Typical Treatment of Family Members Returning From Overseas

I’m sure not every American’s experience is the same, but when I go home to visit family, events usually play out in pretty much the same fashion.  I’m sure most people would recognize this as their typical experience as well.  You call ahead to let them know you’re coming home.  When you arrive, you can see that the house has been cleaned.  Your family will welcome you and tell you to go ahead and get comfortable.  A room and bed have been prepared for your arrival and after you put away your luggage you get something to drink, maybe something to eat, and then you join your relatives in the den (or living room) to trade stories and talk about whatever interests you.  Typically you’re treated to dinner, maybe even more than once depending on how many family members live in the area.

Well, that’s about how it goes for me.  I know from lots of experience.  I spent quite a few years away from home while in the Army and I’m away from home now.  Before that, when I was still a kid, my dad was in the military as well.  So, coming home for visits is something I’ve been doing all of my life.  It’s always an exciting time, when I can look forward to getting some good quality rest and relaxation.  In other words, when you come home to visit, the visit is all about you and making you welcome and comfortable.  Your family wants to make sure you enjoy your stay.

Before I go on, I want to say that what follows isn’t necessarily my experience.  This is just a typical behavior for Filipinos.  I count myself lucky.  I have a great set of in-laws.  One of my brother-in-laws even flew up from the southern islands to spend a little time with me before we left on a previous trip.

A common habit of Filipinos, when greeting a returning family member, especially one that comes from abroad is almost completely opposite that of the American way of doing things.  Where the American return home is all about making the visitor comfortable, the Filipino return home is all about making the family comfortable.  Like I said, this is most often the case when that family member is returning from an overseas location where they’ve been living.

Upon arrival, there may be a place set up for that family member to sleep.  However, the responsibility of filling the fridge will fall on the guest.  Depending on the length of stay, other financial burdens may be placed on the guest, such as utility bills.  Beyond this, the family will expect hand-outs, usually in the form of cash or gifts, from the guest.  In the local language, Tagalog, it’s called ‘pasalubong’, a gift given when returning home.  It doesn’t just apply to this situation though.  It’s often the case that parents will bring home a snack or candy for children when returning from work.  That counts too, but in this case the pasalubong is more of an expectation than a gift.  If that expectation isn’t met, tension is immediately created.  If the guest doesn’t step up to cover bills or other expenses, such as purchasing new household items, then family members immediately assume that the guest is stingy and is holding out on them.  This is because Filipinos almost all believe that if a person is overseas then they’re living the good life and have plenty of money to burn.  Those of us that live in those other countries, Filipino migrant workers, or those that have traveled extensively likely know otherwise, but that is a common misconception in the Philippines.  Also, the poorer the family, the more they expect from their returning relative.

This habit of sponging off of returning overseas workers isn’t restricted to family members.  There are people who will make it a point to call up friends who have returned from overseas, to ‘catch up’, and will then impose on that friend to treat them to lunch at an expensive restaurant.  This isn’t just a guess.  I’ve heard first-hand accounts of this happening from various people, as well as second-hand accounts.

The result of this is a lot of hard feelings between family members and returning visitors.  Returning family members may feel unduly put upon, especially if their salary overseas is just enough to keep them living a moderate lifestyle while putting a bit in the bank to invest in their own future.  Family members on the other hand, due to ignorance, may wind up feeling snubbed or abandoned.

As a consequence, I’ve heard of quite a few Filipinos that don’t inform their family members that they’re coming back to the Philippines when they return for vacation.  They don’t want to feel saddled with financial responsibilities on their vacations and instead get a hotel room and just hang out with friends, shop, relax and have fun, which is really what a vacation should be all about.

Over time, I’m sure this problem will be remedied through education and experience, but that’s probably a long time in coming.  For now, most Filipinos believe that a person living overseas has plenty of wealth that should be spread around when they come to visit.

How I Got a 1 Year Visa For Free in the Philippines

When I entered the Philippines on June 1st I entered with a tourist visa stamp with the intention of filing for a resident visa and possibly extensions to hold me over until it was approved.  When we went to the Bureau of Immigration satellite office in Makati, however, we were told that filing for a resident visa can take up to 3 months.  Extensions might not cut it and it would be costly, so we asked for advice.  The lady at the office asked us if we were married and if we’d entered the country together along with a copy of our marriage contract.  We said we had, so she asked us why we hadn’t availed of the ‘balikbayan’ privelege.

We had no clue what a balikbayan visa was.  We hadn’t seen anything about it on the Bureau of Immigration site while researching visas.  It might be there, but since it’s so unusual a phrase, I might have overlooked it.  She told us that since my wife had been out of the country for over a year and was an OFW (Overseas Foreign Worker), I, as her spouse, qualified for a 1 year balikbayan visa.  She said that we should have approached the immigration counter at NAIA together when we first arrived and I would have received the visa with no problem.  Oh, and I’m not sure how this works but the balikbayan visa isn’t actually a visa.  I don’t know what you would call it.  Also, the best part is that it’s completely free.

Here are the exact requirements to qualify:

  1. Former Philippine citizens (including Filipinos who have become naturalized U.S. citizens, and citizens of the Bahamas, Bermuda and other countries within the jurisdiction of the Embassy of Washington, D.C.); Also eligible are Filipino citizens living overseas. A typical situation is that the Filipino visitor to the Philippines is not yet a foreign citizen, but he or she has an immigration card from a foreign nation [such as a “green card” in the USA].
  2. Foreign spouses and minor foreign unmarried children of Filipinos and former Filipino citizens.

Since we didn’t get the visa at the airport, we had to take a few extra steps.  We wound up having to make a trip to the main office of the Bureau of Immigration in Intramuros, an area of Manila that used to be home to the Spaniards during the colonial period.  Once there we approached the information desk and stated our case.  The clerk at the desk told us to proceed to the Immigration Regulation division on the 3rd floor where we again stated our case to the Immigration Officer who helped us.

Since we didn’t follow the steps appropriately, it was within the discretion of the Immigration Officer to tell us to leave the country and then return to get the balikbayan visa, but we were polite and had our documents ready so she was more than happy to help us out.  She had us fill out a form requesting the change and then made a notation on my passport visa page, amending the tourist 21 day visa stamp to a balikbayan visa.

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So, now I can stay in the Philippines for up to 1 year at no charge, which gives me more than ample time to apply for the resident visa at my convenience.  Living in the Philippines comes with a cascading torrent of fees, but for once the system worked in our favor without costing us a few thousand pesos.

If you’re planning on coming to the Philippines and you qualify for this, save yourself some time and get it done right at the airport.  Just remember that you have to arrive together, approach the desk together, have your passports (obviously) and your valid marriage contract.  If however, you’re already here and didn’t know about this, hopefully this post will give you an idea of how to get it amended.

Good luck!