isn’t a tried and tested technique, but just something I read online. Apparently, those who seemed a bit ‘sloppy’ were questioned far longer than those who looked presentable. Personally, I did notice a few instances where a ‘sloppy’-looking person was sent for secondary inspection, but who are we to say what looks sloppy? But for the purposes of this article, I guess it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t come looking like you hadn’t taken a look in the mirror for days. Obviously, it’s not scientific, but it’s something to keep in mind. Then again, it’s always good to look presentable wherever you go, anyway.
- Don’t be nervous. It’s understandable to be nervous, especially if it’s your first international flight. However, if you’ve done everything I’ve listed above, then there’s absolutely no reason to be. Just smile and let go!
What to do when you’re offloaded
If you do get offloaded, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. It also doesn’t mean that you’re banned for life and you’re still free to travel again next time. But of course, it hurts, so it’s also okay to cry a little. Sige lang, sandal ka lang. Iiyak mo na ang lahat sa langit –
Depending on your reason for getting offloaded, you may be able to salvage some expenses for your trip.
- Reschedule your flight. You can usually reschedule flights that aren’t booked on LCCs, as long as you notify them in advance. For LCCs like Air Asia and Cebu Pacific, it depends, but there’s bound to be some flights that can be rescheduled for a fee.
- Refund what you can refund. The hardest part about getting offloaded is accepting that all the time and money you spent planning out the perfect routes and booking the perfect hotels is now wasted. But a defeatist attitude has never accomplished anything, so when worse comes to worst, salvage whatever it is that you can in this situation. Try to see if you can refund anything, especially on flight and accommodation. Bonus tip: If you want to stay on the safe side, book only hotels and tours that allow cancellations and refunds. This will at least reduce your losses in case you do get offloaded.
- Try again next time. Getting offloaded is not the same as getting banned, so you’re free to try again next time. Just think, at least you know better now. Experience is truly one heck of a teacher!
Have you or someone you know ever been offloaded before? Any near-offload experiences? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!