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Traveling to the Philippines during a pandemic: What you need to know (Medi’s personal journey)

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So you’re thinking about visiting the Philippines, right? Gone are the days when all you had to do was just buy your tickets, get to the airport and fly. It’s not as easy as it was before, especially now during this COVID-19 pandemic.

I wanted to share with you an actual personal experience from one of our good friends, Medi Cereno. For point of reference, Medi is a US Citizen, and he flew from Los Angeles to Manila. Medi was Nancy’s boss at the hospital, he was a former director of Critical Care, Telemetry, and Medical-Surgical units. She has known him for over 20 years since she started working. Medi had retired a few years ago, but we’ve always had many chance encounters through all of the many parties and family celebrations in between.

Nancy and Medi Holiday Party 2017

Medi is a seasoned global traveler. During our chat, I mentioned to him that I had to find pictures of us during the many gatherings they all had at the hospital, and with his clear vivid memory he reminded me that we all met up in Barcelona, a random chance encounter while Nancy and I were on vacation in Spain, while he and the rest of our common friends were also on a European tour. How epic was that!!

Barcelona 2018 (I was standing next to Medi) and the rest of the gang

Medi’s Journey from Los Angeles to the Philippines

He recently went to the Philippines in the middle of December, and he documented everything he had to go through. He started documenting his journal upon arriving in the Philippines. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he almost did not continue with this trip. Here’s what he went through to get there:

  • I had to book my airline ticket.
  • Book a quarantine hotel room that is Bureau of Quarantine/Department of Health-approved to stay in while waiting for COVID test result. Two day minimum. Also need to book transport to hotel. Your family cannot meet you. 
  • Three days before departure, log onto a website called PALeCIF or PAL Electronic Case Investigation Form, enter the needed data. Wait for e-mail back with additional instructions to follow. A second e-mail will give you a QR code that will be used to identify you for covid test upon arrival.
  • At check-in at the day of departure, you will have to show the hotel reservation and your QR code.
  • After check-in, you are given another QR code that you need to take a picture of with you camera phone. It will lead you to a registration link to submit a Electronic Health Locator Form and arrival card.
  • Upon boarding, face masks and face shields are required at all times, except during meals.
  • Additional forms are given during the flight (Customs Form, Immigration Form, Health Questionnaire form, form for the Coast Guard, and two other forms). Various agencies will collect these forms upon arrival.
  • Upon arrival, before allowed to deplane, a short briefing is conducted by a Coast Guard and Department of Health representative. Temperature is also checked at this time.
  • First stop after leaving aircraft, show QR form, pay fee for COVID test, then you are given 3 stickers.
  • Hand stickers to the COVID-test area. Get your nasal and oral swabs. One of the stickers is then placed at the back of your passport.
  • Next stop Immigration.
  • Next stop, verification of hotel reservation, and transport to hotel.
  • Pick up luggage at carousel.
  • Customs next but very quick.
  • Look for your hotel transport outside.
  • At hotel, once in your room, you are not allowed to leave your room until you receive your test result in about 6-8 hours. All meals are brought to you outside your door.

NOTE: Medi stayed at the Manila Marriott Hotel. This was his choice, and he had to pay for this out of pocket. Since he is a US citizen, he was not considered as a Filipino national. Why was this important? Filipino nationals known as OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) are provided a room to qurantine at no cost. So for the tourists from other countries (including US citizens), you have to shoulder the cost of your accommodation. 


While in quarantine in Manila

These were Medi’s observations:

  • The malls were only about 25 percent capacity of the usual crowd. Considering that it was very close to Christmas, there were not that many folks going Christmas shopping. Maybe a combination of fear of the virus and loss of income due to the virus.
Image courtesy of Rappler
  • People were all wearing masks. In addition, they were also wearing face shield. They line up to have their temperature taken before entering the mall or a establishment, observing social distancing in the process. I did not hear anyone complaining about their rights being violated.
  • Eateries and restaurants arranged table so two people sitting at a table originally intended for four people were not directly facing each other.
  • At the public men’s restrooms, every other urinal have been blocked to keep a safe distance between two people using them. Same with the wash sinks. Every other sink.

Unfortunately for Medi, this is not the end for him since he had to travel to the province (Ilocos)

  • Secure travel pass from National Police.
  • Secure travel authority medical certification from the local Rural Health Unit.
  • Secure authorization from the barangay and Rural Health Unit at final destination.
  • Travel to province within 3 days of of COVID test. 
  • Quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the province.

Yes, Medi had to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving at his province. This will be on a case-by-basis. He added:

It is important to note that every province has different rules. And some areas also have different rules for tourists and returning residents. For example, in the province of Ilocos Sur, tourists are not required to quarantine but they have to be a part of a group, advance notice is required and can only stay for a specific number of days. The rules maybe changing. The local governments is trying to balance the need for revenue and control the spread of COVID. It is better for tourists to inquire about the specific areas they want to visit. Again some form of quarantine is needed in all areas.

Medi’s 14-day Quarantine

I am finally home. Home to Lungog, Narvacan, Ilocos Sur where I grew up. What a long and challenging journey this has been.

Monday morning, the day after I arrived in Manila, armed with a negative COVID test result, I checked out of the hotel where I quarantined overnight and headed to my condo and work on getting the necessary documents I need to travel outside of Metro Manila.

  • Travel Authority, a pass I need to get through Quarantine Control checkpoints along the way. I obtained this in 2 days with the help of my nephew Elmer Cereno.
  • Barangay Health Certificate, armed with my negative COVID test result, I obtained this document in two days from my local Barangay (a local village administration).The document stated that I was in good health, and NOT in any list of people suspected of having COVID, etc.
  • With the help of another nephew, Dharyl Cabanit I got the documents from our Barangay in Lungog and the Narvacan Rural Health Unit. This Travel and Health Certification document was certifying that I was a returning resident and that they were accepting my return. I got this document by the end of Wednesday.
  • The Rural Health Units in Ilocos Sur only accepted COVID test result within 72 hours, so since my travel day is Thursday, four days after my test at the airport,  I had to take another COVID test.
  • Armed with all the needed documents, and with a friend driving me, I finally traveled to Ilocos Sur on Thursday. The drive was great, the scenery beautiful.
  • Since we took the TPLEX(Tarlac Pangasinan La Union Express way) we bypassed Tarlac and Pangasinan and exited the expressway in Rosario, La Union. First quarantine check point. They checked our Travel Authority pass then let us go.
Image courtesy of Unsplash @josenothose
  • After a quick break in San Fernando, La Union we continued on and reached Ilocos Sur around 12 noon. At the Ilocos Sur quarantine check point, I presented all my documents, filled out another document with my personal information, was given another pass, advised to report to the Narvacan Rural Health Unit (RHU) then was allowed to continue.
  • After a 15-minute drive, we arrived at a police checkpoint where we simply handed the travel pass given to us at the quarantine check point.
  • At the Narvacan RHU, I presented my documents, answered some questions, signed a document, was advised to quarantine for 14 days and was let go.
  • After another 7 minutes, I was home. 

This is my own personal experience. Other provinces do not require the same things. I know that my friends from Laguna, Batangas and Quezon province, all south of Manila did not have to go through all the requirements that I went through. I also do not begrudge the government officials in my province. I understand their reason for doing this. It is hard to balance the need to keep society going and at the same time control the spread of the corona virus. And after my first dinner of fresh fish, ipon (silver fish) paksiw, fresh vegetables and fresh fruits, I dare say that it is all worth it. My gratitude and thanks to my cousins Francis Cereno and Tina Montero for their advice and help. Francis helped me with another document just in case I needed it. Thank you so much to my nephew Elmer Cereno who took time out from his busy schedule to help me, especially with the Travel Authority Pass. And my nephew, Jake Dharyl Cereno Cabanit, for doing the leg work in Narvacan. Thank you to my niece Maribel Montero Cereno and cousin, Sonia Cereno, for preparing the room and for my first dinner.

Meticulous, detail-oriented Medi

Knowing Medi, very detailed, very meticulous, I asked him for tips/advise he would give to anyone who want to travel to the Philippines during a pandemic. He said:

  • Patience is one. Remember that these are their rules and you just have to follow them.
  • Second, be kind to the people implementing these rules. They are just doing their job. Arguing and acting all high and mighty will get you nowhere.
  • Third, plan very well, search the website of the airlines for travel restrictions and requirements. Search the websites of local areas you plan to visit. Most of them have useful information. Talk to other travelers. See if you know anyone in the area. If not, talk to a reputable travel agency. They can guide you. Make sure you review the ratings of the travel agency.
  • Read the comments of others who have used them. Have a good sense of humor. Good luck.
Another grand gathering with Medi in Black Jacket and purple top – and the rest of his staff

My reaction

First of all, I thank Medi for allowing me to share his journey. He made it quite easy for me as he had already documented the play by play during his trip to the Philippines. We kept in touch a few times in order for me to ask follow-up questions.

I was in awe, l leaned more towards being shocked by the details of what he had to go through. My mom wants to fly back to Manila, and we cautioned her of what she may have to go through when she travels. So for other returning Filipinos (balikbayans) or tourists, one would really need to do careful research what to expect before traveling. If someone were to travel to the Philippines for 2-3 weeks, and be expected to quarantine just like Medi, I personally think it will be a lost cause if you find yourself having to quarantine for most of your visit. It might be best if you have a longer stay planned, and make sure to account for the days that you might have to be in quarantine.

I also suggest that if you are headed to the Philippines for a very specific reason such as a wedding or a specific occasion on a certain date, just know that you may or may not make it to the said event if you have to quarantine.

Lastly, I could not help but reiterate what Medi said. Make sure you do your research. Don’t just rely on getting a plane ticket and showing up at the airport. You have to be equipped with the right set of documents, book accommodations as required, and most of all, obey and follow the rules set forth by the government.

Again many thanks to Medi. I hope that the rest of your vacation is safe, away from any danger, and when this is all over, I’m hoping to see you again.

Helpful sites to review

Philippines US Embassy 

Bureau of Quarantine Philippines

Philippines COVID 19 

Philippines Bureau of Immigration

Balikbayans allowed to enter Philippines as of 12/7/2020

For more travel news, deals and tips, follow me on my travel page on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter


Off-site meeting held at our house circa mid 2000s

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Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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