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As of May 1, 2021, the Philippines lifted its travel ban, thus allowing foreign nationals to once again enter the country. But as I had shared in my blog entry, while the ban may have been lifted, one would need to know what to expect when you travel back to the Philippines. It’s not as easy as arriving at the airport, picking up your luggage, and then you’re on your own flying to Palawan, to Boracay, or to whatever magical island. Those days are gone – at least for now during this COVID pandemic.

Meet Joan

She lives in Southern California. She’s become a good friend, and a great contributor and supporter of my Daddy Travels Facebook Group Page. When I shared the news that the travel ban has been lifted, she jumped and made arrangements for a quick return to the Philippines. From this entry, you will see what Joan had to do:
  • Why she traveled to the Philippines
  • How to prepare for the trip to the Philippines
  • What to expect during the flight
  • What took place at the airport
  • Quarantine life

Joan’s story – in her own words

My Lola (grandma) went to the US to visit us last year and got stuck during the pandemic. We waited until it was safe for my Lola to travel back to her island, and we waited until she got fully vaccinated. I am sharing our travel experience from our pre-departure, our arrival in Manila, through our isolation days. My goal is to help those who are planning or thinking of going back to the Philippines during this pandemic.
I booked our flights immediately last May 1st as soon as I found out from Jason’s website that US Citizens were now allowed to enter the country, This gave me an opportunity to bring my Lola back to the Philippines without thinking what to expect during our return. Last year when my brother came to visit the Philippines around August, he only stayed in quarantine for two days then as soon as he got the negative results, he was released from the hotel. But I knew this time it would be different.

2. Booked tickets from Los Angeles to Cebu (not Manila)

Originally, we booked from LAX- Cebu (not Manila). We did this thinking it would be easier for us to transfer from Cebu to my grandma’s island. I visited the PAL website and reviewed these guidelines.
In a nutshell, upon arrival:
  • we must have pre-booked accommodation for at least seven nights in an accredited quarantine hotel or facility
  • we will be given COVID-19 testing on the sixth day of arrival (I also heard testing to be given on the 7th day)
  • According to PAL, “Accommodation and food during your stay will be at your own expense. Delivery of food and other essentials to your room are subject to the rules and regulations of the hotel.”

I was so happy at first as Cebu had less steps to follow to generate the QR code vs. arriving in Manila. I booked a quarantine hotel in Cebu with a balcony for grandma. I coordinated with our Cebu hotel for airport pick up and food for us. I even contacted a friend based in Cebu if they can get some groceries for us.

Click here for a list of hotels in Cebu where you could quarantine. 

3. What to do with all the pre-booked arrangement info

Once you have the quarantine hotel booked, you will need those info together with your passport info, final destination info, etc when you fill out the travel form. then you will get a bar code (QR code) that will be presented when you arrive in Philippines. You will need to fill out all the info first including the hotel reservation then they can get the QR code. Go to this link to get this process started.

4. Need to have back-up plans

Everything was set until less than 24 hours from our departure, I received an email from PAL that LAX-Cebu flight was rerouted to Manila. We have a choice to change the travel date or go to Manila. I decided last minute to go to Manila since it was already a hassle entering the country might as well go for it.

5. Complicated process in Manila when compared with Cebu

Well, Manila arrival happens to be more complicated than Cebu. From two steps to get the QR code in Cebu to 14 steps in Manila. To generate the QR code in Cebu, you only need to fill out 2 pages for the required arrival form, while Manila requires 14 pages. I had to do it twice – for me and grandma. It was insane!!!
I also had to look for last-minute hotels in Manila (quarantine hotel list in Manila was so long and overwhelming). Some of the quarantine hotels were fully booked and the available ones were Sogo hotels, Victoria Court. I immediately searched for Makati. It’s a business district and can’t go wrong with that, plus there are  a bunch of shopping malls, restaurants around. (Click here for a list of quarantine hotels in Manila)

6. How many guests can stay in one quarantine room

I contacted Somerset property in Makati to confirm our booking and spoke with a Coast Guard in-house. They don’t allow two guests to stay in one room but there are exceptions for seniors, with disability. Also, another exception, If you are traveling with a minor, only one adult can stay with the child in a room.

7. The flight back to Manila

During the flight with Philippine Airlines, we were required to wear a mask and a face shield before boarding the plane. We were seated next to each other (No spacing). You can only take out the mask and shield when eating. You must remain in your seats all throughout the flight unless you need to use the restroom.
Joan and her Lola
During the plane ride, there were a bunch of forms that we had to fill out aside from the regular immigration form, custom declaration, they added a health form, passenger’s undertaking form (basically it’s asking you to abide by the COVID rules in the Philippines).

8. Arrival in the Philippines

Once the plane landed, we had to remain seated, and we listened to the announcement from the Coast Guard. They went around the plane to check every single person’s body temperature.
Coast Guard took our temperature upon landing in Manila
For people who needed a wheelchair assistance like my grandma, there was a person in-charge to push her around.

9. Inside the Airport Terminal:

There was a line to present your QR code. I guess it was easier for them to get all the info since it was already in their system pre-arrival. I feel bad for  those seniors who arrived on their own as they don’t know about the QR code, but glad there were airport personnel who assisted them anyway.
At the QR desk, they will verify all your info, check your hotel reservation to ensure you have a place to go when you leave the airport. Next booth was to pay for the COVID Test. I paid 4,000 pesos ($80) for me and grandma was 3,200 pesos ($64) since she got the senior discount. Then, we went to another booth to verify that we paid everything. After that, we headed for the line for immigration, baggage claim, and  then customs.

10. Transportation to the quarantine hotel

There are accredited taxis and coupon taxis (equivalent to a van) that you can book right outside of the terminal if you haven’t coordinated with your hotel for airport transfer. I pre-arranged with the Somerset Hotel and paid 3,200 pesos ($64) one-way.

11. Arrival at Quarantine hotel

As soon as we arrived at our hotel, a Coast Guard (wearing a full body gear) approached our car, asked some info and took photos of us. Another bell boy (wearing the same full body safety gown) took our luggage and took us directly to our room. Somerset Hotel is one of the many quarantine facilities. According to the receptionist, there are other guests staying at the hotel. These guests also get their food delivered so I’m assuming they’re not in quarantine since they accept food delivery for them.

12. How much was the quarantine hotel

For this 10-day booking at the Somerset Hotel, it cost me 61,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards (worth $983). This booking includes breakfast. Lunch and dinner are extra. Here’s the menu.

  • You need to be in room isolation for 10 days.
  • On the 3rd day, Philippine Airlines will email to confirm your upcoming COVID test.
  • On the 5th day, someone will call to verify your info and schedule the test.
  • On the 7th day, you get your COVID tests (via nose and mouth).
  • On 9th day, they will give you the test results via email.
  • On 10th day, you may check out, present your negative COVID test to the front desk so they can give you a release certificate.

13. What was our quarantine life so far

Our breakfast daily was covered by my hotel package so we only have to order lunch and dinner. If you have a special diet to follow, it might be a challenge to stay in the hotel if the hotel will not cater to your dietary needs. So keep that in mind.
At first we were okay to eat the hotel restaurant food, however in the last 2 days we’ve been getting really bad food – uncooked veggies, too much MSG, old tocino (cured meat) and fish.
Somerset with views of Makati skyline
We decided to order FoodPanda (similar to DoorDash in the US) from outside. I got a call from front desk telling us we are not allowed to have our food delivered from outside as it might have COVID.

What’s next

My initial takeaways

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this cumbersome process is worth enduring if you have a true purpose in traveling to the Philippines. Joan and Lola have a sole purpose of bringing her back home, back to her island. She’s waited over a year since her visit to the US, and Lola would be lost if she was alone on this trip. I can’t imagine our elderly citizens to be subjected to follow all of these protocols, to be expected to fill out all of these forms. It’s simply chaotic to say the least.
If the purpose is to simply go on vacation to the Philippines, know that you will initially lose 10 days upon arrival. And know that if you go on further to different parts of country, you could be subjected to adhere to local COVID protocols.
What will I do? I don’t have the same need or purpose like Joan’s. For me, the next time I visit the Philippines, my plan is to explore different islands, and I just do not think that’s quite possible right now. I cannot afford to lose 10 days of my precious vacation days and just stay in quarantine. So for me, I’ll wait. I will wait. Until when? Until this eases….so for now, I wait.
Joan and Lola, thank you for trusting me with your travel tales. I know that it hasn’t been easy. But I wish you nothing but safe return back to Lola’s island, and to you Joan, safe return back to the US….and we will party in the Maldives next year! Maraming salamat po! (Thank you very much).

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By Jason

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