Listen To The Audio Summary Of Best Expat Cities In The Philippines
Overview: Top 10 Best Places To Live In The Philippines For Expats
QUICK SUMMARY- Best Places In THE PHILIPPINES
|Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental||$925||134,103|
|Makati, Metro Manila||$1500||629,616|
|Subic Bay, Zambales||$1250||111,912|
|Baguio City, Luzon||$950||366,358|
|Lipa City, Batangas||$900||372,931|
|BGC, Taguig City||$1500||886,722|
|Davao City, Mindanao||$1100||1,776,949|
|Cebu City, Cebu||$1200||964,169|
|Bacolod City, Negros Occidental||$1050||600,783|
From the Chocolate Hills of Bohol to the White Beach in Boracay to the Rice Terraces of Banaue, the Philippines is a vacation mecca attracting over 8 million visitors per year. But the Philippines isn't solely a tourist attraction. The Philippines has a long history of being a popular destination for expats looking for a new home.
There are many reasons why expats choose to move to the Philippines: The cost of living in the Philippines is only a fraction of the price in the US or Western Europe. Filipino people are some of the friendliest warm-hearted people you will ever meet. Most Filipinos, especially anyone younger than 40, speak English. The Philippine government offers an easy long-term visas including their simple retirement visa. The country has an abundance of natural beauty; along with rainforests and waterfalls, three islands in the Philippines have been voted the "most beautiful island in the world."
With over 7500 islands, there is a place for every lifestyle. The Philippines has large cities with bustling nightlife, tranquil island beach villages, hippy surf communities, and even cool mountain towns.
Whether you are the type to sit peacefully on the beach watching the sunset with a drink in your hand or prefer a more active lifestyle of surfing in the afternoon and beers at the pub at night, the Philippines has something for everyone. The question is, with so many possibilities, where should you go? This article focuses on the Top Places To Live In the Philippines for Expats. I cover the rough costs, the attractions, and whether the place is better suited for expats looking for peace and quiet or an active social life.
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QUICK TIPS- PHILIPPINES
Show a mandatory departure ticket. You cannot enter the Philippines on a one-way ticket if you only have a tourist visa or visa on arrival. You will need a flight ticket with a date leaving the country before your visa expires. Save money by showing immigration you have a cheap onward travel ticket for just $14.
Get help with your visa. The Philippines visa process can get complicated. The rules and regulations change frequently. Avoid the hassle of dealing with the immigration bureaucracy by speaking with a Philippines Visa Specialist.
Learn some basic Tagalog phrases. While nearly everyone speaks some English, learning some basic Tagalog is always appreciated by Filipinos. Get a FREE Language Lesson using the same learning technique used by the US State Department, FBI, and overseas military.
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Get COVID-19 Health Insurance. Your home insurance will not cover you while abroad. However, you can find affordable travel insurance for less than $50 that will protect you in an emergency.
How To Find The Cheapest Flights To The Philippines
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Dumaguete- The Best Place To Retire In the Philippines
While Dumaguete City is only a 1.5-hour flight from Manila, it feels worlds away from the crowds of people and the hectic pace of life. With less than 150,000 people, Dumaguete gets little of the attention and tourism that other expat destinations on this list. Yet, this small college beach town hit Forbes's number 5 spot on the 2015 list of "The 7 Best Places To Retire Around The World."
INSIDER TIP : For reference, the global retirement hotspots competing against Dumaguete (in order 1-7): Algarve, Portugal; Cuenca, Ecuador; George Town, Malaysia; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Dumaguete, Philippines; Pau, France; Medellin, Columbia.
Dumaguete won a similar award in 2019, as the Department of Tourism and the Philippine Retirement Authority awarded the city as the best place to retire in the Philippines.
Why is Dumaguete attracting all this attention? Forbes specifically noted the city's cost of living, beaches, and healthcare.
I have to agree with Forbes. It's hard to complain about the beauty surrounding Dumaguete. The town's main promenade fronts the East Bohol sea, with Cebu and Apo islands to your left and the locally dubbed "witchcraft island" of Siquijor to your right. Scuba divers and snorkelers can find giant whale sharks and families of sea turtles less than 50 yards off the beach.
Dumaguete itself is a charming town with a Spanish colonial feel. Seeing a brightly colored horse-drawn carriage, called a kalesas, passing you as you stroll through town doesn't seem that out of place here.
The low cost of living in Dumaguete (and the Philippines in general) is one of the main draws of a retirement community. Even compared to other cheap places to live in the Philippines, Dumaguete is inexpensive. And if you compare against the US, Canada, or the UK, housing, eating out, and other living expenses are a fraction of the cost. Even on just social security or a modest pension, expat retirees can live comfortably and still have a lot of money to spare for entertainment and social life.
Dumaguete is the best place to live in the Philippines for expats looking for the quintessential island lifestyle, with enough modern amenities to make expat life convenient.
Makati- Best City To Live In Philippines
Makati is the place most foreigners in the Philippines look to live. As the country's commercial and financial hub, Makati is the bustling city center that makes the Philippines go. Home for the country's major banks and headquarters for most multinational corporations, if an expat is here for work or to find business opportunities, Makati is the place.
While cheaper than living in the US, expat life in Makati will be pricy by Philippine standards. Makati city is arguable the most upscale place in the Philippines. With plenty of international restaurants and loads (and I mean tons) of malls and shopping centers, expats living in Makati can find all the western conveniences, foods, and consumer products they miss from home.
A younger expat, especially a single person, will find Makati the best place to live in the Philippines for nightlife. Makati and Bonifacio Global City (BGC) are the best destinations for an active social life and nightly entertainment. If you are looking to toss back a few beers at an Irish pub, sip on cocktails on a rooftop bar, or dance until the sun comes up, you'll find a place in Makati.
The downside to being the center of attention is the traffic. City living means crowds and Manila is the most densely populated city in the world. There is no way to talk about living in Makati without discussing the parking-lot traffic that occurs every rush hour in Manila. If you live in Makati but work outside the central business district (CBD), you will lose at least 2 hours of your life every day in traffic. If you work and live in Makati and think walking will be your solution, note that congestion means plenty of air pollution while traffic is less of an issue. Walking, while faster, is by no means an enjoyable stroll.
Baguio - The Best Place To Live In The Philippines For Cooler Weather
The Philippines is a tropical island paradise for most expats, but when the summer heat index hits above 45 C or 113 F, even the most die-hard beach lover looks for an escape.
Baguio City, located about 5-hours north of Manila, in the mountains of Northern Luzon island, is the best place to live in the Philippines if you want a cool climate. At over 5,200 feet elevation, the Baguio sports chilled mountain air and moderate temperatures all year long. After a few months living in Baguio, expats find themselves sporting having to dig out their winter jackets and sweaters they never thought they would wear in the Philippines.
While you won't find the same selection of international restaurants or upscale dining options as in Manila, there are plenty of delicious casual dining options. Plus, prices in Baguio are 40% less than in Makati. Additionally, all the major supermarkets and shopping centers are present in Baguio. Still, veteran expats and locals know Baguio City Public Market is where you find the best deals on the freshest fruits and vegetables.
Expat life in Baguio is not without significant trade-offs. The mountain highlands that make living in Baguio so attractive is also the city's most significant disadvantage. Baguio is only 40 miles from La Union's fantastic beaches, but driving to the beach takes nearly two hours, and the twisty mountain roads make even the staunchest stomachs a bit queasy.
In addition, the 5+ hour drive to Manila is a substantial hassle. Expats who frequently travel find the distance to Manila's International airport a deal-breaker. And while the healthcare options in Baguio are improving, most expats still prefer the more prominent private hospitals in Manila for major health issues.
INSIDER TIP : Healthcare Coverage Abroad- Most health insurance will not cover you for any injuries sustained outside your home country. To get protection while living abroad, there are two options:
- Travel Health Insurance- This will cover you for unexpected medical issues while overseas. However, the coverage requires you maintain insurance in the United States or your respective home country. I pay roughly $50 per month for complete coverage with no deductible.
- Expat Medical Insurance- If you retire abroad, expat health insurance is a more complete option. Expat Medical Insurance is the "normal" insurance you are familiar with to from home. Coverage is built for people who live in a country versus traveling. While more expensive than Travel Medical Insurance, premiums are still cheaper than the US.
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig- Best Place To Live In Manila
- $1500 per month Cost of Living (Single Person) =
- Location: Taguig City, Metro Manila, Luzon
- Major Attractions: Fort Strip, Bonifacio High Street, Venice Grand Canal Mall
- Population: 886,722 (Taguig City)
- Closest Airport: Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL)
Bonifacio Global City (also known as BGC, Fort Bonifacio, or The Fort) is a meticulously designed business and lifestyle hub in Taguig in Metropolitan Manila. BGC is my choice of the best place to live whenever I stay in Manila. Slightly cheaper than Makati, with cleaner streets, better walkability, less chaotic traffic, Bonifacio Global City lures many multinational companies to move their corporate offices and headquarters away from Makati.
Similar to the paradigm in Makati, people move to locations with high-paying jobs. And with expats and wealthier Filipinos moving into the area, BGC real estate has been booming. BGC has several condominium complexes, where developers designed community and lifestyle elements directly into the buildings. These condominiums are tiny self-sustained neighborhoods with gyms, shopping areas, supermarkets, nightclubs, and restaurants available to residents without leaving the complex.
While Makati still has BGC beat in fine dining restaurants, BGC is working its way up, with four Michelin star restaurants opening in the last few years.
Makati is still the popular destination to enjoy a crazy weekend night out with friends, but BGC offers more space and less mess for everyday living.
Davao City- Safest Place To Live In The Philippines
- $1,100 per month Cost of Living (Single Person) =
- Location: Davao del Sur, Mindanao
- Major Attractions: Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, Aliwagwag Falls, Samal Island and Talikud Island
- Closest Airport: Francisco Bangoy International Airport (DVO)
- Best For: Urban City Life, but with green parks, tropical beaches, and nature
Davao City is the biggest city in terms of land area in the Philippines, with the 3rd largest population, just a few hundred thousand residents short of Cebu (Metro Manila, the largest city, is nearly four times the size of either city). Located on the southern island of Mindanao, expats living in Davao City enjoy the lowest prices of any of the metro areas on this list. But as a trade and business hub with its own international airport, Davao City has the pre-requisite international dining options, leisure hubs, and high-end shopping malls an expat community needs.
Where Davao City stands out is the city's clean air, low crime rate, and uncongested streets. Davao was even able to garner international recognition as the only Philippine city listed on "Asia's Most Livable Cities," as ranked by CNN. Davao City was also recognized with a Safe Haven award for the city's efforts to ensure public safety and combat crime.
In addition to being the safest city to live in the Philippines, this coastal city is stunning, surrounded by natural resources, has carefully balanced the fine line between economic growth and sustainability. While Davao is one of the most developed places in the Philippines, there are still many public parks and green areas around the city. People enjoy spending time outdoors here.
With plenty of sights and activities, Davao is an emerging expat destination. Active expats can hike Mount Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines. At the same time, nearby Samal Island's beaches offer gorgeous pristine beaches and clear blue ocean waters. Speaking of clear blue waters, anyone into scuba diving or world history needs to go boat diving to the sunken WWII shipwrecks near the city.
Subic Bay Freeport Zone- Best Place To Live In The Philippines For Expats With Kids
- $1250 per month Cost of Living (Single Person) =
- Population: 111,912
- Closest Airport: Clark International Airport (CRK)
- Best For: Expats Families, Idyllic Suburban Living, Large Houses With Yards, Duty-Free Shopping
As a former US naval base, Subic Bay has long been a destination for American expats living in the Philippines. Since Subic locals are very accustomed to seeing foreigners, expats don't need to worry about standing out.
Subic is the best place to live near Manila and the closest to a Westernized town you can find in the Philippines. As a former United States military base, Subic's infrastructure is well developed, with few power outages, reliable, fast internet, regular trash pick up, and plenty of fresh air. Expats love the larger well-built homes with yards and plenty of space between neighbors. Compared to Manila's concrete jungle, Subic is an oasis of green with several large parks perfect for casual strolls or biking. And after the chaos found on most streets in Southeast Asia, expats are pleasantly surprised that Subic traffic flows smoothly because of the strict enforcement of traffic rules and disciplined local driving habits.
Expats living in Subic will find plenty to keep them occupied. Attractions include nature trails, scuba diving sites, beaches, and water parks. For shoppers, Subic is well known for its duty-free shops. People from Metro Manila and nearby cities love coming here to shop and buy imported western products for the lowest prices found in the Philippines.
Organized, clean, and with all the amenities needed to feel safe and comfortable, Subic Bay Freeport Zone is the best place in the Philippines for expat families. Aside from being the most westernized city in the Philippines, expat families with children will appreciate several international schools, including Brent International and Casa Kalayaan. Ateneo University even has an extension campus here for potential continuing education.
Families will find several petting zoos, wildlife preserves, adrenaline theme parks, and amusement parks to keep kids from toddlers to teens occupied for weekend fun.
Tagaytay - Best Place To Live If You Want A Quiet Small Town
- Major Attractions: Taal Volcano, People’s Park in the Sky, Sky Ranch Theme Park
If your ideal location is a smaller town nestled in peaceful mountains and surrounded by quiet jungle, Tagaytay is the perfect place for you. Like Baguio, the town sits up in the breezy cooler mountain air (roughly 2,000 feet above sea level), where the elevation is a break from the tropical heat of Manila. However, unlike Baguio, Tagaytay is not 6-hours away from Metropolitan Manila. At less than 90 minutes away from the hectic Capital city, Manila is a convenient weekend getaway.
Tagaytay has a laid-back mountain town vibe that reminds me of Lake Tahoe, California, or Bend, Oregon. The town is small enough that you will soon find yourself waving at familiar faces, but Tagaytay is big enough you don't need to head out of town to find a dentist or hospital.
Over the last ten years, Tagaytay has seen additional urbanization, with another shopping mall, several nice restaurants, a couple of movie theaters, and a new Starbucks with a view across the Taal lake. But if there is something you need that isn't readily available in Tagaytay, a highway connects you to southern Metro Manila. If you time your trip to avoid rush hour traffic, you can be in Manila in less than two hours.
Expats living in Tagaytay find the weekend tourist traffic from Manila a bit much. Still, Tagaytay is close to the western Luzon beaches or Laguna Lake if you want to escape. Otherwise, the Tagaytay Highlands offers an excellent place for those who love hiking, a place where you can enjoy nature's beauty and stunning views of the Taal volcano. There is also a golf course, well-equipped sports facilities, restaurants, shopping centers, and most western amenities you need for a relaxing and comfortable life.
Lipa City- The Best Place To Live For Outdoor Activities
Lipa City in the Batangas province is a charming university town on a Southern Luzon Expressway (SLEX) between Manila and Batangas City. The cheapest destination on this list, yet only 1.5 hours (with light traffic) from Makati's bright lights and nightlife, Lipa City is the best place in the Philippines for nature lovers.
Lipa is nestled between two mountain ranges (Malepunyo Mountain Range and Mount Macolod) and within a 2-hour drive of several other peaks, including the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve. Expats don't come to Lipa City for the nightlife but to live close to lots of parks, dive spots, white sand beaches; Lipa City is perfect for hikers, mountain climbers, trekkers, and outdoor adventure enthusiasts.
One hour southwest toward Batangas City, scuba divers have a wealth of dive sites to choose from in the Mabini area of Balayan Bay. Freshwater sports lovers can find bass fishing and sailing in Taal lake, just 45 minutes away from Lipa City if saltwater is not your thing.
If enjoying the outdoors to you means less exercise and more relaxing beach resorts, Laiya, San Juan is roughly one hour away. With white sandy beaches and clear blue waters, Laiya is the tropical paradise most expats imagine when they think about the best places to live in the Philippines.
Cebu City- The Best Place To Live In The Philippines For Americans
Most US expats start off living in Manila. As the capital, it has the most western amenities and makes acclimating to life in the Philippines easier for Americans. But Americanized shopping malls, high-rise condominiums, and fast food options are not why Americans move to the Philippines. Not when the country is teeming with world-class beaches and is known for having the best islands in the world.
So, where is an expat supposed to live if they want urbanized city living combined with the charm and the natural wonders the Philippines is known for? Cebu City, the Philippines' second-largest metro, has the amenities and services of a major city, social activities found in a town teeming with nightlife, as well as beautiful beaches and surrounding nature.
Cebu City is sometimes referred to as the "Manila of Visayas." But calling Cebu a smaller version of Manila does not do the city justice. Cebu has arguably all the benefits of Manila but with 1/5 the population and crowds. The city has its own international airport (40 international destinations in 11 countries), high-quality hospitals, a booming BPO and outsourcing economy, international schools and universities, growing restaurant and dining options, and an active entertainment and nightlife scene. Where Cebu pulls away from the enormous Capital is Cebu City's easy access to explore breathtaking waterfalls, hike up limestone mountains vistas, go dolphin and whale watching, and island-hop to stunning white-sand beaches.
If fine dining restaurant options, endless entertainment, and quality nightlife are high on your list of priorities when choosing a place to live, a major city is your best option. And if you are looking for all the amenities of city life, without as much traffic and congestion as Manila, and still near phenomenal beaches and natural attractions, Cebu City is my recommendation for the best place to live in the Philippines as an American expat.
Bacolod - Most Underrated Place To Live In The Philippines
Adding Bacolod City to this list is both surprising and expected. Surprising because 99.999% of people outside of the Philippines will likely have never heard of Bacolod. Yet, this mid-sized city, affectionately nicknamed the "City of Smiles," is not a one but rather a two-time winner of the "Philippines' Best Place To Live" (2008- MoneySense, 2019-Manila Times).
While smaller than many cities on this list (6 out of 10), local Filipinos and foreign expats feel that life is better here. Bacolod has the amenities of an urban industrial city, including a domestic airport, but with a distinct small city culture. Bacolod offers amenities, leisure, and shopping conveniences expected by expats, but without the endless traffic jams, cough-inducing pollution, and soaring crime statistics. Instead, Bacolod City offers one of the Philippines' most affordable cities (5th ranked on this list), combined with a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere and a rich cultural heritage.
Bacolod City hosts the Philippine version of Rio De Janeiro's Carnival, the MassKara Festival. A 30-year tradition, this month-long October celebration is a celebration and a chance to drink, dance, and party Filipino-style. MassKara is the best and most colorful festival in the Philippines that culminates in a kaleidoscope of costumed-masked performers competing in a dance showdown.
Key Takeaway: Best Place For Expats To Live In The Philippines
The "best place" in the Philippines will depend on personal preferences. A pensioner looking for a retirement community in the Philippines has different needs than a young expat working as a digital nomad.
For some foreigners, it's all about social life, fun activities, and leisure. Other expats prioritize a rich culture and quality of life.
Every choice has some trade-offs. Popular cities have a larger expat community but higher rental prices. While smaller, affordable cities have a laid-back vibe but may lack essential services.
Finding your ideal city will take some research to balance the pros and cons of each location. The good news is I've done the initial research so that you don't have to! If you're thinking about moving to the Philippines, use this list of Top 10 Places To Live In The Philippines For Expats as your starting point.
If you liked this story, you will enjoy these other posts on life in the Philippines
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FAQs: Philippines- Best Places To Live
Housing is the biggest budget expense. If you want to live cheaply in the Philippines, then you should consider living in a city like Lipa City, Dumaguete, Baguio, Bacolod, Davao, or Iloilo City. These cities offer cheaper housing prices than places in Metro Manila or Cebu City.
There are two main areas where expats live in the Philippines: Metro Manila and Cebu. Metro Manila (concentrated around Makati, BGC, and Quezon City) is home to about 60% of all expats living in the Philippines. Another 6% is located in Cebu.
Best depends on your lifestyle preference. Regardless of your choice, the Philippines has a spot for you. Here are three great places for expats in the Philippines:
- Dumaguete- Great place for expat retirees on a budget.
- BGC- For digital nomads who need to stay in a big city.
- Subic Bay- Ideal for expat families with children
Palawan Island. While El Nido and Coron Island are arguably the most beautiful islands in the Philippines, where you vacation and where you live have very different criteria.
Infrastructure on Palawan is built for tourists in town for a few days, not expats living here for months.
Even in Palawan's "big city" of Puerto Princesa, medical facilities, entertainment, and amenities are lacking. Palawan is not cheap; pricing for restaurants and leisure activities is geared towards a vacation wallet.