Moving to the Philippines

Moving to the Philippines is not an easy task. Navigating ones way around the country’s 7,107 islands and its government practices can be quite a challenge. But if you’re willing to do a bit of extra planning, you will discover a warm people, a rich culture, and a countryside that is so beautiful, you might never want to leave.

As any travel guide will point out, the Philippines has more than its fair share of pristine white-sand beaches. But this tropical archipelago is more than just a pretty getaway. English is widely spoken across the country, cost of living is very low and the economy is on the rise. These reasons amongst others have resulted in a recent influx of foreigners.

The Philippine culture is a unique mix of Malay, Spanish, American and Chinese cultures, and often resembles a Latin American country more than an Asian one. Though the Philippines has been independent since World War II, the American influence remains strong, and you will find all your western cultural staples in the major cities of Manila, Cebu and Davao.

In fact, wherever you choose to move, you will never be too far from your favorite fast food chains, Hollywood movies or live music. You will also never be too far from karaoke and basketball, the two pillars of Filipino entertainment.

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Where to go?

Every year, foreigners flock to the different islands of the Philippines to sunbathe on its beaches and swim in its crystal clear waters. Large foreign communities can be found on the popular tourist islands of Boracay, Bohol and Palawan.

Manila is the nations’ capital and its largest city. The greater Manila area or “Metro Manila” consists of 15 cities and 1 municipality. It has a reputation for being polluted and highly congested. However, with a little time, foreigners find that the Philippines’ most notorious city has a lot to offer. It has a bustling nightlife and a thriving cultural scene, and is currently witnessing an unprecedented amount of growth and development.

Cebu is the second largest city in the Philippines and a popular choice for foreigners who like to be near some of the world’s best scuba diving sites. It has all the luxuries of Manila on a smaller scale. Close by, one will find the more low-key university town of Dumaguete. This charming seaside town is another favorite for diving enthusiasts and migrants.

Foreign governments warn its citizens against travel to South-West Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. These areas are politically unstable and remain under the threat of terrorist groups. The rest of the nation is deemed safe for travel.

Living in the Philippines

Upon moving to the islands, you will quickly notice the great disparity between socio-economic classes. On one side of the Philippine capital of Manila you will find a plethora of luxury brands, while on the other, many of its citizens struggle to put food on the table. As a result, petty crime is common. But like many big cities, as long as you exercise caution while moving about, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Metro Manila is the only Philippine city with an elevated rail system (MRT and LRT). In 2014 however, the MRT was put under intense public scrutiny because of several functioning failures, and many foreigners resorted to taking other modes of transportation. Thankfully, taxis are extremely affordable. They are the expatriate’s public transportation of choice. A 20-minute ride in a regular taxicab should cost about PhP100-120 (less than US$3).

If you choose to live in the major cities of Metro Manila and Cebu, you will need to adjust to the traffic that come with them. It’s always best to plan your day in advance and get acquainted with some of the city’s smart phone taxi apps such as Easy Taxi, Grab Taxi Manila and Uber. Grab Taxi Manila guarantees security and promptness for the small price of PhP70 or USD $1.50 per transaction (on top of the regular cab fare).

Job market

In 2013, the Philippine GDP grew 7.2%, making it one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. It is a service-based economy with the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Industry amongst its fastest growing segments. This 15.5 billion-dollar industry (2013) employs a large number of expatriates across the country.

Due to a growing consumer market, the opportunities for foreign investors in the Philippines are plentiful. The local spending power continues to grow and foreign brands continue to enter the market at a rapid rate. That being said, the economy is still a work in progress. The country struggles to address the problems of a young demographic and poorly developed infrastructure.

Accomplishing certain tasks within the government can be a complicated and difficult process. Hire a lawyer to handle your permits for you (work visas and the like).

If you plan on sending a container to the Philippines, there are also several private companies that will charge small fees to help you deal with the customs officials in your stead. Many Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s) transport goods to the Philippines through a service that is commonly known as “balikbayan boxes”. Balikbayan boxes are very affordable and are used by foreigners and Filipinos alike. If you don’t need to ship an entire container worth of goods to the Philippines, you may want to look into this service.

Neighbourhood picks

  • Up-market: Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, Metro Manila – This neighborhood houses Manila’s most popular clubs and swankiest restaurants - all within a pleasant walk from one another. Condominiums in this area are just about the priciest in the country.
  • Centrally located: Salcedo Village, Makati, Metro Manila and IT Park, Cebu City.
  • Up-and-coming: Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna – Several industrial parks have moved to this rural southern suburb of Metro Manila. It boasts of wild open fields and cool fresh air within an hour drive of Manila.
  • Family Friendly: Magallanes Village, Makati City, Metro Manila and North Town Homes, Cebu City – Gated communities usually come with their own parks and playgrounds, and are ideal for families with young children.

Property information

Foreigners cannot buy property under Philippine law, but they can purchase condominium units without any problem. Some of the reputable condominium developers include Ayala Land, DMCI Homes, Rockwell and Robinsons Land.

Local property prices are on the rise in the Philippines and Metro Manila’s properties make up the top of that price bracket. While the nations’ capital may be the most expensive city in the country, even its most expensive parts remain affordable for Western standards.

DMCI Homes develops affordable condominium complexes for the middle and upper-middle class markets. Renting a fully-furnished two-bedroom apartment (of roughly 60 sqm) near Metro Manila’s central business district can cost about PhP30,000/month (US$670/month).

Ayala Land’s Serendra is an upscale condominium development located in Metro Manila’s most coveted neighborhood, Fort Bonifacio Global City. Renting a one-bedroom apartment (60sqm) in this posh development can cost you PhP60,000/month (US$1,336/month).

Expatriate families can also choose to rent a house-and-lot in gated communities around the country.

Schools & education

The Philippine educational system is based on the American system of education. Many Filipinos send their children to private schools for primary education. These private schools, which use both English and Tagalog (Filipino) as a medium of instruction, have become increasingly popular amongst Korean nationals wanting to learn English.

Many of the largest local schools are run by Catholic denominations, wherein boys and girls are taught separately until highschool. The tuition fees for the major local private schools can cost anywhere from PhP100,000 to PhP 200,000 (US$2,200-$4,500) a year.

There are also several international schools to choose from around the country. You will find many different international schools within Metro Manila, as well as in Cebu, Subic, Baguio, and Boracay.

International School of Manila, Brent International School and Cebu International School are some of the prominent schools under the American system. For those looking for European curriculums, one can inquire with the British International School or the German European School, amongst others. There are several other small locally run schools that are accredited by international institutions. For an elementary/primary education, tuition can range anywhere from US$2,000 (Reedley International School) to US$17,500 (International School Manila) a year.