Zamboanga Sandakan Visa Run

Sandakan Sabah HarborPhilippine Visa Run – Aleson Shipping
Zamboanga to Sandakan

As of this writing, the Philippine Immigration Department allows foreigners to stay in the country for up to 16 months on a tourist visa.

sandakan-visa-run-003I decided to make the Sandakan, Malaysia trip from Zamboanga in Mindanao.  I love being at sea so I drove down to Zamboanga on my bike and bought a round trip ticket with Aleson Shipping.

sandakan-visa-run-005Flying out of Clark or Manila is cheaper and more convenient but I enjoy the adventure. The Aleson Shipping boat leaves the Philippines on Mondays and Thursdays and returns the following day. The immigration line up begins at 10am and the boat’s crew plans to leave at 2pm.

sandakan-visa-run-002Locals pay 3,200 pesos one way and foreigners pay 2,600 pesos for the economy berths. There is an extra tax for Filipino residents – hence the higher fees.

sandakan-visa-run-008Please double check with the shipping companies ahead of time so that you will be advised of changes in the schedule or in the fees.

sandakan-visa-run-020No schedule on any liner including buses is set in stone.

Boats can be in dry dock, typhoons and low pressure systems cause cancellations, mechanical breakdowns are not particularly rare – so bear with me. If you need to meet a tight schedule please consider flying. Taking the boat is only for those with time on their hands and a bit of adventure in their hearts.

sandakan-visa-run-012This is not a very difficult trip but some people find it to be.Have a few copies of the passport page with your picture on it and also a copy or two of the page that has your last entry stamp into the Philippines.

sandakan-visa-run-004Zamboanga terminal

If you have been in the Philippines over 6 months you will need an ECC clearance, which can be obtained at the Immigration office in Zamboanga. Have some 2×2 pictures that can be attached to the forms.

Philippine Government Immigration Link

sandakan-visa-run-009Sabah Malaysia

The immigration office in Zamboanga is very very efficient – the best in the Philippines in my estimation. I was there at 7:30 am and got the application filled out and approved, was fingerprinted, and eating breakfast at the Jolibees by 8:11 am.

sandakan-visa-run-001I zipped down to the pier and got my round trip ticket for 5,000 pesos from Aleson Shipping and went back to Atilano’s Pension to take a shower and pack my bags. Mrs. Atilano let me leave my motorcycle at her place and I took a tricycle to the pier.

sandakan-visa-run-006The H1N1 virus is a concern so we all had to line up for a quick medical inspection including taking everyone’s temperature with an ear temp gauge. The Malaysian medical team checked the temp again in Sandakan to see if it was within bounds of their limits.

zamboanga-sandakan-0071Muslim girls in Sandakan.

Getting through the immigration in Malaysia is quick and easy. I was considering staying a few days in Sandakan but decided to head into town for a look around first.


I found Sandakan to be nice enough and the people were rather friendly, but it looked like it might be a boring place to hang so I decided to make the return trip to Zamboanga that night.

sandakan-visa-run-013There is a monkey farm nearby where they rehabilitate orangutans for release into the rainforest. It seems ironic to me, because they are whacking down the forest as fast as they can to make room for palm tree plantations.

sandakan-visa-run-014Zamboanga Mindanao port

I paid the 1.5 ringit for the bemo back to the pier and went through the whole immigration procedure again. The trip back back to the Philippines took around 20 hours and was easy and relaxing.

Tips for making the visa run

1) It’s a good idea to take along some food to eat on the boat. The ship does have noodles and coffee and other basics.

2) Economy bunks are fine – there is a gentle breeze of fresh air instead of the airlocked air conditioned cells.

3) Don’t be on western time. You will get there – just don’t expect exact schedules to be met.

4) In Zamboanga – dp recommends staying at Atilanos Pension House.

5) Take the Rural Transit bus liner to Dipolog if  you are heading to the Visayas. Then take Montenegro, Super Shuttle, or Cokaliong ferrys to Dumaguete in Negros. (from Dapitan)

6) If heading to Camiguin Island or Surigao – take Rural Transit to Cagayan de Oro. These are all safe happy runs, low risk, and you get to see a bit of the country side. Avoid the area around Cotabato City at this time.

dutchpickle logoVisa run between Sandakan Sabah Malaysia and Zamboanga Mindanao Philippines with Aleson Shipping

November 28 2011 Manila Bulletin

I have often recommended the Atilano Pension house as a great place to stay for budget travelers .

Atilano Pension bomb blast Zamboanga
There was an unfortunate bombing Sunday night that killed several people planning on going to a wedding the following day. This sort of thing is so unnecessary but it just shows that if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time unexpected things sometimes can happen.


Jul 18, 2009

104 responses to “Zamboanga Sandakan Visa Run”

  1. Rick, you made it!!! It’s Tom from Cambridge Lodge, I took the photos of you that morning before heading out of Gen San, I will email them to this site when I can.

    Excellent to know you made it safely,

    Happy trails


  2. wow i got to try this one!

  3. do it has a schedule of ship from Zamboanga to Sandakan

  4. Hi….
    What is ecc clearance and how much?

  5. hi,

    Thinking of travelling to Phils overland shortly (from Ireland !!).
    I want to go by sea through Zamboanga….how dodgy is this to do in terms of safety.
    Currently an Irish priest is being held for a ransom of £2M in Pagadian in Mindinao.
    Is a lot of this stuff overblown or what ?



  6. hi,

    I thought foreigners were only allowed to stay in phils for two months on a tourist visa…..16 months ??


  7. hi..
    aku mau balik php tapi passport ku ada jaminan pekerja,saya mau skarang kasih batal itu sbab ada urusan penting di kampung.. saya mau masuk balik malaysia selepas satu (1) minggu lepas urusan ku d kampung .. bleh kah tu? tolong jawab aku asap.. makasih..

  8. Hi DP thanks for this info. A friend an I are planing on going to Borneo in a week or so. We tried to get a flight with Zest but they no longer fly international so decided to follow your trip, not really a hassle as we were intending to visit Zamboanga as he has relations there. Have been there before and enjoyed it.

    Our main intention is to visit the orangutans and maybe spend a couple of weeks there, any tips you have on the various national parks would be appreciated.

    Wondering when your next trip will be coming up DP…..

  9. Hi again DP, sorry its taken me a while to get back, see you have already done the trip surigao I have yet to read your posts.

    We leave Saturday for Sandagan and plan to spend a few days. Also hang for a bit in Zambonga which is one of my favourite cities.

    Seems you never stay long in one place DP, well will take a look at your latest adventures now.

    Hope you get up to the Cebu area some time soon, love to catch up again.


  10. Thanks for posting this. Made the trip twice from Dumaguete. Looks like there is a different vessel from 2 years ago. The first time went via fast craft from Dgte to Dipolog, a dreadful non aircon bus to Zam, arrived late at night. Went on Weesam express, do not take this boat. Passports are stamped on Tawi Tawi or Sulu. I forget which island. Stayed a week in Sandakan in different hotels. Repeat do not take Weesam Express zam to sandk.

    The second trip was better from Dgte to Zam via ship arrived early around 0400. The hotel let me check in at 0500 and did not charge me an extra night. Bought ticket that day and left the next to Sandakan via Aleson. . Passports stamped in Zam. Did not stay over in Sandakan. Booked flight from zam to cebu on return, Ceres from Cebu to Dgte.

    Did not know there was an Immigration office in Zam that does exit stamps thanks for posting this.

    Need to decide if going out via Clark or Zam. Not sure how to get Manila to Clark, perhaps it may be better going via air from Cebu to Clark or Dgte to Zmanila to Clark.

  11. Hello DP,
    We tried how ever due to the corruption within the immigration officials at the pier were not able to leave Zambonga.

    We were told very clearly that a payment of P2000 would be required before we are permitted to return to Philippines. Even after explaining we are entitled to a 21 day entry visa we were flatly refused, pay up or go away. We went away.

    After a visit to the very nice immigration office in Zambonga nothing changed, they were at least helpful and decent how ever would not go against their fellow officers.

    Sad we blew quite a lot of money trying to see the reforestation projects in Malaysia and had to be content with Zambonga instead.

    Next time we shall fly from Manila.

  12. I have departed twice from Zam never had a problem with immigration. The only thing did not like was the Weesam Express because the passports are not stamped at the Zam pier, but Tawi Jolo or Tawi Tawi. With Aleson the passports are stamped in Zam.

    The round trip fare Zam to Sandakan is 6,200 pesos per person for the Cabin. There are two bunk beds in the cabin. There is a medical doctor on board. Cabin A1 is the largest.

    Passports are stamped at 1000am depart Noon. Monday and Thursday. Return Tuesday and Friday 4pm from Sandakan.

    There is shower and toilet near the Cabins.

  13. Wanted to make a comment regarding the alleged 2000 pesos extra fee. No outbound ticket is asked for in Zam or in Sandakan when you take the boat. If you take air travel most buy an extra ticket with the airlines. It is more than 2000 pesos. Just sayin.

  14. Recently made the trip to Sandakan. Cabin A and G are the largest cabins and are aircon. The round trip ticket was 6,000 pesos. There were no fees at immigration. The md is gone.

  15. I was puzzled by the info that i received on travelling from zamboanga to sandakan to zambo,is there any oversea charges from zambo to sandakan.

  16. what is the tel number of alisonshipping in zamboanga? so that i can book my ticket, thanks


  18. Hi There,

    Thanks for the many helpful tips and links. I am currently in Sabah looking at taking the ferry to the Philippines. Just wondering what the temperment of the southern islands is currently like? The Australian government website says do not travel but they tend to be quite alarmist.

    I am a single female traveller and I really want to know if I can safely get around in Zamboanga to find accom and food etc? Can I easily get from there to somewhere near Cagayan de Oro?

    thanks again :)

  19. Hi dutchpickle,

    Excellent and informative website!

    Do you know if it’s possible to bring own motorbike with carnet to Philippines? I was considering taking the ferry from Sandakan to Mindanao.



  20. My bike is currently in Australia. I’m shipping it from Darwin to Dili in October and would then island hop to Borneo.

    I’ll keep you updated.



  21. Hi Dp,

    I am from ireland, and i want to experience travelling from zambo to sandakan by ferry, it will be my first travel via ferry. I am here in Dgte at this time. How is the process to get in the ferry? And tell me about the immigration process. Thanks.


  22. hi dutchpickle.

    thx 4 ur detailed info bout ur visa-run.
    i understood, that you jst left the phils. and returned the next day. what i’m a bit confused about is, that 2 my info u need 2 stay outside the philippines 4 some days (but i’m still looking 4 info, how many days that would be), b4 u may be granted a NEW tourist visa. acc. 2 my info, if u return to early, i will NOT be considered as a NEW, but as an renewing of the OLD visa, which (in my case) is absolutely not wanted.
    do u have any info about this?


    PS: sry 4 my wired english, but i’m not a native english speaker

  23. hi dp.

    Can u pls. send me the contact info of “Atilanos Pension House” (esp. eMail, if any)?
    How much is the accomodation there?



    PS: According to the Immigration Office in Cebu, there is no minimum stay abroad. Hope its true………..;)

  24. ohhh i 4got. where in zam is it located? maybe u can mark it on 2 trace it easier

    thx again


  25. as dey say in germany: “gud things always com in a triple-pack”, so here am i again.
    sometimes its really a great idea 2 luk carefully, and so i meanwhile found the link wid all da info bout da “Atilanos Pension House”. how evr, if ur able 2 provide me deir eMail-add, dat would b great.
    generally i suggest u 2 really add those wikimapia links, guess it would b an additional enrichment 2 ur articles. jst check it out if u like or not.

    ohhh and btw.: in da immigration dey also tld me, dat i DONT need “exit clearance” as long i leave da country latest on da day of visa-expiratin (but of course, first dey let me 2 wait 4 about 1,5 hours b4 dey remembered dat fact…………sigh)

  26. Hi, can you please help me? Me and my friends wants to experience going to sandakan malaysia by boat, the price of the airfare now is quite high and we thought it would be cheaper to take a boat to go to Malaysia…can you please help me and give me the number of alison shipping or the atilano lodging inn? it would be a great help if you can provide me with this information…Thanks and Godbless

  27. I am a filipino from zamboanga, married to a sarawakian.we were planning to go back to zamboanga together w/my there any flight from sabah to zamboaga, or shipping from sabah to zamboanga?do i need to buy a return ticket too if so?

  28. from sabah to zamboanga what are the requirement to inter, though am from there?

  29. Bad news. Looks like the Atilano Pension House you stayed at on your visa run was bombed.

  30. First of all – thanks for the website – lots of useful stuff here. Found it first by recommendation from Ajey and Masha ( who met you (I believe) in Puerto Princesa. And the second time we stumbled upon your website just now – while looking for info on the Zamboanga-Sandakan ferry.

    I am traveling with my wife, and I’m a bit concerned for her safety, after reading about Zamboanga bombings. Would you please let us know what the general situation is in Zamboanga? At this point – we are even ready to change our plans and not take that ferry to Malaysia, so any advice you can give on the overall safety would be very-very appreciated. In other words, in your opinion – is it safe for us to go to Zamboanga and try to catch a ferry to Sandakan at this time? Thank you in advance for any advice.

  31. Also, if you can respond as soon as you get this message – we’d greatly appreciate it, since we have a ferry to Zamboanga (from Negros) tomorrow and have to make a decision on whether to go or not. Thanks again! Really hope to hear from you soon.

  32. Hello im Jane,
    I wish u can help me…This is my first time to go in ur website i just want to know if it’s ok to go zamboanga to exit only coz im a tourist only here in sabah im a filipina and first time to go zamboanga place ..if i go there with my many days to stay there. and go back again here sabah …well as tourist again..coz we just preparing to married here… it the immigration in zamboanga not so strict ?
    i wish u can reply me..tnx…

  33. Question, If you have been here less then 6 months and have as such what is the procedure to exit? Is there an immigration check point to give you the exit stamp? Is it the same procedure as the Airports where they scan you passport and then you exit?


  34. Hey do you think you can e-mail me the website address of the aleson transportation company I couldn’t find any of their contact details ?? Thanks in advance, and great style of writing. : )

  35. HI IM ALEX..I THINK U CAN HELP ME,, I WANT TO VISIT MY FRIEND IN MALAYSIA..CAN I ASK YOU ABOUT THE REQUIRMENTS IN IMMIGRATION COZ it is my fist time.. and f u dont mind what are the shedule of their ship going to malaysia…
    thank you and god bless


  37. How much is the travel time from Zamboanga to Sandakan ?

  38. Any idea how much the 1 way fare from Tawi Tawi to Sandaken on Aleson Shipping would be? Thanks

  39. Hi, I am Chris.. May you help me if what will I do? I already log off from clark gong to kota kinabalu because of I have no affidavit of support from my fiancee.. This time, I just plan to make it tour..Is it easy if i will travel using this way instead..I will only visit 3 days.. I hope you can help me.. I need to go next week.. Thank you very much…

  40. tq dp

  41. Hola. I am lennie a Malaysian, residence in tips of borneo.. am jus refer to your post here “The immigration office in Zamboanga is very very efficient – the best in the Philippines in my estimation. I was there at 7:30 am and got the application filled out and approved, was fingerprinted, ” so just to ask u if u have any idea.. do u think the imigration ofice in Zam require a letter of support from fiancee if in the case of tourism trip?.. my fiancee ever blocked to fly once so is that mean he can never have a chance to follow Zam tour trip to sandakan? as u kno to get the afidavit letter from Phil embassy in Malaysia so far frm sabah.. its in west Malaysia.. Kuala Lumpur.. we just thinking of this Tour trip jus need passport.. since u familiar with any doc submitted at imigration Zam, we wish to get info then my fiancee wil follow this tour trip very soon.. jus asking ..if no info at all then no worry..

  42. hi friends…
    im planing to go in sandakan this month.. im from davao city.. i know already how to travel from davao going to zambuanga. im just curious, how much is the fare from zambuanga to sandakan? and also is there any amount how much the immigration officer will ask you for your show money?i just want an idea regarding with it… i want to spend my vacation in sandakan… thanks,,,


  43. …thanks… im just really wondering and disappoited with some of the immigration officer, suppose to be i had my flyt from manila to singapore last month. but then, they didnt allow me… bcoz they want a round trip ticket and a show money. i told them that i just want to tour singapore then kuala lumpur and then sabah going zambuanga… i love travelling specialy by bus.. i had a lot of port of entries US and EUROPE… im a seaferer, ive travelled every year.. and this, its in asia.. hope i can make this time… ijust discover this new route…. thanks again dp….

  44. Hey, some info for anyone who relying on internet searching to try to find out about the ferry situation.

    Weesam Ferries no longer run from Sandakan to Zamboanga.

    Aleson shipping lines currently run every Friday and Tuesday from Sandekan at around 1900hrs. Journey takes 20-22 hours.

    Pricing as follows:
    Basic: 280 Ringgit
    Air: 300
    Cabin: 320

    Address for tickets is: Timmarine SDN BHD, Block A, Lot 22B, G floor Hsiang Garden, Jalan Leila. The easier way is to find the cinema on Jalan Leila and the office is opposite.

    Telephone is 089212063 or 089224009.

    Hope that helps people.

  45. Hello Dutch Pickle.

    I was wondering if you had any up-to-date information about the ferry from Zamboanga to Sandakan. I’m seeing reports online that the ferry has been cancelled because of the problems in Sabah.

    It’s May 6 (2013) today. Do you know if it is true that the ferry is currently running? If so, do you have any idea when it might start up again?

    Thanks for any information you can provide.



  46. Hi!

    I was thinking about going from Zamboanga to Malaysia using a ferry, so exactly as described here. Question: What about bringing a bike.

    Lot’s of questions come up into my mind:

    1) Travelling in Mindanao from the north to the south of Mindanao to go to Zamboanga. How safe is this ? Lot’s of people hier in the Philippines say that I should not go to Mindanao as a White Foreigner bcz of the Muslim/Abusajaf might be a thread.

    2) Is it possible to bring a bike into the ferry

    3) How will the Malaysian immigration react when I bring a bike that is registered in the Philippines. Is there any solution to get the Phil bike to Malaysia/Indonesia legaly and with the consent of the local police ?

    My main plan would be to travel around in Borneo with my bike. So what do you think ??

  47. hello ;
    how many travel per week from zamboanga to sandakan and how much it cost ( round trip) and what is the immigration requirements and what the immigration may ask me just i want to spend my vacation in sandakan… thanks,,,

  48. i am che may i help me if what will i do i already log off from manila airport going kuala lumpor i have affidavit of support from my fiancee.this time i just plan to make i tour is it easy if i will travel using this way i hope you can help me i need to go nextweek i wish could be of more help on this but you will have to get the information

  49. Hi, good day.. may i ask about the immigration in the Philippines in Sandakan, Malaysia, ahmm what if that a person was a blacklisted one or having a blacklisted order from the philippines. He is a foreigner one and he wants to enter the philippines again through Malaysia to Zamboanga by boat. It could be possible that he can enter the Zamboanga pier? Or the immigration there in Malaysia can check his passport too? what would be the best way to enter him here in the philippines?
    Thank you.

  50. helo good day i just want to ask if is there an immigration offce at the zamboanga city? and what the requirments should have bring there?? it is my 1st time to go in malaysia wd friends for a tour gud for 3 days..thanks…

  51. Hi Ricky how are you are you in the warm zone now? Your
    Bike is ok here in Alcantara. I’ve tried to contact you a couple times without success
    My Phone number
    have a great day. the Sinulog was last Saturday and Sunday in Cebu City take care Friend Ricky!

  52. Mr. DP,

    I don’t know if you’ve back in Phils already, since the last msg I read here. But still I would like to know if do you have any idea to travel from Zamboanga to Sandakan recently? Please let me know if their are changes pertaining to the immigration policy, fare and etc. It’s nice if you could update me … Thanks a lot :-)

  53. Mr. DP,

    Thank you you for your prompt reply and update, highly appreciated :-)

  54. Greetings! Im on leave from work for 15 days. Anyways, Im planning to have my vacation for 3 days in Sandakan, travelling alone as always;), Im worried to get offloaded as what ive always hear and usual happenings in the airport. I have my passport, 2 way ticket (ALESON), hotel booking in Sandakan, have my company ID and certificate of employment with me that Im still currently working here in the Philippines. what else they’ll need?

    also planning to stay in sandakan for 2 days then maybe fly straight to Kuala Lumpur and book a plane ticket going back to the philippines. what do you think sir? I need an advice pls!

  55. hello.i am from cebu.and i want to experience a travel via boat from zamboanga to there any advices on how to go there?about the fare i need to get a round trip ticket so what can you adviced me.thank you

  56. Hi I have plan going to Zamboanga to Sandakan. I’m here in Cebu, I already knew how to get there in Zamboanga to Malaysia. I just want to ask If it would be easy for me to get out. I’ve been offloade recently at the Cebu Mactan Airport coz I’m with my foreigner boyfriend. So now I have a record in their database. Can I still go to malaysia to be a tourist? What would be the requirements? Hope you can help me…coz I don’t want to be offloaded again.

  57. Hi good afternoon! I just want to ask if there is ferry going to sandakan from Zamboanga this week. I am planning to go there this coming thursday,i tried to call aleson but i think the number that was posted is wrong.

  58. Hi.. im raslim from bohol, i have a friend from malaysia he been married a filipina my mom best friend. Me and my friend malaysian planning to tourist there country.. so immigration cebu was uploaded me this dec.1 i have a return ticket i stay there as 27 days, so we plan manila to kuala lumpur again the uploaded me. So my plan is zamboanga to sandakan then sandakan to kuala lumpur.. i have a tourist visa given my bestfriend and he be my dependent when i arrive kuala lumpur. Its be okay to travel

  59. In Zamboanga do they stamp your passport in the port before you aboard the ship?

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