Maybe you’re planning a holiday or you have an upcoming business trip to the Philippines. Whatever the reason for your Philippine adventure, one thing’s for sure: you will need to spend money while you’re there. In this article we explain everything you need to know about money in the Philippines, from denominations and exchange rates to exchanging money and tips on using ATMs.
Currency & Denominations
The Philippine peso (currency code: PHP) is the official currency of the Philippines.
The colorful notes come in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200 (not common), 500, and 1,000.
Coins in the Philippines are heavy and come in denominations of 1-peso, 5-peso, 10-peso, and 20-peso.
The peso is further divided into centavos and come in denominations of 1-centavo, 5-centavo, 10-centavo, and 25-centavo, however, they are rarely used as they are not practical.
Exchange Rates & Costs
Like other currencies, the exchange rate changes constantly and can go higher or lower depending on the inflation, political stability, economic performance, and public debt among others. For real-time rates during your trip, consider using XE.com, an online currency converter that can be installed to a tablet or smartphone and can be used on the go.
The cost of traveling around the Philippines varies per area. In popular tourist attractions like Boracay, budget travelers can survive on as little as P2,000 ($40 USD) which includes a basic room, meals and snacks, and transportation. For mid-range trips, prepare at least P3,000 ($60 USD). Of course, luxury trips cost way higher than that.
Exchanging Currency & Other Cash Tips
Cash is still the most widely used mode of payment in the Philippines especially when paying for transportation and the local market. It is therefore a good idea to carry cash, especially coins and small bills at all times when in the country. Also, bear in mind that while there is no limit as to how much cash you can bring into the country, anything in excess of $10,000 USD must be declared to the Bureau of Customs in the airport. But then, you never want to carry that much cash when traveling to a foreign country. You can never tell what lurks in the airport or on the road while heading to your hotel. Starting your trip with you being robbed with all your travel money is not a part of the itinerary.
Upon arrival, you can have your currency exchanged right at the airport, or at the banks and malls. While you can shop around for the best price, always ensure that you are dealing with reputable money exchangers to prevent getting scammed. Ask how much you will receive after all charges and commissions before agreeing to a deal. Be alert when doing the transaction and always count your money before leaving.
Banks and ATMs in the Philippines
Finding banks and ATMs shouldn’t be a problem in large cities like Manila and Cebu. However in the provinces and even on popular islands like Siquijor and Panglao, finding an ATM that actually works can be difficult. It could be out of cash or not internationally-networked.
ATMs attached to banks are the safest. There’s a security guard nearby, the area is well-lit, and are less likely to have a car-skimming device installed by thieves. Additionally, you can ask for immediate help when something is amiss or when your card is captured by the machine.
Most banks in the Philippines, including Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Banco de Oro (BDO), Philippine National Bank (PNB), and Metrobank take foreign cards. Fees vary per bank but usually it is around P200 ($4 USD) per transaction. Maximum amount per transaction is P10,000 ($200 USD), and up to P50,000 ($1,000) per account, per day.
Using Your Card to Withdraw Money from an ATM
It’s safer than carrying cash, and the exchange rate offered is usually very competitive. If you’re going to be traveling in rural areas or staying in remote villages, be sure to take enough cash with you, as ATMs may be scarce. You don’t want to be in the middle of an island without cash and no ATM available.
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Traveler’s Checks in the Philippines
Traveler’s checks are not a widely used mode of payment in the Philippines. If you insist on using it, you are more likely to have your checks converted to cash at banks which can be a tedious process. Verification and approval could even take days.
Using Credit Cards in the Philippines
The most accepted credit cards in the Philippines are MasterCard and Visa. They are particularly useful when booking flights and hotels online as well as paying in larger hotels, restaurants, malls, and grocery. Some businesses charge an extra commission so take note of this.
Hoard Your Small Change
Having small change at all times is highly recommended when in the Philippines particularly in small places and when paying for transportation and local stores. You can acquire coins and smaller denomination bills by paying with the largest denomination bill in bigger stores and restaurants.
Tipping in the Philippines
Tipping is not required in most parts of the Philippines but it is greatly appreciated especially by those people who went above and beyond to help you with your needs (Example: grocery bagger who carries your shopping bags to your transpo). You can give them the tip directly, but for restaurant servers, you can leave the money on the table.
Cash is king in the Philippines and many local restaurants, shops, and accommodations will not have the ability to process credit & debit cards. Always be certain to check if a business is able to process your credit card even if they accept credit cards as often many businesses’ card machines are out of service. It’s always a good idea to have plenty of cash in pesos on hand as well as USD in emergency funds.