Most nationalities can easily obtain a tourist visa upon arrival in the country that is good for a 30-day stay, and obtaining an extension of up to six months is relatively easy and requires presenting the proper paperwork and roughly $68 to the Bureau of Immigration. For any traveller entering the country, an outbound ticket is required at the airport. Those who wish to obtain a visa overseas may do so for $35, but the length of stay is usually two months.
Shops tend to open six days a week between 9.00am and 11.00am and close between 6.00pm and 9.00pm. Offices in both the private and public sectors are typically open from Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 5.00pm, although some corporate offices stay open later. Banking hours run Monday through Friday from 9.00am to 3.00pm, while embassies are generally open from 9.00am to around 1.00pm.
The Philippine peso (P) is the country’s currency and is divided into 100 centavos. Notes come in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000. The Philippines remains a cash-centric economy, with credit cards generally only accepted at major hotels, shops, restaurants and resorts. It is best to carry small bills when possible, as it can be difficult to find change. The current rate of exchange is about P1:$0.023.
Filipino (Tagalog) and English are the two official languages. The former is spoken and understood by most Filipinos, although countless dialects exist throughout the various regions and islands. English is also commonly used in formal and informal settings, especially in urban business environments. English has also been fused with Tagalog to form the hybrid “Taglish” and is used in everyday informal conversation.
Tipping culture in the Philippines varies according to context. While many locals proudly proclaim that they never tip, the practice is growing in popularity and small gratuities may be expected. Service charges of at least 10% can be expected in upscale restaurants and bars. For taxi drivers using a meter, it is common to simply round up to the nearest multiple of 20 pesos.
The same precautions that are taken in most tropical climates should also be followed before travelling to the Philippines. For example, vaccinations for yellow fever, typhoid fever and hepatitis are all recommended. Malaria is sometimes reported, but dengue fever is of greater concern. Outside of major urban centres, medical facilities do not meet international standards, and the tap water is not potable.
Manila is notorious for its endless traffic jams, and during peak hours travel around the city can be extremely difficult. The situation has worsened in recent years as large-scale infrastructure projects have begun construction in the middle of the metropolis. Although there are two metro lines and one rail line serving commuters, with additional expansions planned, their reach is currently geographically limited. Public transportation within Manila is dominated by the colourful passenger jeepneys. Taxis are plentiful and affordable, but it is best to insist that drivers use a meter.
Businessmen and government officials often wear the native barong tagalog, a lightweight embroidered shirt generally made from indigenous fruit fibres. Western-style suits are also widely worn.
The Philippines uses the 220-volt AC system with two flat-pin plugs so most visitors, except those from North America, will require adaptors.
Society & Etiquette
Philippine business customs are similar to those prevailing in the West. Handshakes are standard for both men and women, in formal and informal occasions, while the exchange of business cards is informal. However, if meeting with a high-ranking government official or an established businessman, it is best to present and receive the business card with both hands as a sign of respect, so that the card is readable to the recipient. One should be cognisant of academic, professional and honorary titles as they are often used in conjunction with a person’s surname. The most significant difference in conducting business is that text messaging is a completely acceptable form of carrying out formal communication in the Philippines.
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