Philippines Flag

Philippines Overview

THE PHILIPPINES is made up of a group of nearly 7,107 islands, which are home to verdant, natural panorama and a tropical climate. Though the country is generally mountainous, it also has lush, central and coastal plains, and rich valleys. The Philippine coast is irregular and rugged, and the country contains several active volcanoes. The three major islands are Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, which stand for the three stars in the Philippine flag.

The country is strategically located between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Manila, the capital city, is only a two-hour flight from Hong Kong and Taipei. It is often voted one of the most livable countries in Asia for expatriate families. Why is it so popular? Because of the country’s legendary hospitality. Filipinos, in general, are welcoming of foreigners – whether they are retirees who have decided to relocate to the Philippines permanently, expats on a three-year assignment from the head office, investors coming in on tourist visas and extending their stay for long periods of time, or tourists in town for a week or two. There is no place on earth where a stranger is welcomed with more warmth and with more fanfare.

There are other plus factors. The Philippines has a large English-speaking population and a well-educated and literate workforce. It is known for its natural beauty. One can enjoy the stunning Manila Bay sunsets, the spectacular white sand beaches of Boracay, the awe-inspiring Banaue rice terraces, and the Spanish period architecture that abounds throughout the country. There is the convenience of its location – for business or for traveling to other countries. The Philippines is strategically located between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Manila, the capital city, is only a two-hour flight from Hong Kong and Taipei. A number of airlines offer a single-hop flight to Europe or to North America. Expats can also experience a high-quality standard of living at a very reasonable cost.

The main asset of the Philippines is its people: family-oriented, fun-loving, resourceful and talented, resilient and hopeful in the face of adversity. One expat, writing of the things he loved about the Philippines, waxed ecstatic about “the chills down the spine at a perfect rendition of a favorite song performed by any one of an infinite number of highly talented Filipino performers; a domestic helper who has really learned to cook well your favorite home country cuisine; and a perfectly restored or repaired item you thought was unsalvageable until you gave it to a Filipino craftsman.”


One of the greatest benefits of living in the Philippines is the moderately tropical climate. Not only will you see the sun almost everyday, but the islands are also comparatively less hot and humid than most tropical nations. Possibly the nicest season is from November to March when mornings are fresh, and cool breezes temper the daytime heat. In Manila, the average temperature is around 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit). Typhoons are fairly common during the rainy season, and bring with them heavy rains and strong winds. In addition, minor earthquakes can be frequent, so it is a good idea to have an emergency kit on hand.

Culture and Values

The Filipino culture is centered to maintaining harmony amongst one another. Filipinos are quiet and reserved, and rarely speak in angry or loud tones. The tones used when speaking are just as important as what is said. Discussions and conversations among locals tend to be in gentle, soft tones, with loudness accompanying humorous situations and laughter. Loud outbursts, whether in business, private or public, are frowned upon and associated with dissonance.

Filipinos are also extremely formal and polite. The word po is used to show respect to the person you are talking to especially if he/she is older. Po is used regardless of the sex of the person, and is used for everyone including acquaintances, beggars, elders and strangers.

The people of the Philippines are a largely distinct and diverse community. Pinoys, as the Filipino people like to call themselves, are greatly influenced by Chinese, European, Indonesian, Malay, Spanish and American cultures.

Filipinos have unique set of values system. One of the most important is hiya –roughly meaning shame. Hiya will prevent an employee from asking questions of a supervisor if something is misunderstood. In addition, Hiya prevents a person from disagreeing, even if one is blatantly wrong.

Somewhat similar to the Asian concept of face, hiya is the controlling element of Filipino society. Hiya is reinforced by one’s sense of amor propio., which literally means “love of self.” Honour and pride, Filipinos feel, contribute to one’s self-esteem and should never be compromised, especially in a public situation. If a person acts without hiya in public, he/she is quickly labeled as a social outcast by the community. Thus, individuals without a strong sense of hiya are without self-esteem, and are not respected in society. To be labeled as a walang-hiya, one without shame, is the ultimate insult to a Filipino.


The Filipinos’ large and diverse cultural composition has resulted in several dialects and languages spoken throughout the country. In fact, about 70 different languages are spoken in the Philippines, with approximately eight of the major languages spoken by 90 percent of the population.

There are two official languages in the Philippines: Filipino and English. Filipino, which is based on Tagalog, is the national language. English, also widely used, is the medium of instruction in higher education.
Major newspapers are published in English. Most TV and radio stations broadcast in both English and Tagalog, and teenage conversations are carried out in a fascinating blend known as Taglish. English language skills are assumed for professional workers and generally widespread in the general population.

Expats don’t need to learn a word of Tagalog to do business in the Philippines but learning a few basic words can help establish their credibility and win over the hearts of the Filipinos.

The national language of the Philippines is Filipino, with large clusters of people speaking Cebuanao, Ilongo and Tagalog. Tagalog is the most common language spoken by Filipinos and is widely used in different parts of the Philippines. It is comprised of many words descended from Arabic, Chinese, Sanskrit and Spanish origin. However, with the large infiltration of North American influences, English is generally the language of choice for both business and politics. Several of the local publications and media programmes are in English, but it would be a mistake to assume that all Filipinos speak English. Therefore, it may be a good idea to learn some Tagalog to get along in your daily routine.


The Philippines is a multicultural hybrid (83% Catholic; 9% Protestant; 5% Muslim; 3% Buddhist/Other). It is the only predominantly Christian country in the region. However, most of the world’s major religions are represented somewhere in the archipelago.

Ethnic Chinese play a key role in the Philippine economy, as they do throughout Southeast Asia. The term “Chinoy” is used to refer to individuals with a degree of Chinese parentage who either speak a Chinese dialect or adhere to Chinese customs. Constituting an estimated 4% of the country’s population, the ethnic Chinese have a disproportionate impact on the economy. A number of business establishments are owned by Sys, Tans and Gos and most of the prominent “taipans” are of Chinese extraction.


Expats assigned to the Philippines work mainly in Metro Manila – in Makati, Ortigas, Libis, The Fort (Bonifacio Global City), Alabang, or Ermita. Their families can thus choose to live in single detached houses in prime villages or in high-rise condominium complexes close to these business centers.

Houses offer greater living space, privacy and outdoor enjoyment for entertainment and children, a place for household pets, and clubhouse privileges. However, most of these were built decades ago and may require more maintenance. Preferred residential areas (Makati, Ortigas and Alabang villages in Metro Manila) have a generally constant number of properties intended for rental.

Living in a condominium unit translates into more compact living quarters (even though many of the recently built complexes offer 3-4 bedroom units varying in size from 250-340 sqm). Administration and maintenance of these condo complexes make it easier to have repairs done when needed. These condo units are conveniently located near shopping areas where entertainment facilities, such as restaurants and stores, are easily accessible either by a short taxi ride or by walking. Rentals usually have all the amenities: air-conditioning units, cable TV and DSL Internet connection.

Residential buildings usually have round-the-clock security personnel monitoring the coming and going of visitors, accepting mail and deliveries in behalf of the residents. Subdivisions, especially the large ones, also have security checkpoints manned by personnel to screen visitors.

Most hotels in and around the cities offer substantial discounts for long staying guests. Such establishments provide high standards in comfort, security as well as personalized service. These establishments also offer the bonus of proximity to the business and entertainment districts. This is an ideal arrangement for busy executives who do not wish to be bothered with domestic arrangements.

Electrical Voltage

In the Philippines, the voltage is generally 220 volts and 60 cycles. Because of the difference in voltage, it is better not to bring stoves, refrigerators, washing machines dryers or dishwashers with you to the Philippines. Do not take basics for granted but check such things as electric wiring, especially because foreigners are apt to plug in more electrical appliances than Filipinos (washing machine, dryers, vacuum cleaners). However, most modern apartments and homes, specifically designed for expatriates, should have more than enough electrical capabilities to suit your needs.

Domestic Help

Expats in the Philippines enjoy the luxury of having at least one maid service. One can easily get the help he needs, whether for the home or for the office. The country has a culture of caring as evidenced by the demand for Filipino caregivers, therapists, nurses and doctors in other countries.

A domestic helper can be hired through a recruitment agency or through the grapevine. The Yellow Pages have categories such as “employment agencies” or “recruitment agencies” that handle recruitment and screening of domestic helpers (drivers, gardeners, cooks included) for a fee.

For expats who prefer to live in smaller apartments, it is common to arrange for live-out maid service. For those living in residential villages, live-in help may be a more practical option. For those who wish to handle their own housekeeping and need someone just to do the wash, laundry services have set up business in strategic locations in the business centers. Drycleaners also abound. Some deluxe hotels extend dry cleaning services to non-hotel guests at very reasonable prices.

Postal Services

Frequent delays occur throughout the national postal service. There are instances wherein mails are lost or tampered. Never forward any important documents or money through the post unless you send it via registered mail. If you are in a bit of a hurry to get your mail delivered, you avail the services of private forwarding/delivery companies like Federal Express and DHL, which is an international company, and LBC Express, which is a local company.

Doing Business

Foreign nationals arriving in Manila will find the business atmosphere to be most conducive to international practices, as Manila has one of the largest expatriate populations in Asia. English has become the language of the international business arena, and multinational interactions are quite common.

Business Customs & Etiquette
Although the business structure is basically based on common Western styles, there is one main difference — time is not of the essence in the Philippines. Business is conducted in a casual, leisurely fashion, and ordinarily every person involved in the dealings expresses their own opinions. However, remember to always refer to your colleagues by their official titles and do not address them in an informal manner unless they suggest that you do so.

Among the things that Filipino values are respect and courtesy. Filipinos respect superiors as well as peers and subordinates and in particular to elders, women, people with high positions and visitors. Never use foul or obscene language even in a joking manner. When greeting business partners, a firm and brisk handshake is good with a warm smile on your face. During the initial meeting, exchange of business cards is important and make sure that the business card contains name, company, mailing and e-mail address, contact telephone & fax numbers and cellphone number. Filipinos like to send SMS a lot as we are the texting capital of the world. Filipinos prefer to discuss nice things in public and unpleasant things in private. Coming on time for an appointment or business meeting is normal courtesy. But don’t get disappointed when a partner is late because traffic is very bad especially in Manila.

Keep in mind though that family inquiries and small talk are a good way to start off the meetings, even if sometimes the exchanges seem to go on for quite a while. The Filipinos are also rather fond of telling jokes, and although such delays may unnerve the foreign national, it is wise not to rush these proceedings. A curt or short response whilst looking at your watch will not speed matters along, in fact such actions may defer the decision until the next meeting.

Business and social culture in the Philippines is very non-confrontational, and heated arguments and debates are rarely seen as constructive. It is important to never to point out flaws or imply incompetence in Filipino counterparts. The concept of ‘saving face’ is highly important in social relations in the Philippines, and in order to build a strong business relationship one must take care never to embarrass or publicly put down their Filipino counterparts.

Most large Filipino companies are controlled by the members of a small number of key families and as with most family-run businesses, structures tend to be extremely hierarchical with power residing in the hands of a few senior managers (usually family members). This is why it is important to develop contacts at various levels within a Filipino organisation. Because of the hierarchical structure, it is essential to have good contacts at the top level, as much time can be wasted trying to influence people lower down the chain who are not really decision-makers. It is also imperative, however, to develop and maintain good relationships with the middle management level who will eventually be tasked to work with you on day-to-day issues.

Getting Around

Most expats move around in chauffer-driven cars but there are other transportation options in the Philippines. Trains, taxis, buses, jeepneys and trikes are the main modes of public transportation. The calesa, a more elegant means of traveling in most major cities, is more commonly offered as a “fun ride” in many public parks across the country.

One can easily move around Metro Manila using the Metro Railway Transit (MRT) or the Light Railway Transit (LRT). The LRT provides a fast alternative for the regular jeepney and the MRT passes through the major arteries of Makati’s financial district. Taxis provide the best means of transportation around the city, with a flag-down fare of Php 30.00 on the meter. Buses also tread the roads – majority of them plying the EDSA route. The best means of short distance travel is the trike: the motorized version is called a tricycle, and the pedal-powered one is called a pedicab. Trike terminals are often found near a marketplace.

The undisputed “King of the Philippine Roads” is, of course, the jeepney. Since it first emerged after the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, it has become a fixture in roads all over the country – so much so that it is now considered a symbol of national pride. Jeepneys are adorned with colorful designs that distinguish them from one another, with themes ranging from the serious to the outright silly, but all uniquely Filipino.

Road systems may be congested in major thoroughfares especially during the rush hour and when it rains. Floods in certain area may occur during the rainy season. All types of transport are available such as taxis, jeepneys, buses, and trains, down to the tricyles and bicycles. Peak hours are between 7:30 AM to 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Roads and public transport are very busy throughout the day. These transport systems are:

Rapid Transit
– Land Rail Transit (LRT)
– Metro Rail Transit (MRT)
Bus Service
– frequent services in the Metropolitan area and provinces.
Taxi Service
– available in Metropolitan area and cities.

Driving a car whilst in Manila can prove to be a daunting task, even for the most adventurous foreign national. The roads tend to be congested, and are very difficult to travelFor the most part, driving in Manila requires much patience and perseverance, and probably should be avoided if possible.

If you plan on driving, you should obtain a Philippine driving license from the Philippine Land Transportation Office (LTO). You will be able to obtain a license if you have a valid home-country or international license. In addition to a license, you will be required to have auto insurance with a local Philippine insurance provider.

It is quite common for individuals desiring to travel in a self-drive vehicle to hire a local national as a driver. This will allow you the luxury of travelling in your own vehicle, whilst leaving the local driving logistics to the experts.

Financial issues

The unit of currency in the Philippines is the peso (P), which consists of 100 centavos. Peso notes are produced in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000, with a peso coin for P1, P5, and P10. Centavo coins are in denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 25. At this time, the peso is fully convertible with foreign currency, but no more than P10,000 may be taken out of the country without approval from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Banking Services
As an expat in the Philippines, it is very important to set up a local banking counterpart and know the accessibility of ATMs. An expat must know the locations of authorized moneychangers and currency converters. The Philippines has many banking institutions that expats usually patronize. The list includes, but not limited to, Bank of America, Standard Chartered Bank, Bank of the Philippine Islands, Citibank, Metrobank, Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, and Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation. It is obviously convenient if an expat is paid electronically through a US bank account that can be withdrawn in Philippine Peso currency from a local ATM.

Most of these institutions offer traditional private banking services such as checking and savings accounts. It is probably wise to open a checking and savings account in one of the available banks in Manila for the duration of your stay. You should find out whether or not your specific bank in Manila is able to accept foreign-currency wire transfers. This will allow you to wire money into your local account if necessary, which is a good idea if your salary is in a foreign currency.

You should check with your bank to see if there are any special services provided to foreign nationals. It may be possible to have a direct-debit card issued and perhaps, an ATM card. You may want to affiliate yourself with a home-country bank that has a branch office in Manila. This may facilitate the opening of an account and the transfer of money.

There are a lot of moneychangers in the Philippines. Moneychangers are available at hotels, shopping centers, banks, and other moneychanger shops that are accredited and authorized by the Central Bank of the Philippines. An expat must first know the official exchange rate of the day before going to any moneychanger to have a good idea of how much money an expat is getting in the Php currency.

Opening an Account
Foreigners can open a bank account in the Philippines. The distinction in the account opening process, however, is in the status of the foreigner.
Resident aliens or those foreigners who been staying in the Philippines for at least 180 days can open accounts similarly available to Filipino citizens. Non-resident aliens, on the other hand, are usually allowed to open foreign currency deposit accounts only.
The steps to open an account follow the steps mentioned above. Banks require that you show your passport and Alien Certificate of Registration (ACR I-Card) when opening an account.

Banking Hours
The traditional banking hours in Manila are from Monday to Friday between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Some banks have extended hours until 4:30 p.m. and stay open until 6:00 p.m. one night a week.

Tax Requirements for Living in the Philippines
Generally speaking, taxation status is determined by an individual’s residency situation. Non-residents are foreign nationals who are not residents of the Philippines and whose primary residence is outside of the Philippines. Most non-residents are deemed as such if their primary purpose in coming to the Philippines is for a definitive reason, such as employment. In addition, all individuals residing in the country for less than 180 days, are considered to be non-residents. If the individual’s primary purpose of residence in the Philippines is something that requires an extended temporary stay, the individual is considered to be a resident of the Philippines.

Health Care

Doctors’ practices and hospitals can be found all over the Philippines. Top Philippine hospitals include the Medical Center in Alabang, the Asian Hospital, the Makati Medical Center, the Medical City in Ortigas, and St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City.
Medical practitioners in the Philippines are graduates from top universities in the country, and most of them have in United States medical schools. Additionally, there are also doctors that have practiced medicine in the US before sharing their expertise in the Philippines. Filipino nurses are also trained by nursing schools with the best standards. In fact, most of the nurses working in the US are Filipinos. Even public hospitals usually have very well-trained staff with a high proficiency in English.

Although no vaccinations are required to enter the Philippines, there are some precautions that individuals should take before arriving. The Philippines has an extremely tropical climate, and with this comes certain ailments and maladies. Before arriving, it may be a good idea to receive vaccinations or boosters for diphtheria, measles, polio, typhoid and tetanus. It also might be smart to obtain a hepatitis vaccine. Consider bringing along a small medical kit with you, that includes: anti diarrhea tablets, cold remedies, pain relievers, plasters, ointments, thermometer, tweezers and any other item that you may require. Although most of these products are available in Manila, you may want to have trusted brand names until you can find adequate equivalents.

You should also bring along a supply of insect repellent and sunscreen. Sun exposure and exhaustion are some of the most common problems confronting individuals not used to the tropical climate. Insect bites are not to be taken lightly either, with such diseases as dengue fever and malaria contracted by mosquitoes.


Foreigners, in general, are not usually targets for crime in the Philippines. Tourists, however, are targeted, so you should be cautious when in areas frequented by them. Petty theft is common, and kidnapping for ransom and extortion also occurs.

Punishment for illegal activity in the Philippines can be severe. For example, certain drug violations may be punishable by the death sentence. Long jail sentences have been given for swindling and “bad debts.” Gun control is also very important in this country. Foreigners bringing undocumented firearms into the Philippines may be subject to harsh punishment; some expatriates have even been sentenced to life imprisonment for that crime.

Road travel on highways and secondary roads is usually congested. The rainy season from May to November can bring flooding and typhoons, which makes travel difficult, if not impossible. Driving off highways and other paved roads at night is relatively dangerous.

General Security
Security is perhaps one of the most important issues concerning foreign nationals and their families as they move to a new destination. Since foreigners are often the targets of criminal activity, a degree of caution and a conscious effort to exercise common sense in all situations can help avoid any problems. In addition, entanglements and misunderstandings are often more complex when cultural boundaries and support services are not what you may be accustomed to in your home country. It is important to be prepared for any potential crisis.

General Safety Tips
When you travel, try to be as nondescript as possible. Carry only essential documents, and do not travel with large amounts of cash, be alert of your surroundings, avoid strangers and be cautious of all your communications.

In addition, it is wise for foreigners to avoid any action or speech which may be misconstrued by the local people. It is also wise to avoid taking photographs of certain objects like those associated with the country’s government, military or internal security. Also, taking photographs of certain religious institutions or monuments may be forbidden or may incite anger in the local people.
Although it may seem harmless, it is unwise to engage in any black market activity such as illegal currency exchange. It is imperative that you observe all local laws and customs. If by any chance you or a family member are placed under arrest, ask to contact the local embassy. Always try to remain calm. You have the right to contact your embassy and inform them of the situation. Most importantly, do not agree to or sign anything that may incriminate yourself or others.

In addition to the aforementioned considerations, foreigners should also keep the following in mind:

• Avoid unfamiliar roads and neighbourhoods
• Be alert (watch for pickpockets and other schemes)
• Be extra cautious after dark
• Do not carry valuables
• Do not leave pilferable objects in your automobile
• Invest in an excellent map
• Use well-travelled routes


There are excellent local colleges and universities in the Philippines run by the government or by religious congregations. If an expat wants his children to get more exposure to the local culture, he can have his children study in such schools. There are, however, a number of international schools in the Philippines that expatriate families can consider enrolling their children in.

Brent School South Campus
Address: Brentville Subdivision, Barangay Mamplasan, Binan 4024 Laguna
Phone: 6001-0300 to 09, (6349) 511 4330 to 39
Fax: (6349) 511 4343

36th Street
University Parkway
Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Metro Manila, Philippines 1634
Tel. (632) 840-1561 / 840-1570
Fax. (632) 840-1520

International School Manila
University Parkway, Fort Bonifacio,
Taguig 1634, Metro Manila, Philippines
Tel: (63 2) 840.8400 • Fax (63 2) 840.8405•
Admissions Office: Tel: (6 32) 840.8488 •
Fax: 840.8489• E-mail:

European International School Manila
75, Swaziland Street Better Living Subdivision
1711 Parañaque City Philippines