During my last trip to the Philippines, I was having a conversation with a German friend of mine when he casually asked: “What kind of visa are you on? You seem to have been here forever”. Cue panic. I checked my passport and found I was nine days into the red zone of an overstayed visa.
Ghastly visions of Donald Trump ranting about illegal immigrants filled my mind, and I could picture Duterte declaring me to be the next target of his trigger-happy justice brigade. I was one of “them” – an illegal, and despite being extremely well traveled I was genuinely scared.
I needed advice. By luck there was an Australian living on my street who I view as the fount of all knowledge about life in this country, so I rushed to his house to seek help.
He explained that not only was this a common occurrence, but that I shouldn't be overly worried, and that the classic Filipino solver of problems (money) would get me out of things.
This made me feel a little bit better, so I went down to the local immigration (BOI) office he'd told me about. It was shut. I suddenly remembered that it was a three-day public holiday, the stress was starting to get to me!
Once my three days of panic were over, I headed down to the BOI. Having spent 10 years working in the travel industry and dealing with visa bureaucracy, I was expecting to be heading to a huge maze-like office building crawling with jobsworth staff whose sole delight is making life difficult for people like me, as slowly as possible.
Visa office in shopping mall
I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find myself at a small office in a shopping mall. I was also happy to see lots of other foreigners there, everyone from elderly korean businessmen to party people like myself.
So I was ready to step into the unknown. Like any Filipino office there was an armed security guard at the front door. He listened to my situation, and handed me a form to fill in. The form was basic, and in English, so took just a few minutes to complete. I handed it in, was given a number and told to wait.
Now while everything had gone smoothly so far, this was, without doubt where I expected the system to come roaring back into play and steal hours of my life. Just 10 minutes later my number was called. The woman looked at the form, and looked at me. Now, surely, the pain was about to begin: “Why are you here?”, “who are you?”, “why you prance around our country like a tit ignoring the rules?”
But instead she briefly looked over the form and told me to get some photocopies and come back. “Here we go,” I thought. But the photocopy office was right next door, and two copies cost me only 10 peso.
As it goes, I didn't have any change, so the print lady did the work and told me to come back later and pay.
Back I went with my copies ready to pay for my stupidity. Normally, in countries where money really talks, you know the price could be anything the staff fancies, but here it was a fixed, stated amount, with the eventual damage coming in at PHP3,500 ($70). I even got a receipt.
To complete the whole process, I was told to take a seat until my passport was stamped, which would take about 30 minutes. In fact, it was only 18 minutes later I was back in possession of my passport with a shiny new stamp good for another month.
Overall, it was a hassle free, quick, and efficient experience. So, if you find yourself overstaying your visa in the Philippines, my only advice is relax, don't panic and plan yourself a pleasant day out at the mall.
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