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Moving to Philippines

An archipelago of over 7,000 islands with turquoise waters and lush greenery, the Philippines presents a truly picturesque expat destination. The major island groupings are Luzon in the north, the Visayas in central Philippines, and Mindanao in the south. Expats moving to the Philippines can enjoy everything from island life to historic treasures as well as modern urban comforts.

As idyllic as this seems, new arrivals can easily be overwhelmed when relocating to the Philippines. This is especially the case for expats moving to Manila or Quezon City, populated urban areas where traffic is chaotic and braving the roads can be nightmarish. 

Fortunately, there are many transport options. Hiring a local driver who understands the roads is often recommended. There are also train and bus routes running between cities and towns, although flying is often the most convenient way to get around the country.

Filipinos, known for their genuine hospitality and welcoming nature, can also help smooth the transition for new arrivals. The Philippines has a rich history, with many nations calling it home over the centuries, including Spain, the US, India, China, Aboriginal Australia, Japan and the Arab states. The Philippines is the largest Christian country in Asia, with Catholicism dominating, and there is a large minority population of Muslims in the southern regions. Given the multicultural and multi-ethnic environment, expats are bound to experience some elements of culture shock.

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.

Most expat parents in the Philippines send their children to private or international schools. There are several across the country, many located in Metro Manila. Education at these schools is costly, and we advise expats working in the Philippines to factor this into their contract negotiations.

Generally, the cost of living is reasonably low. Expats are sure to find accommodation, be it a serviced apartment, condo or freestanding house, to suit their budget – and eating out can also be inexpensive when trying local fare. Healthcare is also fairly affordable according to most expats. Private medical facilities in major cities are well resourced, though standards vary depending on the area.

Expats should, however, be aware of safety concerns. Due to violence and insurgent groups, many foreign governments advise against travel to the southern regions. Additionally, the archipelago is no stranger to typhoons, especially during the rainy season.

Relocating to the Philippines will not be without challenges. But with an open mind, expats are sure to embrace their home away from home in this Southeast Asian country.


Fast facts

Population: Around 111 million

Major religions: Christianity, Islam

Capital city: Manila

Legal system: Unitary presidential constitutional republic

Main languages: Filipino and English, along with additional regional languages.

Time: GMT+8

Electricity: Electrical current is 220 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin flat blade attachments and two-pin round plugs are used, as well as type B plugs which have two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin.

Currency: Peso

International dialling code: +63

Emergency numbers: 911

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 1806

  • 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 8858 2200

  • Canadian Embassy, Manila: +63 2 8857 9000

  • Australian Embassy, Manila: +63 2 7757 8100

  • South African Embassy, Manila: +63 2 889 9587

  • Honorary Consul of Ireland, Manila: +63 2 8896 4668

  • New Zealand Embassy, Manila: +63 2 8234 3800

Public Holidays in Philippines

 

 

2021

2022

New Year’s Day

1 January

1 January

Chinese New Year

12 February

1 February

People Power Revolution

25 February

25 February

Maundy Thursday

1 April

14 April

Good Friday

2 April

15 April

Black Saturday

3 April

16 April

Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor)

9 April

9 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Eid'l Fitr

13 May

3 May

Independence Day

12 June

12 June

Eidul Adha

20 July

10 July

Ninoy Aquino Day

21 August

21 August

National Heroes' Day

30 August

29 August

All Saints' Day

1 November

1 November

All Souls' Day

2 November

2 November

Bonifacio Day

30 November

30 November

Immaculate Conception Day

8 December

8 December

Christmas Eve

24 December

24 December

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Rizal Day

30 December

30 December

New Year's Eve

31 December

31 December

*Islamic holidays are subject to change as they are based on the sighting of the moon

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, and armed robberies have occurred on public transport. Expats should be cautious and vigilant in crowded public places to avoid petty crimes such as pickpocketing and mugging. Foreigners in the Philippines should avoid carrying large amounts of cash and wearing flashy watches or jewellery.

Scams

Expats in the Philippines should be aware of various scams targeting foreigners. These include internet and phone call scams, as well as credit card 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.

Emergency numbers

  • General emergency number: 911
  • Police: 117
  • Philippine Red Cross: 143

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


Food and water safety in the Philippines

The quality of tap water is questionable in the Philippines and it's generally recommended to avoid drinking it, 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 world's most natural disaster-prone countries. Expats should have a plan of action in case of emergency and make sure that they have appropriate insurance coverage.

Typhoons

The Philippines experiences several tropical cyclones annually, mostly between June and November, 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.

Earthquakes and volcanoes

The Philippines is also an earthquake zone and is vulnerable to volcanic activity. This includes the Mayon volcano in Albay Province and the Taal Volcano in the province of Batangas. Follow all advice from local authorities.


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 are known to 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. 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 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 UK and the US, advise their nationals against all non-essential travel to Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.

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 workforce and presents an emerging economic market.

Seen as a gateway to the Southeast Asia region, many multinational corporations base their regional head offices in Metro Manila. Most of these are based in Makati, the financial and business centre of the Philippines. Makati is also the diplomatic centre of the Philippines and as such, many foreigners live and work here.


Job market in the Philippines

Recent economic growth and the presence of international corporations have made the Philippines a popular destination for expats seeking work opportunities abroad.

Mining, food processing, construction and tourism industries offer the most opportunities for expats. Many foreigners also move to the Philippines to teach a foreign language, while call centres and other business outsourcing units have been another booming sector.


Finding a job in the Philippines

Many expats moving to the Philippines have pre-arranged employment and move as part of a corporate relocation within their company or go there to work for a multinational corporation.

When looking for a job, we suggest visiting the websites of companies which operate in the Philippines to search for vacancies. Job hunters can also explore listings on online job portals and employment networking websites such as JobStreet.com and Glassdoor.

Expats who want to work in the Philippines will need to obtain a valid work visa, which should be arranged before arrival in the country. Work permits are usually organised by the employer. 

Generally, it’s recommended to secure employment before relocating to the Philippines. This is because, to get a work permit, hiring companies must prove that the position cannot be filled by a Filipino.


Work culture in the Philippines

English is widely spoken in the workplace and most Western expats won’t struggle to communicate with their colleagues. Nevertheless, we encourage expats to 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 important to Filipinos. Public displays of anger and disparaging someone in front of others can cause 'loss of face', something that Filipinos avoid at all costs. So, expats doing business here are recommended to avoid publicly criticising or arguing with Filipinos colleagues.

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

Expats doing business in the Philippines will be operating in one of the largest Southeast Asian markets. Its strategic location has made the Philippines a potential gateway for investors into the wider Asian region and many multinational companies operate here.

With a multicultural and ethnically diverse population, the Philippines offers a vibrant and dynamic business environment. However, expats may find that the country is not always an easy place to do business. This is reflected in the country’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business survey for 2020, where it came 95th out of 190 countries surveyed. It is difficult to start a business (ranked 171st) and enforce contracts (152nd). 

Fortunately, there has been progress in areas such as protecting minority investors (72nd) and dealing with construction permits (85th), and getting electricity also ranks well (32nd).


Fast facts

Business language

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

Business hours

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. 

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.

Greeting

A handshake and a smile are the usual forms of greeting. 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 generally treated equally in the Philippines and there are many successful women in Filipino business circles.


Business culture in the Philippines

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. Although many business practices may be Westernised, Eastern traditions and cultural norms still play a central role.

Business relationships

Family is important in Filipino culture and many businesses are family owned, with several family members often working for the same company. Business relationships, therefore, equate to personal relationships. Networking and building close interpersonal relationships with Filipino counterparts is critical when doing business.

Hierarchy

Business structures in the Philippines are hierarchical and decisions are made mostly by the top-level executives. However, group input also plays a role in making decisions.

Communication

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 business be negotiated. Filipinos enjoy conversation about their friends and family, but topics such as politics, religion and corruption are best avoided. 

Business communication is often 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 significant. 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 could be considered aggressive.

Saving face

To Filipinos, the concept of ‘saving face’ and maintaining self-esteem is imperative. Public displays of anger, trying to prove someone wrong in front of others, or disrespect of a colleague’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 avoid criticising a Filipino associate publicly.

Personal questions

Expats should not be surprised if Filipino colleagues or friends ask 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. 


Dos and don’ts of business in the Philippines

  • Do treat Filipino 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.
  • 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 lasting less than 30 days. A full list of countries exempt from obtaining a visa to enter the country can be found on the official website for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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.

Foreigners who wish to visit the Philippines for a longer duration must apply in person at the nearest Philippines embassy or consulate.


Temporary visitor visas for the Philippines

Foreigners who are entitled to initial visa exemption can apply for a temporary visitor visa (9A) or visa waiver which permits stays longer than 30 days.

Visa waivers allow further 29 days of stay, while further extensions must be secured with the Bureau of Immigration.


Student visas for the Philippines

Expats who wish to study towards their higher education at an academic institution in the Philippines must apply for a student visa (9F). This can be done by expats already staying in the Philippines who wish to convert their visa to the student visa.


Investor’s visas

The investor's visa is directed at foreign nationals who plan to engage in trade and invest in commercial opportunities in the Philippines. The immigration programme requires a decent investment in the economy.

We recommend contacting the nearest embassy or consulate to find out about eligible countries and the minimum capital investment requirements.


Work permits for the Philippines

Alien employment permits (AEP) 

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. Employers will assist prospective employees obtain an alien employment permit.

An alien employment permit (AEP) is a document issued by the Philippines Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE). It is not a travel document; it allows a foreign national to work in the Philippines. It is normally applied for in tandem with any employment visa.

AEPs are normally valid for one to five years.

Pre-arranged employee visas

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

There are both commercial visas for applicants engaging in gainful work as well as non-commercial visas for those in social or missionary work.

The Bureau of Immigration will not issue a 9G working visa unless and until the AEP is obtained.

Special work permits

If the duration of the assignment is less than six months, a special work permit application may be submitted to the authorities. Expats should consult their employers as well as the nearest embassy to find out if they are eligible for a special work permit.

Provisional work permit

In addition to the alien employment permit, foreign nationals must obtain a provisional permit to work, pending the approval of the 9G visa. This permit is issued by the Bureau of Immigration and is normally valid for three months from the date of issue.

*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 rising and expenses aren't as cheap as new arrivals may expect. Nevertheless, most expats find living in the Philippines to be relatively affordable, especially compared to some Southeast Asian countries.

According to Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey for 2020, Manila was ranked at 80th out of the 209 cities surveyed. This placed Manila as having a cost of living lower than Singapore and Bangkok, but more expensive than cities such as Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and 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 biggest monthly expense in the Philippines. Rental rates vary depending on the location and whether a property is furnished or unfurnished; generally, the closer to tourist areas and city centres, the more a tenant will pay. Prospective tenants should acknowledge that many landlords prefer to rent to foreigners, and may charge a higher rental.

Utilities such as water and electricity are often additional costs for the tenants. Other monthly payments to consider include internet, telephone line, cable television and air conditioning maintenance. Note that electricity is expensive in the Philippines and these costs will increase when intensely hot and humid summer months demand the use of air conditioning. Many homes do not have central air conditioning and expats may need to pay to have this installed.

Fortunately, expats moving to the Philippines as part of an international relocation often have housing expenses covered by their company. 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 expats may be used to. Relatively cheap fresh produce is readily available at local markets and street vendors, but imported Western foods and international brands in supermarkets are expensive. 

Food in restaurants is affordable, and many expats will find that they can eat out regularly. Cigarettes and alcohol are also relatively cheap.


Cost of schooling and education in the Philippines

Families moving to the Philippines with children will find the cost of schooling and education to be their second biggest expense after accommodation. Most 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 may find prices to be more expensive than what they may expect back home. This is largely due to high import duties. Many expats hire a driver for getting around; this is something that companies often provide for their senior executives working in the Philippines, 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 December 2020.

Accommodation

One-bedroom apartment in city centre 

PHP 33,500

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre 

PHP 109,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

PHP 16,500

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

PHP 40,000

Shopping

Dozen eggs 

PHP 96

Milk (1 litre) 

PHP 90

Rice (1kg) 

PHP 52.50

Loaf of white bread 

PHP 61

Chicken breasts (1kg) 

PHP 199

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro) 

PHP 120

Eating out

Big Mac meal 

PHP 150

Coca Cola (330ml) 

PHP 36

Cappuccino 

PHP 130

Bottle of local beer (500ml) 

PHP 77.50

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant 

PHP 1,000

Utilities/Household (monthly)

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile) 

PHP 7.50

Internet (10 Mbps, unlimited data, cable/ADSL)

PHP 2,500

Basic utilities (electricity, water) 

PHP 5,700

Transport

Taxi rate/km 

PHP 13.50

City-centre bus fare 

PHP 20

Petrol (per litre) 

PHP 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 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. Nevertheless, expats will probably experience some degree of culture shock in the Philippines.

With a little time and effort, new arrivals 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 and welcoming nature, 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 usually 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 myriad 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. We suggest doing some reading regarding Filipino 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, criticism or disrespect of one’s rank or position go 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

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

Most restaurants and families serve each person their own plate of food. In some restaurants, diners may 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 is offered food, it should be accepted. 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 may be stared at in the street, but this is mainly just curiosity from the locals.

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

Accommodation in Philippines

One of the biggest challenges for a new arrival in the Philippines is finding accommodation. But with a little research and support, exploring the various housing options and securing the perfect home away from home need not be a stressful endeavour.

House hunting in the Philippines can be an exciting step in an expat’s relocation. Thanks to the reasonable cost of living, expats can find rentals from luxury condominiums to simple 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.

Read on for guidance on the types of accommodation, how to find properties and essential info on renting in the Philippines.


Types of accommodation in the Philippines

Expats looking for accommodation in the Philippines will find a variety of options to choose from, depending on their budget and circumstances. 

Freestanding houses

Expats can find freestanding houses available for rent in the Philippines. This is a great option for families with children who need a more spacious living environment than an apartment, and many plots will also have large gardens – some with fruit-bearing trees from mango to papaya. 

Townhouses and duplexes

Other types of property in the Philippines include townhouses and duplexes. Semi-detached properties allow multiple tenants and families to rent a property while having entirely different living spaces. 

Condos and gated communities

Condos are one of the most popular types of expat accommodation in the Philippines. Expat condos and gated communities often include amenities such as swimming pools, tennis courts and clubhouses, as well as living quarters for domestic workers such as maids.

The large disparity between rich and poor in the Philippines is undeniable, and beyond the expat-friendly areas, there are many poor neighbourhoods. However, gated communities are generally far removed from such areas, and have full-time security and controlled access.

Apartments

Renting an apartment in the Philippines is a great low-maintenance housing option for new arrivals. Apartments often have full-time security, although likely won’t have access to the range of amenities offered in condos. 

Luxury serviced apartments can be found in major cities which offer a host of services and come fully furnished with WiFi access.


Factors to consider when house hunting in the Philippines

When looking for a place to live, expats should consider the level of furnishing. Unfurnished and fully and semi-furnished properties are available. While fully-furnished accommodation may restrict a tenant’s capacity to decorate and may be more costly, it’s convenient for expats who are only staying on short-term stints.

We advise house hunters to ask about air conditioning and insulation of prospective properties. Expats may also find some homes lack 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. Given high crime rates in certain areas, many expats live in insular wealthy areas behind large security gates and in complexes which have controlled access. Many houses also have security bars on the windows.

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


Finding accommodation in the Philippines

The internet is the best place to start the accommodation search. Online property portals and classifieds websites, such as Dot Property Philippines and Lamudi, allow house hunters to explore listings suited to their budget, location, property types and sizes.

We highly recommend enlisting the services of a real estate agent or relocation company which offers house-hunting services. These professionals will take the weight off a new arrival’s shoulders when looking for a new home and negotiating with landlords.

When looking for accommodation, location is a key consideration. Most expats moving to the Philippines live in the Metro Manila area, and Makati City is particularly popular as it is home to many international corporations and is the heart of the diplomatic community. Housing in the rural areas is cheaper than larger cities, although amenities are more limited.

Moreover, we advise that expats consider the proximity to their workplace, schools and shopping areas. Traffic is notoriously bad in large cities, particularly Manila, and this can affect commute times.


Renting accommodation in the Philippines

Most expats rent accommodation in the Philippines. In many cases, this is organised through the expat’s employer. If not, real estate agents can help guide the process.

Leases 

Most leases are signed for one year, and the full year of rent may be expected to be paid upfront for luxury condos. Short-term leases are also available, mainly in serviced apartments in larger cities.

Deposits

Deposits are often equivalent to two to three months’ rent. 

Utilities

Utilities such as water, electricity and WiFi are often excluded from the rental price. Expats should budget for this as an additional cost.

Maintenance

Expats should document any areas of the house which need maintenance before signing a lease and moving in. 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. It may be negotiated for the landlord to pay for supplies, such as paint, if the tenant pays for or does the physical labour themselves.

Healthcare in Philippines

Healthcare in the Philippines varies, ranging 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. 


Public healthcare in the Philippines

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. Most expats working in the Philippines must enrol with PhilHealth.

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. Many specialised treatments are available and the standard of care is high.

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 thanks 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.

Among the health hazards is the question of food and water safety. New arrivals are advised against drinking bottled water due to the low quality of tap water.


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 who are not covered under PhilHealth 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 911. To contact the Philippine Red Cross, dial 143.

Education and Schools in Philippines

Although choosing the right school can be challenging for new arrivals, expat parents in the Philippines can rest assured that there are multiple options available.

Education at local Filipino schools is not likely to be of the standard most expats are used to. Public schooling suffers from underfunding and a lack of resources. As such, most expats living in the Philippines opt to send their children to private and 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, it is largely modelled on the US education system. Education is compulsory from ages five to 18.

Filipino and English are the main languages of instruction at all public and private schools in the Philippines. From grades one to three, students are taught in the dominant language of their region. Classes are held in either English or Filipino from then on. 

The school year for both public and private schools in the Philippines runs from June to March or April. A typical school week is Monday to Friday, with long school hours.


Public schools in the Philippines

Most local Filipino children attend public schools, which are funded by the government and free to attend. Unfortunately, the quality of education in public schools remains poor. Class sizes 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 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 several international schools in the Philippines. Most of these schools are in Manila, popularly 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, parents are recommended to start the admission process as soon as possible, as space tends to be limited. 

Additionally, international school fees are high, and expats working in the Philippines may be able to factor this into their employment contract negotiations.


Nurseries in the Philippines

Parents with young infants will have access to a number of kindergartens and nurseries, especially if they live in a large urban area such as Metro Manila. Preschools and kindergartens are often a part of larger private and international schools. Separate standalone daycare and nursery facilities can also be found. 

When looking for a nursery, its location and proximity to an expat’s accommodation will likely play a major role, especially in larger cities where traffic is nightmarish.


Special-needs education in the Philippines

Inclusive education for all students, including children with disabilities, is valued in the education system. However, while public schools have adapted their curriculum to support students with multiple disabilities, there is a lack of resources and qualified staff. 

Support in private schools is also limited and variable, although some, including Montessori-based international schools, offer services and special-needs education support. Schools may require parents to submit professional evaluations of their child's needs to develop an individualised academic programme.

It’s best to contact schools directly to find out about the level of services offered.


Homeschooling in the Philippines

Many families moving to the Philippines consider homeschooling their children. Homeschooling is legal, and parents can reach out to the community of local homeschools through expat forums and social media groups.

Homeschoolers can follow a curriculum of their choice, but parents are advised to do their research and commit to this alternative style of education and learning. Many schools also offer a home study programme in the Philippines, which can help shape a child’s learning and provide extra guidance.


Tutors in the Philippines

Whether children attend a regular private school or are homeschooled, extra support from a tutor can be beneficial. Tutoring is common in the Philippines, and expats can easily find a tutor who specialises in a specific subject area and curriculum. Networking in person and online through websites such as TeacherOn can help expats search for a tutor.

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 drive themselves around in a private car, hire a driver or use one of the many public transport options. 


Public transport in the Philippines

Trains

The Philippines has a national railways service which covers much 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

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 overly crowded. Getting off is also a bit tricky, particularly when one is not familiar with the area, as bus stops are not clearly designated.

Jeepneys

Originally converted military Jeeps left over from WWII, jeepneys are a vital means of transport for Filipinos. The name is a combination of Jeep and jitney. These flamboyantly decorated vehicles embody Filipino culture.

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. 


Taxis in the Philippines

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

Expats can hire a taxi from a hotel, hail them from the street or use a ride-hailing app such as Grab. As a safety precaution, it’s often advised to share the taxi vehicle- and driver details with a friend or family member.

All taxis are metered and expats should ensure that the meter is activated as soon as the ride starts. Most taxi drivers speak basic English, making communication easy.


Driving in the Philippines

Expats can buy or rent a car locally or import a vehicle from abroad. New arrivals may be more comfortable hiring a driver than braving the roads on their own at first. Note the vehicle specifications and regulations when importing a car; for example, the importation of right-hand-drive vehicles into the Philippines is prohibited. Traffic drives on the right side of the road.

Driving in the Philippines can be stressful and traffic accidents are common. Roads are often crowded and chaotic, and traffic rules are rarely enforced. Expats who choose to drive in the Philippines must do so with maximum attention and patience.

Always be aware of other road users, from cars, trucks and buses to tricycles, carts and pedestrians. Additionally, many roads are in disrepair with large potholes. Roads under repair are often not clearly marked, presenting a significant hazard, especially at night and during the rainy season where the flood risk is high.

Thanks to traffic management teams, safety officers and emergency call boxes, it is easy to get roadside assistance. 

Car insurance

Basic third-party car insurance is compulsory in the Philippines. International car insurance is not usually accepted, so expats should get this from a local insurance agency. It may be worth taking out comprehensive insurance to cover additional issues. Expats must keep a copy of their car’s registration, official receipt and car insurance policy in their vehicle.

Driving licences 

Expats in the Philippines for over 90 days who plan to drive a vehicle 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.


Boat travel in the Philippines

Thanks to the Philippines’ archipelagic geography, 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.


Air travel in the Philippines

Major airports in the Philippines include Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Clark International Airport near Angeles, 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 systematic 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.


Internet in the Philippines

DSL, Broadband and fibre cable are all available in most parts of the Philippines. The internet speed is slower compared to other countries in the region, although mobile data speed has increased over the years.

The main internet providers include PLDT, Globe Telecom and BayanTel. 

Internet cafes are widely available, and in large cities so is WiFi. Expats renting accommodation in the Philippines should note that WiFi is usually excluded from the rental, and is an additional fee for the tenant's account.

Thanks to increased internet connectivity, the Philippines is often called the social media capital of the world, with social media usage constantly increasing.


Landlines and mobile phones in the Philippines

PLDT is the main provider of landlines in the Philippines. Telecom services are available mostly everywhere, however in more rural areas, access may be limited. To install a landline, various documentation is required including a tenancy agreement.

Smart (a subsidiary of PLDT) and Globe Telecom 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. To open a mobile phone contract an expat may need their ID (passport), along with proof of employment, residence and sufficient income.


English-language media in the Philippines

English-language media is easily accessible. There are many cable TV plans available, which include all the main US channels. SKY and PLDT both provide TV and internet. Expats can also access international streaming websites.

There are a number of English newspapers in circulation, the most popular being the Philippine Daily Inquirer, available in print and online, and The Manila 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. So, expats 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 or sentimos 

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

  • Coins: PHP 1, 5, 10 and 20; and 1, 5, 10 and 25 centavos

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.

It's generally recommended for expats to 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 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. When opening a bank account, expats must typically deposit funds into it immediately.

Expats also need to present various forms of documentation, including ID and bank references from their country of permanent residence or country of citizenship. The Philippine bank will then verify this reference. Usually, expats who were referred either by a bank employee or client can open their account straight away, while for walk-in expats, the account may not be opened until confirmation of bank reference has been 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 security problem and expats should use credit and debit cards with caution, and only use them in reputable establishments and never let 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 taxpayer. Categories include:

  • Resident citizen
  • Non-resident citizen
  • Resident alien
  • Non-resident alien engaged in trade or business
  • Non-resident alien not engaged in trade or business

Expats moving to the Philippines must find out which category they fall into. Generally, expats working for a non-specified period are resident aliens, while expats on a definite contract are non-resident aliens.

Resident citizens are taxed on all income derived from worldwide sources, whereas the other categories are taxed only on their local income. For resident aliens and non-resident aliens, income is taxed progressively up to 35 percent.

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. 

We highly recommend that expats enlist the services of a professional tax consultant in the Philippines for specialised guidance.