Philippines: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting

June 29, 2023laurenslighthouse

Last updated on September 13th, 2023

You’ve probably seen the crystal-clear turquoise waters, limestone islands, palm tree lined pristine beaches and lush waterfalls of the Philippines grace your screen every now and then. And it’s giving you the itch to see it for yourself! More and more people from around the globe are now flocking to this Southeast Asian gem. But you want to make your way over to the Philippines before it gets too hyped and over touristy!

Much of the Philippines still remains underdeveloped and the perfect spot for explorers who want to venture off the beaten path. With about 7,640 islands making up the archipelago, there’s still so much untouched paradise in this country that is still undisturbed by over-tourism. However, with less travel popularity comes more unknowns for visitors, and we’ve definitely gotten the short end of the stick a few times. But we don’t want you making the same mistakes as us, which is why we’ve put together our top 10 most important things you need to know before visiting the Philippines!

Before you embark on an unforgettable adventure to this Southeast Asian gem, read up on our key tips to best navigate travelling in the Filipino islands! And with these essential nuggets of knowledge, you’ll be ready to explore the wonders of this archipelago with ease. So, grab your sunnies and get ready to uncover the secrets of the Philippines!

1. Best Time & Weather to Visit the Philippines

Before you start booking that flight and those accommodations, consider the seasons you might experience in the Philippines. The tropical climate undergoes seasons that aren’t as well known to those of us who come from, well, not the tropics. The Southeast Asian archipelago undergoes two distinct seasons: a dry season from December to May, and a wet season from June to November.

But it’s not always a clean divide between the two seasons. When we visited in late January, we experienced torrential rains and storms in the open seas that caused delays and cancellations for water excursions. We even had a flight cancel on us with no alternatives for days to reach an island on our itinerary that was experiencing horrible weather! We had to quickly think of where to go for the next five days on the spot when this happened. T’is one of many unfortunate results of climate change and the seasons are starting to blend together.

In spite of these weather anomalies, your best bet for better conditions is to go during the dry season, while also aiming for the peak of that dry season. That means February and March will be your most promising months! But of course, as I mentioned, there’s never a guarantee that it will always be sun and no rain during that time. Be prepared for things to not always work out so you can manage your expectations!

2. Visa Requirements for the Philippines

You’re probably looking for answers as to whether you need a visa to enter the Philippines. The great news is passport holders of 158 countries can enter the country visa-free! The majority of these citizens who can arrive in the Philippines with a visa exemption can stay for up to 30 days. That includes Canadians and Americans! Brazilian and Israeli passport holders can stay for up to 59 days before needing a visa!

For most of the remaining countries – including China, India, Iran and 36 others – passport holders are eligible for a visa on arrival. It’s safe to say that it’s made incredibly easy for most of the world to visit the Philippines! And if you want to stay longer, there’s a simple process for applying for or extending your visa. Read up on the link I added above or refer to this one here on all the deets for visa applications or extensions!

But hold up… Remember this very important note: you’ll need proof of an onward ticket departing the country before you board your flight to the Philippines. Why? Some reasons that make sense for the nation, and other reasons that simply don’t. It’s confusing if you’re trying to keep your departure date flexible, especially knowing that you can apply for or extend a visa. So if you plan on staying longer than the allotted visa-free duration, be sure to get your visa application in order. Either that or purchase a cheap outbound flight ticket set for before your visa-exemption expires with the potential of foregoing that cost.

And of course, make sure you always check that your passport has more than 6 months before the expiry date upon entering the Philippines.

3. Health Requirements for the Philippines

COVID-19 Restrictions

With COVID-19 phasing out of the picture and most borders now open for international travel, Philippines has also followed suit and there is no longer a need to get tested if you’re fully vaccinated. Butttt, if you’re not fully vaccinated, you’ll still need to show proof of a negative lab-based antigen test result within the last 24 hours prior to boarding at your port of origin. Or alternatively, you could get tested in the Philippines upon arrival at the airport. But a positive test result will lead to a mandatory quarantine.

If you’re not fully vaccinated, our recommendation is to get tested prior to your departure flight. Give yourself the peace of mind and it’s likely cheaper doing it at a pharmacy than at an airport! Plus, you’ll likely want to make your way straight to your accommodations after a long flight. If you’re fully vaccinated, remember to bring your proof of vaccination to present upon boarding your flight.

Everyone, whether vaxxed and unvaxxed, will need to fill out a health registration form through the Philippines’ eTravel portal. It’s a super user-friendly site and takes only a few minutes to complete!

Other Health Precautions – Vaccines & Medication

When visiting a foreign country, it’s always a good idea to visit your local travel clinic to ensure you’re up-to-date with your routine vaccines. You can also look into getting any new shots or medications specific to your travel destination. When you do a consultation and tell them where you plan to visit in your destination, they’ll let you know what diseases you could be at high risk of getting in the area.

Before we left for the Philippines, we got a new round of HepA+HepB shots as well as Typhoid. We also packed some prescribed antibacterial pills in case of food-related issues. Although we didn’t use them in the Philippines, they came very much in handy at a different time in Southeast Asia!

Rabies shots might be a good idea as dogs do roam free quite a bit in this part of the world. You never know if you might encounter one not so friendly who’s gone a little rabid! You might also meet a few wild monkeys along the way, depending on where you find yourself in the Philippines!

You can have a look at other potential routine vaccines that you might want to consider prior to leaving for the Philippines! Though Palawan is one of the country’s most visited provinces, there are areas of southern Palawan that are known to have malaria cases. Just something to think of if you see yourself potentially passing through or spending time in that region! We ended up not getting any malaria medication even though we were in Puerto Princesa for a couple of days. But we took a risk doing that.

4. Safety Tips for Travel in the Philippines

In all honesty, the Philippines is relatively very safe! Although its reputation isn’t as such. There are travel advisories saying to avoid all travels to the Sulu archipelago and the majority of Mindanao, which are southern regions of the country. This is due to terrorism, civil unrest and some cases of kidnapping.

I don’t mean to scare you! Only that according to travel advice from the Government of Canada, it’s best to exercise a high degree of caution when visiting the Philippines, and especially if you are heading to the islands mentioned above. But in our 24 days spent throughout the beautiful scapes of Luzon, Palawan, Cebu and neighbouring islands, we never once felt on edge about any such safety threatening activity. Opportunistic crime can happen anywhere, and we didn’t find that the areas high in tourism of the Philippines were subject to it any more than anywhere else in the world.

Me relaxing far away from any stranger danger

Use the same precautions you would when travelling in all of your other travel destinations. Keep your belongings safe and be sure to get that travel insurance! The risks are never worth the costs and it’s always best to be safe than sorry when it comes to those exuberant emergency medical and travel costs.

As I mentioned in the previous section, sometimes you don’t encounter the cuddliest of animals. The tropics are a haven for exotic and wild fauna that you’ll likely be amazed to see. But if they get too close for comfort, you might find yourself in an unpleasant situation. Stray dogs often roam free on the streets of the Philippines, even in the touristy towns and cities. As hard as it can be, you’ll want to keep a safe distance from the pups as you don’t know if they’re taken care of and vaccinated.

5. Service Water is Free

Tap water is pretty much a hard no for being drinkable in Southeast Asia. Usually you constantly have to depend on bottled water to be your source of fresh and clean potable H2O. But luckily, in the Philippines, you don’t have to buy bottled water at the restaurants or even at the majority of accommodations. There’s practically always a large water dispenser you can fill up with and this is what the locals call service water.

If the restaurant doesn’t have a water dispenser in sight, you can ask them for service water. They’ll then get you a pitcher or fill your glasses with the fresh water they have serviced to them daily. We’ve also never had to worry about the ice – and by extension, all the fruit shakes and smoothie bowls we got – as the clean water is used to make it.

The service water is one less thing to worry about getting sick over. Saving on some cash and the plastic waste are a bonus too!

6. Cash is King in the Philippines

Credit & Debit Cards Are Rarely Accepted

Getting to the good stuff now – let’s talk money. It might not come as a surprise to you, but cash is heavily used across the Philippines. Every single tour operator we dealt with and 95% of the local food spots we frequented – even some higher end ones – only accepted cash. There wasn’t even an option to pay by card for an additional fee.

Tips for Exchanging Currency

You’ll want to prepare for that and bring a conservative amount of cash with you. Converting a good chunk of money to Philippine pesos (PHP) prior to arriving is a good idea. Bring some of your home currency with you as well (particularly USD or euros) if you can so that you can convert while in the Philippines if needed.

Counting my pesos in coconuts

The most favourable rates for converting will always be in the malls. In Manilla, we converted some USD at the currency exchange office of the Ayala Malls in Makati. The mall currency exchange offices always happen to be in the basements for some reason…

ATM Withdrawals Should Be a Last Resort

If you’re still left with little to no cash and it’s not yet the end of your trip, your last resort will be the ATM’s. The reason I call them a last resort is because they charge an exuberant amount for an ATM fee. Typically, you’re looking at a 250 PHP (or $4.50 US) fee, per transaction. And that doesn’t even include the foreign transaction fee from your bank. And of course, there’s a limit to how much you can withdrawal: usually 20,000 PHP or less.

The ATM’s are also notorious for seldom working. Especially in the beach towns, but you should be fine at the airports and malls of the bigger cities. We spotted many that were out of order, completely turned off or friends of ours would try them but they wouldn’t be able to get anything out of it. We recommend sticking to a ATM right outside of a bank branch, as they are often functioning. And if not, during the day, the bank’s staff can get it to work.

Even then, there’s still a danger of having your card eaten by the machine. Yeah… that happened to me. Thankfully the security guards and a bank teller helped me retrieve it and then they ensured my transaction went through on another ATM. You do not want that happening at a random ATM on the street with no one to assist!

7. How to Get Around in the Philippines

Planes, buses, ferries, van, you name it, will get you to where your next destination in the country. We’ve taken all of them. Trains are the only mode of transportation not really used in the Philippines except in the Manila area.


Flying is probably the most common way to jump from one region to another. We took our fair share of flights. From Manila to Busuanga, Coron, then Puerto Princesa to Manila to Mactan-Cebu, there was a bit of hopping around by plane as we travelled from region to region.

Note that the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila is a bit of a huge mess. Prepare yourself to arrive early and have longer connections in case of transferring between terminals.


The next best way to get around is by ferry. This is when you’re moving inter-island but it’s a short enough journey that you don’t need to fly. We took the 6-hour ferry from Coron to El Nido which was… bearable. We ran on “Asia” time and left about an hour later than scheduled, but it was well air-conditioned in there and not fully packed. The only thing is that we had to reserve and pay for our ferry tickets in advance in person. Unless we wanted to risk waiting in a huge line and potentially not making the ferry for the next couple of days. Something to think about!

We also took a ferry from Cebu to Bantayan Island and back, and that ran pretty smoothly. It was a smaller section for passengers but not crowded at all and in the open air. Can’t complain much. Except for the one on the way back decided not to show up for the early morning time slot, and we had to wait another couple of hours for the next one. Make sure to add some buffer time in case these things happen!

Not exactly a ferry but close enough!


If you know where you’re headed, it should be pretty straight forward to get on the bus you need to. The question is whether it will meet an organized schedule or not. We took the bus from Cebu City to the Hagnaya port to reach Santa Fe in Bantayan by ferry. Then from Hagnaya port back to Cebu City to take another bus down to Moalboal. It all made sense by the time we got to the correct bus terminals and got our tickets, but it can get very chaotic at the bus terminals as hoard of people have the same idea.

There’s no way to know the pricing of the bus trips online in advance. Only when you reach the bus terminal ready to purchase your tickets will you know. But you can expect a somewhat lower fare as locals are transiting this way too.

ALWAYS ALWAYS book the air-conditioned bus! It’s marginally more expensive than the non-AC buses but way more comfortable. The buses aren’t new or relatively clean, but they’re tolerable. I’d say I’ve definitely had worse experiences transiting by bus than I did in the Philippines. All that matters for me is if I get enough space in my sleep and a decent sleep!

The buses stop for food and have vendors who come onboard to sell you snacks and baked goods – though they aren’t particularly fresh. Make sure to bring some snacks for the road!

Van Transfers

The most efficient and convenient way to go from town to town by land is going to be by booking a van transfer. Private or joined, you can book these easily using 12Go Asia or Klook. 12Go is the main platform for booking transfers in Asia, whether by ferry, bus or van transfer. But always check Klook as well as that’s the go-to for all excursion and experience bookings.

We managed to book our shared van transfer from El Nido to Puerto Princesa with ease using Klook. It was the same price as booking cash with the local tour operators, and we had a lot more time slot options with Klook!


We’ve mentioned all the ways you can get between islands and towns. Now let’s talk about inner-city transportation!

In the less developed beach towns of Coron, El Nido, Sant Fe, Moalboal and even Puerto Princesa to name a few, you’ll have to say “bye” to the comfort of taxi cabs with AC. And “hello” to tricycles! Tricycles are essentially sidecars for motorbikes. There are no windows and the noise of the motorbike can be deafening. Just exaggerating! Kinda…

They’re honestly kind of cute and an experience to be had when in the Philippines. You’ll also have a good laugh as you try to help your driver strap your luggage to the back lip of the tricycle car, especially if you do this in the pouring rain. Like I said, it’s all part of the experience!


When in the bigger cities like Manila and Cebu City, you can depend on Grab to get you around. Grab is the Uber of Southeast Asia! You can use the app for calling a ride-share or taxi just like with Uber. You can also call a GrabBike! That’s right. Someone riding a scooter or motorbike can pick you up to get you where you need to go, for a fraction of the cost of a GrabTaxi.

Not only can Grab be used for transport, but for food delivery too! We actually had a number of great local meals through the app, and there are always discount codes you can apply to your orders for that extra money saving.

8. Data Roaming in the Philippines

I’m always going to advocate for not using your travel data roaming plans when overseas. They’re way too overpriced and you have much better options when you reach your destination country. Plus, who needs to text and call the old-fashioned way anyway? That’s what WhatsApp and Skype (for international toll free calls) are for.

One way to get a data plan when in the Philippines is by grabbing a physical SIM card. The one we got and loved is the SMART SIM card, which we got at the airport for 1000 PHP each. It covered us for one month, with 50GB (+5GB bonus) of data. No text or phone call capabilities, but you can always use WhatsApp or ask your accommodations to call local numbers for you if needed. We did, however, have to pay with cash only, as it was for most purchases in the Philippines.

Take a few moments to disconnect

The next best thing – which might be our only option with the future of cellphones – is to get an eSIM card on arrival. Our tried and true, which we have used across the globe, is Airalo. Installing the eSIM’s is foolproof and you don’t have to worry any physical messing around with your phone. As soon as you land, before you even deplane, you can activate it directly from your seat. And if you run into any connection issues, you can directly contact Airalo’s support team! You can’t get help after the fact when you buy a physical SIM card on the spot.

9. Most Filipinos Speak English

One thing you don’t have to worry about, except in the most remote parts of the Philippines, is whether you can communicate with folks in English. In fact, apart from Filipino (a standardized variety of Tagalog), English is the second official language of the country. That means that the high majority of kids will learn English in school and English is widely spoken across the country.

There are many different native languages and dialects spoken across the 2,000 inhabited Filipino islands. Two of the most spoken are Tagalog and Cebuano. You’ll likely only hear these two and some close dialects when visiting the tourist hot spots of the Philippines. If you speak Spanish, you’ll also have a decent time communicating with folks who speak Cebuano. Did you know that about 40% of Cebuano contains words borrowed from Spanish? Crazy how history works!

Even with this in mind, try to learn common phrases for greeting and gratitude throughout your travels in the Philippines. Even if you don’t express them perfectly, people are always pleased to hear foreigners practice using their language. And Filipinos are amongst the kindest and most encouraging people on the planet!

10. Philippines Travel Bucket List

When visiting the Philippines, you can’t miss the provinces of Palawan and Cebu. We had plans to also visit the island of Siargao, but sadly the weather had other plans for us.


If you have the time, make a point of visiting Coron and El Nido in the province of Palawan. Here, there are some of the most incredibly limestone islands, lagoons, lakes, and remote white sand beaches we have ever seen. While in Coron, we had such a blast doing the Super Ultimate Tour (it truly is super and ultimate). And we relaxed in pristine tropical paradise further into the Calamian islands when we did the Island Escapade Tour!

If you haven’t yet tried out a discovery scuba dive, you gotta do one in Coron. The wrecks are beyond incredible and abundant with marine life! And one of the most unique scuba dives for advanced divers is actually in the fresh water Barracuda Lake where you can descend into a thermocline – and maybe spot some barracudas while you’re down under!

half-dome underwater shot of swimming in Barracuda Lake

El Nido was an adventure and the elements didn’t always cooperate with us. But it was a journey to remember when we took the boat excursions Tour A & Tour D. The landscapes we got to see out there were just mind-blowing! Whether we were swimming in hidden lagoons, kayaking in turquoise waters, or feasting on Filipino cuisine on a remote beach, every moment was worth it.


In Cebu, we were blessed to check off two bucket list items. One was swimming with the sea turtles just off the coast of Moalboal while snorkelling. The second was witnessing the twinkling of a sardines run on the same day! On the island, we also went on an exhilarating adventure of canyoneering in Badian. Jumping off boulders and floating through the crystal blue water was a ride of a lifetime, and we got to reach Kawasan Falls the fun way.

From Cebu, we also ferried over to the quiet island of Bantayan and did a private island hopping day to Virgin Island which completely exceeded our expectations! The beaches of Bantayan, like Sandira Beach, were like no other we experienced, apart from the most remote of the remote beaches of the Philippines. If your flight to Siargao cancels on you too, you know where else you can go!

I mentioned some of our favourite moments in our 24 days in the Philippines, but had we had more time, we would’ve hoped over to Bohol and maybe relaxed in Boracay too. Check out this 4-week backpacking itinerary in the Philippines to stir up some ideas for your travel plans! There are so many islands out of the 7,640 that make up the Philippine Archipelago, with off-the-beaten-path adventures and cultural immersions at your fingertips.

It might seem overwhelming at first glance, but if you keep these 10 need-to-know tidbits of information in the back of your mind before and during your travels in the Philippines, you’ll be able to explore the country with confidence and ease.

Be sure to check out our YouTube channel for more in-depth visuals of our experience and trip to the Philippines! We can’t wait for you to take off on your flight to the islands and experience this gorgeous country for yourselves. Happy travel planning!

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