There are several modes of transport available in the Philippines, making getting around the country easy and convenient. Expats can drive themselves 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 railways service which covers much 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 overly crowded. Getting off is also a bit tricky, particularly when one is not familiar with the area, as bus stops are not clearly designated.
Originally converted military Jeeps left over from WWII, jeepneys are a vital means of transport for Filipinos. The name is a combination of Jeep and jitney. These flamboyantly decorated vehicles embody Filipino culture.
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.
Taxis in the Philippines
Taxis are a convenient and comfortable means of travel in the cities in the Philippines. They are ideal for expats as it enables them to get around quickly and easily.
Expats can hire a taxi from a hotel, hail them from the street or use a ride-hailing app such as Grab. As a safety precaution, it’s often advised to share the taxi vehicle- and driver details with a friend or family member.
All taxis are metered and expats should ensure that the meter is activated as soon as the ride starts. Most taxi 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 roads on their own at first. Note the vehicle specifications and regulations when importing a car; for example, the importation of right-hand-drive vehicles into the Philippines is prohibited. Traffic drives on the right side of the road.
Driving in the Philippines can be stressful and traffic accidents are common. Roads are often crowded and chaotic, and traffic rules are rarely enforced. Expats who choose to drive in the Philippines must do so with maximum attention and patience.
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 often not clearly marked, presenting a significant hazard, especially at night and during the rainy season where the flood risk is high.
Thanks to traffic management teams, safety officers and emergency call boxes, it is easy to get roadside assistance.
Basic third-party car insurance is compulsory in the Philippines. International car insurance is not usually accepted, so expats should get this from a local insurance 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.
Expats in the Philippines for over 90 days who plan to drive a vehicle 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.
Boat travel in the Philippines
Thanks to the Philippines’ archipelagic geography, 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.
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. The national air carrier is Philippine Airlines, which is the oldest commercial airline in Asia.