Money and Cost of Living in the Philippines

The unit of currency in the Philippines is the peso (P), which is also spelled piso in Filipino, and is divided into 100 centavos (c). Banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000 pesos. Coins are in 10c and 25c pieces, and P1, P5 and P10.

The smartest way to bring cash to the Philippines is in the form of a credit card, cash card or debit card. Provided you have your PIN, you can use these to get cash or cash advances from thousands of banks and ATMs in the Philippines (but don’t expect to find these in rural areas – always stock up on cash before leaving a city).

Of course, you’ll want to back up your plastic with some cash (US dollars are the most widely accepted) and travellers cheques. Using plastic with a cash back-up will save you from having to deal with local moneychangers, who seem to have made a science out of ripping off tourists; Lonely Planet receives stacks of letters and emails each year from victims of these schemes – don’t say you weren’t warned!

There’s a bewildering array of banks operating in the Philippines, so look around before deciding which to use. The Philippine National Bank (PNB), Equitable PCI Bank, Metrobank, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) are some of the big names in local banking. Global banks, such as Citibank and HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), also provide consumer-banking services in the Philippines.

The Philippines is a bit more expensive than Thailand or Indonesia, but still quite affordable by Western standards.

Once outside Manila and Cebu, budget travellers can get by for around P1000 per day, spending around P400 on simple accommodation in guesthouses and backpacker joints, P200 for food in basic local restaurants, P200 for travel and P200 for sundries. If you’re staying put and bargain for long-term accommodation discounts, you may do significantly better than this daily budget.

Midrange travellers will come close to doubling the budget figure (say, around P1950 per day), spending around P850 on a reasonably comfortable hotel or simple resort accommodation, P500 for three decent meals a day, P300 for travel and another P300 for sundries.

Once you enter top-end territory, the sky is almost the limit: top-end accommodation prices will almost always be quoted in US dollars, and will average around US$80 for a resort or standard hotel (though this can go much higher); meals at good restaurants can run to P500 or more per person; full-day car and driver hire will cost around P1000.

Of course, as far as prices go in the Philippines, location is the operative word. Prices in Manila or Cebu City aren’t necessarily indicative of expenses for the rest of your trip. In particular, Manila’s accommodation (especially midrange) tends to be pricey compared with the provinces. Likewise, the internationally famous resort Boracay is a lot pricier than most other islands, though bargains can be found even there. The season also plays a huge role in accommodation prices: in the off-season, you can ask for and expect to receive discounts on accommodation of between 20% and 40%.

Fortunately, no matter where you go in the Philippines, basic necessities are amazingly cheap all year round. Likewise, transport, with the exception of private boat and car hire, is also a great bargain, with airfares as low as you’ll find in any other parts of Southeast Asia.

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