If you’re enjoying the Philippines and want to stay longer, you will need to extend your visa. While you’re at it, you can make the trip up to the Bureau of Immigration’s head office in the city of Manila more interesting by exploring Philippine culture and history in Intramuros.
How to get to Intramuros
If you’re staying in the south and wondering how to get to the Bureau of Immigration, it is a bit of a trek.
With Uber no longer available in the Philippines and Grab being, more often than not, quite unreliable, public transportation is always an option.
There is a convenient bus connection between Lawton (near the Intramuros and walking distance from the Bureau of Immigration) and SM Southmall in Las Pinas (two or three kilometers up the road from Ayala Alabang).
These air-conditioned buses can be caught along Alabang-Zapote Road and taken all the way up to Intramuros. Just look for a sign that says “Lawton” on the front window.
Though they are not quite as flexible as a jeep, you can still hop on or off of these buses almost anywhere along the road until they get on the tollway.
Coming from the BF Homes Southville gate, you can get an 8 peso trike down CAA Road to Alabang-Zapote, where you can wait at a stop just around the corner for the bus. There is no schedule but they come quite regularly; I haven’t had to wait there for more than a few minutes.
From CAA to Lawton, the bus ride will cost you 46 pesos. If you’re catching the bus from SM Southmall, where the route begins, you’ll likely pay a bit more.
The bus heads to the coast and goes up the Cavitex, which is a toll road that you may fly through or crawl along, depending on traffic. It then follows Roxas Boulevard, where you’ll definitely encounter traffic.
The bus will pass near Mall of Asia and the Manila Bay area, with casinos on the left and adult entertainment clubs on the right. It will turn onto Ocampo Street and continue north on Taft Boulevard, which runs parallel to Roxas and has an LRT/MRT line overhead. There will be traffic here too.
It’s best to settle in to what will be a fairly long bus ride. Even outside of rush hour, it can take up to two hours to make this 20km trip.
Experiencing Life in the Philippines
On the bus, a Filipino film centering around a man, woman, and child is playing. The woman is a too-cool-for-school badass who orders the man around and, based on their actions, the two seem to be outlaws. I only watch off and on and can’t follow much, but I pick up a few Tagalog phrases like “ayoko” (I don’t want), “sandali” (wait a while) and “wag kang magalala” (don’t you worry).
Looking out the bus window gives an equally curious look at Filipino life. A boy sweeps the driveway of a small, nicely painted establishment along an otherwise dirty road. A man up ahead industriously cleans his shop windows.
The bus empties out at Plaza Lawton, from where you take an underpass to head into Intramuros.
Pedicab riders will ask if you want to see Fort Santiago and other such monuments of Intramuros. I prefer wandering around, though. I take the scenic route and walk through Intramuros to get to the Bureau of Immigration, stopping to take a few pictures along the way.
Renewing your Tourist Visa and Getting an ACR I-Card
If you’re only extending your 30-day stamp for another month, the process is straight forward and fairly affordable. However, after being in the country for 59 days, you will now need to get an ACR (Alien Certificate of Registration) I-Card and you’ll pay quite a bit more.
Fees are detailed on the Bureau of Immigration website but count on spending at least 6000 pesos without express lane processing for your third and fourth month in the country, and just under 8,000 with express lane fees (that’s about 150 US dollars).
When you pay the express lane fees (usually 1,500 pesos), your passport is released an hour after submission. With the “regular lane” option, you can save that money and come back after 72 hours.
If you’re happy to return to Intramuros, it’s great to have the regular lane option again. When the express lane was first introduced, it was mandatory.
When I first arrived in the Philippines as a volunteer in 2009, I went to renew my visa with a Portuguese coworker. Back then, I saw the Bureau of Immigration as pure bureaucratic chaos. He told me, however, that it was much better than it had been. In the past, there was no express lane option so waiting three days for your visa to be processed was standard.
Fortunately, by the time I arrived, express lanes had too–but you couldn’t opt out of them. I’m quite happy to see that this option has now been opened up and that the application forms have additionally been shortened to a quarter of their original length. The Bureau of Immigration seems to be continually streamlining its processes and that’s a good thing to see.
Having spent a good eight years in the Philippines, I’ve made many trips to the Bureau of Immigration. And let’s be honest, those are no one’s favorite days. I used to walk from the MRT station and I see this picture in the underpass. Something about it always made me happy and seeing it again by chance was a pleasant surprise.
Tourist Visa Renewal Fees, Tips, and Steps
When it comes to dealing with the Bureau of Immigration, it’s best to get there as early as possible. Also, be sure you’re not showing too much skin or they won’t let you in.
If you are showing too much skin, you may end up renting a T-shirt from an opportunist outside for a hundred pesos.
Go straight to the information desk, grab and fill out a form, show your passport, and you’ll get a queuing number.
Wait at counters 32, 33, and 34 for your number to show up on the screen. This part shouldn’t take too long.
I got in just after 9am, got my number, went to the bathroom, and waited for about 10 minutes before my number came up.
I asked about the express and regular lane processes and fees and chose the express lane so I could get my I-Card right away.
Including the processing of the I-Card, I paid 2,000 pesos (roughly 40 US dollars) in express lane fees in addition to just under 6,000 pesos (about 110 US dollars) for the visa renewal.
In less than an hour from arrival, I had paid and submitted my documents. When you pay the express lane fee, your passport should be released in an hour. With the I-Card it can take an hour and a half.
Figuring I had plenty of time, I stepped outside to check out the canteen, where I got a cup of Lipton tea for 20 pesos and some mani (local peanuts) for 15. Together with the fruit I had brought along, it made a simple but tasty second breakfast. (I’d eaten a bit on my way out the door but it was too early for my stomach to be ready for much.)
I walked back into the Bureau a little after 10, just as my name came up on the screen for releasing. I was given my passport and receipt with my extension and told to come back to Counter 31 for the I-Card.
The Bureau of Immigration has new visa stickers instead of stamps but right now they don’t have them so your receipt serves as the visa, which reminds me of the time the LTO (Land Transportation Office) had no license cards for a year or so.
Summary of Tourist Visa Extension and I-Card Application Process:
- Get a form and queue number at the information desk;
- Go for visa extension assessment at Counters 32-34 (your number will appear on screen);
- Pay at the Cash Section, Counters 26-27 (no number, go straight to the counter or join the line);
- Submit papers and passport at Counter 31 (also no number);
- For regular lane, come back after 3 days;
- For express lane, wait for your name to appear on the screen at Counter 31 and your passport to be released (should take one hour);
- For the ACR I-Card, wait an additional 30 minutes and it will also be ready at Counter 31.
When you get a tourist I-Card, they use your passport photo and the information on your application form to generate it for you, so you don’t have to go through any additional steps for fingerprinting or picture taking.
A little after 11, I’m glad I got here early because the lines are getting crazy. At a quarter past, after being in the Bureau of Immigration for just over two hours, I walk out with my passport, visa extension, and ACR I-Card.
While waiting for my visa and iCard, I looked up some places worth visiting nearby.
Fort Santiago, which the pedicab drivers we’re selling rides to, was within walking distance, along with a number of other interesting museums, monuments, and galleries, most charging less than 100 pesos for entry. The NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts has free entry but its closed from Friday to Sunday.
I made a mental note to visit a few of the sites with my daughter but decided not to venture to any on my own today.
After wrapping up my visa business, I walked down Soriano Avenue to the bank, checked out Figaro (praised for its ambiance but lacking in options for a non-coffee-drinking vegetarian) and continued to wander around the colorful streets of Intramuros.
I passed Bahay Tsinoy, the Museum of Chinese in Philippine life, but it was closed until 1pm so I moved along.
Google Maps told me there were a few vegetarian food options around but I’d have to venture into Chinatown for that (which I’ll save for next time).
The wandering continued and lead me to some surprisingly beautiful places. You might be surprised at what you can find, even in a place you’ve been many times before when you wander around aimlessly.
I walked through this old gate and discovered a beautiful little park, where I stopped to play with the canons and eat the last of the fruit I’d taken with me.
What had, until now, been quite a fresh and breezy day turned into quite a cauldron of a day when the clouds cleared away from the sun so I decided to find my bus back home and do some writing on the way.
In an upcoming Things to do in Manila post, I’ll cover Chinatown in more detail. Share your thoughts on what you like to do in Manila below.