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This is the second and last of two questions about an unusual international departure from the Philippines, the other is Is it really forbidden to take extension cords out of the Philippines?

Several years ago I did an exit/enter trip to the Philippines for visa reasons. My scheduled stay was only several hours long. The location was Cebu because there was a particularly cheap ticket available at the time.

When leaving, the agent at the immigrations/passport control took my passport then started asking me questions of the form:

When did you last come here, how many times, and why?

and I answered somewhat cautiously, not wanting to give an incorrect answers nor say "well give me back my passport and I can look it up for you."

Finally the agent asked me point blank

You just got here, why are you leaving?

to which I answered

Oh! I'm just doing an exit/enter from nearby country X for visa reasons and unfortunately I just don't have time this time to stay and enjoy myself, I wish I could!

The agent then told me what I was doing was illegal. He was also taken aback by my candid response and informed me that he would not take any action this time but that I should not do it again.

So I'd like to ask two related questions:

  1. Is it illegal to visit the Philippines for a few hours for a visa run?
  2. If I ever have to do this again, how can I know ahead of time for which Southeast Asian countries this will be okay? Is there a list or specific search term by which I can find reliable current information?

note: I understand item #2 is somewhat moot at the moment due to travel restrictions but there may be some general way to address this beyond that.

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  • Visitor visas (for tourism or business) are not designed to allow you to live in the country for extended periods of time. That’s why they have a limited duration. Using two visas back by doing a visa run is usually at least frowned upon, and even when there are no explicit rules (like the Schengen 90/180 rule) to prevent it, there are often at least vague rules or rules of thumb (like in the US or the UK).
    – jcaron
    May 15 at 15:28
  • @jcaron thanks for your information. The goal here was to find out if the Philippines has a written law or rule or at least an official "frowned-upon activities list" that mentions staying there for less than a day. It may be hard to track down but it seems like there should be one.
    – uhoh
    May 15 at 15:34
  • In any case, whether this is actually allowed or not by Taiwan, it remains that it is a “visa run”. A visa run is a quick visit to another country with the intent of resetting the clock on the limited duration of a visa (whether that is legal, illegal, frowned upon or anything else does not change the fact it’s a visa run) and I doubt it is part of the allowed activities/reasons for visa-free entry of many countries, if any.
    – jcaron
    May 15 at 15:43
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    dfa.gov.ph/list-of-countries-for-21-day-visa Only lists “tourism” and “business”. Don’t think “visa run” qualifies for either. If your reason for a visit was tourism and incidentally that allowed you to reset your visa it wouldn’t have been an issue (other than possibly alerting them to other possible issues highlighted above). Just going there for that it at least borderline. Of course your answer must match your actual intent. Can’t say “tourism” if you didn’t even have enough time to visit anything between your two flights.
    – jcaron
    May 15 at 16:02
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    May 20 at 7:36

3 Answers 3

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Let's start by getting the terminology straight here. A "visa run" is when you work around visa length limits by leaving the country when one visa's time is up, and return immediately afterwards to reset the clock. These are at best in a grey area, sometimes straight up illegal as in Thailand, although as always enforcement varies, and the border official may well have been referring to this.

However, you're not asking about the country you are visa running from, you're asking about "to" side, which boils down to whether it's permitted to travel somewhere for a very short amount of time. And the answer is... yes? I've done multiple day-trips to Malaysia and Indonesia, including writing "day trip" on my landing card for the address, and I've never had a problem. The shortest of these trips was around 3 hours on the ground, since I met my customer at the airport!

What likely got you in trouble was confessing that you were visa running, which as noted is often illegal and always frowned upon, and thus makes you look suspicious to the other side as well. If you had worn business attire (collared shirt and pants) and answered "business meeting", I doubt this would have been an issue at all.

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  • Okay thanks for the informative answer! Perhaps I'm in over my head when it comes to terminology; I definitely wasn't "running" to or from anything (at least to my knowledge) and didn't overstay anywhere, but however it can be characterized, I luckily haven't had to do it again. As far as breaking some rule or law of the Philippines by visiting for a few hours, that seems to be "probably not"?
    – uhoh
    Mar 16 at 6:09
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    @uhoh In my experience not even Filipinos understand Philippine legislation, but from what you've told me, it seems unlikely. Mar 16 at 6:10
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    Also, I didn't mean you overstayed, but that you avoided an overstay through the visa run. Clarified my wording a little. Mar 16 at 6:12
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@jcaron's comment was quite helpful and provided the final "Aha!" moment for me. It links to the Republic of the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs page list of countries for 21 day visa which says:

Guidelines on the Entry of Temporary Visitors to the Philippines:

Nationals from countries listed below who are traveling to the Philippines for business and tourism purposes are allowed to enter the Philippines without visas for a stay not exceeding thirty (30) days, provided they hold valid tickets for their return journey to port of origin or next port of destination and their passports valid for a period of at least six (6) months beyond the contemplated period of stay.

The issue had nothing to do with Taiwan or the "visa run" issues, it's simply because this time I did not have enough time to stay for a few days and enjoy myself.

With my departure time so soon after arrival it was pretty clear that I wasn't using my travel to the Philippines for "business and tourism purposes". While the person who booked my ticket correctly found a place I could enter without applying for a visa first, they did not read the "fine print".

When the agent at the airport said it was "illegal" this might or might not been exactly the most accurate adjective, it seems that the point is the visa is free because they expect you to go have fun and spend money or do business or both, and I wasn't doing that.

While @lambshaanxy's answer is informative, I've made an answer out of jcaron's comment because this really answers my question.

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I have done a visa run from Taiwan to Manila in the Philippines that was 9 hours long and hit upon a similar issue.

When you enter the Philippines on a visa free entry they will give you a landing visa stamp and let you out of the airport. when I arrived they wouldn't give me this stamp and I was faced with a very long wait in the passport control area until my flight back.

They took me to the side where I waited with 1 or 2 other passengers from the same flight at a desk, while I filled out a form, this form was then taken away with my passport without explanation and returned to me 45 minutes later with a landing visa and i was told "You can go". I then left the airport and took a bus in to Manila.

If I ever have to do this again, how can I know ahead of time for which Southeast Asian countries this will be okay? Is there a list or specific search term by which I can find reliable current information?

In the before times, at least from Taiwan, I used to do visa runs of a few days to Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok or Hong Kong with no problems at all, I've heard people go to Okinawa too with no issues just remember to have a home made doctored .pdf of a "return flight booking" to show the check in desk at the various airports when returning to the country you are visa running from.

In these extraordinary covid times the situation is unclear in the hypothetical situation that Taiwan opened for visa free entry tomorrow:

sherpa app

Mongolia and Laos seem like the most open countries nearby, but with no direct flights from Taipei to either of those destinations they would not be practical for visa runs.

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    "... just remember to have a home made doctored .pdf of a "return flight booking" to show the check in desk at the various airports..." I'm not sure that kind of advice is well-received here, it seems you are recommending that people lie on the assumption that airline checkin attendants won't check and verify the fake booking.
    – uhoh
    May 15 at 13:43
  • @uhoh What i usually do is "book a flight" with "my friends travel agency" in taiwan which costs me "a beer" and then I get a "flight booking .pdf" which has a legitimate flight number for that day, and my friends contact number on it, so that if this booking needs to be verified "my friend whos a travel agent" can answer the call and confirm that I do indeed have a return or onward flight booked. May 15 at 13:53
  • So in that case would you lying in order to get on an airplane? And can't your booking or lack thereof also be verified (or not) by the boarding desk by them calling the other the airline instead of by dialing a phone number in Taiwan?
    – uhoh
    May 15 at 13:55
  • @uhoh Lots of travel agencies would take your money, give you a booking WITH that travel agency, but the airline would not get the booking info until later on. there are hundreds of paid ($10) services online, that will give you an "onward flight booking" used by travelers for exactly the purpose of getting on a flight. All I'm doing is cutting out the middle man. May 15 at 14:10
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    This is for requirements to board the plane. On entry I've never been asked for proof of a return/onward flight by immigration in taiwan, vietnam, thailand, philipines although in theory this is a possibility. But i HAVE been asked for proof of a return/onward flight by check in staff in the above mentioned countries regularly. but i have digressed from the original question asked. May 15 at 14:39

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