RETIRE IN THE PHILIPPINES. The Philippine government makes it quite easy to live permanently in the country. It has fewer restrictions than I have seen reported by other Southeast Asian countries. I have seen several complaints about Thailand. There are basically four ways that the foreigner can live in the Philippines:
VISITOR VISA. The foreigner can arrive on a visitor visa. On arrival you’ll be granted a 21 day visa. Be sure you have an ongoing ticket out of the Philippines to show immigration officials if they ask for it. The visitor visa can be renewed for another 38 days at an immigration office. Further 59 day extensions can extend your stay up up to sixteen months. After that, you’ll have to leave the Philippines and return to begin the cycle over again. This approach is followed by many long-term expats, although the visitor visa is not intended to allow permanent residency in the Philippines. This alternative involves multiple visits to the Bureau of Immigration and payment of fees. Some travel agents will take care of visa extensions for a fee.
BALIKBAYAN VISA. The foreign spouse and minor children of a Philippine citizen qualify for a special one year balikbayan visa — really just a stamp in your passport. There are no fees or paperwork. My advice is that on arrival in the Philippines, to give your Philippine spouse your passport and a copy of your marriage certificate and let her request the balikayan visa from the immigration officer on your behalf. The granting of the balikbayan privilege is discretionary with the immigration officer.
No visits to the immigration office or payment of fees is required, but you must leave the Philippines before the end of your one year stay. Then you may return to the Philippines more or less immediately and request another balikbayan stamp good for another year. Your spouse must be with you when you return, otherwise you’ll be given a 21 day tourist visa. Please note that the only documentation you’ll receive as proof of your balikbayan status is a small arrival stamp in your passport with a smaller stamp saying “balikbayan 1 year” or sometimes the regular arrival stamp with “BB” (for balikbayan) hand-written on it.
The balikbayan privilege is a great option for expats married to a Philippine citizen. It’s totally free of charges and totally free of visits to immigration offices. The only hitch is that that each year you have to pay for a round trip out of the Philippines for both you and your spouse. This can be a very enjoyable requirement as long as your heath is good enough to allow for such travel. There are many pleasant and economical options. Watch for special offers from the airlines. We were able to buy two round trip tickets from Iloilo to Hong Kong for P7,400 ($180) through a Cebu Pacific Airlines sale.
TIP: Rather than leaving the Philippines at the end of the year, the foreigner can report to an immigration office and request that the balikbayan status be converted to a section 9a visitor visa. Then you’ll be required to make regular visits to the immigration office and pay fees, just as you would as a regular visitor. Not every immigration office may be familiar with this procedure so be sure to allow enough time to resolve any snafus.
SECTION 13a or 13g PERMANENT RESIDENT VISA. If you’re married to a Philippine citizen or former citizen, you qualify for a permanent residency in the Philippines. This is similar to the “green card” status of foreigners living in the US, but retaining their foreign citizenship. With this visa you can stay in the Philippines as long as you want. My advice to to apply for permanent residency at the Philippine embassy or consulate in your home country before you arrive in the Philippines. The process in your home country is quite fast and simple and the permanent resident visa you receive really is permanent. You’ll need to stop in Manila for further processing, but that can be done in one day.
If you apply in the Philippines, you’ll likely need three trips to Manila. On the first you’ll submit your application. The second will be when you’re summoned for an interview with an immigration attorney, and the third is to receive your visa. If you live deep in the provinces, this can involve considerable inconvenience and expense. If you apply in the Philippines you’ll only receive a probationary visa good for one year. At the end of the year you have to reapply to make your visa permanent — more trips to Manila. The Philippine Bureau of Immigration seems to really be making an effort to make the process of obtaining a visa more painless and less subject to requests for “additional payments”. They have also greatly improved their website at: http://immigration.gov.ph/
SPECIAL RESIDENT RETIREE VISA (SRRV). This is a good option if you are not married to a Philippine citizen, have a pension of more than $800 per month and have $10,000 to leave invested in a Philippine bank. It’s sort of the Cadillac (BMW?) of Philippine visas. You’ll never have to set foot in a Bureau of Immigration office. You’ll apply and get your visa at the relatively plush PRA offices in the Citibank Tower in Makati. SRRV holders are exempt from ACR, I-card, exit clearance and re-entry permit requirements. You get a special photo ID card and a pretty PRA visa with tropical island motif is inserted into your passport. As of 2009, the PRA had 21,000 foreign retirees from 17 countries.
Here’s something I wrote after I received my SRRV in 2007. In reading this keep in mind that it applies to what the PRA now calls the “SRRV Classic”. While most new SRRV visas are now the newer “Smile SRRV”, the classic is really the best bet for retirees with a pension. The Smile SRRV which requires a $20,000 deposit seems more geared to younger and more more business-oriented Chinese and Korean applicants rather than retirees. More information at the Philippine Retirement Authority website. Unfortunately (as of Jan 2013) seems to be getting neglected. Try http://nansphil.com/nansphilen/nans.php which is the website of a private PRA affiliate and http://www.philippine-embassy.de/bln/images/ConsularSection/VisaServices/pdf/special.resident.retirees.visa.srrv.info.pdf which is seems to be the SRRV FAQ which used to be on the PRA website but seems to have disappeared.
I received my Special Resident Retiree Visa (SRRV) in 2007. For those interested in the pension-based SRRV visa, I’d like to update the list on a few things I’ve learned.
The pension-based SRRV allows a foreigner at least 50 years old who has a monthly pension of $800 or more to have permanent residence visa in the Philippines in exchange for a $10,000 investment or deposit and a $1400 application fee. It is an excellent option for a foreigner not married to a Philippine citizen. One can argue about whether it’s a good option for those married to a Philippine citizen. I foolishly did not get a 13a in the US, a relatively simple process.
I was planning to apply for my 13a in the Philippines but decided on the SRRV in order to avoid the various problems one can have when dealing with BID (Bureau of Immigration and Deportation). If I lived in the Manila area I may well have gone the 13a route, but we are in the provinces and so had to deal with multiple trips to BID in Intramuros plus the fact that a 13a issued in the Philippines is probationary, so that at the end of a year there are more trip(s) to Manila. Some provincial BID offices will handle your application without any trips to Manila, but from what I’ve heard, the “fees” can run P40,000 to P50,000 for the probationary 13a with more when one applies to have the probationary status lifted.
Here’s a few SRRV facts:
- Timeline: The PRA says you can have an SRRV in five business days. This presumes that you have all the documents ready, bank deposit made and so forth. Still, I thought they were pretty speedy. I sent my application to Bank of Commerce in Makati by DHL on July 30. On Aug. 17 I was informed that my SRRV had been approved and I could pick up my SRRV visa at my convenience.
- While most foreigners married to a Philippine citizen opt to get a 13a visa, such persons DO qualify for an SRRV.
- The annual letter US Social Security recipients receive from the Social Security Administration stating the benefit amount for the upcoming year IS acceptable as proof of pension. For me and most US SSA pensioners, this means we can get a SRRV for a $10,000 deposit with paperwork we already have. You can fax or email a copy of your SSA benefit statement to the PRA for approval.
The only real glitch in my application had to do with pension documentation. I sent my benefit statement to the PRA and they responded by email saying it WAS acceptable to them. When the Bank of Commerce representative (see below) submitted my SRRV application on my behalf, he was told the proof of pension was NOT acceptable. I sent an email to PRA management complaining. They immediately apologized and disciplined (fired) the employee who created the problem. PRA management seems very anxious to provide good service but seem to sometimes have a hard time getting the attention of their staff.
- You CAN apply for the SRRV while in balikbayan status. You no longer have to downgrade to a tourist visa.
- $$$ Saving TIP. If your spouse has become a citizen of another country, he or she will have lost her Philippine citizenship. It’s easy to reclaim his or her Philippine citizenship through the simple dual citizenship program but consider this; as a former Philippine citizen your spouse may apply for an SRRV and can include you in her application. Her application fee is $1400. Including a spouse costs an additional $300 for a total application fee of $1700. Now for the good part — the required deposit drops to $1500.
- For the pension-based SRRV, you must prove that your pension check is deposited to a Philippine bank. It’s not clear if this means it must be DIRECT deposited. In my case proof meant a letter from the bank or copies of deposit slips. I know many are leery about direct deposits to Philippine banks but for long-term residence in the Philippines, direct deposit is convenient and economical. Allied and BPI and Chinabank offer good direct deposit programs. More info at this link.
- I had good luck going through the Bank of Commerce for my SRRV. More than other banks, they seem to grasp the opportunities the program offers to them. Local branches will assist with the application. The Iloilo JM Basa street branch was up to speed on the program and I’ve seen reports that their Dumaguete branch is too. Joseph Pineda (phone 02-896-7085) of the Bel Air Makati branch on Jupiter Avenue is BOC’s point person for the SRRV program. Your local branch should be able to help you put together your application package and then you can send it via FedEx or DHL to Pineda in Makati. He will review it and then take it to the PRA offices for further review and submission. I suggest you do not pay any fee or make any deposit until the PRA has informally reviewed your application and found it to be complete. Then make your deposit, pay the $1400 application fee. After you make the deposit, BOC will give you a deposit certificate for submission to the PRA.
My 2007 six month USD time deposit paid 4.25% interest. Worldwide rates have fallen. My 2009 account pays 2.25%. Once you have your SRRV, you can convert to peso time deposit paying quite good interest. BOC is offering very good rates on five year, tax free, peso CDs. Unless you plan on withdrawing the money to buy a condo or make other investments, you must keep the $10,000 on deposit. You cannot withdraw it without written permission from the PRA. When you die your spouse will inherit the deposit but will have to pay inheritance taxes before she can obtain the funds. Since the inheritance taxes have to be paid before withdrawal so the deposited funds can’t be used to pay the tax.
I was shocked to hear the Export and Industry Bank “ExportBank”, a nationwide Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) affiliate bank with fifty branches, was ordered closed by Philippine Central Bank in April. I had assumed that the larger Philippine commercial banks were stable. Evidently, I was wrong. Those pension-based SRRV holders having their deposits at ExportBank with deposits of $10,000 may eventually get their money back through the PDIC which insures deposits up to P500,000. Our heart goes out to those with larger deposits. They may have just lost tens of thousands of dollars, plus, in order to retain their SRRV they may have to fund new accounts with the required the SRRV deposit. See the PRA notice HERE. Those of us with SRRV deposits should take a second look at their choice of banks to hold their SRRV deposit. Update: the Development Bank of the Philippines is now the only bank allowed to hold SRRV deposits.
- Unless medically unable, you must travel to the PRA offices at the Citibank Tower in Makati one time to receive your SRRV ID card and visa and to sign and fingerprint an SRRV “affirmation” which outlines your responsibilities as an SRRV holder. The whole process takes about 15 minutes. We rendezvoused at the BOC Bel Air office and Pineda accompanied us to the PRA office for the “ceremony” complete with photo-op. The view from the 26th floor PRA offices is fantastic.
- If you commit to keeping your required deposit in a bank for three years they will give you a SRRV ID card valid for three years at a total cost of $20. At the end of the three year period you apply for another card good for three years for $30 and so forth. There are no other recurring fees unless you want to withdraw your funds from the bank and invest them in real estate or business. 2011 changes. The PRA is now charging an annual fee of $360 for the pension-based SRRV visa. That’s quite a big jump from the previous $10 annual fee. Evidently, those who obtained their SRRVs before the change may not have to pay the $360 annual fee. To date, I have not been charged this fee. Since I am married to a Philippine citizen, I qualify for a 13a non-quota visa. If the $360 fee is applied to me, I’ll apply for a 13a visa immediately. For those who don’t qualify for the 13a visa, the SRRV may still be attractive.
- The PRA offers to provide free assistance in getting drivers licenses and employment permits. We took advantage of this, thinking that the PRA may have some some arrangement with the LTO. This proved not to be the case. This service might be helpful to clients (Korean, Japanese, Chinese are big users of the program) who do not speak English well and would have trouble navigating the LTO process, but otherwise you can just apply yourself in your Philippine home town.
- Formerly, if you left the Philippines, you were required to let the PRA know three days in advance. This policy has been changed and no notification is needed.
- If you leave the Philippines frequently (more than once per year) you are exempt from paying the Philippine travel tax of P1,620. This is true for all non-immigrant visa holders, not just SRRV visa holders. However, to exit the Philippines without paying the travel tax you’ll have to get a travel tax exemption form PTA F356 from the Philippine Tourism Authority. The fee for the PTA F356 is P200. You’ll have to show your ID pages of passport and stamp of last departure from and arrival in the Philippines. HEREis a list of locations where the travel tax exemption form can be obtained. Since most exit the Philippines through Manila, most will get their certificate at NAIA. Allow extra time to deal with this process.THE SRRV IS POPULAR WITH? It may surprise you to learn that Chinese nationals comprised 38% of those who enrolled in 2011. Koreans were 27%, Japanese 10% and North Americans 6.5%.