Tips to Avoid Getting Offloaded by Philippine Immigration

Raine Wanders @wanderein
· February 2020 · 11 min read · The Philippines · #traveladvice

The Philippine Immigration is infamous for offloading Filipino passengers for various reasons. I can’t really blame them, however, they have offloaded legit travelers for trying to prevent illegal activities. First of all, some Filipinos have been notorious in traveling to look for work illegally abroad. Second, human trafficking is still prevalent and Filipino women are still being illegally recruited to do inhumane work. And in some cases, victims aren’t aware.

The Problem with TNTs

Overstaying and working illegally is still so rampant among Filipinos disguised as tourists we even coined a term for it – TNT (Tago ng tago). Tago is a Tagalog mean for hide and this phrase means to perpetually hide from authorities. I don’t know how they do it, poverty leads to them to choose this path to provide for their families back home even if it means never going home again.

Note: If you are planning to become a TNT, please don’t. People like you will keep our passport weak. There are legal and safer ways to find better opportunities. Check the POEA for employment opportunities.

Solo Traveling as a Filipina – a Red Flag for Human Trafficking

Another valid reason for offboarding passengers is suspicions on human trafficking, whether the passenger is aware or not!

I was never questioned why I travel alone but recently this seems to be a hot issue and I heard of other Filipina passengers who got questioned for traveling alone.

Screenshot of my conversation with Philippine immigration. They are stricter to Filipinos going out of the country because Filipinos are prone to being trafficked
Screenshot of my conversation with Philippine immigration. They are stricter to Filipinos going out of the country because Filipinos are prone to being trafficked

I was headed to Bangkok on October 2019 and unfortunately, Thailand is listed as a hotspot for human trafficking along with other countries.

For the first time, I got screened twice by the immigration officers. Previously, I had a corporate job so they never questioned me whenever I leave the country even alone. However, I have quit this job and had no fancy job title to write on my departure card. That was a red flag.

Sadly, not having my traditional office job anymore is a red flag, plus the fact that I was traveling alone.

I was asked some ridiculous questions on a traveler’s perspective, but thinking about it they just have to protect people from being trafficked and prevent people from trying to become a TNT (illegal worker).

Immigration Officer: Why are you traveling alone?

I was quite surprised by the question because I don’t know how to explain a personal preference. There’s not really a reason, it’s just a preference. I simply answered that I’m a solo traveler.

Immigration Officer: Have you done this before?

I answered yes.

I had a renewed passport and that was my first international trip with it. She asked if I have my older passport. It was a good decision that I brought 2 older passports with me.

The previous one had a valid US tourist visa. I still brought another older one because it had more stamps on it. She browsed through my previous passport and once she saw my US visa, she let me go. Now I can really say that having a US visa is really helpful not only when going to the US.

I carry 3 Philippine passports just to prove I am a legit traveler.
I carry 3 Philippine passports just to prove I am a legit traveler.

So I thought that was the last time I would be questioned before boarding a flight. However, I had a medical problem while in Thailand…

I almost got Offboarded from my flight to Chiang Mai

While in Bangkok, we took a commuter boat along the Chao Phraya river and unfortunately, some water splashed on my left eye. The Chao Phraya river water is not something you would want your hands in, it was plain dirty, much like our Pasig river. Within a few days my eyes started becoming itchy. I thought it was just the usual eye irritation so I bought eyedrops from the pharmacy.

It only got worse on the third day so it appeared to be not an eye irritation. We have a booked flight to Chiang Mai and I was having second thoughts of just going to a doctor when we arrive in Chiang Mai. I had time in the morning and there was a hospital near where we were staying at.

It took me 2 hours and Bangkok has a really good hospital service. I finally got a proper diagnosis which was Blepharitis.

As defined in Wikipedia

Blepharitis is one of the most common ocular conditions characterized by inflammation, scaling, reddening, and crusting of the eyelid.

… the overall etiology is a result of bacteria and inflammation from congested meibomian oil glands at the base of each eyelash.

cited from Wikipedia

The doctor prescribed an antibacterial ointment and I also asked for a medical certificate. That was something I never thought I would need just hours later.

I was wearing sunglasses because my left eye looked like someone has just punched me. I took it off at the check in counter to be identified and it was okay.

Prior boarding, they asked me to take off my sunglasses and suddenly the flight attendant was concerned. She didn’t let me in and asked me what it was. I explained it was a bacterial skin infection and it was not contagious. I thought they were concerned with that but apparently they were thinking of something else. It doesn’t look like a pink eye at all, it looked more like a bruise. The skin eye infection was on the eyelid so it was dark.

The flight attendant called her colleagues to take a look at me. That’s when I realized my medical certificate would be useful. I showed them the diagnosis from a few hours ago and they let me go instantly. Had I not have that medical certificate, they might have offboarded me for human trafficking suspicions

Medical certificate from Thonburi Bamrungmuang in Bangkok
Medical certificate from Thonburi Bamrungmuang in Bangkok

Whew..I never expected that. It was an innocent skin eye infection. I never thought it can be mistaken as a red flag for human trafficking.

Tips to Avoid Getting Offboarded (for Filipinos)

So now, I list some tips to prove that you are a legit solo female traveler. And this applies especially for Filipinos since we get a bad reputation in traveling. I blame it on my fellow Filipinos who have done illegal activities. Sadly, some are just victims of human trafficking or illegal overseas recruitment. This list is not exhaustive. As you have read, my experience was quite unique but the key here is to prove that you are a legit traveler. Here are some ways:

#1 Get a multiple-entry US tourist visa

This is valid for 10 years. I have used this once but I found it to be useful whenever you need to prove that you have a good record. I wrote some tips on how you can prepare and a transcript of my interview at the US embassy.

#2 Bring an old passport especially if you have a renewed passport

A renewed passport means that you would have zero to a few stamps and that’s not enough to show them your good track record.

I am currently carrying 3 passports: the current passport, one old passport that has my valid US visa, and another older passport that shows more stamps as I have traveled more during that period. That will show that you have never overstayed in a country and would somehow prove you credibility as a traveler.

#3 Dress decently

Sadly, some immigration officers profile you based on your looks. One of the travelers we met in Chiang Mai who was from the US even gave us this tip. He would always have a clean cut and would dress with a collar and in jeans whenever he would go back to and from Thailand for a visa run. It’s not only the Philippine immigration who watches out for travelers who might not be able to afford traveling within their country.

#4 Answer immigration officers honestly, calmly and patiently

I know some people are annoyed by seemingly power tripping immigration officers. Let’s remember that they are also just doing their job to protect us and to prevent people who try to work illegally abroad which would just make our passport get a worse status.

Be nice to the immigration officer even if they are being rude. I had a chat with the immigration office in their official Facebook messenger account. I complained about how rude the immigration officer was to me. They admittedly told me that don’t have the need to be nice as they are not “customer service”, they are law enforcers. That’s a sad mentality but that’s what we have to deal with. I told them they can be professional and treat people with respect while doing their job.

#5 When traveling with a foreigner, bring proof of your relationship

This would sound ridiculous but immigration officers do want to make sure you are related to the person and you are not being trafficked. They would look into your messenger conversations or email exchanges. Save photos you had in the past as well.

If you are meeting someone abroad, bring proof of that invitation. This can be email exchanges. I watched a vlog of a Filipino who even called the girl she was visiting abroad. The girl was Filipina as well and she had to show the immigration officer of her work visa over that video call! They are really going to these lengths to ensure you are not doing something illegal.

Lastly, some odd things might happen like in my case. I had a skin eye infection which looked like a black eye. Anything that might appear like you were being hurt, bring a medical certificate to prove that this isn’t a case of violence. However, if you are a victim, get help. Don’t cover it up! You can earn money somewhere else but you can’t take back your life if someone is hurting you!

Sending Feedback to PH Immigration

Have you been wrongfully offloaded?

Know your rights. This is the link sent to me by the immigration office through FB messenger which lists their travel requirements. Their grounds for offloading based on actual testimonials are not found here as cases and scenarios per passenger vary.

If you can prove that you have wrongfully offloaded, file a complaint to the immigration office by sending them the following information.

In other countries, this can be ground for a legal case. I have not looked into it but if you know someone who would be more familiar with our law, you can ask them to take a look at your case. The problem is we have always been passive and just accept everything that authorities does to us.

Was the Immigration Officer rude?

I understand that they are law enforcers but they have to treat passengers with respect
I understand that they are law enforcers but they have to treat passengers with respect

I understand that they are law enforcers but I have encountered some rude immigration officers, I have also read stories about them. Even if they are law enforcers, they have to treat Filipinos with respect. Let the immigration office know that this is an unacceptable behavior by filing a formal complaint and send the information to their helpline:

Form for iling a complaint to Philippine immigration
Form for iling a complaint to Philippine immigration

The good news is the Immigration Office is very responsive. You just need to send them a chat in FB messenger or a message through their other channels. If you don’t tell them your experience, they would think that everything is alright on the ground. Let them know.

On the other hand, give them good feedback if they treated you fairly so they maintain this kind of good service.

Do you already have Travel Insurance?

Travel Insurance is the best protection you can bring with you when you’re abroad. There are unexpected events in any country but that shouldn’t stop you from living your dream. Before my trip, I researched thoroughly and found that SafetyWing is the most affordable and the best part is you can extend your insurance wherever you are in the world!

Other travel insurance in the Philippines require you to be in the country after some months and this is not ideal for me as a digital nomad. Thankfully, SafetyWing lets you extend wherever you are and they even allow you to register even if you are already abroad which other travel insurance wouldn’t allow.

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