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Philippines: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Asia, Philippines


Location: Southeast Asia, an archipelago of about 7000 islands surrounded by the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea.

Capital: Manila

Climate: Tropical marine with heavy northeast monsoon in the period between November to April and southwest monsoon between May and October.

Population: 96,061,680 according to July 2008 estimates. 30% of the population live below the poverty line as per 2003 estimates. A 2007 estimate places the rate of unemployment at 7.3%. Philippines experienced a boom in its economy in 2007. Remittances from abroad made by non-resident Filipinos contributes to economic growth in a big way. Agriculture is another major contributor and consists of exports in sugarcane, coconuts, rice, corn, and a variety of tropical fruit such as mangoes, pineapples, and bananas. Seafood, eggs, pork, and beef also exported. Other than income from exports, Philippines has thriving industries based on electronics assembling, garments, footwear, chemicals, forestry, food processing, and petroleum refining.

 Philippines bus
Photo by The Dilly Lama

Ethnic Make-up: Tagalog 28%, Cebuano 13%, Ilocano 9%, Bisaya/Binisaya 7.6%, Hiligaynon Ilonggo 7.5%, Bikol 6%, Waray 3.5%, Others 25%.

boy filipinoReligions: Roman Catholics 80.9%, Muslim 5%, Evangelical 2.8%, Iglesia ni Kristo 2.3%, Aglipayan 2%, Others. Philippines is a Roman Catholic country but has the freedom to practice any faith. Christian missionaries carry out evangelisation in remote areas as well as run charity organisations that encompass all faiths.

Language: Filippino, English, and other dialects.

Government: Republic

Travel Issues: Travel to Philippines requires a valid passport that has at least 6 months validity beyond date of stay. You do not require a visa if intending to stay for a period less than 20 days and are citizens of countries such as the US. Citizens of Brazil and Israel do not require a visa for a 59 day period. Others have to inquire at their embassies to get specific information.

rope swing in philippinesYour application for visa is to be accompanied by one passport sized photo signed on the reverse, your passport, proof of financial support for period of stay, application fee, and a self-addressed stamped envelope. You also need to provide travel documents for return or onward journey. Those arriving from areas that have threat of Yellow Fever need to show proof of vaccination in the form of International Certificate of Vaccination.

Health & Safety: Travellers to Philippines are required to be immunised against Hepatitis A, Malaria, and Typhoid. Precautionary measures need to be taken against diarrhoea, dengue fever, and certain varieties of influenza. Consult your health practitioner well before date of travel and ascertain from your embassy about the need for any specific current medical information that you should be aware of. Carry bottled water with you at all times. Eat only fruit that has been peeled by you.

Philippine city
Photo by Mediatejack


The People
About 60 different ethnic groups co-exist in this nation and that should speak volumes about the ethnic diversity. In addition to this is the influence of foreign influences, especially Spanish and the Western civilisation.

Philippine Mountain TribeThe Religion
Philippines is a Christian country that ardently practices its faith. A contribution of their erstwhile Spanish colonisers, Christianity has influenced the culture and is an intrinsic element of the social fabric. Islam is also practised though by a minority in the southern islands. Conflicts between the two major religions have marred the otherwise tolerant society in recent years.

Role of Family
Family relations are very close and tight knit among Filipinos. This preserves their identity from the mass of ethnic groups that co-exist on the islands. Traditionally grandparents, uncles, aunts, and their families all lived together under the same roof. Modern societies consist of nuclear families as well as extended families including grandparents. Kinship is solid whether as direct progeny or through marriage and even friendship. Close friends and god parents also receive the same treatment as family members. Parenting is a community affair where not just one’s own children but other nieces and nephews also naturally receive care and concern as one’s own.

filipino boysAncestors
Filipinos revere their ancestors while alive and after they have passed on. The elderly are taken care of by the children who normally share this duty without complaints. They have elaborate funeral rituals to see off the dead family members. Graveyards are always maintained well and visited by family as a matter of routine and not just on the day of the dead. All Saint’s Day is celebrated as the day of the dead when extra prayers are offered for all dead ancestors.

Recreational Activities
Filipino children in rural areas would never be caught indoors. City kids have their electronic diversions much like the rest of the world. Traditional forms of recreation like jai-alai, horse racing, and cock fighting have under gone transformations or slowly disappeared. As a nation they have a passion for sport in the form of baseball, football, softball, and volleyball. Martial arts are practised widely. Being a group of tropical islands water sports such as canoeing, sailing, scuba diving, and surfing have many aficionados.

Anything else important for this culture
Filipinos are very hospitable and friendly people who have a diehard bonhomie in their personality. They have a colourful vibrant culture and history that they are happy to share with visitors.

Philippines Village Home
Photo by The Dilly Lama


Meetings & Greetings
A non-aggressive hand shake with a cheerful smile is the Filipino mode of greeting for both male and female business associates. At social gatherings close friends and relatives share a hug and a kiss on the cheeks. Youngsters greet senior family members by a typical gesture of touching the back of the seniors’ right hand to their forehead.

bus girlsCourtesy
Always greet the senior most person in a group first and work your way down. Address people using their academic or job-related titles and surnames rather than first names. Most Filipinos have pet names or nick names that are used only by family and close friends. Make sure you do not use it unless invited to.

Gift Giving
If visiting a Filipino home it is good etiquette to bring flowers or sweets. Certain flowers such as lilies and chrysanthemums are to be avoided as they are associated with funerals and considered inauspicious. If gifting chocolates keep it to token levels and not extravagant amounts as this might be taken as an insult. Any gifts should be wrapped well and presented without fanfare. Gifts are not opened before guests.

Dress Code
If at a business meeting, dress conservatively and smartly. First impressions are crucial to winning the trust and respect of your counterparts, so take the trouble to put your best foot forward for your first meetings. Subsequent ones can be toned down but smart dressing is mandatory. Women need not stick to conservative suits, although it is appreciated, but need to keep shoulders and knees covered.

Casual dressing is acceptable at other occasions and is largely guided by the weather. Warm tropical temperatures dictate the need for loose cotton wear while cooler evenings might call for a light jacket.

 Philippine water restaurant
Photo by Mediatejack

Dining Etiquette
Do not seat yourself but wait to be seated as there is a protocol involved. Unless it is a buffet style do not serve yourself. Wait til the elders have served before you do so yourself. Likewise, do not begin to eat until the elders have commenced. If you’ve invited people for a meal avoid serving pork and alcohol if Muslims are present.

Visiting a home
If invited to dinner at a Filipino home do not arrive too early. You may even take the liberty of arriving about 15 minutes late and it will not be deemed offensive. Bring a token gift in the form of candy or flowers. A bottle of wine is acceptable in Christian homes but not in a Muslim home. Avoid dressing too casually however friendly you might be with them; it is an insult to be not dressed well at dinner. When invited to dine do not immediately move to the dining room but wait to be pressed a couple more times.

Philippine sunsetCommunication Style
Filipinos have a natural gregariousness that makes communicating with them an enjoyable experience. A warm greeting accompanied with a smile is all it takes to break the ice. English is spoken widely and they are very happy to answer questions whether it directions or about their art and culture. Do not attempt to discuss politics so as to avoid causing them embarrassment.

Dos and Don’ts
Filipinos set great store by their personal image. They have the concept of Hiya that regulates their everyday behaviour. This is the causing of some one or the self to be shamed. They go out of their way to avoid causing shame whatever the situation. So it should be a priority with the guests to never put them in such a situation. They will never say a direct Yes or No, so never press for a direct answer if you sense evasion. Do not lose your temper, argue, or raise your voice because of this because it will not get you anywhere but result in a loss of respect for you. Avoid direct and prolonged eye contact, especially with the opposite gender. Filipinos have subtle social class systems that outsiders may not be aware of; so be careful.

River Photos by  Mediatejack
Bus Photos, Sunset, Tribal Mountains by The Dilly Lama
Smiling boy by  Jayel Aheram
Cute boys by  Rain Rannu
Map by  joelogs

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