As the world continues its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, OFW and migrant Filipinos are just as affected in the hundreds of countries they are staying in, even inside the comforts of their homes. Some more than others as a surge of cases have been seen in countries like India, Brazil, the United States, and our very own, the Philippines.
In late 2019, an outbreak of the infectious viral disease first occurred in Wuhan, China. It was not immediately contained and many travelers in and out of that area who were infected traveled back to hundreds of places, thus spreading the respiratory disease. Millions of Filipinos were not prepared for a lockdown that would turn out to be a lengthy one, spanning over a year. Leaving the house was not allowed and many did not know what to do during this quarantine period.
It was only in late January 2020 when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). By then, it was already too late as some countries were taken aback and were not equipped to immediately close off borders, halt travels, and impost strict travel guidelines.
A year after, most of the world is still in a precarious position. While several vaccines have been approved for public use, access to them is still limited because the high demand is not equal to the available supply. Travel was completely banned in some countries in the first few months of quarantine. However, closing off borders was not a sustainable solution as the economy continued to halt and eventually decline. A few countries then started allowing travel but only for those who were medically cleared to do so or had priority business overseas.
More months passed and now a good number of countries have finally lifted their bans on traveling but only under the condition that travelers adhere to public safety protocols. If you are an OFW or migrant Filipino planning on returning home to the Philippines, read on to know more about what you should expect before traveling.
Travel Guidelines for OFWs
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has released guidelines for OFW and migrant Filipinos traveling into the country last February 1, 2021. As of writing, these guidelines are still in place. All international passengers arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) will follow the latest travel safety protocols implemented by the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
No matter your business in the country, whether you are an OFW investor, businessperson, or simply going home to see family, as long as you are a Filipino international passenger, you will be allowed entry into the country. There are two categories for travelers: OFWs and ROFs.
OFWs or Overseas Filipino Workers are people who left the country to pursue work or a career abroad. International students, tourists, and Balikbayans are often considered as non-OFWs or ROFs (Returning Overseas Filipinos). For this article, detailed OFW travel guidelines as published by the DFA will be listed below.
- Pre-register for a COVID-19 RT-PCR test or a swab test. As early as possible before your departure, fill up the e-CIF (Electronic Case Investigation Form) below. Check your email after and see if you have been sent a confirmation email with your QR code. Save both the email and code for later use.
- Create or update your account on OASIS (OFW Assistance Information System), which is for land-based OFWs. You can access it at oasis.owwa.gov.ph.
- Download the TRAZE App and sign up for an account. This is the contact tracing app that you must have when traveling via airports in the Philippines. Your app will be checked by airline staff upon check-in.
- You will be asked to sign the Declaration and Waiver form upon checking in. By signing this, you are declaring that you are healthy and fit to travel. Be ready to present the QR code that was sent to you when you filled out the eCIF.
- Make sure to fill up all of the documents handed over to you by the airline staff which may include:
- Health Declaration Form
- Bureau of Customs Form
- Arrival Card
- Double-check your documents such as your passport, valid IDs, others, and the test results of your swab test. This is to ensure that your departure, flight, and arrival will go as smoothly as possible, not just for your safety but for the other passengers and crew as well.
- Upon arrival at your intended destination, you will be given a briefing by the airline staff together with the Philippine Coast Guard. Pay close attention during the briefing so you know what to do and who to contact in case of emergencies, especially if you are traveling alone or have no family or friends to call on nearby.
- Basic safety protocols will be implemented such as temperature check, disinfection, and sanitation. This will happen before you exit the aircraft. You will also need to hand over your Health Declaration Form to the staff at the exit point.
- Proceed to your assigned waiting area, as per the instruction of the staff, and fill up the OWWA Project Care Slip.
- For sea-based OFWs and migrant Filipinos, proceed to the Validation and Verification desk where personnel will confirm your registration. Land-based OFWs and migrant Filipinos may skip this step.
- Go through the Immigration inspection and submit your Arrival Card with all the necessary information.
- Claim your checked-in bags at the designated carousel.
- Clear Customs inspection and submit your accomplished Customs form.
- After clearing the Customs, you will be assigned a hotel for quarantine and the arranged transportation to get there. Please proceed to these desks:
- For land-based OFWs and migrant Filipinos: OWWA desk and present your QR code from the eCIF and submit the OWWA Project Care slip.
- For sea-based OFWs and migrant Filipinos: Proceed to the MARINA desk.
- For ROFs, you may book your hotel. Please do so beforehand to avoid any additional hassle. You may contact nearby hotels around NAIA to see if they allow quarantined travel passengers for check-in.
During the Mandatory Hotel Quarantine
- After checking in and settling at your hotel room, you will have to wait for the schedule of another RT-PCR test on Day 6 of your quarantine. If you feel symptoms manifest anytime between the time of your arrival (Day 1 is when you arrive in the country) up until the day of the swab test, inform a medical officer or the staff of the hotel. Don’t worry, they are there to assist and help you in any way they can.
- On Day 6, your swab test will be administered by someone from the Philippine Coast Guard or the Philippine Red Cross.
- If your result comes back positive, you will be assessed by a medical officer. They will determine the next steps to be done, whether you will be transferred to a hospital for appropriate medical help, especially if you have comorbidities, or transferred to a COVID-19 quarantine facility.
- If you test negative, you will receive your test result and a BOQ (Bureau of Quarantine) Medical Quarantine Certificate. Present these to your hotel upon coming back for clearance.
Finishing Quarantine at Your Own Home
- Present your negative result from the RT-PCR test to the hotel management. This will give you clearance to finish your 14-day quarantine at home or in another place of your choice.
- For transport, you may arrange for rental services, a cab ride, or ask friends and relatives to pick you up. Otherwise, coordinate with the following for your transportation:
- For land-based OFWs and migrant Filipinos: contact OWWA or use the OWWA UWIAN NA portal
- For sea-based OFWs and migrant Filipinos: contact LOCAL Manning Agency
- For OFWs with houses in the Philippines, you may complete your 14-day quarantine and self-isolation at home. This will be done under the monitoring of your Local Government Unit or Barangay Health Emergency Response Team. If you are an OFW with real estate in the Philippines, your property may also be eligible as your quarantine location if it is already a livable space. Filipinos with houses in the country and IDs to verify their address will be assisted by their respective LGUs or Barangay units.
While following all of these protocols, don’t forget to also follow the basic public safety guidelines for containing the spread of the virus. Keep your masks and face shields or eye protection on, wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face before disinfecting your hands, use footbaths when available, and minimize contact by maintaining social distancing at all times.
Public Health Advisory
As part of the efforts by the World Health Organization to curb the spread of COVID-19, there are Public Health Advisories that have been issued over the past year. Some of these advisories have been adapted by countries and modified to fit their citizens’ needs and safety. In the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) is in charge of public safety protocols and the overall COVID-19 response of the country.
Some of the most common symptoms of being infected with the virus are:
- Dry cough
- Tiredness, malaise, or fatigue
- Loss of taste and smell
- Body pains and muscle aches
Other less common symptoms include conjunctivitis, migraines, sore throat, diarrhea, and other digestive problems. More serious symptoms are difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, chest pains, loss of speech or movement, and low oxygen levels.
If you are experiencing one or more serious symptoms, seek immediate help. The DOH has launched the One Covid Referral Center which you can call at 1555 or 0919-977-3333 or 0915-777-7777 or 886-505-00.
For those who are outside of Metro Manila, contact your Local Government Unit or the nearest medical care facility. Above all, do not panic. Try to stay calm if you feel if you have been infected. Let your immediate family and friends know about your condition so they can keep tabs on you and help get you the medical attention you may need.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus is a respiratory illness that is spread via respiratory droplets when sneezing or coughing. Once you inhale these infected droplets, you are immediately susceptible to infection. The most effective way of preventing infection is wearing a mask at all times and making sure your hands are clean and sanitized after touching possibly infected surfaces.
Other safety protocols that you should also keep in mind include:
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol concentration.
- Stay at home and avoid crowds as much as possible. This is an integral part of community quarantine in order to curb the spread of the virus. It is understandable if you cannot stay at home 24/7 as work and basic needs like groceries and medicine require you to go outside. When going out, limit close social interactions and practice physical distancing of at least six (6) feet from the next person.
- When seeking medical care if you are an OFW and/or migrant Filipino who start exhibiting symptoms, please be honest with your healthcare provider. If you have had a travel history to places with a high infection rate, state it in your medical records.
- Clean, sanitize, and disinfect all of your frequently used items such as clothes, mobile phones, keyboards, bags, keys, eyeglasses, doorknobs, light switches, and others. Also practice food safety when cooking or ordering food from somewhere.
If you are an OFW or migrant Filipino and have traveled internationally before going back to the country, it is of the utmost important that you follow the implemented travel guidelines and protocols. If you are traveling in a family group, note that if any of you are classified as an OFW, then your entire family is considered as OFWs. Once you have finished the mandated quarantine period, stay vigilant for possible late symptoms and keep observing public safety protocols.
Most importantly, stay informed. As the pandemic continues, it is important that you know what is happening in your immediate surroundings. There are free apps that keep track of hotspots for numbers of infected persons. Try to keep track by watching or reading the news and looking out for the latest updates.
For OFWs and migrant Filipinos coming home, you may want to take advantage of being in the country and start your real estate investments. For more details, head on over at www.vistalandinternational.com and browse the website for all the latest on OFW investments and real estate assets in the Philippines. As the premiere and largest homebuilder in the country, Vistaland International provides more than just house and lot properties in the Philippines for OFW investors. VIMI also updates OFWs and migrant Filipinos with the latest news and timely trending topics that can be accessed and shared through their website’s blogs.
Vista Land International Marketing, Inc. (VIMI) is the international marketing division of Vista Land & Lifescapes. Aiming to provide OFWs and migrant Filipinos a home in the Philippines, VIMI has established long-lasting relationships with brokers and clients around the world.