Getting around the Philippines is easy and convenient, thanks to the several modes of transport available in the country. Expats can drive around in a private car, hire a driver, or use one of the many public transport options.
Public transport in the Philippines
The Philippines has a national railway service covering much of the country. Long-distance train travel is becoming increasingly popular and is a fantastic way to travel between major cities in the Philippines.
Metro Manila's regional rail service extends to its suburbs and outlying provinces.
The Bicol Express train is a great 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 its distant provinces. Buses are either air-conditioned or ordinary (not air-conditioned). Large placards marking destinations are visible in front of the bus.
City buses are generally not recommended for expats, as they can be overcrowded. Getting off is also tricky, especially when unfamiliar with the area, as bus stops are not clearly labelled.
Originally converted military Jeeps left over from WWII, jeepneys are a vital means of transport for Filipinos. The name comes from a combination of Jeep and jitney, and these flamboyantly decorated vehicles are an embodiment of Filipino culture.
Each jeepney has its designated route painted on the exterior, and there is also a small placard in the front indicating its main destination.
Typically, jeepneys do not have proper loading and unloading areas. They will stop anywhere and anytime, which may prove challenging for expats unsure of their destination. This is not an advisable mode of transport for expats who are uncomfortable with crowds.
Taxis in the Philippines
Taxis are a convenient and comfortable means of travel in the cities of the Philippines. They are ideal for expats as they offer an efficient door-to-door service.
Expats can hire a taxi from a hotel, hail them off the street, or use a ride-hailing app such as Grab. As a safety precaution, they should share the driver and vehicle details with a friend or family member.
All taxis have meters, and expats should ensure that it is activated as soon as the ride starts. Most drivers speak basic English, making communication easy.
Driving in the Philippines
Expats can buy or rent a car locally or import a vehicle from abroad. New arrivals may be more comfortable hiring a driver than braving the Filipino roads initially. Note the vehicle specifications and regulations when importing a car; for example, right-hand-drive vehicle importation is not allowed in the Philippines. Traffic drives on the left side of the road.
Driving in the Philippines can be stressful, and traffic accidents are common. Roads are often crowded and chaotic, and there is little to no enforcement of traffic rules. Expats who choose to drive in the Philippines must do so defensively and always be aware of other road users, from cars, trucks and buses to tricycles, carts and pedestrians.
Additionally, many roads are in disrepair with large potholes. Roads under repair are also frequently not clearly marked, presenting a significant hazard, especially at night and during the rainy season when the flood risk is high.
Thanks to traffic management teams, safety officers and emergency call boxes, it is easy to get roadside assistance.
Visitors can drive with their valid foreign driving licence for the first 90 days of their stay. After that, they will need a Philippine driving licence, which is usually only a matter of paperwork.
Basic third-party car insurance is compulsory in the Philippines. International car insurance is usually not accepted, so expats should get this from a local agency. It may be worth taking out comprehensive insurance to cover additional issues. Expats must keep a copy of their car's registration, official receipt and car insurance policy in their vehicle at all times.
Expats who are in the Philippines for over 90 days and plan to drive a vehicle need a local driving 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.
Boat travel in the Philippines
Thanks to the Philippines' archipelagic geography, boats and ferries are a common means of getting around the country. The types of boats range from upmarket ferries to small bangkas.
Used for short distances, Bangkas are the most common and traditional type of boat in the Philippines. Ferries are more comfortable, with several companies offering daily scheduled trips between islands. The fastest type of boat is a catamaran, which travels between bigger islands and covers long distances in a short time.
Air travel in the Philippines
Major airports in the Philippines include Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Clark International Airport near Angeles, Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu and Subic Bay International Airport in Subic Bay. Philippine Airlines is the national air carrier and the oldest commercial airline in Asia.