Import Tariffs and Customs Duty in Philippines – thank you, FedEx!

This week I have mainly been finding out about how customs duty and tariffs work when buying items from eBay. It turns out that when you buy small items from overseas (in my case, Japan) and ship them to your home address, they attract little or no interest. However, last week I made quite a big purchase to add new pads to my eDrum kit. I bought from eBay, from a seller in Japan (as I have done for many other items) and the seller shipped through FedEx.

Sure enough, FedEx impounded the goods and requested repeated copies of the sales receipt and proof of payment. In all I sent the same paperwork to three different people over five days and each time I re-sent, I was told they could not recover the files from the other person and so I had to re-send. C’mon, FedEx!!! What sort of game are you playing?

Ultimately it seems I triggered some kind of threshold beyond which excise duty is payable. I thought if the items were for personal use that was not going to attract any tax, but it turns out I was wrong. All goods coming in to the Philippines from overseas are subject to customs duty – with the small exception of household goods and items brought in by anyone setting up a home here. However, it also appears to be true that not all goods are subject to this tax, and I have bought multiple times from Amazon in Japan, eBay, and also the local markets here teeming with Chinese sales sites (Lazada and Shopee, both of whom seem to allow imported goods from China and none of which appears to get caught at customs).

Perhaps FedEx is the exception here – and all other delivery companies should be doing the same, but it does seem that FedEx is the only company checking goods inwards. Perhaps also it is the cost of those goods being higher than average, or the fact that there were 4 items all the same that suggested I was stocking a shop and selling them? I don’t really know, but all in all it cost about US$120.00 to import US$600 of items. If VAT is 12% in the Philippines, then at least $72 was for that… which I guess means the excise duty was bearable.

Just be aware – if you’re in Phils and buying items from overseas, shipped through FeDex, with a high net value, you’re going to be hit for the tax. It’s probably not only the Philippines that does this, and maybe local trade agreements and so on ease some of it.. but there is very little information online to help understand this, which makes it all the more mysterious!

Apple AirTag not found when battery is replaced

Sometimes it is one of those small and annoying things that disrupts your thinking much more than it should. For me today it was my Apple AirTag that resolutely refused to be ‘seen’ by the phone once I’d replaced the battery on the AirTag (a whole different story, involving mole grips and swearing).

It turns out that what I had to do was reset the AirTag. Quite how to do this is not particularly obvious, as there are no buttons switches or ports on the AirTag itself.

What you do is remove the cover (reaching for mole grips again…) and remove and replace the battery four times in succession, then do it once more. Each time you replace the battery (don’t bother putting the cover on) the AirTag makes a reassuring beepy sound. The final time is where that sound is different to the first four, and that’s when you know it has been reset. Try to add it as a device to your phone within the ‘Find My’ application and it *should* show up, allowing you to configure its name and connect it to your apple account.

Apple published this sequence for you:

Here’s how to reset your AirTag:

  1. Press down on the polished stainless steel battery cover of your AirTag and rotate anticlockwise until the cover stops rotating.
  2. Remove the cover and the battery.*
  3. Replace the battery.
  4. Press down on the battery until you hear a sound. This sound means that the battery is connected. 
  5. When the sound finishes, repeat the process four more times, removing and replacing the battery, then pressing down on the battery until you hear a sound. You should hear a sound each time you press on the battery, for a total of five sounds. The fifth sound is different from the previous four. This indicates that the AirTag is now ready to pair.

Now all I have to do is make sure it is added. Don’t look in the ‘devices’ list… it’s not a device… it’s an ‘Item’ so switch the Find My view to show items, and you’ll see it there. I think it is an ‘item’ because it is supposed to be placed with an item such as a wallet, or bicycle, or car… so you need to look for the item and not a device.

Simple – the kind of simple that Apple likes us to believe in? Nope. Not as simple as it could be… see YouTube for videos on how to lick your battery, how to make sure you don’t use Duracell batteries, what not to do, what to do… and the very fact all these videos exist is testament to the level of difficulty owning an AirTag presents to you.

Now, about those mole grips… you simply cannot ‘press down and rotate’ the back of an air tag with your hands. At least, not mine. Anything less than a set of grips and you cannot open the beast!

Roland V-Drums Wiring Loom Pins – you may not believe it when you see it!

This weekend I had reason to investigate the way the cables on a Roland electronic drum kit are wired to the connector block. If you’re unsure, I mean the wiring loom that comes with nearly all electronic kits and connects the various trigger pads to the digital ‘brain’. Only a few Roland kits don’t use this method of connection, relying instead on individual cables with 6mm jack plugs. The many kits that do have the loom (from TD-01DMK through to the mighty TD-27) usually have a variety of pads with either single triggers or dual triggers, hence the loom itself is made up of what appear to be a mixture of stereo and mono cables. If you’re not sure, a stereo cable appears to have two black rings around the jack, and a mono only has one, as you’ll see in the picture.

In fact, the stereo cable has three connectors on it, separated by the black insulating rings, and the mono cable has two – meaning inside a stereo cable are three smaller wires and inside a mono cable are two. The ‘anatomy’ of a jack plug is either ‘TRS’ or just ‘TS’. That’s ‘Tip’, ‘Ring’ and ‘Sleeve’ for Stereo or just ‘Tip’ and ‘Sleeve’ for mono. You can easily pull these apart and see the soldered wires connecting to each part of the jack itself. The ‘tip’ and ‘ring’ connectors are generally the ones that signals go along, whilst the ‘sleeve’ is normally a ‘ground’ wire that does not carry a signal to the ‘brain’. Thus a stereo jack can carry two signals, a mono cable carries one, but both types of jack need to be ‘grounded’.

On the other end of the cable is a 25 pin D-type connector, similar to the ones we used to see on computer printers before USB became the standard connection type.

An electronic drum kit has ‘sensors’ or ‘triggers’ – basically, combinations of piezoelectric transducers and switches. A ‘piezo’ is simply a small electronic device that converts pressure (such as from a drum stick striking the drum surface) into electrical signals. Using combinations of piezos and switches, it’s possible to assign individual sounds to each, and a combination sound if they are activated simultaneously. The Roland wiring loom only uses stereo and mono cables, so each pad can have a maximum of two triggers, or only one. It won’t surprise you to learn that the wiring loom has five of each jack type, because simple mathematics tells us that this equates to 25 individual wires connecting to the 25 pins in the other end (3×5 = 15, and 2×5= 10, making 25 in total). This allows pads like a snare drum to use a stereo cable and get three different sounds, whilst a kick drum only needs a mono cable because it’ll only make one sound. The strength with which the pad is struck is also able to be detected, and this ‘velocity’ factor can help adjust the sound accordingly. A gentle tap on the snare top produces a ‘ghost’ note, whilst an almighty great thwack can produce a much more snappy snare drum sound. Both hits are activating the same trigger, but at different levels.

So it was, with all this in mind, that I reached for my trusty multimeter to find out where each cable went to in the D-Type connector block, because that will affect how the digital ‘brain’ receives the signal, and therefore what default sounds it will assign to the pads themselves. If you want to make your own custom 25-pin connector, it’s as well to know which pins go where. There are videos on the internet where people customise the wiring loom by cutting each cable and adding a jack socket to make it easier to manage routing all the wires around the drum set ‘frame’. Here’s one:

This makes it much easier to handle the wiring on the kit itself, but takes a bit of bravery, given that a new wiring loom would set you back about £70, depending on where you shop if you make a mess of it. You also need to be able to solder, or know someone who can.

I guess I was just plain curious about all this and want to know where things went. It turns out, it’s not what you might think! Looking at a 25 pin D-type connector there are two rows of pins, with 13 along the top row, and 12 along the bottom. Starting at pin 1 and simply going along each pin, allocating a pad and a connection would be logical (Kick drum, T, then R, then S, for example), but it turns out that it’s not quite that simple.

It all starts off like that – Kick drum, then snare, then Hi-Hat and controller, but check out the T, R and S… not exactly a simple sequence, almost as if someone was not paying too much attention when putting the very first one together. And what happened to ‘Crash 2’? Very odd layout, in my opinion.

Also, check out pin 15. It doesn’t appear to be used at all, whilst pin 22 has a double connection – and there could be two possible explanations for this. One might be as simple as allowing for expansion later, although these looms have been around for a fair while now, and in the same configuration for all kits, regardless of pads and numbers of triggers. The other explanation could be that ‘back in the day’ printer cables used pin 15 for error reporting, and this legacy is why pin 15 on the Roland loom doesn’t get used for a pad signal.

You’ll also wonder why it is possible to double the connection on pin 22, but not on other pins. The doubling up is for the sleeve on both pads, and as we know that is a ‘ground’ connection which does not carry a signal for a sound to be assigned. But what if we doubled up ALL of the ground connections, how many more pads could we put on a kit? Well, apart from the one already coupled, there are 8 more ‘sleeve’ connections which would release 4 more pins, and if one of those had to be a doubled up ground connection, three could be used for audio signals – meaning there is at least one more dual zone pad, and one more single zone pad possible. So why didn’t Roland do this? I am speculating that at the time the wiring loom was designed, the format of electronic drums was fairly well set, and ever since then Roland has kept all pads they make to be compatible with all of the different ‘brains’ or modules. In an attempt to maintain this compatibility, the very first cable looms are now the pattern, even for the quite different modules and possibilities that we have today. It would be possible for ALL of the ground wires to be combined into far fewer pins, and connect those ground pins to a common ‘rail’ inside the module itself, thereby enabling a far bigger drum kit to be created, and fewer restrictions on the drummers who want to expand their setups. Of course, nothing is that simple, and whilst I don’t actually know the real reason behind this curious pin arrangement, I am sure the good folks at Roland will have an explanation!


Driving in the Philippines: Converting UK license to Philippine license

One of the more frustrating moments for visitors to the Philippines is always going to be when government bureaucracy is at play. None more so than converting your driving license to the Philippine version, assuming you are staying longer than 3 months. For US visitors it is much simpler, it seems, but for those of us from the UK, the following may be of interest. There are three types of license in the Philippines – Student, Non-Professional and Professional. For normal driving in a car, you need the non-professional type. Professional licenses are for taxi drivers and public service vehicle drivers, and student permits are for, well… learners. You will need to go to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) in Quezon City. Conversions for UK drivers cannot be done anywhere else. Be assured that the people you will deal with there all speak very good English – you do not need any help with translations. They can also be extremely nervous about speaking English – so be patient, be calm, and don’t get upset if things don’t go your way. The (armed) guards will remove you if you are causing a scene. Bite your lip, say thank you a lot, and learn from the experience if you get anything wrong and have to come back. In general, they are good people doing a tough job and don’t deserve abuse just because you don’t understand the processes, or it is different to what you expect. Just remember, it’s more fun in the Philippines, and this experience will be an adventure, if nothing else!

What are the rules for needing a license?
The rule is simple. If you are a visitor for up to 3 months, then a driver from the UK can legally drive a vehicle in the Philippines. However, if you stay longer than three months, you must, by law, convert to a Philippine license. Seems simple enough, right?

Well, perhaps not simple as such, and hopefully this article will help guide you through it.

Visa Type
The first thing to understand is that as a visitor to the Philippines you are normally classed as a tourist, and are granted a visa as you arrive at the airport. You get a new red stamp in your passport, which gives you 30 days in the country. You can extend this visa by going through the required steps and paying the necessary fees, and (at the time of writing) you may remain a tourist in the country for up to three years. However, most people won’t be here that long, and for those who do wish to stay a bit more than a month can either do the extension (which will cost less than £100, but take a day of your life), or you can book a short flight out of the country (maybe to Hong Kong or Singapore) and then fly back in. If you do this, your 30 days starts again. This is a ‘visa run’ in ex-pat parlance, and ensures you get the 3 months of driving back.

As you will quickly see, one month visa, and three months driving seems a bit weird. For this reason a lot of longer stay visitors will extend the visa for two months, then do a visa run. It’s cheaper, and keeps things legal. However, what if there is another lockdown and you cannot fly out very easily? Or the country you’re going to has a lockdown? Or you realise that you must maintain an exit flight ticket from the Philippines at all times if you’re a tourist – you cannot fly back in on a visa run unless you can prove you’ve got a flight out again.

You could, of course, extend your tourist visa for longer, but the moment you do go over 60 days you also need an ACR-i card. This is a legal requirement and all foreigners must have one and carry it at all times. It’s going to cost you less than £100 and take another day of your life to go and get it, but you must have it. You’ll need it if you intend to get a driving license, anyway.

If you’re not a tourist, and in fact already have a long term visa, then the hardest part of your application is already sorted!

The right thing to do if you’re staying longer than 3 months and driving in the country is to convert your license at the LTO. According to their website you’ll need to:

  • fully accomplish the required form
  • a medical certificate passing you as fit to drive
  • have a photocopy of your passport – the info page and the visa page with your date of entry
  • have a photocopy of your ACR-i card
  • have a photocopy of your valid UK license
  • have enough cash to pay the necessary fees
  • and have all the original documents with you as well (passport, driving license, ACR-i card).

But it’s not quite that simple.

Firstly, when you read the requirements it does not mention the fact that the time you’ve spent in the country is not what they are looking for. It’s the time you are going to spend here. Therefore, your visa must be valid for at least 6 months forwards. Now, different people say different things about this – is it 3 months, 6 months or (as some say) 12 months? I can reliably tell you that it is 6 months. But, you cannot get a tourist visa for 6 months – at least, I’ve never found a way! Maybe there is a route to a 6 month visa which I never found, but the most I was ever allowed to do was 2 months at a time. So even if it is the fabled 3 months required, you still cannot get it.

Secondly, it does not mention that you need to create an account on the LTO portal. This is basically the place where your driving record will be maintained, including any fines or fees for violations or other costs. You must register for this before you go to the LTO.

Medical Check
Also before you go to LTO, make sure you get a medical certificate from an approved practitioner, suitable tor LTO’s requirements. Just along from the LTO compound, walking distance along East Avenue, there is a ‘Chow King’ and above that are two LTO approved places. The actual ‘medical’ consists of you telling the ‘doctor’ your height and weight (they do have scales, etc, but don’t bother to use them), your blood type, and so on. They will ask you to do a simple eye test (read off a chart with each eye covered in turn), then ask for php500 and give you a certificate. Take that with you to LTO! A medical certificate is valid for 2 months, so you can get it done anywhere that is approved by LTO. It takes less than 10 mins at the one above Chow King.

Fixers – no thanks!
A word about those ever-so-helpful young men who greet you the moment you go to the medical office, or the LTO compound. For a small fee they will show you how to get into the medical room. Be warned – it’s up a flight of stairs and there are two – go to the furthest one and NOT the one the young man directs you to. It does not need a guide to show you the way. Be polite but firm and tell them ‘no thanks’ for their help. At the LTO there are even more, and for a fee will ‘guide’ you through the process. These are not legitimate guides, and they have no clue about the requirements for those of us from the UK. they are very familiar with simple conversions, but their help is neither needed, nor allowed! They will try to tell you they are approved, or that you must tell the guards they are your official helper, but do not be fooled. They are there to earn a few peso (how much is up to you, but you’ll not get change from php1000 if you are not careful), and they are not allowed. Some fixers will even apply as you, meaning you don’t even need to go into the building to begin with. Naturally, they don’t look British to begin with, won’t look like your photo on your passport, and you will need to hand your passport and driving license to a complete stranger you just met, so that they can ‘fix’ it all for you. Do not, under any circumstances, get tempted!

The Process
So let’s assume you’ve got a visa which is valid for at least 6 months to come. You’ve got the medical cert, the photocopies of everything, bags of small cash notes (exact amounts, please … you don’t get told that until you get to the LTO offices) and the fully filled out form. You happily approach the first of many service desk ‘windows’ to have your paperwork checked. they’ll take one look at your UK license and tell you that you come from a country that drives on the left, but in the Philippines the driving is on the right… and so you must also go and do a driving test.

Yes, you read that correctly.

There is a mandatory driving test for anyone from the UK wishing to convert to a Philippine license, and yet you will not find this requirement on any government website because they assume anyone reading their pages is from a right-hand-side driving country. You only get that piece of news when you get to the LTO. They’ll ask you to go to a completely different part of the compound, where you must then apply to go for a driving test. Keep in mind that you could drive legally (on the right) for three months, or even longer after a visa run, and you’ll soon begin to think it is a bit strange to then be asked to prove your capability to drive on the right after having done so for several months. You’ll think that even more once you have done the test itself – skip ahead to see the details of that! You’ll be pleased to learn you can do the test the same day, but will be unhappy to hear it is not done within the LTO compound itself.

Driving Center Building
At this new part of the compound, you queue (outside, no aircon) and the official will check your paperwork, and tell you again that you need to do a driving test, but it is also only at this point you’ll find you need 6 months on your visa. If your current UK license has expired, you will also need to do a theory test. Fortunately, mine is valid, so I only needed a practical exam. They sent me onwards to the next step of the process, which is to pay the fees before you go for your practical. The next step means joining another queue to to get a visitor permit to allow you into the Driving Center part of the compound. Leave a piece of ID with the guard and they give you a visitor badge. Once you have the visitor badge, you can proceed.

The Yellow Tent and LTO Portal
Just before you get to the building where all the magic happens, you’ll stop at ‘the yellow tent’ (which is not yellow, but has a yellow scaffold bar holding part of it up) and a rather surly young man busy playing a game on his cell phone will ask to see the paperwork (which has by now been checked twice already) and then ask you if you’ve registered on the LTO ‘portal’.

Yup. No-one told you this either! If you go all the way to the LTO and have not registered, you’ll be turned away. You need an account on the new and shiny (and it actually does work) LTO web portal. The good news is you could probably sit somewhere quietly with a phone and register, complete the details and so on. You’ll need decent internet, which is a mythical creature within the LTO compound. So make sure you do this BEFORE you go there!

Middle Names
A word of advice – middle names… they don’t mean the same thing in the Philippines as they do in the UK. If you’ve not got a middle name, you’ll still be asked for it repeatedly. It’s just not a thing here to not have one. Also, your middle name is likely to be your mother’s maiden name here. That’s not the case in the UK, of course, and so it can be confusing. The basic thing to remember is that your UK middle name is in fact part of your first name here, and not your middle name at all.

“Norman Stanley Fletcher”, for example, would be known as ‘Norman Stanley’… or ‘Fletcher, Norman Stanley’, and that is how they will call your name out when they want you to attend to something. Put ‘Norman’ and ‘Stanley’ as ‘firstname’ in the box provided, leave the ‘middle name’ empty and then put ‘Fletcher’ in the lastname field.

The Driving Center Itself
Getting past the yellow tent grumpy boss means you then enter the actual ‘Driving Center’ building (with aircon, but not much) and go to ‘window 2’. All the service counters have numbers on the glass, so you can’t get that wrong. When it is your turn, they’ll check your papers (fourth time) and then ask you to sit down. A few minutes (or an hour, depending if they are busy) later you’ll get called back to window 2 where you’ll be told you need to do a practical (again). By now you’ll be fine with the idea, and dead keen to get it over with. You agree, and they’ll ask you to sit again.

You then get called to a window to pay a fee – and there are two fees. The first is for your biometrics. Fingerprint scanning and photographs – it’ll cost php100 (about £1.60), and once you pay, you won’t get a receipt, but you’ll go and sit again. Eventually, you’ll get called to a different window, and there they’ll take fingerprints and photographs – this data sits on your record in the LTO portal, which is why you must have that account set up before you go. The second fee comes later.

You’ll then get called back to window 2, and handed your papers, and are told to go for the practical test.

“Great!”, you think…

Driving Test 
The practical driving center is 8km away, to the north of the LTO office. In Philippine driving conditions, that’s anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour… and remember, you do not yet have a valid license and so cannot drive there yourself. You need a friend to take you… or a taxi (but remember to also ask him to wait for you as you won’t get a taxi back if you don’t – there are no taxis going past that part of Quezon City at all – it’s quite remote).

The practical test is remarkably simple. You will use one of the cars provided (costs php250.00, or roughly £4), and you’ll need to follow a course that the examiner will tell you about before you start. There are four ‘straight’ roads about 100m long, a roundabout (rotunda), some junctions, walkways and traffic lights, plus the usual road signs you’ll see in the country. Make sure you know the meaning for all of these before you go there. You’ll drive out of the parking spot, along the route told to you, navigating the roadways and signs, and then back to the parking spot where you must reverse park between two orange cones. It’s a one hit moment – any single contact with anything fails you instantly. If you don’t hit anything, they will check your lane control, hand position, use of mirrors, indicators and so on. You’ll be given a grade and must reach at least 70 in order to pass. If you fail, you cannot re-take for 8 days… remember that’s 8 more days off your visa validity too, so be careful! There is no theory question, no driving on real roads, no freeway driving – just the very short route you’re given at the test centre, and it’ll be done in less than 5 minutes. They’ll stamp your papers with a pre-made stamp saying ’80’ and that’s what you’ll get as a pass.

Room A
Once you pass the practical, you go back to the LTO compound (another 30-60 minutes driving), and this time you can once again go to the ‘yellow tent’. Of course, to get there, you have to hand in a piece of valid ID again (such as your UK license… oh the irony) in exchange for a visitor pass, and then you can approach the yellow tent grumpy man once more. Equally surly as before, he’ll wave you back to the Driving Center, and once again you go to window 2… and they will immediately ask you to take your paperwork to Room A.

Now, room A is at the very end and behind the service counters. This is where you would normally do your theory test at a computer, but for me it was just a place to hand in my papers. You’ll then need to exit that room, back to the seating area and wait.

You will once again be called to pay money – for locals the fee is php585, but for foreigners it is php685. Call it a tax, if you like, but it is very common to pay more than the local do for anything. Once you’ve paid, there is no receipt, you go and sit and wait.

Eventually, you will be called to a window for the ‘release’ of your license. There, you’ll see your license in all it’s glory, but it is still not given to you yet. They check your address in the Philippines and insist on delivering it to that address. Apparently, in the past, some foreigners gave false addresses and were more difficult to catch when they broke the law. However, if you’re a local, they will hand you your license there and then. This gives me the distinct impression that Filipino’s never give fake addresses, but foreigners do…

You will, however, be given a photocopy of the license and a copy of your ‘Official Receipt’ which lists the payments made. This piece of paper means you can legally drive until the plastic arrives. For me, it was delivered the very next day, wrapped in receipts.

In total I went to the LTO 3 times on different occasions, with each time being told a slightly different piece of news or requirement that was not mentioned before, and which meant I had to leave and return a different day.  I also had two medicals, because the certificate expired between visits. I paid more than I should because of this, but it is all part of my ‘training’ in the ways of the LTO! Hopefully my notes here will help you not spend as much and also get it done in one go, not three!


  1. create an account on LTO portal
  2. make sure you’ve got at least 6 months left on your visa
  3. make sure you’ve got a valid ACR-i card
  4. go for your medical checkup – php500 – certificate valid for 2 months only
  5. download and complete the application form
  6. make a photocopy of your passport, plus visa page, ACR-i card, UK license (both sides). If in doubt, photocopy it and take it with you.
  7. you’ll pay for the Biometrics scan, php100
  8. you’ll pay for the Driving Test vehicle hire, php250
  9. you’ll need a taxi to and from the test center (or get a friend to drive you) – variable fee depending on the driver!
  10. you’ll pay the License fee at the LTO, php685

Total of php1535.00, plus fares to and from the compound and to and from the driving center.

Prepare yourself for a day off work. I arrived at the compound at 10am, and finally left with the license at 3pm.

Oh, and prepare yourself for renewals too. The Philippine driving license is valid for five years, after which it must be renewed. As long as you’ve got all the same valid pieces of paperwork, you can renew it at a satellite office near to where you live (if there is one), and won’t need to do another test. What a relief that will be.

Philippines Emigration Clearance Certificate (ECC) – how to get your ECC and stay sane

If you’re a tourist in the Philippines and have stayed more than 6 months, you’ll need to have a clearance certificate issued before you’re allowed to leave. To the best of my understanding, this is a check on your status, whether you’ve paid up all your visa dues, and whether or not there is any adverse record of you from your time in the country. As a responsible person you will of course have ensured your visa extensions are all in place and paid up, you’ll have your ACR-i card paid up and you’ll not be in trouble with the law – no traffic violations or any of that kind of thing. All of this will be checked as part of the process, so just be sure you’ve got all you need paid up and dealt with before you go to get your ECC.

The Website for the Bureau of Immigration (BI) has a downloadable form for the exit certificate, and a list of requirements which is actually not a complete list. There are also plenty of websites available to help you so in some respects my information here may be superflous. However, I went through the process today, and dealt with the Makati office (an extension office to the main one in Intramuros). Some of what I had to do is not detailed in the various official websites or indeed in some of the other helpful resources you may get to read.

The BI instructions tell you that these are the requirements for the application of ECC:

  • Application Form
  • 6 pieces of 2×2 ID picture
  • Photocopy of Passport (bio page, visa page, and latest arrival)
  • Photocopy of receipt of latest visa extension
  • Original and Photocopy of ACR I-Card
  • Photocopy of order of downgrading (*if applicable)

In fact, I used four ID pictures, and had to photocopy BOTH sides of the ACR-i card. They also required ALL of the visa extension receipts I had, not just the latest one. I have been in the country for a little over two years, since the pandemic lockdowns began, so I had a few to do. Make sure you complete the application form, sign and date it.

The original ACR-i card and original passport will be visually checked at the time, too. Make sure you have them with you, along with the copies.


5th Floor, Circuit Mall, Makati.

The BI website tells you the extension is in JP Rizal, just about opposite the Makati City Hall, but that is now incorrect. They moved to Circuit Mall during April 2022, which is actually a much better place for you to go to.

When you get to Circuit (front entrance), go up in the elevator opposite the McDonald’s outlet and exit to your right on the 5th floor, you’ll see signage pointing the way there.

In the best ‘boy scout’ tradition, be prepared! The golden rule before you get there is to photocopy everything you think you’ll need.

  • Photocopy your Passport ID page.
  • Photocopy your Passport page with the last entry stamp to the country.
  • Photocopy any receipts you’ve got for ACR-i card payments, visa payments made, or any other official fees you’ve paid during your stay. Don’t omit any, they check all of it.
  • Photocopy your ACR-i card – both sides.

Then, go to a photo studio and get a set of 4 2″x2″ photographs. You’ll need these – get 6 done, just in case, but you will only need 4! The cost for this varies from place to place, but expect to pay between 75PHP and 120PHP.

  • Take a pen with you, undoubtedly you’re going to need to complete other paperwork.
  • Take your passport and ACR-i card, too.
  • Remember to take your reading glasses, if you use any.

The Office

As you walk in the door, you’ll be greeted by a person who will ask the nature of your business there. It’s like a triage system – don’t be offended, just explain your purpose and they will advise you what to do. It’s to help the staff filter the sometimes very heavy traffic through their doors, and to stop those who don’t need to from getting to the actual BI officers.

Once past the initial check, you’ll be seated, and called in turn. There are multiple windows, but in Makati, for the ECC process, I was guided to Window 9. There was one person in front of me, the office was fairly empty (Tuesday morning, 11am), and a member of staff came out to the waiting area and did a quick check on the paperwork I’d brought with me. I’d actually missed a few photocopies, but they were very patient, and much more friendly than I’d previously experienced in government offices. Fortunately in Circuit Mall there is a National Book Store on the ground floor, and they will do your photocopies there. If you need photographs, then also on the ground floor, just outside the ‘Shopwise’ supermarket you’ll find a photographic studio who will do the necessary (go grab a coffee whilst you wait for them to be processed). If you want a suit and tie for your image they’ll photoshop that on for an additional fee, but I declined – I wasn’t wearing one and thought it would be weird to go back with images showing me in that.


Whenever you go to ANY government building in the Philippines, be sure to wear smart clothing. No shorts, no sandals/flip-flops and no bare arms – ‘cover up’ applies to male and female visitors equally. Be polite, be courteous and respectful. If you are not, you will be turned away. There is no point getting grumpy with the officials, they are not going to help you if you are – just keep in mind they control your future – be mindful of that! If you struggle to hear, or understand the accent, tell them so – they’ll go over anything you need. They want to help – they’re not trying to trip you up over the process.


Once back with the paperwork in place, having filled in another form, I then had to go back to Window 9, where they do a fingerprint scan and facial photograph using a web cam. The fingerprints went in order – left hand first, pinky finger through to thumb, then right hand, thumb through to pinky. I guess they check police records for any matches or for any derogatory records about you.

Once the scan is done and basic checks made, they will issue a paper payment slip. You’ll be sent to a cashier’s window where you’ll pay whatever fee is due. If the office is busy, you’ll sit in line and shuffle between seats as people get up to be seen to. If the office is empty, as it was for me, you’ll go direct to the window. Once you’ve paid, you’ll go back to the Window 9 officer… waiting again until they are free. If you’re lucky, and the office is empty, you’ll go to them right away.

They will then issue a receipt and you will think that is the end of the process… but it is not. You will need to return in 3 days to collect the actual certificate, and you’ll need to present this at the airport as you check in for your flight and go through security there. The time allows for a full search of police and government records, and there is no shortcut to this.

Leave enough time for this ECC process! I was told that you cannot start the ECC process if there is more than a week until your flight (despite the clearance certificate being valid for a month), but clearly you must allow at least 72 hours for the entire process. I strongly advise you to go a week before the flight, not more, and get all your paperwork in place before you attend. Do not leave it to the last minute – this process does not work at the weekends, and you cannot pay it at the airport. Be very mindful of public holidays, or official events interrupting your time available, too.

In an empty office, with no queues, it took me less than an hour from start to finish, including getting some photocopies done. On a busy day it’ll take longer and I would advise allowing at least 2 hours for the process.

Vaccination Certificates

You will not need your vaccination certificate for the process to exit the country, but you will certainly need it if you are returning at some point. If you’ve not done it but have had your jabs in the country, go to enter your information there (all dates and locations of the vaccinations, and you’ll have to have had at least one booster) – you’ll be able to download a certificate to use when you return to the country. Keep it safe until then!

At the time of writing, the Philippines borders are open to tourists with a valid record of vaccination from a country that has recognized protocols and procedures. In my case, I was vaccinated in the Philippines, and so I am hoping that is enough to let me back in!


  • Be prepared. Photocopy everything you’re going to need – you may as well make two copies, just in case – it’s reaonably cheap to do. Get your photographs done, they must be recent (within the last 3 months) and take a pen with you.
  • Even though the clearance is valid for one month, you won’t be allowed to get it more than a week before your flight. It takes 72 hours to process, so allow enough time for that to go through before you have to get to the airport. I was flying out on a Monday afternoon, so I went to the office on the preceding Tuesday, six days in advance of the flight.
  • Remember to dress respectfully, and to be courteous and polite. Don’t lose your temper with the frustrations from the bureaucracy involved – just go patiently through it all, and the staff will really help and guide you. If you get upset with them, expect them to send you on your way. It’s your loss, not theirs!
  • Allow a couple of hours. There are plenty of food outlets in the mall if you need to eat, and it’s a much better location than where the old office was on JP Rizal. There is at least parking too – anyone who has been through this process before may well remember the even older location along Senator Gil J. Puyat Avenue(Buendia Ave), but that office closed a while back. Not only was there no parking, but a taxi could not stop to let you out by the front of the building as it was along a highway with railings. Circuit is a much better place for a government office.