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 fairly informal. However, if meeting with a high-ranking government official or high level business executive, it is recommended to present and receive the business card with both hands so the card is readable to the recipient as a sign of respect. One should be cognisant of academic, professional and honorary titles as they are used frequently in conjunction with a person’s surname. The most significant variant in conducting business is that text messaging is a completely acceptable form of carrying out formal communication.


It is common to find Filipino businessmen and government officials wearing the native barong tagalog, a lightweight embroidered shirt generally constructed from indigenous fruit fibres. Western-style suits are also widely worn.


Tagalog and English are the two official languages of the country, the former spoken and understood by most Filipinos, though countless dialects exist throughout the various regions and islands. The country exhibits 168 living languages that are spoken throughout the archipelago, though normally by much smaller groups. Use of English is also widespread 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. Although the country was under Spanish rule for nearly four centuries, very few Spanish-speakers remain, with the exception of Chavacano, the only Spanish-based creole language in Asia.


The Philippine peso is the currency and is divided into 100 centavos. Notes are found in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000. The Philippines is still a cash-centric economy, and credit cards are generally only accepted at major hotels, shops, restaurants and resorts. It is best to carry small bills.


Most nationalities can easily obtain a tourist visa upon arrival in the country that is good for a 30-day stay, and obtaining extensions for between one and 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.

Business Hours

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 Philippines uses the 220-V AC system with two flat-pin plugs, so most visitors, except those from North America, will require adaptors.


The tipping culture in the Philippines depends upon the situation and the individual. 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 most upscale restaurants and bars. For taxi drivers using the 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. Although instances are rare, vaccinations for yellow fever, dengue, typhoid fever and hepatitis are all recommended.


Manila is infamous for its endless traffic jams, and during peak hours travel around the city can be difficult. Although there are two metro lines and one rail line serving commuters, with additional expansions planned, their reach is limited. Taxis are plentiful and affordable, but it is best to insist on using the meter.