No doubt you’ve seen photos of the stunningly beautiful turquoise water and palm tree-lined beaches of the Philippines recently…
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, the friendliest locals, 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 a trip to the Philippines doesn’t come without a few surprises as well. Read on to learn everything you should know before your visit to the Philippines to help you prepare!
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15 Things to Know Before Visiting The Philippines
1. You can Stay in the Philippines for as Long as you Want
Well, not as LONG as you want, but you can stay for a really long time. Much longer than most countries around the world allow foreigners to stay. Depending on what country you are from, you can stay in the Philippines for anywhere from 24 to 36 months through various visa extension options.
Citizens of many countries can stay visa-free in the Philippines for up to 30 days (exceptions include India, Iran, Jordan, and a few others). Check your visa requirements here. And 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 at 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-months, or 6-months extensions at least one week prior to the expiration of your valid stay. You can just continue doing so for up to 2 or 3 years before you’ll need to leave and re-enter the country.
2. Filipino People are Incredibly 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.
And be sure to go out of your way to meet and interact with the locals – you won’t regret it!
3. Everyone in the Philippines Speaks English
Children learn to speak both Tagalog and English in school so you’re unlikely to 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’re 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. You’ll impress the locals during your visit to the Philippines if you can use a few Tagalog terms.
4. It’s Incredibly 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 never 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-week visit to the Philippines. 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.
5. Drugs are Strictly Forbidden
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 visit to the Philippines, but if you were, don’t.
6. Ferries are Weather Dependent
If you plan on visiting 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 six days in a row due to the weather while we were in El Nido. We finally gave up hope and flew to another island instead.
Be careful about pre-booking hotels that are non-refundable if you’ll need to take a ferry boat to get there.
7. There are Plenty of Airports in the Philippines
When planning your visit to the Philippines, you may be thinking that you should fly into the major cities and then take a bus and/or ferry it to the smaller towns. But there are actually quite a few towns that have small airports that offer inexpensive domestic flights.
For instance, El Nido has an airport so you can fly there directly, whereas if you fly into the nearby Puerto Princesa, you’d need to take a 5-hour shuttle to El Nido. You can essentially save yourself a full day of travel by flying there directly.
Check the full list of airports in the Philippines here.
8. Filipinos Love the NBA
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 nine 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 Around in Tricycles, not Taxis
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. You’ll undoubtedly ride in one at least once while visiting 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 SE Asia
The Grab app is popular in many countries in SE Asia, including the Philippines. You can find Grab cars and motorbikes in the larger cities, such as Manila or 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 fly into).
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). Plus, 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, so you’ll have to pay those in cash at the end of your trip.
11. It’s Surprisingly Difficult to Buy Tampons in the Philippines
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 visit, either stock up before you go or invest in a Diva cup so you don’t need to worry about it.
12. Restaurants Offer Free 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 for a glass before paying for bottled water.
13. Most Lotions are Skin Whitening
Lotions that contain bleach in order to make your skin lighter in color are quite common all over SE Asia. But the Philippines is 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. Filipinos Love to Sing Karaoke
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!
Did you really even visit the Philippines if you didn’t sing karaoke?
15. You’ll Eat a Ton of Pork Belly
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.
We hope this post has helped you get ready for your visit to the Philippines!
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