Things You Must Know Before Going To The Philippines

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As I travel the world one step at a time, I carry with me this certain pride of being from the Philippines. I always introduce my country, its people, beautiful scenery and culture to anyone who is interested to listen. May it be from my adventurous tales, captivating photos, interesting anecdotes, or simply their insatiable wanderlust, many have already answered my call to try and explore this beautiful archipelago in Southeast Asia. Others have promised to include the Philippines as one of their future travel destinations. As I keep on promoting my country and receiving mostly positive remarks about their stay in the Philippines, I thought of writing a friendly primer for those visiting the Philippines soon. Without further ado, here are the Things You Must Know Before Going to the Philippines.

Basic Facts

  • The Republic of the Philippines is located in Southeast Asia with Taiwan in the north, Vietnam in the west, Indonesia in the south, and the Pacific Ocean in the east.
  • The short code for the Philippines is PH and not PI.
  • Citizens of the Philippines are called Filipinos and not Philippinos.
  • Our official languages are Filipino and English, but we have around 180 languages around the country. Communication is easy since most Filipinos can understand English here.
  • Filipinos are predominantly a Christian Catholic country and religion still holds some influence in the lives of Filipinos politically, socially, and culturally despite the separation of government and state written in the Constitution. Islam and other religions are practiced and tolerated as well.
  • Because of religious influences, divorce and abortion are still illegal in the Philippines. Only in 2014 was the Reproductive Health Law, which states free access to contraceptives for all Filipino citizens was passed after a fierce vocal opposition of the Church.
  • Income inequality is real and you can definitely see this both in urban and rural areas. Poverty incidence among Filipinos reached 21.6% in 2015 while unemployment rate is at 4.7% in 2016.
  • The Philippines has a population of more than 103 million and ranked in the top 20 most populated countries in the world.
  • Filipinos are happy, friendly, hospitable, positive and resilient people. We try to make the best out of things and look for silver lining in any disaster. Expect to see and be greeted with smiles wherever you go.

READ: Country Spotlight: The Philippines

On being a foreigner

  • Foreigners are mostly treated as royalty in the Philippines. If you are visiting my country, expect to receive prime service. We are naturally friendly, but people tend to go the extra mile when dealing with foreigners.
  • You can become an instant celebrity, especially in rural areas, as people flock to you, ogle, take pictures, or practice their English.
  • It is normal to receive invitations from Filipinos to visit their homes and introduce their entire clan to you.
  • If you are a white guy, you might hear people calling you “Joe” in a friendly way even if you might not be an American.
  • “White tax” and other tourist scams also exist like anywhere else in the world.
  • You won’t have any problem getting directions and other signs as most, if not all, are written in English.
  • Main tourist trails include trips to Palawan, Boracay, Cebu, and Bohol although I assure you we have way more places to offer than these.

READ: Ultimate Guide to Cebu, Philippines

READ: Day Trip to Bohol: Itinerary and Expenses

READ: Ultimate Guide to White Water Rafting in Cagayan de Oro

Pop culture

  • Another thing you must know before going to the Philippines is that Filipinos love taking photos. Recently, we are known as the Selfie Capital of the World, so don’t be surprised to see selfie-sticks-wielding locals around. It’s pretty normal!
  • Aside from selfies, Filipinos are also on most social media networks. Expect to be requested to be friends on Facebook even just after the first meeting.
  • Our service staff is awesome, friendly, and attentive. Since labor cost here is cheap, we even have people employed to open doors in buildings, restaurants and banks, and to operate elevator doors.
  • For language, we can definitely make a conversation out of one syllable – “ba”. Example: Bababa ba? Bababa. The first one is a question – “Will it go down?” Usually referring to the elevator. The second is an answer, “Yes, it will go down.”
  • The Philippines is gay friendly! We do our best to tolerate all genders and you can see this in many forms.

Food

  • Filipinos totally love to eat. Many fill their stomachs 3-5 times per day. This is normal.
  • Rice is huge here and many even start their day with it. Try different varieties of “silog” or “sinangag-itlog” (fried rice and egg) when you order breakfast.
  • Popular recommended food to try are sinigang, adobo, kare-kare, and sisig. For desserts, try halo-halo, leche flan, and ube halaya. No need for descriptions, just try them!
  • Don’t find it too strange to be served with a glass full of ice whenever you order beer. Being in the tropics where things can turn warm easily, as well as some establishments cannot serve ice-cold beer, Filipinos are used to taking their beer with ice.
  • Local beers are San Miguel and Red Horse while Emperador is the most common one for rum. All in roughly $1 each.
  • We normally eat with forks and spoons. Sometimes, we also eat with our bare hands and you must try it!
  • When you meet some locals, expect to be invited/dared/forced to eat street food like balut (unborn duckling embryo), isaw (grilled chicken and pork intestines), Betamax (grilled coagulated pig’s blood) and salted egg.
  • One of the perks of being in a tropical country is having a wide variety of fruits and all its products – think of fresh juice or shake everyday!
  • Philippines is the coconut and mango heaven. Enjoy tasty and affordable coconut juice and mango shake almost everywhere.
  • Jollibee is a huge local burger chain most loved by Filipinos. Try it at least once!

Transportation

  • The most popular mode of public transportation in the Philippines is the jeepney. These are those colorful decorated vehicles inspired by the then US military jeeps during WWII. They are not air-conditioned. Words to know are “Bayad po” which you say when you pass your fare to the next person until it reaches the driver, and “Para po” which means to stop. If you are taller than most Filipinos, expect to have little to no headspace when riding a jeepney.

  • When traveling in northern Philippines like Banaue and Sagada, try toploading. Instead of sitting inside the jeepney, climb on the roof of the vehicle and sit there while you drive around beautiful cliffs and mountain ranges. Sightseeing + fresh air + instant tan = perfect!
  • Another common mode of public transport is the tricycle. This is a motorcycle with an attached car for passengers. Like jeepneys, they are colorfully designed complete with lights and music speakers sometimes. Also, like jeepneys, expect to have less head and leg space.

  • There are also city and provincial buses running. The capital has three metro lines (MRT, LRT 1, and LRT 2) and one train line (PNR).
  • Taxis are everywhere, but make sure that the driver turns the meter when you get in. Another tip is to make your driver repeat your destination so you won’t be surprised if he would take you somewhere else he thought you said.
  • Ride sharing is also widely used, especially in Manila. Using apps like Uber and Grab is quite common. I highly recommend using these apps especially when you have communication problems telling drivers where to go.
  • In the capital Manila, the traffic congestion is real. Allotting time to consider traffic can be learned through experience.

Safety and Security

  • In the Philippines, especially in Manila, you will see “tight” security everywhere. Whether you are entering one of Manila’s shopping malls, train stations, hotels, banks, and even fast food chains, expect to see security guards in every entrances and exits. Frisking and checking of bags are quite common so expect this (and a queue) whenever you enter most establishments.
  • Unlike the exaggerated picture media portrays sometimes, most part of Mindanao (southern Philippines) is safe. Of course, be aware of the local news and travel bans from your country, so you know when and if it is possible to travel there.
  • Follow the traffic lights especially when crossing the street. Some drivers here will not stop in front of pedestrians to let them pass, so be careful.
  • Like anywhere else in the world, just be street smart. Don’t wear flashy things and just bring enough cash in your pocket whenever you go out.

People

  • We like the cold! Many Filipinos use air conditioner and electric fan everywhere, especially in their households. Tip: Bring a jacket when you are taking bus rides as temperature can really go low inside here. Consider yourself warned.
  • Family is very important for Filipinos. It is not so common to see Filipinos only with their nuclear family; extended families are always part of gatherings and celebrations. For instance, Christmas celebration must always be with family.
  • Filipinos normally refer to toilets as CR or Comfort Room. When going to public toilets, bring your own paper. More often than not, there will be nothing provided for you to use. Also, Filipinos do not throw and flush tissue and other hygienic products in the toilet.
  • We celebrate many festivals in the Philippines. Among the most famous ones are Sinulog, Panagbenga, Masskara, Dinagyang, etc.

  • Filipinos love singing and karaoke is a favorite past time by most, if not all. When you get invited by your Filipino friends to try this part of our culture, be confident and own that microphone as you belt out your favorite song. You don’t have to have a good singing voice, just pure confidence.
  • Commerce is big here and you can see giant shopping malls almost everywhere. Because it is too hot outside, Filipinos spend their leisure time inside air-conditioned malls where they can shop, dine, watch films, among others.
  • Speaking of which, we have many 24/7 shops and restaurants here. Some banks are even open on weekends. Very unlike those in Europe, for instance.

READ: Things You Must Know Before Going to Germany

READ: Things You Must Know Before Going to Vienna

  • Many Filipinos are crazy about whitening. From soap to lotion to makeup, many cosmetic products target Filipinos who like to have fair skin. It is even interesting to see sunscreen protection with whitening formula in here.
  • Many Filipinos would prefer to wear rash guard and shorts than bikinis when they go for swimming. Mostly it is because many are still conservative or simply do not want to be darker when exposed to sun.
  • Speaking of swimming, even though the country is an archipelago surrounded by different and numerous bodies of water, a lot of people do not know how to swim here.
  • Still on the same topic, it is common to see many Filipinos just hitting the beach early in the morning or when the sun is soon to set. This is to avoid the harmful rays of the sun and also to protect the skin from getting darker.
  • For sim cards, get those free offers in the airport. In Manila and nearby areas, I recommend to use Globe. If you will be going to the countryside, Smart seems to be stronger there.
  • Basketball is big here. Whether in the capital or countryside, you will see many basketball courts everywhere.
  • Christmas is the longest holiday in this Catholic country. Expect to hear Christmas songs and see Yuletide decorations in many establishments starting 1 September – NO KIDDING!
  • If you are already awed that the Philippine archipelago has 7, 107 islands, you are in a surprise! Just recently, the country officially announced the total islands to be 7, 641. Imagine those additional 534 islands to explore!

WhereMonicaGoes, travel blogger, filipino travel, budget travel, backpacking, visa guide, travel

The official tagline of Philippine tourism is “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” Come here and experience it yourself. With more than 7,000 beautiful and unique islands filled with magnificent sceneries of mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers to captivate you; white sandy beaches, pristine and turquoise waters teeming with rich marine biodiversity to fascinate you; distinct and rich heritage, history and culture to entice you; and positive, friendly, warm, and welcoming people to charm you, you will surely have the time of your life in the Philippines.

As I have mentioned in the beginning, I originally wanted this article to be an introductory guide for first-timers visiting the Philippines. Most, if not all, points stated here are my observations and that of my foreign friends’ who have traveled and lived in the Philippines.

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Have you ever traveled to the Philippines? Are you a Filipino? If you feel the need to correct or add more items in this list which you think non-Filipinos should know about, kindly write a comment below or contact me. Let’s grow this list and continue promoting my beautiful country – the Philippines.

Where Monica Goes Travel Blog’s First Anniversary Giveaway

To thank you for continuously supporting Where Monica Goes blog and social media accounts, I am giving away four tour passes to Aquaria Waterpark in Calatagan, Batangas to celebrate my website’s first anniversary. Two lucky winners will have two weekday passes each to be used before 30 April to kick off the start of summer in the Philippines.

To join, simply follow honestly the tasks in the rafflecopter widget below. All entries will be verified before the announcement of winners on 2 April 2017. So whether you are locally from the Philippines or will be traveling to the country in April, take this chance to visit one destination in Batangas!

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Good luck!

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35 Comments

  1. Great overview, thank you! I really want to travel the Philippines one day it sounds like an amazing country!

  2. An excellent guide not only for first-time visitors but for those who want to visit the Philippines again. There was a joke of late that Filipinas will be banned from joining international beauty pageants because of their successes in recent years. I have heard from foreigners time and again that Filipinos are the most hospitable and resilient people in the planet. Hope it’s okay with you if I share this post in my fb travel page.

  3. Thanks for the information about province in the Philippines. I like travel to. Your travel picture is nice and perfect. Thanks for the Giveaway, Hope to win for my family bonding for this summer 2017

  4. If you live out of a suitcase, Monica’s blog is quite a big help. Posts are always informative. Congrats on your first anniversary! Love from the 7,641 islands of the Philippines! <3

  5. This post shows the beauty of the Philippines. Hope to read more blogs showing other countries too (and tips on how to go there 😋) love love

  6. What a great article! You’ve really made the Philippines sound like an amazing place to visit. The tips you’ve included certainly paint a beautiful and welcoming place! I’m planning a trip to SE Asia for this summer, so will pin this for when I start actually planning!

  7. I love what a colorful country the Philippines is and it’s interesting to read about different facts before choosing to spend a vacation there. I know the islands are so beautiful and I would really love to visit soon. The fact that foreigners are treated like royalty reminds me of places like rural China and India, where people haven’t seen tourists before and where everyone was staring and taking photos with me.

  8. I never been to Philippines . I heard a lot about their friendly nature and also the extensive Christmas Celebration. I loved the colourful jeepney. This a comprehensive guide for everyone. You have segregated every aspect really well. I loved the fact that they are Selfie obsessed people. There are many inspiring things to learn from them. Great Post.

  9. I’ve never been to the Philippines so this is a super helpful list! Not super when I’ll be able to go, but at least i have a better idea of what to expect now. I definitely want to check out a festival or two if I can.

  10. It is such a awesome article. I am planing to visit Philippines this year and this is going to help me out. I really appreciate how minutely you have tried to cover those words which will be a real help to tourist. I will love to take a ride on tricycle as well as jeepney. They are so colorful as well as looks cool. Bookmarking this for my future reference.

  11. This is such an elaborated and useful post for people visiting Philippines. We didnt know that the country has more than 180 languages. Jeep looks fantastic.

  12. A great article with so much information and insider tips on Philippines. I am yet to visit here and when I do I will need to refer back to this post. Came to know a lot of interesting facts about the place including the actual number of islands, that christmas is celebrated here with so much zeal, that the people here are so enthusiastic about guests and so on…really feeling like visiting here immediately

  13. Thank you for a very comprehensive and informative post. I wish we would stop our obsession with whitening. It’s embarrassing that we are disdainful of our natural skin color.

  14. Great advice on the Philippines. A friend of ours is from there and she is very proud as well. From the stories she tells I would never think that the Philippines would be an unsafe place to visit. Like you mentioned, like anywhere else don’t be flashy. The Philippines looks and sounds like a lovely place to visit and we can’t wait to tick it off our bucket list.

  15. Philippines is really a great country so I encouraged every one to travel the whole 7107 beautiful islands. Im from Philippines and I’m planning to explore more of it too

  16. Love your Article about the beauty , culture , nature of Our Country .
    Cant wait to have lots adventures , exploring , moments to treasure .
    God Bless Our country Philippines .

  17. I am very proud of my country and we should all be thankful to all the beautiful places we had.

  18. Great, just great and useful article, I have many times in Asia but unfortunately never in Philippines. I know in the future i will made it. I really believe is more fun in the Philippines, I have a lot of friends traveling there and they just tell me all the time awesome stuff, about the wild landscape in some islands, the beaches, clean water, beautiful people and delicious food. Really?? The Christmas begin at September first?? ahah, here in Portugal some people begin decorate in November and I said it is too much, at my home we always do from December 8 to January 6. To be honest I also thought you guys were Philippines… Filipinos looks a portuguese word, we have a delicious biscuits with this name 😀

  19. Wow I love everything about this post.. And yes we are the selfie capital LOL filipinos loves taking photos haha.. This is a very informative post specially for those who plans to visit and doesn’t have any idea on what they need or where to go if their here.. I enjoyed reading this and it made me laugh at some point… Time to check out some of your other post at other countries.. But the country I dream to visit someday is Korea. have you been there?

  20. I love every bit of this review lalo na sa part na you should bring a jacket when riding a bus and that we Filipinos fill our stomachs 3-5x?? all I can say is EVEN MORE… very meehh

  21. This is a very comprehensive review of my country. Loving every bit of it. This is a truly great help for those who are planning to roam around the country. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    1. Thanks you find it interesting. I am originally from the Philippines, too! Where are you based?

  22. Such a great post, full of tips and tricks! Liked the details on bringing a jacket when you are taking bus rides (who knew that Filipinos liked the cold so much!) and your own paper when going to public toilets ( super useful tip). Also, never knew that Philippines was Selfie Capital of the World! 😄Thanks for introducing so many new things about your country!

  23. Omg! So manny interesting and useful tips in one post. It strikes me to see that in some extent the Philippines and Romania are similar, even though we are located in such different places and parts of the world. The attitude towards foreigners, Christmas celebrations (and i though here it’s crazy with carols starting in shopping malls aat around November). Is tipping something normal and expected? (In restaurants, hotels, services)

  24. This is such an informative post, I’m impressed! I’d never have guessed that the toilet is referred to as CR and I didn’t know that divorce wasn’t legal. I’d love to have a ride in a jeepney and to visit your country

  25. Wow, Philippines was on my bucket list and after reading this I want to go there even more! I feel like I could spend a month there and enjoy the place and culture! I must admit I’m tempted by the weather and beaches as well

  26. Thanks for passing a story from your home. I’ve got alot of history in Vietnam, and penciled in a visit but never took the plunge. Pat downs at the Shopping Centres, Train Stations ect would freak out my other half. A great inside to the culture in the Philippines. Love how you pretty much summed up everything.

  27. I wish I saw this before I went to the Philippines! I used to get so confused with Filipinos or Philippines lol! And you are so right, Filipinos love their food and love their rice! I was in Manila and then spent a few days in Boracay. Really wish I could go back soon, they are truly one of the friendliest people on earth.

  28. Always wanted to vsit Phlippines. Thanks a lot for a guide like this that can help me get started. Those colourful transports remind me of India. I think a trip should be timed with one of those festivals you mentoned.

  29. Philippines is really a perfect spot lalo na this coming Summer! Nghahanap sila ng extreme activities and very wonderful places and Islands? NANDITO LAHAT SA PHILIPPINES! Siyempre they should never forgot to try out our foods! Really a must and worth trying naman tlga!! Yum YUM!!!

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