Driving is not the best way to explore the Philippines due to unnerving traffic and road conditions, but hopping into a car or motorbike will allow you to discover hidden gems that have not yet been reached by other travelers. For most visitors, traveling without a car (or "commuting" in Philippine English) is better and essential.
The history of automobile travel in the Philippines is closely linked to its history of being a colony of the United States for about 50 years after the Spaniards left and until the end of World War II. Automobiles came around that era, and the Filipino passion on cars began. Despite that, cars are much of a luxury to most Filipinos than a necessity, with only 3% of the population owning one. Many cities and towns date back to Spanish times, thus, they have narrow streets not built for cars. Public transport and walking is much useful, but in places like Metro Manila and nearby provinces, uncontrolled private developments such as sprawling subdivisions and boxy malls make car travel attractive, even into the point it eventually backfires in the form of traffic jams, though around the 2010s, things are changing with the government's thrust to improve and modernize public transport.
As a former United States colony, Philippines drives on the right, though in reality, traffic drove on the left during much of the American colonial era and only after World War II did the country switch to the right-hand side of the road. Most cars have manual (stick-shift) transmission, and models with automatic transmission are more expensive.
Roads in the Philippines vary, from the expressways in Luzon, to unsealed gravel roads in the poorest provinces. The backbone of the system are the one and two-digit national roads, which connects most large cities. The two most important routes are Asian Highway 26 (AH26), which runs north-south from Laoag to Zamboanga clockwise via Cagayan Valley, Bicol, eastern Visayas and eastern Mindanao, and Rte 1, often named the Maharlika Hwy, which is essentially the same route as AH26, but it is split around southern Metro Manila. It is important not to conflate AH26 and Route 1: AH26 follows the expressways near Manila, and includes spur routes to Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro. Despite their importance, many rural stretches are two-lane undivided roads.
Filipinos are famous for their driving habits, and the tendency to ignore traffic laws. Big cities like Manila experience traffic jams, and the honking of horns is a very common occurrence. When there is no traffic, speeding, swerving and reckless passing happen on a regular basis, especially on desolate rural roads. Cars competes with bus and jeepneys, which jostle sidewalk curbs to get more passengers, especially in areas without designated bus stops: the "boundary" commission system that determine bus and jeepney drivers' salaries based on passenger load does not help the traffic situation in many cities. Motorcycles frequently weave through traffic and accumulate at the crosswalk, increasing the risk of accidents. However, traffic lights, while frequently ignored in the past, are more strictly adhered to now.
Distances and travel times
The Philippines does not look so large on the map, but don't get fooled! As an archipelago, driving across the country will entail a ride on a ferry, and there are also many mountains: roads often snake through them and tunnels are uncommon. Average travel speeds are slow even on the major highways, being usually between 40–50 km/h (25–31 mph) in most of the country. In short, it's easy to underestimate the distance when traveling overland in the Philippines.
As a guide, the table below show typical travel times between major cities in the Philippines by car. Times spent at the ferry terminals, breaks and photos should be added to those times. The times listed can also apply on a bus trip, including transfers to another bus or a ferry.
|City pairs||Key roads/routes||Distance||Time||Notes|
|Bacolod-Cebu City||Bacolod-San Carlos Rd (Rte 69)||162 km (101 mi)||5½-6¼ hr||Ferry between Negros and Cebu|
|Bacolod-Dumaguete||Bacolod South Rd (Rte 6)||216 km (134 mi)||5 hr|
|Cagayan de Oro-Davao||Sayre Hwy/Davao-Bukidnon Rd (Rte 10/AH26)||290 km (180 mi)||6 hr|
|Cagayan de Oro-Zamboanga City||Cagayan de Oro-Iligan Rd (Rte 9)/Pagadian-Zamboanga Road (Rte 1/AH26)||494 km (307 mi)||10-11 h|
|Cebu City-Dumaguete||Natalio Bacalso Av (Rte 8)||168 km (104 mi)||5 hr||Ferry between Cebu and Negros|
|Davao-General Santos||MacArthur Hwy/Digos-Makar Rd (Rte 1/AH26)||140 km (87 mi)||3 hr|
|Davao-Manila||Maharlika Hwy (Rte 1/AH26)||1,467 km (912 mi)||30 hr||Ferries between Surigao and Leyte, and Samar and Sorsogon. Expressway between Manila and Batangas.|
|Iloilo City-Roxas City||Iloilo-Capiz Rd (Rte 5)||115 km (71 mi)||2½ hr|
|Manila-Baguio||Manila North Rd (Rte 2) and Kennon Rd (Rte 54)||250 km (160 mi)||4-4½ hr||Expressway between Manila and La Union.|
|Manila-Batangas City||SLEX, STAR Tollway||105 km (65 mi)||1½-2 hr|
|Manila-Laoag||Manila North Rd (Rte 2)||485 km (301 mi)||7½-9½ hr||Expressway between Manila and La Union.|
|Manila-Legazpi||Maharlika Hwy (Rte 1/AH26)||490 km (300 mi)||9-11½ hr||Expressway between Manila and Batangas.|
|Manila-Tuguegarao||Maharlika Hwy (Rte 1/AH26)||457 km (284 mi)||8½-11 hr||Expressway between Manila and Bulacan.|
|Manila-Vigan||Manila North Rd (Rte 2)||405 km (252 mi)||5-7 hr||Expressway between Manila and La Union.|
- Asian Highway 26 - The major north-south highway running clockwise from Laoag to Zamboanga City, with spurs to Cebu City from Leyte and Cagayan de Oro from Davao City.
- Halsema Highway - The main north-south highway through the Luzon Cordilleras, and has the highest point of the Philippine highway system
- Kennon Road - A winding highway that connects Baguio with Rosario
- Ternate–Nasugbu Road - Scenic highway between Ternate in Cavite and Nasugbu in Batangas. It traverses the last few lowland rainforests of Luzon at the vicinity of Mount Palay-palay/Mataas na Gulod Protected Landscape, and the strip of resorts at Nasugbu.
Roads in the Philippines vary greatly in quality from the paved multi-lane expressways of Luzon to the narrow dirt roads of remote mountain areas, which may complicate travel by car.
Most roads in urban areas were built either during the Spanish or American colonial eras, and as such are not suitable for the automobile. Wide-open rural roads are hard to find, and those in the densely populated regions may have houses built close to the road. Mountain roads are full of curves and often prone to landslides, and ravines may not be completely shielded by guard rails or other safety barriers. While most roads in the Philippines are narrow, better suited for a pedestrian and small vehicles, major roads often have two lanes and are normally paved with asphalt or concrete, and multi-lane roads are common near major cities.
The Philippines' road network is centered on Manila. Outside Luzon, larger islands' road networks converge on the largest city or cities (for example, Cebu City for Cebu Province, Iloilo City for Panay and Puerto Princesa for Palawan), while smaller islands (such as Marinduque, Catanduanes and Camiguin) usually have a road circling the entire island. The Philippines has one highway which is part of the Asian Highway Network: Asian Highway 26, also known locally as the Maharlika Highway. The highway begins in Laoag and ends in Zamboanga City, traversing through Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.
Roads in the Philippines can be divided into three basic types:
- Expressways - fully grade-separated highways, usually tolled. Motorcycles are only allowed if they have an engine displacement above 400 cc. Signs are black on yellow (), though expressways are only signed if they are part of AH26.
- National roads - intercity highways that are not up to expressway standard. Can range from unsealed gravel roads in underdeveloped provinces to wide, divided roads in cities. Signs are black on white (). Typically marked and signed, although low-importance ones don't have route numbers and are thus unsigned. A few are tolled, such as Kennon Road, which leads to Baguio, and Halsema Highway, the main north-south highway in the Cordilleras.
- Local roads - All other roads that are not maintained by the national government. These are often maintained by provinces, cities/municipalities, and barangays, although in some areas (such as roads in gated subdivisions and planned communities), these are maintained by private entities.
As route numbers were only introduced in 2014, they are seldom used for reference; instead, expressways are referred to by the abbreviation of their full name, and national roads are either generically called "National Road/Highway" or another common name, whether they are signed or not.
Road atlases and maps are available at bookstores throughout the country, and apps like Google Maps and Waze provide more-or-less accurate turn-by-turn navigation with real-time traffic updates. Both are very helpful when driving, especially when driving alone.
Luzon has a network of expressways, mostly four- to eight-lane freeways; the two most important being North Luzon (NLEX) and South Luzon (SLEX) Expressways. Expressways are connected to the network of national highways and provincial roads which connect to major cities and provinces. Most of the expressways are controlled by two major companies, San Miguel and Metro Pacific, since 2016.
Philippines expressways are the safest roads in the country, thanks to the use of photo radar and strict traffic enforcement, but some sections may be unsafe. Watch out for speedsters, pedestrians and stray animals generally, and stone-throwers along dark, rural sections. Grass fires during the dry season or heavy rain during the monsoon season can also cause traffic to grind to a halt due to reduced visibility.
|Name||Distance||Provinces served||Furthest toll rate||Route numbers||Operator||Notes|
|North Luzon Expressway (NLEX)||76 km (47 mi)||Metro Manila; Bulacan; Pampanga||₱45 (Balintawak-Marilao, flat rate); ₱191 (Bocaue-Santa Ines, Mabalacat)||E1 (unsigned)||Metro Pacific||Balintawak-Malolos section part of AH26.|
|NLEx Mindanao Avenue, Karuhatan, and Valenzuela links||11 km (6.8 mi)||northern Metro Manila||₱45 (flat rate)||E5 (unsigned)|
|South Luzon Expressway (SLEX)||48 km (30 mi)||Metro Manila; Laguna||₱214 (Nichols to Calamba toll plazas); ₱25 (Calamba to Ayala Greenfield toll plazas)||E2 (signed on AH26 segment only)||San Miguel||No northbound toll collection on Calamba toll plaza.|
|STAR Tollway (Southern Tagalog Arterial Road)||42 km (26 mi)||Batangas||₱67||E2 (unsigned)||No tolls collected on Santo Tomas toll plaza southbound, or Balagtas toll plaza northbound.|
|Skyway||37 km (23 mi)||Metro Manila||₱164 (Nichols-Alabang), ₱260 (Nichols-SLEX Calamba toll plaza); free (Buendia-Balintawak, until middle of March 2021)||E2|
|NAIA Expressway (NAIAX)||5.4 km (3.4 mi)||Metro Manila||₱45 (flat fee)||E6 (unsigned)|
|Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway (MCX)||3 km (1.9 mi)||Metro Manila; Cavite||₱17||E2 (unsigned)||Ayala||Westbound toll fee is added to the fee on your entry point on SLEX.|
|Manila-Cavite Expressway (CAVITEX)||12 km (7.5 mi)||Metro Manila; Cavite||₱24 (Las Piñas toll plaza, flat rate); ₱64 (Kawit toll plaza, flat rate)||E3 (unsigned)||Metro Pacific|
|Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX, including Subic-Tipo Expressway)||100 km (62 mi) (including Subic-Tipo Expressway)||Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac||₱296 (SCTEX mainline)||E4 (Subic-Mabalacat); E1 (Mabalacat-Tarlac City), both unsigned|
|Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX)||77 km (48 mi)||Tarlac, Pangasinan||₱270||E1 (unsigned)||San Miguel|
|Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAEX/CALAX)||10 km (6.2 mi) (Mamplasan, Biñan–Santa Rosa-Tagaytay Road, Silang section only)||Cavite, Laguna||Metro Pacific|
The table above is current as of October 30, 2019, but there are also many ongoing expressway projects, which will expand the list further.
Expressways do not exist outside of Luzon, but there are proposals or ongoing projects to build them, such as the third bridge between Cebu and Mactan islands in the Visayas, and the ring expressway around Davao City in Mindanao.
All expressways have tolls, either distance-based or flat-rate, which are generally paid in cash or through electronic toll collection (ETC). Card acceptance remains limited: as of 2019, only Metro Pacific-operated expressways accept credit, debit, and stored-value cards, and even then acceptance is limited to contactless MasterCard and Visa cards, PayMaya, and Metro Manila's Beep card. Tolls are fairly cheap, especially for trips within 100 km (62 mi) of Manila. If you lose the card or ticket issued upon entry, or use the ETC lanes without a valid tag or transponder, you must pay a penalty toll which is the fee from your point of entry plus the farthest toll fee.
Philippine expressways use one of two ETC systems, both using RFID technology:
It is possible to get an ETC system for your car if the rental company does not provide your vehicle with one, sometimes with a small deposit required. Once you apply for an ETC tag/transporder, it can be used at any expressway in the country. However, if you registered your vehicle to the Autosweep system and want to use it on the Easytrip system, you must register it first. Detailed instructions are provided at the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) webpage.
Long-distance expressways have service areas, which can be as simple as a gas station with a convenience store, fast food restaurant and car repair services, to as expansive as one with multiple restaurants, shops, and factory outlet stores, or even a complete shopping mall. Service areas are placed at regular intervals along expressways; for example, you will drive through a service area along the North Luzon Expressway around every 20 km (12 mi).
Basic rest areas, those with only parking and restrooms (and nothing else), only exist along SCTEX between Floridablanca and Porac in Pampanga.
There are also emergency parking bays (turnouts or lay-bys) along expressways, usually found at every 5 km (3.1 mi), but their usage is restricted to periodic vehicle checks or emergency breakdowns. It is prohibited to park there for over 20 minutes, eat, drink, sleep, or throw out garbage there.
Philippine Nautical Highways
The Philippine Nautical Highway system is composed of three routes composed of highways and roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) ferry routes which connects the major islands of the Philippines together by road, bringing down the cost of driving (and, ultimately, lowering the cost of shipping goods between islands). The system begins in Luzon, runs in a north-south direction through the Visayas, and ends in Mindanao. The route is useful for driving to tourist destinations south of Manila: for example, it is possible to drive to both Puerto Galera and Boracay from Manila via the Western Nautical Highway. Philippine Nautical Highways are signposted and a map of the network and RO/RO schedules are available from the Department of Tourism .
The traffic law in the Philippines is based on those in the United States, with the major difference being that speed and distances are in metric. Signs and road markings also display U.S. influence, though there is also some Australian influence in sign design (e.g. yield signs usually "give way", crosswalk location signs are circular, and road names in green signs are placed in a white box).
Visitors are allowed to drive in the Philippines using a foreign driver's license for up to 90 days, after which a foreign license must be converted to a Philippine license. If your license is not in English, it must be accompanied by an official English translation.
An International Driving Permit is recommended, particularly for holders of non-English language licenses, but not required.
Road signs follow international convention, but borrows some elements from American and Australian signage. Red and white triangles are used for many warning signs, as in Europe, but some use graphics based on the American. Regulatory signs are either circular or rectangular (the latter being U.S. influence). Guide signs are rectangular with white text and borders on a green, blue, or brown background. The Philippines have another category of road signs called "traffic instruction", which provides other road rules that are not covered by the regulatory type, such as the prohibition on right turns on red. Neon colored road signs are used to indicate pedestrian-related regulations and warnings, such as crossing locations and advance warning.
Road signs are uncommon outside the highways; if there are any, they do often get stolen and sold as "scrap", or they may not be reflectorized or do not follow standards (though their message should be obvious).
Road markings in the Philippines follow international standards, and are usually white. Exceptions are on the no-overtaking lines, the box intersection and the no-parking curb paint, which uses yellow, and the no stopping curb paint, which uses red.
White lines are used to separate both traffic in the same direction and the opposing direction. Broken white lines means that overtaking is allowed. A solid white line indicates the edge of the roadway, the center line of a wide undivided road or prohibition on swerving. Yellow lines are used in no-overtaking zones, no parking zones (as curb color), and intersection boxes. Double or single solid yellow lines – the same as those in North America – mean that you cannot overtake on either direction, but is also used along with a unbroken white line to further discourage swerving on some locations. A solid yellow line along with a dashed white line means that overtaking is not allowed on one side while permitted on another. A yellow box with an X in the middle of it (common in intersections) means no stopping at any time in that space.
Speed limit signage in the Philippines are a number inside a red ring, much like in Europe the rest of the world, and are posted in kilometers per hours. Unless indicated otherwise by signs, the default speed limits (applicable for cars) are:
|Streets with many pedestrians; roads inside barangays||20 km/h (12 mph)|
|Normal city or municipal roads||30 km/h (19 mph)|
|Highways in urban areas; provincial roads; boulevards and avenues||40 km/h (25 mph)||30 km/h (19 mph) if hauling a trailer|
|Highways outside urbanized areas||80 km/h (50 mph)||50 km/h (31 mph) if hauling a trailer|
Wider roads within urban areas may have higher limits that should be posted. For example, a default of 60 km/h (37 mph) is enforced on all Circumferential and Radial Roads in Metro Manila. The maximum speed on expressways is based on their engineering design, but there is a minimum of 60 km/h (37 mph) and if hauling a trailer, the maximum is 80 km/h (50 mph)
Enforcement is poor, and manic speeders (kaskasero) are common on highways where there are no signs or police. If you drive at the safe speed, others will just attempt to overtake you, so try to run a bit slower on a two-lane highway, or stay on the slower lanes and let others pass on a wide highway or at the expressway.
Use of speed cameras or radar guns is rather limited; you may find them around the expressways and some urban areas (Metro Manila, Davao City). Speed traps are rare or non-existent. There are plans to equip highway police with radar guns by 2020, but is postponed, and how it will have an effect to Filipino driving habits remains to be seen.
Traffic lights are generally placed overhead across the intersection, but in many places, there are also additional lights at the stop line. Most of the lights have fixed phasing and have timers; induction loop systems are limited in use, but are slowly being introduced into other cities.
Traffic lights for left turns are usually placed at the left of those used for through and right turns, but in some places, are on a separate face. The signals for left turns often proceed at the same time the through and right turn lights turn green. Places where you can turn left after you yield or give way to oncoming traffic are rare, but do exist.
Like in North America, it is legal to turn right (or turn left onto another one-way street) on a red light, provided you stop and give way to traffic facing a green light, unless a sign says otherwise.
Pedestrian signals are generally like those used in Europe and much of Asia, using pictograms of a standing man and walking man, but some installations use North American symbols. Many newer installations also use timers that show how long each phase.
- Red standing man or stop hand - Don't cross
- Green or white walking man - Cross when safe
- Flashing red or green man, or flashing red stop hand - Don't cross, unless you've already crossed.
Many traffic lights are deactivated every midnight till 6AM, and will flash yellow; some will have yellow for the through road and red on the side road and/or left turn movements, as observed in North America. Lights also flash if the signals are not working.
Many traffic light intersections have yellow or red box intersection markings: it is illegal to stop there, even during traffic jams.
Yellow lights, while meaning caution that the lights will turn red, to some drivers (especially bus and jeepney drivers), mean speed up and beat the red light. It is not only dangerous, but illegal. Unlike in other Southeast Asian countries, Filipinos respect traffic lights well, and red light crossing is rare.
Right of way
The general rule on right of way at most intersections is all traffic on the right has priority. In major roads, through traffic has right of way over side roads, which must yield. In roundabouts or traffic circles (rotunda), traffic inside the circle usually has right of way, though they may not be adequately signed and the rule is often overlooked. All-way stops can be found in a few cities, especially those used to host a U.S. military base (e.g. Angeles, Subic), but this is not recommended, and the "priority to right" rule applies.
You should yield to crossing pedestrians at a crossing, but this is often ignored, and crossing pedestrians do get involved in collisions.
You should yield to emergency vehicles, yet, only a few motorists respect this. Nevertheless, this remains punishable with a fine if you're caught.
Seatbelts are mandatory only for those seated in front, and if traveling with children, kids under 6 are not allowed to sit in the front passenger seat. Children below 8 years old are required to be seated in child booster seats.
Distracted driving and honking
Distracted driving is illegal in the Philippines. Using a cell phone while driving is dangerous and illegal, and carries a fine when caught. GPS devices or navigation apps are permitted, but must be used with a hands-free kit, and the route must be set before driving. Playing games or reading maps are also illegal while in motion. Exceptions only apply when using a cell phone in emergency, like reporting an accident.
Filipinos are very gratuitous with the car horn, and honking is very commonly used as a signal to other drivers. Honking is often used to get another driver's attention, to get a car out of the way, to thank an opposite driver or to speed up traffic. It is, however, illegal to honk in front of schools (during class hours), churches (during Mass or service times) and hospitals, although this is ignored by some drivers.
Alcohol and drugs
Driving under the influence is illegal. The allowable blood alcohol is 0.05 for most drivers and 0.01 for motorcyclists. When you are suspected to be under the influence, traffic police will pull you over to take three sobriety tests, and a breathalyzer test is required if you fail the three sobriety tests. Even when you are sober and below the limit, charges can still be filed for other violations, if not on drunk driving.
School zones and school buses
School zones have a 20 km/h (12 mph) speed limit when in force and vehicles must slow down when approaching those. In rural areas, it is common to place a chicane around the crossing.
School buses, usually in the form of yellow vans with the words "SCHOOL SERVICE" and the name of the school it serves painted on it, are common, but there are no special traffic laws covering them. Philippine school buses are not required to have flashing lights or stop arms, but there may be a guard holding a stop sign and the vehicle have alternating yellow and black safety stripes and the message "CAUTION: CHILDREN CROSSING". Stop or yield for children crossing if seeing a school bus.
City and town driving
City or town driving can be very challenging, not only for congestion and the narrow streets. Expect other bad driving habits just as common in other cities in Southeast Asia, and scarce parking spaces.
The urban area speed limit is 40 km/h (25 mph) for major roads, and 20–30 km/h (12–19 mph) for everything else, depending on road width. Some wide roads or avenues may have a 60 km/h (37 mph) limit where signed or enshrined in traffic ordinances. It's hard to know whether you are in a built-up area due to lack of appropriate signs, so use your best judgment and adjust your speed to conditions, even if locals tend to ignore speed limits.
"Number coding" (road space rationing) schemes
Due to heavy traffic congestion, Metro Manila, Baguio, and Cavite province (since December 2018, on its three major highways) have laws that restrict certain vehicles based on the day of the week and the ending number of your vehicle's license plate: this is officially called the Uniform Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP), but it is simply known as "number coding" or, previously "color coding" (although it has nothing to do with the color of your vehicle). The UVVRP works as follows:
|Weekends and holidays||No coding|
Cities that enforce the UVVRP generally prohibit cars from being driven between 7AM and 7PM on a certain weekday on all national (primary) and secondary roads, although within city limits the implementation varies: in Metro Manila (excluding Makati and Pasay), some cities implement a "window" between 10AM and 3-4PM where the scheme is not enforced unless driving on national roads, while in Baguio, the UVVRP is only enforced in the city center, and the scheme does not apply to the rest of the city. In general however, the UVVRP does not apply to minor streets (mostly in residential areas), and those roads remain open to coded cars the whole day. Be sure to check with a local contact or the car rental agency/hotel concierge about whether these rules will apply to your vehicle, especially as foreigners driving can become targets for less scrupulous traffic aides.
Major urban areas such as Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, or Davao City have a network of wide thoroughfares, but only Metro Manila has expressways, yet to form a large network. It remains stressful to drive from the downtown to the suburbs because of frequent intersections, congestion, and roadside obstructions.
In towns, the major highway directly passes through the poblacion (town center), and traffic is usually mixed with pedestrians, tricycles, and motorcycles, creating congestion. Bypass roads are built to divert traffic away from the center, avoiding the stress when passing directly through town.
Parking is mostly scarce, even in the major tourist attractions. It remains challenging to find a parking spot in many areas, especially in big cities because the roads are too narrow to permit them.
Paid parking can be spotted in the cities. Shopping malls will have at least one parking garage, with the largest malls having multiple garages and lots available. In areas with paid street parking, a parking attendant will approach your vehicle once parked and will issue a ticket which has to be placed on the dashboard. Parking fees are either by the hour or flat-rate, depending on the location and/or the parking operator, and can range from affordable to very expensive. At night, street parking spaces in some areas may be freely parked in, while in others, these are closed off with a cordon.
Parking restrictions are strictly enforced to curb down traffic congestion, particularly in Metro Manila, where illegal parking or stopping can result in the vehicle being clamped or towed, and the driver being ticketed. Be on the lookout for signs that announce parking restrictions, and beware of unlicensed towing companies that extort money from violators, and of corrupt traffic enforcers bribing unwary motorists. However, outside of big cities, parking enforcement is much more lax, and is virtually non-existent in rural areas.
Major international car rental companies such as Hertz and Budget have offices in Metro Manila, notably at the airport. Avis and Europcar are among the largest international car rental companies, with offices in several cities throughout the Philippines. There are also local car rental companies, such as Nissan Rent-a-Car. Regardless of the company, prices are bound to be reasonable.
Car rental companies usually allow either self-drive or chauffeur-driven rentals: some types of cars however (like vans) may only be rented out with a chauffeur. Also, some rental companies (mostly local ones) may only allow rentals to be driven within the island where the city of rental is located: for example, it may be possible to drive with a rental from Manila to Legazpi (both on Luzon), but not from Manila (Luzon) to Tacloban (Leyte) because it would entail the use of roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) ferries. If you intend to drive out of Luzon and into the outlying islands, the Visayas or Mindanao (and/or vice-versa), be sure that the rental company's terms and conditions allow it.
Traffic jams are commonplace in large cities, especially in Metro Manila. Metro Manila has the worst reputation for traffic jams, despite having a network of five circumferential and ten radial roads, with various routes still unfinished. Most congestion is blamed on uncontrolled development, most notably malls and their large parking lots. Rush hour often runs between 7-9AM and 4-7PM, but snarls can continue throughout the day.
Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, better known by its acronym, EDSA, is notorious for its perennial traffic, and has become a metonym for Metro Manila's extreme congestion. Many Manila locals call it a large parking lot as traffic often grinds to a halt during rush hour, especially on stretches north of the Pasig River. Avoid taking it unless necessary. Even Circumferential Road 5 (C-5), intended as an alternative to EDSA and an important route for cargo trucks, sees heavy traffic throughout the day.
Expressways are also prone to congestion, especially on sections approaching Manila. The southbound NLEx approaching Quezon City is often clogged during the weekday morning rush hour, while the northbound SLEx also experiences congestion during weekdays until 12PM, from 12-7PM on Saturdays, and from 2-7PM on Sundays. Kilometers-long traffic jams, especially near toll plazas, can happen particularly during major holiday seasons.
Fuel is sold by the liter and not by the gallon, and prices are expensive by local standards but cheaper than in Europe and parts of the United States. Full-service gas stations are the norm, and expect a pump attendant to provide service and payment. Payment is generally cash-only, although in urban areas many also accept credit cards.
In most areas, gasoline is available with a choice of between three levels of octane: 91 (regular), 95 (mid-grade or plus) and 97 (premium), all sold under varying brand names. Some gas stations, mostly in big cities, also sell extra-premium gasoline with an octane level of 100. Diesel fuel is widely available, with both regular and premium levels both being sold, and particularly in rural areas, expect to also find kerosene (locally called gaás). Diesel is priced a few pesos per liter cheaper than regular gasoline, and kerosene is priced somewhere between the two. The Department of Energy publishes weekly summaries of average fuel prices on its website, which can be used to determine when to fill up your tank, but fuel prices tend to fluctuate frequently, often weekly, so gas up as early as possible. Generally, the further away you are from a major urban area, the more expensive it becomes to fill up, and on far-flung islands where fuel is brought in by ship, expect to pay significantly more (up to ₱10 more per liter) than on the main islands.
Gas stations are common in highly populated areas and major roads, but are sparse out in the countryside, with entire towns sometimes only having 1-2 gas stations between them. Most gas stations have convenience stores and car repair shops, and along expressways, gas stations at full-service rest areas will have multiple restaurants and shops on-site, but smaller ones have only pumps and toilets. Toilets tend to be poorly maintained except at expressway rest areas and at larger gas stations in major urban areas.
In rural areas, retail gasoline, dyed red, can be seen sold in used soft drink bottles. They are typically catered to motorcycles, tricycles and jeepneys, but those are untaxed and illegal, and can incur a fine, which is often unenforced.
Outside the expressways of Luzon, Philippine roads have a poor safety record, with about 30 deaths from road accidents every day. Nonetheless, driving is still an enjoyable way to explore the country, and many foreign visitors get around by car or motorbike without any incident. While exaggerated by locals and the media, Filipinos are less aggressive behind the wheel than those in neighbouring countries, but still far more so than in some other countries.
Bus and jeepney drivers often drive aggressively, stopping practically anywhere where there are waiting passengers (or someone flags them down) to get more fares, but this is slowly decreasing. Give them the space they need, and watch out for passengers boarding or alighting at the middle of the road.
Outside of major highways in the provinces, you might encounter one-lane bridges, especially Bailey bridges. They are poorly signed, and unless you are on a motorbike, watch out for vehicles crossing without looking for approaching traffic.
Flooding, worsened by clogged drainage and high tide, is also another risk, especially during rainy season. Highways through mountainous terrain often get closed due to landslides.
Curbs are a common hazard on rebuilt rural highways. Also watch out for unusually high curbs, which may not only damage your car's paintwork or suspension, but can also cause a serious crash if hit at high speed. Open concrete drainage ditches are dangerous, even on local streets, especially if you are driving a motorcycle.
Utility poles are often not immediately removed from widened roads, and also a hazard on rural highways.
Chicanes are commonly placed on school crossings or police checkpoints along two-lane highways.
Vehicle maintenance and accidents
A common refrain for road accidents is failing brakes. Always check the condition of the brakes (along with the lights, oil, water, air, gas, engine, and tires) before taking long drives by car. Ensure that you are not sleepy or drunk before driving, and always have a fellow driver to substitute you if you feel sleepy on a long drive.
Be aware that the Philippines does not have a national roadside assistance number. In Metro Manila, should you need roadside assistance or need your car towed, you can call 136. Elsewhere, if you're a member of an FIA-affiliated auto club, you can call the Automobile Association Philippines (AAP) hotline at +63 (2) 723-0808.
There is no single traffic law enforcement unit in the Philippines. Depending on place, you may encounter the Philippine National Police (PNP), local traffic police (traffic enforcers or traffic aides), Land Transportation Office (LTO) officials, and expressway operator employees.
The PNP, through the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) patrols highways outside of city or town centers, and may be accompanied with LTO officials. They may set up checkpoints along national and provincial highways, and ask for identification, especially if you are driving a motorcycle. There are plans to have police equipped with radar guns to enforce speed limits by 2020, but is postponed.
Within urban areas or town centers, you will encounter local traffic police. The respectability of local traffic police varies by location, but in most places, they have a negative reputation for demanding bribes and lacking training.
In addition, Metro Manila's major thoroughfares are patrolled by constables by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). Unlike the local traffic police, they are better trusted over the local traffic police, and only a few issue tickets (which are rather sent to the owner through the mail).
Expressways are patrolled by the operators themselves, with employees monitoring speed limits and ETC-only lanes. They do not have powers to enforce traffic laws, but they can report you to law enforcement once you hit the toll booth.
The culture of bribery remains, but it is illegal to bribe law enforcement. Some foreign drivers in the Philippines have been arrested for bribing traffic police, especially around Manila. It is also advisable and encouraged to have a dashcam or smartphone ready when dealing with law enforcement so you can have tangible evidence against those demanding bribes.
If you are new to driving in the Philippines, avoid or minimize driving at night. Many roads outside of developed areas have poor visibility and lighting, and many local drivers tend to place their headlights at high position and refuse to lower them (or some may not have them turned on at all). Drunk, drugged, or sleep-deprived driving are most common during late night hours on highways; so are speedsters and drugged-up bus or truck drivers.
If you choose to drive at night, it is advisable not to overtake other vehicles and drive slower if conditions permit.