Saturday, August 27, 2011

Extending your tourist visa at Intramuros

If you arrive in the Philippines without a Visa in advance, you get 21 days as a freebie before you have to clear off (and let me make something clear - they do NOT count the day of arrival as one of the days, it starts with your first full day).

The web is stuffed full of contradictory and plain unhelpful infodumps with regards what to do during the visa application. Worse, the various official embassy websites ask for a ton of stuff that isn't needed (argh), and even worse, offer conflicting information.

This makes things pretty stressful. Yesterday I went to the main immigration office in Intramuros, subject of endless horror stories in relation to waiting times, delays, confusion and a pretty good mockup of what it would be like to star in 28 Days Later.

Intramuros Immigration Office

Let's cut to the chase right now and say it took me about an hour and a half to get my visa extension stamp. Here is how it rolled, and this is how you should roll too:

1) Ignore everything you read (for the most part) on "official" and embassy websites. They have an endless supply of "print out and fill in" application forms for you to fill in and take with you. I can honestly say I looked at a boatload of these, and none of them looked anything like the form given to me in the office.

2) On a related note: don't waste your money on passport photographs. These are mentioned on some of the printout forms, and also on some of the embassy websites as a requirement. Confusingly, I saw one embassy website that said to write your name on the front of the photo, while having a form that said to write it on the back (or maybe it was the other way around. I forget).

Either way, I waved the photos at the guy behind the counter and was met with the first of many "lol nopes". There isn't even anywhere on the form you're given to affix a picture of your sexiest Blue Steel anyway. Oh, something else you won't need despite being asked for it on at least one "required information" website: proof of residence in the form of a utility bill. Because really, how would you have one of those if staying with a friend or at a hotel anyway?

3) Waiting times. I've seen every kind of forum post and then some asking about how long it takes to physically get the visa stamp. Again, embassy websites don't really help here as some say "a few days", one says "at least seven days" and yet another one says "seven days on average". Even companies that assist confused tourists tend to say something like "give it a week to make sure we can get it done for you". I know of at least one "travel assist" site that offers an expensive same day service - if you can manage to write your own name in a straight line then YOU CAN DO THIS YOURSELF, and there's no excuse given that the wole process takes two hours tops anyway. It's same day service by default. We just have to strip out the needlessly confusing crap, which I'm continuing to do right now.

4) When you get out of the cab, you will have a lot of people throwing themselves at you with banners ("guarantor signatory", which you don't need if you're doing the plain old tourist visa extension, and "pants for hire" which is for anyone who turned up wearing shorts and / or flip flops. There's a chance you'll be turned away, but only if the guard happens to be outside at the time of your entry. It's all very random).

Outside the immigration office

5) When you enter, it literally is a mess of people standing around with no idea where to go, a "greeting desk" in the middle and two sets of bank style cubicle things on the left and the right. Ignore the left, you don't need those.

Walk in a straight line, to the "help desk" sitting to the right of the staircase. Ask for the visa extension form, then go write some stuff on it. Things to note:

6) There are things on this form you just don't need to fill in. Guarantor? Skip it. Province? Depending on what part you're staying in, you may not be able to name a province. Ask if you're not sure. You'll likely freak out like I did when you see the bit that asks for the flight you came in on, because it's highly unlikely you brought some stupid air ticket with you from 10 or more days ago.

No worries, check your passport. See the stamp they initially gave you? It has the flight number on it, along with the last day you're allowed to stay in the country. If you were paying attention to my whole "your 21 days begins with the first full day in the country" thing, count ahead now and you'll see I'm correct. You did remember to bring the address you're staying at, right? Because they will need this.

7) You know what they definitely don't need? Lots and lots of things I brought with me, listed on (I think) the UK immigration visa info page. It was one of the official ones, anyway.

a) three recent wage slips.
b) three recent bank statements
c) proof of funds
d) onward flight information

I whipped out this large bundle of paper, and got my second "lol nope" of the day. I can categorically state that all they wanted was this:
a) the filled in form
b) my money
c) my passport, and photocopies of the information page and the page with the entry stamp. If you don't have those, you go outside and some guy does it for you for about ten pesos.

That was it. I spent a lot of time collecting all that wage slip / bank statement crud too. Oh well.

8) Okay, you've filled in the form. You go to the relevant cashier type guy, give him the stuff and he'll hand you two receipts (along with your passport and a form to say you're not on their terror watchlists) and tell you to go pay, then come back.

9) Go to the cashier person and make sure you have THE CORRECT CHANGE. The fee is currently about 3030 PHP. The incredibly stony faced "that don't impress me much" woman behind the counter was rather frosty to say the least, so don't do what I did and gimp around with change for what felt like forever.
She'll mark the receipts with the pen, then you run back to the original guy and hand everything over - you'll be given a receipt to keep hold of until the passport is ready.

That's it! You'll be told to come back in an hour, though I was delayed by twenty minutes so roll with 90 to be on the safe side.

10) I'm generally comfortable wandering through most locations you could imagine while on my own. However, despite Intramuros looking fine for the most part I got the distinct sense in this particular spot that certain individuals would straight up jump at the chance to eat me alive if I strayed too far from the immigration office.

You're kind of limited for choice anyway, as it's not that easy to get away from the building - there's a large and vaguely dangerous road in front of you, a crumbling building to the right on a little "island" of pavement and I couldn't even go very far to the left so who knows.

To your right, a crumbling building.

If I were you, I'd use the crumbling building bit as a stepping stone to reach the other side, then loop around to the Starbucks sitting next to a cafe (in the above shot, it's to my left) then waste an hour or so in one of those. Sometimes locals will offer to "show you the sights" - at the risk of being a huge wimp, I'm not sure this is a good idea.

Starbucks

11) Okay, you've wasted an hour of your life in Starbucks. Go back to the immigration office and (most likely) visit the counter next to the Help Desk. Hand over your receipt, and with any luck you'll have your freshly stamped passport in your hands.

Hooray! Also this experience gave me six multiple headaches. It's not over yet...

12) Now you have to get out of the area - not quite as easy as it seems, especially if you're on your own. The taxi rank is flanked by random people trying to make some extra dough by opening cab doors for or whatever. I also suspect they're trying to direct you into cabs owned by their friends. Some drivers will also claim wherever you're going is "too far" (it's a bit of an effort to get to Intramuros, but it's not that bad) and demand extra money - typically 300 to 350 PHP.

Intramuros

Dish out a little "lol nope" medicine of your own and refuse.

When you finally do get a cab, be quick - or the "helpful" door openers will spring into life. I flagged down a cab myself was about four inches from the door when....some crazy looking teenager burst past me to get his hands on the door and open it (I've also seen them distract the tourist with a "HEY YOU", proceeding to run past the confused individual while they then open the door before they could).

At this point, your only real recourse is to bounce some coins of their head or they just won't let go of the damn door. In fact, my one was randomly screaming at the cab driver until money was handed over. As I'm not sure if kicking a street urchin in the chest is entirely legal here while sitting in front of about half a dozen heavily armed government officials, I gave him some bling and high tailed it out of there.

Did I mention the multiple headaches? Anyway, to summarise: don't stress out about the conflicting advice on ther various embassy websites, or the muddled forms / requests for things you should bring with you. Bring your passport, the correct change and a pen and you'll be fine. I've seen a lot of people mention flying off to remote provincial offices to do their visa extensions, as they can't handle going to the main Intramuros office to get it done.

The only confusion in all of this is the endless pieces of bad advice and contradictory / incorrect requirements listed on official sites. If you do everything listed above, you'll (probably) be fine.

1 comment:

Zan said...

Thanks PG, I went in today at 8am and was totally finished by 9am, very easy.