15 Things to Know Before Visiting The Philippines

No doubt you’ve seen photos of the stunningly beautiful turquoise water and palm tree lined beaches of the Philippines recently…

Tips for Visiting the Philippines
Start packing your bags!

And considering that there are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, you can find whatever type of vacation you’re looking for. The islands boast lavish resorts, delectable cuisine, untouched beaches, cascading waterfalls, and more!

The Philippines have become one of the best countries to visit in Southeast Asia and the perfect place to plan a tropical getaway. But they doesn’t come without a few surprises as well.

Read on to learn everything you should know before planning your trip!

15 Things to Know Before Visiting The Philippines

1. The People are Incredibly Polite

Filipino Kids at Kawasan Falls, Cebu, Philippines
See how polite!

You’ll find Filipino people to be so friendly and polite, especially in areas that aren’t overrun by tourists. And pretty much everyone you meet will address you as “ma’am” or “sir”. Or even potentially “ma’am sir”. Use the terms when addressing them as well and they’ll appreciate your respect.

2. Everyone Speaks English

Tarsier on Bohol, Philippines
Well maybe not everyone…

Children learn to speak both Tagalog and English in school so you probably won’t encounter anyone who can’t speak at least a little English. You’ll have no trouble reading street signs, menus, or anything else as they are all written in English. If you want to practice a little Tagalog, “salamat” means “thank you”. And “po” is the Tagalog equivalent to “sir” or “ma’am” so you’ll hear “thank you po” quite frequently as well.

3. It’s Safe

Climbing Coconut Trees in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines
This is not safe

The Philippines have gotten a bad reputation in recent history for being unsafe for foreigners. And indeed, there is a travel advisory for some areas in the south due to terrorism. We visited the Balabac islands in the south of Palawan and got a few warnings that we may get kidnapped by terrorist pirates. Of course, we didn’t, and there have not been any reports of foreigners getting kidnapped in that area.

Opportunistic crime can happen anywhere but we never had any reason to fear for our safety during our 6 weeks traveling around the islands. We found the people to be so friendly and hospitable. Unfortunately we did have $40 USD stolen out of our luggage by hotel staff so you may want to keep your valuables locked in your room safe, just in case.

4. Drugs are Strictly Forbidden

San Miguel Pilsen Beer on the Beach at Sunset, Philippines
Just say no to drugs and yes to San Miguel!

The sitting president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has taken a very hard line stance on drugs. Known as the “Philippine drug war”, the president has urged citizens to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts. Thousands of people have lost their lives since he started this campaign. And a controversial mayor who paraded suspects in the streets was recently killed by a sniper in June of 2018.

So, not that you were planning on attempting to purchase drugs during your vacation but if you were, don’t.

5. Ferries are Weather Dependent

Banka Boat in El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

If you visit the Philippines during the wet season (June through October) you may encounter a stretch of bad weather. And if you’re counting on taking any ferries, say from El Nido to Coron, they won’t run if a storm is on the horizon. The ferry to Coron was canceled for 6 days in a row due to weather while we were in El Nido and we finally gave up hope and flew to another island instead.

6. There are Plenty of Airports

Salagdoong Beach, Siquijor, Philippines
Should have flown…

When planning your trip to the Philippines you may be thinking that you should fly into the major cities and the bus and/or ferry it to the smaller towns. But there are actually quite a few towns that have small airports offering domestic flights.

For instance, El Nido has an airport  so you can fly there directly, whereas if you fly into Puerto Princesa you’d need to take a 6-hour shuttle to El Nido. You can essentially save yourself a full day of travel by flying.

Check the full list of airports in the Philippines here.

7. You can Stay as Long as you Want

Rustic House in Balabac, Palawan, Philippines
A lovely little 2 bed, 1.5 bath in the countryside

Well, not as LONG as you want, but you can stay for a really long time. Much longer than most visas allow. Depending on what country you are from, you can stay for anywhere from 24 to 36 months through various visa extension options.

Citizens of most countries are not required to have a visa for a stay in the Philippines up to 30 days (exceptions include India, Iran, Jordan, and a few others). Check your visa requirements here. Visitors from Israel can stay for up to 59 days without a visa. Be sure to purchase your return flight to your next destination prior to arriving to the airport or you may be denied boarding.

If you would like to obtain an extension on your 30-day stay, it is easy to do at any Immigration Office in the country. Your first extension will be 29 days and thereafter you may apply for 1 month, 2 month, or 6 month extensions at least one week prior to the expiration of your valid stay.

8. Filipinos Love the NBA

Pickup Basketball Game, Coron, Philippines
Is that Steph Curry?!?

Most Asian countries love to watch and play soccer (or futbol). But in the Philippines they love basketball. You’ll find basketball courts all over the country that have baskets constructed out of the most creative materials. And most Filipinos play in flip flops which is quite an impressive feat.

Ask anyone what their favorite team is and 9 times out of 10 it’s the Golden State Warriors. And their favorite player? Usually Lebron James. So when they ask where you’re from don’t tell them your home state, tell them your home team. Because they don’t have a clue where Oregon is but they most certainly know the Portland Trailblazers!

9. You’ll Ride in Tricycles, not Taxis

Tricycle on Panglao Island, Bohol, Philippines
The Cadillac of tricycles

Tricycles are essentially sidecars for motorbikes. They take on different forms depending on where you are but they are the common way to travel in most of the smaller towns in the Philippines. They aren’t exactly comfortable so if you want to travel long distances you’re better off renting a motorbike or hiring a car with a driver. And be sure to negotiate the price before agreeing to the ride!

10. Grab is the Uber of Asia

Grab Motorcycle Taxi
Grab & hang on!

Grab is popular in many countries in Asia, including the Philippines. You can find grab cars and bikes in the larger cities such as Manila and Cebu City. Download the app before you arrive so that you can take a Grab to your hotel as soon as you land (assuming that it’s available in whatever town you’re in).

While Grab is not significantly cheaper than taking a taxi, it will save you the hassle of negotiating a taxi fare (since taxis rarely agree to put foreigners on the meter these days) and you won’t have to try to figure out how to explain where you’re going. Keep in mind that any tolls aren’t included in your fare estimate.

11. It’s Suprisingly Difficult to Buy Tampons

Rope Swing at Cambugahay Falls, Siquijor, Philippines
Don’t try this while wearing a maxi-pad

Maxi pads are king in most of SE Asia and the Philippines are no different. You’ll likely be able to find them in larger cities like Manila but won’t have any luck in popular beach towns like El Nido and Coron. Make sure you consider this when packing for your trip. If your time of the month is going to coincide with your trip, either stock up before you go or invest in a Diva cup so you don’t need to worry about it.

12. Restaurants Offer Service Water

Kayak in the Small Lagoon, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
This has nothing to do with ‘service water’

You wouldn’t want to drink the water directly from the tap anywhere in the Philippines but most restaurants offer filtered “service” water, free of charge. Ask before paying for bottled water.

13. Lotions are Skin Whitening

Dumaluan Beach on Panglao Island, Bohol, Philippines
Obviously sun bathing isn’t so popular here…

Lotions that contain bleach in order to make the skin lighter in color are quite common all over SE Asia. But the Philippines have been the only country I’ve visited where ALL of the lotions at the stores contained whitening agents. If you are actually hoping to leave the Philippines tanner than you are now, better bring your own lotion from home.

14. They Love Karaoke

Karaoke in Manila, Philippines
This was the SpongeBob room

Filipinos absolutely love karaoke! They often sing it in their homes with friends but they also like to belt it out in public. The most popular way to karaoke is in KTV bars. You’ll pay a consumable hourly rate to rent your own private room so you can sing anything and everything your heart desires. If you make any Filipino friends during your trip make sure you plan a KTV night out together!

15. You’ll eat a ton of Pork Belly

Best Food to Eat in the Philippines: Lechon
Looks healthy!

Pork belly is an expensive delicacy in the US, but in the Philippines it’s a pretty common daily cuisine. Pork is “lechon” in tagalog and Lechon Kawali is fried pork belly that is crunchy and juicy and amazing. You’ll end up eating so much pork that you can actually feel your arteries clogging with greasy goodness.

Want more info? Check out our favorite travel guides and books about the Philippines!


Things to Know Before Visiting the Philippines

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