These were my most memorable, fun and exciting layovers ever. I had an 8-hour layover in London and a 15-hour layover in Shanghai, I thought I’m going to regret opting for the worst timings and choosing the cheapest flights available and not the best schedules with short layovers. Though there’s no need to secure any Visa, since a transit visa for Filipino passport holders is not required if you will be just staying at the terminal I was already thinking that I would be dredging myself at the airports of Shanghai Pudong and London Heathrow for several hours not knowing what to do, it was really stressful. But In the end, I got the best of both worlds. Cheap flights and free entries to China and UK. Every Filipino travel blogger is aware of the weaknesses of our Philippine-passport but I never realized that it isn’t that bad after all this experience. Travel without Visa is possible to UK and China.
Singapore -> London
I booked a last minute British Airways flight from Singapore to Toronto with a layover in London for eight hours since I couldn’t make it to my initial flight to Montreal via Doha with Qatar Airways. I connected with my friend in UK Ryazan, managing editor of Two Monkeys Travel Group and behind Everything Zany. I was consulting with her to ensure that I don’t need a transit Visa in the UK. Perhaps we dug up too deep and discovered that Philippine passport holders are visa free in entering UK if they have a connecting flight from another airport or terminal and have to collect their bags and check in again. London has another major airport, Gatwick, which is located quite far from Heathrow. Anyway, this gave me an idea that I could be allowed to go out and cross the border since generally it’s allowed with certain conditions. I did more research and it says, yes they really allow you to get out of the airport if you have a connecting flight going out of UK and you have a Visa to your destination. Here’s some of the requirements from the UK border control website, which I all met.
Transiting without a visa
You might be eligible for ‘transit without visa’ if:
- you arrive and depart by air
- have a confirmed onward flight that leaves on the day you arrive or before midnight on the day after you arrive
- have the correct documents for your destination (eg a visa for that country)
One of the following must also apply:
- you’re travelling to (or on part of a reasonable journey to) Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the USA and have a valid visa for that country
Since I’m traveling to Toronto with a valid Canadian visa I believe I met all of the requirements above and will be allowed to leave the airport. But it didn’t mention that I’m allowed to cross the immigration so I was trying my luck here.
In Heathrow terminal 5, where I will also have my connecting flight to Toronto, I went straight to immigration and not at the transfer desk. I happily handed over my passport to the immigration officer with confidence. He asked if I needed to collect my baggage, since he instantly knew I do not have a visa. I don’t need to collect my bags since I’m checked in all the way to Toronto. Then gently, he passed back the passport to me and says, “Sorry, there are no grounds to allow you to leave. You should stay at the terminal.” My immediate reaction is to hand back my passport to him and start raising the case that I met all the requirements and inform him that I’m aware of his powers to make a decision for my case. I got a scary reply, “and I have powers to send you to jail too!” Of course I got scared, but it did not frazzle me. I laid out all my cards, my intention of visiting London, all my previous visits in Europe, my Canadian visa and my role as a writer for a travel website. It was quite a long conversation, a lot of agreements and disagreements but in the end I got a magic question. “Where in the Philippines are you from?” I told the officer I was from Quiapo, Manila. Then he replied, “Oh, I’ve been to Divisoria and my wife is from Bicol!” Then a loud stamp at my passport, his last words to me “don’t miss your flight!” There it is! I immediately went to the tube station, bought a day ticket and rush myself to the downtown London. Feeling I got lucky that I went to an officer with a Filipina wife, it’s destiny!
I did not have a problem figuring out my way around London since I’m used to reading maps and figuring out subway stations. I also have some friends from UK who were giving me tips when they learned that I managed to get in.
First thing in my mind is to see the Buckingham Palace, since the Queen is celebrating her Jubilee year, I decided to head straight there and snap some picture of the famous monarchy residence. It’s not too busy yet since it’s very early in the morning, around 7am though the place is already gearing up for a huge celebration. What I immediately noticed is the Green Park’s beautiful landscape on my way to Buckingham Palace.
My plan is from Buckingham palace is just to walk around and see as much as I can within the area. Westminster isn’t too far and most of the must see places are just around the area. I really wanted to see Winston Churchill’s war museum but it doesn’t open until 10am. I walked along St. James Park after spending few minutes gathering myself that it’s real, I’m in London without a UK visa and I’m in front of the Buckingham Palace!
St. James Park is amazing.
I made it to Westminster!
I met my friend JC who’s based in London and he took some of my obligatory solo shots around the city. The famous Big Ben and London Eye are all in this area. We then took the tube and head to see the tower bridge before catching up the train back to Heathrow Airport. Though I wanted to see more of the city, I have to rush back to the airport, If I missed my flight, I can be banned from entering UK for the next 10 years.
Toronto -> Shanghai
Unlike my London layover in which on top of my mind, I was thinking to try my luck to pass by the immigration and see London, I did not bother checking out if I can do that in Shanghai since my research tells me that Philippine-Ordinary Passport holders are not entitled for a “72-Hour Visa-Free Transit”. When I checked in Toronto airport, I was told by the check-in desk agent that I am only checked-in through Shanghai but not to my connecting flight to Singapore the next day. Since I’m arriving at 7pm local time and my flight is at 10am the next day, I need to collect my baggage and check-in the next day for my connecting flight. They told me that I don’t need a visa, it’s Visa-free if you have a connecting flight within 24-hours! I initially doubted this because I really cannot find a relevant information that will allow Philippine-passport holders to enter Shanghai without a Transit Visa. I asked again the ground staff for the second time at the boarding area and they were sure about this policy. I checked again online and I found it:
Visa Free Transit
1. For foreigners who hold tickets to a third country and have booked seats on international airlines, ships, trains transiting through China, if the stay is less than 24 hours, they can enjoy the 24-hour visa-free transit. In case they want to leave the specified transit zone, they can ask for a temporary stay permit at the immigration counter. The 24-hour direct transit facility benefits almost all country citizens and is available in most China ports.
Finally, I arrived in Shanghai with no hassle at the immigration, I just showed my Shanghai-Singapore ticket for the next day. I got a stamp that says permitted to stay until the next day. I quickly took my luggage and left it at the baggage deposit counter in Pudong.
I decided to take Maglev which is Shanghai’s version of Japan’s Shinkansen (Bullet Train). The maximum speed of Maglev is 301km/h so I reached downtown Shanghai within minutes. I immediately transferred to Shanghai Metro, alight at Lujiazui station and went straight outside to see the amazing skyline of this progressive Chinese city.
When I went out of immigration I imagined myself in Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover series, I was thinking of what exciting things to do and eat in Shanghai. But I’m too tired and jet lagged, walked a lot to see best of Shanghai so I just decided to look for a budget hotel and call it a night. However, I found myself in prime district of Shanghai and I cannot find any hotel here that is not 4 or 5 star. I searched for the backpackers area, took a cab and go to that part of the city and to my disappointment, the hotels I went to do not accept credit card and I didn’t have enough Yuan. I don’t want to withdraw money as I will be charged by my bank for a small amount of money that I will be withdrawing. Neither I can find money exchange and hotels won’t accept foreign currencies. I wasn’t thinking so I just went inside the lobby of a Five Star hotel, I thought of checking in but I just sat there and used their wifi.
I didn’t take notice of the time and it’s almost sunrise, I also had some few naps at the couch and the hotel staff didn’t bother. I walked back to The Bund to see the skyscrapers at daylight and catch the sunrise.
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