The country has one of the world's longest coastlines with many fine beaches and excellent diving. There is great cultural diversity due to the many islands, many waves of immigration, and a mixture of foreign influences — the country was a Spanish colony from the late 1500s to 1898, then American until 1946 — and much mixing of cultural influences. It would take decades to visit and experience everything.
Many locals speak English well and most of the others have at least some English. Food and accommodations are cheap, many destinations have excellent infrastructure, and the people are cheerful and friendly; perhaps the easiest way to recognize a Filipino abroad is to see who has the broadest smile.
The Philippines has a slowly growing number of visitors, however, it continues to lag behind its neighbors, having received only 8 million visitors in 2018, just a fifth of Thailand's draw, despite a population 40% larger. Westerners form a minority of visitors; most tourists are from China, Korea and Japan. The plight of tourism mostly stems from insurgencies and crime, but most parts of the country remain safe with common sense.
Wikivoyage divides the country into four island groupings:
|Luzon (Metro Manila, Cordillera Administrative Region, Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Bicol, and the outlying island/archipelagic provinces of Batanes, Mindoro, Marinduque and Romblon)|
is an administrative region centered on the largest and most populous island in the Philippines. Located in the northern region of the archipelago, it is the economic and political center of the nation, being home to the capital city, Manila, and to Quezon City, its most populous city.
|Visayas (Leyte, Samar, Cebu Province, Bohol, Negros, Panay, and the small island provinces Biliran, Siquijor and Guimaras)|
is one of the three principal geographical divisions of the Philippines, located between the other two (Luzon and Mindanao). It consists of many islands and has its own ethnic groups and languages, closely related to other Filipino groups and languages.
|Mindanao (Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao Region, Soccsksargen, Caraga Region, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)|
is the second largest island in the Philippines. This area has many of the country's Muslims, some are quite radical, and much of the area is considered unsafe for travel; see warnings in Mindanao and lower-level articles for details.
|Palawan (Palawan Island, Calamian Islands, Cuyo Islands)|
is an archipelagic province to the west of the rest of the country. It is the largest province in the country by area. Its capital is the city of Puerto Princesa.
The Philippine government's administrative system uses three top-level regions: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. They treat Palawan as part of the Mimaropa region, administered under Luzon. Below that are 18 lower-level regions, 80 provinces, 120 cities and many rural municipalities. The lowest administrative level is the barangay — a rural district or an urban neighborhood — and addresses or directions in the Philippines often include the barangay name.
With a population around 100 million, the Philippine has many cities. Listed below are some of the most important cities for visitors.
- 1 Metro Manila - the National Capital Region is one of the largest cities in the world and a place of huge contrasts, from ultra-modern buildings and affluent districts to slums plagued with garbage and crime; its pollution, traffic jams, and the scarcity of historical sights may discourage visitors, the smiling, stoical and resourceful people, and the staggering variety of culture and entertainment, are its saving grace.
- 2 Bacolod - known as the "City of Smiles" because of the MassKara Festival (Máscara in Spanish) held annually on 19 October, it is one of the gateways to Negros Island and the home of the famous Bacolod Chicken Inasal.
- 3 Baguio - Luzon's summer capital because of its cool weather, it boasts well-maintained parks and scenic areas, and is the home of the "Igorot", the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras.
- 4 Cagayan de Oro - known as the "City of Golden Friendship", it is popular for white water rafting and is the gateway to Northern Mindanao.
- 5 Cebu - the "Queen City of the South" was the first Spanish base in the Philippines and is a major center for commerce, industry, culture and tourism; Metro Cebu is the country's second largest urban area, after Metro Manila.
- 6 Davao - the largest city in the world in terms of land area, is known for its Durian fruit and for being the home of Mount Apo, the Philippines' tallest mountain.
- 7 Tagbilaran - known as the site of the Sandugo (blood compact) between Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi and Rajah Sikatuna representing the people of Bohol.
- 8 Vigan - the capital of Ilocos Sur and a UNESCO World Heritage Site; its city center is the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the Philippines with well-preserved, cobbled streets.
- 9 Zamboanga - known as "La Ciudad Latina de Asia" (Asia's Latin City), it is the melting pot between the Philippines' Christian and Muslim cultures, boasting old mosques, grand churches and historic colonial structures.
With the possible exception of Manila, it is fairly common for Filipinos to add the "City" suffix to the city name, but Wikivoyage rather avoids that practice as unnecessarily redundant, except when disambiguation is necessary. Cities sharing a name with a province (including former ones) are generally named in Wikivoyage as [city name] (city) (e.g. Cebu City is Cebu (city)), especially when the predominant local usage is generally the simple but ambiguous name.
- 1 Banaue has 2,000-year-old rice terraces and called by Filipinos the eighth wonder of the world, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. People are fascinated at the immense work of the Igorots in making this.
- 2 Batangas is the birthplace of scuba diving in the Philippines with world class dive sites and beaches. Its accessibility by road about 2 hours from Manila Airport makes it a popular destination. It is home to Taal Volcano and the Taal heritage town.
- 3 Boracay is a 10-km-long island featuring white sands, one of the country's best-known resort areas.
- 4 El Nido has dozens of limestone islands that form a stunningly beautiful karst topography permeated by crystal-clear bays and lagoons, still relatively unspoiled by mass tourism
- 5 Camarines Sur has beautiful coral reefs, and shorelines of black and white sands. Visit the Camarines Sur Watersport complex and go water skiing.
- 6 Donsol is the Whale Shark Capital of the world, dive and see whale sharks.
- 7 Malapascua Island features a beautiful white sand shoreline and coral gardens.
- 8 Puerto Galera on Mindoro, a favorite getaway for people during Holy Week because of its white sand shorelines and its amazing flora.
- 9 Tagaytay, tired of the old scene of the noisy metropolis of Manila? Or missing the cool weather? Tagaytay provides a view of Taal Volcano.
- 10 Panglao Island in Bohol Province, as resort island with fine beaches. The rest of the province has other attractions including the Chocolate Hills and wild tarsiers (tiny primates).
See also UNESCO_World_Heritage_List#Philippines.
|Currency||Philippine peso (PHP)|
|Population||104.9 million (2017)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 60 hertz (NEMA 1-15, NEMA 5-15, Europlug)|
|Time zone||Philippine Standard Time|
|edit on Wikidata|
With over 7,100 islands and 300,000 km2 (120,000 sq mi) of territory, the Philippines is the second largest archipelago, after nearby Indonesia. The islands are mostly volcanic in origin, covered with tropical rainforest and fertile soil, but much of the rainforest has been cut down. The terrain varies considerably, but many of the coasts have a lot of bays and headlands, and many of the larger islands have mountainous interiors. The coasts also have many coral reefs.
The climate is tropical, with constantly high humidity and high, stable temperatures, so prepare to change clothes frequently under the sweltering heat. Mountainous areas are the exception to the norm, rather temperate with mildly cool temperatures during the cool dry season from November to March. Frost forms on mountainous areas during the cool months, but there is no snowfall, as temperatures never drop below freezing and peaks do not rise above 4,000 m (13,000 ft).
The population of the Philippines surpassed 100 million people in 2015, making the country the second largest in Southeast Asia, behind Indonesia, and the eighth largest in Asia, ahead of Japan. The population is concentrated in regions like Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and Cebu. Most of the population is along the coasts, and the mountain areas are more sparsely settled.
The Philippines has a diverse culture; you will find a unique blend of local customs, Chinese traditions, Hispanic religiosity, machismo and romance, and Western ideals and popular culture. The Philippines and East Timor are the only nations in Asia with a Christian majority.
The country has problems like crime, corruption, poverty, and internal conflicts. There is ongoing conflict between the Philippine government and Islamic separatists in Mindanao, and with communist rebels (New People's Army) elsewhere. Spillovers of hostilities into large cities have occurred. The red tape, bribery, and excessive patronage associated with Philippines' bureaucracy has been reduced, but some locals still distrust government. Crimes and illegal drugs are commonplace, but you are more likely to encounter them if you venture into rough areas. Western nations have discouraged travel to the country because of safety and security concerns.
Despite the first impressions of the Philippines as relatively economically developed, it remains a developing country struggling with income inequality and poverty. Most Filipinos struggle to live with as little as ₱400–600 (about US$8-12 as of 2019) a day, whether it be a farmer or a salesperson or fast food crew. The sosyal (rich people) and nouveaux riches, on the other hand, will be seen cruising in their luxury cars, owning guarded mansions, and sending their children to private schools. Some people without work resort to racketeering or committing crime to earn a living. The capital, Metro Manila, is suffering from its notorious traffic jams, and slums can be found in many places, sometimes in stark contrast to skyscrapers in its business districts like Makati. Economic and political centralization, often called "Imperial Manila" by critics, remains the cause of the economic plight in many provinces and increased calls for regional self-determination. As with the rest of Southeast Asia, the Philippines is also blighted with uncontrolled development causing urban sprawl, lack of pedestrian- and wheelchair-friendly facilities in many locations, and uncollected garbage.
The first major wave of settlers in the Pacific crossed shallow seas and land bridges from mainland Asia starting around 70,000 BCE, and the oldest site so far found in the Philippines is Tabon Man on Palawan, about 45,000 BCE. These were Melanesian, ancestors of some Filipinos, most Papuans, and all Aboriginal Australians. Direct descendants of these people,the Negritos or Aetas, can still be found in Negros Oriental, northern Luzon, and other areas. Today they mostly live in the mountains, having been driven out of the prime coastal areas by later immigrants.
A few thousand years BCE, they were followed by Austronesian settlers travelling the same route but this time over sea in their impressive balangay boats. This word is where the name of the Filipino political institution the barangay came from. The Austronesian ethnolinguistic group includes Malays, Indonesians and Polynesians, and is spread as far as Hawaii, Easter Island, New Zealand and Madagascar. Its origins are a matter of scholarly controversy. One widely held theory has them coming from Taiwan, and travelling south to the Philippines. Other theories put their origins in southern China, in mainland Southeast Asia or in mainland China's Liangzhu Culture.
A large majority of Filipinos today are of Austronesian descent and linguists classify all the Filipino languages as members of the Austronesian family. However, having been a trading nation for thousands of years, a colony for several hundred, and a destination for tourists and retirees for decades, the country includes descendants of many other ethnic groups. The largest minority group are the Chinese, mainly Hokkien speakers whose family origins are in Fujian province. The Philippines has many religions, most introduced by various traders or invaders; the most important are Catholic Christianity and Sunni Islam.
Under Spanish rule
- See also: Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation
When the explorer Ferdinand Magellan set foot on the island of Homonhon in 1521, he was the first European to reach the archipelago. His crew were treated to a feast by the welcoming islanders who wore elaborate tattoos. Magellan was Portuguese, but it was a Spanish Expedition which he led to the islands. Lapu-Lapu, a native chief of Mactan Island, fought a battle with Magellan; the natives won and Magellan was killed.
In 1565 an expedition under Miguel López de Legazpi arrived to claim the country as a Spanish colony. The colony was named for Crown Prince Philip II of Spain and most of the natives converted to Catholicism. Some Muslims in the south and various animistic mountain tribes, however, resisted Spanish conquest and Catholic conversion.
In the period of Spanish rule galleons brought large amounts of silver from Acapulco to Manila, and this had a large effect on trade across much of Asia. The Manila Galleon trade made contact with Mexico and the rest of the Americas. Mayans and Aztecs settled in the Philippines and introduced their cultures which were embraced by the Filipinos. The Philippines were heavily influenced by Mexico and Spain and the archipelago became "hispanicized". Filipinos and other Asians used the Manila Galleon trade to migrate to the West.
The longest revolt against Spanish colonization was led by Francisco Dagohoy in Bohol and this lasted for 85 years covering the period of 1744-1829. There were several other revolts; see Philippine Revolution for one and Mindanao#Understand for resistance by Muslims in the south. During Spanish rule, European powers such as the Dutch, Portuguese and British also tried to colonize the country; none succeeded.
The Philippines remained a Spanish colony for over 300 years until 1899 when it was ceded by Spain to the United States following the Spanish-American War.
American and Japanese occupation
The Filipinos declared independence in 1898 and resisted the American occupation for seven long, brutal years until surrender completed the occupation of the Philippines.
The war was quite controversial in the U.S., and famous writers weighed in on both sides. Rudyard Kipling, an Englishman born in India and very much in favour of Empire, urged America to "Take up the White Man's Burden" while Mark Twain wrote "the United States paid poor decrepit old Spain $20,000,000 for the Philippines. It was just a case of this country buying its way into good society ... like an American heiress buying a Duke or an Earl. Sounds well, but that's all."
The American presence remained until World War II when Japan invaded the Philippines. The retreating American General Douglas McArthur famously promised "I shall return", and did so later in the war. There is a monument on Leyte Island where he landed and various other wartime ruins or monuments around the country; Coron is famous for wreck diving because the U.S. Navy sank a number of Japanese ships there in 1944.
On 4 July 1946, the Philippines was granted independence by the U.S., becoming the first country in Asia to gain independence from a colonial power. The U.S. continued to maintain a significant military presence until the early 1990s, especially in the Subic Naval Base in Zambales and Clark Air Base in Angeles City. Both were quite important during the Vietnam War.
Until the 1960s, the Philippines was widely considered to be the second most developed country in Asia after Japan. Several decades of misrule by the corrupt dictator Ferdinand Marcos then plunged the country into deep debt. Poverty became widespread and infrastructure for development was severely lacking. In 1986, the People Power uprising overthrew the Marcos government during so-called the EDSA Revolution. He was replaced by Corazon Aquino, widow of murdered opposition leader, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr.
In the late 20th century, corruption was one of the main problems of the country. The country suffered slightly in the 1997 Asian financial crisis; that led to a second EDSA revolt which overthrew President Joseph Estrada; the vice-president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (daughter of one of the former presidents), took his place. After her term ended in 2010, Benigno Aquino III (nicknamed "Noynoy" and "Pnoy"), son of Corazon and Benigno Aquino, Jr., was elected president.
In mid-2016, a new president was elected, Rodrigo Duterte. He had been mayor of Davao, and earned the nickname "the punisher" by cleaning up the gang warfare that plagued that city in the 1990s. Critics claim he did that largely by encouraging police and vigilantes to execute gang members without trial. In the presidential campaign, he vowed to clean up corruption and the drug trade (especially shabu, the local term for crystal methamphetamine, which is a serious problem in the country) and critics now accuse him of using similar tactics nationwide. Western media sources put the death toll around 1,000 a month since he became president, though the numbers are neither precise nor undisputed. On September 30, 2016, Duterte stated that he would like to emulate Hitler's Holocaust by exterminating 3 million drug users and dealers in the country, so it is safe to assume the killings will continue as long as he is in office. Despite much condemnation from the West, Duterte remains popular among Filipinos, many of whom are weary of having to deal with drug pushers and high violent crime rates on a daily basis, and appreciate Duterte's efforts to deal with those problems.
Things have been improving slowly on the economic front but the Philippines is still largely a poor country. According to the Philippines Statistical Authority, in 2018 16.6% of Filipinos had income not sufficient to meet their basic food and non-food needs. This would mean monthly income of less than ₱10,727 for a family of five. 5.2% of Filipinos had income that was not enough to meet just the basic food needs, e.g. monthly income for a family of five less than ₱7,528. These rates improved from 23.3% and 9.1% respectively since 2015.
Growth in the Philippines is slow. One of the major exports is labor: around 10% of Filipinos live abroad, either as immigrants or as contract workers, and remittances from those people account for over 10% of the nation's GDP.
From its long history of Western occupation, Filipino culture has evolved into a unique blend of East and West. The Filipino people are largely Austronesian in ethnic origin. However, many inhabitants, especially in the cities of Luzon and the Visayas, have Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and American mixtures. Those living in the provinces are mostly of Austronesian origin (known as "native"). Many Muslims in the Sulu archipelago near Borneo have Arab, Indian and Chinese mixtures. The four largest foreign minorities in the country are: Chinese, Koreans, Indians and the Japanese. Also of significance are Americans, Indonesians and Arabs. Spaniards and other Europeans form a very small proportion of the country's population.
Filipino traits are a confluence of many cultures. Filipinos are famous for the bayanihan or spirit of kinship and camaraderie taken from Austronesian forefathers. They observe very close family ties. Roman Catholicism comes from the Spaniards who were responsible for spreading the Christian faith across the archipelago. The Spaniards introduced Christianity and succeeded in converting the overwhelming majority of Filipinos; at least 80% are Catholic today. The Philippines is one of only two countries in Asia with a majority Roman Catholic population (the other being East Timor).
The genuine and pure expression of hospitality is an inherent trait in Filipinos, especially those who reside in the countryside who may appear very shy at first, but have a generous spirit, as seen in their smiles. Hospitality, a trait displayed by every Filipino, makes these people legendary in Southeast Asia. Guests will often be treated like royalty in Philippine households. This is most evident during fiestas when even virtual strangers are welcomed and allowed to partake of the feast that most, if not all, households have for the occasion. At times, this hospitality is taken to a fault. Some households spend their entire savings on their fiesta offerings and sometimes even run into debt just to have lavish food on their table. They spend the next year paying for these debts and preparing for the next fiesta. At any rate, seldom can you find such hospitable people who enjoy the company of their visitors. Perhaps due to their long association with Spain, Filipinos are emotional and passionate about life in a way that seems more Latin than Asian.
Filipinos lead the bunch of English-proficient Asian people today and English is considered as a second language. The American occupation was responsible for teaching the Filipino people the English language. While the official language is Filipino (which is basically a version of Tagalog) and there are 76-78 languages and 170 dialects in this archipelago, English is the second most widely-spoken language in the country. Around 3 million still speak Spanish, including Creole Spanish, Chavacano. Spanish has been reintroduced as a language of instruction at school level.
The geographical and cultural grouping of Filipinos is defined by region, where each group has a set of distinct traits and languages or dialects - the sturdy and frugal Ilocanos of the north, the industrious Tagalogs of the central plains, the loving and sweet Visayans from the central islands, and the colorful tribesmen and religious Muslims of Mindanao. Tribal communities or minorities are likewise scattered across the archipelago.
It may seem peculiar for tourists to notice the Latin flair in Filipino culture. Mainstream Philippine culture compared to the rest of Asia is quite Hispanic and westernized on the surface. But still, Filipinos are essentially Austronesian and many indigenous and pre-Hispanic attitudes and ways of thinking are still noticeable underneath a seemingly westernized veneer.
The government of the Philippines is largely based on the political system of the United States. The President of the Philippines is directly elected by the people, and serves as both the Head of State and Head of Government. The President is elected every six years, and can only run one term.
The political system follows a multi-party system. The national political arena is dominated by nine political parties, with the center-left, federalist PDP-Laban (Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan), the neoliberal Liberal Party, and the center-right United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) being the dominating ones since 2016. There are also minor parties in Congress and regional parties of less importance in the provinces. Most positions in the local government are also dominated by the major parties.
The legislature is a bicameral congress, which consists of a lower house known as the Kapulungan ng mga Kinatawan (House of Representatives), and an upper house known as the Senado (Senate). Both houses are elected directly by the people. The country is divided into constituencies for the election of the lower house, while the upper house is elected by the country as a whole based on proportional representation.
Politics is dominated by large, powerful families, where positions are passed from one family member to another, but this has been slowly changing since the 2019 elections. Corruption remains rampant, especially through the padrino system, which is an open secret in the Philippine political arena. Padrino is often translated as "Godfather", and the system involves extensive patronage and nepotism. Political demonstrations are widespread, as in most democracies, and political violence is also a concern, especially during election periods when rival families clash, sometimes even to the point of killing each other.
The Spanish made Catholicism almost ubiquitous, the Church is still very influential, and the Philippines has been Asia's largest predominantly Christian and Catholic country for centuries. However, there has also been a substantial Muslim population for centuries, Protestant missionaries have been active and several Protestant denominations are now well established in the country, and there are a few followers of other Asian religions as well.
The Philippines is not only the largest Christian country in Asia but also the world's third largest Roman Catholic nation. The Roman Catholic faith remains the single biggest legacy of three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule. Catholicism is still taken quite seriously in the Philippines. Masses draw crowds, from the biggest cathedrals in the metropolis to the smallest parish chapels in the countryside. During Holy Week, most broadcast TV stations close down or operate only on limited hours and those that do operate broadcast religious programs.
The Catholic Church also exerts quite a bit of influence even on non-religious affairs such as affairs of state. Mores are changing slowly, however; Filipinos are now slowly accepting what were previously taboo issues in so far as Roman Catholic doctrine is concerned, such as artificial birth control, premarital sex, and the dissolution of marriage vows.
The biggest religious minority are Muslim Filipinos (Moros) who primarily live in Mindanao but also increasingly in cities such as Manila, Baguio or Cebu in the north and central parts of the country. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) gives partial self-government to some of them. They account for around 5% of the population. Islam is the oldest continually practiced organized religion in the Philippines, with the first conversions made in the 12th century AD. Islam became such an important force that Manila at the time of the Spanish arrival in the 16th century was a Muslim city. Many aspects of this Islamic past are seen in certain cultural traits many mainstream Christian Filipinos still exhibit (such as eating and hygiene etiquette) and has added to the melting pot of Filipino culture. Terrorist attacks and violent confrontations between the Filipino army and splinter militant Islamic organizations such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have strained relations between Muslim and the non-Muslim Filipinos in the southern rural parts of the country. However, the Muslim Filipinos are much more liberal in their interpretations of Islam, and like the Muslims of Indonesia, are generally more relaxed regarding such issues as gender-segregation or the hijab (veil) than Muslims outside of Southeast Asia.
Indian Filipinos, Chinese Filipinos and Japanese Filipinos, who collectively account for 3% of the population, are mostly Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Shinto and Taoist. These populations have been in the country for centuries preceding Spanish rule, and many aspects of Buddhist and Hindu belief and culture permeate in the mainstream culture of Christian or Muslim Filipinos as well.
As with many things in the Philippines, religion is not as clear-cut and defined as official statistics suggest, and many Christians and Muslims also practice and believe in indigenous spiritual aspects (such as honoring natural deities and ancestor-worship, as well as the existence of magic and healers) that may in some cases contradict the orthodox rules of their religions.
The climate is tropical, and average temperatures range from 25 °C (77 °F) to 32 °C (90 °F), and humidity averages around 77 percent. There are traditionally two seasons, but it is possible to speak of three as locals say of in their native languages:
- The dry season generally runs from November to May, and in parts of the country, especially about 12 degrees north of the equator, can be subdivided into a cool and a hot period:
- The cool dry season runs from November to February, with mid-January to end of February the coolest times. Temperatures are cooler in the mountains, but even lowland areas can experience temperatures below 20 °C (68 °F) when the northeast monsoon from Siberia is at full blast, so bring a sweater or light jacket at these times, especially when walking at night. This season is the best time to visit, with drier weather, but flights, boat and ferry trips, buses and accommodations tend to be expensive and difficult, especially during the Christmas and New Year season.
- The hot dry season (summer, March to May) are the hottest months. The country becomes muggy, with temperatures soaring as high as 40 °C (104 °F), and heat indices of 50–60 °C (122–140 °F) not uncommon, especially in inland locations in Luzon like Cabanatuan and Tuguegarao. The temperatures are very desirable for beach bumming and resort hopping, but not for visiting heritage locations, unless you can bear the heat and high humidity. Prices for flights, ferries, buses or accommodations skyrocket during this season, especially on Holy Week, and booking is difficult due to high demand.
- The rainy season starts in June and extends through October with strong typhoons possible.
Places about 12 degrees north of the equator generally have a more tropical climate, being truly dry and wet, with no month having an average low dropping below 20 °C (68 °F). Dry season generally runs from November to May; wet season from June to October. There are some possible exceptions, especially in the rainier eastern parts of the country (e.g. Bicol, Samar and Leyte islands), where the seasons are reversed: October to April are the rainiest and coolest, with May to September the driest.
Seasons may not be clear-cut as much as before, and with the effects of climate change, Philippine weather can now be seen as changeable; overcast skies and higher-than-average rainfall are possible in the hot dry season, long periods of drought possible during June (when increased rainfall is already expected), and bone-chilling northeasterly winds dropping nighttime lows below 20 °C (68 °F) but never below 15 °C (59 °F) (unless you're in Baguio) possible on nights during the cold dry season. Provinces spanning two of the three varieties of the tropical climate (dry and wet, monsoon, and marine/equatorial), often crossed north-south by a mountain range can get sun and cloud or rain within the same day.
Locations exposed directly to the Pacific Ocean have frequent rainfall all year. This includes the popular Pagsanjan Falls south-east of Manila (though the falls will get you wet regardless). Baguio, branded as the summer capital of the Philippines, tends to be cooler due to its being located in mountainous regions with temperatures at night going below 20°C (68°F) . During summer, the country experiences droughts, sometimes with extreme conditions, from about March to May.
Christmas: The Filipino way
Most Filipinos are very Catholic; Christmas is celebrated from September till Epiphany. Go and have Nochebuena with a Filipino family; Filipinos don't mind strangers eating with them in their dining table as this is customary during fiestas. Try out hamon (Christmas ham) and queso de Bola (Edam cheese). Caroling is widely practiced by the youth around the Philippines; they'll appreciate if you give them at least ₱5-10. Don't miss the Misa de Gallo and the nine-day Simbang Gabi (Tagalog for Night Mass). This tradition was passed down from the Spaniards; the Masses are usually held either at midnight or before dawn. After these Masses, Filipinos eat kakanin (rice cakes) and bibingka, sold outside churches, and drink tsokolate (hot chocolate), or eat champorado (hot chocolate porridge). Parols (Star of Bethlehem lanterns) are hanged in front of houses, commercial establishments and streets. A Giant Lantern Festival is held in San Fernando, Pampanga. Belens or Nativity scenes are displayed in city halls and/or commercial establishments. This is an experience one shouldn't miss if one is travelling in the Philippines. See Christmas and New Year in the Philippines for details.
The Philippines is a multicultural country having Christian, Muslim and Buddhist holidays in addition to secular holidays. The year is welcomed by New Year's Day on 1 January. Being a predominantly Catholic country means observing the traditional Catholic holidays of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday during Lent or months around March or April, Araw ng pagkabuhay or Easter Sunday is celebrated 3 days after Good Friday. Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor, Boy Scouts re-enact the march every 2 years in honor of this day that is also known as Bataan Day, they march as long as 10 km, the Bataan Death March was part of the Bataan Battle which was also part of the Battle of the Philippines. The Bataan Death March was a 60 km march and the people who participated in this march were captured, tortured and murdered. All Saints Day is on 1 Nov and All Souls Day on 2 Nov. In recognition of the Muslim Filipino community, the Islamic feast of Eid-Al-Fitr (known in the Philippines as Hari Raya Puasa) held after the holy fasting month of Ramadan, is also a national holiday. This day changes year by year, as it follows the Islamic lunar calendar. Chinese New Year is also celebrated by the Chinese Community but dates vary according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Secular holidays include Labor Day (1 May) and Independence Day (12 Jun). 30 Aug is declared National Heroes Day. Some holidays also commemorate national heroes such as Jose Rizal (30 Dec) and Andres Bonifacio (30 Nov) as well as Ninoy Aquino (21 Aug). Metro Manila is less congested during Holy Week as people tend to go to their hometowns to spend the holidays there. Holy week is also considered part of the super peak season for most beach resorts such as Boracay and the most popular ones tend to get overcrowded at this time. Due to its cool mountain weather, Baguio is also where a lot of people spend the Holy Week break. Christmas is ubiquitously celebrated on 25 Dec.
The most significant holiday seasons every year are Holy Week (Semana Santa, or Easter break), the three-day period including All Saints' Day (Undas, also a semestral vacation period for most schools) and Christmas and New Year. During these periods, the country takes a week off for locals to head home for the provinces. They are the times where Metro Manila and other metropolises has no traffic jams, yet the congestion moves to the provinces, with snarls stretching kilometers at expressways being not uncommon, and finding flights, buses or boats being near-to-impossible.
- New Year's Day: 1 January
- Chinese New Year: varies (based on the Chinese lunar calendar)
- Maundy Thursday: varies
- Good Friday: varies
- Easter Sunday: varies
- Araw Ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor): 9 April
- Labor Day: 1 May
- Independence Day: 12 June
- Ninoy Aquino Day: 21 August
- National Heroes Day: Last Monday of August
- All Saints Day: 1 November
- All Souls Day: 2 November
- Eid Ul Fitr (Hari Raya Puasa): varies according to lunar calendar
- Eid Ul Adha: varies according to lunar calendar
- Bonifacio Day: 30 November
- Feast of the Immaculate Conception: 8 December
- Christmas Day: 25 December
- Rizal Day: 30 December
- Last Day of the Year: 31 December
|March||Paraw Regatta||Iloilo City and Guimaras|
|Pintados de Passi||Passi City, Iloilo|
|Araw ng Dabaw||Davao|
|Sanduguan||Calapan, Oriental Mindoro|
|June||Pintados-Kasadyaan & Sangyaw||Tacloban|
|November||Zamboanga Hermosa (Feast of Our Lady of the Pilar)||Zamboanga City|
|December||Binirayan||San Jose, Antique|
The Philippines spans UTC time zone +8 (Philippine Standard Time or PST), which also covers Western Australia, central parts of Indonesia, Taiwan, all of China, Mongolia, and part of Russia (Siberia). As a tropical country where daylight hours are almost equal, the Philippines does not observe daylight savings time, except during some periods, especially during shortages of electricity. The 12-hour clock is commonly used in both written and spoken form, while the 24-hour clock is more commonly used in some modes of transport and other specialist fields, e.g. ferry and flight schedules use the 24-hour clock.
The culture of the Philippines is very diverse. There is the native Melanesian and Austronesian culture, which is most evident in language, ethnicity, native architecture, food and dances. There is also some influence from Arabia, China, India and Borneo. On top of that there is heavy colonial Hispanic influence from Mexico and Spain, such as in Religion, food, dance, language, festivals, architecture and ethnicity. Later influence from the U.S. can also be seen in the culture.
Filipino literature is a mix of Indian sagas, folk tales, and traces of Western influence. Classical books are written in Spanish as well as in Tagalog, but to this day most of Filipino literature is written in English. The Philippines, thus, is a multi-cultural country with its roots stretching from Asia to Europe and to the Americas.
- Red Revolution by Gregg R. Jones (ISBN 0813306442) - Documentary about the guerrilla movement; New People's Army (NPA), in the Philippines.
- In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines by Stanley Karnow (ISBN 0345328167) - Shares the story of European and American colonization in the archipelago as well as the restoration of democracy after the overthrew of Marcos.
- Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal
- El Filibusterismo by José Rizal
- Dekada '70 by Lualhati Bautista (ISBN 9711790238) - A story about a middle class Filipino family that struggled to fight with other Filipinos during the martial law during the time of Marcos.
- The Day the Dancers Came by Bienvenido Santos
- Amazing Archipelago by John-Eric Taburada
The Filipino film industry is suffering because of its main rival, the Western film industry. In this 21st century only 40 films are produced each year; down from 200-300 films a year in the 1990s.
- Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Festival
- Cinemanila International Film Festival
- Metro Manila Film Festival — held annually during the Christmas season, showcasing local films released during the festival month.
Western culture has also permeated the music industry in the Philippines; many songs written by Filipinos are in English, but Filipino-language songs are slowly gaining popularity. American rock-n-roll as well, rap and hip-hop are heard and performed. Traditional Filipino songs such as kundiman (nostalgic/poetic songs) are still held dearly by the population but are slowly losing influence among the younger generations.
Check out pop and rock groups such as The Eraserheads, Spongecola, Parokya ni Edgar, Gary Valenciano, Side A and Apo Hiking Society.
Topics in the Philippines
As an mostly island nation separated by thousands of kilometers of seas, the Philippines is mostly reachable only by plane (even from within Southeast Asia), and while travel by sea is also available, they are limited to non-existent (and dangerous) and ports may have limited facilities for immigration and customs processing.
While Philippine bureaucracy is nowhere as cumbersome and corrupt since the end of the Marcos era, the catch is that most visitors can travel visa free or get a visa upon arrival at most ports of entry. Customs are relaxed, but the country is now strictly enforcing restrictions on bringing plants, animals, and food, and the obvious prohibitions on bringing in contraband.
Summary of Philippine visa policy
Nationals from most countries, including all ASEAN countries, can enter the Philippines without a visa for up to 30 days, or obtain a visa on arrival for up to 59 days, as long as they have a return or onward ticket as well as passports valid for a period of at least six months beyond the period of stay. Exceptions to this rule are as listed below:
- Nationals of Brazil and Israel may enter the Philippines visa-free for up to 59 days.
- Nationals of Hong Kong and Macau - including permanent residents of Macau who hold Portuguese passports - may enter the Philippines visa-free for up to 14 days.
- Nationals of the People's Republic of China traveling as tourists and holding a valid visa issued by Australia, Canada, Japan, the United States or a Schengen Area state may enter the Philippines visa-free for up to 7 days.
- Nationals of Taiwan holding passports with National ID numbers or Resident Certificate may apply for the eVisa.
- Nationals of India holding a valid tourist, business or resident visa issued by Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United States or a Schengen Area state may enter the Philippines visa-free for up to 14 days.
Citizens of all other countries not listed above need to apply for a visa at a Filipino diplomatic mission prior to departure.
Temporary visitor (9A) visas valid for 30 days are straightforward to obtain for most travelers. If intending to stay beyond 30 days, you may apply for a visa extension at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) which have offices in most main cities and at Manila and Cebu airports . Extensions are granted up to a maximum of six months per time. You can keep getting visa extensions up to a stay of 3 years, after which foreign nationals wishing to stay longer must go out of the Philippines and then come back to start anew.
The 1st visa extension got within the Philippines at a BOI office is from 30 days up to 59 days and cost ₱3130. The cost of a 29-day visa extension at Cebu airport is ₱3000. You could also get a 59-day tourist visa from any Philippines Embassy around the world for US$30/40, but you must go to the embassy twice as the visa take 2-3 working days to get.
If you overstay, you must pay on departure a fine of ₱1000 per month of overstay plus a ₱2020 processing fee.
Airlines may refuse to let you check in if you only have a one-way ticket to the Philippines due to immigration requirements. Cebu Pacific Air will require a printed copy of an onwards "itinerary receipt" at check in. If you want to risk not having an onwards ticket, try to check in early to allow yourself time to buy a ticket at an Internet cafe or ticket desk in the airport if the airline refuses to check you in.
If you intend to stay beyond the 3 years on a temporary visitor visa, consider applying for either a temporary resident visa (TRV), a permanent resident visa (PRV), or a quota immigrant (13) visa. This is possible if you are married to a Filipino citizen, and/or if your home country has an immigration reciprocity agreement (which if there is none, you must apply for a TRV).
Alien registration and the Balikbayan program
If you intend to stay in the Philippines beyond 59 days with anything other than a visa upon arrival or an extended temporary visitor visa, you must register for an Alien Certificate of Registration (ACR) card, which costs US$50 with an additional processing fee of ₱1000. You must provide photocopies of your passport and issued visas, a 2x2 photo, and related documentation. The card is mandatory (as an additional fee) if you apply for a foreign business, student, work, or immigrant visa, and must be renewed every year. If you damaged or lost your card, have amended personal information, or placed wrong personal details, you must pay US$20 for a replacement, with a processing fee of ₱500 (₱1000 if replacing a lost card).
In addition, if you stay at any private residence (including apartments or condominium units), you must register your abode on the barangay of residence by obtaining a Barangay Certificate of Residence within 24 hours of your arrival, but this is not required for short-term travelers.
Under the "Balikbayan Program", former Filipino citizens who have been naturalized in a foreign country may enter the Philippines visa-free for up to one year. If eligible, you must prove your previous Philippine citizenship by presenting an old Philippine passport, birth certificate, or foreign naturalization documents. However, you may not have to present these documents to the immigration officer, as usually it is sufficient to speak any Filipino language, appear Filipino, and/or show the foreign passport if it indicates that you were born in the Philippines. If your Balikbayan status is granted, the immigration officer will annotate your passport for a one-year stay. Your spouse and children may also avail themselves of the Balikbayan privilege, as long as they enter and leave the Philippines together with you. If you choose to reside permanently, you can reacquire Filipino citizenship by taking the Philippine oath of allegiance, and your children (under 18), including illegitimate or adopted children, will automatically acquire Filipino citizenship.
Arrival and customs
The Philippines now fingerprints and photographs visitors upon arrival and departure as part of the immigration process. These fingerprints may make their way into the databases of other countries' authorities. Those under 18 are exempted.
You must fill up an arrival card at the port of entry and is presented to immigration, where you will provide your reason for travel and your contact details (home/hotel address, phone numbers, emails). As of 2019, the arrival card is now integrated into the customs declaration form handed out to passengers of arriving flights.
Upon departure, you must fill up also a departure card, which is basically the same as the arrival card, but is a small square sheet of paper that omits the customs declaration form and contact info section.
Customs are mostly relaxed with the general restrictions on duty-free items: you can bring up to 1 litre (0.22 imp gal; 0.26 US gal) of alcohol, reasonable amounts of perfume, and 200 sticks (often one carton with 10 packs containing 20 sticks) of cigarettes or 50 cigars or 100 g of tobacco.
You can import or export ₱10,000, or any foreign currency equivalent to $10,000 (about ₱500,000 in 2019) without restriction, but anything in excess must be declared to customs and authorized by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). Checks above those amounts are also covered by the same rules.
The Philippines now enforces strict restrictions on bringing in any animal and plant products (in particular unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meat and fish), and you must declare any of them to both Bureau of Customs (BOC) and Department of Agriculture (DA) officials, or they will be confiscated. Processed or packaged foods are usually exempted. If you bring pets, they must have proof of deworming and rabies vaccination, and be declared to customs as well. All products from endangered species are confiscated.
You must declare also any CDs, DVDs, and electronics (including cell phones) in your checked baggage; items in carry-ons are often rarely checked, but can be subject to random inspection. Importing pornography, dangerous drugs, pirated or counterfeit goods and hazardous chemical products is prohibited. If you intend to bring firearms for certain purposes, such as recreational shooting, expect going through paperwork to secure a Permit to Carry and additional permits.
Illegal drugs: visitors and those only in transit must expect hefty fines for carrying small amounts of drugs and paraphernalia, or 20 to 40 years in prison and deportation for larger amounts.
For a comprehensive guide on what and what not to bring on your baggage, see the Regulated/Restricted and Prohibited Importations at the Bureau of Customs website.
Philippine customs officers are fairly notorious for corruption, but this is slowly changing; travelers cannot get away with not declaring any restricted items or contraband on checked baggage, with inspections using X-ray scanners and random checks using K-9 dogs. If you get caught, expect fines and possibly a jail term, deportation and/or being blacklisted by immigration).
Although the Philippines is an archipelago, most visitors arrive by plane. If you live in an area with a large Filipino population, check out travel agencies catering to overseas Filipinos which often have fares keener than those generally advertised.
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific , Air Asia, are the three companies with the largest presence in the country; all offer both international and domestic flights. Many other airlines operate international flights to the Philippines, and there are several smaller domestic carriers including some that use seaplanes or helicopters to reach destinations without an airport.
What to pay when leaving the Philippines?
Airports terminals in the country have a terminal fee which is now included in the ticket price.
For all airports apart from Clark airport terminal fees for international flights are now included in the ticket price. Passengers at Clark airport have to pay a terminal fee of ₱650. This is collected at the airport before entering immigration, payable in Philippine pesos or U.S. dollars. A stub is then attached to your boarding pass to indicate that this has been paid.
In addition, many Filipinos and any foreigner who has been in the Philippines more than one year are required to pay a travel tax of either ₱2700 if flying first class or ₱1620 for business or economy class; the tax is collected at a designated counter before check-in. In some cases the travel tax is included in the ticket price; check first and ask before paying.
Foreign nationals and balikbayans (former Filipino citizens) who are staying in the Philippines for less than one year are exempt from paying the travel tax, as are overseas Filipino workers (OFW), Filipino students studying abroad, infants and employees of government or international agencies on official business. Reduced rates are available for minors (under 12 years), dependents of OFWs (under 21 years) and journalists on assignment.
If you plan to travel around the various islands, it may be best to get an open jaw ticket; this can save much time back-tracking. Most open-jaw ticket combinations fly into Manila and out of Cebu or vice versa. It might also be possible to get a ticket with a stopover; for example Silk Air part of Singapore airlines fly Singapore-Davao-Cebu and it would be worth asking if you can have a few days in Davao without a change in fare.
Most visitors entering the Philippines will fly in through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) (MNL IATA) in Metro Manila. Traveling through Manila airport used to mean long delays, difficult transfers between terminals and sometimes corrupt officials. It has improved greatly, but some visitors still choose to avoid flying through Manila, There are two main alternatives:
- Mactan-Cebu International Airport (CEB IATA) in Metro Cebu is the Philippines' second-busiest airport. It is in the center of the country, closer to destinations in the Visayas or Mindanao than Manila is.
- Clark Airport (CRK IATA) in Angeles City 85 km north of Manila is a popular hub for low-cost carriers serving Manila, although a few full-service carriers serve the airport as well.
Manila, Cebu, Davao, Clark are the country's main hubs for domestic flights. You can arrive at any of these airports and expect to reach more-or-less anywhere in the country reasonably easily.
Other airports around the country also have international flights.
- Francisco Bangoy International Airport (DVO IATA) in Davao is served by Silk Air part of Singapore airlines with flights to and from Singapore, and Cathay Pacific with flights to and from Hong Kong.
- Kalibo International Airport (KLO IATA) in Kalibo, Aklan (near Boracay) Air Asia, has flights to Seoul & Busan South Korea. Cebu Pacific fly from Kalibo to Hong Kong and Seoul. Other airlines also have scheduled flights to Kalibo from points in South Korea, China and Taiwan.
- Iloilo International Airport (ILO IATA) in Iloilo is served by Cebu Pacific, with flights to Hong Kong and Singapore.
- Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPS IATA) in Puerto Princesa, Palawan has direct flights to Taipei on Tiger air Taiwan.
- Panglao Airport TAG IATA in Bohol
As of mid-2019, several other cities have new airports being planned or under construction, so the list is likely to become longer in the 2020s.
- Aleson Shipping Lines has a ferry to Zamboanga from Sandakan, Malaysia. Schedule departs Zamboanga every Monday and Thursday noon. Economy class ₱2700 per way. Cabin ₱3100 per way.
The country's vast archipelagic nature make travel by plane and boat very important for most visitors, especially between major cities. Distances are easy to underestimate when traveling by land, whether it be by provincial bus or rental car, as mountains, ferries, dense settlement patterns, and lack of high-speed highways add to travel times.
For Filipinos and foreigners alike, public transportion is far the most useful way of exploring the country. The word commuting has a special definition to Filipinos, and it usually refers to any travel without a car (aside from walking) in general, and if you hear a Filipino saying "I'll be commuting", think they'll take public transportation even if it's just a shopping trip. That said, travel by car or motorcycle is still an interesting way to discover the Philippines and find places off the beaten track, if you're bold to face the rather shocking situation on Philippine roads.
Finding your way
Philippine addresses follows the Western system, but has a lot more information, and directions or landmark details (e.g. opposite the high school, near the church/police station/barangay hall) are often provided. Street names exist, but they become less common as you get into the countryside, and the intersecting street is often listed (e.g. Rizal Avenue cor. Mabini Street). Rural addresses may only have the barangay name, and the way to find them will be provided in parentheses. Most addresses should have the barangay (the smallest unit of local government in the Philippines) listed, but in some large cities (e.g. Manila), the district name is provided instead, and the barangay name would not be used if it is just a number, letter, or an alphanumeric combinations (usual in some city or town centers, often called poblacion areas, and some big cities like Pasay and Caloocan). Subdivisions, which can be a named neighborhood within an urban barangay or a gated community, may have houses numbered by the block and lot number instead.
Part of almost any Filipino address is the barangay (abbreviated as Brgy.), the lowest government unit of administration. The word may have come from balangay — the type of boat that Austronesian settlers arrived on — or from Spanish barrio, which it replaced as the official term in the 1970s. Some barangays are divided into sitios or puroks, or smaller communities (sub-villages) or hamlets, especially in rural areas where settlements are scattered in far flung communities. In urban areas, most barangays no longer have sitios/puroks but contiguous residential subdivisions or communities. Urban barangays play the role that neighbourhood or district would in another country, and tend to have small land area but large population. Rural barangays are about like townships or counties elsewhere, and often cover a large area.
If you take a taxi, jeepney or tricycle, ask for directions in advance. Filipinos will ask fellow locals, drivers, shop owners, or cops for the nearest landmark or building characteristics; doing the same will help you get around better.
- Barangay halls may have detailed maps of an area, which should indicate the main roads or streets and major landmarks. Aside from local police, you can also ask barangay tanods (village watchers) stationed in roadside outposts, but their directions can be vague to useless, and they may have limited English skills depending on the area.
- Google Maps works well in large cities and even rural areas, and provides turn-by-turn navigation and traffic information, but coverage is messy depending on place (with many places ending at odd spots due to the system misinterpreting addresses), and barangays are often not shown in addresses. Bus, train, and ferry schedules can also be found through Maps, but schedules for buses or ferries are hardly reliable, and transit directions are good only for planning your route.
Flight delays can occur due to technical problems at major airports around the Philippines. If bad weather or smog accumulates throughout the day, so does the backlog of flights and this can cause a 2–3-hour delay in your domestic flight.
If you have a separately ticketed flight on a continuing journey, or plan to fly out the next day, then you might want to consider flying earlier rather than later, that way you have plenty of time to relax, transit or make your hotel reservation for the night.
Since the Philippines is an archipelago, the easiest way to move between islands is by plane. Philippine Airlines (and its regional carrier, PAL Express), Cebu Pacific (and its regional carrier, Cebgo) and Philippines AirAsia have significant domestic operations, linking many major towns and cities. There are also several smaller carriers which serve resort destinations (such as Amanpulo in Palawan), as well as more remote destinations. While most cities are served by jet aircraft, some destinations are served by propeller-driven planes.
The route networks of most local airlines are heavily centered around Manila, Cebu, Clark: flying between domestic points usually entails having to transit one of those cities, although direct flights between other major cities are slowly being introduced. Reaching Sulu and Tawi-Tawi by air is a special case: travelers must fly through Zamboanga City.
A significant majority of domestic flights in the Philippines are operated by low-cost carriers and are consequently economy-only: PAL is the only airline to offer business class on domestic flights. This does not mean however that fares are affordable: domestic seat sales are a common feature throughout the year, and all major airlines regularly offer promo fares on their websites. However, fares increase significantly during major peak travel seasons (particularly during Christmas, Holy Week and Undas), and in places served by only one airline (such as Camiguin or Marinduque), fares also increase during major provincial or town fiestas. Flights are frequently full during peak travel season, so it is advisable to book well in advance. Local airlines have regular "seat sales", advertising cheap fares for flights to domestic destinations. However, some tickets booked during a seat sale may only be used on dates well after the duration of the sale (sometimes up to a year after the sale) and advertised fares usually exclude government taxes and fuel surcharges.
Passengers departing on domestic flights from Clark Airport must pay a ₱150 terminal fee before entering the pre-departure area; all the other airports in the Philippines (including NAIA) have the fee included in the ticket.
Provide extra time at airports for landside security checks before the departures hall, where all bags are checked, and passengers or visitors must pass through a metal detector.
- See also: sleeper trains
The Philippine National Railways (PNR), the government-owned railway company, runs trains within Luzon. The rail network dates to the 1900s, but has fell into disrepair and neglect since the 1980s, and only in the 2010s did the government commit into rehabilitating, rebuilding, and expanding the system with financial and technical assistance from the Japanese and Chinese.
Luzon has one intercity railway line running between Manila and the city of Legazpi in the Bicol region, but overnight services like the Bicol Express and Mayon Limited are suspended since 2015, and only commuter and regional services in Metro Manila, Laguna, and Bicol are operational as of 2019.
PNR long-distance trains have four classes: sleeper (only in the Bicol Express), deluxe/executive (only in the air-conditioned Mayon Limited), air-conditioned (with rotatable recliner seats), and ordinary (benches and 3-3 face-to-face seats). Commuter and regional trains only have air-conditioned and ordinary classes and have bench seating and standing room, and the first car is reserved to women, the elderly, and disabled people.
- Main article: Bus travel in the Philippines
Travel by bus is a common way of long-distance transportation for most Filipinos, and most large cities are reachable by bus.
A few large cities have city buses, which usually connect with suburbs, and at all other cities, you'll rely on jeepneys, multicabs, UV Express, and tricycles. Philippine city buses would look different that what you usually see elsewhere as they mostly use vehicles intended for long-distance service, but those with low floors are slowly taking over. Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are being proposed for Manila and Cebu, but they remain on the planning stages. A few city bus operators completely operate ultramodern low-floor bus fleets; e.g. BGC Bus and Green Frog in Metro Manila, and MyBus in Cebu.
Provincial buses, which range from town-hopper services in the provinces to long-distance trips between major cities, are widely available, and traveling with them is inexpensive in large islands or for trips to small cities. Long-haul services which involve meal stops (and ferries on interisland services) can be as twice as expensive as a flight, depending on the region, level of service, and surcharges on top of the fare.
Many buses – both city and provincial – are operated by many private companies franchised by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), instead of a few government-owned or national operators. Some of the largest bus operators with extensive coverage of most regions of the country are Victory Liner (and sister line Five Star), Genesis, DLTB, Philtranco (and sister Amihan), and the affiliated companies of the Yanson Group such as Ceres (the major operator in the Visayas except Bohol, Samar and Leyte), Rural Transit (in western Mindanao), Bachelor Express (in Eastern Mindanao) and Mindanao Star (on services between Davao and Cotabato cities).
Provincial buses would have five classes, while city buses would only have two, except express services, which are luxurious. Fares are cheap, and tickets are usually bought through the conductor or through booths or offices at the terminal. Advance booking for long-haul services can be done at a company office or online at the bus company's website.
Most buses are built by Chinese or Japanese manufacturers or assembled locally, but in some places, you may end up on a large jeepney or a minibus.
The air conditioning can be harshly cool, so bring a light jacket, sweater or blanket to wrap yourself. This is generally useful if taking an overnight trip on the no-frills classes having A/C. A few companies offer blankets for use on overnight journeys.
On-board WiFi is increasingly becoming available on buses, though speeds are highly variable and often slow. Front seats are allocated to people with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, or students, so you must swap seats as a courtesy. On a long-haul trip, you must do so even if your reserved ticket assigns you a front seat.
Rules on food and live animals vary from company to company, so check carefully. Food and beverages are generally allowed, but eating messy foods are discouraged, and some carriers ban them. On ordinary buses, the rules are often relaxed, so, expect sitting beside a local carrying a live chicken.
Bulky luggage are generally kept under the buses, but those in the poorer provinces may have a roof rack instead, or the luggage brought on board.
Most buses depart and arrive at company-owned terminals for services outside Mindanao, so transfers can be bothersome. This is changing as local governments are investing in centralized bus stations, with connections to local transportation.
You can find departure or arrival schedules on company websites or Google Maps, especially on the major ones, but don't always rely on them as buses may leave earlier or sooner once they're full.
Bus travel in the Philippines is often unsafe (see "Stay safe" for more discussion about this). Not only that, be prepared for culture shock with locals speaking loudly on board or spitting out on open windows of some buses, as well as the loud onboard audio or TV.
- Main article: Driving in the Philippines
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 major roads have two lanes and are normally paved with asphalt or concrete, although multi-lane roads are common near major cities. Street layouts in most cities and towns have never changed since the Spanish colonial era, and roads there are often narrow, with lots of blind corners. Road atlases and maps are available at bookstores throughout the country, and are very helpful when driving, especially when driving alone.
Foreign driver's licenses are legally valid in the Philippines for up to 90 days after arrival, after which a Philippine driver's license is required. It may also be a good idea to carry your passport showing that your last entry into the Philippines was less than 91 days ago.
Vehicular traffic in the Philippines moves on the right, and the vast majority of road signs are in English, with a few in Filipino. Road signs are based on a mix of American and European standards. Road marking are usually white, the same as in most of Europe, save for the no-overtaking lines, that always uses yellow, like in most of the Americas. While most major highways have good signage and markings, it is less common in inner city and minor roads. Road sign theft is also a common problem even in the highways, and stolen signs can cause a fatal crash, especially at night.
Motorcycles and scooters (either can be called moto in Filipino English) are extremely common in the country, mostly Japanese brands plus some Filipino brands such as Rusi. Most are in the 125‑200cc range. They are available for rent (typically at around ₱300 a day) in many cities and tourist areas, and it is common for long-term visitors to buy one.
Motorcycle riding here is not for the faint of heart and motorcyclists are fairly often killed, mainly because of dangerous driving habits like drunk driving or illegal overtaking. See Driving in the Philippines.
There is a national law requiring helmets, but it is not consistently enforced in all regions.
Motorcycle taxis (habal-habal) are provisionally allowed to operate legally since around December 2019. In some places, such as Samal, they are the only transportation option, though almost all of them will be unlicensed. There are no meters; you have to negotiate a price, and some drivers may try to overcharge tourists or may feel they are entitled to something extra because you want to be the only passenger where they could carry two or even three Filipinos. If you have a choice, either a tricycle or a jeepney will usually be both safer and more comfortable.
In large cities, it is possible to hail a habal-habal through apps such as Angkas and GrabBike. The app-hailed services have qualified and trained drivers identifiable through a uniform with the name of the company.
Most of the taxi drivers nowadays charge people with fares not based on the meters, especially during peak hours. If you encounter this say "no" and say that drivers don't have a right to give you a fare that is double and not based on the meters, this is usually encountered by tourists as well as middle class-elite class Filipinos. If this happens get out of the taxi, threaten the driver you will call the police hotline;Philippine National Police (PNP) +63 2 722-0650 start dialing your cellphone to make him believe you are calling the police or either call the MMDA(Metro Manila Development Authority) hotline; 136 if you're within Manila, you can also text the police at 2920 and your message must be as follows; PNP(space)(message), for your complaints. Some taxis have meters which give out receipts; ask for a receipt if they have one.
Taxis are generally available within the major cities but are usually not used for travel across the various provinces and regions. UV Express (shared taxis using white vans) usually ply provincial routes. You can also call reputable taxi companies that can arrange pickups and transfers as well as airport runs.
When hailing a taxi in the cities, ensure the meter is on and pay the metered fare. A tip of ₱10 is acceptable. Also, make sure you have coins and small denomination bills, as the drivers often claim not to have change in an effort to obtain a larger tip, and in morning periods, many drivers only accept coins as payment (watch out for the ubiquitous Barya lang po sa umaga sign or sticker)! Moreover, don't be surprised if drivers want to bypass the meter during rush hour. Most taxis have the flag down rate of ₱40 with each 300 meters cost ₱3.50 while Yellow cab taxis are more expensive with a flag-down rate of ₱70 with each 300 meters cost ₱4 (April 2011).
You may book a taxi using GPS enabled mobile apps such as "Grab Taxi" and "Easy Taxi" for a small fee. This is better than hailing a cab because you can see the number of available taxis and their location via GPS. Once you have a confirmed taxi booking, the name, photo, plate number and telephone number will appear on your mobile device and you can communicate with your driver to let him know exactly where you are. This is available in Metro Manila and Cebu.
Get around Manila with Pasig's Pasig Ferry Service, waterbuses are available in stations around the historical river of Pasig. Fares range from ₱25, ₱35 and ₱45. For students and youth fares are ₱20 regardless of distance.
Next to buses and some times low-cost airlines, ships are the cheapest mode of transport when getting around the country.
Ferry trips to other islands can take over 24 hours, depending on distance. The only nation-wide ferry line is now 2Go travel. From Cebu, there are smaller ferry lines: Trans Asia Shipping Lines, Cokaliong shipping Lines, Lite Ferries and Oceanjet.
Schedule information is via websites and newspapers often contain pages with ferry ads. Ferries can sometimes be delayed because all the cargo and passengers has not yet boarded, or because of weather.
Hans Christian Andersen Cruise will take you on a voyage through the Philippines. They take you to empty beaches, local fishing villages, diving and snorkeling. They offer a relaxed holiday atmosphere and you won’t have to worry about a dress code.
Jeepneys are common throughout the country and are by far the most affordable way to get around most major urban areas. Beware of colorum (unfranchised) jeepneys. They are best avoided, but in some places, they are common. See #Stay safe.
In cities jeepneys generally run on fixed routes, have fixed fares depending on distance (often about ₱10 for up to 4 km (2.5 mi) and an additional ₱2.5 per km as of 2019), and will stop if you wave at them. Usually there are signs on the side of the vehicle indicating the route. Within Manila and other major cities, you will find multiple jeepneys per route so you rarely need to wait long to catch one. You might even face problems with drivers illegally "cutting trip", which is when you pay the full fare to your intended destination and you will be forced to alight midway on the route or somewhere near your destination due to a traffic jam, roadblock or lack of waiting passengers (many jeepney drivers are paid based on passengers carried per trip).
In the provinces, jeepneys also connect towns and cities. For these longer trips there are often discounts for seniors or students, though not usually on trips within a city. For a trip of a few kilometers from a city to a suburb or a few dozen kilometers to a nearby town jeepneys are often the best way to travel. For longer journeys, however, buses are more comfortable.
Jeepneys are often quite crowded and generally not very comfortable (especially if you are tall), there is usually little space inside for luggage (though most have a roof rack), there may be pickpockets, and you might encounter annoying behavior such as drivers smoking or passengers engaging in loud conversations, However every visitor should try them at least once since they are definitely part of a "Philippines experience". For a budget traveller, they will likely be one of the most used transport options.
The original Jeepneys were based on jeeps left behind by the Americans after World War II; Filipinos lengthened the body and added benches along the sides to seat more people. Today most new jeepneys are based on imported used vehicles, but many older ones are still running. Jeepneys typically have seating for about 20 people, but they often carry 30 or more with people in the aisle or on the running boards. A few passengers can sit up front with the driver; these are the best seats.
Some jeepneys have a conductor to collect the fares, but on others you pay the driver. It is fairly common for people sitting at the back to get other passengers to relay their money to the driver; this is easier if you have exact change. It is also common for passengers to clink coins against metal parts of the roof when they want off; the sound carries forward to the driver.
In some areas there are vehicles much like a jeepney, but built on a smaller chassis so they can carry only about a dozen passengers. Locals will usually call these multicabs.
Traysikels are tricycles, motorcycle-and-sidecar rigs; the motorcycles are typically Japanese machines in the 125-200cc range. The design seems to vary from region to region, but within a given town all the traysikels will be of the same type. In some places the sidecars seat four, in other places only two. In many areas, pedicab refers to a pedal-powered vehicle, either a bicycle-and-sidecar rig or a cycle rickshaw with two seats in back and the rider pedaling up front. In other areas, "pedicab" is used for motorized sidecar rigs as well.
In some of the smaller cities, these are the main means of transport within the town, and jeepneys are used only for journeys between towns. In a few areas tricycles are used for out-of-town journeys of up to about 25 km (15 miles) as well.
These may not be to the liking of most foreigners, as they are cramped and quite open to noise and weather. In most places they are shared vehicles; expect to ride along with other people going approximately the same way and to take the odd detour as the driver diverts to deliver a passenger at his or her destination.
Most fares in any town are ₱10-80, depending mainly on the distance. Most fares are per person, but some are per tricycle. In some places the fare is legally regulated. Sometimes there are fixed fares. In more rural areas, rates are different. Sometimes, especially for longer runs, you will need to bargain over the fare, and some drivers will try to overcharge foreigners.
In general, most journeys are reasonably safe and pleasant, and quite cheap by foreign standards, but there can be problems. Some drivers may smoke while driving (despite smoking bans on public utility vehicles, including tricycles) or overcharge, and quite a few drive rather adventurously, frequently violating traffic rules, like illegal overtaking or ignoring tricycle prohibitions (primarily on heavily travelled highways). Some of the motorcycles are quite noisy, belch smoke or have inadequate headlights or taillights.
There is usually a luggage rack on the back. If you use it, make sure the driver ties your things down; otherwise they might be stolen or fly out when you hit a bump. Large or valuable luggage should ride in the passenger area; on tricycles with four-seat sidecars the front seat can be folded up to make room. You will usually have to pay extra for this, which is fair since the luggage prevents the driver taking more passengers.
You may find tricycles resembling auto rickshaws or tuk-tuks in some areas, especially in Mindanao (e.g. the motorelas of Cagayan de Oro); they have passengers sitting behind the driver instead of in a separate sidecar. Bajaj auto-rickshaws – some powered with compressed natural gas – can be sighted also in some areas; the downside is they can only carry 3 to 4 passengers (there is no extra seat for little kids or another passenger), but the upside is that they have higher headroom, less engine noise, and more comfortable seats. Electric trikes can be found at some areas, like in Manila.
- See also: Filipino phrasebook, Cebuano phrasebook, Bikol phrasebook, Ilocano phrasebook, Chavacano phrasebook
Some spellings look odd to English speakers since they approximately follow Spanish conventions. Examples include traysikel (tricycle) and pulis (police); both are pronounced much like the English words.
Dates are pronounced differently in Philippine English, with the day number pronounced using the cardinal number, so for example, June 12 (Independence Day in the Philippines) is pronounced "June twelve". "June twelfth" is also understood, but is often viewed as a formal, posh or foreign pronunciation.
The Philippines has two official languages: English and Filipino; both are used in education and most Filipinos speak at least some of both, though the levels in either vary quite widely. Filipino is a standardized version of the Tagalog language. Tagalog is the language spoken in the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila, and across much of southern and central Luzon.
In the northern provinces, Ilocano is the most common language used, while Kapampangan and Pangasinan are spoken in the Central Luzon plains. South of Metro Manila lies the Bicol Region, where Bikol is the main local language.
The Visayas, forming the central section of the country, have their own language subgroup called the Visayan languages, which differ depending on the region. Cebuano is the most common Visayan language, and is mainly spoken in the islands of Cebu, Bohol and Negros (eastern part), and used to have more native speakers than Tagalog. The second most-common one is Hiligaynon (also known as Ilonggo), which is widely spoken in the islands of Panay, Guimaras and Negros (western part). Waray-Waray is the third most-common and is widely spoken in the Leyte-Samar islands.
All the Filipino languages are related to each other, and all are part of the Austronesian language group which also includes Malay, Indonesian, Javanese and various languages of the Pacific islands. A speaker of any of those will recognize some cognate words in any of the others, and some of the grammar is similar, but they are not mutually intelligible.
Most Filipino languages have been heavily influenced by other languages, most notably Spanish during the Spanish colonial period; there are many Spanish loanwords, and many place names are from Spanish or spelled using Spanish spelling conventions (e.g. Tanjay is pronounced about like English 'tan high'). Hence, many Filipinos can understand a little Spanish. English has also had an influence and has contributed many loanwords.
The national government has attempted to promote Filipino as a national language, but it has not been successful, and in particular, has met strong opposition in some places which have a strong regional or ethnolinguistic identity. Avoid speaking in Filipino in places like Cebu, where it is often viewed with hostility, and if you try, they will usually hesitate unless they say otherwise (younger Cebuanos are more open though). Also avoid calling the Philippine languages aside from Tagalog dialects; most Philippine languages are not mutually intelligible, and the Spanish-based creole Chavacano is completely unrelated despite smatterings of Tagalog and Hiligaynon borrowings.
English is an official language of the Philippines and is a compulsory subject in all schools. Most Filipinos of all ages speak English at varying degrees of fluency, but attitudes toward spoken English are changing due to its association with higher social status. You can get around with only English in most large cities and tourist areas, but having a basic grasp of Tagalog or a regional language is useful once you head into the provinces as English proficiency is limited there.
There is no single accent of English in the Philippines, but there are many accents influenced by the speaker's mother tongue. One example is the interchanging of e/i and o/u by speakers of Visayan languages when speaking in English.
Code-switching between English or any Philippine language is common, resulting in mixes like Taglish (Tagalog and English) and Bislish (Bisaya/Cebuano and English). Mixing of languages within a conversation or even a sentence is common, though it is discouraged by formal language teachers. An example of code-switching is shown below:
- English: How are you? I'm ok.
- Tagalog: Kumusta ka na? Mabuti naman ako
- Taglish: How are you na? Ok naman ako.
Spanish is no longer widely spoken, though many Spanish words survive in the local languages, and there are still up to three million people who speak Spanish to varying degrees of fluency. A Spanish-based creole language known as Chavacano is spoken in Zamboanga and parts of Cavite by about two million people. The government also now provides Spanish in public schools as an optional (elective) language. Younger Spanish-Filipinos tend to speak Filipino languages and/or English as their primary language.
Other ethnic groups have brought new languages to the country, particularly in more urbanized areas like Manila. There are Chinese groups who migrated largely from Fujian province some time ago and typically can speak Hokkien rather than Mandarin or Cantonese. They also use 'Lan-ang'; a localized variant of Hokkien with influences from the native Philippine languages, particularly Tagalog and Visayan languages.
Filipino Sign Language (FSL) is the official sign language since 2018. It is the mutually intelligible with American Sign Language (where it is based from), but not with British Sign Language, Auslan, and other sign languages.
Many Filipinos speak multiple languages. You should not be surprised, for example, to meet someone who speaks one or more regional Philippine languages (perhaps Bikol, Ilocano or Cebuano) plus English, Tagalog and one or two picked up during stints as an overseas contract worker.
The Philippines can give you the tropical island experience of your life. Its beautiful sandy beaches, warm climate, century old churches, magnificent mountain ranges, dense rain forests, rich culture and smiling people are some of the attractions that you can see and experience on this archipelago composed of 7,107 islands. You can experience the country's rich and unique culture in different ways like touring old Spanish churches, joining colorful fiestas (festivals) and by enjoying exotic and tasty cuisine. But perhaps the greatest way to experience Filipino culture is by riding a jeepney.
Historical and cultural attractions
The Spanish began colonizing the Philippines in the 1560s and held it until the Americans took over in 1898. Almost every town in the country has a few fine old buildings from that period, at least a Catholic church. A few have much more than that, whole districts full of old buildings including the remains of Spanish fortifications:
- Manila is the capital of the Philippines; it was established during the Spanish colonial era. Despite being a city with modern skyscrapers, Manila still has its rich historical and cultural heritage. Its old churches, colonial structures, neo-classical buildings and historical landmarks give this city its unique charm.
- Intramuros (Spanish for 'within the walls') is the oldest district and historic core of Manila. Intramuros is home to Manila's finest and oldest structures such as the Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago. Despite being heavily damaged during World War II, Intramuros still has its Spanish colonial character.
- Cebu City was the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines, and was the capital for a few years. Its Colon district has some of the country’s most important historical and heritage spots including Fort San Pedro and the Basilica of Santo Niño. The city's Sinulog Festival attracts thousands of tourists and pilgrims; it is one of the country's most popular festivals.
- Baguio is at a considerable elevation and was used as a summer capital to escape the heat of Manila.
Several towns have particularly fine collections of heritage buildings, including many heritage homes built for important Spaniards or for wealthy Filipino families. Many of these are still private homes and by no means all are open to the public, but some have become museums and others allow tours.
- Vigan, in the Ilocos Region of northern Luzon, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Spanish colonial town though also with considerable Chinese influence. It may make you feel like you are somewhere in Latin America or Mediterranean Europe.
- Taal, in the Batangas region southwest of Manila, is the closest such town to the capital. It may be a convenient stop for those headed for the beaches of Puerto Galera, though it takes you off the direct route.
- Silay is on Negros, near Bacolod.
- Baclayon is on Bohol, near Tagbilaran.
Since the country was a Spanish colony for 300 years, Baroque churches can easily be found around the Philippines. These churches will look almost like those which you might see in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. Some of the most iconic in the country are:
- San Agustin Church in Manila
- Miag-ao Church in Iloilo
- Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte
- Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Sur
These churches were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
Beaches and islands
Beaches and diving are among the best-known tourist attractions of the country; with 7,107 islands there is certainly enough choice. Many beaches have bright white sand, but beige, gray, black or even pink sand are also found. Most of the diving is around coral reefs; many are reachable by just walking into the water, or on a day trip by boat from one of the resorts. A few such as Coron feature wreck diving and some such as Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park involve longer trips on live-aboard boats.
Boracay is the country's best-known beach resort area, has been rated one of the best islands in the world by several magazines, and attracts thousands of international and local travelers every year. It has powdery white sand beaches and azure waters, and is a highly-developed area offering a range of activities including scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kitesurfing, cliff diving and parasailing. After all of these activities, you can indulge in a relaxing massage right on the white sand beach or at one of the spas
If you want to avoid crowded beaches, head to Palawan. The beaches in the province are less developed, uncrowded and are well-preserved. The coastal town of El Nido is one of the best destinations that Palawan and the Philippines can offer. Its pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, steep limestone cliffs, stunning islets and diving spots can compete with any of the best in the world.
Coron Island boasts hundreds of limestone formations topped with dense rainforests. It is also popular for its exquisite beaches and World War II shipwrecks. Rent a kayak to paddle around the islands to see the beautiful and well-preserved seascape of Coron.
Aside from Palawan, you can also try Bohol, an island province which is also home to majestic sandy beaches. One of Bohol's top beach destinations is Panglao Island, which is being promoted as an alternative destination to Boracay. The island offers a wide selection of both luxury and affordable resorts.
Mactan Island in Cebu; Santa Cruz Island in Zamboanga; Pagudpud in Ilocos; Laiya Beach in Batangas and White Island in Camiguin are other popular beach destinations in the Philippines that are really worth visiting.
Sick of beaches? The Philippines has other offer stunning landscapes; aside from beautiful beaches, there are mountain ranges, dense jungles, majestic rice terraces, scenic lakes, picturesque waterfalls and hidden caves.
If we think of the Philippines, the usual things that goes into our mind are just group of islands with warm sunny days. The Cordillera Region is not the usual Philippine destination that we see on postcards and travel magazines. If you visit this mountainous region, take jackets and sweaters rather than just t-shirts, because this region is located in the cool highlands of the northern part of the country. Rice terraces are one of the most visited tourist attractions in the region, the world-famous Banaue Rice Terraces and Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras can be found here. These rice terraces were built almost 2000 years ago by ancient Filipinos and still maintain their beauty. Nearby is the town of Sagada in the Mountain Province. Known for its hanging coffins and limestone caves, this town is an ideal destination for backpackers.
Being a mountainous country, the Philippines offers countless choices of mountains for hikers and adventure seekers. The best mountain climbing destination in the country is the scenic Mount Apo in the Southern Philippines. Mount Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines, and one of the most diverse areas; it is home to over 272 bird species, 111 of which are endemic to the area. The mountain also has four major lakes, these lakes are famous mountaineers camping site and a stopover towards the peak. Another popular mountain climbing destination is Mount Pinatubo in Tarlac. This mountain made global headlines as the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. Today, it is one of the country's top climbing destination due to its canyons, 4x4 terrain and its scenic caldera lake.
Head to the island of Bohol to see the famous Chocolate Hills, and no they are not made out of chocolate, they are grass-covered limestone domes that turn brown during the dry season, hence their name. There are more than 1,268 hills scattered in the area. The Chocolate Hills are one of the most iconic and popular tourist spots in the country. Another destination which is popular in Bohol is the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella, it is a 7.4-hectare forest sanctuary where over 100 tarsiers roam freely, here you can have a chance to get up close to the Philippine Tarsier, one of the smallest primates in the world.
- Aerial sports - An annual Hot Air Balloon festival is held in January and February in Clark, Angeles in Pampanga. Hot air balloons are displayed, and there is skydiving, and other activities.
- Basketball is the most popular sport in the Philippines, don't miss the PBA and UAAP basketball tournaments. A more Filipino experience is watching any of the paliga games held in barangays during the hot months, if you can bear the heat; streetball is also quite popular with Filipinos as well.
- Bentosa and Hilot are Filipino alternative ways of healing, Bentosa is a method where a cup cover a tea light candle then it flames out and it drains out all the pain on the certain part of the body, Hilot is just the Filipino way of massaging.
- Board sailing - Waves and winds work together making the country a haven for board sailors. Boracay, Subic Bay and Anilao in Batangas are the main destinations.
- Casinos: Metro Manila has a wide collection of casinos and entertainment destinations. Explore the Resorts World Manila, the country's first luxurious casino integrated resort, and the newly opened Solaire Resorts and Casino. The Entertainment City will be home to four integrated casino resorts.
- Caving - The archipelago has some unique cave systems. Sagada in Luzon and Mabinay on Negros are popular destination for caving.
- Festivals - Each municipality, town, city and province has its own festival, either religious or in honor of the city or a historical reason.
- See also: Festivals in the Philippines for more information.
- Golf - Almost every province has a golf course.
- Medical tourism - Most medical tourists come from America and Europe as health care here costs as much as 80% less than abroad. Most of the hospitals suggested for medical tourism are in Metro Manila. Alternative medicine is also popular with spas, faith healing and other fringe therapies widespread throughout the archipelago.
- National parks - National parks number around 60-70, they include mountains and coral reefs.
- Mountain biking - The archipelago has dozens of mountains and is ideal for mountain bikers. Destinations include Baguio, Davao, Iloilo, Banaue, Mount Apo and Guimaras.
- Rock climbing - Apo Island, Atimonan, El Nido, Putting Bato, Wawa Gorge have the best sites in the archipelago for rock climbing.
- Sea kayaking - Caramoan Islands in Camarines Sur, Palawan, Samar and Siargao are popular.
- Spas are found near beaches, financial capitals, etc.
- Trekking - Mountain ranges and peaks offer cool weather for trekking and it might give you a sight of the beautiful exotic flora and fauna of the country. Mt. Kanlaon and Mount Pulag are good trekking spots.
- Visita iglesia - Church-visiting Catholic churches, holy sites, shrines, and basilicas. If you are religious try this, if you love art and architecture, churches are the best way to define what Filipino architecture.
- Whitewater rafting - There is good whitewater rafting in Mindanao, both in the north around Cagayan de Oro and in the south near Davao.
Scuba diving is spectacular in the Philippines. While there are many fine dive sites, including some in nearly every region of the country, two stand out as among the world's best:
- Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a Philippines National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a large area of coral reef, mostly shallow water with a few small islets and a sensational range of marine life. It is generally reached on live-aboard boats operating from Puerto Princesa on Palawan.
- Coron has excellent wreck diving because the US Navy sank about ten Japanese ships in shallow water there in 1944.
Exchange rates for Philippine pesos
As of January 2, 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The Philippine peso (or piso), ISO code: PHP, is the official currency and is the only currency used for most transactions. It is usually denoted by the symbol "₱" (or P, without the double strike). One peso is subdivided into 100 centavos (or sentimo), denoted with the symbol ¢ (or c). Wikivoyage uses ₱ for pesos.
- Coins: 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, ₱1, ₱5, ₱10, and ₱20. There are two sets of coins in circulation: the 2018 "New Generation" series and the older 1995 "New Design" series. The 2018 coins are all nickel-plated steel; there is no 10¢ coin, and ₱20 coins were introduced in late 2019. Coins from 1995 are of various materials and colors.
- Bills: ₱20 (orange), ₱50 (red), ₱100 (purplish blue), ₱200 (green), ₱500 (yellow), and ₱1000 (light blue). Older versions of each bill have been demonetized since December 2016. The old bills have similar colors to their new counterparts, have the same people at the front (except for the ₱500 bill which also features former President Aquino) but rather than historical sites at the back, the newer bills feature Filipino natural wonders and species unique to the country.
U.S. dollars and euros may be accepted in some circumstances, but don't count on it.
Travellers usually see ₱20 and ₱50 bills, and ₱1, ₱5 and ₱10 coins as the most useful for common purchases. Centavo coins are nearly worthless: convenience stores, supermarkets and bus conductors are the few to hand them out as change, but they are commonly thrown away. Always have some coins in hand during morning hours; jeepney, taxi, tricycle drivers, and some merchants follow the barya lang [po] sa umaga rule, insisting they need coins to give back as change later in the day. Beware of counterfeits: bills from ₱100 and above are common targets for counterfeiters, but fake ₱20 and ₱50s also show up, especially in small shops.
The Philippines is fundamentally a cash-only society; it's just fine to carry wads of ₱1000 bills for medium to large purchases, though it's also risky. Some machines like coin-operated vending machines or coin laundries only accept ₱5 coins while pisonet computers accept ₱1, but many are not yet adjusted to accept coins from 2018. Machines selling drinks generally accept bills up to ₱50 in value.
Money changers are common in malls and tourist areas, but less so elsewhere. A rule of thumb is that the more currency you wish to exchange, the more favorable the rates can be. Banks are widely available to exchange currency but usually impose a minimum amount (usually around US$100), generally have worse rates than money changers, and are usually open only from 9AM to 3PM (sometimes 4:30PM) on weekdays. However, you can enjoy their air conditioning during a long wait. Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) and Banco de Oro (BDO) have longer operating hours (sometimes as late as 7PM) in some locations.
Don't exchange money in stalls along the streets as some of them might be exchanging your money for counterfeit money. Contact Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines or BSP) if you suspect the money you've been given is counterfeit. Money changers do exist at department stores, supermarkets and hotels but the rates are highly unfavorable to customers and some will only exchange into pesos.
Having a Philippine bank account is useful for long-term travelers or permanent residents, but not for an ordinary tourist or business traveler. International banks like Citibank or HSBC have only a few branches in large cities and opening a new account requires a huge deposit. The major local banks, like PNB, BDO, BPI or Metrobank, are better. Foreigners must have a valid passport, an Alien Certificate of Registration card and proof of a Philippines address – most often the residency certificate you got from the barangay. Most bank staff can speak English well, and you can also apply for a US dollar account with any of the major local banks.
Most of the 20,000 ATMs are connected to the local BancNet ATM network. Most banks will have at least one ATM on bank premises, and there are lots of off-site ATMs in shopping malls and other commercial buildings, mostly in the cities. In rural areas, often the only available ATMs are from Land Bank of the Philippines or the Philippine National Bank (PNB).
International networks like Plus and Cirrus are accessible with many ATMs, with Cirrus being more predominant, although many ATMs support both. Some banks also support other cards, including American Express, Diners Club, JCB and China UnionPay. Withdrawals are often limited to ₱10,000 depending on the bank. Most local banks charge a usage fee of ₱250 for using foreign cards. The best ATMs to withdraw money from are at one of the HSBC branches (eight in Metro Manila, and one each in Cebu City and Davao), where you can take out ₱40000 per transaction with no usage fee.
Credit card holders can use Visa, MasterCard, American Express, UnionPay, Diners Club and JCB cards, especially in the cities and in tourist areas, but merchants usually require a minimum purchase amount before they start accepting credit cards. Smaller merchants are usually cash-only. Credit cards are generally not accepted for government-related transactions, and in rural areas, credit card acceptance can range from limited to virtually non-existent.
Pay close attention when using ATMs, even when using ATMs on bank premises. While credit card fraud is uncommon in the Philippines, ATM tampering happens regularly. Obvious signs that an ATM has been tampered include loosely-installed keypads, larger-than-usual card slots, and wires or features that seem out of place.
Mobile payments are slowly becoming available in shops and restaurants in large cities and major tourist destinations. Two popular mobile payment services are the QR-code based PayMaya and GCash, which are tied to Smart and Globe Telecom companies. PayMaya, which comes with a MasterCard EMV card, can allow you to pay tolls on the expressways operated by Metro Pacific (and even be the only way to pay in a public market in Valenzuela), while GCash is generally useful for mobile funds transfer, but both are useful for that purpose. You will only need a Philippine mobile number and the specific app, but you must top them up (load) at a convenience store, pawnshop or a bills payment centers. For the most part, they are more useful for long-term visitors than to most travelers.
NFC-based mobile payments such as Apple Pay and Android Pay are not generally accepted. Some shops and restaurants which see many mainland Chinese customers also take WeChat Pay and Alipay.
Tipping is not required in the Philippines, except when the customer wants to show appreciation for services rendered. However, tipping is becoming more common especially in service-oriented places (spa, salon). In some restaurants and hotels, "Service Charge" (8%-12%) is included in the bill when issued; thus, a customer has the option to give an additional tip or not. In taxis, it is common to add ₱20-50 on top of the fare.
Travelling in Philippines is cheap (one of the least expensive places to visit in Asia and in the world.) For example a stay in a pension house, tourist inn or lodge can cost as little as ₱300 a night for a fan room or ₱500 a night for an air-conditioned room. A flight to Cebu from Manila and vice-versa will cost as little as ₱999, while one from Manila to Davao can cost as little as ₱1595. Transportation can cost as little as ₱10 for the first 4 km (2.5 mi) in a jeepney. Provincial bus fares are cheap for a standard air-conditioned bus, and becomes expensive on ordinary and the higher air-conditioned bus classes.
Using the internet in an internet cafe ranges from ₱1 per 5 minutes (₱12 for a hour) on a pisonet to ₱20 per hour on larger establishments, depending on the Internet café's location. A can of Coke costs as little as ₱20 while a copy of the International Herald Tribune costs ₱70 and The Economist as little as ₱160. In most restaurants, there is 12% Value Added Tax (VAT) usually included in the unit price but the service charge is often excluded and computed separately (although the restaurant may opt to waive the service charge for take-away-only orders).
- See also: Shopping in the Philippines
What's a pasalubong?
A pasalubong is a tradition practiced by Filipinos for a long time. It is something you bring to your friends and family as a souvenir, keepsake or gift from a place you have visited. A Pasalubong consists of food (usually delicacies and sweets), T-shirts, souvenirs such as key chains, bags, etc.
Living in the Philippines is cheap and shopping in the country is also cheap compared to elsewhere in southeast Asia.
The country has a lot of shopping malls, from large to small and from modern to traditional; consumerism is part of Filipino culture. The four largest mall operators in the country are SM, Robinson's, CityMall and Ayala with locations across the archipelago. Most malls are open from 10AM to 9PM; they open as early as 8AM and close as late as 11PM during Christmas shopping season (mid-September to early January). Many close every Christmas, New Year, and Good Friday, with a few exceptions. Due to terrorism risk, security is tight at malls, with lines for bag searches and metal detectors.
In major malls, department stores, supermarkets, and brand-name stores, the tag price normally includes value-added tax (VAT) and any applicable sales taxes. In bazaars and tiangges (markets), prices may be marked, but you can often bargain for a better price. It is common, especially for clothing, to get a better price if you buy two or more.
Supermarkets and convenience stores
Supermarkets in the Philippines are dominated by four large chains, generally owned by Filipino-Chinese companies:
- SM Savemore & Walter Mart.
- Pure Gold & S & R & Lawson.
- Robinsons & Rustans & Shopwise & Wellcome.
- Gaisano & Metro.
Regional chains, and mom-and-pop supermarkets, which may have lower prices than the four major chains. can be found as well, especially in less developed areas of cities or in the countryside; see specific region or city pages for details.
Chain convenience stores, often tied with a major retailer, are common in urban areas. They generally have a wide variety of products, usually a subset of products sold in a grocery store, and fast food, and services like cell phone load, money transfer, courier service and bill payment. They mostly operate round the clock; the few exceptions are locations inside malls.
Traditional, sari-sari stores (small corner stores) are common, especially in the rural areas and the barangays. These are mostly family-owned stores usually found beside a road, and sell items that can be bought in grocery stores or general merchandise stores. Sari-sari stores also provide cell phone loading in addition to selling products.
- See also: Filipino cuisine
There is no single "Filipino cuisine", but rather a mosaic of various regional and ethnic cuisines. Local food varies as you travel between regions, provinces, and islands, and ingredients vary by the local culture and economy, but there are broad characteristics that define Filipino food.
Filipino cuisine has developed from the different cultures that shaped its history; it is Southeast Asian cuisine but with influences from both Asia and the West. Though its cuisine is not as renowned as many of its neighbours, such as that of Thailand and Vietnam, Filipino cooking is nonetheless distinct in that it is possibly the least spicy of all South East Asian cuisines. Don't make the mistake of thinking that Filipino food is bland, though. It is just that instead of spices, Filipino food depends more on garlic, onions, ginger and vinegar to add flavor to dishes, and is mostly sweet, sour, and salty. Painstaking preparation and prolonged cooking time is also a characteristic of most Filipino dishes, and when done properly is often what brings out the flavor of the food, as opposed to a healthy dose of spices. As with the rest of Southeast Asia, rice is the staple food of the Philippines, but parts of the country rather have corn instead.
To experience how the Filipinos eat in a budget way, carinderias (eateries) and turo-turo (literally "point-point", buffet-style restaurants where you choose the food to be served to you) are some of the options. Mains cost less than ₱50. Carinderias serve food cooked earlier and it may not always be the safest of options.
You'll be hard pressed to find a mall without the requisite American fast food chains, which have their menus adapted to local tastes, but national chains such as Jollibee (hamburgs), Greenwich (pizza), and Mang Inasal (BBQ chicken) also capture the Filipino taste buds and are competitive. If you want even cheaper fast food, go to roadside burger shacks or the numerous food kiosks or stands in malls and public transportation terminals.
Filipino street food is one of the best however it may not be as clean as the ones you find in Singapore. Street food vendors have been criticized because of their unhygienic practices and unhealthy options but also praised for affordability and taste. Street food sold in malls, while often viewed as a show-off to appeal the refined tongue, is much safer and better.
Tropical fruits abound in the Philippines. Most of the countryside produce finds its way to the metro areas and can be easily bought in supermarkets.
Meal patterns are basically similar to those in the Spanish-speaking world due to the country's history. Lunch is the most important meal, eaten between 11AM to 3PM, and a mid-morning or afternoon snack (merienda) is common.
Some Filipinos strictly use the serving spoon rule, believing that offering utensils or food that had come contact with someone's saliva is rude, disgusting, and will cause food to get stale quickly. Singing or having an argument while eating is considered rude, as they believe food is grasya/gracia or grace in English; food won't come to you if you keep disrespecting it. Filipinos usually say a prayer before food is served, furthermore wait till the host invites you to start eating. Also, it is rude to refuse food that the host offers or leave the dining table while someone is still eating.
Vegetarians and vegans will find it difficult to find a Filipino dish which is wholly vegetarian as most Filipinos add meat in every single dish they eat. You can find some vegetarian restaurants in the Philippines, mostly lurking in the commercial, financial and provincial capitals, and most of them use tofu instead of meat. Nearly all towns have large markets with a fine selection of fruits and vegetables, mostly at good prices.
Muslims will find it hard to find Halal food outside predominantly Muslim areas in the Philippines. Hindus will find Indian restaurants which serve some vegetarian options in the most of the larger cities. Jews will also find it hard to find Kosher meals. However rabbis in the Philippines suggest some stores which sell Kosher food.
Awareness of food allergies or celiac disease is limited to non-existent.
- See also: Filipino cuisine
Due to the tropical climate of the Philippines, chilled drinks are popular. Stands selling chilled drinks and shakes are common especially in shopping malls.
Filipinos (except for observant Muslims) love to drink (and get drunk). Filipinos rarely consume alcohol by itself. They would normally have what is called as "pulutan" or bar chow alongside their drinks which is like the equivalent of tapas. Beer is perhaps the most common form of alcohol consumed in bars.
Alcohol is cheap in the Philippines, some of the cheapest in the whole of Asia. In a supermarket the excellent local beers are around ₱35 and 750ml (26 oz) bottles of tolerable local rum or brandy start under ₱100. In many bars beer is around ₱60 and mixed drinks ₱90-150.
Accommodation options range from luxury five-star hotels/resorts to backpacker inns, but off the beaten track, options are sparse. Rates begin at ₱200, or higher depending on location, season and demand. Large cities such as Manila or Cebu have a higher price bracket, so do major tourist destinations.
Homestays (or "transient homes", or "transient") or bed and breakfasts are common in the provinces, especially in tourist towns that do not have much commercial accommodation. Many are just basic homes that provide meals, but some may have a swimming pool.
Motels (or "short-time [hotels]") are another cheap option, but they have a reputation for being havens for illicit sex. They tend to be scattered in red-light districts, but many are clustered along major highways. Rates are per hour than per day, and it generally costs ₱600-1000 for overnight stays (at least 6 to 10 hours), or ₱200-400 for short stays (2 to 5 hours).
Hotels and resorts are usually for the higher-end traveler, although rates — even for four-star establishments — are not very high compared to other international destinations. Condotels are furnished condominium units rented out for long or short term stays, while apartelles are set up for both short and long term stays. Pension houses, tourist inns and lodging houses are usually more basic and economical from ₱200 per night.
Cheaper places often have only fans instead of air conditioning, and no private toilet or shower. Even if you get a private shower, it may not have hot water, but this is not a big problem in a hot country. Bathtubs are rare in any accommodation, and the shower is often not separated from the toilet except in top-end hotels.
There are backpacker hostels all over the Philippines with dorm beds from ₱200.
You must apply for a student (9F) visa if you study in a college or university in the Philippines, and those studying on an elementary, secondary, technical/vocational, or special school registered to allow foreign enrollment must apply for a student permit (along with other required documents if below 18 or required by the institution).
Education is taken seriously in the Philippines, and studying is a good way to experience life in the country. Many foreigners such as Europeans, Chinese, Americans and Koreans go to university in the Philippines, partly because compared to other countries universities here are cheaper. The system is similar to the Americans system. The most prestigious institutions include University of the Philippines (UP), De La Salle University (DLSU), Ateneo de Manila University, Far Eastern University (FEU) and Adamson University. For American veterans, the VA will pay for courses at approved universities here.
The Philippines is one of the largest centers for learning ESL (English as a Second Language) in Asia. Transport from Asian countries, living costs and tuition are all much lower than for the major English-speaking countries and the climate is pleasant.
There are many English learning centers around the country; many are in Metro Manila (especially Taguig City), Bacolod, and Cebu, but there are some in all the major cities and in some of the resort areas. There are some jobs for foreign teachers in these places, though they mostly use Filipino teachers and generally will not offer high salaries to foreigners. See Teaching English.
- Scuba diving: There is a great variety of dive sites and many have PADI-accredited diving schools where you can obtain your certifications. Costs (of both lessons and equipment) are likely to be cheaper than even in Thailand and Malaysia.
- Martial arts: Eskrima or Kali is a Filipino martial art that emphasizes using swords and sticks; it has been showcased in films such as Equilibrium. There are many training centers around Metro Manila and some almost anywhere in the country. Many other martial arts are also taught, but in any but a really large city only one or two will be available.
- Filipino/Tagalog or regional languages: Limited opportunities are available to seriously study Filipino or a regional language, as most Filipinos can readily read, speak and understand English (and jobs available to foreigners do not require Filipino language skills), but you can readily pick up any local language through lessons with locals, books, and online resources. Filipino is a mandatory subject in the Philippine education system, so you can be immersed in it while studying in the country.
Under Philippine law, any foreigner working must have an Alien Employment Permit issued by the Department of Labor. The paperwork is in general handled by the prospective employer and the employee picks up the relevant visa at a Philippine Embassy or Consulate. Working without a permit is not allowed, and doing so means you have no protection under labor laws. Furthermore, visas are checked upon departing the Philippines. Those who have overstayed without permission are subject to fines and, in certain cases, even jail.
It is possible for foreigners to earn casual money while staying in the Philippines, especially in Manila and other bigger cities in provinces. These may include temporary teaching in schools, colleges and other institutions, and working in bars and clubs. Temporary work may also be available as an extra on the set of a film or television series. Fluency in English is very important in jobs while knowledge of Filipino or Tagalog is not needed. The Philippines has overtaken India in the call center industry, and many international companies hire English fluent workers.
Most establishments pay monthly but informal jobs pay out variably either cash on hand or weekly.
The Philippine penal system
The legal system tends to be slow, and prison conditions are poor and dangerous. A falsely accused person could spend a long time in jail before being acquitted. Bail is often denied, especially for foreigners. Foreigners are sometimes given shorter sentences than those provided. For minor offenses, foreigners often serve only a few weeks before being deported. For serious crimes, however, a foreign citizen will be sentenced to a long term in jail, followed by deportation.
Transitioning from years of dictatorship, neglect and economic stagnation toward democracy and development, the Philippines suffers from crime, corruption, and ongoing insurgencies. While foreign governments and the media exaggerates the threats, the country is, by and large, peaceful except for some regions experiencing low-level insurgencies. Crime levels in major cities are relatively comparable to those in American cities.
The country has one of those having the most deaths from natural disasters known to humankind: earthquakes, tropical cyclones (typhoons), floods, and tropical diseases.
The Philippines is quite low-income: unskilled jobs generally pay US$100-200 a month and even many good jobs are under $500. More or less all travelers will be perceived as rich by local standards. This makes you a prime target for thieves, scammers, prostitutes and corrupt officials. Do not make it worse by displaying a Rolex, an iPhone and a Nikon or by pulling out a stack of ₱1000 notes when you pay a restaurant bill.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is responsible for law enforcement for the country, and their officers are mostly identifiable through their dark blue uniforms. Some officers would be wearing a light blue collared shirt (with PNP insignia on the chest) or T-shirt (with PULIS printed behind), this includes those stationed at tourist locations and smaller Police Community Precincts (PCPs). PNP's traffic law enforcement arm, the Highway Patrol Group (HPG), who patrols national highways and rural checkpoints, wear the same uniform as most officers, but may be wearing a reflectorized vest. Police vehicles are generally white, with many variations by local division, but most should have the word PULIS or PULISYA at the front, and a white license plate with red text.
All police officers have nationwide authority. Many can speak English, but as one goes into the province, English proficiency can be terrible. Many are easily approachable, but some are not well-paid that they may ask for bribes.
Aside from the PNP Highway Patrol Group, many cities and municipalities have their own traffic police force, who further enforce national traffic rules and local traffic laws. Traffic police are generally called traffic enforcers or traffic aides. Uniforms vary by municipality, but many wear a cap and pants with reflectorized strips, and some don a vest for additional visibility. Many of them have a negative reputation for bribery, but this is changing.
While its constituent cities have their own traffic police, Metro Manila has a region-wide traffic law enforcement authority, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which has constables who patrols the major thoroughfares. MMDA constables wear a bright blue uniform, and are mostly courteous and trained. Most now serve roles in controlling traffic at major intersections and traffic bottlenecks, and only a few write tickets for traffic law violations. In addition, they also enforce regional ordinances against smoking, spitting, urinating in public, littering and jaywalking.
In addition to police, barangays also have tanod, or village watchers, who are responsible for neighborhood policing. Most of them are unarmed, but some are armed with a bolo, a kind of machete. There is no standard uniform, but many wear a shirt with a vest, usually one bearing the barangay name, over it. Tanod, especially those stationed in roadside outposts, are helpful and approachable, and can give directions in case you get lost.
Private security guards
Private security guards are common on most establishments, especially malls, banks, transportation terminals, and government offices, and they will be mostly dressed in a white or navy blue shirt and black pants. Female security may have the same uniform as males, but some would wear a black pencil skirt and hose. Some guards may have a black cap with badge. Most of them are friendly and approachable, but some are poorly trained, corrupt, and sleep-deprived (many of them work graveyard shifts to protect businesses from theft at midnight hours).
Crime, along with impunity and corruption within the police force, has increased since the return to democracy, and while the rate is relatively high by Western standards, they mostly happen within crowded or rough areas of large cities. The most common crimes reported are pickpocketing, bag snatching, and hold-up robbery, usually involving those carrying valuables such as cash, designer bags, and personal gadgets. Beware of the budol-budol scam, where victims are hypnotized to follow the robbers' demands; it is common around Manila, but foreigners are rarely targeted. Being involved in a crime will also introduce you to the cumbersome system of Filipino compensation, where a bribe is required for a case to be filed, but they are slowly disappearing under anti-corruption campaigns. Women must travel in groups, and avoid traveling alone at night.
Smash-and-grab theft on parked cars (the basag-kotse modus operandi) is common, even in secured parking area, so do not leave anything valuable inside the car, especially in the dashboard.
Distraction theft is uncommon, but they happen; such cases often involve dropping a coin (laglag-barya), or intentionally sticking a piece of used chewing gum to a bus seat, both of which disorient the victim while an accomplice steals the victim's belongings. In restaurants, one common scam involves staged beverage spills.
Bag-snatching by motorcycle riders (especially those in riding-in-tandem), is common. Sometimes, they will pull the bag along with the person for a few meters. Be careful when carrying expensive bags, as it may catch the attention of snatchers. Avoid wearing jewelry, especially earrings or rings, when going into crowded areas.
Avoid getting into fights or confrontations with locals. Filipinos are generally smaller than Westerners, but being outnumbered by a group of three or even a mob is absolute trouble. Police, despite being able to communicate in English by and large, will not intervene on behalf of a foreigner in an altercation with locals. Getting into a fight with locals is a common cause for foreigners to be deported from the Philippines. Also avoid raising your voice, which can be taken for anger and even make the other person violent; some simple arguments ended up with murder for causing the person to lose face and induce murderous rage (pagdidilim ng paningin). Drunken locals can get violent and run amok, and bar fights are not uncommon, especially with East Asians. Filipinos are generally peace-loving people; showing hiya (saving face, literally "shame") is better than getting into trouble.
The sindikato (organized crime syndicates) do make a good subject for movies or television dramas, but despite being dreaded by the public, they do not target ordinary people, and tourists don't have to worry about them. Some Chinese triad groups are also present in the Philippines, mostly concentrating on illegal drugs, human trafficking, and illicit gambling.
- See also: Driving in the Philippines
Over 11,000 people die from traffic accidents in the Philippines every year, and many crashes involve motorcycles and tricycles, especially on rural highways. Reckless driving, poor road maintenance, lax traffic enforcement, a mix of brand-new and dilapidated vehicles on the streets, red tape and corruption in the licensing and registration process, and lack of driver education all contribute to the dangerous driving environment. Crossing the street is risky as pedestrian crossings are seldom followed. Driving at night is more dangerous as signs, markings, delineators, or lights are lacking, and some drivers do not lower their headlights. While the government has been attempting to improve the situation by streamlining the licensing process, installing signs and CCTVs in accident hotspots, placing random checkpoints along rural highways, and introducing speed guns to police to catch manic speeders (kaskasero), it remains to be seen. Driving is a dangerous experience for foreigners, but many get around without incident. Renting a car with driver is recommended but not necessary.
Safety on long-distance buses is questionable. Think twice before riding provincial buses, as some operators have poor safety records, with dilapidated vehicles, poorly trained drivers, and high accident rates. The carriers listed in "Get around" have better safety records, but their drivers can be as reckless as those working for the smaller bus lines. If plane travel is possible, better take that opportunity, especially if the trip is beyond 400 km or involves a ferry ride.
Beware of unfranchised (colorum) jeepneys, tricycles, and passenger vans. Franchised vehicles have black on yellow plates, operator name and contact info, and registered route; unfranchised ones will have private vehicle license plates (white background and black lettering, or for older ones, green letters on a background featuring the sky, or a white background), and no operator and route markings. Avoid riding one of them unless there is no alternative, as they tend to be overloaded, drivers might scam, and passengers will not receive government compensation if the vehicle gets involved in an accident.
Since the end of the Marcos era, corruption is the most serious issue in the country, and the kotong ("bribe") culture, also helped by the meager wages of officials, widespread red tape, and patronage, is prevalent within the police or the Philippine bureaucracy. While corruption has been reduced under the Duterte administration, it remains to some degree, but giving a bribe is now risky.
Corruption at the airport remains, mostly at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Immigration officers might welcome you a "Merry Christmas", even as early as August, and then ask you for "gifts" or a tip. A more serious form of corruption is the hold-departure order scam, where immigration officials may say you cannot leave the country because you were issued a hold-departure order (criminal travel injunction) for some crime you did not really commit, and security will then come and hold you at their office until you bribe them. This rarely happens to foreigners, but might happen with some returning Filipinos. It's easy to avoid by clarifying that a part of your name (especially the middle name) does not match those who are blacklisted.
Law enforcement are striving to improve their public image, but their negative reputation for bribery remains. Police officers or traffic aides are known to extort bribes, even from minor violations (like littering in public or minor traffic violations), and some foreigners have fallen victim to corrupt cops. Fines for minor infractions are very easy to get around, ranging from ₱300-500, but cops may even ask for higher amounts, or threaten you to go to their station and talk to a superior. Police may even ask you a bribe them before filing a formal complaint, but things are slowly changing. Body cameras and more widespread video surveillance cameras are curbing street-level corruption, and thanks to the prevalence of smartphones and social media, you can grab one and video them, so you can have any evidence against if they do anything corrupt. If your car, bus, jeepney or tricycle stopped, it is the driver's responsibility; it is best not to get involved.
The bureaucracy is also plagued by corruption. Customs officials are often given grease payments (padulas) to allow the entry of common contraband like drugs and pirated goods, or undeclared items from fresh fruits to luxury cars, and some locals say it is easy to get a driver's license under the table without going through a formal examination by paying a tip (lagay). Fixers are commonplace in many government offices, and the issue of red tape is rife. Acting polite, asking for a receipt, and smiling will avoid any problems when dealing with the bureaucracy. It is also worth to call the civil service complaint hotline 8888 or writing a polite complaint letter to the officer's superior. Suggestion boxes are also available, so feel free to write any feedback about their service even if it is worse.
Carry your passport, or a photocopy of both the identification page and your visa, at all times as random checks are not uncommon.
Begging for money (and handling money to beggars) has been illegal since the Marcos era, but you may encounter lots of beggars in almost every medium to large city in the Philippines. Beggars range from street children, the homeless (palaboy, sometimes called taong grasa for their greasy, untidy appearance), and people handling solicitation envelopes on buses and jeepneys.
Nomadic Bajau (or Badjao, also known as the "Sea Gypsies") women and children also beg in port cities, but they can be found farther inland. In some regions, "Badjao" has become synonymous with beggars.
While women are respected in Filipino culture, crimes against women remain prevalent. Attitudes toward women remain conservative, and many Filipino men openly display machismo. While foreign women are rarely targeted for rape, there are chances you get groped by strangers, harassed by male bystanders and robbed when traveling alone in a taxi.
While wearing short shorts, miniskirts, and other revealing clothes is fine in most parts of the country (except in the Muslim-majority regions), it makes you an target for opportunistic crime, and some places have outlawed wearing of any immodest apparel to combat rape and street harassment. A good rule of thumb is to observe Filipinas; in some areas they will be showing a lot of skin, but in others they will be covered. Foreign women need not go as far in either direction as the local lasses, but should go in the same direction.
Despite prevailing conservative mores, the Philippines is very tolerant to homosexuals and is the most LGBT-tolerant nation in Asia. Some cities, municipalities and provinces have passed ordinances protecting homosexual people, but a few places, like the Muslim-majority city of Marawi, have ordinances punishing homosexuality. LGBT people will be fine in the country, but you should not be too indiscreet – a pair kissing in public may get stares or even verbal profanity. Country folk, Moros (Filipino Muslims), and the elderly are more conservative and will condemn it. Violence against gays and lesbians is rare.
Sex and prostitution
Many Filipinas eagerly seek out well-off men, both Filipino and foreign, as boyfriends or husbands. Foreign men are nearly all rich by local standards and will usually find themselves much more in demand than they would be at home.
Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, but it is a thriving business. The country has several hundred thousand prostitutes. By no means all of those are professionals; a woman in a typical low-paid job can roughly double her income by sleeping with one or two guys a week, and some do just that on most weekends.
There are periodic crackdowns on prostitution, and penalties are harsh for those who are arrested—large fines, possibly prison, and likely deportation with a ban on returning to the country. Corrupt cops may target foreigners in order to extract large bribes, and prostitutes have been known to set up their customers for such schemes or to scam their customers in other ways. Also, as anywhere, sexually transmitted diseases are a large risk.
The commonest form of prostitution establishment is usually called a girlie bar or bikini bar in the Philippines, but similar places in Thailand are called go-go bars and some travelers use that term here. It is also fairly common to visit these clubs just to enjoy the show, a lot of scantily-clad dancers who compete to catch customers' eyes.
Enforcement of laws against sexual abuse of children (Republic Act No. 7610), including child pornography, and against human trafficking is more vigorous than enforcement of prostitution laws, and the penalties are harsher. For people arrested on those charges bail is rarely granted, and it is almost certain to be denied for foreigners, so even someone who eventually beats the charge will usually spend months in jail. As in any prison, child molesters can expect to get a hard time from other inmates and little help from guards.
The age of consent is 12 as of 2019. Anyone caught with someone younger than that (not necessarily having sex, just caught with them in a private place) will be charged with rape and should expect a stiff prison sentence, followed by deportation. Having sex with someone who is both under 18 and 10 years younger than you is also illegal and likely to bring jail and deportation. There are also several other laws which make the situation quite complex; for a foreign visitor the safest course is to stay well away from anyone under 18.
Apart from Philippine law, there is another quite serious legal risk. Most Western countries have laws that prohibit child sex even outside the country; a child molester could be prosecuted at home for actions in the Philippines. In these cases, it is the rules of the prosecuting country that apply; for example, a tourist under 23 having sex with a 13-year-old might be legal under Philippine law, but a court back home is extremely unlikely to see it as acceptable.
For human trafficking, penalties range up to life imprisonment.
The Philippines have a negative reputation for illegal drugs, and due to lax enforcement and less severe penalties (i.e. no death penalty), it has become a base for foreign illegal drug operations, most commonly involving ethnic Chinese escaping harsh drug laws in China or Taiwan. There is also a sizeable minority of other foreign nationalities involved in drugs in the Philippines, such as West Africans and Mexicans attempting to smuggle drugs even in transit.
Marijuana and shabu (crystal methamphetamine) are widely used in the country. However, they are also illegal and penalties are very harsh: you might well get a long prison sentence, followed by deportation. Even possession of drug paraphernalia, such as the small glass or steel tubes ("tooters") used to administer shabu, could get you arrested. Bail is rarely granted for drug offenses, almost never for trafficking or for possession of shabu, so even people who eventually beat the charge are likely to spend months in jail.
Authorities routinely raid drug dens and laboratories, especially those who produce or sell shabu. Under President Duterte, shabu dealers (and sometimes users) are being shot in the streets without trial or even arrest; it's not clear to what extent other people involved in drugs may be at risk.
High-value party drugs, like ecstasy or designer drugs like "fly high", are common in the nightlife scenes in large cities like Manila and Cebu. Rave parties are also hotspots for party drugs and spiked drinks. Police treat such drugs harshly, and the effects of their use can be fatal.
Methamphetamine (shabu) is a powerful stimulant and a remarkably nasty substance, best avoided for many reasons. An overdose kills instantly and over-stimulation tends to burn out the body, especially the heart, so prolonged use can kill even without overdose. As the song says, "Speed kills!" Moreover the stuff is highly addictive. Also, the drug changes the personality of heavy users, giving them a pronounced tendency toward paranoia and aggressiveness.
Monsoon rains and floods
Heavy rainfall — caused by local thunderstorms, typhoons or the monsoon winds — is part of the Philippine climate. The densely populated cities are not safe from the effects of rainfall and strong winds. In some flood-prone areas, local governments have placed flood detection systems to help in evacuation of areas in case a flood is expected. In any area, the best sources of information are local media, city or provincial governments and local residents.
The southwest monsoon (habagat) between late May and early October causes most heavy rainfall, and floods are common at times, especially when a typhoon strengthens it. The northeast monsoon (amihan) in January to March can also bring heavy rain. Many vehicles may become stuck in floods worsened by high tide and clogged drainage.
Even during the southwest monsoon, the sun may still shine most of the time, but be it may be wise to bring an umbrella, especially when cumulonimbus clouds are seen to form. Consider dual-purpose items; a hat or umbrella can protect against the tropical sun as well as against rain.
Typhoons are fairly common, usually coming in off the Pacific, sweeping across parts of the country, then heading on toward mainland Asia. Heavy rain and strong winds, usually occurring together, can cause great damage, and secondary effects such as storm surges on the coast or landslides in the mountains can also be serious. Typhoons typically cover a wide area, affecting entire islands or large regions.
A typhoon has two names in the Philippines, one assigned by an international weather-watching agency and another by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration or PAGASA. For example, in 2013, the typhoon with strongest winds ever recorded at landfall, and the most destructive tropical storm in recent history, made landfall in Samar and devastated several other areas; it was known as "Typhoon Haiyan" internationally and "Typhoon Yolanda" in the Philippines.
Typhoons are a threat on land, but there are also risks at sea, where they can capsize a ship. Ships and ferries are not allowed to sail once Typhoon Warning Signal No. 2 is raised. When a typhoon is expected, err on the side of caution and cancel your trip.
Often flights are also cancelled because of high winds caused by typhoons. You may wish schedule connecting flights a few days apart so that if your first flight is cancelled you can take a later one and still make your connection.
The Philippines also has tornadoes (ipo-ipo or buhawi), though they are not as frequent as in the United States. One may form without early warning, especially out of a simple thunderstorm. Some are waterspouts, formed at sea. Most houses and buildings in the Philippines are made from concrete, so severe damage is limited to peeled-off roofs, broken windows, and small debris. Makeshift structures are the most prone to damage, much like how they are very susceptible to typhoons.
Earthquakes and tsunamis
The Philippines lies in a geologically unstable area between the continental Eurasian Plate and the subducting Philippine Sea Plate, and is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. There is a high chance for any part of the Philippines to be struck by earthquakes.
Earthquakes (lindol/linog) are frequent, but most of them are weak and rarely perceptible, and a few can even trigger tsunamis (explained further below). The last major one happened on October 2013, when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the island of Bohol, destroying homes, toppling centuries-old churches, killed over 200, and also damaged some structures in neighboring Cebu province. Many buildings and structures are not designed to standards or retrofitted to withstand powerful tremors, and makeshift or substandard construction remains a problem.
Earthquakes may occur anywhere in the Philippines, but the area with the highest risk is Metro Manila and Southern Luzon, where the Valley Fault System is present. The West Valley Fault may move anytime and cause a magnitude 7.2 earthquake (called the "Big One") that can cause about 100,000 deaths and injuries. Routine earthquake drills are being performed in the areas surrounding the fault to ensure people in those areas are prepared in case disaster strikes.
Tsunamis are a major risk in coastal areas. Though rare, be prepared to evacuate coastal areas once a tsunami is about to strike. Most coastal areas are tsunami-prone areas, especially those found near undersea trenches that can trigger such.
Volcanoes can be a danger in the Philippines, owing to its location in the Ring of Fire, and most areas are prone to volcanic eruptions. There are 50 volcanoes in the Philippines, and half of them are classified as active. The last high-profile eruption was Mount Pinatubo in 1991. It spewed out ash and lahar that affected millions in the surrounding provinces and caused a global drop in temperature. Mayon, in Albay, noted for its perfect cone, is one of several active volcanoes that pose a danger with its frequent eruption. Taal Volcano in Batangas, the smallest volcano in the world, is also dangerous when signs of impending eruption shows on its caldera lake.
The most active volcanoes are tourist destinations, and volcano safety rules apply when hiking of climbing those. When volcano warnings are raised, pay close attention to any scheduled trail closures and never attempt to go inside designated exclusion zones.
The Philippines has been struggling with insurgent groups such as Islamic separatists in Mindanao and communists, under the New People's Army (NPA), throughout its history.
Non-essential travel to western Mindanao, which includes the Sulu Archipelago, Zamboanga Peninsula, and the mainland provinces of Bangsamoro, is discouraged as the security situation is far worse due to terrorism, piracy and Islamist insurgencies. While the situation has somewhat improved since the Marawi siege and the 2019 plebiscites, it remains uncertain.
The rest of Mindanao remains safe, but some countries still have advisories discouraging travel to the rest of the region due to violent crime and terrorism, and travel insurance or consular assistance may be limited if you travel there. The sparsely populated region of Caraga (which has Siargao island) is far safer than the rest of mainland Mindanao, but the jungle also harbors communist rebels and is also one of the poorest regions in the country.
Elsewhere in the country, communist rebels, under the New People's Army (NPA) are a problem inland. They set up illegal checkpoints along rural roads and extort money from passing motorists, but they do not bother ordinary travelers, and are mostly targeting buses and cargo trucks.
Terrorist acts targeting tourist destinations are rare, but there have been several high-profile attacks, usually bombings, in the past, like the 2000 Rizal Day bombings, the 2004 SuperFerry bombing, the 2005 Valentine's Day bombings, and the 2016 Davao City night market bombing. Since then, there has been no major bombing, except for sporadic incidents within Mindanao. While security has been increasingly invasive in light of those incidents, with airport-style procedures when entering malls, public transportation terminals, and the like, there's no need to be paranoid.
Bomb jokes are treated as a criminal act, punishable with 6 months in prison.
Political violence and protests
The political situation in the Philippines may become volatile in election periods, and protests and political violence can occur. Foreign tourists in such periods are strongly discouraged from joining political demonstrations, especially in those periods, and avoid areas where they occur.
Demonstrations and riots are another common occurrence. The Legarda-Mendiola intersection (commonly referred to as Mendiola Bridge) in Manila is noted as common site of most demonstrations, both historical and recent, for its proximity to the Malacañang, but other locations in the provinces are not safe from them. While police may tolerate peaceful demonstrations, in many cases, many end as violent clashes with authorities and there are some cases of brutality from anti-riot police. Check reports from the free press, avoid going to most demonstrations and get away from sites where they occur. National law prohibits foreigners from participating in public political activities, and your embassy will not provide any help if you get arrested or injured; plus, you will be deported to your home country.
As an American colonial legacy, the Philippines has a strong gun culture and the most permissive gun ownership laws in Asia, but that does not mean you can carry any gun freely into the country for any purpose. The Philippines has strict gun laws, that you must obtain a license to possess one, and the process involves background checks, such as criminal history and mental capacity. A Permit to Carry is also required when bringing a handgun or pistol. All firearms must be declared to customs upon entry and exit.
Eating and drinking
Drink the readily available bottled water. Buko juice (coconut water) is also safe if they have not added local ice to it. Be wary of buko juice vendors; some usually just add sugar to water. Buy and eat fruit that has not already been cut up. Cooked food from a carinderia (outdoor canteen) is okay if there is a fire under the pots and the food has been kept hot.
If you must drink tap water (it is usually served/contained in a small to medium plastic bag), water in Manila, Cebu City and other major cities is usually OK, but it is recommended that you boil tap water for at least 5 minutes just to be safe. Elsewhere drink bottled water. There is always the risk of contracting amoebiasis when drinking tap water in the countryside. Also, this applies to ice that is usually put in beverages, as those sold on the street are often chopped from a block and transported on questionable conditions.
Bottled water is best purchased from within stores and sheltered eateries. Bottled water sold outside (by the roads) are more than likely used bottles filled with tap water, sealed then cooled.
Street food isn't so safe to consume in the Philippines; hygienic standards aren't enforced much. It is better to eat street food as well as pampalamig inside malls and shopping centers than in streets as stalls in malls and shopping centers have better enforcement of cleanliness.
Not all Filipinos, especially those in the countryside have accepted the germ theory of disease; some people will instead explain the transmission of flu-like diseases by exposure to wind (or hangin). Some locals in the countryside speak of some people dying while asleep due to being "exposed to the wind", especially during the cool dry season, when the cool northeast monsoon blows and the flu season is at its peak. Preventive measures include completely closing the windows when sleeping in rural homes or taking overnight provincial buses. Common cures are rubbing menthol or other herbal oils, hilot (therapeutic massage), or farting.
Tagalog people speak of lunod, not only of drowning, but also as a folk illness, similar to the Indonesian angin duduk, caused by cool air from an electric fan or air conditioner blowing on the back while you are seated. Lunod may be prevented by not turning on any electric fan (or just lowering the fan speed to the lowest), setting the air conditioner's temperature to be warmer than the ambient temperature, or when in an air-conditioned bus, closing the air conditioner vents slightly or completely.
CDC advises that a risk of malaria exists only in non-urban areas below 600 meters on the islands of Luzon, Mindanao, Mindoro and Palawan. The Visayas are free of Malaria. Chloroquine is no longer a recommended malaria preventative for anywhere in the Philippines due to strains resistant to this drug. In general malaria is not common in the Philippines compared to Africa and the rest of Southeast Asia, and around half annual cases are in a couple of discrete locations.
Dengue fever is common in the Philippines and cases increase every year, so it is advisable to apply mosquito repellents and wear long sleeved clothes whenever possible. The only vaccine available, Dengvaxia, has been banned because of purported risks to children, but has been made available again in 2019 for those.
Measles was not common until a major outbreak occurred in early 2019. Travellers should have measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines, especially when bringing children with you.
Rabies is also common among street animals in the Philippines, so get a vaccination for rabies if you haven't already, and if you're traveling with children, vaccinate them as soon as possible as they are of high risk of getting rabies because they tend to play more with animals.
Hepatitis A and B and C are a high risk in the country. There are vaccines for A and B, recommended for all travellers; there is not yet (mid-2015) a vaccine against C. Avoid contact with other people's blood — shared needles or even personal care items like razors or toothbrushes — since that is the main means of transmission for both B and C.
Japanese encephalitis is common, and vaccination is recommended. Avoid swimming in fresh water areas where you will have high risks of getting schistosomiasis (unless they are chlorinated). Leptospirosis is often contracted from recreational water activities, such as kayaking, in contaminated water.
Tuberculosis is very common in the countryside, so try to avoid individuals who cough or look weak and be careful about staying too long in villages that may be high in contagious people.
Bring anti-diarrheal drugs with you, as unsanitary conditions present a high risk for traveler's diarrhea. Gatorade or other "sport drinks" might relieve you from fluid loss. Drink bottled liquids if you are unsure of the water, and always wash your hands.
The quality of healthcare in the Philippines varies widely. While modern hospitals and clinics with well-trained doctors are certainly available in the major cities, the quality of healthcare often leaves much to be desired in smaller cities and rural areas. While Filipino citizens are covered by a universal government-funded health insurance scheme, this scheme is not available to foreigners, and hospitals will often require you to make payment upfront before they will commence treatment. The vast majority of Filipino doctors and nurses are able to speak English, with many having received their training in the U.S., so communication is generally not an issue for English-speaking foreigners.
Public hospitals in the major cities are usually of a decent standard, though they may not be as comfortable as what Western expatriates are used to back home. Private hospitals, on the other hand, provide excellent standards of care, though you will be paying a steep premium for their services. Nevertheless, they are still reasonably priced by Western standards, so most expatriates opt for private healthcare whenever possible.
Sexually transmitted diseases
The Philippines has one of the fastest growing number of HIV cases worldwide. Although national HIV prevalence remains 0.1%, there was a 174% increase in HIV incidence between 2010 and 2017.
Other sexually transmitted diseases are more common than HIV. There are social hygiene clinics (STD clinics) in most City Health offices in the Philippines.
- See also: Electrical systems
Most Philippine households and hotels use American wall outlets, but there may not be a ground, and many locally made outlets can also accept European two round-prong plugs. Adapters are available in convenience stores and hardware stores.
Electricity in the Philippines is supplied at 230 V at 60 Hz, but Filipinos often speak of 220 V, and some older buildings may have 110 V supplies (e.g. those in downtown Baguio). If you have a device designed for the 100-127 V range, like a hairdryer or electric razor, check carefully, otherwise, you end up destroying your device in a Philippine wall outlet (unless it's one wired at 110 V, if there's one, should be clearly marked).
Power is available 24 hours a day in the majority of the country, but blackouts (or locally "brownouts") can happen unexpectedly due to weather or sudden power plant shutdowns/repairs. Mindanao, which used to rely mostly on hydropower, no longer experiences rolling blackouts (or "rotating brownouts") during dry season, but power line sabotage can still cause one at any time. All-day availability of power in off-grid islands (e.g. Palawan) depends on where the power is sourced. If staying in a hotel, look for "No brownout" signs or ask reception if they have a generator.
Toilets and bathrooms
- See also: Toilets
You will generally encounter Western sit-down toilet seats in the Philippines, but they may not have a flush unit, especially in the countryside. To flush the toilet, wash your buttocks or privates, or clean the floor, you might have to rely on a bucket of water and a dipper (tabo).
Cleanliness of restrooms (comfort rooms, or simply called CR) vary by place, but as a rule of thumb, those in malls and luxury hotels are the best, while those in the countryside tend to be terrible. Toilets in fast-food restaurants such as Jollibee, McDonald's and KFC, (or any of the major local restaurant or cafe chains) and public transportation terminals may not be as clean depending on location.
Toilet paper (or simply tissue) may be available, but you will usually throw them onto a trash can beside the seat instead on the bowl, as toilet paper can clog up small sewage pipes. However, they may not be provided in public toilets, that you must buy packets from coin-operated vending machines, convenience stores, or drug stores.
Some households may provide slippers when going to the bathroom.
Television and video
Television and video in the Philippines uses NTSC (the American standard). The transition to digital broadcasting will bring the Japanese ISDB standard in by 2023. Region-coded DVDs are Region 3 (Southeast Asia), though virtually all Filipino movies are region-free. DVDs sold can be found in major shopping malls, but counterfeit DVDs with no region coding remain common, despite routine raids by anti-piracy agencies.
The major networks, ABS-CBN, GMA, and TV5, operate in Filipino, and compete for ratings making network wars part of Filipino culture. From the corner of the street to your hotel reservations desk, there would always be an argument which stations airs the best telenovelas (TV drama series). The three major stations air TV series to newscasts. ABS-CBN and GMA have regional stations who operate in their own major regional languages. There are also English-language TV channels, which are mostly available in cable TV, with a handful in free TV, such as CNN Philippines, ETC, Net25, and 2nd Avenue.
Most local broadcasters typically air only from 6AM to midnight, but many cable channels, especially international stations, air for 24 hours. During Holy Week, local broadcasting differs drastically between Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday, with different program schedules, which usually include religious programs, and some stations do not broadcast at all. Cable channels typically continues to air in regular programming in Holy Week.
Filipinos like to smoke as a pastime, and also as a social activity (especially along with drinking alcohol or gambling), though smoking is heavily regulated or completely banned in some areas. Smoking is more common for men, but some women can be seen smoking. Menthol cigarettes, including those using a menthol capsule hidden on the filter end (like Marlboro Ice Blast, Pall Mall or Fortune Tribal Mint Splash), are available, and are popular with women smokers.
Cigarettes (sigarilyo, or colloquially, yosi) in the Philippines are mostly cheap. For example, Marlboro are about ₱80 for a pack of twenty in a supermarket, ₱100 in a bar or a convenience store as of early 2018. Local brands are cheaper (often ₱50-60) and cigars are available as well. However, higher taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products are gradually making them more expensive. Many sari-sari stores also sell cigarettes by the stick, usually for ₱4.
On the streets, people walking or standing with a lighted cigarette and groups of men, especially drivers, smoking while talking, are common sights. Despite laws regulating tobacco use, smoking is still common, especially outdoors. Smoking is prohibited in indoor public places, public transport, restaurants, gas stations, and even in bars, except for smoking areas. Smoking in places where smoking is prohibited or in a non-smoking area may bring a fine of up to ₱5000. Smoking prevalence in the Philippines has been reduced to 25% as of 2018, but you can still spot people smoking just anywhere.
The smoking and vaping age is 18, and law prohibits sale of tobacco products to minors. Convenience stores and e-cigarette stores require customers to provide photo ID verification, but sari-sari stores usually allow children and youth to buy cigarettes. In some places, such as in Metro Manila, authorities may prohibit a store from selling cigarettes because of nearness to a no-smoking zone, and such stores have posters pasted in the storefront, usually saying Ang tindahang ito at bawal magtinda ng sigarilyo ("This store is prohibited from selling cigarettes.").
Streets are commonly littered with cigarette butts. Many garbage cans do not have ashtrays or butt trays, so you may be tempted to throw them on the sidewalk, the street, or on grass, which may present a fire hazard. Find a trash can marked to allow cigarette butts or bring a portable ashtray when smoking outside; most locals will tend to throw butts anywhere.
Smoking bans are imposed on several cities and municipalities, like in Davao City, where it is completely banned. Yet, enforcement of smoking bans are mostly not overseen. A nationwide smoking ban came into effect in May 2017, further restricting where people are able to smoke. Even smoking in sidewalks are being banned, and designated smoking areas are required to be a enclosed, ventilated, area. Despite the new regulation, open-air smoking areas and smoking on sidewalks are still prevalent. But on some areas, smoking in public has being decreasing as smokers start to fear that they will be fined.
In November 2019, a nationwide vaping ban has been in effect in response to cases of vaping-related lung disease, but while regulation or a complete ban is still debated in Congress, it has an effect where you can vape.
Embassies and consulates
It is encouraged to bring a reusable bag when shopping.
Pawnshops are common in every city and town, but they are used more for funds transfer than for pawning or buying items. Both they and the numerous Western Union offices handle transfers both from overseas and within the country. Foreigners should beware of scammers who request a money transfer.
Filipino names and forms of addressing
Personal names in the Philippine are almost the same as in the rest of the English-speaking world, yet foreign travelers might spot a few idiosyncrasies:
There are many formalities regarding how to address people by name. Older people you don't know well are addressed politely as Tito/Tita (for people older than you) or Ate/Kuya (for people of the same age or of rank). You might be addressed as Ginoo (Mr.), Ginang (Mrs.) or Binibini (Ms.) in the most formal situations, though their English equivalents are more frequently used especially in writing. Using occupations as formal titles (e.g. Architect, Engineer, Professor, Police Officer, Attorney), is common, and can be mildly nerve-racking to native English speakers. Address people by their first name or nickname only if you know them well or are older or higher in position.
And last but not the least, know your "you"s. Most Philippine languages distinguish between an informal and formal you, so using the incorrect form in the inappropriate situation — for example, using ikaw/ka to address a senior — is rude. Also don't forget the honorific particle po when speaking in Tagalog.
While superficially Westernized and modern, Filipinos are also traditionalist, striving to preserve traditions dating centuries ago. Filipinos take pride of their hospitality, friendliness and openness, and are willing to help foreigners struggling with some intricacies of Filipino culture.
- Hiya (pronounced hee-YUH', "shame"), a concept similar to saving face, is valued among Filipinos. Unless you are of high position, pointing out mistakes are not well appreciated, so is overtly showing wealth, yet, Filipinos are also known for self-criticism and self-deprecation, especially in regard to national issues.
- Filipinos have a relaxed attitude on punctuality (Filipino time) like Hispanics; this can be somewhat jarring to most Westerners. Being "fashionably late" is common, so as expecting any of your Filipino contacts to arrive 10 to 15 minutes late, but is not the case on business meetings. Coming late on class or a business meeting is considered rude anyway, but a 10 to 15-minute grace period is commonly used so you don't get any scolding or late slips, especially in places where perennial snarls (e.g. Metro Manila) affect commute times.
- Personal space is paid less attention in the Philippines. Buses, jeepneys, and trains become crowded, and shoving and pushing without saying excuse me is common.
- Despite the country's multicultural heritage, some racial prejudice and stereotypes remain, and some words relating to race that may be offensive elsewhere remain acceptable in the Philippines:
- Like in Latin America, the word Negro(a), borrowed from Spanish into the Philippine languages, remains an acceptable term for any person with dark skin, and may be neutral to endearing depending on context.
- While no longer common, a white man and a Filipina walking together can still call unwanted attention, especially in places where American military bases were located.
- The word "half-breed" remains common in use by some Filipinos to refer to children of mixed-race couples, even if there is no intention to offend.
- The Philippines is the most LGBT-tolerant nation in Asia according to a Pew poll and Filipinos are known to be hospitable toward gays. LGBT travellers are safe in the country, but they should not be too indiscreet: a pair displaying affection in public can stir locals, mostly involving verbal profanity. Cases of homophobic violence or gay bashing are rare, but do happen, especially on conservative families.
- Public displays of affection are strongly frowned upon by most Filipinos. Making out is strongly disapproved of, and most Filipino couples don't practice it in public. While not necessarily considered a criminal act, it can be reported to police as scandalous public behavior, punishable with fines and 1-6 months in jail. Holding hands is acceptable, and are common with local couples.
- Elderly are provided special respect, like in East Asian cultures, so there are seats reserved for them (as well as for women, students, and those carrying children). It is polite to help an elderly person cross the street.
- With the possible exception of Moros, most Filipinos display a strong culture of male courtesy to women and machismo, an influence from Hispanic culture. It is considered polite to men to give up a seat when on public transit. More or less overt shows of male dominance in families, while becoming less common, can be rather jarring. It is impolite to use strong language or speak loudly onto women.
- Despite the warmness of Filipino culture, Philippine society remains hierarchical to some degree, and there exists prejudice based on social class. Race or ethnicity influence social class to some degree, that the richest people are of typically Chinese, European, or mestizo heritage. Rich people are frequently subjected to stereotypes, and some customs are easily associated with the rich.
- White people or homecoming Filipinos are often stereotyped as rich in customs and behavior. You might notice some people around you labeling you or your behavior as sosyal (posh), with a person wearing designer clothing, using pricey gadgets, and speaking English with a "slang" (foreign) accent at the top of their minds. It may sound mocking, but is not intended to insult.
- On certain times, the national anthem is played on public announcement systems in public locations like malls and cinemas (before any film starts), and everyone is required to rise and place the right hand on the left chest. You should do the same, lest you can get arrested and fined. Ignorance on local laws is not a good excuse either.
In general, Filipinos, especially women, dress more conservatively and modestly, and good personal appearance is valued as a sign of respect. There is some leeway for foreign travelers, especially on large cities and tourist hotspots, but Filipinos will better respond to well-dressed foreigners, especially in the countryside.
- Casual dress is acceptable at most places, but don't expose too much skin or wear tattered or torn clothing. Skimpy shorts (pekpek shorts), sleeveless tops (sando), jerseys, and miniskirts are generally unacceptable, though many Filipinos wear them to beat the heat. Low-cut or crop tops are uncommon, and will make you stand out, as will ripped jeans. Some cities have passed ordinances discouraging immodest dress, especially on women, most of them against wearing of short shorts.
- You must remove your shoes when entering homes, but an exception is given to foreigners. If you see footwear placed outside the door, it is certain the family removes them when they enter their home. You don't have to remove your socks, though, but they may ask you to do so, as wearing them just makes your feet sweat more under the muggy climate. Some families may offer slippers for indoor use, especially when going to the bathroom.
- At beaches and pools, trunks for men, and swimsuits or bikinis for women are worn. Complete nudity is unacceptable, except in locations off the beaten track. Nudity in general is a serious taboo nonetheless, so don't skinny-dip at beaches frequented by locals. Toplessness is quite common for men in beaches, but some swim with their tops on, either to avoid sunburn or to blend with the locals. It may be forbidden depending on place, so if in doubt, ask.
- Pay attention on dress codes. At places such as places of worship and government offices, dress more modestly. A T-shirt and jeans is sufficient, but wearing a collared shirt is more appreciated. For women, a skirt or dress that covers the knees at least is better. Slippers, sleeveless shirts (sando), jerseys, shorts, or miniskirts are generally unacceptable attire. Sunglasses may be prohibited due to their use by robbers.
- At business settings, Western attire is often standard, but ties are not necessary, and an unbuttoned shirt is acceptable. Some men may opt to wear a collared shirt similar to a formal Barong Tagalog instead of a business suit (amerikana).
- At Bangsamoro, men should wear long-sleeved tops and pants and women should wear a hijab and cover their limbs.
Eating and drinking
- See also: Filipino cuisine#Respect
Many Filipinos value eating out as part of honoring guests and forming relationships. Except in formal venues, many Filipinos don't care about noisy conversation at the dining table. Restaurants are mostly cheerful venues, and loud conversation is frequent, especially when large families or groups eat.
Avoid using the left hand when eating by hand. The left hand is traditionally reserved for unhygienic activities, but the taboo is virtually non-existent outside of food in most of the Philippines; however, it applies to everything on Muslims, so watch out if you head inland in Muslim-majority parts of Mindanao or eat in Muslim Filipino restaurants anywhere in the country.
While splitting the bill (KKB, short of Tagalog kanya-kanyang bayad) is making inroads among younger generations, treating is the norm in Filipino culture. People of higher position or status are generally expected to treat those lower: elder to younger, superior to subordinate, rich to poor, host to guest, and teacher to student.
Filipinos, perhaps with the exceptions of Muslims, enjoy drinking and being drunk, especially with local beer and wine. Drinking alcohol a lot is not necessarily bad, but excessive drunkenness is stigmatized as a weakness of soul.
While officially secular, the Philippines is a very religious country, most Filipinos practice at least one religion, and religion plays a major role in Filipino culture. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitution, and most Filipinos are tolerant of people of other faiths. That said, blasphemy, meddling with religious activity, and comments critical of a certain religion is punishable with imprisonment of up to 12 years. Agnostics or atheists are a tiny minority in this country, at around 10-14%; saying you're one carries a stigma to most Filipinos.
Filipinos also observe ancestor worship. Most homes will have a central altar, and if you see a portrait photo, it is of a deceased family member. Many Filipino Chinese homes usually have Buddha figures, Chinese lucky charms (particularly the beckoning cat figure), a feng shui symbol (bagua), and incense; for Catholic Chinese, they stand alongside images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
In the provinces, faith healers (albularyo) persists; country folk still believe in miracle cures, amulets and black magic. Beliefs in indigenous deities also persist, and are followed until today in a syncretic fashion. It is generally disrespectful to criticize those practices as witchcraft and pagan rituals.
Filipinos take many superstitions and associated taboos seriously, especially in regards to spirits, luck, and mythological creatures; many Filipinos, even those not of Chinese ancestry, also observe Chinese cultural taboos, like fear of the number 4. Some country-specific examples include:
- Eating chicken during New Year - A taboo by the Chinese, it is considered inauspicious to eat chicken during New Year, both the Gregorian and Chinese one.
- Nuno (goblins): It is polite to say tabi po nuno when passing near locations where nuno (goblins) lives; not doing so can cause sudden manifestation of unexplained illness.
- Usog: A greeting from a stranger to can bring unexplainable convulsions and fever, especially to a child; the curse is warded off by rubbing saliva to the child's abdomen.
- Walking near large trees: Many people believe large trees, like banyans (balete) are inhabited by kapre (cigar-smoking giants); you can be haunted if you approach them.
- Wedding gowns: A taboo by Hokkien Chinese, it is inauspicious for the bride to wear her wedding gown the day before the wedding, otherwise, it will not happen.
Animal ethics and the environment
The Philippines has a thriving black market selling endangered species as pets or luxury souvenirs, and there are frequent raids on shops selling products from endangered species. Avoid buying rare pets, leather, feathers, dried sea creatures like starfish, fur and other products likely from illegal poachers. Customs take laws on endangered species seriously, and they may be confiscated at the airport.
Dog meat, especially asusena (a portmanteau of Tagalog aso and Spanish azucena) is best avoided for most reasons; you can find dog meat at restaurants in Benguet as traditional food by the Igorot people, but avoid it elsewhere. Slaughtered dogs may carry the deadly rabies virus, and can be a nasty experience if you get hospitalized.
It is also wise to avoid photo booths with animals, like snakes, as subjects, even in zoos. A tout will approach you, then you pose for a photo with the animal, an for after you pay an exorbitant fee. It is most likely the animal used is drugged and treated cruelly.
Respecting the environment is valued at most places in the country; carry your own trash, bring garbage bags when camping or picnicking, and practice recycling. The Philippines is one of the most biodiverse countries, but is also prone to the effects of climate change, so do your part.
Politics and sensitive issues
Filipinos are generally vocal on political issues, and may be very opinionated. When having conversations with locals, tread carefully, and only talk about them if you know the person well.
- Filipinos are divided on their historical assessment of Ferdinand Marcos. While most of the people who came of age after the People Power Revolution have criticized the Marcos era as a dictatorship, with widespread censorship, political repression, and corruption, some older Filipinos support the Marcos regime, which they view as a time when the country was prosperous and stable, and prices of most goods were lower. Never assume most Filipinos think negatively of him. Depending on your views, you can either be branded a "communist" or a "liberal".
- Avoid talking about Rodrigo Duterte's War on Drugs, as many Filipinos have strong feelings, especially on foreign views, particularly on the alleged extrajudicial killings done by police and imprisonment of opposition figures such as Leila de Lima. Many Filipinos are supporters of the Duterte administration, and you may be branded anti-Duterte.
- The Spratly Islands territorial dispute is also a sensitive issue among Filipinos. Don't make comments implying Chinese control of the islands, and call the South China Sea the "West Philippine Sea".
- Environmentalism is a strong influence in government policy. In some provinces where environmental advocacy movements are common, it is a sensitive issue locally. Many Filipinos are proud of the country's natural beauty, and aware of the effects of climate change and the plight of the environmental movement in the country, and playing devil's advocate on environmental issues is clearly not appreciated.
- There is some degree of regionalism within the Philippines. Resentment toward the predominantly Christian population is the root of the low-level Moro insurgency in Mindanao. Relations between Manila and the provinces are friendly, but can be somewhat contentious to some degree; for example, some Cebuanos in Cebu sometimes manifest feelings of alienation, mostly in regard to government language and economic policy, which they believe to be favorable only to Manila and the Tagalog-speaking regions. As such, some Muslim Filipinos identify themselves as members of a distinct Moro nation (Bangsamoro), Cebuanos typically avoid speaking Tagalog unless they say otherwise, and people in the province don't want their provinces being unfairly compared with Manila.
- It is illegal for any foreigner to be involved in political affairs publicly.
Like the Chinese, Filipinos also complain when foreigners who visit the Philippines the first time point out many of the oddities of Filipino behavior they consider rude or disgusting. It generally turns out foreigners are rather rude. This stems from culture shock, that foreigners notice Filipino customs and behaviors are extremely different from theirs, and they find it jarring, and the same goes with Filipinos as well. Filipinos are friendly, but not necessarily polite.
- Filipinos ignore or disobey rules they don't agree with, including laws. Here, the pasaway character comes to play. This includes aggressive driving, frequent smoking, and jaywalking.
- Filipinos also spit a lot, especially in the streets, and spitting with gulping noises in public restrooms is common. It is traditionally believed swallowing phlegm is unhealthy. While local governments are striving to curb down the habit as unsanitary, it still persists to some degree in most places.
- It is just fine to pick your nose or use toothpicks at the dining table. Filipinos don't like having dried mucus hanging from the nose or have small food particles trapped between their teeth appear on their smiles.
- You might notice on your first arrival that many places in the Philippines are noisy, with loud conversations, blaring horns, constant construction, and ubiquitous megaphones and loudspeakers, from churches and storefronts to malls. Filipinos are built on community and friendships, and to Filipinos, noise is life, and loud voice does not always mean being angry or arguing (even where it is obviously so). The ears of Filipinos have mostly adapted to the noise, so it's advisable you bring earphones or earplugs on trips.
- There is some tolerance toward running amok, even when it end ups as the murderous pagdidilim ng paningin. Some believe running amok is a way for men to escape hiya, especially when one loses a drunken fight.
- The concept of queueing/waiting in line (pila) introduced by the Japanese is not fully observed in the Philippines. Sometimes, it takes courage to be assertive, and make your way through lines, such as when taking public transit.
- While mostly proficient in English, Filipinos are curious when they see foreigners around. This manifests when one approaches you to practice their English, ask you questions about your country of origin, and even ask you for a picture. This is common in the countryside, but not in large cities or tourism hubs, where people would be used to see foreigners more frequently.
- Fire, Medical and Police Emergencies: 911 (formerly 117) by voice or text message. These calls are automatically routed to the nearest emergency call center.
- Philippine Coast Guard Action Center: +63 2 527-3880
- National Poison Control: +63 2 524-1078
- Tourist hotline: +63 2 524-1728 and 524-1660
- Directory assistance: 187 or 114 (fee applies)
- Civil service complaint hotline: 8888
The international dialling prefix to make an overseas call from the Philippines is 00.
Phone numbers in the Philippines have the format
+63 35 539-0605. The country code for the Philippines is 63. The next one, two or three digits are the area code, and the remaining 7 digits are the "local" part of the number that can be called from within that area without dialing the area code. You must dial "0" in front of the area code from outside that area code when still within the Philippines.
Most toll-free numbers cannot be called from outside Philippines but can be dialed using the format
Mobile numbers in the Philippines must always be dialed with all 11 digits (including a "0" prefixing the "8nn" or "9nn" within the Philippines), no matter where they are being called from. They can also be called within or outside the Philippines using the international format as listed in our Philippines articles
There are two major companies operating GSM 900/1800 networks: Globe and Smart. Your provider at home may have agreements with one of these providers so check with them before leaving home. Roaming may be quite expensive, but pre-paid SIM cards of these networks are easy to acquire and cost as little as ₱30 and provide a cheaper alternative. If your unit is locked to your home service provider, cellphone repair shops in malls can unlock them for ₱300 to ₱2000. A complete pre-paid kit with phone and SIM can be purchased for as little as ₱500. These phones are usually locked to a local network provider, and you would have to have it unlocked before leaving to use it elsewhere.
GSM mobile phones are in wide use all over the country. 3G technology is available through Globe and Smart, but is often not properly operational especially outside urban areas. The usual cost of an international long-distance call to the United States, Europe or other major countries is US$0.40 per minute. Local calls range from ₱6.50 per minute for prepaid calls; you won't be charged for incoming calls. Text messages typically cost as little as ₱1. International SMS costs ₱15-25. Plans for unlimited call and SMS are offered by the networks are but are usually restricted to those made to parties within the same network.
Reloading (i.e. recharging or topping-up) pre-paid SIMs is a breeze. Electronic Load (E-Load) stations are everywhere from small corner stores to the large malls. You can purchase pre-paid cards which are available in denominations of ₱100, ₱300 and ₱500.
Pay phones are very hard to find. Phone cards are usually sold by shops which sell cellphone pre-paid loads and cards. Phone cards of one company can not be used with the other company's card-operated phones.
- See also: Internet access
Internet access at broadband speeds are plentiful in city malls, much less so outside the cities, but are growing at a rapid pace. Internet prices depend primarily on where you surf and the medium used (e.g. Wi-Fi or wired). Internet services offered by hotels and shopping malls are expensive and can go up to ₱200/hour but neighborhood cafes can be as cheap as ₱10/hour. Public Wi-Fi services in the Philippines provided by Airborneaccess.net and WiZ are likely to cost ₱100 for up to an hour. An internet cafe chain in SM malls called "Netopia" has a land line internet connection for around ₱20 an hour. Starbucks, Seattle's Best Coffee, and malls usually carry Wi-Fi service and some are free to use. The SM and Ayala chain of malls also offer free Wi-Fi anywhere in the mall. On several government-owned public areas, like parks, free Wi-Fi had been implemented, but signal strength fluctuates.
A mobile broadband modem with service by Globe, Smart or Sun starts at ₱995. Mobile broadband signals vary depending on the available infrastructure. Smart has the largest network in the country, followed by Globe, and then Sun. It takes up to 24 hours for internet to be available on a new SIM card. Mobile broadband comes in postpaid and prepaid variants. Modems and subscriptions are available in the larger cities. Service can cost as little as ₱20 an hour. Service is usually slower in the evening.
Cybercriminals may exploit public Wi-Fi networks to steal private information. Avoid using Wi-Fi to do online transactions, especially bank transactions. If it's unavoidable, remember to forget the public Wi-Fi network after using, so that cybercriminals will find it difficult to track you. Using a VPN is also advisable.
Internet cafes (kompyuteran, aka computer shops in Philippine English) are no longer important establishments to access the Internet. Most new Internet cafés are small coin-operated pisonet, common in residential settings, but larger ones such as the Netopia and Mineski Infinity chains, which are aimed toward online gamers, still exist. It costs ₱1 per 5 minutes on a "pisonet", and ₱20/hour and up on larger ones. Many also offer printing and photocopying for a small fee (usually ₱5).
In order to send items via post, you must visit a post office and present your items to a teller as there are no postage boxes. Check out the Philippine Postal Corporation's (PHLPOST) website to find the post offices that serve your destination. Alternatively, you may be able to ask your hotel's staff to send your posts together with theirs, and in some provinces, some stationery stores also offer to sell postage stamps and receive posts.
Apart from the Philippine postal service, FedEx, UPS, and DHL courier services are also available. Local couriers such as LBC and Aboitiz are also available. Postal mail from abroad is often lost, so don't send anything valuable.
English newspapers are available throughout the Philippines and there are also some Japanese and Chinese language options. The Daily Tribune, Malaya, Manila Standard [dead link], Manila Bulletin, Business World, Philippine Star, Philippine Daily Inquirer and Visayan Daily Star are some of the English language newspapers, mostly broadsheets.
Tabloid newspapers are mostly local-language ones, usually Tagalog/Filipino (but may be another local language in regional tabloids), but a few are published in English, such as People's Journal and People's Journal Tonight (the latter, however, has some news written in Tagalog).
Some restaurants offer newspapers for free reading, but only within their premises. Newspapers are mostly sold by street vendors, but in malls they are sold on newsstands. In public markets, newspapers are typically sold in general merchandise stores along with common groceries.