Transport and Driving in Philippines
There are several modes of transport available in the Philippines, making getting around the country easy and convenient. Expats can either drive themselves around in a private car or use one of the many public transport options.
Driving in the Philippines
Driving in the Philippines can be stressful. Roads are often crowded and chaotic. Drivers routinely ignore stoplights, lane markers and other traffic control devices, and traffic rules are rarely enforced. As in most places where traffic is congested and under-regulated, driving in the Philippines requires maximum attention and patience to avoid accidents.
Vehicles on the road include cars, trucks and buses, as well as manually operated tricycles and carts. Due to a lack of navigable sidewalks, pedestrians also use the road in most areas. Many roads are in disrepair, with large potholes; those under repair are often not clearly marked and may be a significant hazard, especially at night. Low-lying roads are frequently flooded, even after a light rain, making it difficult to see potholes and other obstacles. During the rainy season, roads at higher elevations can experience landslides.
Traffic signals and signs, often in English, are similar to those in Western countries, and traffic drives on the right. International car insurance is not usually accepted in the Philippines, and expats involved in serious accidents may face considerable difficulties.
Since traffic accidents are common in the Philippines, expats should be prepared for such an event. Luckily, due to the relatively low speed of traffic, most accidents are minor. Expats should have a copy of their car’s registration, official receipt and car insurance policy in their vehicle at all times. In all cases, police officers are prohibited from charging or requesting fees for any services.
Driving licences in the Philippines
Expats in the Philippines for more than 90 days who plan to drive a vehicle will need a local driver's licence (foreign licences are acceptable for drivers staying in the Philippines for shorter periods). The Land Transportation Office (LTO) issues all licences and has offices throughout the country.
Car insurance in the Philippines
Expats in the Philippines are required to have third-party car insurance with a Philippine insurance agency.
Third-party liability, as well as comprehensive collision insurance, can be obtained from several local insurance agencies that also provide claims processing and accident assistance.
Many drivers take out additional comprehensive insurance that covers damage to their vehicle from other causes, and/or collision insurance through a foreign company that will insure in the Philippines. Expats considering this should check that their chosen insurance is accepted in the country.
Philippine vehicle specifications
The importation of right-hand-drive vehicles into the Philippines is prohibited. Diesel-powered vehicles, including passenger cars, may be imported without regard to engine displacement or weight restriction.
Air-conditioning is necessary for safety reasons as well as the hot and humid weather, pollution and dust. Cars should be undercoated, tropicalised and equipped with heavy-duty springs and shock absorbers. A vehicle with high clearance is crucial for expats planning to travel outside Metro Manila due to frequent flooding and poor road conditions.
The North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) assures that everything on the highway is efficiently maintained. Patrol officers respond promptly to accidents and other emergencies.
Apart from safety officers, traffic management teams equipped with cameras and radios are on constant patrol. Emergency bays and call boxes connected to the Traffic Central Room are widely available. Control rooms are operated day and night to provide customer assistance and dispatch traffic patrol teams, emergency vehicles and tow trucks.
Public transport in the Philippines
Taxis are a convenient and comfortable means of travel in the cities in the Philippines. They are ideal for expatriates because it enables them to get around quickly and easily.
It is normally safer to hire a taxi from a hotel. Expats can hail taxis from the street, but they should make it a point to inform a family member or a friend of the taxi name and the plate number just to be safe.
All taxis are metered and expats should ensure that the meter is activated as soon as the ride starts. Fixed rates are illegal in the Philippines.
Most taxi drivers speak basic English, making communication easy. It is normal practice to give taxi drivers a small tip.
The Philippines has a national railways service that covers most of the country. Long-distance train travel is becoming increasingly popular and is a good way to travel between major cities in the Philippines.
Metro Manila has a regional rail service which extends to its suburbs and outlying provinces.
The Bicol Express train is a good way to travel between Manila and Naga. The train is comfortable and safe, and air-conditioned sleeper cars are available.
Buses are a common sight on the major roads of Manila and in the distant provinces. Buses are classified as either air-conditioned or ordinary (not air-conditioned). The destinations are marked down on a large placard in front of the bus.
City buses are generally not recommended for expats as they can be very crowded. Getting off is also a bit tricky, particularly when one is not familiar with the area, because there are rarely any designated bus stops.
Because the Philippines is an archipelago, boats and ferries are a common means of getting around the country. Types of boats range from upmarket ferries to small bangkas.
Bangkas are the most common and traditional type of boat used in the Philippines and are usually used for short distances. Ferries are more comfortable, with several companies offering daily scheduled trips between islands. The fastest type of boat is a catamaran, which travels between some of the bigger islands and covers long distances in a short time.
Jeepneys were originally old converted military Jeeps left over from WWII. They have seating in the back and are flamboyantly decorated. The name is a combination of Jeep and jitney.
Jeepneys are a vital means of transport for Filipinos. It is the most popular and economical means of transportation. The colourful decorations of jeepneys embody Filipino culture, which make them iconic vehicles for the country.
The designated routes of each jeepney are painted on its exterior. There is also a small placard in the front indicating its main destinations.
Generally, jeepneys do not have proper loading and unloading areas. They will stop anywhere and anytime, which may prove challenging for foreign nationals who are unfamiliar with their destination. This is not an advisable mode of transport for expatriates who are uncomfortable with crowds.
Air travel in the Philippines
Major airports in the Philippines include Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Clark International Airport in Angeles City, Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu and Subic Bay International Airport in Subic Bay. The national air carrier is Philippine Airlines, which is the oldest commercial airline in Asia.