In less than two weeks I fly back to the states for a three-week visit. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been home now. Let’s see, it’s been over two years, not since the whole family and I went home for my father’s bypass.
This time I’m going back solo, mostly because the girls are in school. In 2005 when we made the trip home with the entire family my wife had paid all the fees and taxes that we Philippine permanent residents “get” to pay.
I’m glad she did pay them then, otherwise it might have ruined the first leg to Japan for me on that Northwest Airlines 747. The reason I say that is because as a holder of an ACRI (permanent resident) card, when you fly out of here you have to take a bucket full of money with you to the airport, and I’d really had no idea.
My little rude awakening occurred a couple days ago when I stopped by the Angeles International Travel Center to ask Danny for a few tips on what I needed to do for a smooth trip. If you have travel or immigration questions or needs, by all means, go see him. He’s a great guy, charges fairly for his services, and won’t let you down. Everyone in the office is like that, but Donny is the “go to guy,” especially for immigration questions and problems. When it comes to that stuff, Donny “knows” people. In this country THAT’S the thing.
I have only ONE problem these days with Angeles Int'l Travel Center, which is in the white building directly "on the point" of that "slice of pie" shaped corner just down from the Petron Station on Perimeter Road. At the moment they’ve stopped taking credit cards. Danny said that it’s a matter of taxes or problems with card payments or some vague thing. He was sort of evasive when he answered the question so I doubt I got a straight answer—it was the typical “avoidance” method commonly used in these parts to get around uncomfortable questions.
Anyhow, I complained that no one in their right mind in this country walks around with the kind of cash needed to pay for international travel, at least not without a bodyguard. I told him I didn’t quite understand how they expected to do business that way. Paying with anything but a credit card is so 40 years ago!
I would have had Angeles Travel book my tickets, but seeings how the travel agency wouldn’t take my MasterCard I bought mine online through Expedia. I think I paid too much at $1350 for the round trip, but what the heck. Next time, I’ll try another site and see if I can’t do any better. After playing around a little it looks like Mobissimo offers some cheaper fares.
I also wanted to ask Donny about my E-ticket. I printed out what I thought was the Expedia E-ticket, but it wasn’t clear that that’s what it was and I wanted to make sure. He looked it over and told one of the travel agents working the counter to print me out a good one, which she did free of charge.
Still needing to know what to expect at the airport terminal using my “new” ACRI card, Danny filled me in on the unkind details. He said to go to the right after checking through with my luggage and pay what I believe he called a travel tax, which only we permanent residents are required to pay. That one runs about 1700 pesos.
After checking in the luggage and entering the immigration area Donny told me to look for a ACRI CARD holder window. There, I will pay my exit/entry fee that goes for a cool 2750 pesos or so.
Finally, there’s the terminal tax, which goes for a comparatively tiny 750 pesos.
I guess its not all that bad, in dollars its not even 100 bucks, but if I were taking both girls and the wife home it would add up to a pretty substantial amount.
My other significant travel expense is paying for the 2-½ to 3-½ hour trip to the airport from here. The van service I use is now charging about 3000 pesos, and it costs the same amount to get home.
We went through a lot to get our permanent residence status and I was considering for a short time—as it turns out, a very short time—giving it up and just doing what many of my buds do, and just go through the hassle of living here as a tourist. But, after talking on the phone just now to one of these fellows I think I’ll just hold on to my present status as a permanent resident. From talking to him I can see that the Philippines really makes residing here as a tourist a total pain in the neck. I still think I have the slightly better deal, but not by much.
He told me that as a tourist it’s costing him about 9000 pesos a year in fees, which he has to pay at the immigration office here in town every three or four months after his first 21 days in-country is up. After 21 days you live from extension to extension. Supposedly, tourists no longer have to leave the country once a year and can stay for two years, although he said he wasn’t sure how that was possible since an onward ticket is required and there are none that are good past 1 year. My pal likes his trips to Thailand though, so he just goes and comes the way the bogus system has always forced him to do. In his case, he flies to Pattaya three times a year claiming it’s a refreshing change of pace.
A lot of American military retirees have chosen Thailand over the Philippines, but most of the guys who enjoy both places and yet have chosen to live here say the primary reason to live here are the women. (That’s right Kat, the WOMEN!) It doesn’t surprise me; I’ve heard it many times over the years. (Filipinas communicate better, they are sweeter, and don't eat HOT food!)
But everyone claims that what IS superior in Thailand are the medical and dental care. The costs are comparable to here, but the expertise and care are purportedly better in Thailand. There must be something to it, because I know at least a dozen guys who go to Thailand every year just to get their annual checkups done. They swear by it.
When I was online checking prices to the US, I checked out fares to Thailand too. It looks like Cebu Air has the lowest tickets going—they run from $250 to $450 roundtrip, and they fly direct from Manila. Not bad.
Oh before I forget, one last thing on ACRI cards. It took us more than two years from the day we paid for and applied for ours before we finally got them issued to us. My wife called the Philippine Immigration Office in Manila and asked why no cards so long after we’d paid for them. Both times she called she spoke to snooty bureaucrats who simply blew her off. We’d gone to the VFW more than two years before when the immigration people had come to Angeles City on an outreach. At the time we were very grateful, as it was a marvelous thing to do for those of us with small children who didn’t want to make the trip to Manila. Jim Boyd, the local US Embassy Warden had arranged it.
We’d completely given up on ever getting those darn things until I asked Danny at the Angeles Int'l Travel Ctr about them. He said he could have them for me in a matter of two or three days; all I had to do was pay him about $50(?) for his time and he’d take care of it. Sure enough, after fighting with those officious unresponsive ninnies for months, we had our long awaited permanent residence cards. Like I said, Donny KNOWS people!
When he handed me ours I asked him how long before we were going to have to go through all this all over again. The “all-knowing” Donny has “heard” from his “contacts” that the cards will probably be good for 5 years. Man, I sure hope so!
If you need to contact him, Donny's number and email address are here at the ANGELES INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL CENTER website.