What makes Philippines a unique country to travel to?
The Philippines is an emerging economy with a democratic system of government. Located in Southeast Asia, the country is an archipelago consisting of more than 7,100 islands, of which more than 800 are inhabited. The major island groupings are Luzon in the north, where the capital, Manila, is located; the Visayas in the center; and Mindanao in the south. Tourist facilities are available within population centers and the main tourist areas. English is widely spoken in the Philippines, and most signs are in English.
Crime is a significant concern in Manila. As a rule of thumb, U.S. citizens should exercise good judgment and remain aware of their surroundings. Reports of confidence games (con games), pick pocketing, Internet scams, and credit/ATM card fraud are common. U.S. citizens should be wary of unknown individuals who attempt to befriend them, especially just after their arrival in the country. It is best not to accept food, drink, or rides in private vehicles from strangers, even if they appear to be legitimate. There have been several cases of solo travelers meeting people on Roxas Boulevard in downtown Manila, striking up a conversation, developing a relationship, and then being invited to a tourist destination outside of Manila under the guise of meeting their Philippine family. The travelers are taken to the area and, typically, during a meal are given a substance that knocks them unconscious. They are then robbed of valuables, including their ATM cards, which are then used to drain their bank accounts. While U.S. citizens are not typically targeted, kidnappings and violent assaults do occur in the Manila area.
Taxis are the recommended form of public transportation. The following safeguards are important: do not enter a taxi if it has already accepted another passenger and always request that the driver use the meter to record your fare. If the driver is unwilling to comply with these requests, wait for another cab. It is also a good idea to make a mental note of the license plate number of the cab, or text it to someone, should there be a problem. There have been several instances of travelers arriving at the Manila international airport and, shortly after they leave the airport area in a taxi or private vehicle, their vehicle is stopped, typically by an intentional rear-end collision, and the travelers are robbed. When driving in the city, make certain that vehicle doors are locked and the windows are rolled up. For both safety and security reasons, avoid all other forms of public transportation, such as the light rail system, buses, and “jeepneys.”
You should also be vigilant when using credit and debit cards. One common form of credit/ATM card fraud involves an illicit electronic device attached to ATM card readers that retrieves and records information, including the PIN, from a card's magnetic strip. The information is then used to make unauthorized purchases. To limit your vulnerability to this scam, never let your card out of your sight. Avoid ATMs with unusual coverings attached to the card receiver. When using an ATM, be aware of your surroundings. Avoid ATM locations in dimly lit areas. Be careful to prevent observation by others when entering your PIN code. A continuing problem is the commercial scam or sting that attempts to sell or to seek negotiation of fraudulent U.S. securities. Visitors and residents should be wary when presented with supposed Federal Reserve Notes or U.S. securities for sale or negotiation.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in the Philippines, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in the Philippines, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
U.S. citizens should also be aware of a recent statement by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) regarding the participation of foreigners in demonstrations in the Philippines. In the statement, the BI advised foreigners against participating in public protests or political rallies since this activity may be considered a violation of the terms of admission to the Philippines. Foreign nationals who participate in these activities may be detained and deported for violating Philippine immigration laws.
Persons violating the Philippines’ laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Philippines are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. If a traveler is found to have any amount of drugs on his or her person, or nearby, when arriving at or departing from the Philippines, he or she will be charged with trafficking. This offense is non-bailable, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. There have been instances where persons carrying controlled substances (e.g., medical marijuana or morphine) as well as a doctor’s prescription for the substance were charged with drug possession because they did not possess the proper prior clearance from the Philippine government before entry.
If you are arrested in the Philippines, authorities of the Philippines are required to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request that the police or prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest.
There are two official languages in the Philippines, Pilipino and English. English is used for business, government, and education from the fourth grade through college. Pilipino, which is based mostly on Tagalog, which is the language spoken in central Luzon. Pilipino is referred to as Tagalog by most people.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Adequate medical care is available in major cities in the Philippines, but even the best hospitals may not meet the standards of medical care, sanitation, and facilities provided by hospitals and doctors in the United States. Medical care is limited in rural and more remote areas.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost several or even tens of thousands of dollars. Most hospitals will require a down payment of estimated fees in cash at the time of admission. In some cases, public and private hospitals have withheld lifesaving medicines and treatments for non-payment of bills. Hospitals also frequently refuse to discharge patients or release important medical documents until a bill has been paid in full. A list of doctors and medical facilities in the Philippines is available from the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
In the past, the Philippines has seen outbreaks of dengue and schistosomiasis. The CDC website has additional information about both diseases.
Schistosomiasis is transmitted by waterborne larvae and is endemic in the Philippines. The disease presents a risk on Mindanao, Bohol, and Samar, as well as the provinces of Sorsogon (the southern tip of Luzon Island) and eastern Mindoro Island. Travelers should avoid freshwater exposure in these areas.
Safety and Security
U.S. citizens contemplating travel to the Philippines should carefully consider the risks to their safety and security while there, including the risk of terrorism. The southern island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago are of particular security concern. Travelers should defer all travel to the Sulu Archipelago and should exercise extreme caution on the island of Mindanao. For further information regarding the continuing threats due to terrorist and insurgent activities in the Philippines, see the Travel Warning for the Philippines.
Terrorist groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jema’ah Islamiyah, as well as groups that have broken away from the more mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front, have carried out bombings resulting in deaths, injuries, and property damage; they have also taken hostages. The city of Zamboanga suffered widespread devastation in September 2013 during a deadly confrontation between Philippine public security forces and rogue fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front. Separately, bombings in central and western areas of Mindanao have targeted bus terminals, public buildings, public markets, and local festivals. While those responsible do not appear to have targeted foreigners, travelers should remain vigilant and avoid congregating in public areas. Official U.S. government visitors and Embassy employees must seek special permission for travel to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago. When traveling in Mindanao, U.S. official travelers attempt to lower their profile, limit their length of stay, and exercise extreme caution. Some foreigners who reside in or visit western and central Mindanao hire their own private security personnel.
Kidnap-for-ransom gangs operate in the Philippines and have targeted foreigners, including Filipino-Americans. Such gangs are especially active in the Sulu Archipelago, and a number of foreigners have been kidnapped there in recent years.
Occasionally, the U.S. Embassy is the target of planned and/or spontaneous demonstrations. While Philippine security forces generally prevent such demonstrators from reaching the Embassy, in rare instances protestors have made their way successfully to the Embassy perimeter. In such instances, Embassy security authorities may take appropriate measures to safeguard personnel and visitors, including restricting access to the compound. U.S. citizens or other individuals having business at the Embassy should keep this in mind and be prepared to defer their business until any such situation is resolved.
U.S. citizens in the Philippines are advised to monitor local news broadcasts and consider the level of preventive security when visiting public places, especially when choosing hotels, restaurants, beaches, entertainment venues, and recreation sites.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in the Philippines, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the Philippines is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Travel within the Philippine archipelago is possible by boat, plane, bus, or car. Few U.S. citizens rent cars to drive, as the roads are more crowded and drivers are less disciplined than those in the United States. It is particularly dangerous to drive off the national highways and paved roads, especially at night, and you should avoid doing so. There have been five major inter-island ferryboat accidents in the last two years, one with significant loss of life. The safety record is such that U.S. government employees are advised not to take inter-island ferry boat services unless they are the only means of transportation available. There have also been a series of bus accidents as a result of poor bus maintenance. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid overcrowded or unsafe transport and to exercise caution in planning travel by inter-island ferryboats or other public conveyances.
For specific information concerning Philippine driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC, at tel. (202) 467-9300 or one of the Philippine consulates in the United States (Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco).