Philippines travel guide
The other Southeast Asia, the Philippines is where Asia and Europe collide, over a sprawl of sand-circled tropical islands. Here, Catholic traditions meld with animist rituals and Islamic customs, creating a surreal melting pot that is unlike anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
You can thank the Spanish for the European influence, tangible in everything from the names of towns and barrios (neighbourhoods) to restaurant menus, where roast pork and paella are as common as noodles and seafood. Later, the Americans imposed their own vision and values – you can thank the US for the fastfood chains, the love of pop music, and the rainbow-coloured jeepneys that serve as local buses, evolved from military jeeps left behind from WWII.
With 7,107 islands, it’s hardly surprising that many of the Philippines’ most stunning attractions can be found in or around the sea. Boracay and other islands are ringed by some of the world’s most immaculate beaches and the waters offshore are a diver’s paradise, with pristine reefs, astounding tropical fish, migrating whale sharks and wrecks from WWII.
There’s much more, though. Away from the beaches are jungles, mountains, volcanoes and hidden caverns ripe for exploration. The volcanic nature of the islands is highly obvious – natural hot springs bubble up across the Philippines and the pyramid peaks of live volcanoes such as Mount Mayon call out to trekkers who don’t mind living dangerously.
It can’t been denied that the Philippines has a seedy side – the sex industry grew up to service American GIs during the Vietnam War – but it’s easy to avoid this gloomy scene and find more wholesome nightlife, where live bands perform note-perfect covers of any song you could name and even the smallest, palm-thatched village has a karaoke bar.
This isn’t a country that stages dozens of phony cultural shows for tourists, and the islands’ vividly colourful festivals (of which there are many) are predominantly aimed at locals. So it’s down to individual visitors to strike up conversations and discover a country where East meets West and traditional culture meets the modern world in a crash of colour and confetti.
300,000 sq km (115,831 sq miles).
103,339,458 (UN estimate 2017).
348 per sq km.
President Rodrigo Duterte since 2016.
President Rodrigo Duterte since 2016.
Last updated: 22 April 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to western and central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao (excluding Camiguin, Dinagat and Siargao Islands) and to the south of Cebu province, up to and including the municipalities of Dalaguete and Badian, due to the threat of terrorism.
The Philippines government has announced that Boracay Island will be temporarily closed for tourists from 26 April 2018 for up to six months for environmental rehabilitation. Foreign and local tourists will be prohibited from entering the island. Local airlines will operate on reduced schedules from 26 April and have offered refund or rebooking options. If you’ve already booked travel to Boracay, you should contact your transport operator. Residents of Boracay are permitted to remain, and will be free to leave and return during this period.
The eruptive activity of the Mayon volcano in Albay Province (Bicol region) has reduced. However, there remains a risk of sudden eruptions, lava collapses and ash fall. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) has lowered the alert to level 3, meaning that there is a decreased tendency towards a hazardous explosive eruption. An exclusion zone remains in place.
You should follow the advice of the local authorities, including the advice not to enter the designated danger zone. You should remain vigilant and follow developments on the PHIVOLCS website.
Ash plumes can affect air quality and have an impact on health. A properly fitted face mask may provide some protection. If you have any pre-existing respiratory conditions, you might be at increased risk of triggering or worsening your symptoms. Additional advice on the potential health hazards can found on the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network website.
Some local airports in and around Legazpi City have suspended operations and further disruption to flights in the region is possible. You should check with your airline before travelling.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the Philippines, including in Manila. Terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity and the intent to carry out attacks at any time and anywhere in the country, including in places visited by foreigners, like airports, shopping malls, public transport, including the metro system, and places of worship. You should remain vigilant at all times and report anything suspicious to the local authorities.
There’s been an increase in kidnapping of foreign nationals, including attacks targeting foreigners and tourists since late 2015. Terrorist groups continue to plan kidnap operations against western nationals in the Philippines. This threat extends throughout the Philippines, both on land and at sea, but is particularly acute in the southern Philippines (Mindanao, Palawan and central Visayas, including Siquijor and Dumaguete).
Around 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year. Most typhoons occur from June to December. There may be flooding and landslides. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms and follow the advice of the local authorities, including any evacuation orders.
Martial law is in place across the whole of Mindanao until 31 December 2018. There may be curfews and checkpoints. Monitor media reporting and follow the instructions of local authorities.
A ‘state of national emergency on account of lawless violence’ remains in place across the rest of the country. Expect random checkpoints, security patrols and a more visible routine security presence. You should co-operate with the Philippine authorities and allow extra time to pass through security checks. Make sure you carry a form of identification with you.
There’s a high incidence of street crime and robbery throughout the Philippines. You should take sensible precautions.
Prison sentences in the Philippines are severe. The judicial system can result in long-term detention until a court hearing takes place. Detention facilities are far below UK standards. Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind. Penalties for importing and using illegal drugs are particularly severe.
UK health authorities have classified the Philippines as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Around 154,000 British nationals visited the Philippines in 2015. Most visits are trouble-free.
Safety and security
On 2 June 2017, a gunman set fire to a casino in Pasay, Manila. 38 people were killed, including the gunman. The Philippines authorities have identified this as a criminal act.
There’s a high level of violent crime, including gun crime. Although British nationals are not normally targeted, they have been caught up in some incidents.
Criminal gangs sometimes use terrorist tactics like kidnapping. Explosions attributed to criminal organisations have caused fatalities.
There is a high incidence of street crime and robbery. You should take sensible precautions. Arrange to be met at the airport, or use a hotel transfer service or an official airport taxi where they exist. Only use taxis from a reputable company. Some taxi drivers and their accomplices have robbed and harmed passengers. Avoid displaying cash or jewellery. Beware of strangers offering drinks or confectionery. They may be spiked.
Be particularly vigilant when travelling on public transport. Armed hold-ups have occurred on ‘jeepneys’ and buses, mainly in larger cities like metro Manila and Cebu. In some cases these have resulted in fatalities.
Seek advice from local contacts and always leave travel plans with friends, colleagues or relatives. Safety standards on taxis, buses and boats can be low.
You should take particular care during the rainy season when flash floods and landslides can occur.
A list of incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety Network.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
With effect from June 2015, all Philippine airlines are allowed to operate in European airspace.
There is a high level of piracy and armed robbery against ships in and around Philippine waters.
Commercial shipping companies have been advised to adopt a heightened vigilance when navigating the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Most maritime incidents occur in the Sulu Sea in the area between Mindanao, the Sulu archipelago, Palawan and Sabah (Malaysia).
Avoid travel on ferries and passenger boats if possible. They are often overloaded, lack necessary lifesaving equipment, are not adequately maintained and have incomplete passenger manifests. Storms can develop quickly.
There are frequent accidents involving ferries and other forms of sea transport, resulting in loss of life. Two large ferries sank in 2013 causing a substantial number of casualties and injuries. Another incident in July 2015 in the Visayas led to over 60 deaths when a boat overturned in strong waves.
Maritime rescue services in the Philippines may be limited.
Keep up to date with local and international developments, and avoid demonstrations or large gatherings of people. The Philippines Bureau of Immigration have specifically warned foreign nationals against participating in public protests and political rallies. Foreign nationals who participate in these activities may be detained and deported for violating Philippine immigration laws.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the Philippines. Terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity and the intent to carry out attacks at any time and anywhere in the country, including in the capital Manila and in places visited by foreigners, such as airports, shopping malls, public transport, including the metro system and places of worship. Attacks have been carried out using improvised explosive devices and small arms.
Explosions occurred in the Quiapo area of Manila on 28 April and 6 May 2017, resulting in fatalities. The motive for these attacks remains unclear.
On 28 November 2016, an improvised explosive device was found close to the US embassy in Manila. The device was made safe by police. Explosions at a boxing match in Hilongos, Leyte (Visayas) injured over 30 people on 28 December 2016.
There are several terrorist groups operating in the Philippines that continue to pose a threat. These groups include: New People’s Army (NPA), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and other associated groups. Elements within the two main insurgent groups, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), continue to pose a security threat. A splinter group of the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), has also been responsible for attacks. Some groups have pledged allegiance to Daesh (formally referred to as ISIL) and are likely to regard westerners as legitimate targets.
Militant groups also operate in rural areas throughout the Philippines. Armed clashes between security forces and militant groups can occur at any time without warning. Previous clashes has resulted in tourists being injured. Before travelling to rural areas, you should research the area thoroughly.
Commercial shipping companies have been advised to adopt heightened vigilance when navigating the Sulu and Celebes Sea. The Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) advise all ships to re-route from the area where possible. Most maritime incidents occur in the Sulu Sea in the area between Mindanao, the Sulu archipelago, Palawan and Sabah (Malaysia). Boats travelling to and from offshore islands and dive sites are possible targets.
Civilian targets in Mindanao have been attacked and there remains a heightened threat of attacks throughout the Mindanao island group. A bomb attack on a market in Davao City killed more than a dozen people on 2 September 2016. An explosion in Aleosan, North Cotabato injured 6 people on 29 December 2016.
Terrorist groups have threatened to attack passenger ferries and other vessels, particularly those operating from Mindanao. You should avoid using public transport throughout Mindanao.
There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Kidnapping could occur anywhere. There’s been an increase in kidnapping of foreign nationals since late 2015, with a number of new cases involving terrorist groups. Some hostages, including foreign nationals, have been murdered. It’s likely that terrorist groups continue to plan kidnap operations against western nationals in the region.
This threat extends throughout the Philippines, both on land and at sea, but is particularly acute in the southern Philippines. This includes Mindanao, the Sulu archipelago, Palawan and central Visayas region, including Siquijor and Dumaguete, and extends to coastal resorts, dive sites, and offshore areas in the nearby waters of the Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea.
Foreigners have been targeted in rural, urban and coastal areas, on private boats, in marinas and resorts. The threat of kidnapping isn’t confined to terrorist strongholds, and kidnaps may be opportunistic. Kidnap groups have sought to expand their reach including by working with affiliates to abduct foreign nationals from one area of the Philippines before transporting the victims to another.
In May 2017, the Philippines authorities reported that they had received unsubstantiated but credible information that the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf may be about to conduct kidnaps in the Sulu Sea, including around the island of the Sulu archipelago (Philippines) and the seas/islands off the east coast of Sabah (Malaysia). Any vessels sailing in the area could be targeted. You should carefully consider travel plans and be especially vigilant at this time.
On 9 May 2017, the US Embassy in Manila advised its citizens it had received “credible information that terrorist groups may be planning to conduct kidnapping operations targeting foreign national in the areas of Palawan Province, Philippines, to include Puerto Princesa City, and the areas surrounding Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park”. You should carefully consider travel plans, and be especially vigilant in these areas.
On 11 and 12 April 2017, Philippine authorities clashed with heavily armed individuals in Inabanga, Bohol, resulting in fatalities. This was in response to information that a group was planning to conduct kidnappings in the area.
Commercial shipping companies have been advised to adopt heightened vigilance when navigating the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Most maritime incidents occur in the Sulu Sea in the area between Mindanao, the Sulu archipelago, Palawan and Sabah (Malaysia). The Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) advise all ships to re-route from the area where possible.
The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking.
Local laws and customs
Violating local laws may result in a jail sentence, served in a local prison. Sentences are severe. The judicial system can result in long-term detention until a court hearing takes place. Detention facilities are far below UK standards. You can find more information on the British Embassy website.
Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind. Penalties for importing and using illegal drugs are particularly severe. Possession of even small amounts of any illicit drug in the Philippines attracts mandatory jail sentences. Police and other authorities have been publicly encouraged to kill suspected drug traffickers who resist arrest.
You must be able to show some identification if requested by the police. A photocopy of the relevant pages of your passport should suffice. Leave details of your travel plans, passport and credit cards with friends and family in the UK and make sure the next of kin details in your passport are up to date.
Philippine law on paedophilia is severe, and strictly enforced. Severe penalties can be passed in child abuse or rape cases. A child is defined in Philippine law as a person under the age of 18. Entrapment may also occur where strangers with children have befriended single male tourists. Allegations of abuse are then made in an attempt to extort money.
The Philippines is generally a tolerate and progressive place for LGBT travellers, although some stigma exists outside urban centres. Current legislation does not recognise same-sex unions. Same-sex relationships are not criminalised by law in the Philippines, but overt public displays of affection may be considered a ‘grave scandal’ under the Revised Penal Code, and can result in imprisonment for up to 6 months. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Any foreign national planning to recruit Filipinos for employment overseas must carry out due diligence, comply with local legislation and be licensed. The laws relating to illegal recruitment are strict. Foreign nationals have been known to spend more than 2 years in prison on remand while their cases are processed.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You can enter the Philippines without a visa for an initial period of 30 days. You can also get a tourist visa from the Philippine Embassy before you travel, which will allow an initial 59 day stay.
You can apply to extend your stay at the offices of the Bureau of Immigration. Overstaying without the proper authority is a serious matter and can lead to detention pending payment of outstanding fees and fines and voluntary deportation at your own expense.
Living, working or studying in the Philippines
If you intend to live, work, or study in the Philippines you’ll need to have certain UK documents (eg birth certificates, marriage certificates, UK police certificates, school documents) legalised by the FCO Legalisation Office and by the Philippine Embassy in London before relocating to the Philippines. These documents are required by the local authorities when applying for long-term resident visas. Contact the Legalisation Office and the Philippine Embassy in London for more details.
As of November 2015, the Philippine Bureau of Immigration has amended its rules about passport validity. British passports no longer need to have a minimum period of 6 months validity from the date of arrival. Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Evidence of onward travel
Entry to the Philippines may be refused if you are unable to produce evidence of return or onward travel - for example an onward or return air ticket.
If you’re leaving the country from Cebu Mactan airport you must pay a departure tax of 750 pesos in local currency or the equivalent in US dollars. From 1 February, there’s no longer a departure tax at Manila airport. This information is subject to change and you should check with local authorities before you travel.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are valid for entry into the Philippines, but you’ll need to get a Philippine visa before entry. If you get an ETD from the British Embassy in Manila, you should get the necessary stamps from the Bureau of Immigration before attempting to leave the Philippines otherwise you’re likely to face problems at the point of departure.
Children travelling to the Philippines without their parents
Non-Filipino children under the age of 15, who are not travelling with a parent or joining a parent in the Philippines, must apply for a Waiver of Exclusion Ground (WEG) for entry into the Philippines. You can do this at the Philippine Embassy in London or on arrival through the Bureau of Immigration. For either application, you will need to submit the right documentation and pay a fee. For more information and details of payment, visit the Department of Foreign Affairs’ website
If a minor under the age of fifteen is travelling to visit a parent they should carry a copy of their parents’ resident visa.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
UK health authorities have classified the Philippines as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
Mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis (JE) and chikungunya virus occur all year round. There were increased levels of dengue cases in 2016. There’s a heightened risk of dengue fever during the rainy season (June to October). You should take appropriate precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
The availability of medical care varies across the Philippines, and may not meet the standards of care in the UK. Although adequate in major cities, medical care is limited in more remote areas. Even some of the more popular tourist destinations have limited and basic medical provisions. This may result in a delay when seeking urgent medical attention in an emergency. Private hospital treatment can be too expensive for many people, eg the daily cost in intensive care units can be more than £1,000 per day. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Around 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year. Most typhoons occur from June to November. There may be flooding and landslides.
You should monitor the progress of approaching storms on the websites of the Philippines state weather agency, the Philippines Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and typhoon.com, or follow @Typhoon2k on Twitter.
See our tropical cyclones page for advice about what to do if you’re caught up in a storm.
The Philippines is in an earthquake zone. There were around 30 earthquakes between May 2016 and May 2017. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency. You can find more information about earthquakes on the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) website.
There are numerous volcanoes in the Philippines, any of which can erupt without warning. Sudden steam and ash explosions may occur at any time. Mt Kanlaon, Negros Island erupted in December 2015. Check news reports and follow local advice before travelling to volcanic areas. Avoid volcanic areas during and immediately after heavy rainfall when there’s increased risk of lava flows. You can find more information about volcanoes on the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) website.
The capacity of the Philippine emergency and rescue services to deal with large natural disasters is limited.
Some ATMs accept international credit and debit cards. Shops in towns and cities usually accept international credit cards. Banks and foreign exchange outlets rarely accept travellers’ cheques. Cash in sterling or US dollars can be exchanged for Philippine pesos at the airport, in banks, hotels and some shops. Scottish and Northern Ireland bank notes aren’t generally accepted. Buying foreign currency in the Philippines can be difficult.
You may only bring up to PHP50,000.00 into the Philippines without prior authorisation from the Philippines Central Bank. If you plan to bring more than PHP50,000.00 into the country, you’ll need to obtain written authorisation from the Philippines Central Bank.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.