Let me be clear upfront: I love being in the Philippines.
I absolutely do.
BUT, as beautiful as the Philippines is, and as warm as the people are, it has a bad reputation for crime, petty theft, and tourist scams. Though many areas are certainly much worse than others, there is a level of crime present which could make the Philippines dangerous to uninformed travelers.
Crime has been falling in the Philippines with the crackdown and increased police presence under the current President (17% year over year in 2018). With that said, the fact remains that theft and robbery are still a threat, and unfortunately for you as a foreigner, you had a dollar sign hovering above you the minute you left the airport.
Compared to some other Asian countries, there is an elevated potential for crime…
…if you don’t know what you’re doing. Manila has the highest crime simply due to the high poverty rate and density of the population, while most of the provinces you may visit are much safer, especially the popular tourist destinations. While the majority of Filipinos, even those living in the most impoverished conditions, would be more likely to invite a guest in for food than rob them, there are nefarious characters lurking and weapons are common.
Outside of Manila, it gets much safer with regard to outright robbery, but you’ll still need to maintain a state of awareness and use your head. It is worth noting that terrorism is present (mostly contained to the southern island of Mindanao) and the dangers posed to tourists there is much worse than petty crime, though these targets are typically wealthy business people capable of paying a kidnapping ransom. Still, generally avoiding Mindanao is a good idea if you don’t have a good reason to go there. For up to date travel advisories regarding the regions of the Philippines, visit the US Department of State country page.
Other than that, the Philippines is a beautiful place and I by no means want to scare you.
So is the Philippines dangerous?
It could be. Here are just a few things to avoid, for your wallet and your health’s sake:
#1: Avoid Taxi Scams
Some of the taxi drivers in Manila are accommodating and reliable but most of them are professional scammers, especially the ones at the arrivals gate of the airport. If you are a seasoned traveler, you will know to only use the metered taxis, and strictly avoid anyone offering you a ride. Be mindful to check every taxi meter and tell the driver to use it. If he refuses, simply get out and move on.
From the Airport
When arriving at any of the 3 airport terminals in Manila, just ask the security guards (don’t worry there’s plenty) where the meter taxis are. You may have to walk past a few otherwise legitimately appearing taxis to do so. It goes without saying then, to ignore the countless offers you’ll get along the way.
How to avoid this?
Use only metered taxis OR use the Grab/ Uber app. This eliminates the hassle of finding a cab that will not overcharge you and saves the time of going through 10 to find the one that won’t.
If traveling with a Filipino friend(s), hide out of sight and have them hail a taxi and confirm the destination and meter situation (if not using Grab). After that, you may make your foreign presence known, to the disdain of the scam hopeful driver.
If while in Manila a taxi driver puts you in a bad position, you can contact the LTFRB (Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board). Their hotline number is (1342) and is open 24/7. Drivers are aware of this and even locals utilize this reporting mechanism frequently.
#2: Avoid Unsolicited Conversations
The modus operandi of many criminals targeting tourists is: They find something in common to talk about or offer help in some way before a robbery is carried out. If something seems off or they seem to be pushing their help on you unsolicited, disengage at once. Watch out for this at tourist spots in Manila such as the Airport, Intramuros, Rizal Park, and in nightlife establishments.
Use your brain. If they seem pushy with their assistance, odds are high that it’s a scam.
#3: Watch Your Drinks
If out for the night in any of the entertainment areas, keep control of your drink. Tourists are commonly drugged, but usually in the seedier nightlife areas. It will be clear if you’re in one of these areas.
#4: Maintain Control of Your Belongings
Occasionally a random person may offer to help with your bags while waiting for a taxi, bus or otherwise. Though many may just be looking for an innocent tip, it opens you up to risk and could be a plot to distract you.
When checking into the airport, you’ll be enticed to skip the line by luggage porters in Purple shirts. If running late, this may be worth doing, but be aware that you’ll be asked for extortionist fees after doing so.
Also, there have been reports (though mostly before the current President) of airport staff placing live ammunition in unsuspecting travelers’ luggage. Ultimately, after a phony search is conducted, a bribe is solicited from the “suspect” (you) to make the situation go away. Again, this hasn’t happened in a long time, but it did happen enough to warrant precautions.
How to avoid this?
Use a lock or luggage wrap services available at the airport, and don’t let anyone handle your bags.
#5: Avoid Flaunting
This goes for nice watches, purses, iPhones, iPads and anything valuable. If it’s small and exposed, it risks being grabbed. Anything valuable should be protected or left secured in your room or bag. Being flashy makes you a target for crime and elevated taxi prices, among other things.
The same applies for clothing. If you’re going to a work meeting or a nice dinner, minimize your exposure beyond that. Dressing nicely AND being a foreigner makes you an especially nice target for those that seek it.
#6: Avoid Rough Areas After Dark
And some during the daytime. All of these areas do have a few nightlife spots worth seeing, as long as the proper precautions are taken getting in and out (reliable transportation and/ or with Filipino friends).
- Avoid After Dark: Manila (City), Pasig, Malate, Pasay, Intramuros, Ermita, Ortigas
- Reasonably Safe, Day or Night: Makati, Bonafacio Global City (BGC)
- Avoid Totally: Anything in Metro Manila not mentioned above.
If staying in Manila, I recommend staying in Makati. There are many hotels, major malls and lots of nightlife in Makati, and it’s considered the safest part of Manila, after BGC.
#7: Avoid Walking Long Distances After Dark
This goes for anywhere, Manila or otherwise.
The more time you’re exposed after dark, the higher the chances someone with bad intentions spots you.
#8: Avoid Using ATMs in Dimly Lit or Isolated Locations
This common-sense rule should be adhered to everywhere, but in Manila especially. Many ATMs are located outside of or near convenience stores such as 711 and inside the entry to banks, which keep the entry open after closing.
Even after dark, many of these will also have guards on-site, as lots of establishments in Manila will. Use these ATMs in highly trafficked and well-observed areas to lessen the likelihood of getting mugged. If withdrawing large sums (over a few thousand Pesos), wait until daylight and use a bank.
The best scenario for using an ATM at night, is a well-lit ATM inside of a bank entry, with a guard right outside.
#9: Keep Large Bills Separate and Avoid Large Amounts of Cash
ATM precautions aside, just avoid carrying sums over 10,000 pesos. Also, make sure to not allow anyone to see you with even that. Keep smaller bills separated from large ones when paying for anything.
#10: Avoid Pickpocketing
Keeping your wallet, money, cards, etc. in your front pocket is a best practice anywhere. Pickpocketing is common in Manila. Leave at least one or two means of getting cash in your room, just in case you do fall victim.