21 Things to Know Before Moving to the Philippines
If you’re strongly considering moving to the Philippines, binabati kita (congratulations)!
This beautiful, complex, almost uniformly friendly nation is home to dozens of cultures, thousands of islands, and more than 100 million people.
With beautiful beaches, wonderful wildlife, and a fantastic flair for food, you’ll always have a new area of life in the Philippines to explore.
Fill in the form at the top of this page to receive up to six free shipping quotes, and see how much it would cost to make the move of a lifetime – chances are, it’ll be less than you think.
The Palawan archipelago is one of many breathtaking Filipino provinces
1. This land is many lands
The Philippines is an archipelagic country made up of 7,640 islands, of which around 2,000 are inhabited.
So if you enjoy exploring, you’ll have a lifetime’s worth of new places to discover for yourself.
Enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Palawan, take in the stunning waterfalls and deserted beaches of Palaui, hike through mangrove forests and surf up a storm on Siargao island, then swim with wild whale sharks off the coast of Cebu.
And when you’re done with that, there’ll be thousands more islands to visit.
2. Prepare for heat and humidity
It’s hot and humid here, all year round.
January is the ‘coldest’ month, with an average temperature of 25.5°C, while May is the hottest, at 28.3°C on average, according to the Filipino government – but the mercury can soar much higher.
In May 2021, the temperature in the northern city of Tuguegarao hit 40.3°C, while the heat index (which calculates how hot it feels, based on the air temperature and humidity) reached 53°C in Dagupan in the same month.
This emphasizes just how overwhelming the humidity can be, and it’s high throughout the year, with monthly averages ranging from 71% in March to 85% in September.
3. The healthcare system is well below average
There are many compelling reasons to move here – but the Philippines’ public healthcare system isn’t one of them.
A 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ranked the Philippines’ healthcare 124th in the world, out of 195.
That’s 95 spots behind the US, which placed 29th.
The Philippines may have a higher ranking if it spent more than a measly 4.4% of its GDP on healthcare – a lower percentage than struggling nations like Sudan and Yemen.
As a result, around 30% of people in the country use private insurance.
If you’re thinking of moving to the Philippines, it’s wise to think about medical cover for when you’re out there.
4. Set your punctuality to Filipino Time
For many of the people here, the clocks run on Filipino Time – which is to say, whenever they want to arrive. Put simply, don’t expect people to be on time.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to the Philippines – there are at least a dozen other countries and cultures which have a relaxed approach to timeliness – but the reason it exists on these islands is interesting.
Filipino Time seems to have originated with Spanish colonists who wielded their lack of punctuality as a status symbol, to show that they could break social rules without consequence.
It’s got to the point now where some Filipinos even set an event’s start time an hour earlier than it’ll actually begin, just in case – so don’t show yourself up by arriving on time. If in doubt, ask the organiser.
5. You’ll get by with English – but learn some Filipino anyway
The Philippines has two official languages: Filipino and English. In fact, it’s the country with the fourth-most English speakers in the world.
You’ll be able to converse easily with 64 million people in the country, which is about two-thirds of the population – but nevertheless, you should try to pick up some Filipino.
English is used by the government, the media, and in business, but on the smaller islands – and even in your daily interactions with waiters, grocers, taxi drivers, and other people who don’t need English – a few words of Filipino will make your life easier.
Plus, when you realise you’re in a country containing 175 languages and dialects, learning one more won’t seem like too much to ask.
6. Food is flavorful and fresh
You may be nervous about your move, but if your taste buds know what’s coming, they’ll be ridiculously excited.
As soon as you physically can, try a Carabao mango. This incredibly sweet fruit is named after the country’s national animal, a domesticated water buffalo – and it’s delicious.
In terms of cooked food, Filipino dishes are typically hot, fresh, and meat-based. There are local specialties all over the country, but some meals are available nationwide.
You’ll inevitably try adobo, made by stewing chicken, pork, or both in soy sauce, vinegar, peppercorns, and bay leaves, before hopefully moving on to kare-kare, which combines oxtail with a rich peanut sauce. Don’t ignore the fermented seafood paste on the side, either.
If you’re feeling adventurous, see what you think of kamaro, a dish made with sautéed crickets – or just dive straight into the many delicious ways Filipinos find to eat every part of the pig.
Gorge on the decadent lechon – a whole spit-roasted pig, served with liver sauce – or enjoy finely chopped pork face, liver, and brain in a sizzling dish called sisig.
If you’re vegetarian, grab a deep-fried banana roll called a turon from the local market, then cycle through all the different fillings (cheese, coconut, jackfruit, mango, sweet potato, and more) to find your favorite.
And when Christmas rolls round, pick up a bibingka from a roadside stall. These coconut rice cakes truly make it the most special time of the year.
Kare-kare is delicious; we couldn't recommend it more strongly
7. Living costs are low
Life is cheap in the Philippines, particularly if you’ll be earning money at US levels.
Rent, transport, and restaurants are gloriously inexpensive – though you won’t find the same kind of bargains when it comes to popular consumer items like jeans, stylish trainers, and smart shoes.
Even the capital, Manila, placed 78th in Mercer’s 2021 Cost of Living Survey, making it cheaper than 14 American cities – and it was the only Filipino city to make the list.
8. Catholicism is king
92% of people in the Philippines identify as Christian, with Catholicism alone accounting for 81% of Filipinos. This is part of the legacy of Spanish colonists.
The Catholic Church’s influence in the country was shown during the bloodless People Power Revolution of 1986.
Manila Archbishop Jaime Sin’s appeal to protest President Ferdinand Marcos brought millions onto the streets, leading to the dictator’s peaceful overthrow and the restoration of democracy.
9. The country recently gained independence – from the US
In global history terms, 1946 wasn’t that long ago – and that’s when the Philippines gained independence from American rule.
Before that, Filipinos had to endure hundreds of years of Spanish imperialism, until the US took over following the 1898 Spanish-American War.
Filipinos started an armed struggle for independence against their new colonist rulers, leading to the three-year-long Philippine-American War, in which at least 200,000 Filipino civilians died.
Japan occupied the Philippines during the Second World War, resulting in the deaths of at least 500,000 Filipinos. The US liberated the country near the end of the war, before signing the Treaty of Manila to recognise the Philippines’ independence.
10. Filipinos love the US…
The good news, however, is that Filipinos feel extremely positive about the US.
80% of people in the Philippines have a favorable opinion of the US, according to the latest Pew survey.
Though this number has dropped since 2016 – when Donald Trump and the Philippines’ autocratic ruler Rodrigo Duterte were both elected – it remains higher than any other country in the world, apart from Israel and the US itself.
11. …even if the president isn’t always on board
In 2016, the Philippines’ autocratic ruler Rodrigo Duterte told the audience at Beijing's Great Hall of the People: “In this venue, I announce my separation from the United States.”
He later said that “Americans are loud, sometimes rowdy,” adding that their vocal chords were “not adjusted to civility.”
Duterte has made various attempts to distance himself from the US, which the Philippines has long considered a close ally, so his country can remain neutral in any future US-China conflict.
In 2021, Duterte admitted in a speech at Clark Air Base that his friendly overtures to China were part of this strategy, designed to avoid a “confrontation that would lead to something which we can hardly afford, at least not at this time.”
12. Duterte’s ‘drug war’ has killed tens of thousands
The Philippines’ president has repeatedly urged civilians and the police to kill drug addicts.
In 2016, he said: “There's three million drug addicts. There are. I'd be happy to slaughter them.”
Duterte’s so-called ‘war on drugs’ has caused tens of thousands of extrajudicial civilian deaths, according to a United Nations report.
As a result, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has asked for authorisation to start an investigation into crimes against humanity under Duterte’s rule.
Duterte was also linked to the extrajudicial murder of more than 1,400 alleged criminals and homeless people by vigilante death squads while he was Mayor of Davao City.
13. LGBT people have very limited rights
Gay sex is legal, and LGBT people are allowed to serve in the military – but that’s about it.
There’s no legal protection against violence or discrimination, either, which particularly affects transgender people, who also aren’t allowed to change their legal gender or name.
President Duterte has made numerous contradictory statements about LGBT people and their rights, seemingly changing his outlook based on who he’s speaking to.
In 2019, he told Filipino expats in Tokyo that he “used to be gay” before his second wife “cured” him – so don’t expect the country to become a safe haven for LGBT people any time soon.
There are green shoots of hope, however. Manila’s 2019 Pride March attracted a record 70,000 attendees, and in 2016, Geraldine Roman became the first trans politician to win a congressional seat.
14. You don’t have to tip as much
Forget everything you learned about tipping 20%.
Most restaurants will include a 10% service fee in your final bill, and a 10% tip will also suffice in salons, spas, and other similar businesses.
Round up your cab fare to the nearest 10 pesos, and do the same at bars.
In general, if you tip someone with a 20 or 50 peso bill (equal to 40 cents or $1, respectively), they’ll receive it with surprise and gratitude.
Taal Volcano in Batangas is active, so its beauty is best appreciated from a distance
15. Volcanoes, volcanoes, volcanoes
The Philippines sits on a seismically active area of the world known as the Ring of Fire, meaning you may have to deal with volcano-related evacuations, depending on where you live.
The Philippines has 24 active volcanoes, according to the government, and one of them, Taal Volcano, has erupted in both 2020 and 2021.
The 2020 eruption led to 39 deaths, with a six-week-long mass evacuation avoiding more fatalities, as entire villages were covered with ashfall.
In 2021, another explosion released more than 14,000 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air.
However, there are hundreds of other volcanoes where you’re free to hike, picnic, and explore to your heart’s content.
Just make sure you know which ones are dormant before choosing where you settle down.
16. Earthquakes are common
Earthquakes are also a large part of life in the Ring of Fire, as the Philippines’ islands lie on top of five separate fault lines.
At the time of writing, the past 30 days have seen 1,916 earthquakes.
Most of these were between 2.0 and 3.0 on the Richter Scale, but six were above 5.0, at which point cars can rock, windows can break, and poorly made buildings will almost certainly be seriously damaged.
During 2020, there were 88 earthquakes above 5.0 – so ensure you choose a home with strong foundations.
17. Basketball is huge here
The American influence on the Philippines runs deep, as shown by the nationwide obsession with basketball.
The Philippine Basketball Association is the second-oldest continuously running professional basketball league in the world, behind the NBA, and the country has the most Olympic wins of any Asian team.
The national team’s relative success – particularly regionally – is a source of pride, and means the game permeates every part of Filipino society.
From inner-city courts and backyards to prisons and cemeteries, basketball is played all over this nation.
“It’s often described as a religion,” NBA Philippines managing director Carlo Roy Singson told The New York Times.
The awe-inspiring Batad Rice Terraces are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site
18. No-one uses the internet like Filipinos
Think you go online a lot? Chances are, you don’t hold a candle to your new neighbors – but then again, nobody does.
People in the Philippines spend a globally unbeaten 10 hours and 56 minutes online every day, on average, according to the Digital 2021 Global Overview Report.
The US doesn’t compare – in fact, its daily average of 7 hours and 11 minutes is only just above the world average.
And this pattern repeats for social media usage as well, with people in the Philippines spending 4 hours and 15 minutes scrolling through posts every day.
In contrast, folks in the US dedicate just 2 hours and 7 minutes per day to social media.
19. Get ready for karaoke
Whether you’re walking down a street in the city center or visiting a friend’s place, you should prepare to be bombarded with karaoke.
Most Filipino homes own either a karaoke machine or a Magic Sing microphone, which transforms your TV into a karaoke screen.
Millions of Filipinos are in poverty, but these machines’ fairly expensive price tags don’t matter when they’re a near-daily necessity.
Karaoke is a go-to for everything from birthday celebrations and family nights out to corporate socials and community events.
So get ready to sing for your life – and watch out for videoke, which will score you on your performance.
20. Jeepneys are everywhere
When you arrive at your new home, you’ll see vehicles painted with psychedelic patterns and cartoon characters providing transport to around 18 people each.
Welcome to the land of jeepneys. These vehicles, which get their name from a portmanteau of ‘jeep’ and ‘jitney,’ were born from the US army jeeps left behind at the end of the Second World War.
There are now around 200,000 of these vehicles in the country, making them the most popular form of public transport. Jump on board, give the driver a mere 8 pesos (20 cents), and ring a bell when you want to get off.
Their varied, kitschy designs have formed an important niche in Filipino popular culture, but the government is currently trying to phase them out, in a plan which drivers say is “anti-poor” – so ride one while you can.
21. Politeness permeates the public, permanently
If you’re called ‘sir’ or ‘mam’ as soon as you land in the Philippines, don’t worry: practically all foreigners will receive this treatment, no matter their age.
Depending on where you come from in the US, this may be a shock or a welcome reminder of home – and the politeness doesn’t stop there.
Younger people will respectfully call relatives and friends who are slightly older than them ‘kuyas’ and ‘ates,’ which literally means brothers and sisters, respectively.
Seniors are referred to as ‘po’ for the same reason.
Young people will also kneel down, take an elderly person’s hand and touch it with their forehead in a show of respect called ‘mano’ that often occurs upon entering a home.
And if you’re elderly, pregnant, or have a disability, you’ll have your own queue at banks, restaurants, and taxi queues.