Contributed by Nicole del Rosario
The reason I am writing this is to share my experience of leaving Philippine premises and travelling to Dubai in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. The sole purpose of my trip was to meet my boyfriend and my mom after almost a year of being separated.
We all have suffered enough — financially, mentally and emotionally. As we have endured so much pain in just less than a year, I always tell my closest friends that nothing really can surprise me now. I feel like I have experienced it all already: Losing a very close friend of mine because of the virus, being separated with my loved ones for 10 months, having so many uncertainties in life that you just feel like not hoping at all.
Cancelled travels due to COVID-19
I had a trip planned for March of this year: I was so excited to visit Europe again, and everything was well planned and processed. Then, in the first quarter of March, I started to hear news that the Philippines might be closing its border soon. I still hoped that before that happened, I would still be able to push through with my flight.
But unfortunately, five days before my flight, the country had officially closed its borders for non-essential travel, both inbound and outbound. I was so heartbroken, not because of the wasted money and time, but because of not being able to see my loved one.
We thought that it would just last for a couple of months, and that probably by June or July, we would be able to meet each other again. But lockdown still continued for months after months after months, it felt almost like not seeing any sign of a light at the end of the tunnel anymore.
A second chance at reuniting
Then, it was mid-October when suddenly, my phone received a notification about a newly published article — if I’m not mistaken, it was titled something like this: Philippines, to Open Its Borders for Outbound Non-Essential Travel. It was a big surprise for me and my boyfriend. Finally! Finally, there was a big chance that we could meet again before the year ended.
After a long time of research, following announcements from the Bureau of Immigration, and joining online groups of people in the same situation — this was it. I could finally exit the Philippines to meet him.
Obstacles along the way
What we planned first was for me to process my Schengen Visa again. I spoke to the Austrian Embassy Consul to inquire about the right procedure on how to do so. It took days before I got an answer, but it still was not clear.
Our goal was to meet immediately before the Philippines closed its border again. But then what happened was not what we expected — countries in Europe started to close their borders again because of the second wave. We both got scared and anxious that this would turn into another 10-month nightmare of not being able to reunite if he got locked down in Belgium, where he resides. So, this occurrence resulted in me looking for other options as to where we could meet.
Luckily, I have a very good friend who works in Dubai, and I was assisted in processing a tourist visa to enter the UAE. A hope in me grew once again.
Preparing for my trip to the UAE
Within the day of submitting my passport details, my 30-day tourist visa was released. But the anxiety didn’t stop there. I already had the visa and all, and I could easily book the ticket and hotel; but I still needed to accomplish one of the requirements — to take a PCR test and get a negative result for COVID-19.
Two days after my visa was released, I went for my PCR test in Makati Medical Center, and got my results within the day. Thankfully, they were negative. Afterwards, however, I was still so anxious. There were so many questions and thoughts running through my mind, mostly negative: Will I be able to exit the Philippines? Will Dubai let me enter?
Four days before my flight, I couldn’t eat because of lack of appetite; my brain was too active thinking of possibilities. I already had every possible document that I could bring to make sure that if questions were to arise, I would be able to present everything necessary.
Travelling to Dubai from the Philippines during the pandemic
These are the main documents required for those travelling to Dubai during the pandemic:
- 30 days single-entry tourist visa
- Travel and health insurance, which mainly covers COVID-19
- Swab test result
- Two-way ticket
- Confirmed booking for hotel accommodation
But just to be ready for anything, I brought other documents with me, including bank statements from my debit and credit card (I even brought my bank book because I was that paranoid) to show them that I would be able to finance my trip.
My Immigration experience
I was really nervous during my Immigration interview. The lady was really strict, asking me questions that were not asked of me on previous travels abroad. Besides questions about what my activities would be on my trip, she also asked me things like, “So you said you’re going to meet your mom who lives in Saudi. When will this be?” She even asked for my company ID, and this still gives me chills — if I was not able to present my ID, I could have stopped by them.
And then, they let me pass. I was so surprised and so happy, as I prepared myself for the worst-case scenario. I immediately informed my friends, my mother, and my boyfriend.
Arrival in Dubai: What it’s like during the pandemic
After my nine-hour flight I arrived in Dubai — it was my first time to be in the Middle East, and I was still experiencing an adrenaline rush and running on no sleep at all.
Entering Dubai during the pandemic was so smooth, which I didn’t expect at all. The immigration officer just looked at my passport and visa and stamped it. Then, before exiting the airport, I had to undergo another swab test; it was free, and the results came out the day after my arrival.
So, here I am with my love. Finally, after 10 long and excruciating months, we are once again reunited.