Last Sunday, February 19 our family flew to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia for a purpose of availing again a year of visa less stay in the Philippines for a foreign passport holders like my husband, Joshua and our daughter Abigail through Balikbayan Program. So, you may ask how it is possible, and what is Balikbayan Program?
Before I proceed, allow me to express my disclosure on this. I did my researched to pulled-out a most reliable sources of articles defining this program.
According to www.lawphil.net, Section 1 of Republic Act No. 6768 or popularly known as Balikbayan Program. A Balikbayan Program is hereby instituted under the administration of the Department of Tourism to attract and encourage overseas Filipinos to come and visit their motherland. This is in recognition of their contribution to the economy of the country through the foreign exchange inflow that they generate.
The program allows visa-free entry to the Philippines for a period of one (1) year for foreign passport holders, with the exception of visa-required nationals.
THE TERM BALIKBAYAN DEFINES
• A former Filipino citizen with foreign passport and members of his/her family. The term “family” shall mean the spouse and minor children of the balikbayan (who are not balikbayan in their own right) who are travelling to the Philippines together with the balikbayan
• A Filipino citizen who has been continuously out of the Philippines for a period of at least one (1) year from the date of last departure and their families
• A Filipino overseas worker (Source: Embassy of the Philippines)
SO HOW IS THIS APPLICABLE FOR OUR FAMILY?
This program first benefited our family the first time we flew back from United States of America (USA) to Philippines as a family last September 1, 2015. Since I stayed in USA for almost 2 years, I was qualified in the program and technically considered as Balikbayan, and a Filipino Citizen.
A Filipino citizen who has been continuously out of the Philippines for a period of at least one (1) year from the date of last departure and their families
Joshua and Abigail that time received a visa-free entry stamped in their passports to the Philippines from the immigration and its good for a period of one (1) year which was effective until August 31, 2016.
The only requirements we needed to complied to benefits from this program, and received a visa-free entry is travelling together as a family.
A Foreign passport-holders family members such as spouse and children needs to travel together with a Filipino Citizen or former Filipino Citizen and MUST present themselves together with the Immigration Officer at the port of entry and declare the desire of availing the privilege of Balikbayan Program.
IT DOESN’T MAKES SENSE, WHY GOING OUT IF YOU ARE ALREADY IN?
Well the gist is to avoid visa extension fees and fines. As I mentioned earlier their first BB was effective only until August 31, 2016 and before it expired, our plan was to exit to neighboring Asian country and be back in the Philippines while processing my papers with US Embassy. We thought we had a perfect plan even before we left USA. But most of our prior plans didn’t materialized on our own projected time frame. So before their BB expired, we applied for them a tourist visa which was valid only for one month or till September 30, 2016. Tourist visa extension was costly, and most of the time stressful. Joshua even had a stress-triggered psychosis-type episode, an emergency room admission, and re-occurring episodes while processing another extension for the month of October 2016. WWhichhich we failed to finished because of all the commotion that happened in the immigration. The third time we went back, we settled all the immigration late fees covering four (4) months of expired visas and a month of approved extension which is valid only till February 28, 2017. The results of our paper works with US Embassy will come out between 30 to 90 days from February 3, 2017. With this it is more practical for us in terms of monetary and more stress free to depart the country once again, and returned and availed the BB Program.
Today their passports are stamped with BB and that they can stay in the Philippines visa-free until February 20, 2018.
WHY NOT APPLY FOR A PERMANENT RESIDENCE?
Somebody asked us about considering a permanent residence application for Joshua and Abi in the Philippines. Our response was, its not on our radar. No future plans for it yet.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
In our experiences, we concluded that immigration laws are different in every country so, expect the possible unexpected situations and questioning. The first time we attempted to availed the Balibayan Program, we experienced some sort of questioning not in the Philippines but in China. Our connecting flights were from Los Angeles to China, and from China to Philippines. At the Guangzhou Airport during our boarding at China Southern, the questioning begun. Since Joshua and Abigail are both US passport holders, the boarding officers asked us to provide a copy of their return tickets to USA. They were enforcing a standards verification procedures. Since our plan was to stayed in the Philippines for a matter of year and be worry free from immigration fees through Balikbayan Benefits. But the boarding officers weren’t aware about the Balikbayan Program so we needed to explained it to them, and asked them to check the Philippine Immigration website about the existence of the program. It took us 15 minutes of explaining ourselves to the boarding officers and supervisors. With the helped of some appropriate supporting documents, at the end we were allowed to proceed and board the plane.
WHAT ARE THE APPROPRIATE SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS?
- For foreign spouse, bring an original copy of your marriage certificate.
- For foreign children, bring an original copy of their birth certificate
- For adopted children, bring an original copy of their adoption papers.
Understand that these boarding officials and immigration officers are just doing their job so the tip is to satisfy their questionings with factual explanations supported with black and white documents. If you aren’t sure of what you are doing, before travelling make sure to do your research, talk with appropriate class to apply those information with confidence.
EXITING NEARBY ASIAN COUNTRY
It took a while for us to made a trip outside the Philippines to the nearby Asian Country because of some uncontrollable situation our family faced during the last quarter of 2016. I’m referring to the Haltom Family Health and Wellness. We were planning this trip for a long time but due to uncontrollable situations like family emergencies, Philippine Immigration expired visas, and budget it didn’t push through. So once we addressed it one by one, we were able to planned our one day trip to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Thank God for the provision.
The moment we pulled out everything, and recieved unexpected funds, we set a workable budget, look for a place to visit, booked our round trip plane tickets with Air Asia, and researched an affordable hotel with airport pickup and returned. The goal was to exit the country, and returned together as a family to once again availed the free visa less stay for a year stamp at the immigration for Joshua and Abi.
DEPARTURE AND ARRIVAL-PHILIPPINES & KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA
Both the immigration officers in the Philippines and Malaysia were accommodating during our departure and return. The process was quick. As expected, the departure immigration officer at Ninoy Aquino International Airport asked us about the Emigration Clearance Certificate or ECC. But when she realized that we benefited from Balikbayan Program and calculated the time of our stayed in the Philippines from the date of Balibayan stamped arrival and expiration, she didn’t asked us anymore questions. One by one took our pictures, stamped our passports and were good to depart. When we arrived at the Malaysian airport, and faced the Immigration Officer at the port of entry, he just asked our passports, identified us by names while looking on our individual passport then stamped our passports with arrival date with maximum number of permitted days to stay for visit. For American Citizen, Joshua and Abi they both received a 90 days social visit. While for me, Philippine passport holder only 30 days.
EMIGRATION CLEARANCE CERTIFICATE
A few days before our scheduled flight, I came a crossed to an article in the internet which stating that Philippine Immigration is mandating an Emigration Clearance Certificate (ECC) for all foreign nationals passport holders who have been in the Philippines for a matter of 6 months and longer. The requirement is to apply for it in the Bureau to avoid departure problem. I honestly freaked out a little bit because we just had a workable budget, and wasn’t expecting it. I was calculating that we’ve been staying in the Philippines for a matter of 1 year and almost 6 months. We just paid a humongous amount of pesos for the late fees for five (5) months of tourist visa extension for Joshua and Abi which accumulated for long period because of us not able to addressed it during Joshua’s emergency and episodes. We decided to go at the Philippine Immigration and inquired about ECC, but the good thing about it we made a phone call first and asked them about ECC and explained our situations that we just went there amount ago, settled our fines and fees, and more payments. When I asked them why the processor didn’t issue as an ECC, the woman over the phone started calculating our stay and according to her explanation we came in the Philippines with a free visa less one year stay through BALIKBAYAN BENEFITS, and counting from our BB expired, we are only running 5 months and few weeks. Technically, not yet 6 months given that the number of days in a months differs. Make sense? That day, as she said our family were good to go without ECC. The following day, just to confirmed that the information we received was factual and dependable, once again I called the Philippine Immigration, and with explanations on my part, the immigration personnel over the phone, after he made his own verification and calculation he stated clearly that we were good to go and no need to apply for ECC. Praise God.
DEPARTURE AND ARRIVAL: KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA AND PHILIPPINES
On the day of our departure at Kota Kinabalu, the processed we had encountered with the Immigration officer was quick and easy. We handed our passports. Take note of this. Every time we go to the immigration officer, we go as a family. Again asked our names, took our pictures, and placed our index fingers at the bio metrics. When we arrived at the Philippines, again together as a family we presented ourselves and handed our passports. The processed was the same, identified our names, and one by one took our pictures even our 2 year old daughter. We over heard the lady beside us that she was declaring her desired to avail the Balikbayan Benefits for her family. So, we did the same. And the gracious Immigration officer stamped Joshua and Abi’s passport with an acronym BB which stands for BALIKBAYAN BENEFITS. He reminded us that we can avail it anytime only my husband and our daughter needs to traveled with me and presents ourselves together with the immigration officer.
1. Planning ahead. Never Procrastinate.
We learned that planning ahead will help us to established our goal straight, and establishing our strategies how to achieved it. It will also help us Joshua and I to focus ourselves together in the same path. The plan of exiting to the other country was set even before we left USA. The thing was we lacked in prioritizing it. With the continuous coming of funds, we procrastinate it. With the family emergency which started last quarter of the year, it was completely set aside. Planning ahead, will discipline us more to adjust ourselves to one-income budget. To become more realistic but with definite time frame, building a cash reserve, and workable budget and the most important developing a more harmonious relationship with Joshua and avoiding friction as a result of being unprepared. We thank God that we booked a cheaper round-trip plane tickets with Air Asia, found an affordable hotel with an airport pickup and returned, and enough budget for our food.
“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? -Luke 14:28 New Living Translation
2. Trusted Source of Information
That was the very first time our family visited to Malaysia and first time we flew with Air Asia. Haven’t we received reliable source of information like an option to pay Air Asia through Bayad Centers, I was struggling to booked the tickets for 1/2 days using online payment option. Good exchange of emails with the hotel management helped us to had advance information from the hotels such as its distance from the airport, corrected our reservations from two (2) adults to two (2) adults with child, and even arranged an airport pick-up which we truly enjoyed. We felt so privilege. Internet information is always good but not all of it are applicable to a given situations like us not needing to have ECC, so talking with the right people are more advisable.
20 Get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life. -Proverbs 19:20 New Living Testament
3. Family Fun while Pressing Towards the Goal.
This one day exit to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia helps our family to refresh, getting out of our daily routine, build memories together, helps us to trust one another’s company, and cracking the seriousness of life to a more fun ways. This travel also help Joshua and I to renewed our confidence with each other. When we were in Malaysia, unexpectedly Joshua told to me that he would do his best again, and pray to God to bring back my confidence in him and in his leadership just like when we were living in USA. When we migrate in the Philippines, our situation changed. In USA, I was fully dependent on him in every little things. New culture, new people, new system, new language, and different style of living. In the Philippines, he experienced all of the things I experienced in USA in a very extreme way. It was more harder on his part because he experienced anxiety, stress-triggered psychosis-type episode, and a series of relapse. Because of his traumatic injury during younger years, he was diagnosed with several and serious mental conditions. In USA, it was managed well, and his life was easy. Though there were challenging times, he always come out strong. In the Philippines, he somewhat lose his confidence in expressing himself, he experience tough times and setbacks, that made his symptoms worsen. He had several relapses which led him to emergency admission. That one day trip in Malaysia gave us both a freedom from each other’s shadow. His confident to expressed himself came -out again without fear of being prejudiced. It was a selah from our fears. Over all we enjoyed it as a family. Our daughter surely witnessed the strength and weakness of her parents and how we worked things out together. It was a joyful experience.
12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,[a] but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. -Philippians 3:12-14 New Living Translation
Additional Source of Reading:
An Act of Instituting A Balikbayan Program Balikbayan Program, Embassy of the Philippines in Netherlands Republic Act 9174, an Act No. 9174 Republic An Act Ammending Republic Act Numbered 6768, Entitled “An act Instituting Balikbayan Program” Balikbayan Program, Embassy of the Philippines
Kota Kinabalu International Airport