Philippine Driver’s License. Your foreign driver’s license is good for ninety days in the Philippines. After that you’ll need to get a Philippine license.
I’ve been driving in Iloilo City since February, 2008 when we bought a new, very basic Toyota Innova. Most days the Innova stays at home. We take jeepneys in the city, sometimes taxis. For eight pesos we can go most places we need to go and we don’t have to worry about accidents or parking. Besides, it can be more fun. When I’m sealed up in my air conditioned SUV, I sometimes (not always) look with envy at those in the jeepneys. That said, having your own car can be nice when it’s hot or raining or when heading to the mall to stock up on groceries or other hefty items. But mainly we wanted our own vehicle to explore the Panay countryside, especially when family or friends visit. Long haul jeepneys and buses drive so fast you can’t see or enjoy anything, can’t stop to see the sights, can’t buy local specialties, stop at restaurants and markets in the towns you go through, and so forth. With your own vehicle you have a freedom to explore your island and stop where and when you feel like it. Usually we take a cooler packed with ice, drink and snacks. The cooler also allows us to buy seafood at some of the markets along the way.
I did not have my Philippine driving license when I bought the car so getting a license was my first task. Since my New York State license had not yet expired, getting the Philippine license was pretty easy. Because I already had a valid license, the written and driving tests were waived. My wife’s New York and Philippine licenses had expired so she was told she had to take both tests.
We went to the main Land Transportation Office (LTO) office in Jaro. The experience was pretty good. We did not need any fixers and were not asked for anything beyond the official fees. The application form was given to us by the polite guard. We were then sent to get our physical exam and drug test at the somewhat shabby private offices outside the LTO compound. I had a hard time peeing more or less in public, but they were patient with me. The drug test is for methamphetamine and marijuana, the popular and affordable street drugs in the Philippines. The physical exam was pretty basic, vision and blood pressure. Then it was back to the LTO for photo taking and processing. We walked out with my completed license the same afternoon.
The main LTO office is in Jaro, near the Gran Plains Subdivision, before the Toyota dealership. You can renew a valid existing license at a branch office on the second floor of Robinson’s Mall in Iloilo proper.
Driving in the Philippines. I admit that driving in the Philippines terrifies me. I am terrified that I will have an accident, that I will hurt someone. I am terrified at the complexity and chaos on the Philippine roads. I feel that disaster is always close at hand.
There are so many complexities that I have to try to pay 100% attention 100% of the time. Consider the hundreds of children and other pedestrians along side the road. Will they dash in front of you? I had a young lady walk right in front of my car without looking. If I had not been going so slowly, I definitely would have hit her. Consider the disparity of speeds on the road, crazily speeding buses and passenger vans, jeepneys always ready to stop in front of you to pick us a passenger, slow moving pedicabs and tricycles appearing suddenly, going much slower than other vehicles on the road. Consider the darting dogs and chickens, grazing goats and cows wandering into the road. It’s nerve wracking!
Night time driving — I absolutely avoid it whenever it can. To the above, consider that many vehicles have NO lights and that there are practically no street lights — the darkness is deep. Consider speeding (or abruptly stopping) jeepneys with no lights — no headlights, no taillights, practically stopped pedicabs and tricycles appearing out the darkness in front of you, the roads still lined with people inches from your speeding vehicle.
Drive very slowly and cautiously. Don’t feel under pressure to do anything. Don’t make a move until you are confident it is safe. You can creep down a street, you can turn anywhere you want, stop in the middle, park in the middle or side or side wise. No one will complain.
Generally big vehicles have the right of way no matter what. Everyone yields to a loaded tandem dump truck barreling down the road. Cars generally yield to jeepneys. Keep your ego under control. Driving in the Philippines is one big game of chicken. Don’t be aggressive until you really know the rules. Are you retired? What’s your hurry?
IN CASE OF AN ACCIDENT, remember these rules:
1. Let your driver (if any) or wife do the talking.
2. Make the assumption that you are in the right.
3. Realize this is emotionally more difficult for the Filipino.
4. Remember that a Filipino driven to aggression is dangerous.
5. Get it over fast if you can – a crowd will develop quickly. If someone has been hurt, you might get assaulted by an angry crowd.
The US Embassy in Manila offers this advice: “If the other parties involved in the accident become hostile or accusatory, give them your name, phone number and business card and ask them to call you when they are calmer so you can work out the details. If you feel at risk or threatened by the section of town where the accident took place, travel to the nearest police station or inform the nearest police officer.”
6. Philippine accident investigation procedures require the driver of an involved vehicle to report to the local police station to give a statement. Expect this request and cooperate if all parties are amicable.
7. Always carry a photocopy of your Philippine Driver’s License and surrender this to the police. Do not give up your original license. This is often lost at the station and you’ll never get it back.
8. Have the police emergency number programmed into your cell phone. If things turn ugly you’ll be happy to have the police show up.
9. Be sure to obtain complete information about the other party – name, address, driver’s license number, license number of the vehicle and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle if other than the driver.
US Embassy, Manila Offical Advice on Driving in the Philippines:
Travel within the archipelago is possible by boat, plane or car. Traffic conditions are often crowded and chaotic. Drivers routinely ignore stoplights, lane markers and other traffic control devices and traffic rules are rarely enforced. As in most places where traffic is highly congested and under-regulated, driving in the Philippines requires maximum attention and patience to avoid accidents. Vehicles on the road include automobiles, trucks and buses as well as manually-operated tricycles and carts. Due to a lack of navigable sidewalks, pedestrians also use the road in most areas. Many roads are in disrepair, with large potholes; roads under repair are often not clearly marked or identified and may be a significant hazard, especially at night. Lower-lying roads will frequently be flooded after even a light rain, making it difficult to see holes and other obstacles. During the rainy season, roads at higher elevations sometimes experience landslides.
Pedestrians should exercise extreme caution when crossing roads. Driving off the national highways and paved roads is particularly dangerous, especially at night. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive by U.S. standards, and are the recommended form of public transportation. All other forms of public transportation, including the light rail and jeepneys, should be avoided for both safety and security reasons.
All front seat occupants of vehicles are required to wear safety belts. Traffic signals and signs, often in English, are similar to those in the U.S., and traffic moves on the right. U.S. auto insurance is usually not accepted in the Philippines, and foreign drivers involved in serious accidents may face extreme difficulties. The central Philippine agencies responsible for transportation and safety are the Department of Transportation and Communication and the Department of Public Works and Highways. In several large metropolitan areas, emergency police services can be reached by dialing 166. Emergency ambulance service is slow and unreliable and crews are rarely equipped or trained for life-saving measures.
Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance:Poor
Availability of Roadside/Ambulance Assistance: Poor