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Expat Life in the Philippines: An American Expat’s Pros and Cons

Are you thinking about becoming an expat in the Philippines? Are you confused about what life is really like? This guide will help you make the decision and provide real-word insights into the benefits, challenges, pros, and cons of living as an American expat in this exciting Southeast Asian retirement destination.

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Published On: January 12, 2024

Latest Update: April 12, 2024

About the author

Hi, I'm Marco Sison. I worked in finance for Fortune 50 companies before retiring early at 41 years old. I have been an expat for over 10 years, living in over 50 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries outside the USA. I am a trusted resource on personal finance and overseas retirement for US News & World Reports, HuffPost, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Association of MBAs, the iTunes documentary Seeking FIRE, and the Amazon Best-Seller- Abroad: Expats That Thrive.

QUICK SUMMARY-

  • Philippines ranked Top 3 for expat ease of settling in, friendliness, and welcomeness.
  • English widely spoken; integration easy for expats.
  • Lower cost of living compared to the US. Expats save up to 50% vs. living in the US.
  • Manila named top city destination in the world in 2023.
  • Heavy traffic in Manila, one of the worst globally.
  • Foreigners may face discriminatory higher prices, known as “skin tax.”

Table of Contents – Click To Expand: Expat Life in the Philippines: An American Expat’s Pros and Cons

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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.

Save On Moving Costs. Save up to 40% on your international moving costs. Nomadic FIRE has partnered with 10,000+ pre-screened global moving companies to save you time and money. Fill out our 60-second form and get 5 free quotes from accredited moving companies competing for your business.

Get Free Expat Health Insurance Quotes. Your home insurance will not cover you while abroad. However, you can find affordable international health insurance for less than what you would pay in the United States. 

Expat Life In the Philippines: An Introduction

The Appeal of the Expat Life in the Philippines

If you find yourself drawn to the allure of the Philippines, know you’re not alone. I moved to the Philippines eight years ago for sunshine and social life. But there is a lot to love about the Philippines. Some come for the sandy beaches, others to escape the 9-5 grind, while some are attracted to the country’s famously attractive women. Whether you intend to unwind on tranquil beaches, experience the incredible local hospitality, or even find a potential partner, you’re in the right place.

Even Manila, the much-maligned capital city, is getting recent accolades as a popular destination.

Manila is the top city destination in the world in 2023, according to the World Travel Awards.- PhilStar

Expat Guide To Living In The Philippines- Costs, Visas, Safety, Pros & Cons (2022)
How To Get A Philippines Retirement Visa For As Low As $1500
2024 Philippines Online Annual Reporting Requirement Guide for Expats
Foreigner’s Guide To Prenuptial Agreements in the Philippines- Protecting Your Money
A Comprehensive Guide To Philippines Health Insurance For Expats
24 Facts About Healthcare In The Philippines Every Expat Must Know
How Do I Send Money to the Philippines? My Remittance Rundown
Best Places To Live In Manila- An Expat Guide To Metro Neighborhoods
An Expat Guide On Where To Eat In Manila [Best Restaurants and Groceries]

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This tropical paradise has a natural appeal as an expat destination, particularly those hailing from colder parts of the US. Its warm temperatures, turquoise waters, and picturesque golden beaches emit an ambiance of tranquility and contentment that instantly makes you fall in love with the place. But starting a new chapter in the Philippines isn’t just about the weather and changing your scenery.

Filipinos’ friendly attitude and warmth can make living in the Philippines an absolute joy. This innate Filipino hospitality is so unique and genuine that it deeply engages and connects with you, immediately making you feel part of the community. A 2023 expat survey ranked the Philippines in the Top 3 for Ease of Settling In, Local Friendliness, and Welcomeness.

 “What I like best about life in the Philippines are the friendly people and the relaxed lifestyle,” says a US expat

But there are pluses and minuses. Some expats can’t hack the culture shock and are driven island-crazy by the country’s inefficiencies. I’ll touch on some of the worst parts of living in the Philippines, but after 10+ years of living abroad, I’ve found that every place has its warts.

The critical question expats must ask themselves is if the good outweighs the bad. The Philippines is more than just a destination. It’s a lifestyle, a mindset, an experience – and it could become your new home. 

Real-Life Pros and Cons Of Expat Life In the Philippines

Challenges Encountered by Expats in the Philippines

  1. Traffic Jams: Heavy traffic, particularly in larger cities like Manila, a daily challenge. The capital is one of the worst cities for traffic on the planet.
  2. Skin Tax: Similar to the “gringo tax” in Mexico and Colombia, foreigners pay more than locals. For some expats, it’s simply a cost of doing business, and the overall lower cost of living more than makes up for it. Some expats are infuriated by what they consider unfair and discriminatory treatment.
  3. Poverty: The ugly other side of the coin regarding the low cost of living. The average monthly wage in the Philippines is roughly $607. If you live in Manila, not a day will go by that you aren’t exposed to the grit and grime of the city.
  4. Pollution: Like any growing and bustling urban center globally, most cities in the Philippines suffer from pollution. The expat areas or tourism hubs tend to be very clean, but stepping outside the bubble can feel like walking into a trash heap.
  5. Inefficiency: From slow bureaucratic processes to unreliable public services, daily tasks can become time-consuming. Inconsistent transportation systems, frequent power outages, and a lack of infrastructure further contribute to the frustration. These challenges often require expats to adapt their expectations and develop patience to navigate daily life.

Driving 5 miles can take up over 25 minutes during peak rush hour in Manila- TomTom Traffic Index Ranking 2023

Advantages of Living as an Expat in the Philippines

  1. Ease of Integration: You will not face significant issues integrating due to the language barrier compared to other Southeast Asian countries. With over 60% of Filipinos speaking English and the country’s renowned reputation for hospitality and friendliness, building a social circle here is relatively easier.
  2. Healthcare: Private Healthcare is available at a significantly lower cost than in the United States. Private healthcare facilities in Manila or Cebu offer affordable care with global standards of treatment. Foreigners can even qualify for government-subsidized medical insurance.
  3. Beaches and Sunshine: As an archipelago with over 7000 islands, it is no surprise that the Philippines has been recognized as having some of the most beautiful islands and beaches in the world.
  4. Cost of Living: A quick look at Mercer’s 2023 Cost of Living Survey reveals Manila ranking 133rd, making it cheaper than 19 American cities, a stark indicator of the affordability of life in the Philippines.

Shifting Your Life Abroad: Logistics of Moving to the Philippines

Different Types of Expat Visas

The Philippines is known for having one of the most accessible visa policies in Southeast Asia. There are several visa options for expats depending on your aim and the length of stay, such as:

  1. Marriage Visa (13a): Aimed at foreign nationals married to Philippine citizens
  2. Tourist Visas: Citizens of 157 countries can enter visa-free for 30 days, then continue to extend for up to 3 years.  
  3. Retirement Visas: The Special Resident Retiree Visa (SRRV) for expats over 50 years old.
  4. Investor Visa– The Philippines Special Investor Resident Visa (SIRV), is a low-cost Golden Visa program allowing expats to indefinitely live in the country by investing $75,000 in a local business.

Avoid headaches by contacting a Visa Specialist with immigration expertise to reduce the hassle of dealing with the Bureau of Immigration.

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I pre-screened and carefully selected partners with decades of expertise helping expats like you cut through the government red tape, clarify the visa options, and ease your worries about moving to a new country.

Process for Shipping Personal Belongings

Shifting your belongings to the Philippines can be done via sea or air. Ensure your international movers provide the necessary shipping and customs information to ensure everything runs smoothly.

You can use our partners to connect you with accredited international moving companies who compete for your business. By filling out a simple form, you’ll get up to five quotes from professional movers that cater to your budget and needs.

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Money Matters: Financial Considerations

Philippines Expat Budget: Accommodation, Food, and Transportation

Life in the Philippines generally costs less compared to a medium-cost city in the United States. Depending on location and lifestyle, a single person might need around $1500 per month in Manila to $900 in a smaller city.

Essential Living CostsUS-PortlandPH-Manila
HOUSING$1,500$664
FOOD$388$415
TRANSPORTATION$1,013$276
HEALTHCARE$408$60
Total Average Per Month$3,309$1,415

Accommodation: Rent tends to be expats’ biggest expense. But with average rent in the US hitting $2000, finding affordable housing options in the Philippines is still doable. Whether you prefer high-rise condominiums or beachfront townhouses, there are affordable options for every budget. Expat neighborhoods in Manila are typically more expensive than other cities, with Cebu a close second.

For example, you can lease a one-bedroom apartment in BGC with air conditioning and furniture close to gyms, cafes, and nightlife for roughly 28,000 Pesos / $500 USD per month utilities, internet, and swimming pool included.

Food: Local cuisine is quite affordable. Shopping at local produce markets and dining at local eateries can help you save more. However, the average prices of imported Western goods will cost much more than you paid in your home country.

Transportation: Cars are relatively expensive due to high import duties, but public transport remains a budget-friendly alternative. Motorcycle taxis, Jeepneys, tricycles, and ferries are ubiquitous throughout the islands.

Healthcare: For as little as $25 per month, expats can enroll in PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation) to get roughly 20% of their medical expenses covered. Even expats who prefer to pay out-of-pocket will find the cost of treatments much cheaper than in the US. Most expats rely on private plans like Cigna Global Health Insurance for comprehensive coverage. 

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Where to Live as an Expat in the Philippines

The best city for you will depend on your preference for city size, budget, and lifestyle, but these are the most popular cities with substantial expat communities

Popular Expat CitiesMonthly CostsPopulation
Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental$925134,103
Makati, Metro Manila$1,500629,616
Subic Bay, Zambales$1,250111,912
Tagaytay, Cavite$97585,330
Baguio City, Luzon$950366,358
Lipa City, Batangas$900372,931
BGC, Taguig City$1,500886,722
Davao City, Mindanao$1,1001,776,949
Cebu City, Cebu$1,200964,169
Bacolod City, Negros Occidental$1,050600,783
  1. Bonifacio Global City (BGC): Part of the National Capital Region (NCR), the Fort has a sizable expat community and is known for its bustling energy, social scene, and nightlife. This is my favorite neighborhood in Manila and where I spend most of my time.
  2. Cebu City: Cebu City offers close proximity to stunning beaches and a major city’s western amenities. A significant expat community enjoys highly urbanized city life, nightlife, and spectacular tropical islands.
  3. Makati City: One of the wealthiest areas of the Philippines. Located in Metro Manila, Makati is the country’s financial hub, attracting many foreign workers. Ideal for single expats prioritizing nightlife, highly-urbanized city living, safe gated communities, and medical care. Lots of upscale with international restaurants and bustling nightlife.
  4. Davao City: Known for its safety and quality of life, Davao also has an emerging expat community. Expats come here for green parks, low crime rate, and uncongested streets. Ranked by CNN as one of Asia’s Most Livable Cities. 
  5. Baguio: With its moderate temperatures all year long, Baguio offers a respite from the tropical heat and is a favorite among retirees. Perfect for those seeking cooler weather, mountains, and Ube sweet desserts.
  6. Tagaytay: Tagaytay is loved for its cooler weather, fresh produce, and spectacular views of Taal Volcano. Perfect for outdoor nature lovers, quiet small town living, and cool climate. Laid-back mountain town vibe only 90 minutes away from Manila.
  7. Subic Bay: Formerly a US Military base, Subic Bay Freeport Zone houses a substantial number of American expat families. Ideal for expat parents with kids looking for life in the suburbs with large houses with yards, dive sites to explore, and duty-free shopping.
  8. Dumaguete City: Best for retirees on a budget, small-town feel and island lifestyle. Recognized as a potential destination for retirees by Forbes for its affordable costs, beautiful beaches, and healthcare services.
  9. Lipa City: Ideal for active expats and beach lovers who want to live near Manila (only 1.5 hours away). A charming university town with proximity to natural scenery, outdoor activities, and white sand beaches.
  10. Bacolod City: This underrated mid-sized city is a two-time winner of the Philippines’ Best Place To Live.  An excellent choice for expats looking for a laid-back lifestyle with less traffic and crowds but plenty of hospitable people, affordable quality of life, and cultural activities.

Key Takeaways: Expat Life in the Philippines

After traveling to over 50 countries, I can confidently say there is no “perfect” option for expats.

Many foreigners consider the poverty, pollution, and traffic dealbreakers when considering the Philippines as a potential destination.

While the Philippines has its share of disadvantages, its tropical climate, laidback vibes, and affordable private hospitals offer a pretty compelling alternative to the chaos, soaring housing costs, and wallet-emptying healthcare costs in the United States.

But expat life in the Philippines is more than just beaches and cheap prices. The Philippines stands out from other expat hotspots thanks to its welcoming Filipino culture and friendly English-speaking locals. Settling in, making new friends, and embracing expat life here feels like stepping into paradise.

Frequently Asked Questions- Philippines Expat Life

What is the cost of living for an American expat in the Philippines?

The cost of living for an expat in the Philippines is 50% lower than in the US, making it an appealing destination for American expats. A family of four requires about $3,000 monthly, while an individual needs $1000 -$1500 for all expenses, including rent.

  • Major cities like Manila tend to be more expensive yet still affordable compared to a mid-sized US city
  • Rural areas offer even lower costs.
  • Health care is affordable and generally excellent, with the caveat that standards may be lower in rural regions.

What is the healthcare situation like for expats in the Philippines?

The Philippines’ healthcare system, specifically for expats, varies significantly in terms of quality and cost. Major cities offer well-equipped private hospitals, often more affordable than in the West. However, public healthcare facilities, especially rural hospitals, may not meet Western standards.

While eligible for PhilHealth, the country’s public health plan, it only provides a small subsidy. Expats predominantly opt for private comprehensive international insurance for reliable worldwide coverage and flexible plans.

Where do most expats live in the Philippines?

Most expats in the Philippines live in the Metro Manila area, particularly Makati City, due to its reputation as the country’s financial and nightlife hub. BGC is a close 2nd, as more young professionals look for a lifestyle hub with high-rise luxury condos with swimming pools and gyms included.

Can a US expat live permanently in the Philippines?

Yes, U.S. expats have several long-term visa options to live permanently in the Philippines. The most common route is the Special Resident Retiree visa (SRRV). This visa enables retirees to attain permanent resident status and live indefinitely in the country.

Retirees must meet the visa’s financial requirements, including a substantial deposit into a local bank and a guaranteed minimum monthly income.

The Philippines also offers immigrant visas like the 13a marriage and SIRV investor visas. Some American expats stay on a Philippines tourist visa. While not permanent, a tourist visa is valid for up to 36 months and can be reapplied for after a quick visa run outside the country.

How safe is the Philippines for expats?

When considering safety, the Philippines is a mixed bag. Most expats enjoy a peaceful life, but Manila, the capital, sees higher crime rates for petty theft, robbery, and pick-pocketing. While there are scams targeting foreigners, violent crime against expats is negligible.

Please always be aware of your valuables, especially in crowded public spaces.


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About the author

Hi, That's me. I'm Marco Sison. I am a survivor of the corporate rat race. I started Nomad FIRE to show you an alternative to the stress and grind of 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, student loans, and countless bills. After getting laid off in 2015, I said screw it all and retired early at 41 years old. I have traveled the last eight years to over 50 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US. I have been featured in: US News & World Reports, HuffPost, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, the iTunes documentary Seeking FIRE, and the Amazon Best-Seller, Abroad: Expats That Thrive. [view press...]

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