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 Bongbong Marcos since 2022.
President Bongbong Marcos since 2022.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.
Areas where FCDO advises against travel
Your travel insurance could be invalidated if you travel against FCDO advice.
Western and central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago
FCDO advises against all travel to western and central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.
Northern and eastern Mindanao
FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao, excluding Camiguin, Dinagat and Siargao Islands, due to the threat of terrorism.
Find out more about why FCDO advises against travel.
Before you travel
No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes:
- advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
- information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers
If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.
This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in the Philippines set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Embassy of the Philippines in the UK.
To enter the Philippines as a visitor, you must have a ticket for your departure. Most airlines will not carry you if you cannot produce your departure ticket.
You must also register with the ‘e-travel’ system 72 hours or less prior to your arrival.
There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering the Philippines.
Passport validity requirements
Your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the date you arrive.
Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.
You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.
UK passport holders do not need a visa to visit the Philippines for 30 days.
If you overstay your visa-free 30 days without getting an extension, or if you overstay any visa without authority, it is a serious matter. You could face fees and fines, and detention if you cannot pay them, or you could be deported at your own expense.
If you want a visa to live, work, or study in the Philippines, you’ll need to meet the requirements of the Philippine immigration regulations. This includes having certain UK documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates, UK police certificates, school documents) legalised by the Legalisation Office (not by the Philippine Embassy in London).
Children travelling without their parents
If your non-Filipino children aged 14 or under are travelling without either parent, you must apply for a waiver of exclusion ground for entry into the Philippines.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Philippines guide.
Depending on your circumstances this may include:
- a yellow fever vaccination certificate
- a polio vaccination certificate
There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of the Philippines. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.
Taking money into the Philippines
You cannot bring in more than 50,000 Philippine pesos. If you are bringing in foreign currency (cash or cheques) worth more than 10,000 US dollars, you must complete a foreign currency declaration form on arrival.
If you have stayed in the Philippines for 6 months or more on a tourist visa, you must get an emigration clearance certificate (ECC) during the 72 hours before you leave the country.
If you were in the Philippines on a visa issued by the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Board of Investments (BoI), the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) or the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), you will need a travel pass from the department that issued your visa to leave the Philippines. If you have an ECC, you do not need a travel pass.
If you’re leaving the country from Cebu Mactan airport you must pay a departure tax of 850 Philippine pesos in local currency or the equivalent in US dollars. There’s no longer a departure tax at Manila airport. This information can change and you should check with local authorities before you travel.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.
Terrorism in the Philippines
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the Philippines.
FCDO advises against all travel to western and central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups. FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao (excluding Camiguin, Dinagat and Siargao Islands) due to the threat of terrorism.
There are multiple terrorist and militant groups operating in the Philippines, including the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Islamic State Philippines (IS-Philippines), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and other associated groups.
Terrorist attacks occur frequently in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago in particular. While these attacks primarily target Filipino security forces, certain groups operating in these regions have pledged allegiance to Daesh and may consider Westerners legitimate targets for an attack.
Previous clashes have resulted in bystanders being injured.
Multiple terrorist groups have the intent to carry out attacks anywhere in the Philippines, including in the capital Manila and in places visited by foreigners, such as:
- shopping malls
- entertainment establishments
- public transport, including airports and the metro system
- places of worship
Previous significant incidents include:
- in August 2020, dual explosions in Jolo, Sulu resulting in a number of deaths and injuries
- in 2019, a dual suicide attack on a military base in Indanan in Sulu Province killed 3 civilians and 3 military personnel as well as the 2 attackers. A further 22 people were injured
- in 2019, 27 people were killed and many more injured as a result of bomb attacks at a Roman Catholic cathedral on Jolo Island in Sulu Province
There is a threat of kidnap by terrorist groups operating in the Philippines, including the targeting of foreign nationals in rural, urban and coastal areas.
Kidnap for ransom operations continue to represent a potential source of revenue for both criminal and terrorist groups operating in the southern Philippines, specifically on Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago.
The primary threat in the Philippines has historically been posed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), who kidnapped a number of Westerners over the 2010s, including British nationals as recently as 2019. ASG has, in more recent years, targeted local fishermen in kidnap operations, but may still consider Westerners desirable targets.
British nationals are seen as legitimate targets, including tourists, humanitarian aid workers, journalists and business travellers. If you are kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to protect you or secure your safe release.
The long-standing policy of the British government policy is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners builds the capability of terrorist groups and finances their activities. This can, in turn, increase the risk of further hostage-taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) makes payments to terrorists illegal.
The Philippines Bureau of Immigration has warned foreign nationals against participating in public protests and political rallies. If you participate, you may be detained and deported. Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings of people.
There are high levels of street crime and robbery, sometimes involving weapons and firearms.
Be vigilant when travelling on public transport and avoid displaying cash or jewellery. Armed hold-ups on ‘jeepneys’ and buses can happen, particularly in Manila and other large cities. In some cases these have resulted in fatalities.
If you’re travelling by taxi, including to or from the airport, only use taxis from a reputable company. Some taxi drivers and their accomplices have robbed and harmed passengers. Consider arranging to be met at the airport or using a hotel transfer service.
Laws and cultural differences
You must be able to show some identification if requested by the police. If you want to keep your passport in a safe place, such as in a hotel safe, you should carry a photocopy of the photo page containing your personal details.
Violating local laws may result in a jail sentence, served in a local prison. Sentences are severe. The judicial system allows long-term detention until a court hearing takes place. Foreign nationals have been known to spend several years in prison on remand while their cases are processed. The detention facilities and prison conditions are far below UK standards.
Drugs and prison sentences
Do not become involved with drugs of any kind. Penalties for importing and using illegal drugs are particularly severe. A conviction for possession of even a small amount of any illicit drug in the Philippines means a mandatory jail sentence. Police and other authorities have been publicly encouraged to kill suspected drug traffickers who resist arrest.
Laws on child abuse and rape
Child abuse and rape are punished with extremely long prison sentences. Be cautious about strangers offering friendship. There have been cases where women, single or sometimes with children, have befriended single male tourists and then threatened to report rape or abuse in an apparent attempt to extort money. A child is defined in Philippine law as a person aged 17 and under.
The Philippines is generally a tolerant and progressive place for LGBT+ travellers, although some stigma exists outside urban centres. Current legislation does not recognise same-sex marriage. Same-sex relationships are not illegal in the Philippines, but overt public displays of affection may be considered a ‘grave scandal’ under the Revised Penal Code , and you could get a fine or a 6-month jail sentence.
Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.
Recruiting Filipinos for employment
If you’re planning to recruit Filipinos for employment in the UK or elsewhere, you must be licensed by the relevant government authority. The laws relating to illegal recruitment are strict.
Independent travel and adventure tourism
If you’re planning to travel within the Philippines, away from the main resort areas and tourist spots, contact the authorities in the local area as part of your preparation.
Always leave travel plans, passport details and credit cards with friends, colleagues or relatives. Carry identification such as a driving licence or passport copy at all times, and make sure the emergency contact details in your passport are up to date.
Swimming and surfing beaches are unlikely to have lifeguards or warning signs, so get advice from your hotel or local residents before starting any activities. The seas can be extremely dangerous and British nationals are regularly in trouble in the water, or even drown.
Diving school standards are not always as high as in the UK. You should:
- check a dive operator’s credentials
- make sure you’re covered by insurance
- make sure safety equipment is available on the boat, particularly oxygen
- ask about safety precautions, including the ability to transfer divers to a hyperbaric chamber
If you have not had any previous diving experience:
- ask your dive instructor to explain what cover they offer before signing up
- check what to do if something goes wrong, including how to call for help while at sea
You can drive in the Philippines on a UK driving licence for up to 90 days. If you’re planning to hire a car, check their requirements before you travel. If you’re staying longer than 90 days, you should apply for a Philippine driving licence.
Accidents happen frequently, mainly due to poor road conditions, dangerous driving and non-enforcement of traffic laws. Observe the speed limit and be cautious around motorbikes and scooters. Avoid driving at night or during dangerous weather conditions if possible. Make sure you have adequate insurance.
Safety standards on taxis and buses can be low.
When travelling by private car, taxi or any shared transport, you can expect a routine security presence with random checkpoints along the roads. Always co-operate with officials and allow extra time to pass through security checks.
There is a high level of piracy and armed robbery against ships in and around the Sulu and Celebes seas. Boats travelling to and from offshore islands and dive sites are also possible targets.
The ferry and passenger boat network has a poor record of maritime safety. Boats sometimes lack lifesaving equipment, and maritime rescue services may be limited. You should be cautious when using ferries and avoid overcrowded boats. Accidents are more frequent during the rainy season between June and December when storms can develop quickly.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
See extreme weather and natural hazards for information about how to prepare, and how to react if there is a warning.
Around 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year. Most typhoons occur from June to November. Follow the advice of local authorities, and monitor the progress of storms on the Philippines state weather agency, the Philippines Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and typhoon.com, or follow @Typhoon2k on Twitter.
Earthquakes are a risk in the Philippines. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake. You can find more information 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 happen at any time.
On 8 June 2023, the Philippine authorities raised the alert level of Mayon Volcano from level 2 (increasing unrest) to level 3 (increased tendency towards a hazardous eruption).
Check news reports and follow local advice before travelling to any areas around volcanoes. 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.
Entry into Taal Volcano Island and Taal’s Permanent Danger Zone is prohibited. You should follow updates on the PhiVolcs official website.
Ash plumes can affect air quality and have an impact on health. If you have any pre-existing respiratory conditions, you might be at increased risk of triggering or worsening your symptoms. A properly fitted face mask may provide some protection.
The Philippine emergency and rescue services have a limited capacity to deal with large natural disasters.
Before you travel check that:
- your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
- you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Emergency medical number
Call 911 and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip check the latest information on vaccinations and health risks in TravelHealthPro’s Philippines guide. Risks include:
- tick-borne encephalitis
- zika virus
Find out where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page.
Mosquito-borne diseases are a risk all year round. However, there’s a heightened risk of dengue during the rainy season (June to October). You should take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
Healthcare facilities in the Philippines
The availability of medical care varies across the Philippines and may not meet the standards of care in the UK, particularly in rural and remote areas. Many places, including some tourist destinations, do not have easy access to emergency medical care.
Private hospital treatment and medical transport is expensive – the daily cost in intensive care units can be more than £1,000. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment, including repatriation.
Travel and mental health
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.
Emergency services in the Philippines
Telephone: 911 (ambulance, fire, police)
Contact your travel provider and insurer
Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.
Refunds and changes to travel
For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.
Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:
- where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
- how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim
Support from FCDO
FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:
- finding English-speaking lawyers, funeral directors and translators and interpreters in the Philippines
- dealing with a death in the Philippines
- being arrested or imprisoned in the Philippines
- getting help if you’re a victim of crime
- what to do if you’re in hospital
- if you’re affected by a crisis, such as a terrorist attack
You can also contact FCDO online.
Help abroad in an emergency
If you’re in the Philippines and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Manila.
FCDO in London
You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.
Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)
Risk information for British companies
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.