But I Don’t Want To Wear Pants

Two weeks ago I had to make my first appearance at the BI (Bureau of Immigration) over in Cebu. I live on Mactan, just across the channel so that meant a cab ride of about 15 minutes or so. I already had been told before leaving the US, but the morning of my visit to the BI my girlfriend reminded me, “Don’t go there in shorts and sandals. You have to wear pants and real shoes.” After 3 weeks of enjoying the breezy attire of shorts, loose shirts and sandals the first thought that came to mind was, “But I don’t want to wear pants!”.

I also didn’t want to waste half the day and extra cab time having to make two trips for non-compliance so, I dug out my suitcase where I’d tossed away my jeans and reluctantly threw them on the bed. From under the bed I found my shoes (kinda dusty already). Also in my suitcase were the 20 pairs of brand-new socks I mistakenly thought I was going to need. Standing there at 10am with the fan running and a bead of sweat dripping down the side of my head once again I mumbled, “I really.. really don’t want to do this.” But.. if I wanted to be legit with the Filipino ‘Man’, I’d just have to make it happen. It took switching shirts three times before I finally convinced myself a Polo shirt looked better than a Hawaiiani-dont-wanna shirt when wearing Levi’s. My feet were already complaining from the socks and shoes. Geez, and I hadn’t even left the house yet.

I made it to the BI and sure enough.. a BIG sign at the door stating in no uncertain terms that these hot, uncomfortable clothes were indeed mandatory. Government can’t seem to function if I’m not inconvenienced in some manner, no matter what country I’m in. I got the form, forgot to bring a pen.. but the nice lady at the desk loaned me hers. I was doing good until it asked how much I weighed and how tall I was. How am I supposed to know how many ‘Kilos’ I weigh? I’m 225 Pounds (more or less) and 5’10”. I don’t know how many ‘centimeters’ tall I am. Why the trick questions? Why did the world embrace the metric system? Why is the US still the only country using feet and pounds? Despite my inward grumbling.. the question waited to be answered. I could already imagine them escorting me to a plane headed for Malaysia with a blacklisted passport to never return all because I left these two crucial questions blank.

What to do? I was at a total blank. I suppose I could guess. Maybe I’m 8,768 Kilos. Is that like.. as big as a car or about the size of a bag of rice? Panic started to set in. That woman wanted her pen back and I know she’s keeping an eye on me. Again with the sweating. ‘Think’, I told myself, ‘..what would McGuyver do?’. Then it hit me.. my cell phone. I started looking through the apps hoping, hoping by some bizarre chance there was a converter to switch from ‘normal’ to ‘science project’ values on my phone and.. YES!, there was one for converting to this bane of math known as metrics. I typed in the values and jotted them down on the form. Good thing I didn’t guess.

I wasn’t sure how long I’d have to wait. I gave the lady her pen back and she told me, “Window 1”. I thought she said, “When do one”. “Do one, what?”, I asked. Is there something I was supposed to do before I got here? I don’t like surprises when dealing with governmental agencies. “What you want to do?”, she replied. What is this?, now she’s my guidance counselor? So I started again, more slowly, “When.. do.. I… what?” That’s when she pointed at the big sign behind me that said, ‘Window 1’.

“Oh.”, was all I could say, “..thanks.”

After that little incident I sat down, after going to ‘Window 1’. Meanwhile two Swedish women were sleeping on the hard, plastic chairs in front of me. Now.. I know what you’re thinking. No, these were not like the Swedish ski instructors from some daydream. These were big, farm girls. And the thought that they’d been here long enough to fall asleep told me I might be here until the place closed. Maybe I should have gotten here earlier. But that would have meant me getting up earlier and.. well, that’s not really my style.

To my right was a nice enough gent in his 50’s. I asked him how long he’d been waiting and he said about 90 minutes. We exchanged introductions, I gave him my card. He was an ex-pat from United States, married to a Filipina he’s just madly in love with and they have two young kids together. Thank God he was there, we chatted the time away and before I knew it they were calling my name to ‘Window 2’. I was making progress. I went to ‘Window 2’ where they asked for my Visa extension fees, stamped some papers, did some stapling, gave me a receipt and then.. told me to sit and wait for Window 3. (I thought I was so close to leaving.)

More waiting. The two Swedish gals practically burst into dance when their name was called. They went to Window 3 and left as giddy and giggly as two milk maids on their day off. My chatting buddy had already left. Nothing left to do but decide which woman was the absolute prettiest in the room. That took about 2 minutes to decide. Clock still ticking. Ticking.

Before I knew it, they called my name and with a big smile the Man behind Window 3 pointed at the new stamp on my Passport and said, “Congratulations, we need to see you again in September.” He gave me an official note stating I was not a threat to the country or something along those lines. I felt like I’d gotten a pardon from the Governor. With a big smile and my passport safely tucked in my front pocket I walked out of there.. into the blazing heat.. wearing denim pants and shoes. Once again with the sweating.

This experience brought me to a distinct conclusion regarding some of the adjustments I’ve made now that I’m here ‘for the duration’. My conclusion is, “Living here, for a guy, is kinda like having a perfectly good excuse for being a kid again.”

I started adding it up. Every night it’s warm out and I don’t have a curfew. My folks were Hispanic, I only heard about ‘curfew’ from my White friends. It could be 11 at night and our parents didn’t bother looking for us until they were done talking or ready to lock the door. Meanwhile, my cousins and I were running around somewhere in a 3 block radius.

No more wearing shoes. Wearing sandals is kinda like being barefoot, but with thicker soles. No socks to deal with and going barefoot in the house was now perfectly okay. Hispanic Moms won’t let you walk “on the cold floor” barefoot because that’s how you get the Flu. (shaking my head) Now.. I can walk barefoot all over the tile floor all day long.

One that I miss from my childhood.. peeing when you need to outside. I don’t take advantage of this to the degree some of the Filipino men do. Locals here will go pee in broad daylight against whatever wall even as midday pedestrian traffic passes by. Me, I have two rules; (1) Only at night. And (2) With no one around. This has saved me several times since I enjoy late-night walks.

And yet another thing.. I can wipe my hands on my shirt or shorts.. and nobody says a thing. I’ve always used napkins back home. Here, more often than not napkins are pretty scarce. And when you do get them, they’re kinda useless. I just wait til I’m done eating and, if there’s no sink nearby.. I wipe it on the back of my shirt or shorts. Stains? The maid will take care of it. “Not my job.”

The only new habit I’ve taken up that I never, NEVER did in my life before is.. using that ‘Purell’ Hand Hand_sanitizerSanitizer stuff. Ever since it came out I thought it was kinda ‘girly’. But now, I keep that stuff in the kitchen and another one in my backpack. When I noticed how many times a day I saw some dude peeing in broad daylight.. I got myself some bottles of that stuff right away and now I use it all the time. It’s not lotion, so it’s actually, technically NOT ‘girly’. In fact, it’s got alcohol and kills (germs).. and that’s kinda manly when you think about it.

And finally.. nicknames. When I was kid we all had nicknames. It seems here in the Philippines as if nobody uses their real name. I met a woman today, asked her name. It was something like Beatrice Magdalena Maria Estrella Garlejo.. but all her friends call her ‘Beece’. Yolej goes by ‘Angel’. Merlynne goes by ‘Shorty‘. Delia goes by ‘Deding‘. I don’t even know what Steff or Linda’s real name is. Vaughn goes by ‘Yvonne’, but that’s for a whole other reason.  Me.. most everybody here knows me as either ‘Enrique’ or ‘Reekay’ due to the pronunciation issue.

Add to that being able to sleep-in in the mornings, snack any time I feel like it, take naps when it gets too hot and, yah.. this is even better than when I was a kid. If only the BI would let me show up in shorts wearing a Hawaiian shirt with ketchup stains.. life would then be perfect.

p.s.  I later found out that the satellite office on Bohol lets you renew your visa in shorts and sandals.  🙂

Henry ‘Reekay’

Author: Reekay V.

Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat and spent 1999 living in Vietnam.

Share with me my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Hopefully you find my observations helpful in your own adventures.
— Reekay


  1. Henry,

    I just did the same thing in Angeles City (BI) and they had a new dress policy: “decent” shorts (to the knee) and sandals are ok now! I wonder if they are still holding on to the “old ways” down there, due to a less tolerant attitudes to foreigners. What do you think?

    My process in Clarke took about an hour total, I think. Having worked as a management consultant for years, it makes me cringe to see how inefficient most operations are here – by design! But then I remind myself that a different culture is behind it: “First, create as many jobs as possible”. Customer service and efficiency are WAY down the list of priorities here. I suppose that’s the price we pay for the luxury of Filipino time in our lives as expats.

    It sounds like you’re back already. I thought you’d be in the States until March.


    1. Hey John, I’ll be back in March.. just recalling some events and thoughts I’d jotted down a while back. The Bohol office is easy-peasy, maybe 15 minutes at most. I’ve been there several times and the most I’ve seen there is maybe 4 expats. They do renewals and ACR renewal, but for Exit Clearance I had to go to Cebu, but even that was no big deal. 🙂 Meanwhile, looking forward to getting back in March.

  2. Henry,

    Thanks so much for this humorous and informative site! I’m fantasizing about moving there in 3 or so years (but visiting next year to check it out). Your story about the scooter and machete made me laugh. I’m leaning towards a rural place to rent rather than an apartment in the city, and the Cebu area is high on my list so…

    If I do get over there I’ll buy you a beer!

    Take care,

      1. I got rid of my FB account but may open it again as it seems one can’t be without these days.

        Henry, I’ll live in the PI vicariously through you until I can get there in person – haha; again I enjoy your unique “personal” approach to your blog. Your honesty and willingness to share your experiences (good and bad) is very valuable to me. If you ever find yourself in the Boston area I’ll give you the tour!

        BTW, I live alone on my houseboat, so I think we share a certain respect for “simple lifestyle” and privacy. Your blog about forming friendships had me smiling. I’ll have to beef up my boundaries before moving or I may end up with a wife or a black eye!


        1. ha! Thanks. I had a hard time finding ‘real daily life’ info on the net for single men in the PH that went beyond the bars/brothels. So, now that I the PH as my home, I try to provide that window to future travelers. 🙂

  3. Hi Henry – just stumbled onto your website – looking forward to reading through your posts. I went to the BI office in Bohol when I visited in 2013. I had heard about needing to dress appropriately, so I donned my Dockers, collar shirt, and dress shoes. I was shocked when a couple of European guys strolled in wearing tattered shorts, ‘slippers’, and ragged tshirts. Personally, I would never dress as they did anyway, but I was expecting to see the office clerk send them ‘packing’. Instead, the clerk ignored their appearance and processed their paperwork. Oh well — I still felt like I’d done the right thing. Besides, I had traveled all the way from Ubay to Tagbilaran and didn’t want to get sent back just because I wasn’t dressed right.

    I’ll be back in May and June of this year, and will have to go visit the BI for another extension . . . I’ll still probably go ahead and “dress up”, but I’ll probably throw some shorts and ‘slippers’ in a backpack and change after completing my business.

    I love Bohol and am anxious to return — one of my ‘projects’ this trip will include scouting out a decent place to live once I am finally able to make the move permanently — I’m a simple guy, and even Tagbilaran is too crowded and busy for my liking. I’ve been to some smaller villages/barangay and really enjoy the peacefulness — even the roosters don’t bother me. Anyway – perhaps we can have a cup of coffee at Joe’s in BQ Mall some morning.

  4. That's my biggest concern. The heat and humidity. I am wondering if I can handle it. I am from Arizona, and am no stranger to high temps. I absolutely wilt in high humidity conditions.

    1. Honestly, I only noticed the humidity my first two months there. After that, I really don’t pay it any attention. But I imagine it’s worse in the middle of the city. I live out on Bohol where we get a decent breeze from the ocean.

      1. Jamaica was like that when I was there on vacation. It was decent along the ocean front, but when we went to downtown Montego Bay…….holy cripes…..was I sweating buckets.

    2. Hey Brent – I’m from New Mexico, so similar climate to what you’re used to . . . personally, I find it quite tolerable. I do spend more of my time in the “interior” of Bohol, as the mountains tend to be cooler and the humidity is a little lower. The only way to find out is to go!

      1. On Bohol (and many other rural islands), once the sun dips to the horizon walking around is no big deal. Sun usually sets at about 6:15pm all year long. That’s when it’s nice to get out for some bbq or corn on the cob, do a walk in the province. 🙂

  5. Henry I absolutely love reading your stuff. Hahaha. “Two milk maids.” Hehehe. Anyway, I have been searching, and maybe my eyes are just tired from reading SO MUCH. Anyway, I have my ticket I will be arriving in Cebu April 17th. You said a year ago let you know. Hahah. I hope to chat with you. I have just a couple of questions. I don’t WANT TO BOG you down with a lot of questions, I can already imagine you must get a lot of that and based on my work I do get lots of requests from people. But if you can steer me in the right direction on a couple of things as I trek there for the first time I would appreciate it. Please tell me how I can contact you by email. You gave me a couple of places last year, I was wondering if those are still good? And since you are in Bohol……..well, I am going to come there as well. LOL. The girl I am meeting is in Bacolod but that is another story and would love to share it with you over a beer or something when I get there. Lemme know.

    1. The best way to reach me for questions is at my Facebook page. Just search me under, ‘Reekay’ and send me an add request. I get way behind on email, but I use facebook daily.

  6. I had to make a mad dash from the airport to the Cebu immigration office last month (presumably the same one?), after being told I needed ‘exit clearance’ to leave the country after staying more than six months. My fault for not having it already, but the agency in Davao hadn’t informed me when they extended my visa beyond the limit, and it’s not something I’ve ever heard of before. (We didn’t make the flight that day).

    But the remarkable thing is, I processed my exit clearance IN SHORTS AND SANDALS! I didn’t even think about it until we were in the taxi on the way back to the airport, when my girlfriend mentioned it – my mind was on more important matters than what clothes I was wearing. And these were deliberately loose and casual beach shorts so I wouldn’t have a belt to remove when passing through x-rays, I must have looked a state.

    That means the guards and staff can’t have been too concerned about it after all, since no one said anything to me. Maybe looking really stressed is the key? If they had insisted, I was at least carrying around jeans and shoes in my backpack.

    Being treated like a kid is right too. The guy in charge of getting my fingerprints didn’t waste time explaining the process to me, he just forced my thumbs into the ink and smudged them down roughly, then I waited for the piece of paper telling me I was allowed to leave this country that I’m just a tourist in

    1. The ‘exit clearance’ I only heard about maybe a month before I was to leave, but it did take me by surprise. I suppose it makes sense, they check to see if you have any warrants out on you before letting you leave.

  7. Hi Henry, love your videos. I want to come to the PI soon- I’m in Phuket now. I don’t want to have a Facebook account so I hope you see this message. Please add me in skype- jfreeman24 so we can chat there? I am ready to book my tickets to go there so I hope to hear from you soon. When you add me I will tell you more about myself.

  8. Hey Henry my wife and I have property on Bohol and I was in Cebu and forgot about the no pant/no service policy at immigration, but FYI you can rent pants there so you can go in.

  9. Hey have you figured out what the Express Lane is when everyone is charged for it so no one goes into the Express Lane. hahaha Why don't you cover something on visas for those who stay there. They get kind of pricy renewing month after month. I know the new deal is you now get 30 days on initial entry, was 21 days, but do you realize you lose that extra 9 days when you renew and get charged the same amount for an extension as in the pass.

  10. henry next time save yourself a trip across the bridge and go to the bi in island mall gaisano its 10 times faster and you can wear shorts now, ah and your flippies but it saves all the hassle otherwise. and if you have a scooter just park in the regular mall parking there its on the main floor

  11. I had a good laugh while going through this article. Made me realize that sometimes true happiness can be achieve with simple things. Goodluck to all your endeavor… 🙂

  12. Hi Henry, I am currently enrolled in a class at my college called Philippine Cultures and was wondering if the Immigration Center in Cebu is anything like some of the bureaucratic, public service institutions we have back in the U.S. (Like the DMV, for example) I'm putting together some journal entries based on your blogs. Thanks for your help!

  13. What’s up with recent claims that Philippine immigration are imprisoning foreigners for alleged visa breaches without any justification. Apparently a bribe has to be paid followed by deportation? !

  14. That happen to me too get all dress up i ask them about there dress code they said shorts ok as long u bring your money for your extension

  15. Hi Reekay one thing I want to touch on and that is informing the BI of informing the BI of any address changes ,last year shortly after receiving my ACR1 card my partner and I moved to a new house on the back of the ACR1 card it states clearly that your supposed to in form them of any address changes with a certain time or face a fine or even jail !!! anyway I went to Davao BI within the time limit but when I got to the window and explained to the BI officer he said it was ok and just told me to go but change the address on my next extension form this of course has made me a little apprehensive , does anyone have any information on this

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