A modest amount of negotiating is expected in many outdoor markets, especially where tourist handicrafts are sold. However, prices for food commodities are usually set.
Bargaining is the rule when hiring motorbikes, or hiring tricycles, bangkas or taxis for the day. Bargaining may also bear fruit when you're walking into hotels, especially in resort areas in the low season.
Dangers & Annoyances
The Philippines certainly has more than its share of dangers. Typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, landslides and other natural disasters can wreak havoc with your travel plans – or worse if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Keep an eye on the news and be prepared to alter travel plans to avoid trouble spots.
- Mindanao (the central and southwest regions in particular) and the Sulu Archipelago are sometimes the scenes of clashes between the army and Muslim separatist groups.
- Manila in particular is known for scams targeting tourists.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca)
German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
UK Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
Embassies & Consulates
The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA; www.dfa.gov.ph) website lists all Philippine embassies and consulates abroad, and all foreign embassies and consulates in the Philippines.
Some countries that require Western visitors to have visas for entry maintain embassies in Manila, including China, India, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Dial 0 before area codes when calling from a mobile phone or a landline outside that region.
|International dialling code||00|
|PLDT directory assistance||101171|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering the country through any of the main ports is a breeze; however, you'll need to show the airline an onward ticket in order to board any Philippines-bound plane.
- Firearms and pornography are forbidden.
- You can bring up to 2L of alcohol and up to 400 cigarettes (or two tins of tobacco) into the country without paying duty.
- Foreign currency of more than US$10,000 and local currency of more than P10,000 must be declared upon entry or exit.
A free 30-day visa is issued on arrival for most nationalities. You can extend, for a fee, in major provincial centres, or extend upon arrival at the airport.
Visa rules and fees changed in early 2017. The situation remains fluid, so check the latest rules and regulations on the website of the Bureau of Immigration, whose head office is in Manila.
In a nutshell, the situation is as follows:
- It is easy to extend your initial 30-day visa (technically a visa 'waiver') for an additional 29 days. This costs about P2200 for most nationalities.
- Thereafter, you may apply for additional one-month, two-month or six-month extensions. The cost for the first month is about P4000 and includes purchase of an 'ACR I-Card' identity card valid for one year; subsequent extensions cost P1000 to P2000 per month.
- You can apply for visa extensions at the head office in Manila or at any BOI provincial office. Most regional hubs and touristy areas such as Boracay have BOI offices; a full list of the regional offices can be found on the BOI website.
- You can apply for your initial 29-day extension at the airport upon arrival in the Philippines; just request this service once you reach the immigration control booth. This may only work at the Manila and Cebu airports.
- It may or may not be possible to extend retroactively (and pay at least a P1010 fine in addition to retroactive visa-extension fees) upon your departure from the Philippines – we wouldn’t chance it.
- The maximum stay for most nationalities that qualify for the visa waiver is 36 months.
- Dress respectably when applying; shorts and flip-flops are definite no-no's.
- The visa process is generally painless, especially in provincial offices, but you can also pay a travel agent to handle everything for you.
Be prepared to show the airline at your point of departure to the Philippines a ticket for onward travel. If you don’t have one, most airlines make you buy one on the spot.
- Anger Management Don't lose your temper – Filipinos will think you're loco-loco (crazy).
- Food Abstain from grabbing that last morsel on the communal food platter – your hosts might think you’re a pauper.
- Transport For transport frustrations, smile and adopt the Filipino maxim – bahala na (whatever will be will be).
- Karaoke When engaged in karaoke (and trust us, you will be), don’t insult the person who sounds like a chicken getting strangled, lest it be taken the wrong way.
- Jeepneys Don’t complain about neighbours getting cosy with you on jeepneys – space is meant to be shared.
- Restaurants Filipinos hiss to gain someone's attention, often in restaurants to signal the waiter. It's not considered rude.
Bakla (gay men) and binalaki or tomboy (lesbians) are almost universally accepted in the Philippines. Harrassment is rare and you can usually be as 'out' as you want to be.
The traditional nexus of gay life is the Malate district of Manila, specifically around the intersection of J Nakpil St and M Orosa St. While there is still a scene there, the more popular clubs and bars have moved uptown to the Fort ('BGC') district. Other major cities such as Cebu also have well-established gay centres.
There's a roving pride march every year in Manila in late June.
Online gay and lesbian resources for the Philippines include:
- Outrage Magazine (www.outragemag.com)
- Utopia Asian Gay & Lesbian Resources (www.utopia-asia.com)
- Travel Gay Asia (www.travelgayasia.com)
- B-Change (ww.b-change.org) is a social enterprise group that works to promote LGBTI rights.
For Manila-related events, the best site is www.thegaypassport.com/gay-manila.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. Note that some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities’, which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Theoretically, wi-fi and 4G internet access is available in much of the Philippines. However, the reality is a different story. It's frequently not working, intermittent or very slow, especially in the provinces (Palawan being the poster child for dysfunctional wi-fi).
That huge caveat aside, most hotels, cafes and restaurants in touristy areas and provincical centres provide free wi-fi.
For smartphone users, local SIM cards with data (4G) are easy to purchase, and data is cheap at less than P50 per day.
Not travelling with a computer? You can still find internet cafes in most decent-sized cities. Business hotels and an increasing number of boutique hotels and hostels have computers for guests to use.
- Drugs are illegal and very risky, especially in the era of President Duterte's 'drug war'. Be smart and avoid any and all drugs, including marijuana.
- Filipinos litter like it's going out of style but that doesn't mean you should join them, and you can be fined for littering in some cities.
- Small bribes remain a common way of getting out of traffic infractions, although Duterte has promised to eliminate the practice.
- Should you find yourself in trouble, your first recourse is your embassy.
- For a map of the entire country, the best of the lot is probably Nelles Verlag’s 1:1,500,000-scale Philippines (US$20), which is available internationally.
- For local travel, E-Z Maps and Accu-Map produce excellent maps covering most major islands, large cities and tourist areas. They are widely available at hotels, airports, bookshops and petrol stations.
- To buy (or see online) highly detailed topographical maps of virtually any region, contact the government’s mapping agency, Namria.
The Philippines has a vocal and vibrant media, with about 20 major national and regional English-language newspapers to go along with scores of regional publications.
- Newspapers The best of the broadsheets are the Philippine Daily Inquirer (www.inquirer.net), Business World (www.bworldonline.com) and Business Mirror (www.businessmirror.com.ph). Other big national dailies include the Philippine Star (www.philstar.com) and Manila Bulletin (www.mb.com.ph).
- Online Rappler (www.rappler.com) is an excellent source for breaking news as well as feature stories. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (www.pcij.org) publishes hard-hitting investigative pieces.
- Radio Manila radio stations worth listening to: Monster Radio RX 93.1 for contemporary popular music and Jam 88.3 for more indie and alternative.
- TV About seven major channels broadcast from Manila (including ABS-CBN and GMA), sometimes in English, sometimes in Tagalog. Most midrange hotels have cable TV with access to between 20 and 120 channels, including some obscure regional channels, a couple of Filipino and international movie channels, and the big global news and sports channels such as BBC and ESPN.
ATMs dispensing pesos are widely available. Credit cards are accepted at hotels, restaurants and some shops in all but remote areas.
- Prevalent in any decent-sized provincial city; dispense pesos.
- More remote towns do not have ATMs.
- The most prevalent ATMs that accept most Western bank cards belong to Banco de Oro (BDO), Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) and Metrobank.
- Standard ATM charge is P200 per withdrawal.
- Most ATMs have a P10,000 to P15,000 per-transaction withdrawal limit. Exception: HSBC ATMs in Manila and Cebu let you take out P40,000 per transaction.
- Cash in US dollars is a good thing to have in case you get stuck in an area with no working ATM. Other currencies, such as the euro or UK pound, are more difficult to change outside of the bigger cities.
- ‘Sorry, no change’ becomes a very familiar line in the provinces. Stock up on coins and P20, P50 and P100 notes at every opportunity.
- Major credit cards are accepted by most hotels, high-end restaurants and businesses in Manila, Cebu City and other large cities.
- Outside of large cities, you may be charged an extra 3% to 5% for credit-card transactions.
- Most Philippine banks will let you take a cash advance on your card.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com
Restaurants 10% service charge added to bill in cities and tourist hotspots. Otherwise leave 5% to 10%.
Taxis Round up taxi fares, but consider tipping more (P50 to P70) for honest taxi drivers who turn on the meter.
Hotels Not expected, but slide P50 to porters or leave a few hundred pesos in the staff tip box at resorts.
Guides Always tip your guides, as they can really use it.
Tips for Saving Money
A few ways to reduce your expenses:
- Pack as light as possible since most domestic flights charge for checked luggage.
- Take overnight buses and ferries to save on a night's accommodation.
- Bring your own water bottle and fill it up whenever you can at your hotel or at ubiquitous water-refilling stations.
- Hop on communal tricycles for only P10 rather than taking 'special' (ie private) trips.
- Always go for the less-expensive fan rooms; they can be just as comfortable as air-con ones.
Offices and banks are closed on public holidays, although shops and malls stay open (exception: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, when virtually the entire country closes down).
Banks 9am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday (most ATMs operate 24 hours)
Bars 6pm to late
Embassies & Consulates 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday
Post Offices 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday
Public Offices 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday
Restaurants 7am or 8am to 10pm or 11pm
Shopping Malls 10am to 9.30pm
Supermarkets 9am to 7pm or 8pm
On average, it takes two weeks or so for mail sent from the Philippines to reach the US or Europe. Mail sent from abroad to the Philippines is slower and less reliable and you're better off sending via FedEx or UPS.
New Year’s Day 1 January
People Power Day 25 February
Maundy Thursday Varies; around March or April
Good Friday Varies; the day after Maundy Thursday
Araw ng Kagitingan (Bataan Day) 9 April
Labour Day 1 May
Independence Day 12 June
Ninoy Aquino Day 21 August
National Heroes Day Last Sunday in August
All Saints’ Day 1 November
End of Ramadan Varies; depends on Islamic calendar
Bonifacio Day 30 November
Christmas Day 25 December
Rizal Day 30 December
New Year’s Eve 31 December
Muslim Holy Days
Most Muslim holy days are observed only in the Muslim parts of Mindanao, though some are now also national holidays.
Hari Raya Haji Varies; depends on Islamic calendar
Hijra New Year Varies; depends on Islamic calendar
Maulod En Nabi (Prophet’s Birthday) Varies; depends on Islamic calendar
Ramadan Varies; depends on Islamic calendar
Hari Raya Puasa (Feast of the Breaking of the Fast) Begins on the last evening of Ramadan and may last for three days.
Smoking Filipinos like to smoke and until recently they could do it just about anywhere. President Rodrigo Duterte has put an end to that, enacting legislation in 2017 that bans smoking and vaping in all public places and spaces – including many outdoor parks. However, in practice it may take time for establishments to adapt to the new law.
Taxes & Refunds
There is no refund scheme for VAT (value-added tax), and there are no other taxes payable by visitors.
For domestic long-distance calls or calls to mobile numbers, dial 0 followed by the city code (or mobile prefix) and then the seven-digit number.
Useful dialling codes from land lines include:
Philippines country code 63
International dialling code 00
PLDT directory 101171
International operator 108
Domestic operator 109
The Philippine Long-Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) operates the Philippines’ fixed-line network. International calls can be made from any PLDT office for US$0.40 per minute. Local calls cost almost nothing, and long-distance domestic calls are also very reasonable.
Mobile (cell) phones are ubiquitous, and half the country spends much of its time furiously texting the other half. Local SIM cards are widely available and can be loaded up cheaply with data and phone credit. Roaming is possible but expensive.
- Prepaid SIM cards cost as little as P40 and come pre-loaded with about the same amount of text credits.
- The two companies with the best national coverage are Globe (www.globe.com.ph) and Smart (www.smart.com.ph).
- Text messages on all mobile networks cost P1 to P2 per message; local calls cost P7.50 per minute (less if calling within a mobile network).
- International text messages cost P15, and international calls cost US$0.40 per minute.
- To dial a landline or mobile number from a mobile phone dial 0 or +63 followed by the three-digit prefix and the seven-digit number.
- Mobile prefixes always begin with a 9 (eg 917, 906).
- Roaming with your home phone is another, though likely very expensive, option.
PLDT cards such as ‘Budget’ (for international calls), ‘Pwede’ and ‘Touch’ cards can be used to make calls from any PLDT landline or from card-operated PLDT phones located in hotel foyers, commercial centres and shopping malls. Calls to the US using the Budget card cost only P3 per minute; other international destinations cost slightly more. Pwede and Touch cards allow dirt-cheap domestic calls from any PLDT landline or payphone.
The Philippines is eight hours ahead of GMT/UTC. Thus, noon in Manila is 1am in New York, 7am in London, noon in Hong Kong and 2pm in Sydney.
- Toilets are commonly called a ‘CR’, an abbreviation of the delightfully euphemistic ‘comfort room’.
- Other than at some bus terminals and ports, public toilets are virtually nonexistent, so aim for one of the ubiquitous fast-food restaurants should you need a room of comfort.
- Most toilets are sit-down affairs, but in remote areas some might not have toilet seats.
- In Filipino, men are lalake and women are babae.
- Filipino men will often avail themselves of the nearest outdoor wall – hence the signs scrawled in many places: ‘Bawal Ang Umihi Dito!’ (‘No Pissing Here!’).
The official organ of Philippine tourism is the Philippine Department of Tourism (www.visitmyphilippines.com), with headquarters in Makati and regional offices in provincial centres. Additional DOT booths can be found at airport arrivals in Manila and Cebu City.
Travel with Children
Filipinos are simply crazy about kids, and are rather fond of parents, too – you and your offspring will be the focus of many conversations, and your children won’t lack playful company. See Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children for useful advice about travel with kids.
- You can buy disposable nappies (diapers) and infant formula in most towns and all cities, but be sure to stock up on such things before heading off the beaten track.
- Many hotels and resorts offer family rooms (this is how Filipinos travel), and can provide cots on request.
- Discreet breastfeeding in public is acceptable in all areas except some conservative Muslim areas in the south.
- It is almost impossible to arrange a taxi with a child seat.
- Many restaurants can provide a high chair upon request.
Steps up to hotels, tiny cramped toilets, narrow doors and dysfunctional lifts are the norm outside of three-star-and-up hotels in Manila, Cebu and a handful of larger provincial cities. The same goes for restaurants, although mall restaurants tend to be more accessible.
Boarding any form of public or rural transport is likely to be fraught with difficulty.
On the other hand, most Filipinos are more than willing to lend a helping hand, and the cost of hiring a taxi for a day, and possibly an assistant as well, is not excessive.
Some resources for disabled persons travelling to the Philippines:
Disability Rights UK (http://disabilityrightsuk.org)
Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org)
National Council on Disability Affairs (http://www.ncda.gov.ph)
Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH; www.sath.org)
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Coral Cay Conservation (www.coralcay.org) Works to protect coral reefs in Southern Leyte.
Gawad Kalinga GK’s mission is building not just homes but entire communities for the poor and homeless. Volunteers can build houses or get involved in a host of other activities. Contact the volunteer coordinator, Fatima Amamo (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Habitat for Humanity Builds houses for the poor all over the country, concentrating on disaster-affected areas.
Hands On Manila Always looking for volunteers to help with disaster assistance and other projects throughout the Philippines.
Haribon Foundation A longstanding conservation organisation focused on scientific research and community empowerment programs.
Rise Above Foundation Housing, education and vocational training projects in Cebu. We've had positive feedback from recent volunteers.
Save Palawan Seas NGO owned by one of largest pearl producers in Philippines and supported by Flower Island Beach Resort, dedicated to educating local fishermen in Palawan about the dangers of destructive fishing and agricultural practices.
Springboard Foundation Not a volunteer organisation, per se, but has ties to many charity organisations doing volunteer work in the Philippines.
Stairway Foundation (www.stairwayfoundation.org) Qualified volunteers can apply for long-term assignments (at least six months) to work with formerly homeless children out of a base in Puerto Galera, Mindoro. Most kids were rescued from the streets of Manila. In Puerto Galera they learn life skills, with the long-term goal of being reunited with their families. One program involves teaching the kids about marine conservation through PG-based NGO EACY Dive.
Volunteer for the Visayas Runs various volunteer programs around Tacloban, Leyte.
WWF Philippines Contact the organisation to get involved with biodiversity and species-conservation projects.
Weights & Measures
Weights & measures The Philippines generally uses the metric system. Inches, feet and yards (for textiles) are common in everyday use for measuring things.
Foreign women travellers will generally have few problems in most of the Philippines, although they might get more attention than they're used to, particularly if travelling solo outside major tourist areas. This isn't necessarily particular to the Philippines, but it's probably a good idea to check on the reputation of guides if booking overnight trips.
There are scores of expats in the Philippines, but the vast majority work for multinational organisations and are sent by their jobs. It's not really the place to show up without a job and expect that you'll find something. There's a fair amount of labour-protection legislation in place and obtaining a work visa can be difficult.
On the other hand, the Philippines is fertile ground for retirees, with an accommodating climate and several methods for obtaining a retiree's visa.