Friday, May 06, 2016

How to apply for a Filipino 13(a) Marriage VISA

I'm writing this post to give a little "heads up" and guidance to anyone trying to get permanent residency in the Philippines through a marriage VISA (known as 13A). Applying for a VISA in the Philippines is much more expensive and time-consuming than it first appears; it may be less expensive than staying as a tourist, but realistically you'll have to pay for both.

The first bad news you should know is that the government requires you to stay near Manila for about two weeks months during the application process and near the Philippines for a year; to do otherwise could be (even more) expensive. We'll talk about that later.

Preparing Your VISA application

The first thing you should do is visit the BI web site and view the official information about the VISA. Note the supposed fee: Php 8,620.00. That's not the real fee: for some reason they decide to systematically lie on the web site and charge higher prices when you arrive. More on that later.

Also, check out this other page with more information. Here are the items you're told that you need:
  • "Joint letter request addressed to the Commissioner from the applicant and the petitioning Filipino spouse". The document we actually submitted looks like this. I do apologize for the presence of ridiculous words like "defray" and "affiant" but this document is based on another document that a guy from a BI office showed us, a letter written by a successful VISA applicant. Later, the Legal Officer will look at the letter and actually write check marks on it like a schoolteacher. I remember that the BI guy said he'd be looking for something about your financial capacity and a couple of other things that I've now forgotten. Anyway, just make sure your letter has the same information as my letter. Oh, and we heard a rumor that the letter has to be "notarized". Whatever that means.
  • "Duly accomplished CGAF": The Consolidated General Application Form is currently located here. I am not quite sure what kind of Character References are required, I just used a couple of acquaintances. I'm not sure how to fill out the first three fields on the form, either, but the Legal Officer can probably tell you that when you submit your application.
  • "Marriage Certificate or Marriage Contract": do not use the original. If you were married in the Philippines you'll want to get a copy from a PSA (Philippine Statistics Authority) office, formerly known as NSO (National Statistics Office). Some say it takes months after you're married before you're even allowed to get a PSA-certified copy of it; we were able to get our copy the first time we asked for it, three months after our marriage.
  • "Birth Certificate or certified true copy of BI-issued Identification Certificate as Filipino citizen of the Filipino spouse." To fulfill this confusingly-worded sentence, the Filipino spouse will need to get a copy of his or her birth certificate from a PSA office. The foreigner's birth certificate is not needed.
  • "Photocopy of passport bio-page and latest admission with valid authorized stay": Photocopy your passport's picture page, and also the stamp or sticker that shows how long you are authorized to be in the Philippines. On the day you submit your VISA application, you'll need at least two weeks left on your temporary visitor VISA, if I remember correctly.
  • "Valid National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Clearance, if application is filed six (6) months or more from the date of first arrival". We were told at a satellite office that, unlike Filipinos, us foreigners couldn't get the NBI clearance from any NBI office. Instead we had to go to the NBI main office: specifically the one on United Nations Avenue, Ermita, Manila (and not any of the other NBI offices in Manila or elsewhere). Other than having to go to Manila, this step is straightforward since the NBI (which is the Filipino quivalent of the FBI) set up a web site for appointments to get NBI clearances: There are a couple of things to know about getting an NBI clearance: first, when you get there they will ask for information about your parents such as their birthplaces and birthdays, even though they didn't tell you in advance that you would need that information. Second, they will take your fingerprints and put them in a database. Third, it'll take at least a couple of days to get your NBI clearance, and you have to pick it up in Manila (from the same office)?
  • "BI Clearance Certificate": Remember that document labeled "Bureau of Immigration - Certification", which says that you do "NOT APPEAR in this Bureau's Hold Departure, Blacklist, Watch list, and/or Intelligence Derogatory Records"? That's NOT what this refers to. Instead, the "BI Clearance Certificate" is something else you get from the main BI office on the same day you apply for the 13A VISA. But feel free bring your "Bureau of Immigration - Certification" with you if it makes you feel better.
  • "Original or certified true copy of Bureau of Quarantine Medical Clearance, if applicant is a national of any of the countries listed under Annex “A” of Immigration Operations Order No. SBM-14-059-A". WTF? "Annex A" is not available online as far as I can tell, but I saw a copy in the BI office itself - damaged like one of those stone tablets uncovered by archaeologists:
Additional documents are required if you're also applying to let your foreign children stay with you, but that didn't apply to my case. Also, in advance you should get a pair of white folders to put your documents in, because it never occurred to the BI to buy their own office supplies (or sell them to you).

Make two copies of your documents because you will have to submit two separate folders to the BI. The first folder contains all the documents, and the second folder only contains some of the documents (sorry, I have misplaced the list of documents for the second folder, and I don't remember the purpose of the second folder, either).

Finally, you might require additional documents that they won't tell you about in advance. In our case, after driving four and a half hours to reach the Main BI Office, we were told that, because my citizenship is "Canadian" on the Marriage License, I would need "proof" that I was a Canadian citizen as well as a U.S. citizen. I had a U.S. passport but not a Canadian passport; the officer seemed to be saying that if I had two passports then everything would have be fine, but since I only had one, I was in for a world of hurt.

Verifying my citizenship: a side story

I had my Canadian Citizenship Certificate, but the legal officer said they wouldn't accept it. He said I'd have to go to the Canadian Embassy to "notarize" it, and then we'd have to go to DFA (Departmen of Foreign Affairs) to authenticate the notarization (what?), which would take 24 hours if we paid extra for "express" service.

So we travelled to the Canadian embassy and purchased space in the parking garage, only to be told "sorry, we don't have notarization services after 10AM". So we drove home for four hours, having accomplished nothing, although we did take some toll roads and buy a lot of gasoline, which I have heard is good for the economy (albeit bad for the planet).

We went again on Monday. Five hours on the bus starting at 2:30AM, then I asked for my Citizenship Certificate Card to be "notarized". The woman in the embassy asked some confusing questions. Apparently they couldn't do "notarization", or couldn't do it quickly, and she wondered if what I really wanted was a "certified true copy", which would cost less and could be done immediately, but would not be a verification that the contents of the certificate were correct. So I said yes, let's do that, and paid $21.50 (by credit card - cash was not allowed here, even though the Filipino government agencies all seem to require cash) for them to sign a black and white photocopy on a plain white sheet of office paper that "yes, this is really a copy of a citizenship certificate. The contents of the document have not been verified." I'm paraphrasing.

Next we went to a nearby DFA office in a mall so they can verify that "yes, this certification from the Canadian embassy looks like a real certification". But the DFA office said "no, we can't verify that document here, please go to this other DFA office that can do those."

The "correct" DFA office is halfway across the city, about one kilometer southeast of the Mall of Asia, on Diosdado Macapagal Blvd., opposite a McDonald's. After going through security, I went through Door 2, filled out a form, and waited more than half an hour in line to request the Express service; after that I waited in a second (shorter) line to pay the 200 pesos, and then went back to the original window where I was given a special receipt which, as I learned later, You Must Not Lose. I'm telling you all this in case you ever have to do it, because there are no written instructions in this office and I felt confused the whole time. Their process takes One Business Day, so we stayed in a SoGo hotel (1644 pesos for the cheapest room available at the time) about 2km away while we waited.

The next day I went back at the beginning of the appointed time frame, in through Door 2, dropped my special pink receipt in a special "drop box" on the right-hand side of the room, and waited for my name to be called. Less than an hour later I had my special verification document in-hand, with a symbolic band of red tape attached to it (they call it a "red ribbon") plus a nice embossed stamp. The document says something like "I work for the DFA and I'm familiar with the signature of the guy at the Canadian Embassy and yeah, that looks like his signature all right, so I guess that's a real certified true photocopy stapled to this document".

Finally we went via Jeepneys and LRT trains to the main Bureau of Immigration to really apply for a VISA this time.

The application process

Do you wear a tank top, shorts and flip-flops to keep cool? If you're wearing a tank top, they probably will not let you in (I have actually been rejected before and had to buy an extra shirt before being allowed to pay them another half-month's rent.) I've been allowed in with shorts and flip-flops, but their dress code does ask for long pants, shoes and a shirt with sleeves.

Having acquired the NBI clearance and all the other documents, we went to the main BI office on Magallanes Drive, Intramuros, nearly one kilometer from the nearest LRT station (Central Terminal). We spent about two and a half hours there, mostly waiting. First we signed up, then we waited for our name to be called, then we had an interview with the legal officer, who checked that all documents were present and acceptable, then we went to Window 25 to get the BI Clearance Certificate (the real one), then we waited half an hour at window 13 to pay in cash, then we went to Window 20 to hand in our two folders.

Now that we have applied for a 13A VISA, we confirmed in the "interview" that we will have to keep buying more time on the 9A temporary visitor VISA.

The government's obsession with Manila

The government's process makes it clear they don't care about people who don't live in Manila. Here's why you'll want to live near Manila for more than two months:
  • First, if you've been in the Philippines six months or more when you apply, you need an NBI clearance, and you can only apply for one in person, in Manila, which takes a few days (I forgot how long exactly).
  • Second, when you go to apply for the VISA, it's possible they could ask for some extra document that wasn't on the document list, as they did for me, which would delay you by a couple of days.
  • Third, after you've paid the big-ass application fee, they will tell you you have to come back in 4 to 7 days for a "hearing". Why is there a hearing? I have no idea. If they want to ask me some questions, why didn't they ask them on the application form? So they gave us two dates-and-times on which we could return to the BI office for a hearing, and said we had to pick one.
  • Fourth, we were told that we could only pick up the VISA from the main office in Manila; it is estimated to be available about five weeks after our hearing.
  • Fifth and finally, we are asked to pick up a new extra ACR I-Card two weeks after the VISA. Again, it is not available from BI satellite offices.

The price tag

The real price for the VISA application itself was 10,970 pesos: 8470 pesos for the VISA application, and 2500 pesos for the four surprise "Express Lane" fees, which we had to pay because they made us wait in four separate lineups. Maybe time is money, but they'll take both just to be sure. As I was telling my wife, making us carry our documents around to several different windows is a security risk since it adds loopholes in the system, but I guess they think it's worth the risk in exchange for more excuses to charge "Express Lane" fees.

It's costly once you add everything up, but the VISA itself is still the main thing:
  • Fees for "visiting" the Philippines, including the $US50 "ACR I-Card": at least ₱17,000 for six months.
  • Notarizing the letter of intent: about ₱200
  • NSO/PSA copies of marriage and birth certificates: ₱280 (2x140)
  • NBI clearance: ₱160 (₱110 plus a ₱25 fee that the payment processor "accidentally" charges twice)
  • VISA application: ₱8470 plus ₱2500 of "Express Lane" fees (I notice that the ₱2950/$US50 I-Card fee was charged again)
Here were the other expenses in our case:
  • Previous trip to Manila: gasoline donated by my in-laws; ₱1000 for lunch and toll roads
  • Travel to Manila: ₱486 for two of us
  • Taxis (which we used initially): ₱220 for two trips, about 8.9 km
  • Canadian Embassy Charge: ₱794
  • LRT (best for long distances): ₱110 for 2x3=6 tickets
  • Jeepneys: ₱112 for 2x8=16 rides
  • DFA "red ribbon": ₱200
  • Hotel SoGo: ₱1625
  • Travel home: ₱464 for two of us
  • Travel back to Manila for the hearing: about ₱1116 for busses, trains and Jeepneys
We'll pay another ₱1116 (or so) twice more to pick up the VISA and the extra useless I-Card. Moreover, we learned that we would have to buy another month on the 9A temporary VISA while we wait for them to process the VISA application, and it turns out that a single-month extension costs ₱2,430 (because most BI fees are charged per-visit, not per-month). So the total cost of our probationary VISA will be about ₱22,400, on top of the ₱18,889 we spent earlier for BI's "visitor" fees. I expect most people will pay slightly less since they won't be grappling with the Canadian Embassy and DFA; on the other hand, some of you might have to fly into Manila and pay even more.

The hearing/interview

Janessa A. gave helpful information about this, although our interview went a bit differently:
Either date you choose is acceptable. So, if you miss the first date and time, you can still come back on the second date offered to you. Just be sure not to miss your appointment the second time, or you will have to start the process all over again and pay the fees again as well. It’s extremely important that you’re not late for the interview.
Be sure to bring your Official Receipt and Passport, and the Filipino spouse needs to have an ID to prove his identity as well.

The interview was pretty informal, we just stood up behind a counter and the interviewer asked us just basic questions; when and where we met, our wedding date, simple stuff. The most important part is financial information, to prove that we can support each other. The interviewer asked if either or both of us were employed and how much we made, as well as if we receive financial support from anyone else. We’d actually brought a copy of David’s employment contract as proof of financial capacity and I offered to give it to him, but he said they didn’t need it, he just needed us to tell him verbally.

That’s all there was to it. The interviewer said everything sounded good, and that things looked good for us:) He then directed us to the next window where I got my biometrics(fingerprints, signature, and photo) taken for my ACR I-card. We were done! The interview itself was only about 10 minutes, the biometrics took another 5 or 10
For us, we arrived at 6:50, two hours early (leaving home at 2AM just to be extra sure we didn't miss the hearing) but our hearing happened two hours later than scheduled, at about 11AM. It took place in a cramped, private office on the 4th floor. We were not asked for any financial information; in fact the interviewer had no questions and simply asked us to sign a paper. Here's the document we traveled for five hours to sign:
This document seems to say in the most confusing possible way that:
  • Approved VISAs must be picked up within two months from approval.
  • Application status may be checked somewhere in
  • Leaving the country during the waiting period shall be a huge hassle.
  • Leaving the country during the approval period shall be a huge hassle.
  • Applicants for 13A VISAs must buy more time on their 9A VISA while waiting for approval, or your VISA application will be denied without refund or recourse. In other words, we hate you, but we love your money.
I asked the interviewer if we really needed to get the ACR I-Card, since I already had one. He said yes, we needed a new I-Card to go with our new VISA. Next, we waited another 30 minutes to be fingerprinted and photographed. Something strange happened: the woman asked for a pre-printed passport-sized picture of me (one inch square? I forget), which luckily we brought, and then she took a second passport-style photo with her camera! Truly the BI has no self-awareness or sense of reason. The picture-taking lady told us we would have to return to Manila twice more: once to get our VISA, and again, two weeks later, to get our second I-Card. My wife asked if it was possible to get both of them in one trip. She said no.

After you get your VISA

Assuming they don't find a reason to reject your VISA application (while keeping your money), the VISA they grant is "probationary". We heard from a guy at the Olongapo BI office that we would have to return to Manila after 11 months (but less than 12 months) to convert the VISA into a permanent one, or it would expire. We are not told why this happens... but some say they will ask for more money, so maybe it's a form of bureaucratic capitalism. I can only assume that if you fail to appear, your VISA will expire and you'll have to start over from scratch. The suggestion to return after 11 months appears to be bad advice, based on a comment on Janessa's post:
Immigration told me last year to apply to convert the 13a prob to perm 1 month before the 13a prob expires, this is not enough time. I applied 3rd Feb, paid extra to have the hearing the next day, was given a tentative date of 17th march (this is 5 days after my 13a prob expires). After waiting 10 weeks my name finally appeared on the website. What’s frustrating is that when they release the list of approved visa’s it takes around 10 days before they put it on their website. So apply for this conversion early.
After you get your VISA, you will still have to pay the special "it's January" fee (P310?) at the BI office every January when you are in the Philippines. I've also heard that you have to renew your ACR I-Card every five years ($US50 and a bunch of bullshit "bonus" fees.)

Please let this be over

Okay, that's all the information I have. I wish you good luck getting your VISA!

Fun fact: our anticipated total cost of ₱21,969 for this one-year VISA costs nearly as much as three month's salary for a Filipino working full time, 5 days per week at the minimum wage for the province of Zambales, ₱364/day. However, a Filipino working full time might not actually be able to take a 14-hour trip to Manila six times in two months, and still keep his job. Sorry!


Ale Rossi said...

Sometime it takes lot of times on visa approval, having no knowledge of visa process make it more difficult. So I always encourage people who keep sharing their experience on visa process. Thanks for sharing your great opinion which relate to visa process.
Best Regards, Ale Rossi
Immigration to Australia

Jordan said...


I'm getting married in Cebu this October 22nd. How long after our wedding do we have to wait for me to apply for this visa? Thanks!


Qwertie said...

I'm not aware of any required waiting period. We started the process about 3 months afterward.

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Unknown said...

We are moving to the Philippines this year and I am afraid to start the process due to this.
We are planning to live in La Union which is quite a bit of a drive to Manila. Luckily, we have a place in Rizal we could stay at when we decide to pull the trigger on this.
I am Canadian as well, but my marriage certificate is from US. We got married in the US when my husband worked there for couple of years. I don't know if they will accept marriage certificate from outside the Philippines, and if they do, what extra verification will they require. I also don't know if they will require NBI (equivalent) clearance from the US if we apply within 6months of being physically in the Philippines.
Government process in the Philippines is so backwards to say the least.

Qwertie said...

Sorry, I don't know what you will need exactly. There must be some way to use your marriage certificate from outside the Philippines, but I cannot guess what extra red tape you may encounter. I look forward to hearing your story.