Without further ado, here it is:
Interview with Immigration Officer at NAIA Terminal 3
Me: Hi. *I gave my passport, return ticket, and hostel accommodation*
IO: Hi. *he looked at my documents meticulously*
IO: Do you have your old passport?
Me: I don’t have. That’s my first passport.
IO: So, it’s your first time to travel?
IO: Do you have friends or relatives in Taiwan?
Me: No, I will be alone.
IO: Company ID, please.
Me: I don’t have a company ID.
IO: What’s your job?
Me: I work as a freelance writer.
IO: So, you’re jobless.
Me: No, I write product descriptions and online articles.
IO: *he left and talked to another IO*
IO: *he came back and inspected my documents again*
Me: *waiting but this was the part when my heart started to beat really fast and I started praying Hail Mary in my mind*
IO: But it’s Christmastime … why do you want to visit another country during this special time? Coz that’s unusual.
Me: Sir, my original flight was November 22-27 but my passport was released on November 24 so I asked Cebu Pacific if it’s possible to rebook my flight. They agreed but the available seat was December 22-27. I decided to go for it since I’ve been planning for this trip for almost half a year. I didn’t want my efforts to be wasted.
IO: *returned my passport with stamp*
Me: Thank you.
Note: We spoke Filipino.
Interview with Immigration Officer at Taoyuan International Airport
Me: Good morning. *I gave my passport, return ticket, and hostel accommodation*
IO: Good morning! *sweet smile and then looked at my documents meticulously*
IO: So you will be alone?
IO: Any schedule?
Me: *gave her a print copy of my daily schedule*
IO: *looked at my document meticulously*
IO: Any specific place in mind?
Me: Yes, I’d like to visit Chiang Kai Shek, Sun Yat Set, Jiufen, and Maokong.
IO: Cool! *Stamped my passport and gave it back to me*
Me: Thank you.
Note: She did not ask for my company ID or any document, just my day schedule.
My very first interview with the immigration officers was smooth and easy. But I still cringe whenever I think about it. Why?
- I’m a female.
- I’m a solo traveler.
- It’s my first time to travel abroad.
- I don’t have a company ID.
Obviously, I’m a RED FLAG.
Weeks before my flight, I started researching about the possible questions that they might ask. I also asked my friends who have already traveled abroad about their immigration experience. However, my case is different since I work as an online freelancer and I’m not affiliated to any company.
My freelancer friend told me to prepare to be “on hold” and to undergo the second screening process since I don’t have a company ID. Prepare also to be “offloaded” in case the IO is not convinced with my answers. Contain my emotions and don’t be sensitive. Basically, the questions will be very personal but it’s really nothing personal. They are just doing their job.
Also, understand why the immigration officers are very strict. It’s for everyone’s safety. Research about Filipina sex slaves in Malaysia, Dubai, Hong Kong, etc. It will break your heart. The truth is if you plan to work abroad without proper documents, you become an easy target for human trafficking. Many of our countrymen do this. That’s why the Philippine Immigration Officers are known for being strict.
Based on what I’ve read from forums and websites, these are the common immigration red flags:
- Solo female first time traveler
- Female travelers that will meet a foreign boyfriend at their destination
- Travelers that booked their plane tickets recently
- Unaccompanied minors and early twenties travelers
- Tourists without a college degree – educational attainment
- No company ID or employment contract
- No ITR
- Some OFWs with expired working visa or they over-stayed in other countries or they worked abroad using a tourist visa (sorry I don’t really understand this one)
- Travelers that claim to operate a local business but couldn’t show their ITR or BIR + DTI registration
- Female travelers accompanied by a foreigner that is not related to them
- Travelers that used a credit card that is not under their name for booking their plane tickets
- Travelers going to Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand
- Government employees without certificate of authority to travel
- Travelers that have a record of being offloaded – they have a database
- Tourists going to unpopular destinations like Myanmar
- Travelers that have unusual layovers or travel routes – example: coming from Cebu then fly to manila then fly to Singapore. That’s unusual coz why not choose a direct flight from Cebu to Singapore? Another example: final destination is Indonesia but there’s a 4-hour layover in Singapore or will transfer to a different airline. That’s unusual coz direct flights are available.
Disclaimer: I’m not sure if these are the real RED FLAGS for immigration officers. I just gathered these data from forums and websites. Please correct me.
I also learned a lot of things from blogs and forums.
To sum up, here’s how you can prepare for your immigration interview:
- Arrive at the airport at least 4 hours before your flight. So you have a lot of time to waste even if the IO decides to put you on hold.
- Expect the IO to act suspicious and authoritative. They might use an angry tone. Don’t take it personally. Basically, they’re just doing their job.
- Expect the IO to ask for other documents aside from your passport and return tickets (and visa if applicable). Bring bank certificates, employment contract, land title, salary pay slip, etc. However, don’t give it until they ask for it.
- Dress decently. Choose clothes appropriate for your destination. For women, avoid sexy-looking clothes and wear light makeup. Be simple.
- Be polite even if you’re annoyed at how the IO is interrogating you. Remember, they are just doing their job. Nothing personal, okay?
By the way, if you work as a freelancer like me, I would suggest that you be specific with your line of work. Don’t just say you’re a freelancer coz that’s too broad. In your departure card, put writer if you’re a content writer or website developer, graphic designer, etc.
My personal experience:
- I arrived at NAIA T3 an hour and a half before my flight. Long story why. I woke up late. I waited for the airport bus for more than one hour. Traffic.
- The IO was talking casually but I can sense his authority. Also, I noticed that he was looking at my eyes and I just know that he was carefully analyzing my answers.
- He only asked for my company ID and didn’t ask for any other document. Passport, return ticket and confirmed accommodation are required for those travelling to Taiwan. So I automatically gave those things when I approached him.
- I wore a loose white shirt, faded jeans and rubber shoes. No makeup at all not even Johnson’s baby powder. Just my bare face. And I had a jacket in my left arm coz winter in Taiwan.
- I didn’t smile. I just said “hi.” I just used my normal tone when talking. Not overly polite or friendly.
Just in case they insist for a company ID, I brought my BIR registration + my latest 2551M form, but thank God they didn’t ask for it. My interview lasted for 5 minutes or less than 10 minutes. My heart sank when he handed back my passport coz he didn’t say anything. I thought I was endorsed to second interview. But when I looked at my passport, it was already stamped. Thank God!
For some reason, I still cringe when I think about my immigration interview. It feels like just one wrong answer and everything will be ruined. Either they’d put me on hold or worse, offload me. Not to scare you though. If this is your first immigration interview, just keep in mind one word: CONFIDENCE.
I’m not really a very confident person. I am painfully shy and I have a weak voice. It’s just that during that time, I had no time to be nervous. LOL. I arrived an hour and a half before my flight and I had to exchange my peso to TWD, I had to pay the travel tax, I had to check-in, then I had to line up at the immigration booths.
Confession: I was thinking that in case I don’t make it to my flight, I’ll just head to Sagada and spend my Christmas there. But of course, I didn’t want to give up just like that. In my pocket I kept a St. Jude prayer card for intercession.
The line in the immigration booth was very long. Then something miraculous happened. Another immigration booth opened and a guy called us to start a new line. So from 20th something, I became 3rd in line. At exactly 10:33 PM, I was already at the boarding gate.
I finished the pre-departure process in less than 40 minutes. LOL. How is that possible? Maybe because I was the only customer in the money changer store, I was alone when I paid the travel tax, and I was alone when I checked in at Cebu Pacific. No lines at all, and maybe because I prayed a LOT.
Disclaimer: I’m not an immigration expert. This is just my personal experience and personal opinion. Feel free to correct me. Another thing, letter F in my keyboard has a problem. Sorry for the typos.