Your First Trip to the Philippines, Preparation and getting here

Things you need before the trip, things you need to do once you arrive here and what happens next… A lot of this is a summary of many posts found on this site, it puts the most important information in front of you.


Prior to your move to the Philippines there are a few things you need to do. The first of these is to make sure your children are behind you and don’t mind you being so far away. My kids were angry but soon got over it when the realized how cheaply I could live here. Next you need to put together a folder of all the personal documents you will need once you arrive here in the Philippines (see list below). keep your records in a safe place like in a brief case or carry-on bag as you will need them once you arrive here and especially if you plan to marry a Filipina here. That being said, anyone with a valid passport can get on a plane and fly to the Philippines. It is not necessary to obtain a visa prior to departing from the US, you will receive one once you arrive in the Philippines at the customs and immigrations at the Airport of your port of entry into the Philippines. This port of entry could be either Manila or Cebu. Once you land at your port or entry, you will receive a 21 day visa unless you are arriving with your Filipina spouse. In this case you should ASK for a Balikbayan visa good for one year, this is what we did when we arrived here with 2010 after living four years in Texas. You must ask for this visa or you will receive only the standard 21 day visa. They will not always allow it although I have never been denied one.

Here’s a list of documents you should bring with you if you are moving or planning an extended stay here in the Philippines:

■ Original birth certificate (several copies if you can Xerox is OK in many cases but sometimes you need an original)

■ Passport. Make sure you order a passport with additional pages for frequent travelers you will need those pages as your passport is stamped every time you renew your visa. Give yourself plenty of time to get the passport completed before booking your flight because it takes about 2 to 4 weeks just to get one. More recently I have heard that it may take even longer to get your passport. Also recent IRS information states that if you owe the IRS money you may be prevented from obtaining a passport altogether.

■ Proof of separation, death certificate

■ Military records

■ Military ID

■ Bank account info with routing number and account numbers.

To apply for a passport you can go to your local Post Office with the following documents:

■ Previous U.S. passport

■ Certified birth certificate issued by the city, county or state

■ Certificate of citizenship, or naturalization certificate.

■ Valid form of photo identification, such as a current valid driver’s license, government ID or military photo ID.

■ Valid original birth certificate

Once all your documents are completed and ready you now need to begin a flight to the Philippines.  I always go to one of the local Vietnamese or Asian travel companies and ask them if they have any promos going to the Philippines. I have found flights for $430 and $835 when the going rate was around $1,500 on two of my trips over here, so they are there, it’s up to you to locate them. Remember you need an outbound ticket, not a round ticket just an outbound ticket to Hong Kong will do.


Here how you trip will likely transpire:

If you are moving here permanently you need to sell your home, sell off all that accumulated stuff, anything you just can’t live without can be shipped in a Balikbayan Box. These shipping boxes are transported by container ship and take roughly two months to arrive here. They come in two sizes: Standard size: 24 x 18 x 18 and Jumbo Box: 24 x 18 x 24. I actually shipped my Fender Bass amp on one and it barely fit in that box. All of my stuff made it here in one piece even a large 24×24 photo in glass, made it and was not broken. One thing to consider is the power situation here. We run on 220 VAC at 60HTZ. If you bring appliances that are 110 to 120 VAC they will not work here unless you buy a step-down transformer. But it is so easy to forget and plug one into a 220 outlet with usually destroys the ac adapter. Fortunately you can easily buy a 220 replacement here. Just recently I was showing off a synthesizer here and plugged it’s ac adapter in a 220 outlet and wondered why it made a pop sound then smoked… I have lost so many transformers here due to this alone.

Once you have your ticket in hand and all your documents together in a safe place, your baggage packed and any carry on money in a money belt. I really recommend using one as I know of one person that was robbed while he slept carrying money in his pants pocket. The money belt is strapped around your waist inside your clothing and it is not easy for someone to get in there without waking you. Also most money bags are less than 10 dollars at Wal-Mart, get one.

Arrive at least two to three hours early for you flight as security is a real pain these days. Wear shoes that are easy to take off and put back on as you will be required to do this at the airports security. I wore tennis shoes and they are a pain to get out of and into again.



When you pack your baggage keep in mind that you are now only allowed 50 pounds per bag and only 2 bags per ticket. If you are traveling with your wife you can have four bags and two for each child, but check with the airport for any changes as this stuff seems to change all the time. Remember not to pack knives, guns or anything that could get confiscated at the Airport.


Visa Information:

You can extend a 2 month visa up to a full year extending it every two months at a cost of just under P6000 pesos.  If you arrived on a Balikbayan visa you an extend past your one year by simply going to your local Bureau of Immigrations or Embassy and applying for it. You can extend up to an additional year with the Balikbayan visa.


To extend you visa at the Bureau of Immigrations in Mandaue City:

Once your initial 21 day visa expires you need to get it extended. You can keep updating this visa every two months or begin processing for the permanent resident 13A visa. The 2 month visa starts out around 4,000 pesos and ends up around 6,000 every two months. The 13A Permanent Resident visa initially costs around 25,000 and is renewed each year at 5,000 Pesos so it over time is cheaper.

Here’s how to get your visa extended. First if you are in Cebu City just grab a taxi and tell them to take you to Immigrations in Mandaue City. Other cities have similar locations. Then once inside and past the guard, (you need to be in proper dress t-shirts and flip flops are a no no) you stop at a desk inside the lobby of immigrations someone will look over your passport and ask you if you would like a one or two month extension. I chose 2, then she will give you a form to fill out for the extension. I had my wife fill it out as her handwriting is much better than mine. Then the papers are given back to the attendant at the desk. She goes over it and gives it back to you and tells you to take it to Window 1. Then you wait for your name to be called out, for me this was only about 15 minutes. then you pick up the forms and passport from window 1 and take them over to the cashier. Then you sit and wait in the waiting area, until your name is called out again. This process took about 30 to 45 minutes. Them your name is called out the last time you go to the Cashier’s window and pay for your visa. The 2 month visa is now P5,553.50. Once you receive your passport and receipt you are free to go.


Arriving at the Airport:

Your plane lands at Cebu and you depart the plane, then you are taken down to Customs and Immigrations area where you go through a quick very short interview (see photo left). Your passport is stamped with the date and time. You are automatically granted a 21 day visa at this time. If you arrive with your spouse and he or she is a Filipino citizen you can get what is known as a Balikbayan visa good for one year, this is what I did twice now. Once the year is over you can extend any number of times by visiting your local Bureau of Immigrations Office. After the customs and Immigrations, you  go through the doors to the baggage Claim area and pick up your bags as soon as they are unloaded. In the Baggage claim area a Filipino man will grab a cart and load your bags onto it for you and wheel it out side to the taxi stand. I usually give them P20 as a tip. The porter will head across the room to the exterior doors taking your bags with him, make sure you have all your bags and don’t leave4 them unattended. I have had to wait a long time for my last bag and one was lost once but was hand delivered when it was found at another airport.  Once you get out in the sunlight you are in the Taxi zone and it is usually quite crowded with people all trying to get out of there and others trying to get you to take their cab. Taxi service from the airport is typically more expensive than regular taxi service around town. If you have a hotel van coming to pick you up they should be driving by looking for you. You may have to flag them down since he will not know who you are. You could prepare a paper sign with the hotel and your name on it to aid them in finding you.  Moat of  the hotel vans have a sign with the hotels name on them. They can’t park there except to  load and unload so he may simply drive around  the block in circles until he and you spot each other.

Note: When you buy your tickets make sure you have an outbound ticket to some place like Hong Kong because at immigrations they will check for this and make you purchase an expensive ticket of $400 or more to Hong Kong if you don’t have one. It is cheaper to go ahead and get that when you buy your tickets.


Finding a place to live:

There are many thousands of apartments listed all over the Mandaue and Cebu City area a lot of them are listed online. You also have rentals in some of the condos here. My wife and I live in a controlled access compound where every Filipino is related in one way for another and nearly each one owns an apartment building and they seem to always have vacancies. All the Owners are wealthy, example my apartment is owned by a 45 year old Electrical Engineer for Cebu City. next to me is a captain of a container ship and his wife is a dentist, across from them is a retired Judge. You will not see beggars or peddlers constantly knocking on your doors trying to sell you something that you will soon find out is common just about everywhere else. Most Taxis know where Tumulak Village is but it they don’t know just tell them to go across the old bridge from Mandaue City to Lapu-Lapu city on Mactan Island a small island that sits right next to Mandaue city. Once you cross the bridge just stay on the main road and keep straight, go down until you see a Petron Gas station, make a left there and an immediate left taking you behind the Petron station. Look for a wall that seems to be in the wrong place sticking out into the road. That is your landmark as just after it you should see a red brick painted wall on your left make a left and stop at the security guard you can at this time tell him you are looking for an apartment and he will call for you or ask to see me he knows me by Michael and Marianne Harman. I will come pick you up and show you around. Remember you can call me anytime and ask at: 1-571-970-9195 or my cell 0-923-908-9375



Tumulak Village a large secure compound on Lapu-lapu City and Mactan Island.


How to survive in the Philippines:

If you are not old enough for social security or pension, you could have a rough time here. Jobs are scarce for foreigners and without work you will go hungry. There is one American in this compound about to be kicked out as he is flat broke and has no skill so can’t do much work, can’t type, does drive trucks though.

Most Foreigners that do not have a social security system or a pension will crate some type of business, You see all sorts of businesses including beach resorts like Virgin Beach Resort in Northern Cebu. Business Centers, stores and so on. So if you are planning a trip and do not have a lot of money in the bank like 200,000 plus. You may be in for a rough ride.


Taking care of your Finances:

Your Banking Needs while here in the Philippines is one of the more important issues related to making the big move over here is you banking needs. For us we still use our US stateside bank meaning my social security and pension go there then we draw it out at ATM machines here in the Philippines. The ideal situation would be to get an account at a bank that is in the US and in the Philippines. There are several you can choose from. Citybank is one of these banks, there are offices in Cebu. If you already have an account in the US you can get a dollar account here in the Philippines. BDO Banco De Oro also has US offices, and Banco de Oro ATM cards are accepted worldwide. Get yourself an ATM card from whichever bank you choose it should have ATAR or PULSE on the back of the card so you can use them in BDO and other ATM Machines for cash here. Beware that some machines only allow up to P5000 per transaction and some allow up to P10,000 per transaction.  You can also open up an American account at an institution such at E*Trade. They have no fees to transfer money and no ATM fees. Very handy.


If you are going to have your Social Security Pension (including SSDI) deposited into a Philippine bank you will need a dollar account at an institution that is on the list of approved banks. Each bank has it’s own fees and charges so you will have to contact the bank itself to find out what they require.

You will find that The Social Security List of banks and fees are very seldom what the bank claims them to be. Most all banks want you to provide the SF1199 form from SSA for “Direct Deposit”…There is no since arguing with them that SSA said “The Banks have the SF1199 (Forms)”…just get on line and connect with this link we have given and print the forms out yourself and have them with you at the bank.


* No More mail delays. U.S. Treasury Department sends benefits via electronic fund transfer to your bank account and credit is done on the same day of release.

* No more paper check to be misrouted, lost or stolen while in transit.

* You can open either a dollar or a peso account.

* You do not have to make separate trips to the post office or money changer to cash checks.


* The account must be only in the name of the person receiving the Social Security Benefits.

* Only the person receiving the benefits (name on the account) can withdraw the benefits.

* Benefits can only be withdrawn from the branch where the account is located.

* Cannot have monies automatically transferred to another account (Money must be physically withdrawn)


1. Allied Bank

2. Banco De Oro (BDO)

3. Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI)

4. Bank Of Commerce (BOC)

5. China Bank

6. China Bank Savings

7. Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP)

8. Land Bank

9. May Bank

10. Metro Bank

11. Philippine National Bank (PNB)

12. Philippine Veterans Bank

13. Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC)

14. Security Bank

15. United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB)

16. United Overseas Bank

V. Existing Beneficiaries:

1. Choose a bank accredited by SSA.

2. Get form SF1199 (Direct Deposit Sign-up Form) from SSA office, Bank branch you will use or print from this link.

3. Open a direct deposit account under the name of the beneficiary, you will need to present proper ID to the bank representative.

4. Make sure the bank signs the SF1199 form and keep a copy for yourself.

5. You must either:

A: submit one copy of the form to our office and show the bank passbook: or

B: let the bank submit one copy to  SSA office, or

C: mail one copy to SSA together with a photocopy of your bank passbook, or

D: If the SF-1199 has been accomplished with the help of an officer from an accredited bank you may send copy to SSA Manila by facsimile, SSA VARO Manila’s Fax number: 02-522-1514.

6. Wait for 1-2 months for your benefits to go to the new account…..after that period if your benefits are not being received at the new account, contact the SSA office in Manila

You don’t need a car here:

Once you arrive here you no longer need a car, ground transportation is so cheap why bother let someone else do the driving as Greyhound Bus used to say. Tricycles are used for short trips of less then lets say a couple of kilometers max and typically run from 10 pesos to 20 or so. Then comes Taxi and Jeepneys. Taxis are easy just tell them where you are going and most trips in Cebu City will run you roughly 250 pesos or less. Jeepneys are extremely cheap although not as easy as each jeepney has it’s own route. Typically the destination is written on the side of the Jeepney.


This Jeepney is driving to downtown Cebu City via the SM north terminal which is a jeepney stand there. Colon is in downtown Cebu City where there is a money changer and shopping. malls The mall in the photo behind the jeepney is the Parkmall and it has many great restaurants and shopping



Passport Processing:

More retirement info here:

And don’t forget to look through the list of posts on my web site here:


Another view from Tumulak Village from the top of the highest building in the compound. You can see the old bridge from Mandaue City.





I have yet to find a Hot Dog here I can eat, most of them I do not like the taste of the hot dog meat.




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