Travel to the Philippines - Things you need to know
Planning your holiday in the Philippines
Make sure your passport is valid! You need at least 6 months beyond your period of intended stay and, working in a travel agency I have had at times clients coming to me the day before their flight to say that their passports are expired. Not only will it cause you stress, your travel plans all have to be changed. This can result in extra costs and unnecessary worry when a little planning could have prevented this. Check your passport as soon as you start planning your trip, it only takes a minute.
Tourist visa for Philippines
As a tourist, when you enter the Philippines your passport will be automatically stamped with a 21 day visa visa waiver. This can be extended to 59 days at the immigration office in Mandaue (if you are in Cebu). You’re looking at a cost of around 3000 Pesos. This can be done at a travel agency, or some of the hotels might have a visa processing service in which they charge a fee on top of the visa extension price. We have done it in a number of travel agencies, the fees range from 500 to 1000 Pesos. If you do it yourself and go to the immigration office, you probably need to wait around an hour to get your extension. If you plan ahead you can actually get up to a 59 day visa before you leave your country. After the 59 days you can keep extending by 2 months up to a total of 16 months. After 16 months it’s possible to extend up to 24 months but you will need to personally visit the consulate and have a valid reason for wanting to extend (i.e. health). Basically it’s up to the discretion of the immigration officer whether they issue the extension, so it’s best to look presentable. Otherwise you can just leave the country, re-enter the Philippines and get a new 21 day visa. If you need to stay longer, you will need to repeat the process again (as above).
For more information on this and current information check the Philippine immigration webpage for updates.
Another useful website for visa information is -
For Australian tourists you can organise visas through Visalink.
Remember the Philippines is a third world country so there are diseases to be aware of. Only last year there was an outbreak of Dengue (spread by mosquitoes) in Cebu City. It’s best to check with your local GP for advice. In Australia we use the Travel Doctor (website below) who specialise in travel vaccinations, we have found on the web, offices in the UK and USA that specialise in this (list of websites below). Your health is important, so please do your research.
Websites that may be helpful:
Unfortunately things do go wrong, i.e. petty theft, lost luggage or even accidents. In our years of travel we all know this too well! I have had things stolen and on a separate occasion ended up in hospital with food poisoning. Make sure to keep all documentation (original receipts ,police reports for theft and hospital receipts, basically as much details as you can) to claim for Insurance. Having insurance can give you peace of mind when something bad happens, it’s only a small price to pay so we recommend buying travel insurance. There are a lot of travel insurance companies on the web and even the company that insures your home or car may have travel insurance as well. Your travel agent will be able to offer insurance deals, if you book online you can purchase insurance packages as well.
Booking your trip to Cebu (or Philippines)
In years gone by if you wanted to book a holiday it meant you had to through a local travel agent. These days with the internet you can book your own holiday yourself in the comfort of your own home. Having booked and used travel websites, we have found they have become so easy to use and it’s definitely the way of the future. Some people may still be more comfortable using a travel agent but buy buying online not only is it safe and secure, you’re going to save hundreds of dollars. Via the internet there are no overhead costs that a travel agent has. All you need is your origin and destination and the computer works out the best and cheapest options for you. Becoming your own travel agent has never been easier. We have listed a couple of travel websites below, we recommend you compare prices to find the best deal for you!
Remember when you book your flight you will need a return ticket or a ticket with a flight exiting the Philippines.
Websites that might be useful:
http://www.seatguru.com/ - a great reference tool to check out good or bad seats on different airlines and different aircraft
http://seatexpert.com/ - similar to above website
Make sure to change some small money (at the airport). One thing we found is in some places people never seem to have change for big notes (1000/500 Pesos) so change some money and get smaller notes, like 100 Pesos bills.
Remember if you’re flying via Manila to Cebu the luggage allowance decreases on domestic flights, so you may end up paying extra on the domestic flight. Economy International is usually 20 kg and domestic 15 kg.
Departure tax from the Philippines is collected at the airport (not on your ticket). From Cebu international departure is 550 Pesos and for domestic departures it is 200 Pesos.
Booking your hotels in Cebu (or Philippines)
Hotels can end up being the most expensive part of your holiday (depending on the length of your stay). Again this is where we save money by buying via the internet. It’s about doing your homework and comparing prices, everyone has their own budget and thankfully hotels in Cebu have enough choice to suit everybody. The cheaper pension houses in Cebu normally need to be booked direct (email or phone), the mid to upper priced hotels usually have their own websites. It’s best to check the hotel website as well as a hotel booking website and see if you can save money. We use Agoda and Hotel.com as we find these websites normally provide the cheapest option to book a room. They have the added bonus of having a reward point system that allows you to book future hotels for free or at a cheaper rate (as you accumulate points). We listed the links below. Again it’s about doing your homework and finding the best deals out there.
Cebu hotel tips
One of the things you want to do when you come of a long flight and arrive early in the morning (like at 6 am) is to check in and get some sleep. You don’t want to be told you have to wait till 2 pm before the room’s ready! It’s the last thing you want to hear! This tip may not be for everyone as it does cost you extra. When I was working as a travel agent some of my clients didn’t mind paying for an extra night (the night before) and in Cebu (most) rooms are generally not that expensive. This allowed them to check straight into the room at 6 am in the morning and get some sleep. It was quite popular with my clients and maybe it could work for you! If you’re going to book the night before, do let the hotel know this is your intention (arrival time and date) so they may have the room ready for you (and not have cancelled your booking).
One of the most common complaints I hear is about getting things stolen out of the room. Never leave anything of value in your room. Don’t forget this is a third world country and the staff get paid only 3 or 4 dollars a day… seeing a nice camera lying on the shelf can be tempting. Lock it in the room safe or, if there’s not get it locked at reception. The very last option is lock it in your suitcase! Chambermaids work is hard work for little pay, leave them a tip –they really appreciate it and it can really go a long way (and maybe help you with any favours you might need).
The newer type hotels now have an electronic power switch so when you walk out of the room the power goes off (and saves the hotel money!) What we hate in a tropical country is coming into a hot room! The hotels won’t like this but most of those power switches are the size of a credit card. We leave a card (don’t use a credit card!!) or folded paper in these to keep the air conditioning running while we are away. Note this doesn’t work all the time, but it’s worth a try.
Sometimes staff are accused of not being helpful enough, the reason is not that they don’t want to help you but rather that they worry to offend or upset you if they do something wrong (it’s a cultural thing). You only need to ask and they will go out of their way to help you.
If you’re staying at hotel for a longer period of time (more than a week) ask for a discount, hotels prefer longer stays as it means a regular payment.
Low season (around Jun – Nov) many hotels offer promo rates or discounts.
When it comes to hot water showers don’t be put off by a resort or hotel that doesn’t have hot water. Being a tropical country, cold water isn’t icy cold like in Europe, North American or Australia and it’s quite bearable.
Car hire in the Philippines
We never really used car hire in the Philippines or Cebu, we have just used taxis as they are so cheap. In case you like to use car hire this online company rents cars from Cebu airport.
Things about the Philippines you need to know
Brownouts (blackouts) – they happen pretty regularly, most of the larger hotels have backup generators.
Things a little more slower in the Philippines, just expect service to be at a slower pace – exercise some patience
Things not working – remember this is third world country, things sometimes just don’t work! ATMS are regularly offline, bad mobile phone coverage, wifi not working and little things like that. Remember you’re on holidays, chill a bit and relax!
Traffic, noise and pollution- it is a problem though not as bad as other parts of Asia.
Cebu and the rest of the Philippines is a wonderful and rewarding experience for any traveller and we really hope you enjoy your trip to Cebu as much as we do.