Hi, Jane here. Are you looking to retire in the Philippines and call it your home country? The Philippines, an island nation in Asia, draws millions of expats each year. Find out what are the pros and cons of living here!
As a dual citizen of the US and the Philippines, I’ve had my fair share of experiencing the advantages and disadvantages of living in both countries. So, my opinion of the pros and cons of living here is not ultimately from a Filipino perspective but also from someone who has also enjoyed the benefits of being an American.
The Philippines is a tropical country full of beautiful beaches, which are some of the top reasons expats choose to live in this country.
But the truth is, there is more to living in the Philippines. So, let’s dive into the pros and cons of settling down in the Philippines, so you know what to expect as you live amongst the Filipino people.
Pros of Living in the Philippines for Foreigners
1. Low Cost of Living
The first main advantage of living in the Philippines is the low cost of living. It is a lot cheaper here for many things compared to western countries, even other Asian nations like Singapore and Hongkong.
This is one of the reasons why my husband and I chose to move here. Food can be cheap, depending on your choices, of course. If you eat like a local, you could spend around $37 (P2000) per week on food for a single household.
Education is cheaper, too! My son’s school (private) only costs us around $20 in tuition fee a month and enrollment costs P5500 or around $100.
I also particularly enjoy the spa services here that I never got to enjoy abroad because they were too expensive. A good one-hour massage in Davao City only costs $5.55!
Healthcare services are also still cheaper compared to the US. You can get a private doctor consultation without insurance for around $7 or $14 when you go to a specialist.
When my son got sick, I only spent around $37 for a few lab tests and x-ray without insurance. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and was given antibiotics. The cost of antibiotics for 7 days was around $20 WITHOUT insurance, which is cheaper than in many developed countries.
If you’re a foreign national living like a local, it’s safe to say you could live off at least a $600 monthly budget in rural areas. However, you may need at least $1,000 in urban areas and bigger cities like the Metro Manila area and Cebu. These numbers are ideally for 1-2 persons only.
With a monthly budget of at least $1,000, you would be considered middle-class by Filipino standards.
If you choose to live in prime locations like Bonifacio Global City and Makati City, however, expect to spend more money.
Generally, your living expenses in the Philippines are significantly lower compared if you were living in many developed countries.
The cost drops further if you opt to live in rural areas. Food, like fruits and vegetables, is cheaper if you buy them straight from the farmers and the local market than from huge supermarkets in the city. Rental prices are expectedly more affordable too.
There are certain disadvantages for expats living in rural areas. But, living farther from urban centers can make your lifestyle even more affordable.
You can read more about the cost of living in the Philippines here.
2. Filipinos are Proficient in English
Another reason why we chose to retire in the Philippines is the language. Since our son only spoke English and we lived in Puerto Rico before we moved here, we knew he would have a hard time adapting in school in Puerto Rico due to the language. There are, of course, American schools in Puerto Rico but not in the town where we lived.
So, before my son started school, we decided to move to the Philippines and true enough, he adapted so well here as his classmates speak English, too! My son did not even go to an American school which tends to be more expensive.
By the way, this is my son having a blast on his first day of school in the Philippines!
Most Filipinos can understand and speak basic English, which is not always the case in other Asian countries. Students are taught English early on. Apart from their native language, Tagalog, you’d be relieved to know that Filipino taxi drivers, salespeople, and other ordinary individuals can communicate with foreign nationals in English.
Tagalog and English are the two official languages in the Philippines. However, there are several other dialects, such as Bisaya and Hiligaynon. Also, ethnic groups have their languages as well.
3. Easy and Cheap to Get a Retirement Visa
If you are a foreign national who wants to stay in the Philippines long-term or permanently, then it’s vital to secure a retirement visa. Fortunately, it is not difficult to get a retirement visa in the Philippines.
There are many ways you can live long term here, and I’d say one of the easiest ways is to marry a Filipino. Many of the retirees here are married to Filipinos. However, if that’s not an option for you, there are other ways to retire and live permanently here.
For example, you can apply for the Special Resident Retiree’s Visa or SRRV. This visa also allows the retiree to live, work, and study in the country.
These are the minimum requirements for acquiring the retirement visa:
- You must be 35 years or older
- Valid passport
- Certificate of deposit from a PRA-accredited bank plus deposit money
- Medical clearance
- Proof of clean criminal records
- Marriage and birth certificates of dependents (if applicable)
The one-time cost for a retirement visa is $1400 plus additional fees for each dependent.
4. Exchange Rate
Most expats also find the exchange rate from their currency to the Philippine Peso easy on the pocket. Over the last decade, the exchange rate between US dollars to Philippine peso has hovered around $1: Php 50. Recently though, it’s been around Php 54.
This allows many expats to live quite comfortably on a modest budget. If you live in expensive gated communities, expect to pay more for living expenses. The cost of entertainment, imported goods, and other luxuries can be comparable to any other western country.
However, if you choose to live farther away from the urban centers and eliminate costly western habits, your dollar should go far.
5. Beautiful Beaches
If you love the beach, then the Philippines can offer you paradise.
The Philippines is home to a LOT of beautiful beaches. So, if you envision living in a tropical country when you retire, the Philippines is an excellent choice. The warm climate and beautiful islands make settling in the Philippines even more enticing.
The country may be a little island nation, but it has over 7,000 islands. Island life is full of sun, sand, and sea. Boracay and Palawan are famous beaches. If you’re snorkeling, check out the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan, a UNESCO world heritage site.
There are also plenty of beautiful remote islands in the country, such as Camiguin in Northern Mindanao and Siargao, part of the Caraga Region. So whether you’re looking for a relaxing day at the beach or take up water sports like surfing, these beautiful beaches and islands in the Philippines will truly delight you.
Love adventures? The Philippines does not only have beautiful beaches to offer but is also a Mecca for great adventures. See the majestic waterfalls, walk in mysterious rainforests, hike scenic mountains or explore the underwater treasures. There are so many things you can do here to have a great adventure. It’ll probably take you a long time to explore all the wonderful places in this island nation.
7. Vibrant Culture
Filipino culture is awesome. Thanks to the massive Spanish influence, Filipinos love to gather and celebrate during important events like town fiestas. If you’re eager to witness the most prominent festivals, such as Sinulog in Cebu, Kadayawan in Davao City, and Ati-Atihan in Iloilo.
Filipinos are great cooks, making delicious meals for their families and guests. They invite everyone to their birthdays and other celebrations.
Drinking and singing karaoke are also essential parts of these gatherings.
8. Friendly Filipino People
Hospitality is deeply embedded in our culture, so don’t be surprised to see Filipinos smiling and greeting you as you go about your day. Filipinos are friendly not just to their fellows but even to foreigners.
You’ll find these interactions quite heartwarming. The store staff greets you as you enter the store and goes out of their way to help you. Neighbors sometimes cook extra food to give to their neighbors. It is common for Filipinos to party and invite others.
Not only that, but Filipinos are also friendly and empathetic. If you ever find yourself with an electrical or plumbing problem, an enthusiastic Filipino will surely come to your rescue.
I don’t really care about the shopping malls but I know many people do! If you love shopping, then this could be good news for you. The Philippines is heavily influenced by western culture, and many Filipinos have embraced shopping malls. As a result, you’ll find some of the biggest shopping malls in Asia in the Philippines.
These malls have become the perfect venue for Filipinos to chill and relax, whether eating at their favorite restaurants, playing at the arcade, or watching a movie. Of course, if you’re looking to shop for well-known western brands, these malls have those too.
Note, however, that the biggest shopping malls are located in the capital but other cities have great shopping malls, too.
Cons of Living in the Philippines for Foreign nationals
1. Healthcare Facilities
Although the healthcare services are cheaper in the Philippines, I must admit that the healthcare system in general is still lacking compared to western countries. This is especially true in remote places. If you’re an expat living in a rural area, expect healthcare to be less satisfactory.
If you have conditions that need special treatment, and you’re looking to live here permanently, I’d suggest to check out the healthcare facilities in the area you wish to live. Expats with medical conditions that need specialized treatment often go to bigger hospitals in the cities. Some would even fly to Singapore or Hongkong for their treatments.
This is also one of the reasons why we chose living in a progressive city like Davao over the small Samal Island which was our second choice. Davao has big hospitals. They may not have the facilities for all specialized treatments, but it’s the center for healthcare for the entire main island, Mindanao.
2. Healthcare Insurance
Now if you are enjoying good healthcare benefits in your home country, you might want to first check the options for healthcare coverage you can have here.
Filipinos are automatically enrolled to free healthcare coverage under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or PhilHealth. This allows them to avail of healthcare services from public hospitals at zero to minimal costs.
Foreign nationals may also avail of PhilHealth by paying their contributions, which is very minimal, by the way, at P450 per month or around $4 per month. However, since public hospitals in the country leave so much to be desired, most expats would prefer getting checked and treated at private hospitals instead. Fortunately, you can still get a little discount on your private hospital bills when you’re a member of PhilHealth. Just don’t expect it cover most of the cost.
To lessen medical costs, expats may pay for private medical insurance which, in my opinion, tend to be a bit too pricey for the coverage it offers.
Note: I know that in the US, it’s a must to have a private healthcare insurance because healthcare is expensive over there. But here, having an insurance may not always be advantageous for you. Remember that healthcare services here are cheaper.
We opted NOT to get an insurance for now mainly because my husband has a medical benefit being a US veteran. He doesn’t pay for his medical needs. My son and I also don’t need any special treatment and I figured the cost of the insurance isn’t worth it for our needs for now. Also note that some hospitals may not accept your insurance, so I’d suggest doing your own due diligence first before getting an insurance.
Another essential thing to consider when moving to the Philippines is the state of education in the country. Unfortunately, public schools in the Philippines are often crowded, with a high student-to-teacher ratio. While parents don’t pay school tuition, the quality of education may leave you unimpressed.
However, foreigners willing to splurge on their kids’ education may enroll them in international schools. These are private schools that cater to international students. The curriculum is modeled after the US, has a better teacher-to-student ratio, and is better suited to the expat community.
Some of the best international schools in the country are Brent International School, Faith Academy, Cebu International School, and British School Manila. These schools teach with international standards, so expect to pay good money.
In Davao City, one American school quoted me P100,000 pesos per year or around $2000 a year. Still, that’s way too low compared to the US private school average tuition fee of $12,271 per year.
4. Natural Disasters and Calamities
Now, this is something that you should consider when deciding to live permanently here. The country is regularly hit by typhoons. There are around 16 typhoons in a year. The typhoon season is from May to November, many of which hit the Bicol and Calabarzon regions.
There are, however, many areas in the Philippines, most especially in the southern part, that normally don’t get hit directly by typhoons. The Davao region, for example, is almost typhoon-free as it’s away from the typhoon path. However, the entire nation still experiences weather-related disruptions during the typhoon season.
In addition, the Philippines sits on the Ring of Fire, which means there are risks of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. There are 24 active volcanoes in the country, including Mt. Mayon, Mt. Pinatubo, Mt. Kanlaon, and Mt. Taal. 355 other volcanoes in the country are categorized as dormant or inactive.
Due to volcanic and seismic activity, earthquakes are also to be expected while living in the Philippines. According to Phivocs, around 20 “normal” earthquakes occur in the Philippines daily; most of these are felt but not that strong.
5. Terrible Traffic and Air Pollution
Unfortunately, the Philippines has the worst traffic among Southeast Asian countries. In 2020, it ranked 9th all over the world. If you want to live in major cities like Manila, traffic will inevitably become part of your life. Recent studies show Filipinos lose around 98 hours to traffic each year.
In relation to that, air pollution is an in big cities. Due to the high volumes of vehicles, so many emissions pollute the air every day.
Fortunately, traffic and pollution are lesser as you go farther from the city centers. You can enjoy traffic-free road trips, fresh mountain breeze, idyllic scenery, and stunning beaches in the outskirts and provinces.
There are only two seasons in the Philippines: hot and rainy season. We don’t get extremely cold weather.
However, the Philippines is located in the center of the Equator, so it can be very humid during the hot months. Living in the provinces make those months tolerable due to the fresh air, but it’s another thing if you live in the city.
Not all homes are equipped with air conditioning, so this is something you should check out when looking to lease an apartment.
7. You can’t buy and own land
Unfortunately, investing in property is impossible for foreigners at the moment. According to Philippine laws, a foreigner is prohibited from buying and owning land in the country.
Thankfully, there are some workaround for one to retire and have a proper residence in the country. For one, you could purchase a condo unit in the condition that at least 60% of the units are Filipino-owned.
Alternatively, you could enter into a long-term lease agreement with a Filipino landowner. Then you could build a house to your name, but the land still belongs to the landowner.
Lastly, you could marry a Filipino and have her purchase land under her name.
There you have it, the pros and cons of living in the Philippines for expats. From the abundance of private schools, international schools, high-quality hospitals, and lively nightlife in the city centers to pollution-free, traffic-free, and low cost of living in the outskirts, it’s easy to see why foreigners are drawn to retire in this wonderful country.
But like any other country, the Philippines is not perfect. Some areas are ridden with flooding, there are earthquakes here and there, and it gets absurdly hot during summer.
We hope this guide helps you see the Philippines more realistically and come to terms with the benefits and drawbacks of retiring in the Philippines.
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