Our first unforgettable visit in San Francisco, California (with tips and travel guide)

I was so thankful that we were granted a multiple US Visa by November of this year. However, we have no plan yet to visit my sister who is based in California and my niece in Nevada because airfare is pretty expensive for one family. I content myself imagining ourselves traveling to a sprawling country teeming with many amazing tourist attractions and staggering natural beauty. America is indeed, a dream destination. Little did we know that by the end of December this year, we would be getting in the United States on an abrupt visit!

welcome to USA!

Welcome to the USA! Thank you Gie, Miko, and Derrick for this wonderful trip.

We are about to take a Christmas Holiday in Baguio City with the whole family but in the third week of December, my sister Gie and niece Miko coerced our mom to take a vacation in the U.S. Our mom is 70 years old and can no longer travel abroad alone. She badly needed a companion. And that would be me and my daughter! Yahoo!

Thankfully, my supervisor approved my 2-week vacation leave, and right away, my sister booked our flight. We were scheduled first this Holiday Season. My husband and son will be next. This trip is sponsored by Gie, Miko, and her husband Derrick. Thank you so much guys.

We excitedly packed our stuff and pasalubong. On the eve of Noche Buena we will fly on air through Philippine Airlines.

Are we excited?

Yes! However, US Visa and two-way airfare tickets do not guarantee yet a sure entry to the United States. All those entering the country will go through an inspection process.  We heard there are fellow Filipinos who were refused entry. It was such a painful experience, not that they already spent money on the expensive airfare, they will return home lonely.

my happy mom!

my happy mom!

I prayed that this would not happen to us. My sister gave us tips and ideas. I also searched on the internet additional information that will help us qualify entry.

Here are the tips to pass the interview:

1) Stay calm.
2) Answer in a loud and clear voice.
3) Answer honestly, straight to the point, and consistently.
4) Answer questions that are being asked only. Do not elaborate or explain further to eliminate doubt or interrogation.
5) Answer by looking straight to the eyes of the Immigration Officer.
6) Be humble.
7) Make sure to bring all the travel documents with you. But give only the document that will be asked by the I.O.

Remember that the I.Os. are very good at tracking down the truth. So, be honest!

Here are the documents we bring:

  • Certificate of Employment (Original/Photocopy)
  • Latest Income Tax Return (Original/Photocopy)
  • Company ID/UMID ID
  • Bank Statement (Original)
  • Bank Certificate (Original)
  • Birth Certificate (Original)
  • Marriage Certificate (Original)
  • Senior Citizen ID/UMID ID
  • School ID
  • Certificate of School Registration (Original)
  • Our family picture (just to be sure)

Aside from these tips, my sister warned us not to bring the following:

  • Meat
  • Fresh and raw vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Alcoholic beverages
our happy smiles as we head off to Arrival area

our happy faces as we head off to Arrival area

Travel Tax

Travel Tax can be paid online (upon booking of the ticket) or directly at the counter in the airport (through cash and credit card). This is P1,620.00/person. Pay this before check-in.

X-Ray Machines

There were about four X-ray luggage inspections in our country. This includes opening all bags and luggage for a drug chemical test. But before we proceed here, we were asked by an airport officer certain questions like:

  • “Do you have goodies “padala” sent by friends or relatives for their loved ones in the US?”
  • “Do you have meat, fruits, and vegetables?”

It is good that we do not have these items to avoid delays when we get to the United States.

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Departure Card:

Before our check-in, we filled-out the Departure Card with the following details: name, passport number, contact number, country of destination, country of residency, occupation, flight/voyager number, and signature.

Note: All Filipino departing passengers are required to fill out the new departure cards. Foreigners and Philippine passport holders with immigrant status are no longer required to fill out.

our dinner

our dinner

Check-in:

After three x-ray inspections, we headed to the check-in counter and presented the following for check-in:

  • Ticket
  • Passport
  • Travel Tax receipt
  • Departure Card
  • Valid ID
  • Luggage

Immigration:

There was no question asked in the Immigration. We presented the Departure Card and Passport.

Another x-ray inspection was done before we enter the Gate (boarding section).

Philippine Airlines

To skip the hassles of connecting flights especially to elders, we were booked through Philippine Airlines (PAL), the national flag carrier of the Philippines. Whenever I am with PAL, I am so proud to fly on the first and longest-serving airline in the country and in Asia. I am also confident because pilots of PAL are one of the best in the world.

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Air travel is safe with occasional turbulence. We were served three appetizing complimentary inflight meals and were entertained by watching movies and listening to music. Indeed, we had a great experience flying through Philippine Airlines.

December is a peak season. Our two-way airfare costs us $926.04 (P47,228.04)/each. Prices usually go down during months of January to February with airfare of P25,000.00

Tips: If you are traveling to California solo, first time and with elders, it is best to book a direct flight through PAL to skip the hassle of transferring from one airport to the other.

Arriving safe

After a 13-hour air trip, we were thankful for arriving safely at San Francisco International Airport. We were so excited as we set foot in this beautiful country. We are now in America!

We were glad that there were several Fil-Am staff assisting passengers on scanning passports on the scanning machine. It was so easy and convenient to use. Then off we went to the Immigration Section for the interview. There was a long line and we waited patiently for our turn.

a view of San Francisco in the window

a view of San Francisco in the window

One good thing when you travel abroad is that you will get to use it in talking to Immigration Officers. I had been to six countries and I gained confidence and learned to deal with them courteously. Since I am the head of our group, I will be the one who will answer the questions. Honestly, I am not nervous.

It is good to spend a happy conversation with fellow kababayan on a queue. We even met the actor, Jordan Herrera (of Daisy Siete, remember this cute guy?) and took a picture with him! Haha!

our breakfast

our breakfast

These are the questions asked by the Immigration Officer:

1) Your purpose? (with follow-up questions on our answers)
2) Where will you stay?
3) With whom?
4) When are you going to be back?
5) What food did you bring?
6) Where are you staying in the Philippines?
7) How far is it from Manila?
8) Did you bring apples, bananas, meat?
9) So, you are going to school? (my daughter)
10) What did you do? (my daughter)
11) Miss? (my mom)

The Immigration Officer was handsome, young, and cool. Our conversation was light so I was able to answer confidently. It was nice talking to him. I was surprised by how Shen answered the questions. She responded smartly. Then a moment later, he told us “This is your lucky day.”

Yes! We did it! However, when he handed us our passports, he told us that my mom’s was inserted in a locked Security bag. He instructed us to give it to the Officer for a secondary inspection.

my mom and Jordan Herrera

my mom and Jordan Herrera

Worries

Why is there a second inspection? I only think of one reason. Maybe the I.O. doubted because my mom having grandchildren in the U.S., she might overstay. I knew my mom was getting nervous. I told her not to panic, but pray.

Upon reaching the Security area, we were met by the CBP Officer, a big black woman with a strict face. She told us to put “all” our things in the X-ray machine. I was expecting she would ask another set of questions. However, she only asked one. “Do you have ‘chicharon’?” I said no. My mom was smiling; she was thinking that the officer is asking for “pasalubong.”

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I told my mom, maybe the officer had seen suspicious meat items in our luggage the like of chicharon (we had biscuits, chips, dried fish, and nuts). This Philippine food is made of pork belly, a meat product, and is one of the prohibited items on board. That was only a hint, anyway.

The Officer did not ask anything else after all our bags and luggage were scanned. Thinking she was done, I asked her courteously, “Can we have our bags now?”  She said yes and she handed my mom’s passport. We all thanked her with a huge smile.

It was then we heaved a very deep sigh!

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the excited Me upon setting foot in SFO International Airport

We are now officially welcome to the U.S.A! My mom was so happy that she almost cried. I was so grateful to God for His grace and guidance. Prayers really helped!

At the arrival area, my sister was waiting for us. Her face was a bit worried.

“I was thinking you were denied entry. It’s been two hours now since you arrived. But then, welcome to the USA! God is good,” and Gie smiled happily.

Beaming with happiness, we all hugged and kissed her. We tell her everything that happened from beginning to end.

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