Philippines Expat Guide To Returning To The USA

Philippines Expat Guide To Returning To The USA

Table Of Contents:


Things Change

Have you been living in the Philippines for five or ten years?.

Has you US state driver's license expired?

Have you cancelled your US credit cards? Do you know what your current credit profile looks like?

Many things can change what we thought was a permanent move to the Philippines.

Maybe you have a son or daughter who will go to college in the US. 

Or maybe you just decided that you want to work again.

Returning to the US after a decade living in the Philippines can be a challenge.

Before you move to the Philippines you should a contingency plan for a return to the United States, because everything changes with time. 

You Will Need Credit To Travel

Don't wait until the last minute to consider your credit profile. It can take a long time to fix a problem that you don't even know that you have.

Do you have a low credit limit. Do you have bad credit? Do you know? I suggest getting acquainted with your credit report and score.

Don't wait. You should be doing that now.

It could take anywhere from days all the way to eternity to get your credit shaped up for a trip back to the US, depending upon your situation.

If your credit profile is in particularly poor shape or you do not have any active credit accounts, then you may need to start building it up with a secured credit card:
A secured credit card is a type of credit card secured by a deposit account owned by the cardholder. Typically, the cardholder must deposit between 100% and 200% of the total amount of credit desired. Thus if the cardholder puts down $1,000, they will be given credit in the range of $500–1,000. In some cases, credit card issuers will offer incentives even on their secured card portfolios. In these cases, the deposit required may be significantly less than the required credit limit, and can be as low as 10% of the desired credit limit. This deposit is held in a special savings account. Credit card issuers offer this because they have noticed that delinquencies were notably reduced when the customer perceives something to lose if the balance is not repaid.
After a few years of little to no activity on your credit report you become an unknown risk to the card companies. Credit cards that you maintained a good payment history with will give your credit rating a boost for up to ten years after having been closed. The bad ones only stay on the record for seven years. 

A secured card is one of your options when you have few credit options. It may take a year or two but you can build that initial secured card with a $500 limit into a couple of unsecured cards with a $10,000 limit or more.

A $10,000 credit limit is the low end of what I would consider as necessary for a return to the states (augmented by cash reserves and ongoing income). More would be better. You need to determine what you need and start working to get your credit limit and cash reserves up to that number.

Most of the big ticket items involved with return to the states require a credit card or work a lot easier with one than without one.

estimate of return cost

Rental Car Insurance

The collision damage waiver and liability insurance that rental car companies offer at the time of your rental can be a little pricey. Normally, you would be covered by the insurance that you have on your daily driver auto. However, if you have been living in the Philippines for years that likely does not apply.

Many credit cards will provide the collision damage waiver as a free benefit if you book the rental with the card. You need to become well acquainted with the fine print in your card’s policies regarding what is and is not covered by the “free” CDW that comes with your card. And remember that you still need liability coverage.

Keep in mind that if you do damage the rental car you will have to settle that cost before you can file any claim.

This is true even if it's the other guy's fault.

If you rent a $25,000 vehicle and total it, then you may be asked to settle that expense plus other costs with the rental company immediately. Can your card limit handle it?

Liability Insurance is at least as critical as CDW. I would not want to start off my return to the states by having to pay tens of thousands of dollars due to an accident for which I did not have liability insurance.

Rental Vehicle Insurance Options

Buy Insurance From The Rental Car Company

You can purchase liability and or collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance from the rental company. Each one will cost approximately $10 per day. Be sure to understand exactly what is and is not covered by each insurance option that you purchase.

Maintain A Non-Owner's Auto Insurance Policy

In advance of traveling to the US and perhaps before you ever come to the Philippines you could acquire a non-owner's auto insurance policy. Apparently, there are people who maintain this type of policy, while living overseas. Non-owners auto insurance could be useful for intermittent rentals and also to make it easier to transition to an owner's policy when you buy. 

Your driving record is a lot like your credit record and even more sensitive to a blank spot. After a few years of lapsed coverage the insurance companies may evaluate you as the same way that they reckon someone with no driving history. They have to account for an unknown risk and they will do that with higher premiums. A non-owners policy will keep you on the books so that you never fall into the category of unknown risk.

Buy A Car Online

Avoid the rental car and find a permanent vehicle on a site like Cars Direct or

You can pick three or four vehicles a few days before arrival and then make the final decision in person. Work with an insurance agent before you ever get to the US to ensure that you are fully covered before you leave the sales lot.

I did this before and Cars Direct even picked me up from the airport.

Long Term Rental Housing

Many landlords require that you have a minimum credit score. What if you pick out a nice place only to discover that the landlord requires you to have a minimum credit score of 700 and you do not even know what yours is? You can prevent that by maintaining your credit, while living in the Philippines.

In planning for long-term rental calculate enough cash to cover first month, last month and security deposit and be prepared to pay this in cash - just in case. 

Driver's License

I do not want my US license to expire leaving me with no license at all, so before that happens I need to go down to the LTO and apply for a Philippine driver's license.

I have been busy updating because LTO is 404-ing a lot of pages. Be aware that things change fast and frequently.

Requirements for conversion of a foreign driver's license:
  1. Duly accomplished Application for Driver's License (ADL) form;
  2. Original and one (1) photocopy of passport with entry date of at least one (1) month and visa duration of at least twelve (12) months from date of application; 
  3. Original and machine copy of valid visa or Alien Certificate of Registration (ACR) if the foreign applicant temporarily resides in the Philippines;
  4. Electronically transmitted medical certificate in LTO prescribed form (present original);
  5. Original and one (1) photocopy of valid foreign DL. If the foreign Driver’s License is not in English language, original and one (1) photocopy of official English translation; 
  6. Original copy of drug test result issued by DOH Accredited Drug Testing Center; 
The meaning of #2 above is that you must be in the Philippines at least one month before you apply for a license and when you apply you must have a visa that allows you to stay in the Philippines for at least one year beyond that date on which you are making your license application. This bars all temporary visas. If you do happen to slip through the cracks and get a license anyway beware. If you are stopped by the PNP they will probably seize your license.

If you are converting a foreign license that is valid, then no exams are required. If it is expired, then you will be subject to both practical and written exams.

In the US, when you apply for a license in a different state you must turn over your old license. This is NOT the case when you apply for a Philippine driver's license. Make sure that you get your US driver's license back.

The fee for conversion of a foreign driver's license is 752.63 PHP.

You can download the driver's license application or fill out a copy from your local LTO.

A Philippine driver's license is valid for five (5)years:
Non-professional driver's licenses, professional driver's licenses and conductor's licenses shall be valid and effective for five (5) consecutive years reckoned from the birthdate of the licensee, unless sooner revoked or suspended.
Note the statement, "reckoned from the birthdate of the licensee." If you want it to be valid for a full five years, then apply on your birthdate, because the timer begins on your last birthdate not your next birthdate.

In most locations the medical certificate is required to be transmitted online directly from the examining physician to LTO:
LTO System hard validation of medical certificates will start on February 4, 2019 (Monday) in the NCR.
LTO-IT System will automatically prohibit transactions requiring medical examination certificates unless such are electronically uploaded.
Please ensure that the doctors where you get your medical certificates has already uploaded it to the LTO IT System before you proceed to LTO Office with the hard copy.
You can check/look at the computer screen to make sure of the uploading in the LTO IT System.
There may still be some locations that have not yet adopted online transmission, but they will eventually all require it. I am hearing that the exam fee ranges 500-600PHP.

LTO does have an online appointment system, but if you visit that site you will see that in order to use it you must input your existing Philippines driver's license number. You will not be able to use the online system for your initial license.

Be sure to follow the dress code whenever you visit any LTO office:

To avoid being scammed or misled be sure to avoid fake LTO websites, email addresses and FaceBook pages. Check the official LTO FaceBook for a listing of all legitimate sites for LTO.

Staying current with a Philippine driver's license may not make it easier  to get a US state driver's license, but at least you will be able to use it temporarily to get around. 

If you do not have a valid US state license, then be prepared to take all of the written & road tests for a state license. If you do have a valid state driver's license, then you will be required to turn it over (why?) if you are attempting to get a license in a different state. The good news is no tests! usually.

If you do have a Philippine driver's license, then you will be able to keep that. 

You will be required to establish residency according to state laws before applying for a driver's license.

Keep in mind during this time of COVID that the LTO may turn you away if you are older than 59 years of age.

Emigration Clearance Certificate

If you have been in the Philippines for many years, as I have, then you will be required to obtain an Emigration Clearance Certificate prior to leaving:
BI Spokesperson Elaine Tan said that based on airport statistics, foreign nationals who failed to present their ECCs comprised 33% of travelers who were denied departure. “It is unfortunate that we have to deny the travel of our foreign friends, but we have to implement the law”, Tan said.

Section 22-A of the Philippine Immigration Act provides that a foreign national who is about to depart from the Philippines temporarily or for good should seek clearance from the Commissioner of Immigration to insure that the foreign national has no pending obligation with the government of the Philippines.
Two Types Of ECC

The ECC-A is for those who are departing the Philippines permanently:
  • The following foreign nationals are required to secure regular ECCs at any of the 17 BI offices and present the same upon departure:
    • Holders of Temporary Visitor Visa (tourist visa) who have stayed in the Philippines for six months or more;
    • Holders of expired or downgraded immigrant or non-immigrant visas;
    • Holders of valid immigrant or non-immigrant visas who are leaving for good;
    • Philippine-born foreign nationals who will depart from the Philippines for the first time;
    • Holders of tourist visa with Order to Leave;
    • Seafarers who have stayed in the Philippines for 30 days or more.
  • Applications for regular ECCs shall be filed three days prior to departure and shall be valid for one month upon issuance. Foreign nationals must submit the following requirements upon filing of the application:
    • Application form;
    • Photocopy of passport (bio page, visa pages, latest arrival);
    • Original and photocopy of ACR I-Card;
    • Photocopy of receipt of latest visa extension;
    • Photocopy of order of downgrading (if applicable);
    • Five pieces 2x2 photo
According to BI Order No. SBM-2015-00, you may apply for your ECC-B at the airport if you:
a) Are leaving the country within twenty-four (24) hours and with Boarding Pass;
b) Stayed in the Philippines for six (6) months but not more than one (1) year;
c) Are a holder of a valid Temporary Visitor’s Visa (TVV);
d) Have no pending obligation with the Government, its instrumentalities, agencies and subdivisions, and have no pending criminal, civil or administrative action which by law requires your presence in the Philippines; and
e) Are registered under the Alien registration Program (ARP) and were issued a Special security Registration Number (SSRN).
The airport ECC-B is also available for holders of valid immigrant or non-immigrant visas who have an ACR-I card and intend to return to the Philippines.

Fees for ECC:
  • 1210 PHP (approximately) 
  • Additional fees may be charged if the foreign national is found to have arrears.
If you get an ECC-A, then make certain that you get both a receipt for payment AND the actual ECC certificate.

Even though the BoI directive states that, as a 13a holder, I can obtain my ECC at the airport I am a little concerned about leaving that to chance and being told something different when I get to the airport. Having never done this before, I still want to talk to BoI about it to put my mind at ease.

I googled "Emigration Clearance Certificate" and read everything I could find about other people's experiences.

Travel Documents Required For Dual Citizens

According to the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs, it is possible for dual nationality holders to depart the Philippines with only a foreign passport if they present a Philippine citizenship document (like a certificate of naturalization):
Filipinos with dual or multiple citizenships are advised to present both their Philippine and foreign passports in order to avoid paying the Emigration Certificate Clearance (ECC) fee. This is also to ensure that all arrival and departure records are reflected completely on both passports. Those who had only presented only a foreign passport at the time of their admission into the Philippines may be cleared for departure without need of surrendering a certificate, permit or proof of payment of imposable immigration fees, provided they present, at the time of departure, a genuine and valid Philippine passport or an Identification Certificate.

On the foreign passport, the immigration officer shall stamp either of the following, whichever is applicable: “PP” – if a Philippine passport is also presented, or “IC” – if an Identification Certificate is presented.

If the traveler fails to present both his Philippine passport or Identification Certificate, at both arrival and departure, he shall be assessed an Emigration Certificate Clearance (ECC) fee of P710.00 for using a foreign passport upon departure.

So this can be done. But the question now is should it be done. I do not want to take the chance of getting to the airport and running into a customs officer who, for whatever reason, does not want to accept anything that is not a passport.

If at all possible GET A PHILIPPINE PASSPORT for everyone in your traveling party who needs one and do not rely upon a citizenship document to exit the Philippines.

Traveling Cash

When you depart the Philippines for the US (or any foreign country) it will be necessary to have a certain amount of both Philippine currency and currency for your destination country.

There are limits for how much currency you can physically transport out of the Philippines:

Philippine Peso Limit:

A person may bring into (import) or take out of (export) the Philippines, either physically or by electronical transfer, legal tender Philippine currency of an amount not exceeding PHP 50,000 (fifty thousand pesos, Philippine currency) without prior authorization from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. The monetary forms include legal tender Philippine notes and coins, checks, money order and other bills of exchange drawn in Philippine Pesos against banks operating in the Philippines.

The increase to PHP 50,000 in the allowable amount of Philippine currency brought in or out of the Philippines took effect on 15 September 2016, per Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Circular No. 922, series of 2016, dated 23 August 2016, titled “The Amendments of the Rules on Cross-Border Transfer of Local Currency”.

Any excess amount not covered by specific written BSP authorization is subject to confiscation by the Philippine Bureau of Customs.

Foreign Currency Limit:

A person may carry up to the amount of USD 10,000 (or equivalent in any other foreign currency), in cash or other monetary instruments, into and out of the Philippines. Other monetary instruments include travellers’ checks, other checks, drafts, notes, money orders, bonds, deposit certificates, securities, commercial papers, trust certificates, custodial receipts, deposit substitute instruments, trading orders, transaction tickets and confirmation of sale/investment.

If a person wishes to bring more that the equivalent of USD 10,000, a written declaration must be made in the form of the BSP’s “Foreign Currency and Other FX-Denominated Bearer Monetary Instruments Declaration Form” which may be downloaded from
I would count on at least 10,000 PHP in airport fees for every person in the traveling party and as much USD as I would be comfortable carrying without having to declare it.

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