What to Know Before Traveling to the Philippines
The Republic of the Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,600 islands in southern Asia. Covering 120,000 square miles, the islands have a diverse cultural landscape with Spanish, American, Japanese, Arabic, and Indonesian influence. Due to a mixture of crime, terrorism, and civil unrest, travel to the Philippines presents a considerable risk. Here’s how to prepare.
Check whether your medical insurance covers foreign travel and consider purchasing additional insurance for medical coverage and emergency evacuation. Enroll in the US government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive alerts and stay connected with authorities during an emergency. Activate your mobile phone’s international plan and turn on the GPS.
Visa and passport requirements.
American citizens do not need a visa for stays of 30 days or fewer. But you do need to have a valid return ticket or a ticket to the country of your next destination. Make sure you check your passport’s expiration date. It must be valid for at least six months beyond your stay in the Philippines. If you plan to remain longer than 30 days, you will need a visa.
Weather in the Philippines ranges from tropical to equatorial, with cooler temperatures in the mountains. Bring lightweight, breathable clothing and be prepared for frequent, unpredictable rain. Typhoons bring significant wind and rain and can occur at any time of the year, especially from May through October.
Blend in with the locals.
Culture in the Philippines calls for conservative, understated clothing, which means avoiding revealing clothing and expensive jewelry. If you bring sleeveless tops, be sure to have a lightweight jacket or sweater.
Holidays and political events.
Plan your travel to avoid holidays and political events, as you cannot schedule business meetings on those days. Holidays can spark civil unrest, so even if you are already in the Philippines, plan to spend the day inside. Unrest can also flourish around political events including elections.
Limit your travel plans.
Although there are travel risks throughout the Philippines, certain areas are more dangerous than others, particularly the southern islands. The US government advises against travel to:
- The Sulu Archipelago, including the southern Sulu Sea, due to crime, terrorism, and civil unrest; and
- Marawi City in Mindanao, due to terrorism and civil unrest.
Note: The Philippine Supreme Court recently approved the government’s decision to extend martial law in the southern part of the country until December 2019.
Carry your identity documents.
You are required to carry a form of identity at all times to present to authorities when asked. A photocopy of your passport is acceptable. You can be stopped at any time without a reason, so be ready and courteous if you are asked for your identity papers.
Using public transport like buses, jitneys, and the light rail system exposes you to petty crime. Taxis off the street can also be subject to crime and possible kidnapping. Instead, hire taxis provided by your hotel or use your hotel’s shuttle. Avoid travel on ferries and passenger boats because they do not meet basic maritime safety requirements. Two large ferries sank in 2013. In July 2015, a boat overturned in strong waves, resulting in 60 deaths.
Possible terrorist targets include public transport, shopping malls, open-air markets, hotels, restaurants, and places of worship. Holidays, especially religious holidays, can result in attacks. As mentioned, the southern islands are particularly prone to terrorism. For example, in January 2019 bombings at the Jolo Cathedral in the province of Sulu in Mindanao killed 21 and injured 111.
Demonstrations and large public gatherings happen regularly and often disrupt traffic and public transportation. As is the case in many foreign countries, foreigners who attend a political rally are liable to detention and deportation.
There is a widespread threat of kidnapping throughout the Philippines. Due to their perceived wealth, foreigners are sometimes targeted by kidnap-for-ransom gangs. To minimize the threat, don’t venture out after dark unless accompanied by a prescreened driver.
Although the Philippines may have a reputation for being gay-friendly, the culture is conservative. Public displays of affection like hand holding and kissing can lead to name calling, harassment, and assault. Transgender identification is not commonly accepted and can lead to harassment.