The process to get the WHO COVID vaccination certificate in the Philippines was not difficult, but it was definitely time consuming and somewhat frustrating. As this developing archipelagic nation works through the ‘new normal’ it might get easier and more defined.
This blog post is about the tedious process and how I navigated it in Aklan Province – without flying to Manila.
Step one: patience.
(*Update, April 2022: The Philippines Bureau of Quarantine has worked out its online issue, and booster shots can now be placed onto the World Health Organization card — if you were vaccinated in the Philippines. The process described below remains the same.)
WHO vaccination certificate
We need to take certain steps before our eventual departure from the Philippines. There is no set timetable yet on when we might leave. But in an effort to begin departure preparations, I’ve started taking those steps.
My Scottish friend who lives in the provincial capital Kalibo often says sometimes you don’t know what the process actually is in the Philippines — until you try to do something. He’s right. Especially now, in the new ‘normal’ thanks to the novel coronavirus.
One of the steps we must take before leaving is securing a World Health Organization COVID vaccination certificate. This was a process that I started exploring in earnest on October 18, 2021, when I made my first visit to the Bureau of Quarantine in Kalibo.
At that time, the office was down a dirt road in a trailer near the airport.
The officer at the front desk told me they were not issuing WHO vaccination cards yet – he didn’t even know they would be doing that, even though the main website listed Kalibo as a provider “in the near future.”
I checked the few news sources about the process. I checked the main BOQ website. Pretending I wanted to get the WHO card in Manila, I started the online process in early November. My vaccination information was not in the system. As far as the BOQ was concerned, I hadn’t been vaxxed.
It turns out that in order for the BOQ to have a record of my vaccination in the Philippines, the local government unit (LGU) had to upload my information, which they had not done. So I sent a Facebook message to the LGU health office in late November and asked them to upload my info.
I got a response the same day. They asked me to send a picture of my vaccination card. I sent mine and Theo’s. Then they asked when we were traveling and might need the VaxCert Card.
The VacCert Card is recognized throughout the Philippines for domestic travel. You need that to get the WHO certificate.
In late November, it looked like we might be traveling in early 2022 — either internationally or domestically. So I explained we didn’t have a date yet. They explained on Messenger (LGUs rely on Messenger and Facebook in the Philippines – but that’s another story) they were uploading information based on travel dates, and promised to do it by January.
In December, Omicron crushed the hope of going anywhere in January, and probably not February, either. But I still pressed on and kept checking for information and updates, rare as they were.
Finally, in early January 2022 when we were boosted, I learned there was a VaxCert stand at the jetty port to Boracay Island on mainland Malay. No news reports, no Facebook posts that I saw. Just word of mouth.
The location is on the side of the jetty port cordoned off to Boracay travelers, on the side where the ships go to Luzon.
I brought my vaccination and booster cards and the gentleman uploaded my information in minutes. He said it would take about three hours to see it on the BOQ website.
Bureau of Quarantine appointment payment
I scheduled an appointment at the Kalibo office on the BOQ website once my information appeared. I chose a Monday, since I go to Kalibo nearly every Monday to see my Scottish friend, and also an American-Filipino dual citizen. (We meet and talk about spiritual stuff.)
A BOQ appointment for a WHO COVID vaccination certificate requires pre-payment. My options were limited. There are no open 7-11s in Malay and we don’t have a Philippine bank account. So I had to make the payment at a pawn shop that uses the PisoPay system.
Not a problem, I thought. The port town Caticlan is loaded with pawn shops — way more than the three pictured below within one glance around town.
But this is the Philippines, and things don’t always go easily or as planned. PisoPay was ‘down’ at four places. I finally found a pawn shop where it was working.
I paid 370 pesos ($7.25) and checked the BOQ website. My appointment was confirmed.
WHO vaccination certificate
I discovered the BOQ was no longer in the trailer down that dirt road when I went to Kalibo for my appointment. There is now a nice new building – in the middle of nowhere.
It’s on the butt-end of the airport property in a rice field. Without my own transportation, it was a pain-in-the-ass to get to, because no tricycle driver wants to drive all the way out there and return to the city proper without passengers.
No matter. I paid the driver to wait.
Now it was just one more hour and 20 minutes until I had the WHO certificate in my hands!
But this is the Philippines… and things don’t always go as planned.
It turns out their system is not yet ‘set up’ for verifying boosters. And they don’t know when that might happen.
I did indeed get my vaccination certificate from the Philippines federal government, recognized by the WHO, but it does not have my booster dose listed.
I guess it’s a good thing we have plenty of time.
Theo still has to do all of these steps, as well. My advice to him – and any other foreigner vaccinated (and boosted) in the Philippines who needs this WHO certificate: be patient. After all, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” (That’s their marketing slogan to tourists.)
Why is the WHO card so important?
Our vaccination and booster cards issued by the LGU are likely to cause immigration officials in other countries to deny authenticity. A WHO card is legit.
I met a few men who are overseas foreign workers (called OFWs here) as I waited an hour and 20 minutes at my BOQ appointment. Two of the men were vaccinated in the United States of America, and had CDC vaccination cards. It was the first time I’d seen such cards.
The OFWs were getting ready to leave the Philippines again on another contract, and with the ‘new normal’ spreading around the globe, they needed WHO cards to enter Saudi Arabia.
But the BOQ would not recognize the American CDC cards. The Philippine BOQ is authorized to issue WHO cards only for people vaccinated in the Philippines.
My heart went out to these guys. They left America without even knowing about the WHO cards. And the Bureau of Immigration let them into the country three months ago, when the WHO card thing was still developing.
Now they will need another full vaccination dose.
For us, I am unclear if another country will stamp this WHO card, or if we will need a new WHO card for every country we enter. Since the rules change all the time, I’m back to step one: patience.
As always, be grateful and generous, happy trails and more serenity. Life is Now.