7 things to remember to avoid being offloaded
MANILA, Philippines – Ahh, Immigration. No matter how many times I've traveled, I still feel nervous walking up to the Immigration booth. Thankfully, I've never been offloaded, but I have been detained and fingerprinted by the Immigration authorities in Singapore – that was not a fun experience, believe me.
Offloading is one of the worst things that can happen to a traveler. Imagine the time and money you spent planning and preparing for your trip, all going down the drain. Nearly half of all the comments I receive in my travel blog, Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains, are questions related to offloading – how to prevent it or, in some cases, how to avoid being offloaded again.
Recently, a Facebook post by a Ms. Julie Anne dela Cruz made the rounds on social media after Immigration booth issues caused her to be offloaded from her Cebu Pacific flight to Singapore.
According to Ms. dela Cruz – whose name on her Facebook account is Julianne Dee – she was made to wait 1.5 hours for her interview with a Bureau of Immigration (BI) official. The Immigration officer reportedly asked for proof that she was, as she claimed, visiting a family member in Singapore.
Despite presenting a copy of her relative's passport, invitation letter, Singapore ID, and Philippine ID, the Immigration officer reportedly pointed out that "dela Cruz" was a common surname, and asked for further proof that the two were truly related, such as a copy of Ms. dela Cruz's grandfather's birth certificate.
Failing to do so, Ms. dela Cruz was offloaded from her flight; she subsequently posted her account of the incident on Facebook. Two days later, Ms. dela Cruz made a second attempt to fly to Singapore and again ran into issues.
This is not an isolated incident; no one is exempt from the risk of offloading. Last April, 3 members of a championship gaming team were offloaded from the plane that would have taken them to South Korea for further training, because their E-6 visas meant they also had to provide an overseas employment certificate (OEC) from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which they did not have.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that even Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte was questioned by the BI regarding her son – going so far as to ask whether he really was her son – when the two of them traveled together. And last year, it was reported that an average of 40 Filipinos are offloaded everyday, for various reasons, at the NAIA Terminal 1 alone.
While there is no surefire way to going through Immigration unscathed, there are a few things you should keep in mind to reduce your risk of being offloaded.
Prepare your requirements.
According to the website of the BI: "At a minimum, a traveler intending to go abroad shall be required to present a passport valid for at least six (6) months, visa when required and a round trip ticket during the primary inspection."
However, the BI further states that they will also be assessing the traveler's age, educational attainment, and financial capability to travel, so it's best to prepare documents pertaining to those as well.
The BI adds: "The determination of the sufficiency of travel documents in relation to the purpose of travel rest upon the IO who will be conducting the primary and secondary inspection based on the totality of circumstances and statements/declarations of the passenger."
You don't have to be rich to travel – you just need to be able to afford your trip.
When the BI announced that immigration officers (IO) will be looking at travelers' financial capability, there was an outcry all over the Philippines. Does that mean only the rich have the right to travel?
No, you don't need to have millions in your bank account. (I certainly don't. Not even half.) But you do need to prove that you can pay for all the expenses you will incur when you travel. This applies especially if you say your purpose for travel is "tourism." That's only common sense, right? If you can't afford to travel, why are you traveling in the first place?
Bring documents such as a bank certification, your latest income tax return (ITR), proof of property, etc. If you are employed, bring a certificate of employment (COE) and an approved leave of absence (LOA). (Some IOs apparently also require a photocopy of the company ID of the person who signed your COE and LOA.)
It's a major hassle, but this policy helps ensure that you are not being used in a human trafficking or drug trafficking scheme, or that you are not a victim of illegal recruitment, or that you are not going abroad to look for a job and end up as a TNT (tago nang tago).
Double-check if you are required to present other documents.
People who have additional requirements include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Those who are not financially capable to travel will need to provide an authenticated Affidavit of Support or Letter of Invitation (together with supporting documents) from a relative within the 4th civil degree of consanguinity or affinity.
- Minors traveling alone or with a person other than a parent will need to provide a travel clearance from the DSWD.
- Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) will need to show their contract and an OEC from the POEA.
- Partners and spouses of foreign nationals who intend to meet/marry their partner/spouse abroad will need to present a Guidance and Counseling Certificate (GCC) from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO).
Return date, reason for going
You also need to prove that you're only going abroad for the purpose you declared and that you're coming back to the Philippines on the date you stated.
A round trip ticket is a start, but anyone can buy a ticket and not use it, so you need to show you have ties to the Philippines. If you have property in the country, bring proof. If you're married, bring your marriage certificate. If you have a child, bring his/her birth certificate.
Prepare an itinerary and know it by heart. Know where you're staying, where you're going, and when you're coming back. Bring the receipts of your plane tickets, accommodations, and any pre-booked attractions.
Some people travel to one country, supposedly for the purpose of tourism, and from there they go to another country to look for a job. And that's really understandable – after all, we're all just trying our best to provide for ourselves and our families.
But it's also the IOs' job to prevent, as much as possible, things like human trafficking and drug trafficking. They don't have a lie detector, so they need to rely on their instinct and experience. And they do have a lot of experience with all the ways people have tried and will try to bypass the system.
Speaking of which, never lie to the IO.
Just don't. Lies have a way of coming back and biting you in the behind. What if you tell the IO that you're, say, an engineer and he asks for a PRC ID? What if you tell the IO you're still a student and he asks for your ID and proof of enrollment? What if you tell the IO your sole purpose is tourism, but he searches your baggage and finds tons of application letters and CVs?
I don't know if the Bureau of Immigration keeps a record of all the things you tell them, but lying will be a black mark against you for sure. Some people are good at lying and get away with it, but it's just not a good idea.
It's better to over-prepare than to under-prepare.
Some people breeze through Immigration with just the basic requirements and only a few questions. Some have a harder time. Many actually get offloaded. While there are many things we can't control – like the IO's mood that day, or the fact that we don't look rich enough to be traveling abroad (yes, profiling happens) – we can minimize our chances of getting offloaded by preparing anything and everything that may be required from us.
Be especially prepared if you're young, female, single, or a recent graduate. If it’s your first time traveling abroad, if you have a history of being offloaded, or if someone else is paying for your trip, make sure you have all the necessary documents on hand.
On my last travel, I prepared probably 50 pages worth of documents (plus photocopies stashed in my check-in luggage). Only two documents ended up being seen by the IO and I was only asked two questions – but that's better than if the IO had asked for documents that I failed to prepare (even though I could have) and I got offloaded as a result.
Dress decently, speak confidently.
Don't overdress or underdress; wear clothes that say you're a respectable traveler. Answer the IO's questions in a respectful but confident manner. Again, don't lie, but don't give out unnecessary information either. Just get to the point and give consistent answers.
Even if it feels like you're already being interrogated, don't panic. If you've prepared all the documents you are likely to need, and if your intentions are truly honest, you've done all you can do – draw your confidence from that.
All this might seem like an unnecessary hassle, but remember that being offloaded is not the worst thing can happen to a traveler. Human trafficking, abusive employers, being stranded or even jailed in a foreign country with no money and no one to help you -- those are much worse. Our right to travel is guaranteed by the Philippine constitution, but until the screening system improves, we might as well just do everything that we can to avoid being offloaded.
Gaya is a travel blogger from Cebu whose background in psychology and medicine has taken a backseat to her passion for writing and traveling. She writes about her travel adventures in her blog Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. Her bucket list includes taking her family to Rome, seeing the northern lights from the Scottish highlands, and walking the Camino de Santiago. For travel info, you can sign up for updates at her blog or contact her through the SGMT Facebook page.