Philippine Customs Guidelines for Travelers
The term balikbayan is a Filipino word referring to Philippine nationals who chose to have their residences abroad, along with their spouses and their children, who travel with them regardless of nationality or country of birth (with some exceptions).
Balikbayan can also be used to describe those of Filipino descent who acquired foreign citizenship and permanent status abroad (former Filipino citizens), Filipino citizens who have been continuously out of the Philippines for a period of at least one year, and Filipino overseas workers.
A foreigner, or an alien, is a person who is legally permitted to remain in a country foreign to them. This may apply to tourists, guest workers, legal permanent residents and student visa residents falling under the classification.
Below is a list of some basic rules and guidelines provided by Philippine Customs for the convenience of foreigners and balikbayans:
- As a general rule, balikbayan privileges are extended to the alien spouse and children of original balikbayans. This includes visa free entry into the Philippines for the alien spouse and children who are traveling with the Filipino or former Filipino citizen, even if they stay in the Philippines for more than 21 days up to one year. Exempted from this rule are certain foreign nationals who still need to get an entry visa to the Philippines even if they are married to a Filipino or former Filipino citizen. The Philippine Consulate answers inquiries about this matter and extends assistance to those who need it. They also have a list of foreign nationals falling under this category.
- Balikbayans are subjected to several privileges, including travel tax exemption, visa free entry to the Philippines for one year for foreign passport holders and Duty Free shopping privileges (up to $2,000 = $1,000 as arriving balikbayan and $1,000 as arriving passenger) within two days upon arrival.
- As for (re)entering the country, the list of documents required for foreigners and balikbayans as provided by the Philippine Customs are as follows:
- Original passport that shows the last departure and arrival date, residence visa, work permit and inventory (with taxes). The residence permit should also be indicated.
- Letter of request of exemption with Customs Bond, letter of guarantee, bank guarantee.
- Other documents may be required, depending on the customer’s immigration status.
Regulations mandated by the Customs department states that:
- A customer must appear personally for customs clearance.
- In the case of shipments, these must not get to its destination before the visa is approved. The standard procedure is for shipments to arrive within 60 days before or after the customer/traveler arrives. All shipments, regardless of size or value, are to undergo inspection upon arrival.
- In the case of personal effects and household goods importe, these should have been in the traveler’s possession at least six months before their importation. Temporary visitors are allowed to personal effects, vehicles and household goods, though they will need to pay levied customs duties/taxes or file a re-export bond that is good for six months.
- In the case of immigrant/permanent residents with used personal effects and household goods, all these effects are given full tax and duty free entry in one shipment. Non-residents/retirees, or those who are to settle in the country for the first time, can bring their used personal effects and household goods provided that these do not exceed the value of $7,800. These are given entry tax and considered duty free dutiable/restricted items.
- For travelers who want to import privately owned motor vehicles to the Philippines, be warned that the process is quite long and the issue is very restrictive. This process involves numerous paperwork and acquisition of a special import permit, one that is available only in the Philippines (and can, therefore, not be issued by just any consulate office or embassy). However, travelers who are returning Filipino residents, along with foreign embassy diplomats, have the luxury of importing motor vehicles duty free. All these motor vehicles, however, need to have an Import Authority Permit that is issued by the Philippine Bureau of Import Service before shipment.
- Vehicle owners must have lived abroad for at least a year. In addition, the car must have been registered in the traveler’s name for at least six months. Vehicles that are over three years old, on the other hand, must be registered under the shipper/traveler’s name at least one year before applying for the Import Permit. There are corresponding penalties, including vehicle confiscation, if the vehicle owner/traveler fails to comply with these regulations.
Aside from the documents indicated above, there are other papers/documents required by Philippine Customs. To get more information about this, visit this site. (For some reason, the Bureau of Customs site is not available at this time, only a cached version can be accessed.) Additional information is provided regarding traveling with pets. There are also certain regulations, fees and restrictions with regard to cargo.
Most embassies carry circulars about health issues in other countries. The Philippines has its own set of reminders with regard to the country’s most common health issues, including ways to protect yourself from these diseases/illnesses.
Customs regulations are subject to change at any time. It is suggested that concerned parties always double check with their local embassy or consulate. Doing so will help ensure you a safe and hassle free travel.