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 always best dealt with on a face-to-face basis in a warm, polite, and pleasant atmosphere. Filipinos often prefer an atmosphere of calm and restraint, avoid direct 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, not always affirmative.
As a show of respect and acknowledgement of certain social hierarchies, Filipinos usually address people by their titles (for example, Architect Cruz, Attorney Jose, Dr. Romero), although most contacts will quickly insist on using a more informal approach (such as addressing them by their nicknames) after the initial introductions. When dealing with high-ranking government and military officials, it is best to address them by their formal titles (e.g., Secretary Flores, General Alfonso, Director Santos, Admiral Lopez, etc.).
Meetings do not necessarily start promptly, so allow for delays due to traffic, inclement weather, prior engagements or last-minute changes in the schedule or itinerary, especially when meeting with VIPs or high-ranking officials. If a Filipino client is running late for an appointment, their assistant or the individual will typically personally call or advise if he or she is on their way. Video conferencing and online meetings are becoming popular and widely used means of conducting business meetings.
Because of the pandemic, many companies/businesses/government agencies have allowed their employees to work from home and this is expected to continue. In-person meetings and events have significantly declined because of safety considerations. There has been a shift to virtual and online meetings using various platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and MS Teams for both the government and private sectors. Government also encourages online transactions with them.
Handing out business cards (preferably bearing your position or title) is standard practice, although the way the cards are exchanged tends to be rather informal as compared with 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. If a Filipino contact gives you a personal number (home or mobile phone) aside from what is indicated on the business card, it is usually an invitation to call, and is a good sign for establishing cordial relations.
It is not uncommon for business associates to make personal inquiries about family, marital status, ethnicity, hobbies and after-hours activities or other similar questions typically considered by Americans as rather personal. Be prepared to discuss generalities of family hobbies, sports and American customs, as Filipinos see this to become better acquainted.
The U.S. businessperson should avoid, as much as possible, personally grappling with Philippine bureaucracy. The Bureau of Customs, for instance, requires dozens of signatures in order to clear air cargo, which can be expedited with the use of local customs brokers. The Filipino approach is to delegate to staff or a business associate capable of navigating the bureaucracy.
Observing office etiquette is also important. When reprimanding local employees, take them aside and do it privately. Be as gentle as possible and always make it a point to end the meeting with some show of personal concern for the family to make the employee feel still part of the team.
English is the official business language, including for most correspondence, contracts, and other documents. Among Filipinos, however, it is common to hear “Taglish” (a combination of Tagalog, a regional dialect from which the Filipino language is largely based, and English, or shifting back and forth between the two languages) during informal conversations.
Body language and hand gestures (for example, a raised eyebrow, a faint smile, a scratch in the head) are integral to how Filipinos express themselves. Using social media messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber are now popular means of communicating and reaching out to business contacts, clients, peers. Texting, or sending short, oftentimes abbreviated messages through mobile phones is another method of business communication. Do not be surprised if, in the middle of a meeting, people suddenly take out their mobile phones to read or send messages or to answer a call.
Business lunches and dinners are usually arranged personally over the phone and thereafter confirmed by a secretary or assistant. The person extending the invitation customarily pays. A guest does not order the most expensive items on the menu unless the host insists otherwise. Lunch or dinner buffets have also become commonplace, thereby allowing guests more choices. It is also customary to have a drink or a cocktail before a formal sit-down dinner. A relatively informal tone is the norm. Business is not usually discussed until after establishing a convivial ambience, usually after soup or appetizers. Attire is according to the location of the meeting.
Filipinos tend to be lax in replying to RSVPs. Telephone follow-ups are best, at least one or two days before the event (any prior confirmation may still need following up later). In hosting events, private or professional, the staff are usually asked to track down guests for a confirmation reply. In a formal occasion, seating is arranged, where the head table is usually reserved for VIPs. A guest speaker is often the highlight of a dinner or formal gathering. Light entertainment is not unusual. In most instances, important guests accept requests to sing.
The holiday season (the Philippines celebrates one of, if not the longest, Christmas seasons in the world) is also a time to show appreciation to people with whom you have regular dealings, for example, the security guard, doorman, messenger, the secretary, or assistant, as well as regular and valued clients, through small tokens. Gifts could range from baskets of goodies to company giveaways to plain calendars or office items with your company logo.
It is best to attempt to accomplish business objectives in mid-morning or early afternoon. Many business deals are completed informally during a lunch or dinner appointment, an intimate social gathering, or over a round of golf. Never attempt to do business on a weekend or a holiday unless the Filipino contact has specifically indicated his or her availability on such days. 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. Likewise, 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. Important meetings should be scheduled prior to those dates.
Summer-wear clothing normally worn in temperate zones is suitable for the Philippines, where the weather tends to be very humid. It is acceptable for businessmen to conduct calls in short or long-sleeved shirt and ties with or without a coat. Either a two-piece suit or the native “Barong Tagalog” (a lightweight, short- or long-sleeved shirt, usually linen, worn without a tie) are acceptable, ordinary business attire. Light pantsuits or dresses are appropriate for women. Dinner invitations can either be casual or formal, so it is best to check with the host regarding the proper attire. An umbrella may come in handy, especially during the wet season (between June and September).
The Department of State’s travel advisory for the Philippines can be found at:
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 port of entry: https://dfa.gov.ph/index.php/list-of-countries-for-21-day-visa.
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. https://dfa.gov.ph/index.php/guidelines-requirements.
Information on fees for extension of stay and other Immigration fees are available at the Bureau of Immigration website: https://immigration.gov.ph/visa-requirements/non-immigrant-visa/temporary-visitor-visa/extension-of-authorized-stay-beyond-59-days.
U.S. companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link(s): 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 all over the country. The U.S. Dollar is the most exchanged currency. Other currencies such as Euros and UK Pounds can also be exchanged in banks and hotels.
Traveler’s checks can be cashed in commercial banks such as Citibank and HSBC; however, it may be difficult to have them exchanged from banks outside major cities. 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.
The Philippine Long-Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) and Globe Telecom are the county’s two telecommunication carriers.
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 cheap rate, Filipinos prefer texting than phone calls. This is also because the mobile signal is weak due to a lack of cell sites.
Broadband services are also available at home and for office use. Subscribers should expect the same rate similar in the U.S. Five-star hotels in the Philippines offer free Wi-Fi service, available in shopping malls, dining establishments, and coffee shops. However, the Philippines’ average internet speed is considered among the slowest and most expensive in the Asia Pacific. According to OOKLA’s Speedtest Global Index, the Philippines’ fixed broadband internet speed is 66.55 Mbps in July 2021. Mobile broadband speed is 32.84 Mbps in July 2021.
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 Narita and Incheon; United flies from Manila to Mainland U.S. via Guam). New direct flights are available to the U.S. on non-U.S. carriers.
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 not uncommon.
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. Only a small number of Filipinos can speak Spanish which had at one time been an official language. In provinces where Filipino is not the lingua franca, primary educational instruction is conducted in vernacular languages.
Major cities in the Philippines have modern and well-equipped hospitals and medical facilities that meet the general healthcare needs of business travelers. Many of them are Joint Commission International (JCI) - approved (medical facilities) or are in the process of obtaining JCI approval. These hospitals employ excellent medical staff, some of whom are U.S. Board Certified. The number of nurses and other medical staff are sometimes inadequate as the Philippines loses healthcare professionals who leave the country to seek better employment opportunities abroad.
Larger pharmacies in the Philippines stock most standard medicines at prices equivalent to those in the U.S. Vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, and first aid supplies are available locally. Medical fees are reasonable, and pharmaceuticals are widely accessible.
The general level of sanitation in the Philippines is lower than in the United States. Overpopulation has strained 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.
Occasional gastrointestinal upsets caused by poor sanitary conditions, colds, and other respiratory ailments are unavoidable due to the high level of air pollution, if staying in Manila for an extended period.
Overexertion and excessive fatigue should be avoided, as the tropical environment makes for rapid dehydration.
The Philippines has seen many outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases and continues to be susceptible to threat of re-emerging infections such as leptospirosis, dengue, meningococcemia, tuberculosis. The current coronavirus situation emphasizes the risks and highlights the need to improve preparedness at local, national, and international levels for against future pandemics. New pathogens will continue to emerge and spread across regions and will challenge public health as never before signifying grim repercussions and health burden. These already cause countless morbidities and mortalities, disrupting trade and negatively affect the economy. There are several social determinants contributing to the emergence of novel infectious diseases and resurgence of controlled or eradicated infectious diseases in our country. These contributing factors are namely: (1) Demographic factors like the population distribution and density, (2) international travel/ tourism and increased OFWs, (3) Socio-economic factors and (4) Environmental factors. The latter includes the Philippines’ vulnerability to disasters, man- made ecological changes, and the urbanization which encroaches and destroys the animal habitats.
Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases are unpredictable and create a gap between planning and concrete action. To address this gap, there is a need to come up with proactive systems that would ensure preparedness and response in anticipation to negative consequences that may result in pandemic proportions of diseases. Proactive and multi- disciplinary preparedness must be in place to reduce the impact of the public the health threats.
Updates on diseases and health alerts are available from the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) website: https://doh.gov.ph. More information and the latest updates on the Covid-19 situation in the Philippines are available in the following DOH links:
- DOH Official Website (press releases): https://doh.gov.ph/press-releases
- DOH Covid – 19 Tracker: https://doh.gov.ph/covid19tracker
- DOH Official Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/OfficialDOHgov/
- DOH Healthy Pilipinas Official Facebook Page: https://facebook.com/DOHhealthypilipinas/.
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 savings 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., Monday – Friday. Some private companies hold office on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Eight hours per day or 48 hours per week is the maximum period an employee may be required to work at a regular pay rate.
Most shopping centers are open seven days a week with variable opening hours, which may be extended during major holidays. The management of various shopping malls in the country have adjusted operating hours in Metro Manila and other provinces during the pandemic.
All offices close during 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. In addition, 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, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
A complete list of Philippine Holidays for 2021 can be found in the government website: https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/nationwide-holidays/2021/.
A complete list of U.S. Embassy Holidays can be found on the embassy website: https://ph.usembassy.gov/holiday-calendar.
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings
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 necessary documentations such as a Certificate of Identification upon the businessperson’s arrival. Only one laptop per businessman is allowed under existing regulations.