Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Actual cost of overstaying in the Philippines: ₱18,889

Before I left for the Philippines, I looked for immigration information, and found a web page or two that seemed to suggest that a tourist could stay longer than 30 or 59 days in the Philippines (30 or 59? It wasn't clear) by paying a 500-peso fee ($11 USD) per month. This information was wildly inaccurate; the actual cost is dramatically higher.

It's easy to get confused if you can't figure out what the BI page is saying. You might see the line "Every month of extension - Php 500.00" or "Fine for Overstaying – (additional) Php 500.00 per month" and think "oh, okay, I can afford that". But in fact, you are required to pay all the other fees at least once, and some of the other fees are charged either every month, or every two months, so the real cost is much higher than they lead you to believe.

I've paid to "overstay" in the Philippines by 6 months so far (not counting the first 59 days, which I think were free for me, although the regulations are confusing - perhaps it's 30 days for some people). The fees for overstaying two months are the worst:

First two months: ₱11,309 ($US 240)

I went to the Philippines to get married. I did find out that you are required to buy a return flight before being allowed to board the flight in, so I got a one-way ticket to Hong Kong or Vietnam or something (about $50 US) and didn't use it. However, we live far from an immigration office, so I wasn't careful to check in with immigration on-time - I was about one month late, I think, having waited until after the wedding. That was a mistake, since there is a significant fine for missing the deadline. Plus, they make you sign a paper acknowledging that if you miss the deadline a second time, you will be deported. Also, if you miss the deadline because it fell on a weekend (when their office was closed) or a full-week holiday like Lent (when their office was closed), it is considered entirely your own fault; the Bureau of Immigration can do no wrong.

I suspect that ₱1000 to ₱2000 on this receipt is the price of failing to check in with the BI, but I'm not sure which of the line items are related to this mistake (I think "Motion for Reconsideration" is one of them.) Therefore, expect to pay up to ₱10,309 ($219 USD) to overstay by two months (four months total) even if you follow all the rules.

What the hell is an "express lane fee"? There is no "slow lane" - in fact there have never been any lineups when I was there. In fact, there isn't even any space set aside in the office for a queue. They do not ask you nor inform you about the "express lane fee"; in fact, the teller behind the glass said nothing whatsoever. She simply showed me a calculator with the number 11,309 on it and seemed, via body language alone, to expect me to pay her. Even though all written business seems to be conducted in English, it's quite possible she didn't speak it. I asked for a receipt or list of what I was going to pay for, but they refused; the woman didn't really speak, so a man came out to tell me that I would not be given a receipt until I paid the amount they demanded. He did tell me about some of the items, like the large "ACR I-Card Fee", but he didn't mention the express lane fee and the total of the things he mentioned didn't add up to anything close to 11,309 pesos.

I looked online afterward for information about the Express Lane fee - especially since it's mysteriously listed on a separate receipt - to see if it was some sort of local bribe. Google doesn't easily find information on the BI web site itself about this fee, but based on articles like this one, the fees do seem to be officially sanctioned, and at least one guy says "EVERYBODY pays this fee". I do not know if there is any way to avoid paying it... I'm not a smooth talker, at least not in person, and even if I were, the fact that I can't speak the local language would put me at a disadvantage. My wife doesn't want to negotiate either. So I pay.

Second two months: ₱3,240 ($US 69)

Since this receipt is the cheapest, I think we can conclude the minimum price of overstaying is about ₱1600 per month, but the one-time fees are huge enough to drive the average monthly fee much higher.

Third two months: ₱4,340 ($US 92)

Sorry, I didn't go to the trouble of digitizing this one. The price increased because they added a "Certificate of Residence For Temporary Visitors" line: ₱1400. The total only went up by ₱1100 because the "Annual report" fee of ₱300 disappeared this time.

Grand total: ₱18,889

That's a total cost of ₱18,889 ($402 USD or $540 CAD) for overstaying 6 months, which is ₱3148 per month, although you can avoid a small fraction of that fee by not missing any deadlines to check in at the BI office. More than half of that money is charged for the first two months. But that's not all: when you actually convert your money to pesos, you'll be charged 200 pesos per transaction by the ATM machine (that's a minimum 2% fee since all banks except possibly RCBC limit withdrawals to ₱10,000), and your bank is likely to charge about 3% as a hidden fee in the exchange rate, in addition to any overt fees they tack on. My research indicates you can't do much better, either - I found an online currency conversion service that was highly recommended by others, but the hidden fee (buried in the reduced exchange rate) was about 3.5% - twice as high as the fee for conversions to USD or Euro. I don't know if it's because the Philippines is a third-world country or because the currency isn't very popular, but whatever the reason, you can expect higher conversion losses on pesos than on "more important" currencies.

So, when I added $50 for the plane ticket that I wouldn't be using, the total reached about ₱22,183 or $471 for a six-month overstay. Apparently, if your stay includes January like mine did, you have to show up at the BI office in January to pay a special "it's January" fee of ₱300, officially called the "Annual Report" or something like that, and this is required even if you have a full VISA to the Philippines. It's required, but they aren't likely to tell you about it. There was, however, a small sign on the wall of the BI office to inform visitors about it. Want to find out what happens if you don't show up in January? I don't want to find out either.

Now I'm looking into getting a marriage VISA. Officially, if I understand correctly, it costs ₱8,620 to apply for a 13(a) marriage VISA. However, once you add up all the extra fees it's quite a lot more. I'm required to take a minimum of three trips to Manila, which is expected to cost about ₱1,000 by bus, plus 10-12 hours of travel time. The first trip was for the NBI clearance which costs ₱160 (including a ₱25 "service fee" that is inexplicably charged twice); this involves giving both sensitive personal information and biometrics to the government. I fully expect more (and bigger) hidden fees to pop up during the process. Another web page estimated the total cost at ₱10,000 to ₱15,000. Plus, every month that they delay granting a VISA is a month that they get to charge the roughly ₱2000 temporary visitor fee. This is a direct conflict of interest for them, but rumor has it that the whole process should take two months at most.

I'm treading dangerously here, since I heard a rumor that one must return to Manila after one year to convert the "Probationary" VISA into a "permanent" VISA (no doubt with a large fee attached!). That's a problem, since I planned to leave the Philippines less than one year from now. I might actually be forced to stay longer just to convert my VISA from "pretend" to "real" status.

Finally, I've heard rumors that the Philippines charges quite a lot - 2000 pesos? - to its own citizens to let them leave the country, and a similar fee is charged to people with VISAs who want to leave. That's right: I'm charged money to stay in the country and I'm charged money to leave too. Think of it as a "being alive" tax. God help you if you run out of money. It's even worse for a normal Filipino emigrant, because 2000 pesos is a lot of money in a country where the minimum wage is ₱481 per day - what is that, $1.20 US per hour?

Throughout everything, my wife didn't seem at all concerned. "It's the Philippines," she shrugged. "There's always bullshit fees here."

I used to be angry about this, but anger is tempered by expectations. I hope that by learning about the bullshit fees up-front, you won't be caught off-guard with large unexpected fees after you arrive in the Philippines. Walang anuman.

One more thing: avoid one-month extensions

Most of the BI fees are charged per-visit, not per-month, so a one-month extension costs almost as much as the maximum extension of two months (which explains why they set the maximum at two months and not more.) While getting our 13(a) VISA we found out we'd need a one-month extension, which turned out to cost ₱2430 - only ₱800 of that is per-month fees.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the Fee-lippines. the land of the proud slave!