No More “Permanent Residency” for me!

Immigration Benefit?

After residing in the Philippines for almost 5 years, I have evaluated the benefit of holding permanent residency in the Philippines and in reality, there IS NO real benefit other than establishing a requirement of residency that may be required under certain circumstances such as financial institution requirements or maybe insurance requirements. It doesn’t even entitle foreigners to the privilege of having a “Senior Citizen ID Card!” 

For me, it has become a burden, not in the sense of any inconvenience or anything, but rather it is costing me more money than I anticipated. 

When I obtained my 13A visa (permanent) at the Philippine consulate in Chicago, there was a cost. Upon arrival in the Philippines and clearing the Bureau of Quarantine came with a cost. Then at the Bureau of Immigration (BI),applying for the permanent ACR-I card (Alien Certificate of Registration) there was more costs. All-in-all, the total cost to obtain my ACR card was about P14,000. Initially I thought this was not bad because the “Annual Reporting” fee was only P310 per year for the next 4 years and overall would be cheaper than going with the “Tourist visa” that requires many extensions costing $$, or the “Balikbayan visa” which requires yearly travel outside the country when you least feel like traveling (costing money). The total costs of having the permanent ACR card, including the annual fees, would be considered reasonable… if you never traveled anywhere outside the country.

During the past 5 years, I have traveled outside the country 7 times. Each time I exit through Immigration at the airport I must pay for my Exit Clearance and Re-entry Permit, costing P2,880 (P2,280 for subsequent trips during the same calendar year). So in my case so far, I have spent at least P18,960, not including airport departure fees, just for the ‘privilege’ of having permanent residency.


Decision Time. 

Because my wife and I have decided to do a little more traveling in the future, I have concluded that it will be much more beneficial to avail of the Balikbayan visa privilege rather than holding a permanent ACR card, so I have decided to give up my Non-Quota Immigrant status and the permanent ACR card. But it’s not that easy!

Because my ACR card will actually expire in a couple of months, and I was informed that if I returned to the Philippines with an expired card, there would be fines and fees. So I decided to surrender my card before I left the country. And because just any Immigration office won’t do, it required a trip to the main BI in Intramuros (Manila). I would just simply (this word ‘simply’ should not exist in the English-Tagalog dictionary) drop by the BI before heading to the airport to catch our flight to Guam. My thought was to surrender the card so I could save on the ‘Exit/Re-entry’ fee at the airport and the penalty and fees for returning with an expired card. 

                       Come dressed properly!

First, I must be an idiot because I arrived at the BI wearing shorts and flip-flops. My shorts were okay, but the slippers were a no-no. (I’d left home and forgot to pack my sneakers.) Whoever said that the BI had relaxed the dress code was obviously delusional or intoxicated on Facebook. Not only did the BI NOT allow me to enter, they also denied my wife entry based on her wearing shorts… and they were nice shorts! So, rather than “rent” a pair of shoes on the street outside (yes, there are actually shoe-rental vendors who prey on us il-informed foreigners), we took a short trip across the river to the Divisoria Market where I acquired me a brand new pair of ‘Nike Zooms’ for P500 ($10). Knock-offs obviously, but they do look nice. 

Inside the Bureau

I dropped the wife wearing shorts off at Jollibee’s to wait for me while I went back to the BI. If you think the application process to obtain an ACR card is a royal pain in the ass, you should try cancelling one! Inside the BI, I was directed to window 10, then was referred to window 21, then window 6… and finally window 1. Whenever you start going window backwards at the BI, you can plan on staying a little longer. I eventually wound up back at window 5 and received the best advice I could have gotten… “just go to the airport and get on the plane and worry about the expired ACR card when you return.”  And it only took 45 minutes!

Originally, my plan was to surrender my ACR card downgrading myself to tourist status, then going to the airport and NOT having to pay the P2,880 Exit/re-entry fee. Nothing is as easy as it seems in the Philippines. Initially window 21 tells me I would first need a “notarized” letter requesting cancellation of my ACR card. But, in order to do that, I would also need another “notorized” letter from the attorney to downgrade my 13A visa. Back outside the BI I go to obtain the two attorney prepared and notorized letters (and copies) which cost me P340.

Inside and back at window 21, I was informed that it will take approximately 2-3 business days to effect the visa downgrade and ACR card cancellation (apparently she did not hear me correctly when I told her I had a plane to catch that evening!)  When I again explained that my flight was leaving in about 12 hours, that is when the musical windows saga began. From one to the next, each time explaining my situation. Then when I eventually got to window 1, the immigration lady tells me we could probably get it done same day but then drops this on me – I would likely incur a cost of between P3,000-P4,000. It was at this time that I had the thought of loudly exclaiming “I Quit” whilst slapping my card on the counter and just leaving (it was just a fleeting thought). In reality though, I would never be allowed to leave the country without it. When I finally arrived at window 5 again for a consultation, I learned that when I am downgraded to “Tourist” visa, I would then need an “Exit Clearance Certificate” (because I would now be a tourist) which would take a minimum of 72 hours to process. It was at this point that I finally realized why many expats go bald in this country… it’s not from the bagoong and beer, it’s from pulling their hair out manually! @#!*&%

This is when I asked the nice Immigration lady “What would happen if I just went to the airport, got on the plane and left?” She replied “Nothing sir. When you return, just smile and be nice to the Immigration officer and ask for a Balikbayan Stamp and your ACR card will automatically become voided.” Aughhh!

Spanish Colonial Period Jail

If I had only listened to my own instincts, I would have saved about $32 which was the round-trip GRAB ride to Intramuros (P453), attorney’s fees (P340), round trip trike ride to Divisoria (P240), Nike Zoom knock-offs (P500), a pair of socks (P49) and a Jollibee’s chocolate sundae ((P39) because coffee was out of stock).

But hey, at least we did get to see the old Spanish Jail while we were in Intramuros! And if you ever need to feel like a rock star, just exit the BI wearing flip-flops… you will receive instant attention!