Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel.
The Philippine business environment is highly personalized. Business matters are customarily held face-to-face and Filipinos often prefer an atmosphere of calm and restraint, avoid confrontation, and typically offer a polite reply coupled with a smile rather than outright negative feedback to the other party’s ideas. A “yes” may mean several things, but not always affirmative.
As a show of respect and acknowledgment of certain social hierarchies, Filipinos customarily address individuals by their professional titles (Attorney, Doctor, Engineer). After initial introductions, most business contacts insist on using a more informal approach including the use of nicknames. When dealing with high-ranking government and military officials, it is best to address them by their formal titles.
Meetings do not necessarily start promptly, so allow for delays due to traffic, inclement weather, prior engagements, or last-minute changes. If a Filipino client runs late for an appointment, their assistant or the individual will typically personally call or advise if they are on their way.
Handing out business cards (preferably bearing your position or title) is a standard practice. However, the way the cards are exchanged tends to be relatively informal compared to other Asian cultures. It is common for government contacts/government agencies to use Gmail or Yahoo accounts as their primary or alternate business email address.
English is the official business language, including correspondence, contracts, and other documents. However, Filipinos commonly hear “Taglish” (a combination of Tagalog, a regional dialect from which the Filipino language is primarily based, and English, or shifting back and forth between the two languages) during informal conversations.
Body language and hand gestures (a raised eyebrow, a faint smile, or a scratch on the head) are integral to how Filipinos express themselves. Social media messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber are now popular for communicating and reaching out to business contacts and clients. Texting or sending short, often abbreviated messages through mobile phones is another method of business communication. Do not be surprised if, in the middle of a meeting, an individual suddenly takes out their mobile phones to answer a call or send a message.
Business lunches and dinners are commonly arranged over the phone and confirmed by a secretary or assistant. The person extending the invitation customarily pays. Filipinos tend to be lax in replying to RSVPs and telephone follow-up calls are often required.
As a predominantly Catholic country, the Philippines observes the Lenten season, and all commercial and business establishments are closed on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The Philippines celebrates one of, if not the longest Christmas seasons in the world and beginning on or around the week of December 15 through the end of the year, office-related activities tend to wind down to give way to holiday parties.
Common business attire is a two-piece suit or the native “Barong Tagalog” (a lightweight, short- or long-sleeved shirt, usually linen, worn without a tie). Light pantsuits or dresses are appropriate for women. Dinner invitations can either be formal or business casual so it is best to confirm with the host.
The Department of State’s travel advisory for the Philippines including COVID19 travel information can be found in this link: Philippines
U.S. citizens who are traveling to the Philippines for business and tourism purposes can enter the Philippines without visas for a stay not exceeding thirty (30) days, provided they hold valid tickets for their return journey to port of origin or next port of destination and their passports are valid for a period of at least six (6) months beyond the contemplated period of stay. The allotted thirty (30) days cannot be extended immediately at the port of entry.
U.S. citizens who wish to stay for more than thirty (30) days should apply to the Bureau of Immigration offices or Satellite offices. The applicant must pay the corresponding immigration fees after securing their extension.
Information on fees for extension of stay and other Immigration fees are available at the Bureau of Immigration website.
U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should visit the following link: State Department Visa Website.
Philippine Peso is the local currency in the Philippines. The currency code for Pesos is PHP.
Currency exchange centers/money changers can be found in commercial centers across the country. Major credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted in most establishments. Banks are generally open from 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. Some banks with branches located inside malls are open on weekends. 24-hour ATMs can be easily found in metropolitan areas.
There are three mobile operators in the Philippines. Mobile phone services in the Philippines are affordable at $0.15 average per minute call, while an SMS or text message costs $0.02. With the affordable rates, Filipinos prefer texting over phone calls as mobile signals can be weak due to a lack of cell sites. Broadband services are available at home and for office use and subscribers should expect rates similar to that in the U.S.
Electrical outlets in the Philippines use 220 volts. This is compatible with most electronic gadgets that allow 110-220 volts.
Many major international airlines fly between Manila and the United States on a regular basis. Typically, these flights are indirect with layovers or stopovers before they reach their destination (e.g., Delta Airlines flies from Manila to the U.S. via Incheon; United flies from Manila to U.S. via Guam). Philippine Airlines has direct flights to the U.S.
Within the Philippines, one can travel to most parts of the country by land, air, or sea with relative ease. For land travel, the quality of the road network is quite varied. Distances that may be covered quickly in the United States typically take longer in the Philippines, due to insufficient road quality and congestion. An extensive road network links most of the archipelago.
For first-time visitors to major urban cities such as Metro Manila, the use of accredited hotel taxis with the assistance of the hotel staff is more dependable than metered taxis hailed on the street. When using a metered cab, ask the driver to turn on the meter as you enter to avoid being overcharged. Hotel taxis charge a flat rate for travel to specified locations. It is best to ask the hotel staff or a local business contact how long it would take to reach one’s destination, considering such factors as traffic conditions during peak driving hours and alternate routes. When taking a regular cab, it would help to know the typical cab fare to avoid being overcharged. Many taxi fleets now offer services.
Car rentals are also available with or without a driver/chauffeur, and costs will vary depending on the length of use, the type of car, and the itinerary. U.S. franchises such as Avis, Hertz, and Budget operate in the Philippines and accept an international driver’s license for up to 60-90 days.
Transport network vehicle services, such as Grab, are also available in major cities like Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Davao.
Buses, elevated rail transport such as the Light Railway Transit (LRT) and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT), and “jeepneys” transit major and minor routes within Metro Manila and serve the general commuting public. They are not recommended for business travelers in Manila. UV Express, a type of share taxi service, is also an alternative mode of public transportation. In most provinces and major cities outside Manila, buses, jeepneys, and tricycles are the more typical modes of land transport. Overcrowding is common.
The Philippines has over 70 airports, with four major international airports: Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila, Clark International Airport in Pampanga, Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA), and Davao International Airport. The country’s primary international gateway, NAIA, currently operates four terminals in Manila, one of which is used exclusively by flag carrier Philippine Airlines for its domestic and international routes.
Passengers are required to be at the airport at least two hours before departure for domestic flights and three hours for international flights (particularly on U.S. - bound flights). Terminal fees are charged for departing passengers on some domestic and international airports. Delays are common due to airport congestion or weather.
Maritime transport is a major conduit for moving goods and people. Inter-island vessels or ferries service major island routes. Being an archipelago, the Philippines has more than 1,000 ports, about a dozen of which are major international ports that serve as cargo and/or passenger terminals. Travel by boat or ferry tends to take longer and is less convenient than air travel, but there are areas in the Philippines that can only be reached through this mode of transport. Roll-on, roll-off vessels (RO-RO) carrying passengers and cargo are also available to service inter-island travel and commerce. Ferry transport in recent years has experienced serious accidents with significant fatalities.
Filipino/Tagalog is the official national language, although over 100 languages and dialects are spoken throughout the Philippines. English is widely spoken and is the primary language in business communication.
It is common to hear Filipinos use a mixture of English and Filipino/Tagalog words or phrases, known as “Taglish” in their everyday conversations. In provinces where Filipino is not the lingua franca, primary educational instruction is conducted in vernacular languages.
Hospitals located in major cities are modern and well-equipped to address the general healthcare needs of business travelers. Five hospitals, all located in the National Capital Region, are accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI). These hospitals employ excellent medical staff and are equipped with the latest medical technology.
Most local pharmacies carry standard medicines, including vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, and first-aid supplies, readily available at prices equivalent to the U.S.
Sanitation in the Philippines is lower than in the U.S., as overpopulation causes a strain on water supply, sewage, garbage disposal, street cleaning, and utilities.
Americans are advised not to drink untreated water. Bottled beverages are inexpensive, plentiful, and safe. Ice is suspect. It is not advisable to buy food from street peddlers.
The Philippines continues to be susceptible to infectious diseases such as leptospirosis, dengue, meningococcemia, and tuberculosis. The current coronavirus situation emphasizes the risks and highlights the need to improve preparedness at local, national, and international levels against future pandemics. New pathogens will continue to emerge and spread across regions and challenge public health, signifying grim repercussions and health burdens. These already cause countless morbidities and mortalities, disrupting trade and negatively affecting the economy. Several social determinants contribute to the emergence of novel infectious diseases and the resurgence of controlled or eradicated infectious diseases in our country. These contributing factors are namely:
- Demographic factors like population distribution and density,
- International travel/tourism and increased OFWs,
- Socioeconomic factors,
- Environmental factors.
The latter includes the Philippines’ vulnerability to disasters, man-made ecological changes, and urbanization, which creeps and destroys animal habitats.
Health updates and disease alerts are available on the Philippine Department of Health website. More information and the latest updates on the COVID-19 situation in the country are available on the following DOH links:
- Department of Health Press Releases
- Department of Health COVID-19 Tracker
- DOH Official Facebook Page
- DOH Healthy Pilipinas Facebook Page
A list of recommended vaccinations when traveling to the Philippines can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.
Local time, business hours, and holidays
Philippine Standard Time is 8 hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time/Greenwich Mean Time (UTC/GMT), and 12 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time (EST). The Philippines does not observe daylight saving time.
U.S. Government offices in the Philippines are open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Most private and GPH offices are open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays. Some private companies are open on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
All offices observe the following public holidays: January 1: New Year’s Day; Easter Holidays: March to April Maundy Thursday and Good Friday; April 9: Bataan & Corregidor Day and Heroism Day; May 1: Labor Day; June 12: Philippine Independence Day; August 21: Ninoy Aquino Day; August 27: National Heroes Day Holiday; November 1: All Saints’ Day; November 30: Bonifacio Day; December 25: Christmas Day; December 30: Rizal Day; Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha; and Chinese New Year. June 24, Manila Day, is observed only in the City of Manila, while August 19, Quezon Day, is observed only in Quezon City. Special public holidays such as Election Day and EDSA Revolution Day may be declared by the President and are observed nationwide.
The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines observes the following U.S. public holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Juneteenth Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
A complete list of Philippine Holidays for 2022 can be found in the government website: Holidays | Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings
All arriving travelers must fill out a Customs Baggage Declaration Form (CBDF) which will be submitted to the Customs Officer at the customs arrival area for clearance. Arriving passengers are required to declare all goods carried or brought, indicating the quantity and value.
A businessperson hand-carrying a personal laptop computer does not have to post a cash bond after demonstrating that the item is a personal effect and is not new. Laptops, considered tools of the trade, may be cleared without the required documentation such as a Certificate of Identification. Only one laptop per traveler is allowed under current regulations.