Driving in the Philippines: suggestions for the foreigner

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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.

Buying ultra-fresh Yellow Fin Tuna in San Joaquin, Iloilo

Road trip: buying ultra-fresh Yellow Fin Tuna in San Joaquin, Iloilo

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.

Road conditions...

Road trip: the end of the road for our new Innova when going from Alimodian to Maasin, Iloilo

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

Comments (10) Write a comment

    • Gener,

      When I applied for my Philippine driver license, I had a valid New York State license. I have to take the written test but no driving test. My wife’s NYS license had expired, so she had to take both written and driving tests. This may vary from LTO to LTO office.



  1. When I got my Filipino license I did like the idea of the drug test, I was more surprised to find out ,that it is mandatory in the Republic. My secondary thought was, “They should implement this drug testing as a policy in all the 50 states.”

    Flipping the other side of the coin, it is real sad to find out that most local drivers that are applying for the first time for a driving license have no formal drivers education in the Republic. Except for what they learn while driving with a temporary permit.

    Others will spend the money and time with more conventional drivers education. Example: Driving school classes by licensed operators.

    To summarized this matter: There is the educated drivers and non=educated drivers. Educated drivers have a better chance of surviving that non-educated one’s. That’s just my opinion.



  2. Does anyone knows of other Car insurances in the Philippines?
    When we bought our car, they gave us the typical Insurance offered by the car dealership.

    Since the date of expiration of our policy is approaching real fast, I would like to find out, other companies policies and pricing.

    I believe our current car insurance and pricing is too high and when you ask for names of other car insurances”competitors”, it seems that amnesia sits in. In other words “NO ONE DOES NOT KNOW OF OTHERS”.

    My current insurance company is MAPFRE.

    All I need is the name and telephone POC to start my inquiries.

    Thank You


  3. I am Filipino. I think a lot of young drivers here are arrogant. I used to live abroad in a western country. I think the drivers in that country were complete @$&($!


  4. that bad? I’m planning to visit Iloilo this May and I will be driving because i can’t stand the phil heat at all…Every time my bf and travels, we always rent a vehicle because it is very convenient for us. I know that the problem exist but is it still advisable to drive? We really want to,we really really do…


  5. greetings and salutations to all
    would like to know more about the deposit for srrv i have seen $50,000 but havent been unable to determine if this a permanent deposit or 6 months now i have seen a site that says $10,000 but based on pension can anyone help me??? not sure if i understand the difference i have inquired at the phil embassy here in USA but were little or no help at all in fact they referred me to makati gee!!! elmer


  6. AJ,

    Great to hear from you and welcome to the site. I hope you’ll give more of your excellent comments as you have time. Regards, Carol and Bob


  7. You got it right. You really nailed it Bob. Just be a defensive driver and nothing will happen to you here. That’s what i do. If you noticed last time, i was driving slower than a tricycle normally would. Of course, i recognized the fact that drivers behind my vehicle would be pissed off but that would be all. I would rather that they be pissed off than me being sorry for inadvertently causing trouble. It really pays to keep cool, calm, focused and defensive here. So, just keep on being defensive on the road and you’ll be fine.


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