The Philippines is an archipelago in Southeast Asia, home to many natural wonders, including active volcanoes and lush rainforests. Other tourist attractions will include exploring the coral reefs, taking a hike through the jungle with the help of a guide. Beaches are also opened for bathing under the tropical sun and Manila, the capital city is a crowded city buzzing with excitement.
The capital city, Manila is very crowded and it takes some nerves of steel and guts to get past the inferno that lies on the streets. But before you arrive in the city, you must go to the airport. Always book a cab or ask the hotel you're going to stay, about a trustworthy cab driver. Some taxis are not registered and it could be the sign of a scam.
As it is a tropical country and surrounded by water in every direction, the air is humid and the temperatures are unbearable especially in the summertime. Hydration is a must when strolling around the city of Manila and in the rainforests.
However the above sentences sound, things aren’t that pristine. The country is cataloged as being very risky to travel according to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security due to civil unrest, organized crime, and drug smuggling. Also, terrorism is not absent as well. So many safety precautions must be taken and some areas and islands must be avoided by all means.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Philippines
Overall Risks in Philippines: HIGH
Civil unrest in the Philippines is a big concern both for Filipinos and for foreigners. Clashes between civil forces and security forces often happen due to the political status that the country has. Not only, but an Anti-Western sentiment is also present and some protests also spark in the front of the US Embassy. However, they are not violent in nature and police quickly disperse the angry mob.
Drug trafficking and smuggling is a serious problem that the Filipino government is facing. Methamphetamine laboratories are present and the police forces are raiding every day in order to shut them down. Corrupt police forces often work along with drug traffickers to offer them places where to set their laboratories. The meth that is made in the Philippines is sold in all of Asia and Africa and some of it even lands in the USA. The reason why the drugs are so easy to make in the Philippines is that the police force is understaffed and under-equipped.
In terms of visiting Manila, the ancient landmarks have been demolished due to the bombings of the Second World War. Although the city is not quite a big attraction, it's very glittery compared to other Asian capitals. Foreigners are able to shop in various malls and shopping centers and pubs and restaurants are present throughout the city. But also, the shopping districts are hotspots for pickpockets and thieves and you could get robbed without even knowing it.
Terrorism is a concerning problem, as many factions inside the country sympathize with ISIS and are occupying territories inside the archipelago, including regions like Mindanao and the city of Marawi.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in Philippines: HIGH
Pickpocketing and petty theft are present in Manila and it demands high attention from everybody who wishes to travel there. Keeping all your personal belongings in the hotel room and locked up is a safety measure that must be taken by all means. Unmarked and unmetered taxis are another threat that must be avoided as some of the cars are linked with organized crime inside the city. The best way to ensure a smooth ride with no unpleasant events is to book a cab by asking the hotel staff about public transportation services.
Carjacking is common around the outskirts of Manila city. This felony can escalate into a violent one due to the fact that the carjackers bump into your car intentionally to steer off course. Cases have been reported as drivers been beaten after their car was stolen with all the goods inside. It may seem weird at first hand, but staying in traffic jams is safer than taking a detour.
ATM and card frauds are also not negligible. When withdrawing money from an ATM or from a specialized bank, be sure to keep the receipt and watch for additional fees. If you see anything odd in particular, address to the nearest police officer or police station and he will advise you accordingly.
Police response is not what you would expect. The answer to a crime of any kind is quite rapid, but the investigations could take a while to due under trained personnel and lack of equipment.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Philippines?
From what you have read so far, it is quite obvious that you really have to take care of your belongings - for example, your most valuable ones should be kept inside your accommodation if you are not using them.
Then, as rule of thumb, you should always pay attention to your surroundings - if you notice any suspicious activity, you should leave the area and go to a safer one.
Naturally, you'll want to avoid displaying any valuables - if you are not using your camera or smartphone at the moment, it is better to keep them in your pocket or backpack.
Moreover, if you see any strangers lurking around you, hold tight onto your backpack or purse and retreat to a safe location. Avoid overcrowded markets, streets, and shops as they will likely be targeted by thieves.
Scam Risk in Philippines: HIGH
If you’re not aware of your circumstances, you can witness some state of the art scams involving both persuading you of a false fact, or worse, drugging you with certain substances to steal your belongings.
The family scam is a weird, but an effective scam that will have serious consequences for your health, and your bank account. A member of a legit family approaches you and once you earn their trust, they will invite you for a drink. The drink usually contains Ativan, a drug that will make you fall asleep of making you unconscious and when the time is right, you will be left broke.
Gambling is another way that scammers can get your money and often end up with a life-threatening situation. A normal person approaches you and asks you if you want to play blackjack for example at their home with low stakes. Only the first rounds are of low stakes, but steadily, the stakes get higher and if you don’t pay up, the gang members will show up from nowhere and begin to threaten you to pay up and play more.
Phone scams work differently. The caller usually addresses himself/herself as the hotel receptionist and tells you that you have not paid some services and you will need to deposit an amount of money in a bank account.
Beggars and children asking for money is another scam that may work on you and best for you is to avoid these kinds of scenarios. Live bullets and drugs can be planted inside your luggage upon arrival at the airport and a fake customs officer will approach you and search your luggage. Once the illegal object is found, he asks you to pay a fee in order not to face jail of prosecution. Sometimes, the fake officers can kidnap you if you don’t pay up.
- How to avoid getting scammed in Philippines?
In order to avoid getting scammed, you should limit your contact with the locals - if anyone approaches you, it is better to ignore them and leave the area. We all know how easy is to get pulled in a conversation and how hard is to actually get away from it.
If you have any bad habits - we're looking at gambling here -, it is better to leave them for when you return home. As we have seen earlier, one can get in quite the trouble if their vices take over them or if they are forcefully drawn into a game.
In short, don't pay attention to anyone that tries to talk to you, be extremely cautious around ATMs, and keep an eye out for anything that seems even remotely suspicious.
Kidnapping Risk in Philippines: HIGH
Kidnappings are ordinary in the Philippines, especially in the Mindanao province, where some terrorist factions still thrive. Kidnaps usually go for a ransom in which the terrorist organization funds their operations. Kidnappings are mainly for ransom and no deaths have been reported due to a kidnap in the Philippines.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in Philippines?
Best way to avoid these is not to walk alone in the night within the outskirts of Manila and avoid eye contact with somebody that seems suspicious.
Terrorism Risk in Philippines?: HIGH
As stated above, safety in the Philippines is at stake as terrorist organizations led by ISIS and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) attack military forces that reside in the Mindanao province.
Due to the lack of police and military forces, terrorist factions tend to grow up in aggressiveness and number. Paramilitary forces often turn up to be linked to terrorist forces. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is a couple of armed terrorist forces that reside within the archipelago and often clash with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
A friendly advice is to avoid by all means the Mindanao province as a fight between the army and the armed terrorist forces could spark at any moment.
- How to avoid terrorism in Philippines?
When it comes to terrorists and terrorist attacks, you should consider whether the visit of a place of prayer or official building is that important - these types of locations are most likely to be targeted by terrorists.
The latest bomb attack, which took place on the 27th of January 2019, has caused the death of around 27 people - it took place at a Roman Catholic cathedral located on the Jolo Island, in the Sulu Province.
Moreover, as always, you should keep an eye on your surroundings and, if you notice anything suspicious, it is recommended that you leave the area and try to contact the authorities. This applies for unattended packages or any other sort of item that some people seem to avoid.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in Philippines: MEDIUM
According to solo female travelers, some remote parts of the Philippines are worth visiting and they have stated that the Filipinos are warm people and very helping. Also, another piece of advice is not to wear flashy jewelry when traveling as you can become a target for thieves. Female travelers usually avoided Manila due to the constant urban noise.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in Philippines?
As a female solo traveler, in the Philippines, you could hire a local guide to stay out of trouble and seek advice from a travel agency if you wish to contact one.
Rape Risk in Philippines: MEDIUM
Rapes have decreased since 2016, but the risk is still present. Some rapes start with spiked drinks at a pub or by kidnapping. However, the government has some laws that punish rapes by sentencing the accused for 40 years in prison.
- How to avoid getting raped in Philippines?
As always, you should avoid traveling in the remote areas of the cities, any dim lit alleys, and neighborhoods with a bad reputation. Also, consider dressing in a decent manner and refrain from leaving your accommodation after sunset.
Since there have been some cases of spiked drinks, it is recommended that you do not accept any drinks from strangers and that you take care of your own drinks - if you think something's not right, you should get back to your hotel.
Risks for People Traveling with Children in Philippines: MEDIUM
According to families that traveled with children in the Philippines, they said they did not encounter any troubles whatsoever. A child carrier is mandatory if he is under 3 years old and Manila should be avoided due to the toxic fumes that engulf the city.
The remote islands and beaches are quite safe for children. Do not lose sight of them as the jungle is home to some dangerous animals especially venomous snakes and tarantulas.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
Taking care of your children while traveling is more easier said than done. Why? Because it implies keeping an eye on them at all times - naturally, depending on their age, you might have some free time, so to say, from paying attention to them.
Nevertheless, given the possible dangers of Philippines, it is better to not be left alone with your children - have a friend or your tour guide accompany you at all times so that your children are always under surveillance.
Natural Disaster Risks in Philippines: HIGH
To be remembered that the Philippines is an archipelago and weather could change in an instant. Flash floods, typhoons, and storms are to be considered as they can build up in intensity and momentum and wipe everything in its path.
In the introduction, we have stated that the archipelago is home to some volcanic activity. As a matter of fact, the capital is sitting on a fault line that causes, according to volcanologists, 40 mini-earthquakes per day. If an earthquake does happen, just follow the standard procedures. Mayon Volcano is an active volcano that poses a threat every day to all Filipinos, even to those in Manila, as the volcano is 300 miles away from the capital.
Transportation Risks in Philippines: MEDIUM
There's not much information in terms of transportation and the road conditions of Philippines. However, it is known that landslides and floods can occur during the rainy season - monitor the media and make the required preparations before leaving your accommodation for the day.
Moreover, you should also ask for advice from trustworthy locals or your tour guide if you want to travel on a certain route - this can also be done online; however, make sure that the person giving your information is someone you know and can trust.
When it comes to the safety standards of the public transportation or any rental vehicles, such as taxis, boats, and buses, it can be quite low - in this respect, you should always look around before getting on a vehicle so that you can determine whether it's safe or not.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in Philippines: MEDIUM to HIGH
As mentioned before, there have been some cases involving the use of spiked drinks, which resulted in violent crime and not only. Therefore, it is recommended that you exercise increased caution upon entering a night-club, pub, or bar.
Such facilities can get really crowded in the evening and during the night, making it harder for you to track your belongings and the drink you have purchased - you should stick to your drink until you finish it and only then rush on the dance floor, so to say.
Also, politely refuse anyone that tries to offer you any drinks - no matter how kind or courteous someone might look, you can never know their true intentions and, in the end, it is better to be safe than sorry.
You should avoid staying up too late in a night-club, as getting back to your hotel can be quite difficult during the night - you have to make sure that the taxi you get in is registered and that nobody is following you. It is also not recommended for you to be alone in such scenarios.
Health Risks in Philippines
Medical care is under the western standards and hospitals lack specialized medical equipment. However, the staff is trained and can handle certain medical emergencies. A small percent of the medical staff is trained in Western countries and will handle complicated emergencies even with the lack of equipment.
For a personal matter, remember that the Philippines is a tropical country and humidity and heat is a cocktail that could land you in the hospital immediately. Taking some extra water with you when you’re going through the rainforests is mandatory to prevent dehydration and heat strokes.
List of Vaccines You Need in Philippines
The CDC has released a list of vaccines that are nearly mandatory to take before you engage in a trip into the Philippines. Humidity and wild animals can seriously harm you and taking some first safety precautions is recommended:
- Routine vaccines: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, and polio vaccine
- Hepatitis A and B vaccines
- Typhoid fever vaccine
- Malaria vaccine
- Rabies vaccines (especially for children that tend to play with dogs and other wild animals)
- Yellow fever vaccine (vaccines are limited in the USA, so making an appointment to your local medic for the vaccine months before your departure is mandatory)
Most Dangerous Areas in Philippines
- Jolo Province
- Basilan Province
- Cotabato Province
- Metro Manila
Concluding Remarks: Is Philippines Safe to Visit?
The Philippines is an archipelago that it is worth visiting, but avoiding certain areas is the right way to go. Civil unrest, terrorism and the threat of kidnapping are true and it can seriously ruin your vacation.
Pickpocketing and petty theft is also a major concern for foreigners when they travel in Manila and not only. Keeping your personal belongings in the hotel room is a very good advice and being careful about the taxis you are about to choose. Some taxis are not metered of unmarked and they could be linked to criminal organizations as they are present in the country.
Women that travel alone and families are welcomed to the country, but be sure to go as remote as possible and hiring a tour guide or traveling with an agency could be a live saver as well.
Health and environmental issues are some other things that you should worry about as a medical insurance available worldwide are mandatory as well. Transportation in your home country can cost a lot if your insurance does not cover for the Philippines.