Philippines Safety, security and travel insurance

Safety and Security

Although most foreigners feel safe in the Philippines, there are safety and security concerns one should be aware of when travelling to the country as a foreigner. The Philippines has a high crime rate and is often subjected to frequent natural disasters. There's also the risk of terrorism, although it's relatively low compared to other countries. It's usually the southern regions of Mindanao that continue to face threats of terrorism, but these places are out of the tourist radar.

Foreigners must exercise precaution when exploring the Philippines and safeguard their valuables in public places. Best of all, they should keep abreast of the latest political developments and be updated on the weather forecast.

Crime Rate in the Philippines

The Philippines has a high crime rate, and violent crimes are a particular concern. Gangs are present in big cities like Manila, and armed robberies are common on public transport. Foreign travellers must exercise caution and remain vigilant when exploring crowded places. They should secure their belongings and avoid displaying valuables in order not to be a victim of petty crimes like pickpocketing and mugging. Best of all, foreign travellers must avoid carrying a large stash of cash, displaying expensive gadgets in public, or wearing flashy jewellery.

Although the risk of petty theft is high in busy cities and popular tourist destinations, and some thieves operate around beaches and tourist hotspots, the level of petty crimes in the Philippines is still low compared to the many European cities.

Scams

Foreigners travelling to the Philippines must be aware of the various scams targeting foreigners. Some of the most common scams include phone calls and email scams and fraud on ATMs and credit cards. Always exercise caution when withdrawing from ATMs or using credit cards. Avoid using ATMs with unusual covers on the keypad as these devices may be able to read banking information and PINs. Also, be wary of strangers lurking around the machines or anyone trying to distract you as you withdraw money.

Always bring small bills with you when you can. Some vendors will lure you into buying more things by claiming they don't have change for large bills. There are also instances when taxi drivers trick you into paying more, claiming their meters don't work. Avoid these taxis and insist on using the taxi meter when taking a cab.

Terrorism

Terrorism is one of the issues that the Philippines is dealing with, particularly in the southern part of the country, because of the ongoing activity of Islamist insurgent groups in the area. These groups have been responsible for numerous attacks against the government, which include bombing government buildings, public transport, churches, and local markets. These groups are also often involved in armed clashes with government forces.

Insurgent groups, in particular the Abu Sayyaf, have been responsible for kidnapping several foreign nationals in the country. Because of the threat of kidnapping in the southern Philippines, the UK and US governments often advise their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to this region of the country, particularly in Mindanao and Sulu.

Natural Calamities in the Philippines

The Philippines is prone to natural disasters. Foreigners travelling to the country must be uptodate on the latest weather forecast and have a plan of action in the event of an emergency. Most importantly, they should have appropriate insurance to cover medical expenses.

Typhoon is a common occurrence in the Philippines, and the country experiences several tropical cyclones each year, usually between June and November. It can cause severe flooding and landslides in mountainous areas. Foreigners must always be aware of the risks of the place they plan on visiting in the Philippines and must seriously follow government warnings.

Earthquakes and volcano eruptions can also happen as the country is an earthquake zone and is highly vulnerable to volcanic activity. The Philippines has a few active volcanoes, including the Mayon Volcano in Albay and Taal Volcano in Batangas.

Protests and Civil Unrests in the Philippines

Protests are common in the Philippines, mainly in large cities such as Manila. The country has various anti-government groups that have long been against the government. Although most of these protests are peaceful and are rarely a cause of concern for foreigners, it is best to avoid going to places where protest exists.

Food and Water Safety

The quality of tap water in the Philippines is questionable. Thus, foreign visitors should avoid drinking from the tap. However, bottled water is readily available in various shops and restaurants all over the country. Foreign visitors must also be careful about ice made from tap water. As much as possible, avoid having ice on your drinks when dining at restaurants or cafes, except in some luxury hotels and international restaurants.

Health and Medical

The Philippines has several accredited hospitals with well-trained medical staff. In most cities around the country, the healthcare system is decent enough compared to many other countries. However, with more than seven thousand islands and a coastline of more than 20,000 miles, the Philippines has many remote areas that do not have access to up-to-date medical equipment. Some of these areas also have inadequate staffing, so you cannot expect the same quality healthcare as you would from big cities like Manila.

The Philippine Healthcare System is continuously improving, and the country's health insurance corporation, PhilHealth, aims to offer universal insurance coverage to Filipino citizens. Foreigners who are legal residents of the country can join the system by paying affordable premiums. Offering a range of private and public healthcare options, every healthcare needs you have can be met in the Philippines.

Philippine Health Insurance Corporation

Established by the Philippine government in 1995, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) aims to provide universal coverage at affordable premium rates. It covers all types of medical care, from preventive to curative and rehabilitation services. In 2019, when the Universal Health Care Law was passed, PhilHealth began to cover diagnostic testing, including laboratory tests. 

About 90% of the population in the Philippines are members of PhilHealth. Much of the funding came from taxes collected on tobacco and alcohol. Many employers and workers also pay premiums to support PhilHealth.

Private and Public Medical Care in the Philippines

In general, the public hospitals of the Philippines have medical facilities that can handle preventive and primary care. You will also find several private facilities that provide specialized care in areas like orthopaedics, cardiovascular diseases, etc.

Getting treatment from private hospitals in the Philippines could mean additional comfort for the patients since fewer people usually seek medical care from these facilities. As a result, it's often quicker to get treatment. In addition, private facilities have more up-to-date equipment.

You don't necessarily need to go to private hospitals if you want to be treated by English-speaking medical staff. Most Filipinos speak good English, especially professionals like doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff. If you prefer to seek treatment from a private facility, make sure your health insurance provider can cover the cost of the treatment or that you have enough funds to pay for the treatment. Private facilities are often more expensive compared to public healthcare facilities.

Remote islands and towns have village health stations and local health centres to provide primary medical care. However, these small health centres often struggle with staff shortages since medical care providers prefer to seek better-paying jobs in the private sector and in big cities like Manila. In addition, a lot of the medical providers in the Philippines have gone overseas for better opportunities. Because of staff shortages and the fact that more patients tend to seek care from these facilities, you can expect treatment delays in these facilities. 

Healthcare Options for Foreigners in the Philippines

Foreigners who are legal residents of the Philippines can be eligible for the PhilHealth. If you are an employee of a local company, your membership will fall under the Formal Sector. Freelancers and self-employed foreigners can also join PhilHealth under the informal membership category.

Once you become a member of PhilHealth, you can benefit from outpatient and inpatient care, rehabilitation, prescription drugs, diagnostic testing, and preventive services. The annual cost of the premiums for PhilHealth ranges from less than $100 to more than $700, depending on your income. If you want to become a member of PhilHealth, visit a local PhilHealth office or visit their website since they also accept online applications.

The Philippine healthcare system covers both private and public medical care. Some Filipino workers are covered by Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) through their company to help cover the costs associated with private healthcare. You can also get covered by an HMO in the Philippines or obtain coverage from an International Health Insurance Company. That way, you can get treated through private healthcare facilities without worrying about paying the costs out of pocket.

Remember, you may need to seek treatment from a private healthcare facility if you require speciality care. It also saves you from the hassle of having to wait longer for treatment, which is often the case in public hospitals.

Out-of-Pocket Costs of Medical Treatment in the Philippines

Although the public health facilities and hospitals in the Philippines are of high quality, many patients choose to seek medical care in a private setting. Private facilities not only have the latest equipment, but you also don't need to wait longer since they are not short of staff. Moreover, private hospitals often specialize in various areas of medical care. For instance, someone with cancer or diabetes can only get necessary care from a private hospital. However, if you opt for private treatments, be prepared to shoulder the out-of-pocket costs. In addition, most of the drugs in the Philippines come from outside the country and are often very expensive.

One way to avoid paying expensive out-of-pocket healthcare costs is through HMOs. HMOs have a network of providers where members can seek medical care. Many employees in the Philippines have HMOs as part of their benefits package from employers. If you do not want to be limited to the HMO network coverage, consider acquiring a private health insurance plan. The plan will allow you to get treatment from private healthcare facilities without worrying about the overwhelming out-of-pocket costs in case you get hospitalized.

COVID-19 and Healthcare in the Philippines

Like many developing countries, the healthcare system of the Philippines has suffered greatly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, many Filipinos have been hesitant to get vaccinated. One of the reasons behind this hesitancy is the 2017 immunization scandal involving a vaccine against dengue fever, which resulted in fatal consequences for some children who got the vaccine.

Although the healthcare system in the Philippines is not perfect, the country has a decent system capable of providing high-quality medical care to its citizens and foreign visitors. As a visitor to the country, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing that you will have access to good quality healthcare in case you need it.

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