Metro Manila · Driving your own car

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If you are going to make Manila your home for a couple of years or so, you should consider getting your own car. Here is all you need to know: special traffic rules, where to buy or rent a car, and how to find a good driver.

Public transport can be quite annoying after a while, and cabs are often hard to get when you need them the most, e.g. during rush hour and rainstorms. If you are in Manila with family, a car is a necessity anyway. The next sports lesson, entertainment centres or educational facilities for your kids might be far away. Moreover, there is nothing better than having the opportunity to get in your car on the weekend and spontaneously flee the city for one or two days.

However, driving in the Megacity comes with somes special rules and 'extras':

First rule: Expect everything

We won't lie to you, driving in Manila is no fun if you are used to the highly regulated traffic in other countries. The No.1 rule is: expect everything. It is normal that cars constantly switch lanes or slow down without apparant reasons (buses and jeepneys are particularly notorious), traffic lights are often ignored, and there is no such thing as a 'right of way' at intersections. Nevertheless, somehow the traffic keeps flowing without car crashes at every street corner – probably because everybody goes by the No.1 rule, if not by many others. So buckle up and learn to blend in the driving culture of the Philippines.

Accidents, Traffic Violations and Penalties

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) provides a list of violations and the respective fees on their website. Here you also find a guideline on how to settle your outstanding tickets and what to do during accidents. We recommend to read the latter one carefully.

If you are a foreigner, you might benefit from positive discrimination. When a police officer stops you for a minor offense, he might let you go with a warning if you are polite and explain that you are still adapting to Manila's traffic. Showing an 'impressive' I.D., e.g. from an international organization or company, may help as well.

It is quite common that officers ask for little 'extra fees' (bribes) to let drivers go after minor - or only alleged – offenses. Never give in to those kind of demands. Make sure you get to know the traffic rules for Manila. In case you get stopped, ask for the exact offense you committed - many traffic enforcers will just let you go, for the simple reason that they don't want to get involved in a lengthy discussion in English. 

Number Coding Scheme

To reduce traffic during rush hour, Metro Manila has implemented a number coding scheme that forbids you to use your car on one specific weekday. Check the detailed information about the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program in our article 'Traffic Situation and Number Coding'.

Drivers License

Foreigners may drive for 120 days with an International Drivers License or a valid license reciprocating with the Philippines. Afterwards a Philippine Drivers License is required. It can be obtained at the Land Transportation Office. The minimum age to drive in the Philippines is 16 years.

Buying or renting a car

Car dealers can be found all over Manila, many of them along the main streets. If you want to do some 'window shopping', you'll find a lot of car dealers side by side at Chino Roces Avenue south of EDSA (see map below). 

If you want to buy a used car, there are certain things to consider - please click here.

Spare parts, new oil and so on should only be bought from official dealers to avoid fakes.

An insurance that covers the death or injury of a third party or passenger is obligatory when registering a car. Here is a list of car insurance companies in the Philippines, provided by the independent website Insurers Policy Exchange.

Car rental is not a problem either in the Philippines. You can ask around, check online platforms like sulit.com.ph, or rely on well-known international companies like Sixt, Europcar or Hertz. The big high-class hotels (Shangri-La, Interconti, et cetera) usually offer car rental services as well.

Your personal driver

It might be an unthinkable luxury in your home country but it is pretty common among expats in Manila: one's own driver. It is likely that you spend several hours per day in traffic if you have a 9-to-6 job. In that case, a driver will spare you a lot of nerves, frustration and time, as you might be able to keep working in your car (no problem with the newest gadgets) or else just lean back, read or sleep.

The best way to find a reliable driver is to ask other foreigners such as colleagues, neighbors, and in expat networks. As most expats stay in the Megacity for only a couple of years, there is a constant flow on this job market. The nearer your driver lives to your place, the better: the car always stays with the owner and a long commute can easily lead to lateness of the driver, considering the morning traffic.

Before hiring a driver, make sure he has all proper documents, take a longer test drive with him, and draw up a contract that specifies salary and working time (eight working hours are the legal daily maximum, but that does not include breaks).

EDSA at 5:30pm in Guadalupe (MRT Train)