Using Your GI Bill Overseas and in the Philippines
Philippines Travel Blog #3
Are you searching for VA approved GI Bill foreign schools? Have you considered the Philippines in your list of options? Do you have question in relation to how the GI Bill process works for foreign students? What should you know before you go?
Finding the right University
Well, the process really starts with building a list of all those GI Bill Foreign Schools that all meet your expectations. I suggest that you first decide what it is that you want to study, then use a Google Search to see if that degree program is available in a particular country. Google is your friend here, you will find results super-fast, and you’ll be able to pull up reviews for these school using Google Maps while simultaneously scoping out the area. Once you’ve located a few schools that meet your expectations, then it’s now time to check if those schools are VA approved GI Bill Foreign schools or training institutions.
The tool you are going to want to explore is the VA’s “Weams Institution Search” where you can easily search for VA approved GI Bill foreign schools in just about any country. Search for “institutions of higher learning” by simply selecting the country of your schools, and clicking search. The VA approved schools will appear before you in alphabetical order where you can then click on them to confirm if the schools address matches that of what you found in Google Maps. Here you can also take note of the VA’s Certifying Official(s) for that particular school. If you’ve school is listed here then congratulations! Before you get too excited however, I can’t stress enough the following information:
- Please be smart by visiting said country for a minimum of 2 weeks before you decide to move there and take on such a commitment. Personally, it wasn’t until my third visit to the Philippines that I felt like I really started to understand the culture, and new for sure what I was getting into. Nothing you read online will be enough, you will have to experience the foreign country for yourself to find out if the culture and infrastructure fits not only your expectations, but also your personality. Keep in mind that vacationing somewhere overseas, and living overseas, are two completely different experiences!
- While you visit the foreign country, you also need to get a good feel for the cost of living in that area, and ask yourself, are you willing to live there within your budget?
- Budget. The good thing about attending a GI Bill foreign school is that you will receive the maximum Monthly Housing Allowance or “MHA.” This means instead of being subject to scaling rates dependent upon cost-of-living per zip code back home, you are instead bumped right to the top. Rates are of course still dependent upon time-in-service, type of discharge, and amount of credits/units you take per semester. For example; As of 2017, the 100% full-time MHA rate for the Post 911 GI Bill was $1,681.00 US Dollars, or P82,965.00 Philippine Pesos per month. A yearly books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000.00 (full-time) is also paid proportionately based on enrollment, but please note that this payment is often received well after your first MHA payment, added into a mysterious future payment. Most countries college credits and units are calculated the same as in the USA. So if you take 12 credits at your foreign school, then you are likely to be considered full-time by the VA even if you class is only 15 minutes long. The term “credit hours” is used loosely in these situations, all you need to be concerned with is how many actual credit units you are taking in a given semester. Some schools will enter in your number of units in 9./A. of the VA 22-1999, while others will enter in actual hours into 9./A. and 10, either is okay as the clock hours in 10. will match the number of units anyway. It’s better however to tell your school to enter in only the units, I’ll touch more on this later.
Important to-do’s before you fly!
There are a few non-VA related items that you may need before you attend any GI Bill Foreign Schools around the world. While this list is primarily targeted towards the Philippines, it would behoove you to double check with your school what the requirements are for foreign students before you make any plans. Why? This is because much of the following is very difficult to obtain remotely, trust me, it will save you an absolute ton of headaches if you knock these out before you leave your home country. Most legitimate US accredited universities in the Philippines, and elsewhere, will require these following items in one way, shape, or form:
- A “Police Clearance Certificate issued by the National Police Authorities in the student’s country of origin. For Americans this means an FBI background check certificate via form 1-783, please refer to the FBI’s website for instructions. I must mention that in addition to the 1-783, you need to include a note that states: “Please provide an FBI seal and signature from a Division Officer for the purpose of obtaining a federal apostille.” If you’re reading this after you’ve already arrived in the Philippines, then please refer to this forum post on how you can obtain this vitally important, multiple use document without buying an expensive round-trip ticket back home!
- An official copy of your high school transcripts.
- An official copy of your college transcripts.
- Items above numbered 1, 2, & 3 need to be “duly authenticated by the Philippine Embassy (Red Ribbon) having jurisdiction over your state. How do you accomplish this?
- Item 1 cannot be apostilled at the State level and is thus far more complicated then Red Ribboning the other two documents. For details on how to apostille your Police Clearance, please refer to this forum post.
- Items 2, & 3 need to first be apostilled by the Department of the Secretary of State for whatever state you live in. Look them up online, and call the number and talk to someone about what is needed to apostille those two documents. You may need to get a couple “True Copy Forms” emailed to you from the state, and have them notarized at the bank (or UPS Store) along with your documents before you send them out to your states Secretary of State. I’m sure ever state is different, but usually you would include a self-address paid return-envelope so that they can mail you back these documents. If you are confused about this process please see this forum post.
- Once you have items 1, 2, & 3 all apostilled correctly by the state, then WITHOUT removing the staples, make photocopies of each document. Then you can then proceed to mail all the documents and photocopies together along with a US Postal Money Order for $25 x the # of documents being Red Ribboned, to the Philippine Embassy having jurisdiction over your state. Please see your Embassy’s website for further instructions, or refer to this forum post that covers the process for those within the Philippines.
- At least two signed letters of recommendation and/or moral character from previous schools.
How do I file the VA paper work?
- Now that you have chosen your school, you need to get approval from the VA for both the school, and your program. By now most programs at all major universities world-wide have already been approved before by the VA, but some may not have been. Needless to say, this is almost always approved, and is really just a formality to get the paperwork started on the VA’s end in advance of your enrollment certification. To do this you will need to file the VA form 219-95 online with your Ebenefits account. Do not wait to set up your Ebenefits account, and make sure you obtain “premium Ebenefits access” by going to your nearest VA regional office to verify your identity and sign up. You need to have a premium account so that in case of an emergency, you can perform any and all functions related to your VA benefits remotely. You can do all of this an entire year early or more, just give the VA an approximate guess at when your start date would be for classes at your school, it’s not set in stone so don’t worry, just get it done at least 90 days in advance! If for some reason your program is not approved, you may need to contact your school to ask them to get approval. Please contact the VA for information on how to properly arrange that because the process is different for each school. After filing your 219-95, you will soon receive your “Certificate of Eligibility” complete with your schools name, program, and benefits entitlement information. Please keep this in a safe place! Note: Sometimes upon arrival at said country things do not go as planned, your program may no longer be available, or you may just want to change programs for some other reason. Don’t worry, as you can change your program at any time by filing a VA 22-1995 online with Ebenefits, and no, you WILL NOT need to sit around and wait for another Certificate of Eligibility before you can start classes.
- After you’ve saved enough money to make the trip overseas to your new VA approved GI Bill foreign school, be sure to contact your school and ask about what fees are required for enrollment and add that number to your savings! This is because, do to the way foreign school process VA paperwork, the VA will likely not be able to pay you in time for the start of classes. This means you will have to pay for your first enrollment and books upfront. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because if there is ever a gap in your enrollment, like taking the summer off, you will have a credit on your account before the start of the next semester. This way you do not have to worry about not being able to re-start classes because the VA can’t pay right away. Although Enrollment Certifications can be mailed early in the USA, foreign schools have much different non-electronic systems and processes that prevent us from doing much of anything in advance! I can’t stress this enough, BRING EXTRA $! There is a likely chance that you might not be able to enroll right away for a variety of reasons, so I would recommend bringing with you a minimum of a semester or two worth of living expenses!
- So you’ve arrived overseas, now what do you do? I would recommend that you first visit your schools foreign students department to inquire about applying for your visa. Most schools will have some type of waiver program to allow you to attend your first semester before you have officially completed your visa, but be sure to ask your school! Next, remember that VA certifying official whose contact information you found on the VA’s database? Bring that name with you to the universities registrar’s office just in case they do not know what your talking about, and you have to speak with someone else. Ask to fill out the VA 22-1999, the University should already have these forms available for you to fill out, if they do not, then ask to speak with the schools VA certifying official to have the forms mailed to the school. Note: Legally those forms are only supposed to be provided by the school to the students, not the other way around. In the USA the school would fill out the entire form for you, but since you’re in a foreign country expect that things are going to be a little crazy. In the Philippines you will have to jump around from the registrar’s office to get a bill to pay for the form, then to the cashiers office to pay for the bill, then to accounting office to receive the tuition amounts, then lastly back to the registrar’s office to enter your semesters units and dates. From there you will likely need to wait a couple weeks to a month for the final signature from the certifying official. In regard to these forms, many schools are confused on how they should be filled out. All the VA is concerned about is the number of credits/units you are taking in column A. Do not let the school enter in all kinds of crazy hours and such in columns B & C, because they will not convert correctly as the policies are different in foreign schools and you will end up being paid the wrong amount and have to contact the VA to fix your pay. If your school refuses, you’ll have to just show them your semester schedule or payment breakdown for the correct semester credits/units. If there is any question as to how the form should be filled out, please see the example I’ve provided; your welcome.
- Great so now you have your VA 22-1999 filled out, and let me guess, you are stressing about how you are going to mail it to the VA Regional Office in Muskogee OK that handles all the paperwork for GI Bill foreign schools. What if it gets lost? Yup, that’s happened to me before, and I’ve been made aware it’s happened to many others too. Some countries have arrangements with the US Embassy where you or the school can mail the forms to the embassy instead of Muskogee, but most schools will not do this for you. Lucky for you, I’ve spoken with dozens of VA reps in Muskogee and have been informed of a much faster and easier way of filing your VA 22-1999’s! All you need to do is sign up at the GI Bill Customer Help portal, and take a screen shot with your cell phone of your VA form 22-1999 (you can use this app for really good scans), then upload the form as an attachment along with a quick message you’re done! It’s a simple as that, works 100% of the time, and is the recommended method by employees in Muskogee; your welcome.
Why choose the Philippines?
- Cost of living. P1 Philippine Peso is currently only about $0.020 US Dollars, and $1 Dollar is currently P49.35 Pesos. The rates are only getting better too, this means you will already be at an economic advantage before we even talk about the cost of living in the Philippines. In short, the largest monetary burden on the average person known as rent, is significantly cheaper in the Philippines then in the USA. For example, you can find a decent gated two-bedroom, non-condo apartment, in a great location of Cebu for around only P12,000.00 or $242.00. Depending on your schools location, it might only cost you around $2.00/day in taxi fares to and from school!
- Visas. There are many ways to enter the Philippines on a temporary basis, or even on an extended basis. The good news is that every one of these visa programs can be converted to student visas for your convenience. Yes, this means that you will NOT have to secure a student visa prior to coming to the Philippines! For visa related questions please visit the forums for additional information.
- If nursing is your chosen discipline, rest assured that your training will be both challenging and top-notch quality.
- The people. There are no other people quite like the Filipino people. You will be sure to have a blast here, it’s truly “more fun in the Philippines.”
Warnings. Why you might not want to choose the Philippines:
- Failure to adapt. Statistically, the vast majority of foreign students drop out of college because they fail to adapt to Philippine University life. There are many reasons for this, so I’ll try to cover only the most common reasons for failing to adapt to university life here in the Philippines.
- Filipino students are loud, very loud, you may find it difficult to hear what is going on, or may simply just drive you mad, ether way it’s defiantly a top complaint of foreign students here.
- You classmates will likely be much younger then you. As of school year 2016-2017, the Philippines didn’t have high school grades 11 and 12. This means if you had attended university here, you would have found yourself surrounded by 11th graders. Even though this is in the process of changing, it’s important to understand that it is not common for Filipino’s to attend school later in adult life. You may come across a maximum of 2 or 3 classmates that are in their mid-late 20’s, and maybe 1 in their 30’s, but it’s extremely rare because kids are encouraged to attend college immediately after high school. Filipino’s are also live relatively sheltered lives at the direction of their parents until they are married, so you may end up being surprised at how immature some of your classmates are. What this means for you is that you might have a hard time relating to your classmates if you are in your mid-late 20’s or older.
- Everything is different, everything is backwards, and it’s just simply too much of a change to fast. You will have to be able to adapt fast, because you are a guest in the Philippines, and so you can’t expect the Philippines to adapt to you.
- University transfers. Shockingly, many transfer credits are no longer being accepted by Philippine Universities. Why? Quick history lesion: Since the Philippines never had grades 11 & 12, they instead added extra additional units or credits to their University system to compensate for the lack of junior and senior high school. So basically, students were doing 6 years of work crammed into 4 years of university time, which translates into nearly 30 units per semester compared to the 12-15 units of most other universities around the world (note: this will effect the VA’s full-time “rate of pursuit” calculation, but more on that later). Fast forward to today; the Philippines is trying to “match the rest of the world” when it comes to its educational system. That’s why as previously mentioned, the Philippines now has high school grades 11 and 12. Unfortunately however, in the process of the Philippines trying to “match the rest of the world,” they have managed to make things even more outside the norm to the point where they are actually hurting their students and economy. How? Here’s the scoop of what is currently happening here at many universities here in the Philippines as of late 2017 (subject to change):
- Instead of having minor college level liberal arts subjects such as math, english, and sciences for the first two years of college like the rest of the world, the Philippines has decided to make grades 11 and 12 be like a “junior college” where students will supposedly take these college minors. Yes, the Philippines thinks that grades 11 and 12 are like an associate’s degree for transfer into a 4 year university, LOL! “What’s the problem with that” you say? Well, instead of dropping the semester course load down to the normal 12-15 units, since they claim grades 11 and 12 are going to be junior college, they are instead filling in the empty spaces left by the minors with extra majors! So these changes will result in the retention of the 6 years of work in a 4 years’ time model, but worse, because students will be forced to do 2 additional years of “high school.” In-short, in an effort to “match the rest of the world,” the Philippines has somehow managed to increase the student work load to be equivalent to 8 years of college, placing the Philippines in farther left field than ever before! The biggest problem with all of this is that the “high school minors” (that’s what we’ll call them) are NOT going to be globally considered college level classes. Why? Students in the rest of the world already take higher levels of math, english, and science in grades 11 and 12, and they do not get college credit for them unless they test into advanced AP classes. This kind of thinking is why the Philippines has been wrongly giving foreigners college credits for their high school transcripts for decades. With this new system though, it’s eventually going to get to the point where no one is going to except a degree from the Philippines, because the transcript will not contain BOTH high school and college level liberal arts.
- As previously mentioned, you can expect to do double the units or credits here in the Philippines. In the USA full time is 12 credits or more, with special permission required by your Dean to do over 15. This is because millions of dollars was spend over hundreds of years studying course loads, and it’s been proven that students cannot learn adequately when they have a load over 15 credits per semester. With this in mind, the Philippines continues to schedule students for 20-30 units per semester without flinching! In fact, if you choose to go to school in the Philippines for 8 years and do 15 units per semester, you will need a lawyer to draft an explanation as to why else your visa will be revoked! This increased course load is a huge contributor to the dropping out of foreign students in the Philippines. An unfortunate side-effect of these high unit/credit semesters is that the VA will calculate your rate of pursuit based on what your Philippines school considers full-time. For most schools here that means 15 units/credits. This means you will have to do one additional 3 credit class compared to the 12 credits you would have to do in the U.S. Please consider this because it could mean a loss of thousands of dollars per month if you make the mistake of taking only 12 units!
- In addition to double the units, Universities in the Philippines have been known to also give double the work. Not only that, but they are often very tedious in the way they expect things to be done with a certain color and brand of notebook etc. There is no such thing as after-school activities at Philippine universities, so do not plan on doing anything after school or on the weekends. Expect to do a pre-test, and post-test for every major, every class, every day besides days when you have a long or final exam.
- Do to the student age situation I previously went over, may foreigners will feel like they are being treated like a child. Sure most of the schools here are catholic, and are strict for that reason, but there is an additional feeling around college that can only be described as “high school” in nature. Expect to do many acting skits and plays in front of the class like dancing and singing!
- There are many additional fees that are not included with tuition everything from P400.00 entrance exams to uniforms, and If you’re not a permanent resident you will need to apply for a Visa. Applying for a Visa means your going to need to visit the NBI and many other government institutions for fingerprints, medical examinations, and dozens of pictures, all things that cost money. Visa fees are actually expensive for your first semester and will be somewhere around P21,250.00 (or $450.00) including your ACR Card, while your yearly renewals are only P12,000.00 including you ACR Card, so yes you need to renew your Student Visa every year. For those who are not using the VA to compensate for books, you can expect to pay for example, around P8,400.00 (or $170.00) for a bundle deal on your first semester Nursing books.
- Listen very carefully: if you are wanting to transfer your two year associates degree, or a year or more of minors to the Philippines, and subsequently jump right into your third year, your not going to be able to do so! This is because those minors you took back home are no longer part of the college curriculum in the Philippines, they are now going to be considered high school. This means that you will be required to do 4 more years of what will basically be only majors. Some schools are honoring transferred minors into programs under a grandfather clause, but will cancel the agreement if you fail even just one class. That means you could make it all the way to the last semester of your last year of college, fail a class, then have to start back at 3rd year! Please check with your school to see what classes if any, will be transferred, and if there are any future changes being made to the curriculum. Consider how many more extra years you may have to be in school here in the Philippines, and how much harder it may be compared to back home before you make any final decisions.
I feel bad for the Philippines because they are going to lose visa income from many potential transferees, many of which are veterans who would have been an economic stimulus by spending their MHA in the Philippines. In the end, the Philippines looses twice. Firstly, more students with end up with degrees that are not recognized in some parts of the world that they may want to work in. Secondly, they also miss out on all the aging vets with college credits who will choose another country to go to school, because they do not want to throw away the first two years college credit they worked so hard for. Expect the Philippines to have far less revenue from foreign student visas, and if you see it in the news, you know you heard it here first; your welcome.
In summery there are a lot of great GI Bill foreign schools out there for you to take advantage of, and although I’m bias towards the Philippines, I want you to be successful and make the right decision, after all you earned it, Salamat for your service!