Is foreign car ownership in the Philippines an option given the strong restrictions in place against outsiders? I did some research to find out if I could buy a car and, if so, whether it was worth the headache. 

Foreigners can own a car in The Philippines. Financing is available in terms from 1 year (12 months) to 5 years (60 months). You will need the appropriate down payment for the vehicle, 3-year Land Transportation Office (LTO) registration, comprehensive insurance, and the mortgage fee.

The Philippines offers world-class beaches, unrivaled diving opportunities, dazzling festivals with influences from the Spanish era, and friendly people.

In order to experience it all, you need a car, and to drive that car, you need a Philippine driver’s license. At times, driving in The Philippines can be chaotic.

Valid Philippine Driver’s License and An Open Road

If your current driver’s license has not expired, written and practical tests will probably be waived. You will then be able to drive for 90 days from time of arrival with your foreign driver’s license and passport. You can buy annual car insurance at the LTO office with cash in hand. It costs about 2000 Pesos annually, and there are no cancellations or refunds allowed. The LTO issues all licenses as well. There are offices throughout the Philippines. 

Foreigners can choose to buy or rent a car. Third party liability insurance is mandatory. This is for obvious reasons. The infrastructure in many places is poor. Around 20% of roads are paved in the Philippines. The remainder are gravel or dirt roads. Expect to encounter potholes, flooding, and less than ideal driving conditions. At night, these roads are pitch dark, making things more dangerous. 

International traffic laws remain the same. However, these are often disregarded, and stoplights are often ignored (especially in small towns). Driving requires a lot of patience and concentration, especially to someone who is unfamiliar with the terrain.

Due to an insufficient number of sidewalks, floods of people can often be found spilling onto the road. Pedestrian crossings are often ignored. Designated sidewalks and overpasses also tend to be disregarded. Pedestrians often use cell phones or are otherwise distracted. One must slow down and exercise great caution.

Brands To Be Found

Toyota, manila auto salon car show

If you have the cash and want to buy a new vehicle, pretty well every brand you can imagine is available for purchase. There are 59 official car brands in the Philippines: Toyota, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Ford, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Audi, Dodge, BMW, Ferrari, Volkswagen, and more are available for purchase. 

Should You Buy Used?

Depending on the make and age of the vehicle, buying used is probably cheaper. Buy from a reputable seller. If possible, have a trusted Filipino friend accompany you and help you find the right vehicle. You do not want to buy a lemon and find yourself stranded somewhere. 

Already Attached To A Vehicle?

What if you already own a vehicle and you want to take it along with you to the Philippines? Is that an option? In the past, this was indeed available. Unfortunately, you are no longer allowed to import a second-hand vehicle to the Philippines.

Unless you are a returning citizen or hold a 13G visa (allowing for permanent residence in the Philippines), you are out of luck. New vehicles can be shipped here, but the cost of duties and shipping is substantial and cost prohibitive.

Is A Car Really Necessary?

If you are living in the middle of an urban area and you are within walking distance of everything, then perhaps you do not need a car.

As a precaution, however, it is always good to have access to a car in the event of an emergency. Reliable transportation to a hospital is always a plus. You do not want to be stuck hailing a taxi in the middle of an emergency. 

Alternative Forms of Transport

jeepney philippines

Worried about your carbon footprint? Or perhaps the prospect of driving the unruly roads seems too intimidating? Cycling is another option, particularly around less populated areas.

Note that you can take bicycles on domestic flights (disassembled) and, if there is sufficient room, stow your bike on a bus or jeepney (a Philippine jitney bus converted from a jeep).

Alternatively, you can catch a ferry or a bangka (the jeepney of the sea – small wooden boats that frequent the islands).

Tricycles

Tricycles (Philippine version of the rickshaw) are sidecars attached to motorcycles and can be found everywhere. They are suitable for traveling a few blocks or a few kilometers and can follow a set route or operate like taxis.

These are commonly found in small towns, cities, and rural areas. Passenger tricycles can carry up to 4 to 6 people and possessions can be placed on the roof. Fares are usually less than taxi fares, so this is a good option if you are looking to save a little cash, and squeeze in some cardio.

Flooding

With the rainy season comes accompanying flooding. Drivers encounter this throughout the Philippines and in areas below sea level, this is pronounced. You might want to strongly consider ditching the car and opting for an SUV or other vehicle with high clearance best suited for these conditions.

Low clearance vehicles’ electrical and CPU systems are of particular concern and can bog down the car. Driving through flood higher than wading depth can damage the alternator and other systems. Your choice of vehicle plays a big factor in how it holds up to these conditions.

Modifications

Modifications can be made to your vehicle to make it more resilient to these flooding conditions. Assisters for coil springs can be added to provide more height.

Bigger tires and rims are excellent provided the tire can still fit the wheel well. Stiffened suspension will help cars on flooded roads with potholes.

This will steady the ride height. A snorkel can be installed in trucks and SUVs. This mod allows you to cross deeper water and pass through muddier areas. Damaging fluids like water and mud can be kept out of the engine. 

Traffic Congestion in The Philippines

The layout of much of the Philippines is at times incompatible with the sheer density of the populations that occupy these lands.

Lack of infrastructure upgrades means that the roads are overwhelmed with dense traffic in many areas. As one might suspect, fender benders and collisions are more likely in these conditions.

Being stuck in traffic is also a waste of gas and results in more greenhouse gas emissions. If you do not plan on travelling much and are staying in the same general area, skip the car and hop on board a tricycle, jeepney, bicycle, or bangka! You will get an intimate experience of the culture this way.

A Beautiful Paradise

The Philippines is a stunning location made all the more accessible with a car. If you do not have the luxury of a vehicle, you will be missing out on a golden opportunity to explore all that the Philippines has to offer.

There is just so much to do and to explore. Unless you are spending a short stint, it makes the most economical sense to buy one. Follow the steps listed above and you will be cruising in no time.

If you have money in hand, have met the previously stated requirements, and the car dealership has your vehicle of choice in stock, you could be experiencing the Philippines in a matter of hours!

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