So you’re thinking about living in The Philippines, eh?
You’ve got a little cash together, you’ve got an idea for a new online business or another entrepreneurial brainwave, and you are ready to move to The Philippines and bunker in until your venture starts making money.
You’ve probably seen The Philippines in movies before. You’ve seen the tropical, paradise islands, the stunningly beautiful smiling women, and you’ve heard that life here costs a fraction of what it does back home. It’s understandable why you’d want to move here. Many of us have!
But what’s it really like in The Philippines? Is it like the movies? What reason does a person have to choose The Philippines over somewhere else in Asia, like Thailand, Indonesia or Vietnam?
I’ll share my honest opinions and thoughts with you. I’ve been living in Asia for close to a decade now and I moved to The Philippines from Indonesia in 2015. I’ve learned a lot in my time here, and since I know that most of my readers have some interest in living in Asia, I think this is the perfect article to get those who are interested in living in The Philippines started! living in Asia, I think this is the perfect article to get those who are interested in living in The Philippines started!
Living in The Philippines – What You Need to Know
Q. What’s The Philippines really like? I’ve seen it in a few movies, but what’s it like on the ground?
A.This is an extremely broad stroke question that is almost impossible to answer in a blog post as it would require a full on book to cover properly. There are so many elements to living in The Philippines that even those who have spent decades here are learning something new and interesting about it every single day.
The Philippines is an archipelago nation made up of 7,000 tropical islands. These islands range in size from the size of England to the size of your back garden. Every island has its own distinct culture, language and way of life. My initial perception was that the place is actually many nations living under one flag – some of my Filipino friends agree with that perception.
The Philippines is a fascinating, multi-layered country that would take an entire lifetime to understand. Everyone has a different experience while living here, and what I tell you about it and what you experience will be two entirely different things.
Q. What are the best parts about living in The Philippines?
A.There are huge advantages that come with living in The Philippines. Which ones appeal to you will depend on your individual personality and what you’re looking for in your choice of country. I can only speak from my own experience. Here are the things I love about The Philippines:
Cracking Weather – It sounds cliche, but the weather here is a huge draw card for me. I come from rainy Ireland where the weather actually causes people to kill themselves every winter, so the tropical, sunny weather here in The Philippines is a breath of fresh air to me.
You’ll experience some scary storms while living in The Philippines and more rain can fall here in a day than falls at home in a month, but that’s all part of the fun and comes with living in such close proximity to the mighty Pacific ocean!
You can really live and outdoors lifestyle in The Philippines if you want due to the epic weather. BBQ’s, dining out, surfing, snorkeling, trekking and all the rest of it can be a part of your daily routine here because the weather opens up so many options.
That’s just my perspective as someone who comes from a country with sucky weather. It may or may not appeal to you.
Freedom – When I first came to The Philippines my initial perception as that it was chaos. I turned to my Filipino relatives to understand why things were so disorderly, and they shared a very interesting perception with me: it’s because they are free.
This bowled me over at first. Here I was from a socialist, semi police state bringing my perceptions of what things should be like to the table. I had judged the place as insane, but when I actually talked to the people who have lived here all of their lives, a whole new way of viewing the place opened up to me.
Filipinos are free in a way we in the West are not. I’ve lived here for 18 months and have only seen one cop in my entire stay here. I drove past him on a quad bike without a helmet or a license and he waved at me and smiled. I’ve seen people drive along the road with a can of beer as if it were a soda, without a care in the world. There are no speed limits on the roads.
Some might interpret this is lawless and bring a negative perception to it. This is a valid viewpoint and there are some downsides to this excessive freedom, but all I’m outlining here is that there’s another way of viewing things.
You will be free here. Much more so than you will be at home. For me, that’s a major upside. Living in The Philippines could be a dream come true for those of Libertarian bent.
Family Values – The Philippines is an extremely family oriented culture and has managed to preserve something we have long since lost in the West. Family comes above all else, and the family unit is the fundamental building block of society in The Philippines. The family is the sun, and the individuals within it are the planets. Everything revolves around family, and in my opinion this is overwhelmingly positive.
If you’re married into a Filipino family this may take some time to get used to, especially as a foreigner who is unfamiliar with the customs, traditions and what’s expected socially. You’ll get used to it and come to appreciate it in time. For me, there are many more upsides than downsides to this as I strongly value family myself.
Cost of Living – This is the big draw card for many people wanting to live in The Philippines. The cost of living is ridiculously cheap, and you can estimate that daily life here will cost you around 30% of what it would in an American or European city (I’m aware that there’s a wide discrepancy here, but I don’t have space to get into that). If you’re from a major city like New York, Sydney or London, you may find The Philippines up to x10 cheaper than your home city, depending on where you live.
Generally speaking, Manila will be 2-3 times more expensive than living in the provinces here. Where you decide to live will depend on your individual circumstances and what you’re after.
We’ll get into the cost of living in more detail later in this guide. For now, suffice to say that you won’t be sweating anytime soon about paying the bills while living in The Philippines!
Q. What are some of the downsides of living in The Philippines?
A.Nowhere on this earth is perfect, and The Philippines is no exception. Anywhere I have ever been in my life has pros and cons. You’ll find the same here.
I don’t like to dwell on negatives too much as nothing is achieved by doing so. That said, if you’re thinking of living in The Philippines there are some things to be aware of.
Poverty – It’s tragic, but it’s true – poverty in The Philippines is insane. If you’re the kind of person who wells up when you see those TV ads of hungry children on TV, you might want to reconsider, because you’re going to see street children everywhere and mothers carrying babies looking for any way to survive in the streets.
Of course, you could get involved and help do something about it, which is the positive way to handle the poverty here. There are many great organizations here working to improve things which are in need of help and will be happy to have you involved.
Whatever you decide, be ready for this as it can catch many off guard. When my mother visited us here, she literally wept at what she saw.
Infrastructure – Forget high-speed internet, 24/7 electricity and reliable public services when you come to live in The Philippines. You’ve got to bring a sense of humour with you and learn to roll with the punches, because as soon as you set foot on that plane bound for Manila, you’re kissing Kansas goodbye!
Roads here can be terrifying to drive on, you will experience electricity blackouts, and the internet can only be described as woeful. You’ll soon have to learn the Filipino art of shrugging and laughing things off, then find something else too do while you wait anywhere between 2 minutes and 2 hours for the electric to kick back in.
You’ll get used to this in time and will eventually develop coping strategies. It’s just part of living in a developing nation and there’s no point stressing about it.
These minor annoyances can wear you down over time if you aren’t used to living abroad, but if you bring a positive attitude to the situation it will help immeasurably.
Foreigner Effect – It’s important to remember one thing – even if you are married here and having a massive clan looking after your interests, you are still and always will be regarded as a foreigner.
This has several plus sides to it, and many foreigners here are awarded far more respect than they deserve, however, there are some downsides to being a foreigner anywhere, and they go for The Philippines as much as anywhere else.
You Are Not a Citizen – You never, ever, want to get into trouble legally in The Philippines. As a foreigner, you have zero citizens rights, and since the legal system here revolves around who you know, you’re screwed if you get into trouble.
You are not a citizen of The Philippines, even if you have permanent residency. While there are plenty of attorneys who will happily represent your interests, always keep in mind that trouble here means serious trouble.
Now, enough about the downsides! Let’s get back on track and look at some other questions about living in The Philippines.
Q. Where’s the best place to live in The Philippines?
That really depends on what you’re looking for! Here’s a quick snapshot view of some of the places most expatriates live in The Philippines and what they offer.
Manila – The capital city is where all the glitz and glamour happens. It’s also hot, crowded, chaotic and filthy.
Manila is jam-packed with cafes, bars, nightclubs, casinos, beautiful ladies and everything you could ever desire.
It’s also jam packed with cars, litter, criminals and some of the poorest people in the world.
Manila is overwhelming at first, but as you strip back her layers and learn more about her, you may find like me that trips to the big city become more and more appealing as time goes on.
Manila is everything rolled into one. You may end up being one of the many expats I have spoken to who both love and loathe the place.
Cebu City – Cebu is arguably one of the most beautiful islands in The Philippines. I’ve only had the pleasure of visiting once and I was bowled over as I swam with whale sharks in a beautiful bay.
Cebu City is the major city of the island. It’s medium sized for a city in Asia, and is hot, frantic and fun. There’s a heck of a lot of industry here and many people come here to buy whatever they’re exporting back West, especially furniture and crafts.
My initial perceptions were that I personally wouldn’t want to live here, but I can see why it appeals to some. If hustle bustle by day and cocktails on a tropical beach by night is your cup of tea, Cebu might be the city for you.
Dumaguete – This is a small city by the sea situated on the Island of Negros. I live a few hours north of it and have been there only once, but after a few days of living here I was strongly considering moving there.
Dumaguete is nothing special on the surface, but I among many other expats found that there’s a very appealing charm about it. Walking on the promenade by the ocean while the stars shine above you and trendy music massages the eardrums is a beautiful experience, and one I would happily enjoy every evening.
Dumaguete is a smaller city, is very expat friendly, and is easy to get around. The pace of life is much slower than in the previously mentioned metropolises. If you’re of a more laid back bent, this could be your spot.
Bacolod – Don’t come, we don’t want you here! Haha. Bacolod is the city I call home part of the year and while it’s much more provincial than the others, is slowly finding its way onto the radars of many expats and is beginning to become a place of renown.
Bacolod is small, laid back, and you can be out of the city and into the country in about 20-30 minutes, a minor miracle for Asian cities. This is a great city for families and has won Green City of The Philippines a few times.
If you’re after thrills you probably want to give Bacolod a miss. If you’re after a quiet and enjoyable place to retire or work on a novel, it might just be the ideal destination for you.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of cities in The Philippines. You’ll find expats spread all over the nation from tiny villages in the jungle to every city on the map. A lot of us live where our wives and their families live, which makes perfect sense.
If you’ve never been to The Philippines, why not take a trip and visit as many places as you can? I’ve always gone by gut feeling when making these kinds of decisions. A trip of a month or two should be enough to give you enough of a glimpse to make up your mind on where to live in The Philippines.
Q. How do I get a visa for The Philippines?
A.There are various options, depending on your own individual circumstances.
If you plan to visit for a few months, you can get a free visa on arrival. If you run out of time you can extend this at any immigration office for a fee (which was different every time I went) or if there’s somewhere else you fancy visiting you can fly out and back in.
If you plan to retire here you can apply for a specific retirement visa called the SSRV or Special Resident Retirees Visa. Lots of people do retire in The Philippines where they can have maids, drivers and a more laid back life. It’s a great choice!
If you’re married to a Filipina you can get either a Balik Bayan visa which is free of charge and good for one year upon arrival, or you can apply for a 13a permanent residents visa. Check out the Philippines 13a Visa requirements here.
Q. While living in The Philippines, do I need private health coverage?
A.You absolutely must have private health coverage if you live in The Philippines. While Filipino citizens do enjoy a semi-social healthcare plan called PhilHealth, which can reduce their medical bills, you as a foreigner will definitely need a health insurance policy.
Q. What are people like in The Philippines?
A.Asking that is like asking what Americans, Europeans or any other group of people are like. Despite stereotypes that surround every nation and the character of their people, everyone you meet here will be different on an individual level.
That said, you can bet your bottom dollar that they respect family, their elders and won’t get stressed about small things easily. These are ‘norms’ in the national character which will apply to most people.
One piece of friendly advice I have is do not ever mistake the Filipino traits of kindness, generosity and hospitality for weakness. There’s a flip side to this, and you don’t want to encounter it. Always show respect.
Q. What is dating in The Philippines like?
A.Filipinas are some of the most beautiful women you will ever lay eyes on.
Many foreigners come here who haven’t exactly had the best of luck with ladies in their lives and find themselves blown away by the dating options they have here in The Philippines.
Dating here is much the same as it is anywhere from a play-by-play point of view. You go out, you enjoy a good time together, and you go home. That’s dating in a nutshell.
There are a couple of things to remember about dating in The Philippines that are a little different, though.
First, while I have never experienced it, it’s not uncommon for a Filipina to come and meet you with some family or friends in toe. I met my wife in another country, but I have friends here who have gone on dates only to find a lady has brought her brother, children, or in one extreme case, everyone including the cousins, along for the date.
There are two possibilities here and which one is the case will be up to you to assess.
First, she may be so excited and nervous to be meeting a foreign man that she needs the support of her family to handle it properly, not knowing what to expect. You might even be the first foreigner she’s talked to in her life, and it’s understandable how a provincial girl might be taken aback a little by someone from abroad.
There’s a saying here in the Philippines, ‘Nose bleed’, which is what many people say when they have to deal with the nerves of speaking English to a foreigner for an extended period of time. This could be her reasoning.
The other possibility is, you guessed it, she has you locked in as a sucker and sees you as a way to eat a nice meal out for free.
Both explanations are possible, both types and everything in between exist here and there’s absolutely no point in sugar coating it. While the majority of people I have met here have given me far more than I could ever return, scammers do exist and when they come with the looks most Filipina women possess, anyone can be taken to the fair.
It’s good to be positive and to see the best in people, but do be aware that dating scams here are possible and if you don’t go in with your eyes open, you could be taken for a ride. This probably will not happen, and if you’re lucky enough to find a girl with good intentions you’ll be in for a dream come true, but I wouldn’t want you e-mailing me in five years and telling me reading a blog post on the Art of Selfhood ruined your life, so I thought I should make you aware fair and square that sometimes bad things do happen.
My best advice is this – approach slowly, take your time and get to know the lady and her family, give her the benefit of the doubt when there’s a cultural misunderstanding, and always remember that the rules of your country and what’s fair, right, socially acceptable behaviour do not apply here. I actually think that’s common sense dating advice for anywhere in the world.
My wife is Filipina and she is without a doubt the best thing that has ever happened to me. We have a beautiful son who brings more joy than I can describe to our days, and we have two very supportive, loving families backing us up.
If you’re lucky, this will be you in the not too distant future. If you’re not, you’ll be crying into a pillow as your supermodel girlfriend spends your last Yankee dollar then kicks your ass to the curb.
Hey, nobody ever said dating was easy, fella! Anywhere you go, women are women and they come in all kinds. Lose the stereotypes and embrace the individual you’re dating. Keep your guard up and your heart open.
Do I Need to Learn the Language?
Not necessarily, as most Filipinos speak excellent English, but it’s polite to do so and will go a long way to helping you understand what’s going on around you and gaining acceptance here.
Life in The Philippines will be a LOT easier for you if you do take the time to learn the basics. Take it from me, my life in Indonesia before I knew how to speak Indonesian and after were like night and day. I’m working on my language skills here, but I’m still a long way off fluency and I find it really frustrating to sit in a room full of people and being the only one who doesn’t know what the conversation is about. This acts as a strong motivator for me to close the gap and learn as fast as I can. Only I can change that.
As far as what language to learn goes, that depends on what island you live on. The Philippines has one unifying language which all the islands use the conduct trade, engage in politics and communicate in general, Tagolog, but each island will have at least one distinct dialect of its own. Most Filipinos will know at least 2 languages, and most likely 3.
Q. How much do I need per month to live in The Philippines?
A.Living in The Philippines is a much less expensive affair than in the West, and it’s perfectly possible to survive on $1000 a month, although you won’t be living a flash life by any means.
How much you need depends largely on your lifestyle and what you plan to do when you get here. It also depends on where you live. Life in Manila will be at least double as expensive than life in the provinces.
For example: A studio apartment in an average neighbourhood in Manila will cost you around PHP40,000 (48 to the Greenback at time of writing), whereas if you lived in Dumaguete you could get a nice house fit for a small family for a lot less.
What you intend to do here will also determine what type of money you spend. Living in The Philippines will be a lot different than visiting and as you settle into your daily routine you’ll find ways to minimize expenses that you just can’t as a tourist (I’m not saying tourism is expensive here, it’s just more expensive than daily life when you settle in).
I could get by on around PHP30,000 a month and that is with a small family to support. You’re probably beginning to see why lots of people come to live in The Philippines when they’re starting their online businesses and looking to make their savings stretch as far as possible!
Keep in mind that some items are actually more expensive here. Cars are insanely expensive compared to back home, and everything imported will cost a little more and anything considered a ‘luxury’ item will have steep taxes attached to it.
That should give you a fair insight into the cost of living in The Philippines. Most things area lot cheaper, but some certainly are not!
Q. Is living in The Philippines safe?
A.This is a very important question, especially for those who have children and families to think of.
The honest answer is that the Philippines is safe if you keep a good head on your shoulders and have street smarts. If you are careless, however, you could quickly find yourself in a lot of trouble.
You have to remember that the majority of people in this country live in poverty you can’t even imagine. I’m talking about 6 people in one room making $2 per day each and trying to survive poor in big cities like Manila. That makes you, who earns $15 per hour freelancing on the web, a prime target for crime.
I personally have never had any aggressive exchanges or altercations with any Filipinos. Having said that, I’m married into a large and well-known Filipino family and I’m rarely out without at least one of them. When I go out with my wife and son, there might be up to ten of us, so I feel safe pretty much everywhere I go.
While I myself have never experienced any form of crime here, I do know of people who have experienced attempted and successful robberies, some that made me laugh at the stupidity of them, and some that made me turn white as a ghost at the brutality of them.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that The Philippines has extremely liberal gun laws. You just never know who’s packing and I found that in the provinces most people I asked admit to carrying knives everywhere they go at a minimum.
Generally speaking,there are a few tips that if you follow you should be safe:
Situational Awareness is Paramount – Ditch the phone until you get where you’re going and keep your eyes wide open. Be aware of who is in or around you at all times. If it looks suspicious, it is. Trust your intuition 100%. My gut instinct has saved me countless times while traveling. It will do the same for you.
Show Respect – Filipinos will forgive minor slights easily if you show respect. This culture is built on that concept and if you accidentally hit on someone’s girl, offend them, or do something that upsets them, it can usually be resolved by showing the appropriate respect and apologizing.
Showing respect in the first place also goes a long way to avoiding these situations altogether!
Use Common Sense – Don’t walk alone down dark alleys at night, don’t trust anyone you don’t know, double lock your doors and have a home intruder system and take all of the precautions you would anywhere else in the world.
Q. How Can I Make a Living in The Philippines?
A.This is another crucial question. You do not want to find yourself stranded here without any money.
The short answer is ‘independently’.
Generally speaking you can forget the idea of getting a job in a local business here. I have never met a single expatriate who has one, and what’s being offered will not appeal to you. I checked out some local contact center jobs here and they’re paying $300 per month, about 1/4 of what I could make at home doing the same job.
You have to find a way to make a living as an entrepreneur here. If you don’t, you’d better have substantial savings to fall back on or a pension of some sort. Most people I know run small businesses of their own both online and in the real world.
Here are some examples:
Big T, a retired American I know, runs a burger joint and sells cold beer. He lives in a nice neighbourhood and drives a jeep, so I’m guessing he does OK.
L, a computer programmer I know, makes a living designing apps, building websites and working online.
Pat, a retired cop from London, teaches English online and to Korean students who come to The Philippines to study.
Trev, an ex-oilfield engineer has been out of the game for 3 years now and is exporting traditional crafts back home where his partner sells them in a store.
You get the picture. You’ll have to find a way to live as a free person and not rely on a boss here. With a little inventiveness and the spirit of a hustler, there are plenty of ways to survive and thrive in The Philippines.
What’s a Day in Your Life Like while In The Philippines, G?
A typical life in my life goes like this:
I wake up around 9-10am, usually to my son with his fingers in either my nose or my ears. I laugh at this, give him and hug and play with him for a few minutes. Usually, at this point, I have a cup of coffee and a breakfast in bed, courtesy of my wonderful wife, Mrs. Freedom. From time to time she does make me get up and sit at the table, but this is rare.
Once I’ve eaten I take my time reading the news and generally doing jack all for at least an hour. I wake up slowly so I usually have another cup of coffee to help me along. There’s no need to rush since I work for myself.
When I feel ready, usually around 45 minutes later, I get up, shower, get dressed, pack my laptop and work stuff into a bag and hit the road. I catch a ‘jeepney’ to an office space about 15 minutes from my house, which I’m renting here to allow me to work professionally from home.
Typically, I stay there for 6-8 hours, depending on my workload and how inspired I am to write. Some days I move mountains, while others I just about get anything productive done. I nip out somewhere in here for lunch at one of the local cafes.
After work, I head home for dinner then hit the books. I study for an hour and then it’s bed time. I play with my son, and say goodnight. Then it’s time for Mrs. Freedom and I to hit the sack.
I stick to this routine pretty rigidly during the week so that I’m effective and productive in my work. On the weekends, anything could happen! I might stay home and write a marathon post, or I might go out to a beach resort or farm and stay overnight with my wife and son. During UFC bouts and boxing matches I always get together with my wife’s cousins and watch someone get beat up with a few beers.
I rarely party these days, but when I do, it’s insane. Filipinos really know how to throw a ball and since it’s someone’s birthday every week (mum’s great auntie’s 2nd husband’s cousin or someone similar – Filipino families extend far and wide!), I find I have to decline more of these invitations that I’d like to. They’re always fun to attend, but it takes me too long to recover to do so regularly.
That’s pretty much my life in The Philippines on a day to day basis. I really can’t complain. It could be a heck of a lot worse 😉
What Do You Miss About Home While Living in The Philippines?
Coming from Ireland, I miss what wee Irish call ‘the craic’. This is a foreign concept to anyone outside Ireland, but it generally means the spirit of the Irish people. Small things like jokes and ‘banter’ don’t translate here.
I also miss the food at home. The food here is delicious, but the portions are much smaller than good old Irish meat and potatoes, as the Filipino people are generally much smaller in stature than Westerners. The food here is always cooked fresh and is normally locally sourced, which are two huge positives, but it’s natural to miss those favourite dishes you grew up on and your favourite sweet or candy.
Finally, of course, I miss my friends and family. I have some good friends and a phenomenal family here, but those relationships at home are irreplaceable. I could live without most things in Ireland, but my family and my best friends from childhood are the reasons I always have and always will return as often as I do.
What’s the Single Best Thing About Life in The Philippines?
The staggeringly unbelievable beauty of The Philippines. Every time I go on a road trip somewhere I am bowled over by what I see and experience.
What’s the Single Worst Thing?
The small hassles of everyday life like electricity brownouts and things that should take 45 minutes taking 5 hours. Like I said, you just get used to them.
OK, G. I’m Coming to The Philippines to Check it Out! What Should I Do While I’m There?
See Manila – This is one of the most intense cities I have ever been to. You will either love it or feel the immediate urge to flee. Still, it has to be experienced while you’re here.
Visit Boracay – The island of Boracay has seen its main beach snap up the prize of best beach in the world a number of times. It’s a bit commercialized and my Filipino friends lambast me for liking it so much, but I do! It’s awesome, the beach is so beautiful it’s unbelievable, and if you want to have a good time, whether that means partying until you pass out or paragliding over the ocean, you can.
Go to the Provinces – You can’t understand The Philippines and what it’s all about without seeing the provincial regions. The first time I looked out my window and saw a woman in a straw hat riding a water buffalo through a rice paddy was a perspective inducing moment. You’ve got to see how everyday Filipino’s live off the beaten path to understand what the country is really all about.
Explore Cebu – I only got to see a tiny smidgen of Cebu when I was there, but it was enough to plant the notion of returning many times over in my head.
Cebu is an adventure lovers mecca. Watersports, hiking, rafting and all of the other adrenaline-fueled sports are what this place is all about. If that’s not your cup of tea then kick back on a white sand beach with a cocktail and relax.
Living in The Philippines Summary
The Philippines is a colossal country of 7,000 islands and 100 million people. Every country in unique, but in The Philippines the same can be said of every island.
Living here is a pleasure, but it isn’t without its challenges. If you’re a pampered type you’ll struggle and you have to be willing to stick out some annoyances and tough situations.
Everything you could ever hope to do in Asia can be done in The Philippines, but your day to day life here will not be the same as your 3 weeks vacation. When you settle into the humdrum routine of raising a family and making a living, you’ll experience an altogether different side to The Philippines, and it isn’t all pretty, but it is always worth it to stay.
Whether or not I recommend you give living in The Philippines a try really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want my honest opinion, then tell me about what you’re after in the comments below and I’ll do my best to give you an honest answer.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this living in The Philippines FAQ. Remember, the things I’ve shared here are based on my own opinions and observations, and every single person you talk to who lives here will tell you something totally different about the place and their own experiences. Such is the nature of life, and life in The Philippines is no different.
The Philippines is a beautiful country full of both opportunities and pitfalls, but one thing I can guarantee you is that even if you decide not to live here, you’ll never regret visiting. If you’re like the rest of us who have made The Philippines our home, leaving will be a lot harder than you think!