Our South Korean dream is finally coming into fruition. After months of preparation, here we are finally on the day of reckoning.
But alas, there is still one item on our checklist which filled me with apprehension because I feared it would prematurely end my hopes of traveling to South Korea. And that is getting past the immigration officer. When I was collating the visa application requirements, thoughts of how I could get through the airport immigration officer filled my mind. I was being realistic because there is a possibility that I might get denied by the immigration officer, or worse, I might get offloaded even though I already have an approved visa, an itinerary, an accommodation booking and a flight ticket.
Other traveler’s experience of being denied by the immigration officer and being offloaded spiked up my anxiety. To assuage my fears, I tried to search for tips on how to get past this last hurdle with minimum fuss. These blogs were informative but they also made me more scared because I learned that some of those who got denied by the immigration officer are financially capable of supporting their travel. Some even have an extensive history of international travel.
There was another story I heard from an officemate prior to my travel to Korea. He got to experience his first international travel as well so, naturally, we asked him how his experience was. The first thing he related was his encounter with Clark International Airport’s immigration booth. He got asked an array of questions like who he was traveling with, where he works, and whether his leaves were approved. Aside from that, he was also requested to present pictures, emails and other pieces of evidence that will support his assertions. Now that is one scary interrogation. Thankfully, we was permitted to leave the country.
I thought my officemate’s experience was a norm but I soon learned otherwise because my friends, during their first international travels, were not asked those questions nor were they asked to provide any evidence. It only got me confused because I didn’t want to fail the last hurdle to my international travel. Instead of being daunted, I took to mind the real reason why there are immigration officers – they are deterrents to filter those who aim to seem illicit employment abroad. In fact, Filipinos concocted a term for them, TNTs or tago ng tago.
With this in mind, I just prepared all documents to prove that I can support my travel to Korea. I photocopied my bank certification, 2316/ITR, bank statement, and certificate of employment prior to submitting them to the Korean Embassy for visa application. This will ensure that I have spare documents to present the immigration officer should he require them. To assuage my fears, my friends reassured me that I won’t be needing them but I deemed it better to be safe than sorry.
October 21 finally came. I was so nervous that I found myself quite early at the airport, trying to adhere with the airline’s policy of being at the airport at least four hours prior to takeoff. This is my first international travel and I am not yet familiar with the process. By being early, I am affording myself ample time to understand the entire process prior to boarding the plane bound for Korea. Thankfully, my friend, who happens to be traveling abroad for the first time as well, was already there.
My friend and I immediately lined up for check-in and baggage drop-off. When it was finally our turn, we learned that we must first pay for the travel tax before the boarding pass will be issued to us. No time to be embarrassed about our “greenness”, we made a brief detour to the TIEZA counter to pay the travel tax. Credit and debit card can be used when paying travel tax. When we have paid the travel tax, we went back to the check-in counter to retrieve our boarding passes. A brief sigh of relief. Now comes the biggest challenge.
After checking in, we went to the immigration booth. We first filled up the immigration form. Please take note that before being interviewed, the immigration form must be accomplished. There was once a traveler who nearly missed his flight. He ranted online about not being informed about the immigration form and naturally he got trolled for it. Best piece of advice, be very observant of your surroundings. If you see your fellow travelers writing on a form, it is always best to ask about what they are doing.
The immigration form is quite easy to accomplish. After accomplishing the form, we proceeded to the immigration booths. There are a couple of booths but my friend and I chose the booth manned by an older man because we observed that he evaluates quicker than his colleagues.
My friend went first. He was asked the staple questions like destination, length of stay and employment details. He was also asked who he is going with that’s why he pointed to me. However, my friend looked irate as the immigration officer probed further. Ultimately, his visa was stamped approved and sulkily he went at the back of the counter to wait for me. My friend’s irate face flustered me.
When it was my turn, I looked directly at the officer’s face and saw years of experience etched on his face. He looks daunting but I reminded myself that it is his job to probe. I was asked questions like my profession and the nature of my job. I was also asked why my length of stay is longer than my friend’s. Mustering all courage, I confidently answered all his questions without hesitating. Thankfully, he stamped my passport. Please note that passengers are not allowed to take pictures at the immigration both.
My interrogation lasted for about two minutes but as I joined my friend at the departure area, I learned how pissed off he was. He was irritated with the officer’s attitude and what my friend perceived as the officer’s “sense of entitlement”. I tried to explain that it was his job so that entitlement is well-deserved. It’s his job to be very skeptic and sarcastic because he has to weed out possible TNTs. Anyway, we both made it past the immigration so we just need to wait for our boarding time.
Looking back at my experience, I have realized that the reason why I was able to zoom past the entire process because our destination requires visa. The officer was already aware that the necessary financial checks were done prior to our travel. It seems that immigration officers tend to be sterner to those traveling to visa-free countries. However, this is just a personal opinion and may not always be the case. Immigration officers are known to have shifting moods and preferences.
To summarize, international travel process at the airport is as follows:
- Pay travel tax or TIEZA. In NAIA terminal 3, the counters are located at the left corner;
- Proceed to check-in counter for boarding pass and to drop baggage;
- Proceed to immigration area and fill up the immigration form;
- Line up at the immigration booth for interview;
- Be interviewed by the immigration officer before entering the departure area; and
- Enter departure area and wait for announcement for boarding.
Based on my experience, it is easy to get past the immigration officer. Just be confident and be sure of your answers. The officers might be taunting but don’t let their sarcasm get to you. Moreover, just prepare all necessary documents to prove your assertions. They are not required but it is always better to be prepared just in case. Such documents include but are not limited to the following:
- Company ID (this is the most common and most important documentation);
- Return tickets;
- Certificate of employment;
- Bank statement; and
- Itinerary and travel details
The last four items are just for cases of emergency like when the immigration officer is too strict or too skeptic. Thankfully, I wasn’t required to present any of them. But remember, every person is different and so is every immigration officer. It is always best to be ready. Happy travels!
So off we go! Annyeong hasaeyo Daehan Minguk! 🙂