Question: “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
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.
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 to 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’s 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.
Henry “Reekay” V.
About Me.. In 2011 I made the decision to move to the Philippines within a year. Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat. (Mactan, Bohol, Panglao, Moalboal, Dumaguete, Bacong, Boracay, Cebu) I recently spent the year living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Share with me here my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Dating, vlogging, cooking, traveling and sharing the information with you needed to make your own plans for living as a full-time expat in Southeast Asia.