The Philippines is making the news recently, mainly for drug warfare and terrorism, thus giving the impression that the it’s a dangerous country. We’d like to assure you that the opposite is true, and the Philippines is a great place for traveling. Although there are some conflicts, it’s a very big country and most of it is perfectly safe. That being said, no place in the world is really secure anymore, and the Philippines is not excluded.
Some areas in the country are notorious for hosting terrorist groups and criminals. Being a poor country with a strong rich-poor gap doesn’t help in reducing petty crimes. In this post we will summarize all of the information needed in order to have a safe trip in the Philippines, including some practical tips.
The face of crime in the Philippines
As mentioned before, crime is prevalent in some parts of the Philippines, mainly in the big cities with Manila being the most crime ridden destination. The majority of the crimes you may encounter are petty theft, scams, and rarely holdups. In rare cases it might be worse than that. You can’t or shouldn’t avoid Manila or Cebu just because of that.
Other destinations are known for kidnapping, but as you’ll read below this phenomena is limited to very specific areas and rarely happens. If you are well informed and take the necessary amount of precaution you won’t have much to worry about. The number one rule in order to avoid such situations is not to go to destinations with a travel warning, unless you have an extremely good reason (don’t go there for leisure traveling under any circumstances).
Crime in Manila, Cebu, and other big cities
Big cities all over the world suffer from higher crime rates than rural areas. Manila and Cebu aren’t different, but Manila is by far the most crime infested as it is the biggest and busiest. The crimes you might face in the city are usually petty. If you follow the tips below, which go hand in hand with simple common sense, you’ll be perfectly fine.
- Stay in a secure neighborhood such as Makati, Pasay and Taguig in Manila, which are all much safer than Ermita or Malate for example. When you book with us we make sure that your hotel in Manila will be in a location you’ll won’t have to worry about safety.
- What you should be most aware of is pickpocketing and theft of your belongings. Therefore never leave your things unattended. Your bags should always be near you and within eyesight, and better within touch. Never have your valuables in your back pockets, and on crowded places wear your backpack in front.
- Be careful of strangers – Another common practice for robbers in Manila and other cities is to start a conversation on the street, creating rapport and distracting the potential victim, while their criminal partners will snatch your belonging, or they will lead you somewhere and rob you. If you feel like you’re forced into a random and strange conversation on the street, get out of it. Filipinos are very friendly, but use your common sense to avoid these traps.
- Spiking drinks is a notorious practice in the Philippines, and the target is usually single foreign males. The scammers will be either an attractive woman or a friendly stranger, who will buy the victim a drink. They will give him the drink after she/he spiked it in order to lead him back to his hotel room and steal all of his belongings. Never accept drinks from strangers.
- Beware of beggars! They aren’t bad people, they are just poor, financially and socially. They beg for money as they often need to provide for themselves and their families, and it’s impossible for them to find a job. It happens a lot that if you’re not careful you’ll be swamped by beggars from all directions and before you realize your belongings are taken from you.
- It is also true with street kids, which is truly a heartbreaking sight. Be very cautious and resist the temptation to give them money as they don’t take it for themselves but give it to the person who operates them. Give them snacks or food instead or, as hard as it is, just ignore them. Never go with them or hold their hands, as sometimes their families will claim you’re a pedophile in order to extort some money from you.
- Holdups are also happening in the cities much more than in the provinces, so avoid dark alleys especially when alone or in a small group. Regarding transportation in the city, use Grab, an app similar to Uber but more successful in the Philippines. The drivers’ regulation is very strict and the price is determined by the app itself prior to the ride. In any case lock the doors while you’re in to avoid any attempt of robbery.
- Taxis are notorious for swindling money from people and especially from tourists, claiming that the meter is broken, asking for a fixed price, or ask you to add some money to the final price. Keep in mind that during rush hours you might have to agree to their terms as finding a taxi becomes difficult. Just more of a reason to use Grab.
A word about safe traveling in the province
Traveling in the province is very safe, as long as there is no travel warning (read the section about kidnapping below). The people there are simpler than in the city, and in the province usually everybody knows each other. Filipinos are among the most hospitable people in the world and you’ll notice that immediately. In any case keep in mind that the same rule of thumb regarding strangers in the city (as you can read in the section above) still applies.
If strangers try to befriend you, just keep a healthy level of skepticism. Bear in mind that even if you’re a backpacker, to most people in the province you’re rich. If something looks too good to be true, it might be just that. If strangers you only recently met offer to treat you to things, keep in mind that what seems like a negligible sum is a lot of money to them. You should be suspicious to any scams they might try to run on you. This is rarely the case, but it’s a good mindset to have when traveling in poor developing countries.
Fake travel agents or tour operators can take your money without providing the goods. It started to be more prominent lately, and became a huge concern of the Department of Tourism (DOT). Luckily, the DOT regulated this issue, and fights fake or fraudulent travel agencies and tour operators. Don’t do any business with unaccredited professionals, online or in person. you can find a list of accredited business here.
Kidnapping in the Philippines
Some destinations are considered dangerous, primarily central and southern Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Those are areas with less government control and presence of terrorist groups, so naturally crime permeates all levels of society. Therefore a vicious form of violent crimes became popular in these areas – kidnapping. The areas considered most dangerous up to date are the Sulu Archipelago, and the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Locals suffer from it much more than foreigners, and these areas should be avoided by anybody without a very good reason to visit them. The method is simple, criminals kidnap a person and demand a ransom for his or her release, and if the demand goes unanswered, this person is usually transferred to one of the terrorist groups in the jungles. When this is done, the ransom goes much higher, as well as the chances for the captive to never be seen alive again. There has been a number of such incidents involving foreigners in the recent years, all occurring in Mindanao.
Drugs in the Philippines
Drugs in the Philippines is a very hot topic nowadays. The Philippines was never a drug mecca for tourists, as it was never easy for tourists to buy or use drugs, but it was possible with minimum risk. We don’t advise anyone on their pastime habits as anyone is entitled to do what’s good for them as long as they don’t harm others. That being said, do not attempt to buy or use any type of illegal drugs anywhere in the country.
The current president Duterte declared war on drugs, and he’s dealing with the issue with utmost severity. You probably heard on the news about the extrajudicial killings of drug addicts and dealers, that cost the lives is estimated to be 7,000 as of the time writing this post. It’s not a laughing matter, and there will no forgiveness even towards foreigners.
By now we are already aware that unfortunately no place is safe from acts of terror, and even countries that never faced these problems before now suffer from it. The Philippines is no different, as there are Filipino terrorist organizations, both communists and Muslims affiliated with ISIS. There has been a bombing in Davao, Mindanao’s capital, on 2016, and two attacks this year on Quiapo, Manila. All there is to say is that the Philippines is not more dangerous than any other country including the U.S and Europe.
Even though terrorists can strike anytime and anywhere, these groups are located mainly in Mindanao, where they have frequent clashes with the military. It has been only recently that local terrorist groups joint by ISIS captured the city of Marawi and declared it an ISIS stronghold in the Philippines, later to be recaptured by the Philippines troops.
However, these violent clashes are rarely seen outside of Mindanao, since the Filipino government has a very strong control over all other regions. The travel warning advises not to travel to Central and Southern Mindanao, Sulu Archipelago and the Zamboanga Peninsula. It also advises to be alert when traveling to southern Palawan, though the rest of Palawan – Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron included, is safe for traveling.
Emergency help in the Philippines
When traveling there is always a chance of getting into accidents, or other incidents where emergency help is required. There are two numbers you must remember: 911 – National Emergency Hotline, and 143 – The Red Cross. You can call the police or an ambulance with these two numbers respectively. Here you will find an inclusive list of all the emergency numbers you will need while in the country, for emergencies that 911 and 143 don’t cover.
It is safe to say that you should consider buying a traveling insurance, in case you’ll actually need it. Since many areas in the Philippines are remote, sometimes the only way to reach the closest hospital in a reasonable time requires a helicopter. Be sure you buy the insurance with enough coverage, because it is always better to be safe than sorry. In case of emergency be sure to contact your travel agent for extra help.
So is the Philippines a safe country?
The purpose of this post is not to discourage you from traveling to the Philippines. As a travel agency who promotes traveling to this country, we are absolutely certain it’s safe. Even though we know that like any other place in the world, this country isn’t perfect and tourists to the Philippines can run into trouble from time to time.
Therefore we feel it’s our responsibility to give anyone who’d like to come here the most detailed information that will keep him/her out of trouble. On that note, if you booked with us we are available online and on the phone in case of emergency, to guide and support you in times of need. For any suggestions and additional requests,just leave a comment below.
Where is these dangerous places you are talking about Mindanao , Zarabooka , Suli , etc. ? All in the south of the Philippines , I gather ? I have no idea whereabouts in the Philippines these dangerous places you mentioned are. All in the South perhaps ?
Yeah Tim these are all in the south and are typically not included in any vacation.
just been philippines eleven time , i had few minor problem taxi so avoid it best use uv express or jeepny or use uber fixed price , crime is not bad so lot of kid beg for money , best treatment is 40 peso which enough get food anywhere in round of corner in phillipines , now they have googles map all working fine just other countries , watch sign on uv epress or bus to take to you there , there combo bus station to take anywhere in phillipine so cheap , have fun there too , also new law please do not take t shirt off if you fell over heat , take water or ice cream or hide seek while take shirt off for few min like puff up cooler , ok have fun
Hi Paul and thank you for your feedback!
Just a small correction – Uber is no longer active in the Philippines, they shut down their operation here.
The only option now is to download an app called Grab.
Is it safe in Zamboanga
No it is not safe for foreigners – it is in Mindanao and quite close to where the Islamic rebels are located.
Carol from Ireland
Hi I’m due to visit zamboanguita in next 4 days after arriving in Manila 2 days ago .im staying in makiti and have already had bad experiences is this area I’m going safe or should I cut trip n losses n go home thanks
Sorry to hear you had a bad experience here in the Philippines. Hope it will improve, don’t give up yet 🙂
Zamboanguita is safe yes. It’s located just south of Dumaguete and people usually go there only as a stop on the way to Apo island to dive with sea turtles. If you are going there with no concrete plan you might find it boring, but no risk whatsoever.
People often confuse Zamboanguita with Zamboanga, which is in Mindanao and should be avoided by all tourists.
I will be visiting the Phillipines with my boyfriend in April and we are thinking about visiting Cebu and Siargao. However, being Siargao near Mindanao, I am a little skeptic about visiting. Should we avoid Siargao or is it safe? Is it Palawan safer than Cebu? After all the thing I’ve read I am starting to second guess our decision.
Thank you so much 🙂
Hi, i live in butuan city north from davao in and all i want to say is siargao and cebu is safe to travel
But i recommend palawan and i’m pretty sure its worth it
Both are safe. Go to Siargao, you will definitely fall in love with it. A lot of tourist visit Siargao every year.
Hi, I have been reading a lot that says Palawan is dangerous for tourists and that terroist organisations operate in Puerto Princessa and often threaten to kidnap tourists for ransom in the area. Is it safe to travel? If not where else can we go that’s safe and close to Cebu where we fly into? Also we are unfortunately timed and are traveling during the election in May – how can we try to ensure safety during this time? Thanks
Palawan is not dangerous, we send a lot of people there and never had any problem. If you go to the more rural areas or put yourself at risky situations like walking alone at night through dark alleys then of course something can happen, but staying in good resorts in El Nido or Coron is perfectly safe.
Regardless, if you want something close to Cebu and only here for a short time, why not give Bohol a try?
I went 3 times last year to Cagayan de Oro City, I visit Camigan Island most beautiful , I feel safe all the time I was there, few kids look for money, but nothing to worry me. I visit my girls family there, Macabalan, She warn me of bad places to stay away from, Most beautiful beach, I ever saw
Thank you for your feedback, it is much appreciated. Are you Filipino though? It is much different when it comes to foreigners in terms of safety.
Regardless, i agree Mindanao’s cities (CDO or Davao for example) are very safe, and so is Camiguin. We send clients to Camiguin all the time and it is in fact one of our most popular packages.
I will go to Cebu (visit the south of the island) alone with my boyfriend in two weeks and I am a bit worried about the safety. Should I be worried or is it not justified?
Cebu is safe. A few of the bad neighborhoods in Cebu city are better avoided, but the province areas are very safe and there is absolutely no reason to worry.
just practice general caution and you will be fine.
Mary Ann A
Hello, me and my husband are planning to visit Cebu City. Is it safe to travel there. What area of the city should we avo
Hi Mary Ann,
Cebu is very safe. The tourist areas in the city include Mactan island and the central area near Ayala Mall are absolutely no problem.
You should avoid the downtown neighborhoods at night, as it possible to find some trouble there.
Other parts of Cebu island, such as Moalboal, Oslob and Malapascua are all very safe and you should have no reason for concern.
Planning on heading to Dipolog City and drive to Baliangao mis a mis occidental mid March. Travelling with my Filipino Mom (non resident) who is from there. I’m half and first time here. She and family are saying it’s safe. I’m nervous. Thoughts? If now, why? I will have to convince her.
These two locations are in the unsafe area of Mindanao. We don’t have too much specific knowledge on those parts of the Philippines as we never dare to send tourists there.
It is generally considered very dangerous, especially for non locals.
I would strongly advise against going there under any circumstance, but if your mother has family there and feels safe then it’s your decision.
What you can do is show her all the travel advisories from various state departments, specifically warning against going to those parts of the country. For example, here is the most recent warning issue by the U.S, but you can find many other countries with a simple Google search.
I have travelled to Mindinao General santos and sarangani area alabel to meet my wife’s family I did feel uncomfortable at times when I was in general santos only because I was stared at by people in 100m radius but I didn’t come into any trouble, in the alabel province I felt 100% safe. I believe I wouldn’t travel to these areas unless your companied by someone from that area.
Thank you for your feedback which i am sure our readers will find useful.
I agree that generally speaking the rural areas are usually safe, especially if you are visiting family or friends there.
Still, foreigners who go there are an immediate attraction and words goes around quickly that they are staying there. You don’t know who will hear about it and what their intentions might be.
Hi there I’m leaving to come the BARANGAY DON BOSCO. PARANAQUE CITY to visit a New woman friend are there any safe hotels you can recommend and what troubles should be on the look for. I am African American Blkman 60 years old. And would be the best way to to travel to get there. Uber or bus
Paranaque is a part of Manila and generally safe. I wouldn’t recommend walking there by yourself at night, but that goes for most parts of Manila.
You should look into accommodation in nearby areas such as Taguig (BGC, Mckinley Hills) or MOA. These places offer a wide selection of both hotels and condos for short term lease, and are much nicer and safer than staying at Paranaque itself.
To get around in Manila, the safest choice is using an app called “Grab”. It is the local version of Uber. It is very cheap and doesn’t cost much more than a regular taxi, so there’s no reason not to use it.
Hi my partner and I are flying into Manila an stying the night for getting a sea plane and staying around the Coron an Palawan areas
Busuanga bay and Sangat island I was wondering how safe these places are ? And if it’s worth the risks that I have read !
Any information will be much appreciated and taken on board !
I assume you are going to stay at the resort at Sangat?
If so then it will be completely safe. Coron is not dangerous at all, but it is rural and undeveloped so i don’t think it’s wise to stay there on your own.
As long as you have someone taking care of you, it should be perfectly safe.
I’m not sure exactly what you have heard or read? Would be great if you can share it with us. There is a lot of misinformation circling online.
I am planning a trip in July. I am traveling with my 3 daughters and meeting another family in Manila for a couple of days before heading to Boracay, Palawan (Puerto Princessa) and thenCebu spending a few days at each. As I was researching inner island travel I began reading so many travel advisories and the unrest/terrorism in the Philippines. I am beginning to worry about being an American woman traveling with my 3 daughters perhaps it isn’t safe for us. We travel often internationally but am beginning to worry, would it be safe or are we an obvious target there?
I understand your concern, and it is important to always stay vigilant and aware.
However, the destinations you have chosen are very popular tourist destinations so there is hardly any risk. You will not stand out and you will in a developed and well controlled area of the country.
Traveling in May to Palawan and Cebu in May. Just was informed that it will be during the gov elections. Do you think it is safe to travel there during the elections? I read there may be rallies and protesting, not sure if Palawan and Cebu would be at a higher risk of danger during this time.
Thank you for the good and relevant question.
Political events here are usually greeted rather apathetically by the local populace. There isn’t too much turmoil and certainly no violence.
Moreover, both Cebu and Palawan are prominent tourist destinations so there is little to no chance of you being at risk.
Is it safe for a deaf person to trav6el alone to the Philippines
Thank you for showing an interest in our services!
Please contact us through our inquiry form, i’m afraid i can’t help without knowing your travel dates.
I’ll be travelling to Butuan, Davao and Cebu in June. Is it safe to travel in these areas? Since two of them are located in Mindanao.
They are in Mindanao so not 100% safe. However, both are major cities and quite far from the troublesome areas.
It would be better if you have someone local accompanying you, and preferably stick to urban areas and not go to remote villages and such.
I would not recommend these parts of the Philippines to anyone i know, but in reality the chances of something happening are extremely low, especially if you are the type of person who knows how to be aware and look after yourself.
Cebu is perfectly safe, same danger as any big city anywhere in the world… nothing more than that.
Hope you will have a safe trip!
How is travelling to El Nido, Boracay, Leyte, Surigao and Siaragao as an Indian ?
All of these locations are fine and safe, Whether you are Indian or any other nationality.
Surigao is in Mindanao, but on the opposite side of the island and quite far from the troublesome area. Still, unless you have a good reason to be there, i would recommend skipping that one.
Is it safe for women traveling to Angels
Yeah Angeles City is safe for both men and women. The only reason we don’t feature it on our site is because it’s mostly a sex tourist destination – not a whole lot to do there other than that.
If your plan is to visit Mt. Pinatubo then you might consider sleeping in Clark or even just doing the tour from Manila, instead of staying in Angeles.