Known for its sunny beaches, stunning scenery, and the rich biodiversity of its flora and fauna, the Philippines is a popular tourist destination. In 2018, this land of 7,000+ islands hosted 7.1 million tourists.
- Kiosks are often the worst deal in exchanging for Phillippine currency, but they're typically the most convenient.
- Tourists should beware of scams and counterfeit bills.
- The safest and quickest way to exchange currency in the Philippines is through the ATM.
The First Stop
Airport currency-exchange kiosks typically offer a relatively poor deal, but they do offer convenience, especially if you are arriving exhausted after a long trip with no local coin in your pocket. Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) has several currency exchange facilities.
Since you're going to take a hit on the rate, do what savvy travelers do and convert only as much cash as you need to get the trip started (taxi ride to the hotel or that first meal). Wait until you can hit a place with better rates to exchange more money.
A Few Warnings
One thing to watch out for when exchanging currency in the Philippines is getting fleeced by someone who is very good at counting out the cash so it looks like the correct amount, when in reality, it's short a few bills—and not in your favor. These sleight-of-hand scams are especially common when using small street money exchanges. They may offer a better rate than the banks, but just be sure you count your money in front of them before you walk away.
Be leery of anyone walking up to you on the street offering to change your foreign currency into pesos. It’s not unheard of for an unsuspecting tourist to follow someone into an alley or some other dark corner in search of a great exchange rate —only to be robbed. Use common sense, and remember that those few extra pesos aren’t worth any risk.
Finally, one other scam worth noting: counterfeit bills. Here’s how it works. You give your cash to a money exchanger, who in turn says something like “Let me go check the exchange rate with my boss.” When the person returns, you are told the boss didn’t approve the exchange rate, so you are given back your money. But—and here’s the scam—instead of handing back your actual bills, he or she gives you funny money (which you don't realize until you try to exchange it somewhere else).
Moral of the story: Hold on to your cash until the actual exchange; don't let anyone disappear with it.
The number of tourists in the Philippines in 2018.
The Safest Option
Probably the quickest and safest option is to use an ATM—preferably one issued from your bank if available—to make your withdrawals once you are in the Philippines. Although there are certain scams regarding PIN code theft, you are generally safer making ATM withdrawals than you are exchanging currency at an exchange.
Using this method, you won't be able to physically change your currency, but you are able to withdraw money in the local currency, only paying your bank's ATM fee and currency exchange fee. However, it is often lower than the exchange booths, and you also won't have to carry around valuable foreign currency such as the dollar or the euro.
Because of continued violence, certain areas in the Philippines should be avoided by travelers. The U.S. Department of State updated a travel warning on April 9, 2019, regarding the Philippines, and in particular the Sulu Archipelago, the island of Mindanao and the southern Sulu Sea area.
That said, other areas in the Philippines are generally considered as safe as other places in Southeast Asia. U.S. citizens traveling to the Philippines are encouraged to research current U.S. Department of State travel alerts and warnings, and enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which provides security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you and your family in case of an emergency.
The Bottom Line
ATMs often have the best rates and can be the best deal, as long as you don't have to pay high ATM fees. Money changers are next, but you have to watch out for scams. If that concerns you, go to a bank. While a little less advantageous, the rates in banks are still good. Many travelers find a combination of in-person currency exchange, ATM withdrawals, and credit card purchases work best.
No matter where you exchange money, always ask how much local currency you’ll receive before handing over any cash. And once you receive the local cash, remain in place until you’ve had a chance to count it yourself.