Essential Info for First-Time Visitors to the Philippines

Visas, Currency, Holidays, Weather, What to Wear

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••• Chartered boat arriving at Pontod Island near Panglao, Philippines. Image © Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

Traveling in the Philippines? You'll be glad to know that very few barriers to entry are placed on entering visitors.

This open-door policy isn't universal, though, and safety remains a real concern for travelers to the Philippines. Read about the customs limitations, visa requirements (such as they are) and safety concerns for visitors to the Philippines in the article below.

What you can (and can't) bring into the Philippines

The Philippines is one of the easiest countries in the world to enter without a visa; citizens of the 150+ countries sharing diplomatic relations with the Philippines are entitled to enter and stay for up to 30 days without securing a visitor's visa, as long as their passport is valid for at least six months after arrival, and they show proof of onward or return passage.

Should you wish to stay longer, a Visa Extension should be obtained before your trip from a Philippine Consulate or Embassy, or from the Bureau of Immigration in the Philippines.

Some exceptions to the rule: citizens of Brazil and Israel can stay for up to 59 days; citizens of Hong Kong and Macau can stay up to 14 days; and citizens with Portuguese passports issued in pre-turnover Macau can only stay up to 7 days.

The complete list and entry requirements for different nationalities can be viewed here. Read about Southeast Asia visa requirements for U.S. passport holders.

Customs. Visitors are allowed to bring in their personal belongings duty free, as well as two cartons of cigarettes or two tins of pipe tobacco, up to one liter of alcohol, and an unlimited amount of foreign currency. Rules may be different for returning citizens (balikbayans) – if in doubt, check with the Embassy or Consulate in your home city.

Any antiques you plan to depart with must must be accompanied by a certificate from the National Museum. You are also forbidden from bringing more than USD10,000.00 (ten thousand US dollars) out of the country.

Illegal drugs. The Philippines follows the trend in Southeast Asia, where laws come down harshly on illegal drug use.

And the current administration seems particularly bloodthirsty where drugs are concerned.

The Philippines Dangerous Drugs Act may get you 12 years in the pokey for possession of as little as .17 ounce of marijuana; unofficially, police have been known to shoot suspected drug dealers in the streets without so much as a trail. It goes without saying – do not bring in any illegal drugs in your luggage!

Health & immunizations required

When visiting the Philippines, you’ll only be asked to show health certificates of vaccination against smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever if you’re coming from known infected areas. More information on Philippines-specific health issues are discussed at the CDC page on the Philippines, or at this MDTravelHealth page.

Major cities have more than adequate medical services, though the same might not be said of towns and outlying areas. Immunization against typhoid, polio, hepatitis A, and Japanese encephalitis may be wise, as well as precautions against malaria and dengue fever.

Our article about staying safe in Southeast Asia has a few tips for travelers looking to stay healthy while visiting.

Philippine Money Matters

The currency in the Philippines is the Peso (PhP), divided into 100 Centavos.

Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 25 centavos, P1, and P5, and notes in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 pesos. All commercial banks, most large hotels, and some malls are authorized to exchange foreign currency.

American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa credit cards are widely accepted across the country. Travelers’ checks (preferably American Express) are accepted at hotels and large department stores. Find out more about money in the Philippines.

Tipping. Tipping isn’t mandatory, but it’s encouraged. Restaurants that levy a service charge require no tips, but if you’re feeling generous, you can leave an extra tip for the wait staff; just leave some change behind after you pay up.

Safety in the Philippines

The Philippines has certain safety and security issues that should be of paramount concern to any traveler.

In big cities like Manila, grinding poverty makes crimes like theft a sadly commonplace occurrence. Travelers are generally safe outside of Manila, except in parts of the southern island of Mindanao where a violent Muslim rebellion threatens outsiders' safety.

A bloody drug war initiated by the President has (so far) spared tourists and major tourist destinations. The perception of rampant killing in the Philippines has, unfortunately, dampened tourism confidence.

Look at this list of scams around Southeast Asia for an overview of the pitfalls of traveling in the region at large.

Where to Next?

After arriving in the Philippines – either by its international airport NAIA or by other means (the latter to avoid the congestion of the capital Manila), take a budget airline or bus to travel to the rest of the island nation.

The top places to visit in the Philippines range from Manila's busy activity to the Banaue Rice Terraces' gorgeous hiking trails.

This two-week itinerary takes you straight to the Philippines' highlights.