This post is about what is meant by Filipino time. It’s real! Here’s three frustrating examples of not keeping to a posted schedule from my adventures in the Philippines.
What is Filipino Time / Philippine Time / Pinoy Time?
First, let’s define Filipino Time, also knows as Pinoy Time. Filipino Time means that things get done whenever they get done. There’s never urgency.
The Philippines are one of my favorite countries that I’ve visited. However, one aspect that I certainly don’t miss was their businesses’ apparent lack of appreciation for people’s schedules. Travelers refer to it as “running on Filipino Time” or running on “Philippine Time” or “Pinoy Time.” In the Caribbean I’d experienced what it’s like to be a place “operating on island time,” but this is much worse. Perhaps being “prompt” is a western concept. There’s never urgency.
In the Philippines, the customer’s time is consistently not valued. Times listed on published schedules are merely guidelines. Schedules for flights, buses, and boats are often delayed or canceled without notice or reason.
Music Interlude on Filipino Time / Pinoy Time:
3 Examples of frustrating Filipino Time
I was starting to think we were just unlucky so I asked around and did some research. This is apparently known as an element built into Filipino culture in the Philippines. This article takes a deeper dive into this phenomenon. It’s interesting because this part of the culture doesn’t seem to be present in my Filipino friends in New York.
Urban Dictionary defines Filipino Time as “Things get done whenever they get done.”
Below are 3 examples from my experiences:
Filipino Time example #1: Flight delays/cancellations
On a beautiful sunny day, our flight was delayed again and again and then canceled, “due to weather.” Whaaat? Airlines do this routinely when the plane is undersold. It’s just Philippine Time / Filipino Time. Perhaps that’s a lovely concept when you have no schedule. However, when you have connecting flights, this lack of reliability is reeeeeally frustrating. Don’t rely on Cebu Pacific or PAL, the two major airlines that operate within the Philippines.
Getting around in the Philippines is often challenging, and built-in Filipino Time is a wildcard that certainly doesn’t help.
Filipino Time example #2: Buses and Ferries
For example, try visiting the tiny remote island of Malapascua. It’s one of the best places in the world to go SCUBA diving to see Thresher Sharks, but it’s not easy to get to.
Buses don’t keep to their schedule in the Philippines
Starting in Cebu, the closest major city, navigate to the top of that island in a town called Maya. There’s a bus with a posted schedule, but it never came, or at least not within two hours of the posted time. Local residents told us it doesn’t leave every day. It skips days without notice. It rarely keeps to a schedule. People waste hours and even days without knowing if the bus is coming.
We met some backpackers that said they went two days in a row and the bus never came. They weren’t able to get a refund or explanation. The bus schedule is still frustrating even on the rare occasions when the bus comes on time.
Ferries don’t keep to their a schedule in the Philippines
Oddly, the bus to the Malapascua ferry isn’t coordinated with the ferry to Malapascua schedule. That ferry leaves once per day at 8am. Local residents later explained that’s done deliberately to get people to spend time and money in Maya. Ahhh!
The alternative way to get to Maya is a 4-hour private taxi to Maya. This is way more expensive, but the way to go. Given the lack of reliability of the bus, find a car or mini-van taxi to take your group. That’s what we did. However, there’s still more challenges.
We were picked up at 4am, in order to arrive before 8am. Then, we waited for the 8am ferry. We waited as it passed 830am…and waited…9am. And waited. The ferry didn’t leave until 930am.
We later learned that they never leave until the boat is full. Even if it takes hours, it will stay in port until it’s full. On hindsight, perhaps we were lucky to leave within 90 minutes of the schedule.
In summary, we took a taxi at 4am to make sure we took an 8am ferry, which sat docked for 90-minutes.
Tik tok. We got up at 430am only to have to wait 45min for the boat to come pick us up. eeerrgh. Thanks “Safety Stop” (dive shop in Malapascua). Yet another example of running on Philippine time
Filipino Time example #3: SCUBA diving (with Thresher Sharks)
Upon arrival at Malapascua Island, we booked our SCUBA diving trip to see Thresher Sharks for the following morning. To see Threshers, your boat needs to leave really early. The boat needs to be out on the water before sunrise. To catch a glimpse of Thresher Sharks, it would be worth it. Now, if you’re going to ask someone to be ready for pickup at a time before sunrise, we ask that they please be prompt. Unfortunately they were not.
We got up at 430am to ensure we’d ready to rush out to the dive site, only to have to wait more than 45 minutes for the boat to come pick us up. Eeerrgh. Thanks “Safety Stop” (dive shop in Malapascua). Yet another example of running on frustrating Filipino Time.
How widespread is this “Filipino Time” issue?
It’s common enough that the term Filipino Time is all over the internet. Some examples are from Urban Dictionary, the newspaper PhilStar, and here. Most refer explain it as Pinoy people always being 30 minutes late to a scheduled time. Most point out that it’s built into the culture. That’s fine, but it’s much worse when it’s actually businesses with scheduling. It’s unprofessional. This reputation likely hurts tourism.
The Philippines would be difficult to navigate even if transportation sources were reliable, but this adds to the challenges. It might be the least efficient country when it comes to reliability of scheduling. By stark contrast, Singapore was easily the best in this area. I visited Singapore immediately after the Philippines so it was quite apparent.
Despite these mild annoyances, I loved my time in the Philippines. If you go, I just recommend you leave lots of extra time.
Note to businesses in the Philippines:
It would appear there’s a business opportunity. Start a company in the ultra competitive shipping/ferry business which can actually be on time. This has been done with great success before. Cornelius Vanderbilt did this in the United States 200 years ago
Request to the Philippines tourist board:
Please address this! To attract more tourism money, you’re going to need to improve this aspect, as not everyone has unlimited days to arrive places. If travelers can’t depend on posted schedules, travelers won’t include the Philippines on their trip.
The government of the Philippines even tried to make it a law. So strange!
Review – are you now able to explain what is meant by Filipino Time? Have you had similar experiences? Drop a note in the comments below