Written by Ellie Collet

Picture a holiday in paradise. What do you imagine?

Soft, white sand that glitters underfoot on beaches that look like they’ve come straight out of a magazine? Crashing blue waves? Tropical forests? Great food? Friendly locals? Incredible diving spots? Diverse nature?

The Philippines has all of this and more.

More and more people are discovering the delights of this former Spanish colony, which has a different feel to its fellow South East Asian nations. As an archipelago, there are over 7000 islands to explore. As more and more people discover its delights, the tourism industry is booming, with a 9.74% increase in international visitors in the first half of 2018, which is a major positive asset to the Philippine economy. 

So, the Philippines sounds like the dream destination right?

But what must be remembered is that the perfect holiday can quickly turn into trouble in paradise.

Young tourists are often known for being reckless and somewhat irresponsible when travelling abroad, with a lack of respect for local laws, customs, and traditions. But a run in with the law will quickly ruin any holiday in paradise that you’ve spent months planning. We all want to have fun, relax and enjoy ourselves whilst travelling abroad, but, let’s be honest, no one wants to be sitting in an overcrowded prison with horrific living conditions, extremely poor sanitation (one toilet is shared between 130 people in Quexon City Jail – not ideal), and suffer at the mercy of an arguably less efficient, and potentially more brutal, legal and prison system than we have in the UK. We’d definitely all prefer to be lounging on the beach, diving with tropical fish or eating delicious food with friendly locals.

There are some bizarre laws to take into account when visiting the Philippines. Things we wouldn’t even think of in the UK, or consider a problem at all, are taken seriously by Philippine authorities. Although the UK often claims to be the nation of queuers – it is our national speciality after all, and something we’re all fantastic at– in the Philippines you can actually be imprisoned for up to 30 days for just cutting in line thanks to the Anti-Singit Law. Likewise, ‘unjust vexation’, or annoying someone, is illegal in the Philippines. Sounds like something you do all the time to your mates to wind them up, right? Or something you can do by accident? You’ll only get fined a maximum of 200 pesos, or £3, but when that’s the cost of a beer and funds are tight, then it’s something you would want to avoid.

These minor offences might seem somewhat trivial but drugs are the biggest issue and potential danger for tourists in the Philippines, and their government takes a brutally hard line on narcotic substances. You can get up to 20 years in prison for possessing a relatively minor drug, and if you’re assumed to be trafficking drugs, you may be liable for a death penalty. A British ex-pat to the Philippines was arrested after he was found with over £4000 worth of cannabis in his bar, and was also found guilty of allowing tourists to ride buffalo whilst drunk and naked. Sounds hilarious, and like something we wouldn’t even think about doing while travelling abroad, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against becoming involved in any drugs of any kind whilst abroad.

There are similar trends throughout South East Asia, with Thailand, Cambodia and Laos all having similarly harsh restrictions on drugs and other often bizarre and unexpected laws, such as a law against vaporisers in Thailand, which can land you with up to five years in prison if you’re found selling or supplying.

So, to avoid your dream holiday turning into an absolute nightmare, it’s best to check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel guides for your destination before you depart, or you can check out the Travel Aware campaign for a wide range of advice. Prisoners Abroad similarly highlight things to be aware of through their Travel Aware campaign and through their Country of the Month campaign. Whilst it might not seem like the most exciting thing to do when planning your dream holiday, a quick check of the facts could help you avoid a holiday from hell.