So, you decided to work abroad. You have applied for a job and you received an offer from a prospective employer. You passed your medical exam and you were happy with the offer so you accepted it by signing a contract. Your employment agency helped you with the processing of your documents then informed you your flight schedule. Congratulations!
You are now standing in front of the departure area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) armed only with the courage of comic-book superheroes (By this time you begin to realize first-hand the truth behind the often ignored phrase, “bagong bayani”). The true battle begins here since first time OFWs are a little clueless on what to do at the airport in spite of PDOS (Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar). Sometimes, you will be travelling alone. You are lucky if you have companions. Either way, I hope this guide would help you through this stage.
It would be best to arrive at least 3 hours before your scheduled flight. Security procedures and long lines in every step of the way might delay you and make you miss your flight.
A. PREPARE YOUR DOCUMENTS
First of all, make sure you have the following:
3. Flight itinerary or e-ticket, or, your plane ticket/boarding pass if already provided
4. OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate)
5. If seaman, Seaman’s book
6. Employment Contract
7. Letter of Guarantee (If available)
8. NBI clearance
9. Valid IDs
10. PDOS Certificate
11. Black or blue pen
Items 1 to 5 should be at hand at all times. Items 6-10 usually are not required and so you could keep them in your hand-carry bag. But immigration officers inside the terminal sometimes ask these documents so you should have them ready. Item 11 is a must-have. You will be filling up forms later.
B. HAVE YOUR OEC VALIDATED AT THE OWWA LOUNGE
Usually, you will fly from NAIA Terminal 1 and so, the OWWA lounge entrance is at the right side of the airport.
The OEC validation station is a door beyond the common area. Give your passport, e-ticket, and OEC for stamping (only the OEC will be stamped, the passport and e-ticket is only for verification purpose). If they ask for other documents, give it to them but those three are the essential ones.
After OEC validation, you can stay awhile at the lounge especially if you have come too early for your flight. Inside the lounge, there’s toilet, food, chairs, cellphone load, tv.
Note: for SEAMEN, NO NEED TO HAVE YOUR OEC VALIDATED.
C. ENTER THE AIRPORT
Non-passengers are not allowed inside the terminal. So, this is the time when you say your goodbyes.
Outside the departure entrance, airport guards will be checking your passport and e-ticket before they will let you in. At the entrance, the first security screen will take place. Put all your baggage on the conveyor belt then pass through the scanner. If the scanner detects metal on you, a security guard will use a handheld scanner on your person. A word of advise, put all your metal objects in your hand-carry baggage (like belt, watch, coins, keys, etc.) prior to security screen to hasten the process.
D. GO TO THE CHECK-IN COUNTER
About 2-3 hours before departure, the airline you are booked in will start checking-in passengers. Check your e-ticket if you don’t know the airline name or flight number. Go to the check-in counter and give your passport and e-ticket. Actually, you can give only your passport, no need for the e-ticket since they already have your booking record. Sometimes, they will ask for the Letter of Guarantee or OEC or other documents but oftentimes they don’t. Nevertheless, have them ready.
After checking your booking, the attendant will ask you to put your check-in baggage on the conveyor belt. It will be weighed, tagged, and sent to the plane. They will sometimes ask you to put your hand-carry bag for weighing as well especially if it looks too large for a hand-carry bag.
Baggage weight limit is usually 20kg for check-in and 7kg for hand carry. Long trips sometimes peg the limit at 30kg. The baggage limit information is included in your e-ticket so it is best to know this when you were packing. If you go beyond the limit, the airline will charge you an excess baggage fee of around $25.00 per kg excess. The fee depends on the airline.
If you have companions and one or two of you have a baggage with more than the limit weight, you can go together at the check-in counter and have all your bags weighed. That way, the excess weight will be distributed among your baggage weight allowance.
You should not put your important documents in your check-in baggage as well as fragile objects like laptop, tablet pc, etc. Keep them in your hand-carry bags as you can handle them with care yourself. The documents, on the other hand, might be needed at the immigration gate at the NAIA or country of destination. Once checked-in, you cannot go and get your bag for the documents. If you can’t show them the documents when asked, you might be denied entry.
Next, the attendant will give you your departure card, plane ticket/boarding pass and baggage claim stab. She will also tell you the gate number, seat number, and boarding time of your flight.
E. PASS THROUGH TERMINAL FEE GATE
For non-OFW passengers, they are required to pay Airport tax (1650.00) and Terminal Fee (750.00). For OFWs, however, these fees are waived. Pass through the OFW gate and give your passport, plane ticket, and OEC. The OEC is proof that you don’t have to pay Airport Tax and Terminal Fee.
Fill up the departure card given to you at the check-in counter. If they forgot to give you, you can get one scattered at the writing tables at the immigration area. If there is none, you can go back to the guy at the OFW gate and ask for departure card. If, still, none available (believe me, it happens at the NAIA), you can ask any airport personnel there. The important thing is, you have to fill up one before going to the immigration counter. They will not kill you if you don’t have one but then you will be sent back to the end of the long line. Avoid the hassle.
Once you filled up the departure card, go to the immigration counter. Give your passport, visa, OEC, plane ticket, and departure card to the immigration officer (IO). If seaman, include your seaman’s book. The IO might ask other documents like the letter of guarantee, contract, and identification cards so you should have all your documents ready. But do not give any document not asked. The IO will also ask some questions and you should answer them honestly and correctly.
If your documents are in order, the IO will stamp departure date on your passport (and seaman’s book if seaman), give you back your documents, less departure card, and then you can pass through the gate.
It is important to know that the IO has the power to deny you leaving the country. So, be sure your documents are complete (and legally acquired, I might add) and that you answer his questions correctly.
G. SECOND SECURITY SCREEN
After immigration gate, you will pass through another security screen. Put your hand carry bag on the conveyor belt and your cellphone, jacket, coins, keys, wallet, etc. on a tray, also to pass through the scanner. Pass through the security scanner. If it detects metal on you, a security personnel will again scan you with a handheld scanner. Again, you should have put all your metal objects in your hand carry bag to hasten the process. Sometimes, if you have laptop or tablet pc in your hand carry bag, they will require you to bring them out and put them in a tray.
Before, passengers were required to remove shoes but that is no longer required.
H. SOUVENIR SHOPS, TOILETS, WAITING LOUNGE, RESTAURANTS
After the last security screen are the shops, toilets, lounge, restaurants, etc. You can shop around or eat if you choose to but mind you, things here are expensive. You can also wait at the lounge area for your boarding time or go to the toilet. But you have to remember you should be at your boarding gate at least 15 minutes prior to boarding time. Directions to your boarding gate is overhead so you will not easily get lost.
I. BOARDING GATE
Check your seat number on your ticket so that you would know when you are going to board the plane. When the flight attendants start calling for boarding, they prioritize VIPs, Business class, First class, senior citizens, passengers with children, and disabled persons. After that, they would call by seat numbers. First, for passengers seated at the back then those seated in front.
Before boarding the plane, it is advisable to turn off all your electronic gadgets especially those with wifi and bluetooth capabilities as these might interfere with the navigation system of the plane.
At the boarding gate, give your passport and plane ticket to the attendant. She will get the bigger portion of the ticket and give you back your passport and the smaller portion of the ticket.
J. INSIDE THE PLANE
Attendants at the entrance of the plane will guide you to your seat. Store your hand-carry bag in the overhead compartment or under the seat in-front of you (some airlines do not allow this). Once seated and before the plane taxi to the runway, fasten your seatbelt. Before the flight, you will be shown a safety video or demonstration by the cabin crew.
Then comes the thrilling part for the first time OFW (who is usually first time on a plane), take off.
Once the plane is at cruising altitude, you will be informed that you can unfasten you seat belt. You can go to the toilet if you want but you are not allowed to loiter around.
During the flight, the cabin crew will offer drinks, then, meals. This is not true for budget airlines and short flights however.
Entertainment on board is in the form of individual flat screens where you can watch movies, listen to music, or play games. This is also not true for budget airlines and short flights.
Sometimes, the plane will experience turbulence (it will shake like that of a bus on a rough road). Just keep your seat belt fastened and relax. Do not think that the plane is about to crush. You see, air travel is considered the safest means of transportation. You have a better chance of being hit by lightning twice than getting involved in a plane accident. Planes are also subjected to rigorous testing before commissioning and are equipped with the latest safety features. So, just relax, and make sure your drinks will not spill on your clothes.
K. ARRIVAL AT COUNTRY OF DESTINATION
You are now at the destination airport and so far, you’re good. Upon disembarking the plane, proceed to the arrival area. There, you are again required to fill up forms for customs and immigration purposes. Sometimes, the cabin crew will provide these forms and you can fill them up on the plane. But in case you were not given these forms, you can get them at the writing table before the immigration gate. If you have the so called, “Visa upon arrival”, there is a section were you could get the original copy of your visa. Just submit your passport and visa copy to the personnel and he will give you the original.
Same as the immigration at the NAIA, the IO will check your documents and ask a few questions then if all are in order, you will be allowed through the gate.
Next thing to do is to claim your baggage. There will be several belts at the claim area so look for the one with your flight number and wait for your checked-in baggage there.
Once you have your baggage, proceed to the exit. Depending on the arrangement with your employer but usually, someone will be sent to pick you up at the airport. Look for someone holding a placard with your name on it.
As soon as you step outside the terminal and officially in a foreign country, countdown starts, “Day 1”. Henceforth, may the force be with you. May the odds be ever in your favor.