Safety In Philippines - How Safe is Philippines for Travel?

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The thousands of islands of the Philippines together make up the physical and cultural mosaic of the nation. With a tropical climate, long coastlines, cities and villages, mountains and volcanoes, beaches, and coral reefs, there is much to explore in the Philippines. However, how safe is it to travel to this island nation?

According to the Safety Index 2022, the Philippines was 59th on the list of the safest countries out of 142 countries in the world. It was placed higher than Canada, the UK, Australia, and the USA! But here is the catch.  Philippines does have some safety issues that one should be aware of. There are certain regions and areas where tourists have been advised not to travel to. Besides, terrorist attacks, civil unrest, scams, kidnappings, assaults, pickpockets, mugging, and other risks are a possibility in the country. But, if one follows travel advice, takes basic precautions, and adheres to local laws, then Philippines is as safe as any other international tourist destination. 

Is Philippines Safe?

Safety in Philippines
From an overall perspective, the Philippines is safe to travel to, depending on where you go. Since Philippines is a large country, there are plenty of options. But certain regions are cut off for foreign travelers. Several countries, such as the UK, Australia, Canada, and the USA, have advised their nationals not to travel to the Sulu Archipelago and Mindanao regions. Both of these regions are deemed high-risk areas and have an active warning by governments to avoid traveling to them. Besides, even within Manila, tourists are advised to avoid the Ermita and Malate areas.  However, the other regions of the country are safe for travel. But one must be aware of the ground situation and the potential risks and safety concerns.

Terrorism in Philippines

Unfortunately, Philippines has been a target for terrorist activities. As recently as in 2020, a bomb attack in the Sulu region killed more than 14 people. Over the years there have terrorist attacks in the island nation, and the possible areas of attack range from public places to tourist spots too. However, the Sulu and Mindanao regions are high-threat zones for terrorist attacks and must be avoided. But it must be noted that over the years, the number of attacks has lessened. Since Philippines is surrounded by water, there are also pirate attacks. Again, these are most prevalent in the southern seas of the nation, in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. It is best to avoid these waters. 

Civil Unrest in Philippines

Military in Philippines
Local insurgencies and government crackdowns are some reasons for civil unrest in the Philippines. Again central, eastern, and western Mindanao, as well as the Sulu Archipelago, are hot spots for violence and kidnappings. But the conflicts are mostly limited to the southern regions and are not so much of a risk in the other parts of the country. It is common to find police checkpoints and security patrols on the streets. So do not panic if you are stopped for a random security check, as it is a usual practice.  Moreover, the Philippines government prohibits foreign nationals from participating in local protests. As a tourist, one must avoid any demonstrations or rallies. Also, often public protests can turn violent, so it is best not to be a part of these. 

So, should the terror, unrest, and kidnappings stop you from going to the Philippines? Well, no! Here are a few pointers to reassure and recap why going to the Phillippines for your next holiday is alright.
  • Follow the ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory issued by governments for the Sulu Archipelago and central and western Mindanao. For eastern Mindanao, the directive is to avoid non-essential travel. Hence avoid venturing into these regions.  
  • All the other tourist spots in the country are thousands of miles away from the affected regions. Thus, terrorism and civil unrest can hardly affect your trip if you chose to go to the popular tourist areas of the nation. 
  • Police and military are present in crowded and famous tourist sites for the safety and security of the people. 
  • Be conscious of your surroundings, both in public and private places. Immediately report any suspicious behavior to the local authorities. 
  • Stay in reputed and well-known hotels or resorts. Do a background check, learn about their ratings, etc., before booking your accommodation. 

Violence and Petty Crime in Philippines

Violent crimes are not unusual in the Philippines. Compared to petty thefts, large, aggressive attacks are more common. Gunfights, mugging, and physical assaults are also not unheard of. Besides, due to the poverty in many parts of the country, especially in rural areas, robbery, and street crimes continue to prevail. Drug crimes are also high in the Philippines, often resulting in clashes between drug gangs and the police. Hence, yes, criminal activities are a part of the social landscape of the Philippines. 

Petty crimes, such as pickpocketing and snatching of bags, are usually found in the islands' more crowded and touristy areas. Also, ATM scams can be risky where thugs attach devices to the ATM machine that record your financial data and transfer it to another card.  This fake card is then used to withdraw cash from your account. There have also been incidents where local thugs have spiked the drink or food of tourists to rob them.

What can you do to save yourself from violence and petty crimes?
  • Do not display a lot of cash or valuables in public places. 
  • Try to stay away from drug peddlers and do not possess any illicit drugs. Possession of illegal drugs will land you in custody for years. 
  • Keep your most valuable belongings at the hotel, and do not carry them in your backpack. 
  • Use ATMs in secure locations, such as banks and shopping centers. Use the password on your card with discretion. 
  • Shake the ATM machine slightly to make sure there are no skimmers.
  • Do not accept drinks or snacks from strangers. Also, try not to leave your drinks and food unattended. 
  • Avoid accepting strangers trying to take you around to show the town. 

Online Scams in Philippines

Online Scam
Philippines has also witnessed online scams that thug tourists. Online dating scams are among the most prolific scams to be aware of. There are dating sites and apps where foreigners contact those ‘seeking a relation’. Sometimes visitors travel to the country to meet their online partners. But then it often turns out that when they meet up in person, they get robbed. 

There are also a few other online financial scams that one should be aware of. Scammers have fake profiles that ask tourists to invest in gold purchases, job offers, sales, money transfers, etc. However, by being vigilant and following a few simple tips one can be safe.
  • Do not transfer money to any online ‘friends’. 
  • Do not hand any of your documents to anyone else. 
  • Be sensible about your online relationships. Read up about the different marriage and dating scams to get a clear idea of what you are getting into. 
  • Ask for identity proofs to ensure the online acquaintance's credentials. 

Travel Scams in Philippines

Transport in Philippines
Both public and private transport is available for commuting within the island nation. However, there are taxi scams, where drivers often charge much more than the fare. Also, be prepared for traffic and reckless driving too. In the case of public transport, the local buses are known as jeepneys. Many of the jeepneys are old and not always well-maintained.  The habal-habal are motorbikes with extensions, which are in fact, dangerous and illegal. But nonetheless, you will see them on the road. It is best to avoid sitting in them. 

Here are a few tips to make sure that you are safe from travel scams:
  • Try and see if your hotel can arrange transport. This is the best way to ensure that you are not being overcharged. Also, the driver is accountable and traceable in case of any mishaps. 
  • Do not sit in taxis that have no meters. The drivers will charge much more than the actual fare. 
  • Do not share a taxi with strangers.
  • Have a basic idea about the fares and directions before catching a cab. This will ensure that the driver is not taking you on a longer route or that you are not paying more than the actual fare. 
  • Public buses do operate in the island nation. However, be careful of your belongings while boarding a bus for the risk of running into pickpocketers. 
  • A cab service called Grab is operative in the country and a great way to get around. This ride-sharing app needs to be installed on your phone and you can book a cab from anywhere with fixed prices. 
  • One can also hire local cars. But you need to check with the car hiring operators about the license and documentation required, as it changes for visitors from country to country. 
  • If you are driving, then be aware of the road driving conditions and rules of the region. Avoid driving at night or during challenging weather conditions. 

Water Sports Safety in Philippines 

Water activities and sports are quite popular in the Philippines. However, it has to be noted that coastal waters can be dangerous and there have been instances of drownings. Also, there may not be lifeguards present at all coastal spots. The best way to enjoy a swim in the island nation is to keep a few basic things in mind. 
  • Do not swim in areas with red flags. It means the water is dangerous for a swim. 
  • Always check with locals if you are not sure about the tides and direction of the water. 
  • Wear appropriate safety gear if you want to be adventurous. 
  • Contact reputed and reliable tour operators who can suggest or organize safe swimming and diving sessions.

Health Risks in Philippines

Health Safety in Philippines
When you choose to travel to any country, you should be well-equipped to handle any health concerns. This could range from having health insurance to carrying the required medication. Besides, one should also consider the local climate, cuisine, and drinking water options and act accordingly. The Philippines has a tropical climate and can get quite hot. Hence, wearing the right clothing and consuming lots of water is key to not dehydrating.

Another potential health risk in the Philippines is contracting rabies. Rabies is a known risk, especially in Manila. Also, insect bites are common in certain areas. You can use insect repellants and use mosquito netting if sleeping outdoors.  Below are a few tips to help reduce the health risks while traveling to the Philippines. 
  • Carry your COVID vaccination certificates at all times. Some restaurants and public places may ask for it. 
  • Wear a mask and keep your distance if you visit any healthcare facilities. 
  • If you need specific medication, carry your medications and the doctor’s prescription. 
  • If you plan to work with animals, check with your doctor for a pre-rabies vaccination. 
  • Avoid direct and close contact with dogs and other stray animals. 
  • Check with your travel agent or the official website of the Philippines health department to ensure you are vaccinated against other ailments if required. These could include measles, polio, influenza, and other insect-borne diseases. 
  • Getting travel insurance for it will help cover medical and any other losses from theft, etc. 

Food and Water Safety in Philippines

The locals in the Philippines drink normal tap water. But for tourists, it is advised to always buy and drink packaged water. In case you do have to drink tap water, then make sure to boil it. The same is true for any other raw fruits and vegetables that you might buy. Wash it, peel it, and cook it first! Also, great restaurants and eating places offer delicious delicacies of both local and international cuisines. There are also street food vendors that are usually working in hygienic surroundings. However, just to be safe, it is best to check the quality of the food and the hygienic conditions. Also, Philippine cuisine is heavily based on meats like pork and beef. So if you haven't tried those before or have allergies, opt for vegetarian dishes. 

Weather and Natural Disasters in Philippines

The Philippines nation is often prone to natural risks, such as typhoons, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc. One can expect typhoons during the rainy season from May to December. The country experiences around 20 typhoons throughout the year. Similarly, the Philippines is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity. 

Follow the guidelines below to minimize the risk of natural and weather disasters. 
  • Avoid traveling to the country during the monsoon months, especially between June and November, for they are most prone to typhoons. 
  • If you are planning to travel during these months, make sure to know what are the evacuation plans in the place of your accommodation.
  • In a risky typhoon, you might have to cut your trip short. So be prepared for the worst. 
  • Always stay updated and informed about the weather conditions of your area. 
  • Keep handy emergency contact numbers of the tour agent, hotel, etc. 
  • The authorities have PDZ or permanent danger zones marked out for earthquake-prone areas. Knowing these areas and keeping them out of your itinerary is advisable. 

Safety of Female Solo Traveller in Philippines

Solo Woman Traveler
Though there are other safety risks while traveling to the Philippines, surprisingly, the risk for solo women travelers is low. The Philippines is safe for female travelers alone, and there have been fewer cases of sexual assault or harassment compared to other countries. Also, there are facilities easily accessible for solo woman tourists, such as all-girls hostels and dormitories, etc. However, it is recommended not to become careless. It is advised to avoid traveling alone at night, just as it is recommended to keep the pepper spray handy.

Emergency Contacts

In case of any exigencies, contact the local emergency services. Dial 117 for the Police National Operations Center or you can also contact your nearest PNP or Philippines National Police Station. 

Traveling to the Philippines is a great way to explore the cultural heritage of southeast Asia. Besides, the country's natural splendor, history, architecture, and culture are perfect for travel lovers. But it has a few safety risks that must be considered. The political and civil situation and poverty lead to crimes and violence. However, if you steer clear of the ‘Do Not Travel’ areas and keep awareness and sensibility about yourself, there is no doubt that you will have a fruitful and enjoyable holiday in the Philippines.

This post was published by Tasneem

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