Are you ready to explore the western edge of the Pacific? The Philippines, with its unique blend of Hispanic, American, and Asian influences, has become an attractive destination for foreign students, employees, retirees, and digital nomads. An increasing number of expatriates are falling in love with its idyllic tropical scenery, its sparkling beaches and lush forests as well as its quality of life, cultural richness and economic vitality.
Whether you choose to settle in Manila, Quezon city, Palawan or Mindanao, what can you expect from expat life in the Philippines? Why do so many people coming from abroad choose to call it home? Foyer Global Health is here to give you some tips to help you navigate life on the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Which visa do you need for your relocation to the Philippines?
If you’re planning to settle or work in the Philippines, depending on the purpose and duration of your stay, you will need to obtain a visa. Visas for expats include temporary non-immigrant visas such as the pre-arranged employment visa 9G; immigrant visas such as the marriage visa, the permanent resident visa or the quota visa) ; as well as special visas as in the Special Resident Retiree visa (SRRV) or the investor visa.
For more information, please visit the website of the Philippine Immigration Bureau, the Philippine Employment Bureau or the Philippine Embassy in your home country.
Accommodation in the Philippines
Accommodation in the Philippines caters to all tastes and budgets, offering secure housing , furnished condos, fully equipped flats. Most of the rentals in modern buildings are equipped with air conditioning, which is an absolute necessity in a tropical climate! Many expatriates choose housing or flats with full security, especially if they relocate to a large city.
While it is possible to find short-term rentals, most landlords prefer to establish one-year renewable leases. It is highly recommended to use the services of a reputable agency such as Phil Property Expert or Colliers International Philippines, or a local property lawyer to ensure that everything is in order, regardless of the lease terms.
Expatriates looking to purchase property in the Philippines are met with restrictive conditions, such as the requirement of marriage to a Filipino citizen.
Where to settle in the Philippines?
The vast majority of expatriates chose to move to Manila, the bustling ‘Pearl of the Orient’, for its work opportunities and city lifestyle. Others find a home in the relaxed and vibrant lifestyle and gorgeous beaches of Cebu, the country’s second largest city. Some also opt to relocate to Davao for reasons of safety, quality of life, and stunning natural surroundings.
What is the cost of living in the Philippines?
The official currency of the Philippine is the Philippines Peso (PHP), with the current exchange rate being 1 EUR = 58.6 PHP (as of XX).
Compared to other European countries or cities such as France and Paris, the cost of living in the Philippines is affordable, and generally lower than other countries/cities in Southeast Asia like Singapore or Bangkok, particularly in terms of food prices. For instance, a one-litre bottle of milk costs about PHP 21.92 (EUR 0.37), a bottle of beer PHP 61.95 (EUR 1.05), a dozen eggs cost PHP 96.94 (EUR 1.66) and a kilogram of bananas costs PHP 77.56 (EUR 1.32). However, there are significant disparities in living costs and income between big cities like Manila versus rural towns. According to Numbeo’s estimations, the budget for a family in the Philippines is 1,646 euros per month without rent, which is modest compared to the monthly expenses in countries like France, which would be more than double.
Working in the Philippines
There are a wide variety of professional opportunities available to expat workers in the Philippines, including in the sectors of services, education, construction, philanthropy, transport and industry. Despite previous political and economic turmoil, the Philippines, formerly known as the “Sick Man of Asia”, now boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. For those who wish to start their own business, the Philippines, like Thailand, is open to foreign investors, with the result that the procedures for creating a business as an expatriate have been simplified over the past few years.
When it comes to working in the Philippines, there are some specificities to be aware of, including:
- The degree of formality of the dress code at work depends on the type of business and the place of work; in general, conservative but not excessively formal dressing is ‘de rigueur’.
- In a corporate environment, whether in a bank or in a shop, Philippines people place great value on pakikisama (consensus/no conflict) and respect
- Family businesses are very common in the Philippines
- The concept of flat hierarchy is not very common in Philippine corporate culture; organisations are quite attached to a vertical hierarchy
There are several options available in terms of transportation. You can choose to drive your own vehicle, take a taxi or climb aboard a jeepney for a few dollars, which is the most commonly used means of transport in the country. It is important to note, however, that the roads are generally in poor condition and often congested. Taking a boat, ferry or bangka is also common in a country with over 7,000 islands.
In Manila, you can use the Manila Light Rail Transit System (LRT), which is a city underground serving the entire Metro Manila area. If you live close to your workplace, you may even consider walking. The air network is well developed throughout the country.
Opening a bank account
If you are working for a company, your employer will most likely have the responsibility to open a bank account for you. If you wish to do it yourself, you must gather a couple of mandatory documents including ID pictures and your Alien Certificate of Registration Card. You can choose to put your money either in local branches of international banks, including Bangkok Bank Public Co. Ltd., JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., and Deutsche Bank AG, or in national banks with solid financial assets such as Banco de Oro (BDO Unibank, Inc.) or Bank of the Philippines islands.
The Philippines boasts an extensive telecommunications network, and several providers offer internet packages and mobile phone services at attractive prices. While the archipelago has been reported to have the slowest internet connection in Asia overall, significant progress has been made in recent years, and in major cities such as Manila you can even get fiber-optic internet connection.
The Philippine education system is largely modeled after the current American system, with classes taught both in English and Filipino. Typically, the international community enrols their children either in private Catholic schools that follow the Filipino public-school curriculum, or in the international schools in Manila, Davao or Cebu, where lessons are taught in French and English. The archipelago is also home to more than a hundred universities, including the University of San Carlos, founded by the Jesuits in 1595.
In terms of healthcare, there are significant disparities between regions and between urban and rural areas. Major cities such as Manila or Cebu have well-equipped medical infrastructures, offering efficient and affordable healthcare. Expatriates working in the Philippines are required to join Philhealth, the Philippine public health insurance, just like Filipinos, but many opt, in addition , for private international health insurance for expatriates which allows them to ensure optimal and flexible coverage worldwide and access to the best healthcare facilities. Although no vaccinations are mandatory, it is recommended to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, and polio and, depending on the region, against hepatitis A and B, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis, especially in rural areas. Anti-malarial treatment may be recommended and it is preferable to drink mineral water sealed in bottles.
Some characteristics specific to the Philippines
- Language: The Philippines has two official languages: Filipino (which is based on Tagalog) and English, but the archipelago has more than 150 languages and dialects
- Culture: The Philippines is a regional cultural exception as it is the only Asian country with a Christian majority (80% of whom are Catholics), which can be attributed to 300 years of Spanish colonisation. The Filipino cultural mix is unique in the world, combining Asian, Latin and American influences.
- The fiestas: these are grandiose, colourful festivals that resemble wild carnivals and enliven every corner of the archipelago throughout the year.
- The jeepney: this is the most popular mode of transport on the archipelago. These old jeeps inherited from the American army – half bus, half taxi – are decorated with vibrant colours and equipped with exuberant horns, welcoming people from all walks of life.
- Customs: Utang na loob (debt of gratitude) is central to Filipinos personal and social relationships, and it is generally frowned upon to express emotions such as anger and discontent.
Some of the best experiences not to be missed
In the Philippines, much like in Thailand or Indonesia, there is no shortage of outdoor activities. Here are a few not to be missed:
- Sunbathing or diving in the Visayas or Bacuit archipelagos
- Enjoying the lively nightlife in Manila and sipping on a cold beer in a restaurant or nightclub
- Celebrating life all year round at fiestas
- Sailing the impressive underground river in Puerto Princesa National Park
- Taking your time to explore the volcanic topography of Camiguin Island
- Learning to surf on Siargao Island
- Marvelling at the underwater splendour of Apo Reef Atoll
- Wandering through the rice terraces of Ifugao or Kalinga
- Conquering the volcanoes (Mount Mayon, Mount Pinatubo or Mount Guiting-Guiting?)
For your safety, remember to consult the website of the UK government for foreign travel advice or the website of the Canadian government for any trip inside the Philippine archipelago.
Foyer Global Health offers comprehensive health insurance for expatriates in the Philippines: