How Did I Get Back to the Philippines During the Covid-19 Quarantine and Travel Restrictions?

Ok, so I’m back in the Philippines after my road trip across the United States of America. Many of you out there told me that once I left the Philippines back on June 20th, I wouldn’t be able to come back for six months to a year.

That very well could have ended up being the case but I prefer to be an optimist. For me, the glass is always half full.

There was some business I had to take care of in America so I figured I would go ahead and get it out of the way during the lockdowns. I couldn’t see my little girl down in Manila anyway, so it made perfect sense to roll.

Getting Out of the Philippines

I booked a ticket on Etihad from Manila to Chicago, via Abu Dhabi. That’s the way to go because you will clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Abu Dhabi. Therefore, once you get to Chicago you are free to go as if you stepped off of a domestic flight. I highly recommend this route.

I first had to go to my local Barangay and get a travel pass. They charged me I think it was 100 Pesos for a document that said I’m not wanted on criminal charges. It had nothing to do with my health.

Then, I had to go up to Subic town and get another type of travel pass that had to do with Covid-19. They took my temperature and gave me the pass. Simple.

I emailed the U.S. embassy and they sent me a travel letter that was supposed to help with getting through the checkpoints. Ultimately, I had no issues getting to my hotel in Manila to await my flight the next day.

Check-in at the airport went as to be expected, but it wasn’t too bad.

I made it from Manila to America on the Etihad flight via Abu Dhabi. That was a great flight and mostly everything went smooth.

Time to Get Back to the Philippines and My Babies

Around August 5th, I had accomplished all of my objectives in America. I was certainly missing my babies and the ladies so it was time to see about getting back to the balcony of the Penthouse Suite. The first thing I did was check Philippine Airlines’ website. They have the most up-to-date information in my opinion. From their site, I was able to understand and navigate the hurdles needed to get my ass on a flight from LAX back to Manila.

IATF Resolution #60

The order and immigration policy that allowed me to return to the Philippines came from the IATF. In reading Resolution #60 dated July 30, 2020, Paragraph A., of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Infectious Diseases, it seemed that:

X X X

Foreign spouses, minor children, including children with special needs, regardless of age, of Filipino nationals as well as foreign parents of minor Filipino nationals including children with special needs regardless of age; provided they secure or possess the appropriate visas; and

X X X

Ok, so what does that mean? I have children in the Philippines who are minors and I’m obviously a foreign parent. It seemed that I was good to go according to the order. Now I just had to figure out how to navigate the paperwork and procedure.

Immigration rules can be interpreted in many ways. One country may interpret another country’s immigration policy totally different than the next. Local embassies have different rules for obtaining visas even though they all work for that particular country’s state department.

In my experience and travels, it all comes down to whether or not the damn airline will let you board your flight. That’s the go or no-go gate you obviously have to get past first. If the airline doesn’t let you board the flight, you’re done, right then and there. You won’t be traveling. But, if you can at least get on the flight and get to your destination country, you stand a chance at reasoning with the immigration officials at the airport if you’re deficient a document or two. The worst they can do is deny you entry and you have to leave the country on the next flight out. That’s never happened to me. Knock on wood.

My first objective was to speak to someone working the check-in counter at LAX. I needed to talk to the gatekeeper himself/herself. After trying several numbers that had been disconnected, I finally talked to an agent who gave me the correct number and timeframe to call. At that time, they were only there from around 5:30 P.M. to 10:30 P.M. Later that night I spoke with someone working the check-in counter. The young gentleman told me that the absolute requirement was that I had to have a visa. Period. No visa, no check-in. It didn’t matter if you had your wife’s birth certificate, passport, marriage license, your child’s birth certificate, etc. The visa was the golden ticket.

Ok, so on to the next step. How to get a visa to the Philippines when all of these lockdowns are going on during the “pandemic”.

Getting a Visa

I emailed the Philippines Embassy in Washington D.C. to inquire about the procedure and got a reply. They told me to contact my local consulate in order to obtain a visa. (This was incorrect info so keep reading.) I emailed the consulate in Atlanta as instructed and cc’d the folks in D.C. At that point, I got an email back from D.C., from the actual visa section, providing me with correct instructions on how to get the visa in accordance with Resolution #60. (As a side note, the consulate emailed me later on to advise they didn’t issue visas. I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus, but it’s just a lesson that sometimes you get routed to the wrong place so you have to be persistent.)

The instructions they gave me via email (as of August 11, 2020) are as follows:

BEGIN EMAIL

You can apply at the Embassy of the Philippines in Washington DC by mailing all the required documents below:

1. Copy of your marriage certificate.
2, Copy of your child birth certificate.
3. Proof that your spouse is Filipino Citizen (ex. Copy of Philippine Passport, any ID issued in the Philippines)
4. A copy of Philippine Passport of the child or school ID, if applicable.
5. Letter from your wife stating that she is currently residing in the Philippines (specified address) and that she is expecting your visit. Letter must be notarized by a local notary public.

Actual passport of applicant (valid at least 6 months from return date) and one (1) photocopy of the data page

Duly-accomplished Non-Immigrant Visa application form, typed or printed legibly in black or blue ink, and notarized. (see attached form)

Travel Itinerary (applicant must be a holder of a roundtrip/onward flight ticket out of the Philippines)

One (1) colored photo, 2” x 2”, taken within six months before the date of application, showing a clear front view of applicant’s face, with a white background. No sleeveless attire. Blurred or low quality photos are not accepted.

Proof of Financial Capacity (photocopy of latest bank statement and an employment certificate from the employer indicating position and salary, or affidavit of support), for Tourist Visa.

Self-addressed pre-paid return envelope, with appropriate stamps for express or priority mail with tracking numbers via US Postal Service, or with pre-paid mailing envelope from private courier of choice (except FedEx).

Visa fee, according to fee schedule below (non-refundable), payable in cash or money order made payable to “Embassy of the Philippines” . Personal checks and credit cards are not accepted.

Fees:
Single entry valid for three (3) months US$ 30.00
Multiple entry valid for six (6) months US$ 60.00
Multiple-entry valid for twelve (12) months US$ 90.00
Complete requirements must be sent to the following address:

Visa Section
Embassy of the Philippines
1600 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC. 20036

Incomplete documents may result in denial of visa.

Visa Section
Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines
Washington DC, USA

END of EMAIL

I put all of this together and sent it via UPS to the embassy. The only thing I was missing was the notarized letter from Fatima. It seemed darn-near impossible for her to go get a letter notarized due to the lockdowns and then find a FedEx place that’s open. The one FedEx store in SM Olongapo was closed when I left. I sent the packet to the embassy and hoped they would understand the situation.

I verified the package had been delivered two days later around 9:00 A.M. A short while later, I received a text message from the embassy saying that they had received my visa application! Way to go! I was excited. Big shout out to the folks working in the embassy up in D.C. Ya’ll made my day by just sending that one text.

Then, a short while later I received a NICE email letting me know the packet was missing the notarized letter and I needed to prove that my son is physically present in the Philippines. The email advised that if Fatima couldn’t send the notarized letter, she could send a photo with our son that shows a current local newspaper. The date had to be clearly visible.

That was a reasonable request. I thanked them and advised I’d send the photo first thing the next morning.

Once Fatima woke up, I tasked her with finding a local newspaper in Subic. The problem was that nobody seemed to have one! The usual newspaper delivery stopped months ago due to the lockdowns. She had to saddle up in the tricycle and head out. I think she ended up in Barrio Barretto and finally found one. Then, it was a chore to get a photo clear enough to show the date because Forrest G. wasn’t in the photo-taking mood. Eventually, she sent me a photo that was clear enough to read the date on the newspaper. I forwarded that pic to the embassy and they replied that they’d received it.

Listen, the website for the embassy and the consulates ain’t that great. Let’s be honest. The info is not up to date and current policies during these times aren’t detailed or explained. However, the folks working at the embassy are definitely on the J.O.B., my friends! I’m very thankful to them for helping me through the process where I can go see my babies. I’m not going to post their email address but it’s on the contact page of their site. It’s also listed on the Philippines Airlines site.

From the time the embassy received my visa application to the time it was handed back to UPS for delivery was only 3 days. Total time was from Monday (shipped from the UPS store) to the next Monday (received here at the house). You obviously want to give yourself more time than that. I’d suggest at least two weeks. You have to purchase your plane ticket ahead of time and you can’t board the flight without the visa. Don’t cut it too close.

The visa I obtained was $90 USD and is valid for one year. But, you are only allowed to stay for 59 days before it has to be renewed. It’s multiple entry as well. Due to the craziness going on right now, I highly recommend you spend a few extra bucks and go with the one-year visa. If they stop issuing visas again, at least you are good to go for one year!

Checking All the Boxes

Once you get the visa, you’re not done. Take note of the arrival information and procedures posted by Philippines Airlines. Here’s the info valid as of August 13th. Take note that by the time you read this, things have probably changed. Be sure to review the link above for the current conditions.

Four (4) conditions of the IATF-EID:

  1. Must have a valid and existing visa at the time of entry. I’ve already covered this. You have to possess a visa in order to check in for the flight!
  2. With pre-booked accredited quarantine facility. Make a hotel booking for 2 days upon your scheduled arrival in Manila. Choose a hotel off the list of approved facilities by the Bureau of Quarantine. Print this reservation and keep it with you. Take note that Agoda offers easy cancellation in case you can’t travel. I booked a room for $20 per night (for 2 nights) at the Red Planet Hotel in Makati. I ended up cancelling that reservation because I was able to get a free room at the Conrad Manila on Hilton Honors points.
  3. With pre-booked COVID-19 testing provider. Fill out this form to pre-register for the RT-PCR (Covid-19) test which will be administered upon arrival in Manila. This test costs 4,500 Pesos which you’re responsible for paying. After you fill out the form, you’ll be emailed a code and a link to another form. Enter that code to begin the second form. Once you complete the second form, you will receive an email with a QR code. Make note that you have to fill it out within 3 days of your scheduled departure. I tried to fill it out about a week before the flight and received an email telling me that it was unsuccessful. Print out the email containing the QR code and hold on to that copy.
  4. Subject to the maximum capacity of inbound passengers as set by the National Task Force for COVID-19.

After checking in online or at the ticket counter, you are supposed to complete the Electronic Health Locator and Arrival Form. THIS FORM DOESN’T WORK. The form is a work of art because it doesn’t even have a secure connection (SSL) and your browser will show a warning. That’s crazy, but this is the Philippines. Websites in the Philippines are about 50 years behind the times. Regardless, the form didn’t work for me and I ended up filling out a stack of paperwork on the plane that apparently covered this.

The Flight and Check-In

The check-in counters for flight PR103 open at 5:20 P.M. That’s about 5 hours before the flight departs. I was number two in line because I’d been at the terminal since 1:30 P.M. My check-in went smooth. The only thing they scrutinized was my visa. They scanned a copy of the visa and I was good to go.

The Filipina two counters down wasn’t so lucky. All I heard was, “I have to get home. My mother is 86 years old and she is sick. I have to get home. I checked the website many times. Please..” Apparently she didn’t have her documents together and/or the visa. My heart goes out to that young lady. I’m not sure if they ever allowed her to check-in or not. If they didn’t, I’m sure she was devastated.

I breezed through security in about two minutes. The TSA folks at Tom Bradley International Terminal run a tight ship. That was the best experience going through security I think I’ve ever had. They were friendly as well. Shout out to you good folks there because you’re doing a great job.

When the flight boarded, I found out that you are required to wear a mask AND a face shield for the flight. No one had informed me of this. A flight attendant ended up giving me a face shield. The problem was that the thing was way too small for my big head. Make sure that you purchase a face shield and that it fits comfortably. You’ll be wearing the damn thing for the entire 14-hour flight. I recommend you get the biggest one you can find so it doesn’t feel so claustrophobic. Also, bring a couple of extra face masks. I fell asleep and drooled all over my face mask. When I woke up, the mask was wet and stank like a dog’s ass. Luckily I had some backup masks in my carry-on bag.

Once we got airborne, they handed all of us a stack of paperwork to fill out. Make sure you have a pen, your reading glasses, and some patience. It took about 30 minutes to fill out all of those papers and the print is tiny.

Arriving in Manila

Upon arrival in Manila, Coast Guard personnel boarded the flight and gave a briefing. They then took everyone’s temperature prior to anyone deplaning. They’re using a state-of-the-art temperature camera so if they tell you that you’ve got a fever, you’ve got a fever. Don’t argue. They’re not using the cheap-ass thermometers you see at the checkpoints which are rarely accurate.

As I exited, I got a face shield from one of the medical crew and it actually fit my face. That was a blessing. The problem was I couldn’t see out of the damn thing. Later on, a young military gentleman came over and informed me that the plastic coating was still on there. He peeled it off and all of a sudden, I could see! I thanked him about ten times.

The first station is the payment booth for the Covid test. The cost is either 4,500 PHP or $94 USD. I gave them a $100 dollar bill and received 300 PHP for change. You can pay via credit card for the test if you so desire.

The next stop was the swab test itself. The nurse started by swabbing around the back of my tongue and my mouth. I ain’t gonna lie. I almost gagged. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Then, she went for the left nostril. That swab was so deep in my nose that I could barely endure the test. When she went for the right nostril, my eyes were tearing up like I was at a funeral. The test ain’t pleasant, my friends. But, it’s over in a few seconds. It’s not that it hurts. It’s just very uncomfortable.

After that was over, it was time to clear immigration. I wasn’t worried at all until the female immigration officer asked me for my DFA letter. I had no idea what she was talking about and still don’t. I told her that nothing from the embassy in D.C. said anything about a letter from DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs). She left the booth and walked into the supervisor’s office. About five minutes later, an older gentleman came back to the booth with the female officer. He looked at some of my paperwork and finally gave the O.K. I breathed a big sigh of relief when she handed me that passport. With my visa, I got stamped in for 59 days.

From there, I hit several stations. You have to show that you’ve reserved a hotel room and then tell another booth about how you intend to travel to the hotel. After those items were accomplished, I retrieved my luggage, cleared customs, and headed for the taxis. It cost me 330 pesos to get to the Mall of Asia area from the terminal.

Quarantine at the Hotel

Upon check-in at the hotel, I was informed that I had to remain in my room at all times. Meals would be delivered and left outside the door. I could not order food from any outside restaurants. Once the Covid test results came back, I would then be free to depart. The gentleman told me that the tests were usually only taking 24 hours to be processed.

All in all, the entire experience of getting back to the Philippines wasn’t that bad. I’m just so excited to see my babies and the ladies that it don’t matter anyway. I’m here. My heart goes out to the Filipina back at LAX who wasn’t allowed to travel.

So, I’m sitting here in my room overlooking Manila Bay, just waiting for the results. If for some reason the results come back positive, I’ll be transferred to a hospital for evaluation. Hopefully by this time tomorrow, I’ll be headed home to Subic. Once I get there, I have to quarantine myself for 14 days. Yes, even with the negative Covid test, you still have to stay home for two weeks.

AT 4:30 P.M. on the day I arrived, I received a text telling me that my results were being sent to my email. I opened the email and it has a password protected PDF document. My results were negative so I then had to fill out a Bureau of Quarantine Certificate and attach a copy of my passport. I completed it, but it wouldn’t print! I called the number for BOQ (Bureau of Quarantine phone numbers and email addresses are listed on the 2nd page of your test results) and the gentleman informed me that I had to email them the results so they could manually approve the BOQ certificate. In the subject line I was to put “First Swab” since this was my first test. I do so and sent off the email. I received a reply asking if this was my first swab. I again replied that it was.

Folks, they are processing a lot of people so just answer the questions as they come your way. Exercise some patience and you will get through the process.

Within two minutes, it was approved and I was able to download it for printing. I forwarded the test results and the BOQ document to the hotel and they printed hard copies.

I was then free to leave the hotel.

*Make sure you print several copies of these two documents just in case one of the checkpoints tries to keep them for their log. It didn’t happen to me, but I’d roll with several copies.

*When you fill out the BOQ Quarantine certificate, put your home address here in the Philippines or the address of where you will be staying. By order of BOQ, you are to quarantine at that address for 14 days. So, if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, you have a document that was filed with BOQ as to where you are supposed to be. If anyone tried to hamper my travel to the house, I planned on presenting that document and asserting that I had to get to that particular address by order of the Bureau of Quarantine, which is absolutely true. Local government units may try to tell you to do this or do that, but they’re less likely to go against what the Bureau of Quarantine has ordered if you have documentation. That Quarantine Certificate was my golden ticket home and my travel pass as far as I was concerned.

Going Home

On the way to Subic, we only passed four checkpoints. The first three were manned by only two or three personnel. This was a good sign to me. We were stopped and questioned at a checkpoint somewhere near San Fernando and Dinalupihan. The soldier wanted to know if we were going to Bataan. We told him that we were going to Olongapo and he let us pass. He said we could not travel to Bataan.

We got all the way to the Matain River which separates the Olongapo side from the Subic side. We were stopped and questioned. The soldier took my paperwork and I had to be entered into their log. I showed the young Sergeant the Quarantine Certificate which had my home address on it. He wrote down my information in his log and allowed us to pass. He knew that I was almost home so my story added up. Now, had I put some other address on that darn certificate (such as the hotel in Manila), it may have created a problem.

It’s funny that we traveled all the way from Mall of Asia and only got logged in about a mile from my Penthouse Suite.

So, as I type this, I’m on Day 1 of my 14-day home quarantine. I’m glad to be back with my old lady and little Forrest G. After these 14 days are over, I will be able to go see my Maria Mercedes.

Recommendations

Here are a few random thoughts and recommendations.

Choose a decent hotel! I stayed at the Conrad Manila Hotel and everything worked out perfect. Yes, it’s an upscale place. Yes, you can get a cheaper hotel. Here’s why you don’t want to stay at a cheap hotel while you await your Covid-19 test results:

  • You need the internet to be in good working order. Cheap hotels usually equals cheap Internet. That’s not good because you are waiting on test results via email. You have to send an email to the Bureau of Quarantine and may have to make a few calls. Poor communications is not a good thing when you’re trying to get your documents in order so you can leave the hotel.
  • You need to print documents. Cheap hotels often have printers that don’t work or they’re out of ink. Since you can’t leave the hotel, you’re at their mercy to print your documents.
  • You have to eat. You can only eat what the hotel serves you. You cannot order pizza or takeout. You have to stay in your room. A cheap hotel is going to serve you cheap food. Enough said.
  • If you test positive, you will be transferred to a hospital for an indeterminate about of time. Do you want to drag all of your luggage to the hospital? No. Do you want to leave your luggage at a cheap-ass hotel while you go to the hospital? No. I considered this exact scenario. I decided that if I did test positive, I would leave all of my bags at the Conrad and take nothing with me to the hospital except for my wallet and passport. Once I got that over with, I would retrieve my gear from the hotel.

Purchase a comfortable face shield. The bigger the better. You’re going to be wearing that damn thing from the moment you get on the flight until you get to your hotel in Manila. The small one they gave me was too tight and I felt like it was choking me. The second one I got is big and it’s comfortable. Don’t wait until you get to LAX to start thinking about finding a face shield.

Pack the least amount of carry-on luggage as you can get away with. Once you land in Manila, you have to navigate a hand full of stations and it’s tight quarters at times. It’s much easier to get around all of this mess if you are only carrying one bag or backpack.

Tell them that you want to take the metered taxi. When you get to the booth that verifies your hotel stay, they will try to “sell” you on a package that they’ve “arranged”. They told me their shuttle would be about 1,350 PHP to get from the airport to the Conrad Hotel and Mall of Asia. I politely declined that offer and told them I would be taking a taxi. At the next booth (transport verification), the gentleman handed me a coupon to give to the taxi driver. He said it would be 330 Pesos to get to the hotel. There’s no need to pay an extra 1,000 pesos.

Make sure you have your reading glasses with you. On the plane, all of those forms have such tiny typeset that you can’t read them. There is a stack of paperwork to complete so make sure you have a pen handy as well.

I didn’t eat the last meal they served on the flight and I’m glad I didn’t. When they do the swab test, it will make you want to gag and puke. If I had ate that last meal, it might have been an ugly sight. Just a thought.

Did I Have to Take a Covid-19 Test BEFORE the Flight?

No. I was never asked for any documentation showing a negative Covid-19 test to obtain a Philippines visa or to board the flight with Philippine Airlines. That could change at any moment so due your own due diligence!

I did not have to take a Covid test prior to my earlier Etihad flight from Manila to Chicago.

I Have to Give Thanks and Credit Where It Is Due

Folks, I’m a less-government type of person. For me to say thanks to any government, there has to be some logic as to why. In the middle of this “pandemic”, there hasn’t been much logic applied by any government around the globe. I’m totally against these lockdowns both here and in the States. I’m against having to wear a darn mask. However, I have to set those feelings aside and say thanks to some folks right now.

I want to thank the Philippines Inter-Agency Task Force on Infectious Diseases and President Duterte for passing/approving IATF Resolution #60. The resolution has allowed me to return to my family here in the Philippines. For that, I must say thank you.

As I’ve previously detailed, Resolution #60 allows spouses of Filipino citizens and parents of Filipino minor children to travel to the Philippines. That’s logic, born out of compassion.

I do hope the government reopens the country soon because the economy needs tourism dollars like anywhere else. But in the meantime, we foreign fathers and husbands are just glad to be able to return to our families.

Philippines Bureau of Quarantine Contact Info

Important Links

Why There is NO Checklist In This Post

I was going to put together a checklist, but decided against it. The reason is that the regulations keep changing so I don’t want to be responsible for you not having everything you need. Do your own research as close to the date of your flight as possible so you’re fully prepared. Use this post merely as the starting point for planning your trip. Good luck on getting here to see your family, my friends.

Please leave your story down in the comments so that others may learn from your journey as well.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, sir, for this very detailed, helpful recounting of your recent travel. My situation differs from yours in some significant details, but your narrative of the processes and pitfalls through which you navigated has given me a great amount of useful information.
    I do have one follow up question:
    Did you ever find out anything additional regarding the one document (Bureau of Foreign Affairs letter) you DID NOT have? No reason for you to pursue it of course, as it proved to be of little consequence. Just curious.

  2. I did some Google searches concerning the DFA letter. My understanding is that Filipinos can have DFA verify the authenticity of important docs such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, other important legal docs. DFA used to attach “red ribbons” to these docs and that acted as proof that the docs were authentic. Red ribbons are no longer used because the Philippines now goes by some international standard on how these types of docs are handled. From what I can tell, this is normally done for Filipinos requiring these Filipino docs while overseas…it is a way to prove the docs are authentic and not a fake. In your specific case, I think that the Immigration Agent was looking for the DFA letter to prove that the birth certificate you presented was not a fake even though it was a Filipino doc…no idea if this letter is often used in country though! Hope this helps…as you often say…I am not an expert!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here