“We will not let you get in the country, you’re going to take the next flight and go back to where you arrive from!” It never happened in my life before, and I didn’t think it would happen to me one day! I guess there’s a first time for everything! I was denied entry to the Philippines, at the Manila airport! And I really had to go back to where I was coming from, namely Brunei. What to do if you’re denied entry at the airport? How to react in front of the customs officers, who refuse to let you enter the territory? Let me explain to you guys, my misadventure, and what you should know if you’re denied entry to a country (no matter which one). I give one more time all the tips about what to do if you’re refused entry at the airport at the end of the article.
I wanted to briefly talk about it in my article about my visit of Manila, but this story deserves its own article. I already said it, but as a black person, the customs officers often spend more time examining my case. It happened so many times (in Ukraine, in Kyrgyzstan, in Sri Lanka, in Vietnam, in Singapore…), so when the Filipino customs officers decided to break my balls, I wasn’t surprised, nor shocked or stressed. I was used to it, and I have nothing to reproach myself for. That’s what it’s like when you’re traveling while black. As usual, they’re going to question me, and they’re gonna end up stamping my passport and let me go. Well… That’s what I was thinking.
But let’s start from the beginning. After spending three days in Brunei, I had to go to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. A two-hours flight, a banal one. My flight was at noon, I was about to get to Manila at 2pm, which meant I would have had some time to have a walk around my hostel at the end of the day. I arrived at the Brunei airport, I checked my backpack, I went through security, I boarded, the flight went smoothly, and I finally made it to Manila at 2pm. I just had to go through customs, get my bag, and head to the city…
At the customs, the customs officer was extremely aggressive and talked to me like a nonentity. After some questions, he asked to see my onward ticket and my hotel reservation. I showed him my hotel reservation, and I explained him that I didn’t have an onward ticket “because I don’t know yet how long I’m gonna stay exactly. Two or three weeks maximum, not more. Anyway I’m not gonna stay more than 30 days, I’ll be gone before that“.
Refusal to stamp my passport
The customs officer inspected my hotel reservation, asked again several times if I had an onward ticket (I repeated the same speech several times… Did he really think I was gonna say something different!?), he also asked what I was doing for a living, why I arrived here without an onward ticket… He was getting excited on his chair, spent a long time watching my passport and analyzed each page. I explained the guy I was long term traveling, which explained all the stamps on my passport. This also explained why I was just passing by, and I had no intentions to stay there. The other travelers behind me started to lose patience, in the other lines the tourists got their passports stamped quickly, but because of me, our line was the slowest one.
Finally the customs officer said “Follow me! I don’t think we’re gonna let you get in the country!” Fuck… It already happened in Singapore, but I didn’t think it would happen again in Southeast Asia. The customs officer brought me to a room, made a hand gesture to his colleagues “Take care of him“, and he left after giving them my passport. There were ten guys, and they barely looked at me, since they were too busy eating their sandwiches.
I waited for like 20 minutes, when finally a tall Filipina stormed in the room. She was even more aggressive than her colleague! She took my passport and bombarded me with questions! She asked 15 times “What’s your name?“, she also asked “Where are you from?” “I’m from France“, and then said she didn’t believe me and “You’re definitely not French!“. This dumb bitch thought I was lying and wanted to test me out in French! What a fucking joke! I told her to fuck off in French, that’s when she realized I could master the language of Moliere! Then she asked me what I was doing here, what I’m doing for a living, blablabla… She asked to see another ID “to make sure you’re really a French citizen“. The chick started to exasperate me with her insolent tone and her shitty questions, so I told her I just had my passport with me “Anyway, if I have a fake passport, your device will see it right? If it doesn’t beep, that means I’m definitely French. Otherwise your device is messing up!“
“You’re not gonna stay here, we’re gonna send you back to France!” I stared at her and said “No you’re not going to send me back to France!” “You think so?” “You can’t do it!” I was standing up to her, and I was responding to her supposedly intimidating questions, and I could tell she didn’t appreciate it. Her face was like two inches away from my passport and I was watching her with a certain arrogance, sank into my chair. She left the room with my passport and a colleague. I never saw her again, her colleague came back alone and told me I couldn’t stay.
Sent back to my departure city
“What do you mean? You’re refusing me entry to the country!? You cannot send me back to France!” “No no, we’re not gonna send you back to France, but your flight arrived from Brunei, so we’re gonna send you back there” “It’s absurd to do that! You’re sending me back there just because I don’t have an onward ticket!? Give me the WiFi password and I’ll buy an onward ticket right away in front of you guys” “No sorry it’s too late, you had to buy this onward ticket BEFORE getting here. We cannot keep you here“
I’m not gonna lie, this employee was really nice compared to the other ones “You’re gonna take the next flight to Brunei, tomorrow at 7pm” Let’s use a bit of bluff “What!!!??? Tomorrow at 7pm!? It’s 3pm!!! I’m not gonna wait for more than 24 hours in this room!? If you really don’t want me to stay here, put me in the actual next flight, instead of making me wait here for nothing! I checked a few hours ago, there’s a flight going to Brunei this afternoon!” “Really…? Wait a minute, I’m gonna check” I had absolutely no idea when was the next flight, but I didn’t want to stay that long in this room, in the middle of all those customs officers.
The employee came back a few minutes later “You’re right, there’s a flight in 30 minutes. Get up, we have to hurry, I don’t want you to miss it!” I was taken short! I wanted to save time but now they were REALLY about to send me back to where I was coming from. I tried to save time again “Man you’re not gonna do that!? Gimme the WiFi password, I’ll buy an onward ticket, you let me go and we all forget about it!” “No it’s too late. Come on, let’s go!” “But… What about my backpack!? It’s still over there, waiting for me at the airport’s carousel, after the customs!” Another guy came out of nowhere with my backpack “No worries, it’s here! Come on, follow us!” “But… You just said the plane takes off in half an hour. I thought you have to check your luggage two hours before!?” “No worries“
This is when I realized they were really about to send me back to Brunei. We walked through dark hallways, I passed through some kind of VIP security, and I arrived at the boarding gate. Actually all the passengers had already boarded, I was the last one boarding. A dozen of employees were waiting for me. “Guys I’m gonna go back there, they’re gonna ask for my hotel reservation and my onward ticket and as you all know, I don’t have them. That means I’m gonna be stuck. I cannot get in here, and they won’t let me get in there either!” The guys looked bothered, I thought I finally found a loophole! They were watching me and started whispering about my case, they clearly didn’t know what to do. Finally one of them said “We’re gonna explain them what happened to you, you’ll be able to go through customs there“. A guy took my bag to put it in the luggage bay, and I boarded on plane… A flight attendant took my passport and told me “You’ll get it back after landing“
Being denied entry to a country, I didn’t think it would happen to me! They asked me to sit on a special row where I was by myself. Apparently this row is for special cases only. The plane was full except on my row where I was alone. It was quite funny, those were the same flight attendants as my first flight a few hours before, and they recognized me. I had another meal, and once again the flight went smoothly.
Back to square one
Back to Brunei, at 6pm. Before leaving the plane, I asked a flight attendant my passport, and she told me to wait a minute. Another employee arrived, took my passport, and asked me to follow him. He was really nice, he apologized for what happened and said “That’s how it is in the Philippines. They’re annoying with citizens from poor countries but I don’t understand why they bothered you, you have a French passport…” “Yeah I’m French but I’m still black…” He laughed.
I passed through the Brunei customs with the employee, who explained my situation to the customs officer. I collected my bag at the airport’s carousel, and the employee said “If you wanna go back to the Philippines, you’re gonna have to buy a new plane ticket, plus an onward ticket of course…” In Manila, I had to meet up with travelers I met in Chaing Mai and in Vientiane, I didn’t really have no choice. I checked on the internet, and I found a cheap flight that same evening, at 11:30pm. Perfect! I also had to buy an onward ticket. I hate to have a set amount of time in a country, I like to wander here and there depending on my mood, but this time I had no choice. I was like “Let’s stay two weeks in the Philippines“, and I bought an onward ticket to Hong Kong. That’s why I only visited Palawan Island in the country.
All right, since I had my new plane ticket and on onward ticket, the nice employee left. At 9pm, I checked my luggage, I passed through security and I peacefully waited to board to FINALLY make it to Manila. One hour before the takeoff, three employees of the airline company came up to me “You’re the guy who went to Manila earlier today? And they sent you back here?” “Yeah that’s me. Why?” “You’re gonna have to come back here” “Huh!?” “I mean… You’re gonna have to buy a new plane ticket Manila Brunei!“
A new plane ticket to buy
“And why do I have to pay for another plane ticket again???” “Sir, this afternoon, you were refused entry to the Philippines and you took a plane to come back here. You had lunch in this plane right?” “Yes” “As you know, taking a plane is not free. So you have to pay for the flight you took to send you back here. You always have to pay when you take a flight. Just buy whatever flight Manila Brunei, pick any day this year, show us a proof of payment, and we’ll let you board tonight“
Indeed, taking a flight is not free. Indeed I had lunch during the flight, and they sent me back in Brunei. Therefore it seems logical that I have to pay for this flight ticket, for this unwanted flight I took a few hours earlier. In this case, when employees from an airline company ask passengers to pay for this flight, usually those passengers just pay. But actually this flight is at the airline company’s expense. But since it annoys them to pay for it, they try to shift everything onto the shoulders of the passengers with their twisted turns of phrases. But I knew I didn’t have to pay for that flight, and I had no intentions to do so.
We started a dialogue of the deaf “No I don’t have to pay” “Yes you have to!” “No” etc… They put pressure on me to buy this Manila Brunei plane ticket. They didn’t want to be the net loser but I didn’t back down. Moreover my passport was already stamped! “Moreover I don’t have internet access so whatever happens, I cannot buy this ticket” That wasn’t true, I had internet on my phone. Since I realized we couldn’t reach an agreement, I had to try something. I told them “Wait a minute, I’ll be back soon“
I left with a firm and determined tread, and I went to the toilets, where I waited for like 10 minutes, doing nothing in there. I was about to get out when I heard the voice of the airport calling me “Roobens, we’re waiting for you at gate number 6! Roobens, you need to go IMMEDIATELY to gate number 6!” All right I’m coming, you’ll see! I went to gate number 6, the three employees were waiting for me there. I had my smartphone in evidence in my hand, and I told them “I just called my lawyer in France, I explained him the situation and I have nothing to pay. The plane ticket is at your expense. The person at fault is the employee who checked my luggage this morning and let me board, without asking for my onward ticket. I was refused entry to the Philippines in Manila, they sent me back here, and you’re not happy because you don’t want to pay for this ticket, you want me to do it. But I don’t have to, and that’s the law. My new flight to Manila takes off in one hour, and I’m gonna board! Without paying one more penny!“
All right you already know, I didn’t call anyone (and I don’t have a lawyer…). But this time the employees were completely confused. They talked for a few minutes, and then they said “All right… Since you don’t want to pay for this plane ticket, we will…” “No no, it’s not that I don’t want to, I don’t have to pay for it!” “Ok ok, you won’t pay for this plane ticket. We’re gonna take a picture of your passport and you’ll be able to board. The employee who let you board this morning will be sanctioned“. I’m probably on their blacklist now but that’s fine. I’m unlikely to take one of their flights in the future.
No onward ticket
I was able to board without paying the flight I took a few hours earlier (anyway I didn’t have to pay for it). I thought about the first flight I took at noon. When I checked my luggage, the guy had asked me “Where are you going after the Philippines?” I said “Hong Kong“. He asked if I had an onward ticket and I said “Not yet“. He hesitated, but he gave me my boarding pass to go to Manila. Maybe we’re both at fault, but if he had asked me to pay for an onward ticket in order to board, obviously I would have done it, I would have had no choice! During the second check-in at 9pm, the employee did ask for my onward ticket, and I had it this time. The guy who checked my luggage that morning will get in trouble. He’s gonna get a rap on the knuckles, for sure. I understood why he hesitated to give me my boarding pass. He knew he could get in trouble if I was denied entry to the Philippines.
Once again arrived at my destination city
Anyway, it was the second time that day I took a Brunei Manila flight. It was 11:30pm and I was tired after this long day. We made it to Manila at 2 in the morning. This time, everything was ready. Onward ticket, hotel reservation… At the customs, the guy didn’t ask for anything! In fact, he asked how long I planned to stay, the name of the hotel (but he didn’t ask to see the reservation), and what I was doing for a living. Then he stamped my passport and let me go! Wow! All that for nothing!!! I was a bit pissed but anyway!
I made it to the hostel a little bit before 3am. I had sent them an email telling them “I’ll get there late” and they responded “No worries, we’re open 24/7!“. Indeed they were open, a few backpackers were there, playing cards and eating pizza. I told my story at the reception -and the backpackers who were listening- and they were all going crazy “No shit!!!!!! You can’t be serious!!! They did send you back where you come from! That’s crazy!!!!!!” “Yeah, I should have been here at like 3pm, and I’m making it here now, in the middle of the night…“
I played a game. During my whole stay in the Philippines, I asked all the travelers I met how it went for them at the customs, and if they asked for an onward ticket. I had been traveling in Southeast Asia for months at that time, and I couldn’t picture ALL the backpackers going to the Philippines with an onward ticket. So many of them travel with no plan, just wandering… What are the results of my little survey? In about half of the cases, the customs officers didn’t ask for an onward ticket. In the other half, they asked for that ticket. But when the backpackers were asked to see that ticket, most of them didn’t have one. And…? And still, they were able to get in the country! Apparently, getting in the country -or not- depends on the mood of the customs officer, but it also depends on your face I guess… Filipino guys told me there’s a big anti-drugs policy right now in the country. And we all know drug dealers are usually black…
What you should know if you’re refused entry to a country
- First thing first, do not panic! You’re gonna waste time, energy and money but your safety is not questioned.
- Before going to your destination, check on your Foreign Affairs ministry website the administrative formalities to get in the country. In my case, I did it after getting to the Philippines… And this is where I read that quite often Filipino customs officers want to see your onward ticket.
- When you check your luggage, if they ask to see your onward ticket, show it. If you don’t have one but they still let you board on plane, I suggest you to buy one in order to avoid being denied entry to your destination country.
- If they don’t let you board without an onward ticket, don’t take it personally, it’s normal. The airline company wants to avoid taking risks (you’re refused entry to your destination country, meaning they’ll have to pay for your return flight).
- Once you get to your destination, if you’re denied entry to the country, try to negotiate first “Is it possible to enter the country if I buy an onward ticket right now?” If you’re lucky, they’ll be fine with that. Otherwise, they’ll send you back where you come from.
- How do you get your checked luggage back at the airport if you are denied entry to your destination country? An employee will give it to you.
- The basic rule you need to know. This “return” flight is at the airline company’s expense! You have nothing to pay!!! They’ll say you have to pay for this ticket, do not back down! The law is by your side!
- Is it possible to be denied entry to a country purely for not speaking the language? Theorically no, but it’s not impossible.
- As usual, do not travel without a travel insurance! Here are more tips about why you should buy travel insurance.