12 Things Travelers Should Know About the Philippines

The Philippine’s Independence Day is celebrated on June 12th. In honor of the number 12, I’m making a list of 12 important facts for anyone wanting to travel to this beautiful island nation. I’m sure more lists are soon to come as I begin to dissect everything I’ve experienced. 

  1. ATMs are located in major cities but charge Php 200 (USD $5) for a foreign card transaction. Bring American money which be used in certain places or easily exchanged.
  2. Taxis are relatively cheap if you find a metered cab, identified by an orange sign on the windshield. A taxi ride should never be more than Php 200. Once I jumped into a cab outside an airport just to find out there were set prices for locations. I had to pay Php 1800 (USD $42) for my error. The driver gave me Php 100 back because he said I was beautiful and I told him I should get a discount.
  3. Bring toilet paper in your purse or pocket whenever you travel around the city. Many public bathrooms, including those in malls, often do not have toilet paper. Also, put the paper in the trash bin because there is a very fragile sewage system that gets clogged easily.
  4. Movies and food are cheap! I went to see Harry Potter 7 Part 2 in 3D and paid about USD $10. Which is half the price of some malls in the United States. The food sold in stalls on the street are only a few cents but finding a nice sit-down restaurant with meals and drinks will only put you back about $10.
  5. If you are staying with family or friends and you decide to take a short trip, make sure to bring back a small gift. This can be a package of the local food, a painting etc. just to show that you were thinking of them. This gift, called a pasalubong, is an integral part of the Philippine culture and many stores advertise pasalubong in the airports.
  6. Titles of people are very important. Men and women who are slightly older than you are referred to as Kuya or Ate (for older brother or sister, respectively). Older people are either Sir or Mam with their first name ex. Sir Martin, Mam Jean.
  7. All meals are eaten with a fork and a spoon. The spoon is usually held in the right hand and fork in the left. The fork is used to push the meat and rice into the spoon before being brought to the mouth. Most meat is boiled, fried, or stir-fried so does not require a knife blade.
  8. There are two distinct languages spoken in the Philippines: Tagalog and Bisaya. While Tagalog is the official language, it is only spoken in Luzon. In the other two major regional areas, Visayas and Mindanao, varying dialects of Bisaya are spoken. All signs are in English and many people speak English fluently within urban areas. To see map: click here.
  9.  Be very wary of porters at bus stations, ferry ports and even airports. If you do not want to pay someone to move your luggage, you must be firm and vocal as soon as you board or unload. They expect a Php 15 or 20 tip. See earlier post.
  10. Become a scuba diver! The Philippines boasts some of the best dive sites in the world and offers a variety of short day trips and live aboard experiences to see coral reefs, ship wrecks and whale sharks. Some dive instructors offer student discounts but generally the course will cost between Php 10,000 and Php 18,000. Contact me if you want dive instructor recommendations.
  11. The country is fairly modest in terms of dress, probably due to the prevalent Catholic religion throughout the country. Outside of the very modern areas of Manila you will not see people in spaghetti straps or short shorts. Even in the hot weather, people wear jeans. In terms of beach clothes, buy a rash guard or some shirt and shorts combination that can be worn during swimming. Outside of foreign tourist beach resorts, walking around in a bikini is not appropriate. 
  12. If you are staying more than 21 days, get a visa. This can be done prior to your trip or after arriving in Manila. Also, double check the dates and length of time you are allowed to say. I was forced to pay an extravagant fee because I overstayed my visa, a mistake made by the Philippines Embassy before I even left the United States. 
The Philippines is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. The abundance of natural beauty ranges from mountains to rice fields and white sand beaches. It is considered a biodiversity hotspot and houses an incredible number of endemic species. The Filipino people are beyond friendly, welcoming travelers into their homes and offering helpful advice as well as long-lasting friendship. A week before I left the country, I was already on Google searching for flights back from New York to Manila. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.