Philippines Business Etiquette


Maligayang pagdating! ("Welcome!" in Filipino)

The Philippines is an island nation off the coast of mainland Asia, squarely in the Pacific Ocean. The country is composed of a whopping 7,107 separate islands. The Philippines was a Spanish colony for over 300 years and was actually named for King Philip II of Spain. America also retained control over the country for a period. The Philippines has enjoyed sovereignty since 1945.

The Philippines' economy is relatively large (the 39th largest in the world) and its main exports are copper, petroleum, coconut oil, and fruit.

Before you sail off to the Philippines, let’s first learn about the dos and don’ts of Filipino business etiquette.

The Lowdown

  • The capital of the Philippines is Manila, but the largest city is Quezon City.
  • The official languages of the Philippines are English and Filipino. Only about half of the population actually speaks Filipino. There are 19 total recognized regional languages.
  • The Philippines is a unitary presidential constitutional republic.
  • Although the Philippines is a secular country, the majority of its citizens identify as Christian (especially Catholic).
  • Fun fact: the Philippines has won crowns at all four major international beauty pageants - Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss International, and Miss Earth - making it the only Asian country to have accomplished this feat. You may remember the recent 2015 Miss Universe debacle in which Miss Philippines won the grand prize, but host Steve Harvey accidentally crowned the wrong contestant. Talk about awkward.

Dressing Sharp

                      Barong tagalog

                     Barong tagalog

  • As in most other Asian countries, business dress in the Philippines is quire formal and conservative.
  • Men should wear: dark colored suits with a shirt and tie.
  • Women should wear: dark colored, lightweight pantsuits or dresses.
  • Sometimes, Filipino men will wear a barong tagalog, which is a traditional long-sleeved shirt. When wearing this shirt, a tie is not necessary.
  • Remember, the Philippines is a tropical country with a warm climate. As such, pack and dress for the weather!

Make or Break Meetings    

  • Appointments should be made at least a month in advance.
  • Punctuality is important! Be on time for your meetings.
  • Compile and send an agenda prior to the meeting.
  • The initial meetings will likely be very formal. As a rule, it is expected that you will greet first the eldest or most revered person in the room.
  • Greet the Filipino parties with a strong handshake. Remain friendly and polite.
  • If the Filipino party has a professional or academic title, address them using this title. Do not use first names until you are invited to do so.

Dining Decorum

  • It is common to be "fashionably late" to dinner engagements - up to 30 minutes.
  • Dress as if you are going to the office. 
  • Do not sit or begin eating until you are told to do so.
  • Meals are usually eaten in the home of a Filipino and are typically served family or buffet style.
  • The typical utensils are a fork and spoon. Keep the fork in your left hand.
  • It is considered impolite to refuse refreshments.
  • The day after the meal, send a thank-you note to the host.

Giving and Getting Gifts      

  • Although gift giving is not a necessary part of Filipino business, it is considered polite to bring a gift if you are invited to the home of a Filipino.
  • Acceptable gifts include: candy, fruit, or flowers. If you do give a gift of flowers, avoid giving lilies or chrysanthemums. 
  • The wrapping of a gift is considered extremely important. Take care to wrap the gift neatly in nice paper.
  • Gifts are generally not opened upon receipt.

Down to Business

  • Filipinos will only do business with people they know and trust. Never change members of your team midway through the negotiation process.
  • Filipino business people are indirect communicators and do not like confrontation. You may not get a flat-out "no" for an answer, so you might have to read more into the tone and body language of your business contacts.
  • Always keep an even temper during negotiations.
  • Negotiations will typically progress slowly because all members of the Filipino team must agree on a decision.
  • Business is hierarchical and decisions will be made from the top down.

Now that you're well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to the Philippines, don't forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb!

Paalam! ("Goodbye!" in Filipino)