Philippines – Basic Driving Tips

Despite slow movement of traffic in very congested cities, driving culture in the Philippines can be generally be described as chaotic.

Foreigners who have a valid driver’s license from another country may use their license for up to 90 days from their arrival. Beyond that, however, they would need to apply for a local, non-professional license, or what is known as license conversion.  Pre-requisites for such a license conversion are:  a work visa bearing a minimum 1-year validity at the time of the application; the Alien Certificate of Registration Identity Card (ACR I-card); a valid foreign license recognized by the Land Transportation Office of the Philippines; and an English translation from a Consular Office, if so applicable.

In the Philippines, driving is on the right side of the road. Dealing with Philippine traffic seems to require patience more than extreme caution. Bumper-to-bumper congestion is a way of life for the majority. Should you need to be at a certain place at a particular time, be sure to plan ahead and depart for your destination early. It’s best to overestimate your travel time, if you can’t afford to be late.

Nonetheless, defensive driving is still important especially in Metro Manila. There will be drivers who will swerve or pass without warning.  Jeepneys, a common form of public transport around the city, have the invariable habit of stopping just about anywhere for passengers.

Always wear your seatbelt for your own safety. Besides, most cities have laws requiring the use of the seatbelts. Traffic enforcers will apprehend drivers to remind them to wear them, will issue a ticket and confiscate the driver’s license.

One will normally find tolls on the highways leading to another province or city. RFIDs are becoming more the norm but it’s best to always have available change to speed up the payment process when passing these sections. Signage in the country will normally post a 30-40 km/h speed limit, but in Manila Expressways the speed limit is usually 100 km/h.  Unfortunately, while inner lanes in highways are meant for faster speed, this is not normally observed.

Other Tips:

  • Don’t use mobile phones or other electronic devices while driving on any public thoroughfare, highway or street in the Philippines, or while temporarily stopped at a red light. This law is covered by  Anti-Distracted Driving Act, officially recorded as Republic Act No. 10913.
  • Avoid buses, trucks, and jeepneys. Ordinary buses usually run faster than expected. Truck usually carry full loads and may not be able to stop abruptly if required. And as mentioned, jeepneys stop anywhere and commonly have busted rear stoplights.
  • Install WAZE, a GPS navigation software, free to download, that works on smartphones and tablets with GPS support. This provides turn-by-turn navigation and takes into consideration the traffic situation.
  • Makati City is known to have very strict implementation of traffic rules and ordinances. It will also have exceptions. For example, with the number coding scheme, the general provision states that vehicles whose plate numbers are prohibited on a certain day is permitted to be on the road from 10am-3pm.  Makati City does not have any such window hour.  If you miss this window, you would need to commute going there. Makati City is also plagued with one-way streets where unknowing drivers can swiftly be apprehended and have their license confiscated.

All in all, for careful drivers, it really isn’t impossible for a foreigner to drive in the Philippines. Locals will most likely discourage expats from driving in Metro Manila as so much time is consumed in traffic and since road discipline is still questionable. However, there aren’t too many peculiar rules that one would need to be familiar with, to drive in the Philippines.