Money & costs
Once outside Manila and Cebu, budget travellers can get by for around P1000 per day, spending around P400 on simple accommodation in guesthouses and backpacker joints, P200 for food in basic local restaurants, P200 for travel and P200 for sundries. If you're staying put and bargain for long-term accommodation discounts, you may do significantly better than this daily budget.
Midrange travellers will come close to doubling the budget figure (say, around P1950 per day), spending around P850 on a reasonably comfortable hotel or simple resort accommodation, P500 for three decent meals a day, P300 for travel and another P300 for sundries.
Once you enter top-end territory, the sky is almost the limit: top-end accommodation prices will almost always be quoted in US dollars, and will average around US$80 for a resort or standard hotel (though this can go much higher); meals at good restaurants can run to P500 or more per person; full-day car and driver hire will cost around P1000.
Of course, as far as prices go in the Philippines, location is the operative word. Prices in Manila or Cebu City aren't necessarily indicative of expenses for the rest of your trip. In particular, Manila's accommodation (especially midrange) tends to be pricey compared with the provinces. Likewise, the internationally famous resort Boracay is a lot pricier than most other islands, though bargains can be found even there. The season also plays a huge role in accommodation prices: in the off-season, you can ask for and expect to receive discounts on accommodation of between 20% and 40%.
Fortunately, no matter where you go in the Philippines, basic necessities are amazingly cheap all year round. Likewise, transport, with the exception of private boat and car hire, is also a great bargain, with airfares as low as you'll find in any other parts of Southeast Asia.
The unit of currency in the Philippines is the peso (P), which is also spelled piso in Filipino, and is divided into 100 centavos (c). Banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000 pesos. Coins are in 10c and 25c pieces, and P1, P5 and P10.
The smartest way to bring cash to the Philippines is in the form of a credit card, cash card or debit card. Provided you have your PIN, you can use these to get cash or cash advances from thousands of banks and ATMs in the Philippines (but don't expect to find these in rural areas - always stock up on cash before leaving a city).
Of course, you'll want to back up your plastic with some cash (US dollars are the most widely accepted) and travellers cheques. Using plastic with a cash back-up will save you from having to deal with local moneychangers, who seem to have made a science out of ripping off tourists; Lonely Planet receives stacks of letters and emails each year from victims of these schemes - don't say you weren't warned!
There's a bewildering array of banks operating in the Philippines, so look around before deciding which to use. The Philippine National Bank (PNB), Equitable PCI Bank, Metrobank, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) are some of the big names in local banking. Global banks, such as Citibank and HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), also provide consumer-banking services in the Philippines.
Credit, debit and cash cards can be used to get cash or cash advances from thousands of ATMs throughout the country. Check with your bank or credit-card company (or look on the back of your card) to see which ATM network your card is connected to. For getting cash, Cirrus and Plus are the most widely accepted; for cash advances, MasterCard is the most widely accepted, followed by Visa.
Cash advances from ATMs are in local currency, and may be subject to a daily withdrawal limit. Metrobank and Equitable PCI ATMs have cash withdrawal limits of P4000 and P5000, respectively. HSBC machines have no limits - you're only limited by your own bank's daily withdrawal limit.
Particularly in the big cities, ATMs operate 24 hours daily, and can be found in department stores, supermarkets and shopping malls, in addition to banks. Note that ATMs in the Philippines have a curious system of posting 'online' or 'offline' signs to indicate whether or not the machine is in operation.
With the usual precautions, carrying cash (US dollars is the currency of choice) is no particular problem; it's actually a good idea to have a US$50 and/or US$100 note stashed somewhere secure and accessible in case you can't find a bank or an ATM, or you're out of travellers cheques.
As for pesos, 'Sorry, no change' becomes a familiar line - stock up on notes smaller than P100 at every opportunity.
Many shops, restaurants, hotels and resorts accept payment by plastic, and credit-card cash advances are possible in larger towns and cities; in small towns and on islands rarely visited there are often no provisions for credit cards (Palawan, in particular, has few places that accept credit cards).
A shop-front sign that reads 'Visa accepted' or 'MasterCard accepted' may well refer only to the Philippines-issued version, so check with the shop personnel by showing them your card. Also note that some establishments will try to add (at times surreptitiously) a surcharge to your bill when you pay with a credit card, on the grounds that they themselves have to pay a surcharge to the credit-card company. It's all up to you whether to accept this rather irritating practice or not. You may be able to avoid this charge by using another card.
If your MasterCard is lost, stolen or eaten by an ungrateful ATM, the toll-free number to call in the Philippines is 1 800 1111 0061. For Visa cardholders, the number is 1 800 1111 0248. Be forewarned, however, that trying to get through to a 1 800 number in the Philippines can be as fruitless as trying to reach somebody in the middle of the Sahara!
There are incidents of credit-card fraud in the Philippines, as in many other countries. To prevent this, keep a close eye on your card at all times - never, for example, allow a shop clerk to disappear into a back room with it (where someone would be able to make several imprints with your card). Likewise, keep a careful record of all your credit-card transactions while in the Philippines, save your receipts, and check your credit-card statements.
You can get cash advances with credit cards from many ATMs and banks in the Philippines. Note that this is different from simply getting cash from your account with a cash or debit card - a cash advance is like a credit-card purchase in that you must pay it back, and with interest if you don't pay your account in full each month. Also keep in mind that there may not be any ATMs or banks in smaller towns and rural areas, so, as usual, it pays to cash up (within reasonable limits) before heading into the sticks.
While many ATMs in the Philippines accept cash cards linked to the Cirrus and Plus networks, far fewer are linked to international credit-card networks, such as MasterCard and Visa. If the ATM in question does not accept your credit card, it may still be possible to get an over-the-counter cash advance from the bank. However, this can be a slow and tedious procedure.
Equitable PCI Banks will issue cash advances for most major cards, including MasterCard and Visa, so this is usually a good bet, but be warned that only one branch in any town is likely to offer this service, so you may have to travel to find the correct branch.
Moneychangers are usually easy to find in the commercial centres of most cities; some department stores and shopping malls also have moneychangers on the premises. Moneychangers usually offer the best rates, but they are also notorious for all manner of short-change scams and rip-offs. Because of the risk of rip-offs, it's best to use moneychangers selectively - if possible, change your cash or travellers cheques at a bank, hotel or resort, even if the rate is usually lower than at a moneychanger.
In Manila you should have no trouble changing US dollars, British pounds or euros; Japanese yen is also widely accepted, as are Canadian and Australian dollars, ASEAN currencies, and some currencies from the Middle East.
There are no particular hassles with exchanging pesos when you leave, unless you're carrying a huge amount. But even then your only problem might be locating a moneychanger with enough US dollars to change them into.
US-dollar travellers cheques are the most secure and reliable way to carry funds. American Express (AmEx) is by far the most widely recognised and you may find it difficult to exchange cheques from other companies. An instant replacement policy on lost or stolen cheques is highly desirable, so check that the company will honour this policy in the Philippines before you buy.
Cashing travellers cheques is best done at a bank, although this can be time consuming. Most places charge a small fee to cash travellers cheques - ask about the fee beforehand and decide how many cheques you want to cash at one time.
In principle, changing travellers cheques is quite simple: you only need to bring along your passport and the original purchase receipts. In practice though, banks and moneychangers can be reluctant to accept travellers cheques, so to minimise hassles it's wise to plan your money conversions in towns with a couple of exchange options.
Even in a city such as Manila, only a handful of banks and moneychangers change travellers cheques in currencies other than US dollars. Outside the big cities, US dollars are generally the only currency accepted, either for cash or travellers cheques, though the Japanese yen is gaining greater acceptance as an alternative to the greenback. The rate is generally slightly lower for travellers cheques than for cash.