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Moving to Philippines

The Philippines is massive archipelago of more than 7,000 islands in Southeast Asia, between the Philippine and South China seas. The major island groupings are Luzon in the north, the Visayas in central Philippines, and Mindanao in the south. 

Expats moving to the Philippines will find a multicultural and multi-ethnic nation influenced by the many countries that have laid claim to the land and called it home over the centuries, including Spain, the USA, India, China, Aboriginal Australia, Japan and the Arab states. 

Filipinos may appear shy at first, but are known for their genuine hospitality and welcoming nature. While Filipino is the official language, English is widely spoken and expats should not have a problem communicating with the local population. Many businesses and schools communicate in English and many signs around the country include an English translation. 

The climate in the Philippines is tropical and sees around 20 typhoons a year, mostly during the monsoon season from June to November. These storms bring strong winds and heavy rains, and low-lying areas are susceptible to flooding. Expats should keep an eye on weather conditions and listen out for the instructions of the local authorities in the case of an emergency.

The Philippines is the largest Christian country in Asia, with Catholicism dominating. However, there is a large minority population of Muslims in the southern Philippines. This region has been plagued by an Islamist insurgency in recent years, with militant groups such as Abu Sayyaf having kidnapped and killed foreigners. Many foreign governments advise their citizens to avoid travelling to the southern island of Mindanao for this reason.

Traffic congestion is an issue, particularly in the country’s larger cities. Expats should hire a local driver who understands the roads, rather than braving the roads on their own. There are train and bus routes running between cities and towns, although flying is the most convenient way to get around the country.

Healthcare in the Philippines varies considerably depending on the region, though medical care is available in major cities. 

Most expat parents in the Philippines send their children to international schools. There are several in the country, primarily found in Manila. Education at these schools is costly and expats should factor this into their contract negotiations before moving to the Philippines.

Fast facts

Population: Around 106 million

Major religions: Christianity, Islam

Capital city: Manila

Legal system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic

Main languages: Filipino and English

Time: GMT+8

Electricity: Electrical current is 220 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin flat blade attachments and two-pin round plugs are used.

Currency: Peso

International dialling code: +63

Emergency numbers: 117

Internet domain: .ph

Drives on the: Right

Embassy contacts for Philippines

Philippines embassies

  • Philippines Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 467 9300

  • Philippines Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7451 1780

  • Philippines Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 233 1121

  • Philippines Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6273 2535

  • Philippines Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 346 0451

  • Philippines Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 890 3741

Foreign embassies in Philippines

  • United States Embassy, Manila: +63 2 301 2000

  • British Embassy, Manila: +63 2 858 2200

  • Canadian Embassy, Manila: +63 2 857 9000

  • Australian Embassy, Manila: +63 2 757 8100

  • South African Embassy, Manila: + 63 2 889 9383

  • Honorary Consul of Ireland, Manila: +63 2 896 4668

  • New Zealand Embassy, Manila: +63 2 234 3800

Public Holidays in Philippines




New Year’s Day

1 January

1 January

Araw ng Kagitingan

9 April

9 April

Maundy Thursday

9 April

1 April

Good Friday

10 April

2 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Independence Day

12 June

12 June

National Heroes Day

31 August

30 August

Bonifacio Day

30 November

30 November

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Rizal Day

30 December

30 December

Safety in Philippines

Although most expats report feeling quite safe in the country, there are a number of safety and security concerns in the Philippines. It has a high crime rate and is subject to frequent natural disasters. Although the risk of terrorism remains relatively low, the southern regions of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago continue to experience insecurity due to the presence of numerous insurgent groups.

Expats should take necessary precautions when it comes to safeguarding their valuables and should always keep abreast of political developments and hazardous weather warnings.

Crime in the Philippines

Crime rates in the Philippines are high, with violent crime a particular concern. Gangs are active in large cities like Manila, which has experienced a recent increase in armed robberies. Expats should be cautious and vigilant in crowded public places to avoid petty crimes such as pickpocketing and mugging.


Expats in the Philippines should be aware of various scams targeting foreigners. These include Internet scams, credit card fraud and ATM fraud.

Credit card fraud is an ongoing problem in the Philippines and expats should use credit and debit cards with caution. It’s best to not use ATMs that have any unusual covers over the keypad or the card slot. These devices can record banking information and PINs.

Foreigners in the Philippines should avoid carrying large amounts of cash and wearing flashy watches or jewellery. Those who use common sense are less likely to become victims of crime.

Emergency numbers

The general emergency number in the Philippines is 112. Expats can also call 117 or 168 to reach the police directly.

Expats are advised to subscribe to an international insurance plan that provides a private air ambulance service.

Food and water safety in the Philippines

It is unsafe to drink tap water in the Philippines, but bottled water is readily available at shops and restaurants. Expats should remember that ice is made with tap water, so they should also avoid having ice in their drinks.

Natural disasters in the Philippines

The Philippines is one of the most natural disaster-prone countries on Earth.

The Philippines experiences several tropical cyclones annually, which can cause flooding and landslides that have devastating effects on the population. 

Expats should always be aware of the risks in the area where they are living and should always take cyclone and flood warnings seriously. Expats should have a plan of action in case of emergency and make sure that they have appropriate insurance coverage.

Protests in the Philippines

Protests are relatively common in the Philippines, particularly in larger cities. These are largely by anti-government groups. Anti-US protests often take place in Manila (in the vicinity of the US embassy). Activists have long been opposed to the presence of the US military in the region and an agreement that allows US troops to hold joint training with the Philippines army. Although most protests are peaceful, expats should avoid them as a precaution.

Insecurity in the southern Philippines

The southern Philippines remains insecure due to the ongoing activity of Islamist insurgent groups. These groups have carried out attacks against government buildings, public transport, local markets and religious festivals in recent times, and are often involved in armed clashes with government forces.

Insurgent groups in the Philippines, particularly Abu Sayyaf, have also been responsible for the kidnapping of a number of people, including foreign nationals.

Due to the insecurity in the southern Philippines, a number of governments, including the British and US, advise their nationals against all non-essential travel to Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Expats venturing to these areas should do so with extreme caution, preferably in the company of a local who is familiar with the security situation on the ground.

Working in Philippines

Expats working in the Philippines will find themselves in an ethnically diverse and multicultural working environment that has been influenced by Spanish, American, Malay and Chinese cultures and traditions. The country has a highly skilled and educated work force, and a thriving economy. 

Seen as a gateway to the Southeast Asia region, many multinational corporations have regional head offices in Manila. Most of these are based in Makati City, which is the financial and business centre of the Philippines. Makati City is also the diplomatic centre of the Philippines. As such, it is within this district that many foreigners live and work.

The economic boom and presence of international corporations has made the Philippines a popular destination for expats seeking work opportunities abroad. The mining, construction and tourism industries offer the most opportunities for expats. Many also move to the Philippines to teach a foreign language, while call centres and other business outsourcing units are another booming sector.

Expats wanting to work in the Philippines will be required to obtain a valid work visa, which should be arranged prior to arrival in the country, and is usually organised by the employer. Most expats moving to the Philippines have pre-arranged employment and are moving as part of a corporate relocation within their company or are going to work for a multinational corporation. It is not recommended to move to the Philippines and then search for work, as hiring companies generally have to prove that the position cannot be filled by a Filipino.

English is widely spoken in the work place and most Western expats won’t struggle to communicate with their colleagues. Expats should familiarise themselves with the local business culture in the Philippines. In particular, expats working in the Philippines should be aware of the concept of “saving face”. Self-esteem is very important to Filipinos and expats must avoid publically criticising of arguing with Filipinos colleagues. Public displays of anger and disproving someone in front of others can cause “loss of face”, something that Filipinos avoid at all costs.

The working week in the Philippines is from Monday to Friday. Office hours are generally 8am to 5pm, with a one-hour lunch break. Few offices are open on weekends.

Doing Business in Philippines

With a multicultural and ethnically diverse population, the Philippines offers a vibrant and dynamic business environment.

Expats doing business in the Philippines will be operating in one of the largest markets in Southeast Asia; the country enjoys positive economic growth and has a highly skilled and educated work force. Its strategic location has made the Philippines a potential gateway for investors into the wider Asian region, and many multinational companies have offices there. Makati City, which forms part of Metro Manila, is the financial and business centre of the Philippines, and where most local and international organisations have their Filipino headquarters. The city also hosts numerous international embassies and therefore forms the diplomatic centre of the Philippines.

The main industries in the Philippines are electronic components and machinery, food and drink, clothing, footwear, tobacco, petroleum products, metals and minerals. Business outsourcing services, such as call centres, are also a booming sector.

Expats will find that the Philippines is not always an easy place to do business, as reflected in the country’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business survey for 2075, where it came 99th out of 190 countries surveyed. Areas in which the country scored particularly poorly included starting a business (171), and protecting investors (137). 

Business culture in the Philippines

The Filipino business culture is a mix of East and West. Although geographically part of Southeast Asia, the country has strong European and American ties that extend into everyday social interactions and its business culture. Filipino and English are the two main languages of business in the country, and although many business practices may be Westernised, Eastern traditions and cultural norms still play a central role.

Family is important in Filipino culture and many businesses are family owned, with a number of family members often working for the same company. Business relationships therefore equate to personal relationships and it’s important to network and build close interpersonal relationships with Filipino counterparts. Business structures in the Philippines are hierarchical and decisions are made mostly by the top-level executives. However, the group’s input is very important and it’s possible that initial negotiations and agreements may be concluded without even meeting the actual decision makers.

Filipinos are known for their friendliness and hospitality. This extends to the business environment. Filipinos place great emphasis on polite language and gentle conversation. When speaking, one’s tone should remain neutral and direct questions should be avoided. Business is best dealt with face to face. Only once polite conversation has been concluded should one negotiate business. Filipinos enjoy conversation about their friends and family, but topics such as politics, religion and corruption are best avoided. 

Business communications can often be indirect, and expats should be aware of this to avoid miscommunication. A “yes” may not necessarily mean an agreement has been made. Moreover, physical gestures and their meanings are important. Filipinos often use their eyes, lips and hands to convey a wide range of messages. Raised eyebrows and a smile indicate a silent “hello” or a “yes” in answer to a question. Fixed eye contact between men is considered aggressive. The proper method to summon somebody is with a downward wave.

To Filipinos, the concept of saving face and maintaining self-esteem is important. Self-esteem should be preserved, and one should never criticise or argue with a Filipino associate publically. Public displays of anger, trying to prove someone wrong in front of others, or disrespect of one’s rank or position can cause loss of face. When in an embarrassing situation, the Filipino may generally laugh or try to change the subject to hide the awkwardness.

Expats should not be surprised if Filipino colleagues or friends ask very personal questions about their age, salary or how much something cost them to buy, or make frank comments regarding weight and appearance. Such questions come from curiosity and the comments are generally meant in a light-hearted manner. 

Doing business in the Philippines: Fast facts

Business dress: Business dress in the Philippines is formal. Men usually wear suits or formal office apparel. Some men wear the traditional barong tagalog, a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt worn without a tie. Light suits and dresses are acceptable for women. Filipinos usually dress for the weather. Since it is a tropical country, light and loose clothing materials are advised during the hot summer.

Hours of business: Business hours are usually from 8am to 5pm, with a one-hour lunch break. Offices are generally closed on weekends, which fall on a Saturday and Sunday. 

Language of business: Filipino and English are the two languages of business in the Philippines. Spanish is also spoken by many Filipinos, along with Arabic and Chinese.

Greeting: A handshake and a smile are the usual form of greeting. One should always greet the eldest or most senior person first.  

Gifts: Gift giving is widely practised in Filipino business culture and is especially popular once a contract has been signed. Gifts should not be overly extravagant; popular gifts include flowers, sweets, perfume and spirits. 

Gender equality: Women are treated equally in the Philippines and there are many successful women in Filipino business circles.

Dos and don’ts of business in the Philippines

  • Do treat Indonesian associates with respect and avoid offending anyone in public or during meetings. 

  • Don’t be surprised if Filipino counterparts ask personal questions. These should be answered politely.

  • Do remember that Filipino business culture is personal, so personal relationships should be nurtured and respected.

  • Do consider giving a gift to a Filipino associates once a contract has been concluded. Gift giving is a popular practice in Filipino business culture.

  • Don’t make direct eye contact. It is considered rude to stare.

  • Don’t wag a finger at someone or curl a finger to summon someone, as these gestures are considered rude.

Visas for Philippines

Citizens of most countries do not need a visa for the Philippines for visits of less than 21 days.

Travellers must simply ensure that their passport is valid for at least six months and that they have proof of tickets for their journey out of the country.

Nationals of countries with which the Philippines has agreements on the waiver of visas may enter the Philippines and stay for a period of 59 days, provided they obtain a 9(A) visa from the Philippines consulate at their port of departure. A tourist’s stay can be extended by written application and payment of a fee.

Work permits for the Philippines

Any foreign national wishing to work in the Philippines must obtain a valid work visa, called the 9(G) visa. This should be arranged before starting employment in the country.

A 9(G) visa allows foreigners to enter the Philippines to engage in a lawful occupation. In general, it must be shown that the services of the foreigner are indispensable to the management, operation, administration or control of local or locally based firms. Companies must petition for their employees to obtain this visa. 

If the duration of the assignment is less than six months, a Special Work Permit application may be submitted to the authorities. If the assignment is for more than six months, the assignee may apply either in the Philippines or via a Philippines consulate. An application for a separate Philippines Alien Employment Permit (ACR) is required in addition to the principal work visa application. This is not a travel document; it is issued by the Philippines Department of Labour and Employment.

Alien Employment Permit (AEP) 

An Alien Employment Permit (AEP) is a document issued by the Philippines Department of Labour and Employment that allows a foreign national to work in the Philippines. This is normally applied for in tandem with a 9(G) employment visa.

An employee must be petitioned by his/her company and it must be shown that no person in the Philippines is willing or competent to perform the service for which the foreign national is hired.

AEPs are valid for one year, unless the employment contract, consultancy services or other modes of engagement or term of office for elective officers provides for a longer period. Permits of resident foreign nationals are valid for multiple employers, provided they report changes in their employment status and the identity of their employers to the DOLE Regional Office that issued the permit.

Provisional Permit to Work

In addition to the Alien Employment Permit, foreign nationals must obtain a provisional permit to work, pending the approval of the 9(G) visa. This permit is issued by the Bureau of Immigration and is normally valid for three months from the date of issue. The Bureau of Immigration will not issue a 9(G) working visa unless and until the AEP from the DOLE is obtained.

Alien Registration Programme

A programme is being developed that requires foreigners working in the Philippines to register their biometric data and receive an identity card with a unique security number. While the programme is currently voluntary, the Philippine Bureau of Immigration has announced plans for it to become mandatory. 


*Visa and work permit regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats are advised to consult with their respective embassy or consulate for the latest requirements.

Cost of Living in Philippines

The cost of living in the Philippines is low compared to other major Southeast Asian countries. According to Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey for 2017, Manila was ranked at 95 out of the 209 cities surveyed. This placed Manila as having a cost of living lower than Singapore and Bangkok, but higher than Hanoi. 

Within the Philippines, the cost of living varies depending on where one lives. Overall, Manila is the most expensive area, with Cebu following closely behind. The cost of living on some of the outlying islands and in rural provincial areas is much lower.

Cost of accommodation in the Philippines

Accommodation will likely be an expat’s most significant monthly expense in the Philippines. Rental rates vary depending on the location and whether a home is furnished or unfurnished, but generally the closer to tourist areas and the city centre one goes, the more one will pay. Many landlords prefer to rent to foreigners as they can charge a higher price, so expats are not likely to struggle to find suitable accommodation. Those moving to the Philippines as part of an international relocation package often have this expense covered by their company, so it is worth considering during contract negotiations.

Utilities such as water and electricity are not always included in the rental and are additional costs that tenants will have to pay. Other monthly costs to take into consideration include Internet, telephone line, cable television and air conditioning maintenance.

It’s worth noting that electricity is very expensive in the Philippines. Expats need to take this into account as extreme temperatures during the hot and humid summer months may require the use of air conditioning, which will increase costs tremendously. Many homes do not have central air conditioning and expats may have to pay to have this installed.

Another luxury that expats may find they can afford in the Philippines is household help such as nannies, domestic cleaners, drivers and gardeners.

Cost of food in the Philippines

The cost of food in the Philippines is lower than what many Westerners may be used to. If choosing to buy local produce, expats will find that these are relatively cheap and readily available at local markets and street vendors. However, imported Western foods in supermarkets are expensive. 

Food in restaurants is affordable, and many expats will find that they can eat out on a regular basis. Cigarettes and alcohol are also relatively cheap compared to elsewhere.

Cost of clothing and household goods in the Philippines

Clothing costs are generally quite reasonable in the Philippines. However, imported goods are expensive, particularly electronics, due to high import duties.

Cost of schooling and education in the Philippines

Those moving to the Philippines with children will find that the cost of schooling and education will likely be their second biggest expense after accommodation. The majority of expats in the Philippines send their children to international schools, which come at a hefty price.

Cost of transport in the Philippines

Public transport in the Philippines is relatively cheap. While using a taxi on a regular basis can become expensive, local jeepneys and buses offer more inexpensive options. 

Expats looking to buy a car in the Philippines will find that they are much more expensive than what they may expect back home. This is largely due to high import duties. Many expats employ a driver for getting around; this is something that companies often provide for their senior executives, and it’s worth considering during contract negotiations for a posting to the Philippines.

Cost of living in the Philippines chart

(Note that prices may vary depending on location and service provider and the table below is based on average prices for Manila in June 2017).

Accommodation (in a popular expat area)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre 

PHP 30,000

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre 

PHP 60,000


Dozen eggs 

PHP 80

Milk (1 litre) 

PHP 80

Rice (1kg) 

PHP 48

Loaf of white bread 

PHP 57

Chicken breasts (1kg) 

PHP 170

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro) 

PHP 70

Eating out

Big Mac meal 

PHP 150

Coca Cola (330ml) 

PHP 31


PHP 130

Bottle of beer (local, 500ml) 

PHP 50

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant 

PHP 1,000

Utilities/Household (monthly)

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile) 


Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)

PHP 2,000

Basic utilities (electricity, water) 

PHP 4,700


Taxi rate/km 

PHP 12

City centre bus fare 

PHP 20

Petrol (per litre) 

PHP 42.46

Culture Shock in Philippines

The unique blend of east and west has cultivated the Philippines both in appearance and culture. The Filipino character is a fusion of different cultures that create an interesting and fascinating society. The spirit of kinship or bayanihan is said to have come from their Malay ancestors, the piousness from the Spanish influence, and the close-knit family relations from the Chinese. 

Filipino society is very conservative and places great importance on family values. Although geographically a part of Southeast Asia, the country has strong European and American cultural ties. This means that many aspects of the culture will be familiar to Western expats and it will not take long for them to feel at home.

This diverse blend of cultures is sure to be foreign to most Westerners, and expats will probably experience some degree of culture shock in the Philippines. However, with a little time and effort, expats will soon see and appreciate the Filipino people’s distinct character and positive outlook on life. Other nationalities have commended the Filipinos for their hospitable nature and they are very welcoming, particularly with foreign visitors.

Language in the Philippines

The two official languages used in the Philippines are Filipino and English. Filipino is the national language of the country, while English is widely used as a medium of instruction in higher education and formal business settings.

Aside from English, Spanish is another foreign language spoken fluently by many Filipinos, along with Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. There are also eight major Filipino dialects: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Pampango and Pangasinense.

Communication in the Philippines

Filipinos often use their eyes, lips, and hands to convey a wide range of messages. Raised eyebrows and a smile indicate a silent “hello” or a “yes” in response to a question. Fixed eye contact between men is considered aggressive. The proper method to summon somebody is with a downward wave.

Filipinos place great emphasis on polite language and gentle conversation. Tone of voice should always be soft and gentle, and direct questions should be avoided. 

As a sign of respect, Filipinos address people much older than them with po and opo. They do not call elders by their first names, but use words such as Kuya, Ate, Manong or Manang that denote their superiority and greater wisdom. They also practise the gesture of kissing the hands of the elders and the peculiar gesture of letting the front of the hand of an elder touch their foreheads.

Dress in the Philippines

In the Philippines people generally dress for the weather. In the business world, dress is quite formal and conservative. Men wear dark business suits with a tie and women go for a business suit or a skirt and blouse. 

Women in the Philippines

Interestingly, the Philippines is a matriarchal society and women are highly respected within family life. Women have the same social and political rights as men and often hold high positions in the political and business worlds. 

Religion in the Philippines

With a myriad of foreign influences, the spiritual aspect of the Filipinos has also been diversified. The two primary religions in the Philippines are Islam and Christianity. Today, most of the population are Roman Catholics. Islam is concentrated at the southern end of the archipelago. 

Social customs in the Philippines

Expats in the Philippines are often forgiven for their lack of knowledge of gestures that can be insulting to the locals. It is recommended to do some reading regarding Philippine customs and courtesy, but Filipinos are usually happy to explain local gestures to foreigners.

In Asia, generally speaking, saving face is among the most important issues. Public displays of anger, trying to prove someone wrong in front of others, or disrespect of one’s rank or position goes against the concept of saving face. When in an embarrassing situation, Filipinos may laugh or try to change the subject to hide the awkwardness. 

Dining in the Philippines

Like the French, the Filipinos love to eat and drink. During time in the Philippines, expats will likely be invited to meals and banquets. Filipino eating habits are very similar to those of the Spanish and the Chinese.

Most restaurants and families serve each person their own plate of food. In some restaurants however, it is common to order a variety of food and everyone will share what is on the table. Filipinos regard food very highly, so if a guest in a Filipino home and food is offered, expats should take some and tell them it tastes delicious. Filipinos will take it as an insult and lack of respect if their guest doesn’t eat the food offered to them. 

Most Filipinos in the rural areas are still accustomed to eating with their hands, or what is called kamay or kamayan. The four fingers are used as the spoon and the thumb is used to push the food into one’s mouth. Expats attempting this method of eating should not put the food on the palms of their hands, as it may resemble lack of respect for the food.

General etiquette tips for the Philippines

  • Expats should not put their elbows on the table when eating; it is disrespectful to the food and host.

  • If host to Filipino guests or friends, expats should not clear or leave the table until everyone has finished.

  • When invited by a Filipino family or friend to dine at their home, expats should not sit at the head of the table (the cabizera), as this seat is usually reserved for the host. When dining at a restaurant, the person sitting at the head of the table usually pays for everyone’s meal.

  • Staring is impolite and confrontational. However, foreigners will often be stared at in the street, but this is mainly just curiosity from the locals.

  • It is considered good manners to arrive half an hour late to a social gathering.

  • When visiting a Filipino home, expats should remove their shoes before going inside.

Accommodation in Philippines

Expats looking for accommodation in the Philippines will find a variety of options to choose from, depending on their budget and particular circumstances. From luxury condominiums, to free-standing houses, from metropolitan city living in Metro Manila to the tropical beaches of Palawan, every area of the Philippines has something unique to offer expats.

Most expats moving to the Philippines live in the Metro Manila area. The most popular expat area in Metro Manila is Makati City, which is home to many international corporations and is the heart of the Philippines diplomatic community.

Accommodation in the Philippines is relatively inexpensive; housing in the rural areas is cheaper than larger cities, although amenities are more limited. 

There is a large disparity between rich and poor in the Philippines, and beyond the expat-friendly areas there are many poor neighbourhoods. Expats are generally far removed from such areas, living in major cities in gated communities with full-time security and controlled access. Expat condos and gated communities often include amenities such as swimming pools, tennis courts and a club house, as well as a maid’s quarters.

Factors to consider when house-hunting in the Philippines

Expats looking for accommodation in the Philippines should consider proximity to their place of work and their children’s school. Another factor to consider is proximity to good shopping areas. Traffic is notoriously bad in large cities, particularly Manila, and this can affect commute times.

Few homes have air conditioning and many are not properly insulated; these factors should be considered given the extreme weather conditions in the Philippines. Expats may also find that some homes are lacking basic amenities, such as Western toilets; this is especially the case in more rural areas.

Home security is a factor that expats should keep in mind when looking for accommodation in the Philippines. Crime rates are high and homes that are left empty for long periods at a time are vulnerable to burglary. As such, many expats live in insular wealthy areas behind large security gates and in complexes that have controlled access.

Many expats in the Philippines can afford hiring a maid and a driver. If these are on a full-time basis, accommodation may need to be provided for these employees.

Renting property in the Philippines

Most expats rent accommodation in the Philippines, which is often organised through their employer. Short-term leases are sometimes available, although most are signed for a year. Many landlords prefer two-year leases. The full year is expected to be paid up front, along with a deposit equivalent to two to three months’ rent. 

For those looking for shorter-term accommodation, serviced apartments are often available in the larger cities.

Not all rental prices include utilities such as water and electricity, which are additional expenses for the expat’s account. Expats should document clearly any areas of the house that are in need of maintenance before moving in, as it’s not a given that any broken items or utilities will be repaired by the landlord before occupation. This should be agreed upon between the landlord and tenant.

Buying property in the Philippines

Foreigners can own a house or condo in the Philippines, but they cannot own the land on which it stands. Control of the land will generally be through a long-term lease agreement of about 50 years. Therefore, expats living in the Philippines generally don’t buy property. 

Healthcare in Philippines

Healthcare in the Philippines is variable, ranging in quality from excellent to dire. Hospitals in the major cities are generally of a high standard, while many in rural areas lack infrastructure and investment.

Healthcare is provided through both private and public hospitals in the Philippines. Although healthcare is generally expensive for the average Filipino, expats may find it more affordable than in their home country. 

Local medical staff are well trained, especially in big cities. Many have studied and practised medicine overseas, and speak English. The Philippines is one of the biggest exporters of medical staff in the world, with many nurses and doctors leaving the country to work abroad. While the remittances sent home from these workers are an important contributor to the Philippines economy, healthcare provision in the Philippines has been undermined by the departure of so many medical professionals. 

All citizens are entitled to free healthcare under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). The scheme is government-controlled and funded by local and national government subsidies, as well as by contributions from employers and employees.

Public healthcare in the Philippines

Doctors at public hospitals in the Philippines are well-trained, although equipment and facilities may not be up to the standard of private institutions.

Access to public healthcare in the Philippines remains a contentious issue, particularly in rural areas. Although all Filipino nationals are entitled to healthcare through PhilHealth, not all medical procedures are covered by the scheme and medical expenses are often paid for by the individual patient. 

Private healthcare in the Philippines

Private healthcare is widely available in major cities. Most hospitals in the Philippines are privately run. For those who can afford it, treatment in private hospitals is excellent. Although expensive by local standards, services at these institutions are relatively cheap for many expats when compared to what they would pay back home. The Philippines is even becoming a popular destination for medical tourism due to the low cost and high standard of services offered at private facilities, most of which expect cash payment upfront before commencing treatment.

Medicines and pharmacies in the Philippines

Pharmacies are widely available in the Philippines. Signs for pharmacies are in English and easily recognisable. Most are staffed by well-trained pharmacists. Local supermarkets sometimes stock basic medications that do not require a prescription. However, drug control is strict in the Philippines and strict guidelines pertain to prescription drugs. Many pharmacies in major cities are open 24/7, and most hospitals also have 24/7 pharmacies.

Health hazards in the Philippines

Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are endemic in many parts of the country, particularly during the rainy season between June and November. Expats should ensure that they take adequate precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. 

Health insurance in the Philippines

Most companies provide health insurance to their Filipino employees, through contributions to PhilHealth and private health insurance providers. PhilHealth provides access to medical care for contributing members at any accredited hospital in the Philippines. Foreigners are not covered under PhilHealth and should ensure that they have private health insurance.

Most expats opt for an international health insurance plan, which should be arranged before arriving in the country.

Many expats travel to Singapore or Hong Kong for specialised medical treatment. Expats wishing to leave the Philippines for medical purposes should ensure that they have adequate cover for medical evacuation to these destinations.

Emergency services in the Philippines

Emergency services are available in all major cities, but are limited in more remote areas. In case of emergency, dial 112 or 117.

Education and Schools in Philippines

Schooling in the Philippines suffers from underfunding and a lack of resources. Education at local Filipino schools is not likely to be of the standard most expats are used to. Expats living in the Philippines opt to send their children to international schools.

Education system in the Philippines

The education system in the Philippines has largely been shaped by its colonial history, particularly by the Spanish and American cultures. Today, the system is largely modelled on the US education system.

Education in the Philippines fares poorly compared with other countries in the region. While primary education is compulsory until the 6th grade, drop-out rates are high after this level.
Filipino and English are the main languages of instruction at all public and private schools in the Philippines. From grades 1 to 3, students are taught in the dominant language of their particular region. Class are held in either English or Filipino from then on. 
The school year for both public and private schools in the Philippines normally runs from June to March or April. A typical school week is Monday to Friday, from 7:30am to 4pm or 5pm. Students usually have an hour lunch break; as school cafeterias are rare, many students either go home for lunch or bring their own lunch to school.

Public schools in the Philippines

Most local Filipino children attend public schools, which are funded by the government and free to attend. The quality of education at public schools remains poor. Classes are big, teaching material is lacking and teachers are poorly paid.
For these reasons, expats in the Philippines generally don’t send their children to public schools.

Private schools in the Philippines

Those who can afford it send their children to private schools. Private schools are not funded by the government, but follow much the same curriculum as public schools. Many private schools in the Philippines started as missionary or Christian schools. Classes are smaller than public schools and facilities and resources are usually much better. 

International schools in the Philippines

There are a number of international schools in the Philippines. Most of these schools are located in Manila, with the most popular catering to American, British, French, Japanese and German nationals. 
International schools generally follow the curriculum of their home country, and subjects are taught in their own language. Some international schools offer the International Baccalaureate programme.
Admission to an international school often requires a personal interview. For this reason, expats might only be able to enrol their children after arrival in the Philippines. Nevertheless, expats should start the admission process as soon as possible, as space can be limited.
Fees at international schools in the Philippines can range upwards of 8,000 USD per year. Expats should factor this into any contract negotiations.

Transport and Driving in Philippines

There are several modes of transport available in the Philippines, making getting around the country easy and convenient. Expats can either drive themselves around in a private car or use one of the many public transport options.

Driving in the Philippines

Driving in the Philippines can be stressful. Roads are often crowded and chaotic. Drivers routinely ignore stoplights, lane markers and other traffic control devices, and traffic rules are rarely enforced. As in most places where traffic is congested and under-regulated, driving in the Philippines requires maximum attention and patience to avoid accidents.

Vehicles on the road include cars, trucks and buses, as well as manually operated tricycles and carts. Due to a lack of navigable sidewalks, pedestrians also use the road in most areas. Many roads are in disrepair, with large potholes; those under repair are often not clearly marked and may be a significant hazard, especially at night. Low-lying roads are frequently flooded, even after a light rain, making it difficult to see potholes and other obstacles. During the rainy season, roads at higher elevations can experience landslides.

Traffic signals and signs, often in English, are similar to those in Western countries, and traffic drives on the right. International car insurance is not usually accepted in the Philippines, and expats involved in serious accidents may face considerable difficulties. 

Since traffic accidents are common in the Philippines, expats should be prepared for such an event. Luckily, due to the relatively low speed of traffic, most accidents are minor. Expats should have a copy of their car’s registration, official receipt and car insurance policy in their vehicle at all times. In all cases, police officers are prohibited from charging or requesting fees for any services.

Driving licences in the Philippines

Expats in the Philippines for more than 90 days who plan to drive a vehicle will need a local driver's licence (foreign licences are acceptable for drivers staying in the Philippines for shorter periods). The Land Transportation Office (LTO) issues all licences and has offices throughout the country. 

Car insurance in the Philippines

Expats in the Philippines are required to have third-party car insurance with a Philippine insurance agency.

Third-party liability, as well as comprehensive collision insurance, can be obtained from several local insurance agencies that also provide claims processing and accident assistance. 

Many drivers take out additional comprehensive insurance that covers damage to their vehicle from other causes, and/or collision insurance through a foreign company that will insure in the Philippines. Expats considering this should check that their chosen insurance is accepted in the country. 

Philippine vehicle specifications

The importation of right-hand-drive vehicles into the Philippines is prohibited. Diesel-powered vehicles, including passenger cars, may be imported without regard to engine displacement or weight restriction. 

Air-conditioning is necessary for safety reasons as well as the hot and humid weather, pollution and dust. Cars should be undercoated, tropicalised and equipped with heavy-duty springs and shock absorbers. A vehicle with high clearance is crucial for expats planning to travel outside Metro Manila due to frequent flooding and poor road conditions.

Roadside assistance

The North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) assures that everything on the highway is efficiently maintained. Patrol officers respond promptly to accidents and other emergencies.

Apart from safety officers, traffic management teams equipped with cameras and radios are on constant patrol. Emergency bays and call boxes connected to the Traffic Central Room are widely available. Control rooms are operated day and night to provide customer assistance and dispatch traffic patrol teams, emergency vehicles and tow trucks.

Public transport in the Philippines


Taxis are a convenient and comfortable means of travel in the cities in the Philippines. They are ideal for expatriates because it enables them to get around quickly and easily. 

It is normally safer to hire a taxi from a hotel. Expats can hail taxis from the street, but they should make it a point to inform a family member or a friend of the taxi name and the plate number just to be safe. 

All taxis are metered and expats should ensure that the meter is activated as soon as the ride starts. Fixed rates are illegal in the Philippines.

Most taxi drivers speak basic English, making communication easy. It is normal practice to give taxi drivers a small tip. 


The Philippines has a national railways service that covers most of the country. Long-distance train travel is becoming increasingly popular and is a good way to travel between major cities in the Philippines. 

Metro Manila has a regional rail service which extends to its suburbs and outlying provinces. 

The Bicol Express train is a good way to travel between Manila and Naga. The train is comfortable and safe, and air-conditioned sleeper cars are available.


Buses are a common sight on the major roads of Manila and in the distant provinces. Buses are classified as either air-conditioned or ordinary (not air-conditioned). The destinations are marked down on a large placard in front of the bus. 

City buses are generally not recommended for expats as they can be very crowded. Getting off is also a bit tricky, particularly when one is not familiar with the area, because there are rarely any designated bus stops.


Because the Philippines is an archipelago, boats and ferries are a common means of getting around the country. Types of boats range from upmarket ferries to small bangkas

Bangkas are the most common and traditional type of boat used in the Philippines and are usually used for short distances. Ferries are more comfortable, with several companies offering daily scheduled trips between islands. The fastest type of boat is a catamaran, which travels between some of the bigger islands and covers long distances in a short time.


Jeepneys were originally old converted military Jeeps left over from WWII. They have seating in the back and are flamboyantly decorated. The name is a combination of Jeep and jitney. 

Jeepneys are a vital means of transport for Filipinos. It is the most popular and economical means of transportation. The colourful decorations of jeepneys embody Filipino culture, which make them iconic vehicles for the country. 

The designated routes of each jeepney are painted on its exterior. There is also a small placard in the front indicating its main destinations.

Generally, jeepneys do not have proper loading and unloading areas. They will stop anywhere and anytime, which may prove challenging for foreign nationals who are unfamiliar with their destination. This is not an advisable mode of transport for expatriates who are uncomfortable with crowds. 

Air travel in the Philippines

Major airports in the Philippines include Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Clark International Airport in Angeles City, Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu and Subic Bay International Airport in Subic Bay. The national air carrier is Philippine Airlines, which is the oldest commercial airline in Asia.

Keeping in Touch in Philippines

Expats will find that keeping in touch in the Philippines is easy. The country has no censorship on social media sites or pages. One frustration that expats may have to deal with is the internet speed. The Philippines frequently ranks in the bottom half of internet connectivity in the Asia, and on a global scale. Red tape is cited as the reason for slow internet speeds and the costs involved. 

Internet in the Philippines

DSL, Broadband, Fibre cable are all available in most parts of the Philippines. In larger cities 100 MBPS is possible, but generally the speed is far below this. The main DSL providers of internet are PLDT, Globe Telecom and BayanTel. Sky cable offers a TV and internet package, which can be handy for expats. 

Internet cafes are widely available, and in large cities so is wifi. 

Landlines and mobile phones in the Philippines

PLDT (Philippines Long Distance Telephone) is the main provider of landlines in the Philippines. Telecom services are available mostly everywhere, however in more rural areas, access may be limited.

In order to install a landline a tenancy agreement, proof of sufficient income and passport are required. 

Smart and Globe are the main mobile phone providers, and both offer prepaid options. Long distance calls can be expensive from the Philippines. 

Mobile contracts are available, however most expats choose a top up basis instead. In order to open a mobile phone contract an expat will need:

  • Identification (passport)

  • proof of employment

  • proof of residence

  • proof of sufficient income

Social media in the Philippines

Skype, Blackberry Messenger and Apple FaceTime are all accessible, offering alternative means of communication for expats. 

The Philippines is often called the social media capital of the world, with social media usage constantly increasing. As of January 2015, the most popular sites are Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.  

English-language media in the Philippines

English-language media is easily accessible. There are many plans available to get cable TV – which include all the main US channels. Sky cable provides TV and internet, whereas PLDT has a similar but more expensive plans linked to the phone line.  One such option from Sky cable is 70 Channels and 16 mbps for £70 per month. 

There are a number of English newspapers in circulation, the most popular being the Philippine Daily Inquirer, available in print and online and The Standard.

Mail in the Philippines

The postal service in the Philippines is called PhlPost, a government owned corporation. Each area in the Philippines has a registered zip code for delivery.  

Banking, Money and Taxes in Philippines

The Philippines has a comprehensive banking system encompassing large international banks, national banking institutions and small rural banks. Expats therefore have a variety of options when it comes to managing their finances in the Philippines.

Money in the Philippines

The official currency in the Philippines is the Philippine Peso (PHP). One peso is equal to 100 centavos. 

  • Notes: 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 PHP 

  • Coins: 10, 5 and 1 PHP, and 25, 10, 5 and 1 sentimo. 

Various banks, hotels and authorised foreign exchange dealers provide peso exchange for most foreign currencies.

Banking in the Philippines

There are many banks in the Philippines for expats to choose from. Major local banks include Philippine National Bank, Metrobank and Bank of the Philippine Islands. International banks such as Citibank, Bank of America, Standard Chartered Bank and HSBC also have branches in the Philippines. Many expats living in the Philippines choose to bank with an international bank, which makes it easier for foreign money transfers back home.

Internet banking facilities are available through most major banks. Banking hours in the Philippines are usually from 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday. Banks are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

Expats should be wary of banking with small rural banks. These banks cater for the rural communities of farmers and local merchants, offer limited services and are subject to closure at short notice; the security of an expat's money is therefore not guaranteed if banking with one of these organisations.

Opening a bank account

To open a local bank account in the Philippines, expats must personally visit the bank of their choice to verify their details. Expats need to present two valid forms of ID, one of which should be their passport. They are also required to immediately deposit funds into the account.

Expats wishing to open an account will also need to provide bank references from their country of permanent residence or country of citizenship. The Philippine bank will then either write to these bank references to inquire about the status and handling of the foreigner’s account, or require the foreigner to submit written certification from their own bank abroad. The branch officer will then confirm any certification submitted by the foreigner.

For walk-in foreigners (those who are not introduced by existing clients or employees of the bank), the account will not be opened until confirmation of bank reference has been done. Expats who were referred either by a bank employee or client can immediately open their account, but the checking of the bank reference will still be done.

ATMs and credit cards

ATMs are widely available in cities and larger towns in the Philippines. ATMs are mostly located behind security doors in shopping centres and at bank branches. 

Credit cards are accepted at major hotels, resorts, shops and restaurants across the Philippines, although cash is preferred in more remote destinations. Credit card fraud in the Philippines is an ongoing problem and expats should use credit and debit cards with caution, such as only using it in reputable establishments and never letting the card out of sight during transactions.

Taxes in the Philippines

An individual’s tax liability in the Philippines is determined by their classification as a tax payer. Categories include:

Resident citizen

Non-resident citizen

Resident alien

Non-residents alien engaged in trade or business

Non-resident alien not engaged in trade or business

Resident citizens are taxed on all income derived from worldwide sources, whereas the other categories are taxed only on their local income.

Income is taxed progressively from 5 to 32 percent for resident citizens, non-resident citizens, resident aliens and non-resident aliens engaged in trade or business. Non-resident aliens not engaged in trade or business are subject to tax at 25 percent of their gross income.

The tax year in the Philippines runs from 1 January to 31 December, and tax returns are usually due by 15 April of the following year. 

Expats should research whether the Philippines has a taxation treaty with their home country in order to avoid double taxation.