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Tips for Expats Living in the Philippines

Written by Patrick
Travel Insurance

The Philippines may not be the richest country in Asia in terms of GDP but many expats have been living in the country and many more are thinking of making the move.  It may not be the economic status that attracts foreigners but the country has enough charm to be considered as one of the best places to retire in this part of the world.

About the Philippines

The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands.  It is blessed with a rich diversity of flora and fauna, pristine beaches, and long dry season therefore making the country a great tropical vacation destination and place to retire for someone who wants to enjoy the outdoors all year round.

Aside from islands and beaches, the country also boasts of other equally beautiful natural attractions such as stunning waterfalls, rivers, lakes surrounded by lush greenery, and magnificent mountains along with all the plants and animals those attractions host.

It is easy to picture the Philippines as a small country with laid back vibe but there’s more to it than just the paradisiacal destination we see in pictures.  It also has large and bustling cities with modern infrastructure, traffic congestion, busy people, and all.

You just have to decide for yourself whether you want the convenience of city-dwelling, the peace and slow life on the islands, or the best of both worlds.

READ MORE:  Practical Information About the Philippines

Caption: Boracay’s White beach


It is easy to give in to the lure of those stunning beaches and commit yourself to island living for the rest of your life but that may not be the wisest thing to do especially if you have needs that can only be met in the city.  If you need to constantly connect to the internet or have serious medical needs, you are better off in the city or town just outside the city for better internet connection and quick access to hospitals with better facilities.

Remote islands and beaches are ideal only for retired expats who can manage life away from the city and all its conveniences.

READ MORE: Welcome to the Philippines

Caption: Makati City in Metro Manila


Condominiums and apartments in cities like Manila and Cebu cost not less than P30,000 ($600 USD) per month not including electricity, water, and internet.  It usually comes with essential appliances like refrigerator, stove, and washing machine as well as free access to building facilities like swimming pools and fitness centers.

Monthly rent is cheaper in smaller cities, rural areas, and islands.

When choosing the building or house location, consider its accessibility, traffic, and commute time.  If you are in the city and you need to travel daily for work especially if you rely on public transportation, accommodation near your place of work is advisable so you never have to battle with bad traffic on a daily basis.

READ MORE: Philippine Accommodations

Caption: Typical Filipino food served in carinderia.


Filipino cuisine is a mix of traditional dishes of various ethnic groups and tribes in the country with influences from Chinese, Spanish, American, and Indian.  Several restaurants all over the country offer a variety of cuisines but you can also find restaurants specializing in one or two particular cuisines.  

Fine dining restaurants and international food chains are usually located in cities and tourist areas.  All over the country are local food chains and eateries as well as street food vendors.  In a local eatery, locally known as carinderia, you can buy cheap meals for less than $5 USD.  It usually consists of a serving of rice, main dish, and drink.  A meal in fast food chains can cost up to $6-7 USD.  

Of course you can’t always depend on restaurants when you consider staying longtime in the Philippines.  Cooking your own foods at home is not only cheaper but you can guarantee the safety and freshness of the dishes cooked the way you like it.  You can buy your ingredients from big grocery stores which carry not only local products but international ones as well.  If living or have access to a wet market, take advantage of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, and meat especially during market days.

When living in a condo or apartment, it’s logical to use an electric or gas stove, grill, and the likes but in more rugged accommodations, you can cook using wood or coal if that is what you prefer.

READ MORE: Philippine Food & Drink

Caption: Outrigger boats in the Philippines.


Jeepney is the most popular mode of transportation for commuters in the Philippines.  Be it in the city or a small town in the province, you can always find a jeepney to take you to your destination.  Albeit not the most comfortable, it is cheaper and offers you a truly Philippine experience.  For long distance travel, buses are the most popular choice while motorized outriggers, locally called pumpboats, are used to travel to and from nearby islands.

When traveling with passenger ferries and airplanes, booking in advance is a wise move as it will not only guarantee you a slot but can also help you save money as fares are usually cheaper, especially when you are able to book during the airline’s promo period.

READ MORE:  Transportation in the Philippines

Caption: Hospital in Davao City | Image Source

Health Care

While health care services are available all over the country, advanced facilities are usually available in cities particularly in Metro Manila where hospitals, both government-funded and private, have higher standards.

Every town, even those in remote areas, has health centers where people can avail routine checkups and basic procedures.  For serious or more complicated cases, people are referred to the nearest provincial hospital for better treatment options.

Government-funded or public hospitals and health centers charge almost nothing for doctor’s fee, room, and procedures but patients may need to shell out money for medicines and services or procedures that the government institutions cannot provide.  Private hospitals usually have better technology, facilities, and service than public ones but they cost way more for Filipinos with low income.

There are two types of health insurance in the Philippines, the government insurance called National Health Insurance Program (popularly referred to as PhilHealth) and private insurance.  Philhealth covers employees working in the country (locals and foreigners), self-employed, and voluntary-paying members.  It can be availed in both public and private hospitals.  There’s a wide range of private insurance companies in the country.  They offer various packages to suit your needs and budget.  Before getting one, make sure to know more about the company and the particular package you are eyeing.  Preferably, choose one that can be availed in every private hospital in the country so you are covered anywhere you go.  Reimbursement procedures and customer service are also factors to consider.


Several big malls in the Philippines, including those outside Metro Manila, carry both local and international brands of clothes, shoes, gadgets, grocery items, and even furniture.

Essential items can be easily acquired however when you find yourself needing or missing something from your home country, you can always check the malls and grocery stores.  With the number of foreigners visiting and residing in the country, retailers have been doing their best to import and be able to provide the goods to consumers.

READ MORE:  Shopping at Malls in the Philippines

Caption: Bank with ATM in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte | Image Source

Money and Banking

Cash is the most common mode of payment in the Philippines, especially when paying for fare and doing business with small shops, restaurants, and wet markets.  Always carry loose change for faster and easier transactions.

Foreigners can open a bank account in the country, either in Philippine peso or foreign currencies including US, Canadian, and Australian dollars.  Simply comply with the documents necessary like passport, Alien Certificate of Registration Identity Card (ACR I-Card), photo-bearing IDs, and initial deposit in which the minimum varies per bank and account type.  Most banks also require interested individuals to open an account and present the documents in person.  Most Philippine banks now have online facilities that enable you to pay bills and send money to others without even going to the bank.  Popular local banks include BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands), BDO (Banco de Oro), Landbank, and Metrobank.  There are also international banks such as Citibank, HSBC (Hongkong Banking  & Shanghai Banking Corporation), and Standard Chartered Bank but don’t have branches nationwide.

Credit and debit cards are widely used as well but remember to check first before making the purchase.

READ MORE: Money in the Philippines: Everything You Need to Know

Caption: Bureau of Immigration in Angeles City, Pampanga | Image Source

Documents and Visa Requirements

Foreign tourists are only allowed to stay in the Philippines for thirty days and can be extended for another 29 days when you apply for extension at the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

To stay in the Philippines permanently, a foreigner can apply as an immigrant as long as his home country also grants Filipinos permanent residency and immigration privileges in that country.

Don’t Forget …

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About the Author


Patrick is an entrepreneur, digital nomad, explorer, and photographer. Patrick is always in search of fun and adventure. He is well travelled throughout the world, and although location independent, his home base is Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. Patrick loves island lifestyle which is no wonder why he is so interested in spending time in the Philippines with it’s over 7,000 islands. Patrick created this site to share his knowledge of and experiences in the Philippines with Filipinos as well as other foreigners.

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