[Ask Henry] – Visa ‘Expedite’ Fees & My Story at B.I.

waiting waiting in lineQuestion: Hey Henry,  Keep up the nice writing. I read it whenever there’s a new post. My question is about the visa renewal fees. I noticed there is a fee called Express Fee. Is that a fee that is required or just recommended to expedite the process? I noticed it adds an extra $25-$30 to the renewal fee every time. I was just wondering if the extra fee is worth the expense in time saved and sanity?” — From Ernesto

Henry:  Hey there, Ernesto.  Funny you should ask about that.  I was just at the BI (Bureau of Immigration) in Cebu only two weeks ago and I spent some time talking to a Brit and an Australian about this very topic; the ‘Expedite Fee‘.  While I was there I even took a snapshot of the official fees poster that is on the wall there at the Cebu BI.  As you can tell from the two images below, I had to take two separate images to fit in all the info but.. you get the general idea of what the fees are for renewal after you’ve been here for 6 months. 

BI Philippines Fees - 2013 (1) BI Philippines Fees - 2013 (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, the fees could change at any given time so I’ll only use these images for reference.  If anyone wants the CURRENT, official statement of fees they can get them here, from the BI Philippines Website.  So.. getting back to this ‘Express Lane Fee‘, hmm.. how do I put this?  Well, basically.. it’s a joke.  Oh, they’ll charge you the fee for the Express Lane alright.  But EVERYBODY pays this fee.  And everybody goes through the same line process so.. it is only ‘express’ in theory, not in practice.  This is my cue to say,

Welcome to the Philippines.”

If you take a look at some of the other ‘fees’, those get kinda sketchy as well.  For instance, the ‘Application Fee‘.  If we’re already paying for an extension and filling out the application ourselves.. why is there an application fee?  Hmm.  And then there is the ambiguous, “Head Tax” for anyone over 16 years old.  WTH??  Last time I checked, anyone over 16 years of age entering the Philippines is most likely to spend money there and boost their economy so.. if anything, we should get a credit, not a tax per head.  

Not that any of this rationale is going to cause them to eliminate any of these taxes, mind you.  You still need to pay them.  They know we want to enter the candy-store and this is the gate fee, rationalized in bits and pieces.. added to the list of fees over the years. Now.. here’s where it gets pretty interesting.  But first let me fill you in on the process.  

Essentially you sign in at the door with the guard and fill out a log-entry.  It’s just basic Name, Country of Origin and general purpose for your visit.  Then you go to the main desk.. not any of the windows with numbers, that comes later.  The guy (or gal) at the desk asks why you’re there.  You begin to explain it all started one night when your Dad asked your Mom out on a date before you were born and he interrupts to say, “No, why are you here in our office?”  You say you’re there to extend your Visa stay and he hands you the same application you’d fill out for just about any other reason for being there. By the way, if you have bad near-vision, bring your reading glasses for that form.  Also, they ask for your height/weight in the metric system.  My other phone had a conversion app.  In a pinch I just wrote it down in the standard/American method and nobody ever bothered me about it.  Yet. You take that form back to him/her and they ask to see your passport.  They verify it, stamp it with red ink and you’re all done.  

Just kidding.. you’re barely getting started.  He now says, “Window One.”  You’re supposed to know what that means.  Don’t do like I did and end up in this Abbot and Costello routine where I asked him, “When do I what?”  Because he just repeats “Window One” and I kept thinking he was asking, “When do you what?”  What?  Window One.  Yes, but what is it you want to know I do when?.. I swear, sometimes I drive these poor people insane.

So.. you walk to window #1 and hand them your passport along with your application.  Then you stand there awaiting further instruction and, no matter how many times I’ve done this procedure, this is where they then tell you, “Now.. have a seat.”  After a bit of waiting anywhere from 5 minutes to.. over an hour, they call your name.  At the Cebu office, which is kinda small, they use some big speakers from the 70’s mounted on the wall and the guy who calls out your name speaks very loud with the microphone up against his lips and it is so muffled and loud you literally have trouble recognizing your own name.  So you gotta pay attention or you’ll sit there all day.  If you get caught up in conversation, have an ear open for hearing your name called.  After this they give you a certificate of clearance along with your documents, as well as an invoice, and tell you to take that to the Cashier window.  You then hand them the fees along with your passport and.. they tell you to sit down again until your name is called.  All that needs to happen at this point is for someone to verify (a) you paid your fees (b) you are not on the Interpol list as Wanted by Johnny-Law anywhere and then stamp your passport as ‘legit’ for the new extension period.  This should take about 3 minutes.  But it will probably take longer than that, especially if he just went to lunch.  

Eventually you get your passport back and you’re good-to-go. Now, for reasons I cannot still yet fathom.. perhaps it’s my luck-of-the-Irish or something, but when I reviewed what I expected my fees to be according to the poster and website.. in reality it turned out to be about 1,000 pesos less than I had anticipated.  But don’t count on this.  Basic rule is; Bring more money than you need.  Get there as early as possible.  Plus money for cab-fare and lunch of course.

My No-So-Prepared Day At The B.I.

Usually I am very OCD about being prepared for going to the BI.  I get my money and passport ready the night before.  But on my latest trip there.. things did not go smoothly.  And it was all preventable had I just done what I usually do.  So listen up so this doesn’t happen to you. As I said, normally I’m very prepared the night before.  But a few weeks ago I had lost track of the days (I do that a lot here) and somewhere around 10pm on a Thursday night I realized that my Visa extension was going to expire on that Monday.   Now, I didn’t want to quibble with anyone behind the desk about late fees based on the semantics of whether I was ‘late’ by arriving on the same day as my extension ran out.  So that meant I needed take care of this the following Friday morning since the BI is closed on the weekend.  However, I’d already moved to Bohol and I didn’t want to lose the afternoon trying to find the BI office I’d only ‘heard’ about was somewhere on Bohol so I opted to making a trip to Cebu since I know where it is and.. I could use a short trip just for something to do.

But that meant I had to get up at 5:30am to catch the 6:30am fast-ferry from Bohol to Cebu.  Taking the 9am ferry would get me there around noon and one thing you don’t want not a morning personto do is attempt anything involving bureaucracy with only four hours left to the business day.  I am NOT a morning person.  In fact, 5am is when I’m often just rolling into bed when I get busy on a project.  But.. I got my passport ready and had a fair amount of cash on me, enough for at least a 1-month extension and travel expenses so around 1am I finally went to bed. Big mistake. I woke up half-asleep still and even after a shower and coffee I got a ride I’d set up before bedtime to ride along with the neighbor on his way to work.  He dropped me off at the pier and I got a round-trip ticket, I even got the discount rate so I figured all was going along pretty damn good.  I even swapped seats to get the window seat so I could prop up my backpack and take a snooze during the 2-hour ride to Cebu. I get off the ferry in Cebu and it’s a beautiful morning.  

Damn.. I can’t remember the last time I’d gotten so much done by 10am.  I walked the few blocks from Pier 1 to my favorite BBQ place in that area (AA BBQ) and sat down for a leisurely breakfast of pancit, bbq’d pork, chicken and iced tea.  Around 11am I finally stopped watching the cutest girl in the place and got myself a taxi to the B.I., which is only about 15 minutes away. It was not until I got out of the taxi and walked up to the BI office that it suddenly dawned on me.  “OH CRAP!“, I said out loud.  I was wearing shorts and sandals, same as I do every day here.. except for the days I go to the BI because they have a dress code they actually enforce.  Dammit.  And I normally pack a change of clothes in my backpack but, since I was half asleep when I left all I had there was some bottled water and a bag of nuts.  Well, I knew what this meant.  I went over to the Filipino entrepreneur who just so happened to have a bag of pants and some funky shoes that I could rent in order to get past the BI guard.  Time to put on my bartering-face.

How much to rent the pants and shoes?“, I asked.  He wanted 300 pesos.  300 pesos, my ass.  “Never mind, I’ll come back another day with my own.  Thanks.”, and I walked a few steps away and looked into the traffic as if hailing a taxi.  “Okay.. but maybe next time it’s busy, Sir.  Not so busy now.  Better to go in today.  Only 250 pesos.“, he countered.  Now, I was already agitated with myself for making such a huge mistake as it was.  I mean, this was lame.  I’ve been here at least five times before and I knew I needed a change of clothes.  “150 Pesos“, I countered.  I really was thinking of returning Monday.  The idea of putting on someone else’s clothes just really weirded me out.  “Okay, okay.. 150 pesos.”, he conceded. Ugghh.  I picked out some bright green sweats I could pull over my denim shorts and slipped on some black-rubber shoes, hating every minute of it.  With my tan Hawaiian shirt.. geez, I looked like I’d just escaped from a clown-car.  I could hear a few snickers from the girls at the photocopy hut nearby but, how could I blame them.. it looked ridiculous.

I gave him his pesos and signed in at the BI door.  So.. stopping for breakfast.  Yah, I know.. most important meal of the day and all that.  But now it was already 11:15am and there was a huge line inside.  By huge I mean, only 8 people.  But in the Philippines there’swaiting waiting in line a conversion factor.. each person equals three people in any other line you’ve waited in elsewhere.  I finally got tired of waiting and simply went to the desk and ever so nonchalantly grabbed the form I knew I needed anyway.  As I was filling out the form I got to the part that asked how many months extension I was applying for.  This is again where the fees get interesting.

The extension only costs 500 pesos, about $11 USD.  But all the other fees add up to about $25 each time you pay the extension.  Go figure.  So it made sense to pay for 2 months so as to save myself the “filing fees” rather than re-pay them again the next month.  I checked my wallet and.. dammit, I was just 500 pesos short of what I needed to do a 2-month extension. At that point I figured, forget it.. I’ll just come back on Monday and I left the BI office.  I stripped off the green sweats and shoes and crossed the street to get a taxi.  As I was waiting I got a call from Delia, my bestest friend here.  I told her what happened and she said, “Oh.. no worries.  Wait there and I’ll stop by the bank for you so you don’t have to make a return trip.  I’m only a few miles from you.”  It seemed silly now to make a return trip when she was willing to smooth things out for me so.. again I rented the same green pants and black shoes.. for another 150 pesos as she drove up to the BI.  Again I went back inside as she left for the mall.

I filled out the paperwork and got back into line.  I made it over to Window 1 and handed them my docs as I looked at the clock, already dreading the worst.  It was now 11:50am.  And yes, the office people had all gone to lunch.. for an hour.  One hour dead-time.  Nothing moved on their desks as I sat there in those wretched green sweats trying to find something amusing to do on my phone.

Finally at 1pm the office came alive again and by 1:10pm I had already paid my fees to the cashier.  All that was left was stamping my Visa and I could leave.  So I waited.  And waited.  Finally at 2:45pm they called my name and I got my extended Visa returned. So the moral of the story here is, once again, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Be prepared with not only your passport and extra money.. but wear pants and closed-toe shoes so you don’t have to wear the green sweatpants.  For what it’s worth, there is now a brand-new BI office on Mactan over at the Island Mall.  It had just opened the day before all this happened but I didn’t know about it until I saw the big banner at the office in Cebu.  And as I previously mentioned, there is also an office on Bohol at;

Tagbilaran City, Torral Building, Carlos P. Garcia Avenue 
Office hours; Monday – Friday 8am til noon, 1pm to 5pm

One last notation/comment on the fees.  The ‘Immigration Clearance Certificate fee’, the ‘Certificate fee’  and the ‘Legal Research‘ fees all seem to be basically charging for the same thing; the Interpol sheet they get online saying you’re not wanted for extradition anywhere.  There’s only ONE certificate drawn up and it’s the Interpol sheet.  Maybe I’m missing something.. but all I know is it shouldn’t cost $25 to give them $10 no matter how you slice it.  But.. not much can be done about it so, it’s either play by their rules or take your ball and go home.  Personally I think they should do like Thailand and actually encourage foreigners to stay with the longer tourist Visa you get automatically, 50 days or thereabouts in Thailand.  

Anyways, hassling with bureaucracy is not my thing anymore.  I just want to get in and out.  My days are mostly about enjoying the Philippines and doing some writing in between hammock sessions with a good book and a nice meal.

postscript..  I came across a post in another expat forum, about a foreigner being arrested for having fake extensions forged on his passport when he finally went to the real BI.  According to him the travel agency he had been using for his extensions were the ones who took care of that.  Whether he knew the stamps were fake or not hasn’t been determined.  But just serves as a warning to only use approved travel agents to do your extensions.  Or better yet, do them yourself at the BI office.  Here is a link from the BI office website of the travel agents listed as authorized to do extensions on their behalf.  I’m sure even a fake one will claim they are authorized, but best to get it here straight from the BI.

fake extensions

Henry “Reekay” V.
www.lifebeyondthesea.com

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Author: Reekay

After 49 years living in Southern California, USA, I decided to move to the Philippines despite never having been here before. In July, 2012, I took a leap of faith and transplanted myself to the amazing Philippines. I am a single man taking an honest look at all that the islands here have to offer, one day at a time. I hope you find my LBTSea site informative, entertaining and hopefully a bit of each. 🙂 Be sure to visit the Forum and other parts of what the site has to offer. Browse around and be sure to sign up for updates via email. Enjoy!
— Reekay

28 comments

  1. Nice job Henry. I enjoy ‘your read.’ As well, your trip to the Vegie-Market too in vid format was fun to see. You do a nice job regarding your efforts and the insight you provide. Thanks! Brad Arnsparger (…another So. Cal guy from your neck of the woods…now live in Michigan but anticipate a similar move soon—on a half-year basis/version, returning here for our gorgeous summers… Cheers!)

    1. Thanks, Brad. I just try to keep it real and balanced as possible. I figure anything is what you make out of it and there’s just as much up-side (if not more) to the Philippines as any adjustments that have to be made. I’m loving it despite the fact that my hammock post busted today and landed me flat on my back. (again) I think it’s time to have someone put in a cement post and call it a day on that project. Hmm.. manana. ha!

  2. Hi Henry, my wife and I are heading back to Cebu later this year, it will be my third trip there, but I have to say the bureaucratic system dose seem to be getting better, still a long way to go, but really love the place, last year went to Palawan, if you go there, you must go to the Underground River, you need a permit first, which you can only get on the Island, it can take a day or two ! but really a great experience. Take care and keep up the great comments.
    Ian & Mae

    1. Absolutely. The Underground River has been on my ‘to-do’ list since before I left the States, I really want to see that. And I will as it fits into my travels. When I go to the BI, I’ve gotten in and out of there in under 40 minutes. It can happen. But usually not on a Friday or Monday it seems. Why it took over two hours to do the 1-minute review and stamp my passport.. I have no idea. I’ve seen the guy come over before and do it just as I’m paying the Cashier, took him all of maybe 30 seconds really. Even a backlog of 20 passports could be stamped in less than five minutes. It’s the unpredictability.. that hope unfulfilled that is disappointing. So I usually go in with low expectations and just ‘hope for the best’. I’ve had similar experience with the LTO. But I prefer to just put it behind me until the next time and enjoy the time in-between. 🙂

  3. Hello Henry, been reading your blog for some time now and I must say your blog makes good reading. It’s amazing how you have so much to write about, you’re almost like a newspaper columnist who churns out a daily column of insights and observations. A place you might find interesting to visit would be Zamboanga del Sur on the island of Mindanao. The people there speak Spanish, well a form of Spanish called Chavacano. I’m assuming that you speak Spanish because of your Mexican heritage. I have visited Bohol before and I agree with you about the beauty of the place and the warmth of the populace. Bohol would be the place I would choose too if I were to live in the Philippines.

    1. Hi Jim, thanks for the comment. Glad to know it’s being read and enjoyed, keeps me alert to writing new stuff. I’ve heard about Zamboanga in someone’s blog, interesting that they speak a form of Spanish. And I am loving it here on Bohol. Very relaxing although I don’t know that everyone could handle the ‘country’ life out here. A friend of mine was on Gamaaras Isle and as much as he enjoyed the peace and quiet of the jungle.. he eventually got bored and moved to Iloilo. But I’ve been enjoying it. Gives me plenty of time to write. 🙂

  4. As always, funny story and a good read. Thanks for the reply. Just one more question for clarification if you don’t mind. The total cost for a 1 month extension is $11 application + $25 extra fees? and a 2 month extension is $22 + $25 extra fees? is that correct? Am I correct in assuming that the extra fees are the same whether you are applying for a 30 day or 59 day extension.

    1. Hi Ernesto, about the fees. It kinda works like this; ball park figures. The actual extension if paid for only 1 month is roughly $10. But the fees to pay it is around $28 for a total of around $38 for a single month. Thus, if you kept paying your extensions once every month, in two months you would pay $76.

      However.. if you pay for a 2-month extension in one visit, you pay $20 ($10 x 2 for two months) plus the same $28 for a total of $48 and you’re good for two months.

      This is why it’s much better to pay for months in advance. It basically soaks the short term visitor for more money. I’m not sure but I think you can pre-pay for up to 6 months of extension and only pay the $28 application fees just the one time.. the rest would go towards the $10 per month extension. Big savings there although I’ve not tried it myself yet.

      Also, after you’ve been here past 59 days, you have to get an ACR card. It’s a plastic card with a chip that has copies of your passport and bio-info. Nobody ever asks for it once you get it so it just sits in a drawer once you get it. However, it’s mandatory you get one at the 59-day renewal and if I remember correctly it cost me about $165 plus the renewal fees, so that incident cost me almost $200. There’s more on the ACR card at the Immigration link in the article above.

  5. Interesting story Henry. I really don't think I would have gotten the old clothes to wear. I guess they don't have an ATM machine at or close to there, or maybe you don't have an account to get money out.
    I don't have to worry about such things. I'm here in balikbayan status and only have to depart once a year and return after at least a day. Makes for a nice trip somewhere. I think Japan this next year and maybe Texas.

    1. Yah, the nearest bank to the Cebu B.I. office is I think Park Mall.. too far to walk. I have an account here, but the B.I. only accepts cash. It’s one down-side to being a Single-guy here, no asawa and in my case, I’m under retirement age so.. renew and renew again until my year is up, then.. as you said.. road trip! 🙂

    1. I wish I’d known that the day I went. I used to live over by Grand Mall, only ten minutes from Island Mall. Oh well, good to know there is an alternative office now.

  6. They have opened a BI office on Mactan. It is locatedin the Gaisano Mall. They only process Visa Extensions. I have walked by several times and hardly anybody was in the office.

  7. Henry these stories of your get better and better and better. I have been meaning to take time and write a full response and thank you to your last letter to me, but my time has been crazy. I read EVERYTHING put up here. Anyway I DO REALLY THANK YOU for answering my questions.Its getting closer and closer to me getting there and I have a few things to share with you about what is also taking place with my coming there.

    1. Looking forward to you getting here! Feel free to drop me a line anytime. Glad I could be of help and knowing the procedure for extending your Visa beyond the initial 21 days is a good thing to know. 🙂

  8. Hey Henry, foreigner goes to the Phil to have an easy life not a busy life. A good travel agency can do your visa extension without you going through all the hassle as you mentioned. You leave your passport to the travel agency then you pick up your passport the next day or two. Of course there is an extra fee like P500 to P1000. Why not give the visa extension to the travel agency then enjoy life in Cebu for a few days. Pick up your passport at the end of your trip then you go back to Bohol. Your cost of one day waiting at BI is more than the P1000 fee to the travel agency. Your time cost a lot compare to the local folks. You save a lot of money by using the travel agency. P1000 is $25 US. Would you work for $25 a day anywhere on this earth? Let peso work for you NOT you work for peso. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Have fun traveling.

    1. That’s definitely another option. Or spend the 1,000P to get an extra 2 month’s worth of extension time. Now that I’m in Bohol I’ll start making use of the local office here. More than likely not as busy as Cebu and definitely cheaper for me to access. 🙂

      1. Yah Henry, I found the BOI satellite office in Bohol through the BOI website. But I cannot find the BOI satellite office in Ormoc through the BOI website. I know that there is one in Ormoc because the newspaper mentioned it. Please give us an update on the BOI satellite office in Bohol. I may choose to renew my visa in Bohol if the office there is fast and painless. Island hopping is real fun. But I am still stuck here in CA for 2 more years then I am officially retired. Many people are slave to work for the pension and so am I. Have fun traveling. “Bohol Immigration Office, 2/F Sarabia Co, Torralba Bldg. CPG Ave., Tagbilaran City Tel. No.: 038-235-6084”

    1. If you are from the USA (or any other non-visa-required country) you can enter the PH under a Tourist Visa which is good for your first 21 days. If you decide to extend your stay, simply visit a Bureau of Immigration office and get a Tourist Visa Extension for another 2 months, for about $75 USD.

  9. Henry the free-entry tourist visa is 30 days, changed back in July 2013… Just an FYI. Did you get your ignition changed on your scooter? Enjoying your videos.

    1. the expedite fee is mandatory. it’s something of a joke though since everyone is ‘expedited’, then really.. nobody is. but it’s not optional.

  10. Thanks so much. I’m about to go to the BI office (at 4PM). I’ll wait until tomorrow morning, and wear long pants and shoes. Invaluable info!

    1. Hi Chuck,

      An update.. since this article came out, now the BI Offices don’t require the pants/shoes anymore. There is a BI office in the J-mall (2nd floor) if you happen to be near Mandaue. It’s pretty fast there and air-conditioned. Plus there are places in the mall to make your copies and photos if needed.

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