Is moving to the Philippines for you?

moving to the Philippines

Many people choose to move to The Philippines for the low cost of living and lifestyle.   Australian expat in The Philippines, John, provides some information to help you decide whether moving to The Philippines is for you.

This article is written by John.  John left Australia in 2011 spending 3 months in Thailand, 5 years in China, 1 year in Portugal, and now resides in the Philippines.  He has been writing about his travels and observations of people and cultures during that time.

There is a surprising number of Australians who have opted to go and live in another country. Whether that is for retirement or for work is not important, but if many deem Australia to be the ‘lucky country’, then why do so many leave? This phenomenon is referred to as the Australian diaspora and it shows that more than 1,000,000 Aussies are living overseas. (

The break up is also interesting with almost half living in UK and Europe and another big percentage, 24%, living in Asia. For those of you who have travelled a bit in your lives, you know that there are some countries in Europe in which it is expensive to live, and you would need to be working or be relatively well off to reside in places like Italy, France and Germany, for example.

Asia is the preferred destination for many because, apart from countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, it’s a far cheaper lifestyle and no less interesting. In this article, we focus on moving to The Philippines.

Reconnaissance and Holidays

It should go without saying that you are not just going to ‘up stumps’ and commence moving to the Philippines to live without having some background knowledge and physical experience of the place. That would turn out to be a disaster waiting to happen. It just would not work. You would not last a month and be a lot poorer for the exercise. There are over 7000 islands in the Philippines but not all are habitable nor are many of them an option. You need to take at least 5 or 6 holiday breaks here, with two of them being the full 30 days allowed on your entry visa, to understand a little about the culture, the lifestyle, the people and most importantly, the cost.

There are 5 main islands on which are the bigger cities. Luzon, (Manila), Panay, (Iloilo), Cebu, (Cebu City), Mindanao, (Davao) and Samar, (Tacloban). Add in Mindoro and Palawan and that just about covers your options.

Customs, Language, People

Each of the islands have different customs and different festivals they celebrate. The food differs slightly from place to place but pork and chicken play a huge part in the daily viands with rice being the staple diet. Then there are the languages. On Luzon they speak Tagalog, on Panay they speak Ilongo, on Cebu they speak Cebuano, on Mindanao they speak Visayan and then there are different dialects. Don’t let the language barrier put you off though. Almost everybody speaks English, at different levels of expertise. You will rarely be stuck in a place where nobody speaks English.

Lifestyle for Men

This article does not want to appear sexist but the cold, hard facts of moving to the Philippines is that 99% of the residents from overseas are men. I have said 99%, but in the 7 years I have been associated with this country and all the expats I have met, I have NEVER come across an Australian couple residing here. So, it could be 100% expat male residency. They have all been men, mostly middle aged to elderly who have married a local Filipina, or are in a relationship with one. I don’t know a single female Australian friend who would agree to live here. The reasons behind that are many, and varied, and will be something we’ll look at in more detail in another article.

So, let’s assume you have visited the country a few times, love the lifestyle and are seriously considering moving to the Philippines. Here are a few considerations that you can think about:

Where to Live in the Philippines? – Beach or City

It doesn’t matter where in the Philippines you live, you are never far away from water. If you opt to live in the mountains you will have waterfalls. Anywhere else and you will have beaches. The colour of the sand will be your next decision after you decide on seaside living. There is black, brown, yellow, white and very white sand beaches from which to choose.

If you want to live on the beach, you can do just that. Find a piece of vacant land 10 metres from the water, buy it and build. To buy the land you have to be married to a Filipina.

City living might be your lifestyle choice. You will find most of the things you miss from Australia available in the bigger cities – Manila, Iloilo, Davao and Cebu. Other noteworthy cities are Cagayan De Oro, and Butuan. The provincial cities are going to leave you frustrated when you find you can’t buy simple pleasures in life like a nice wine, cheese and butter.

Cities or towns outside of those mentioned above can’t provide your western lifestyle, but if you like change then living among the locals can be quite an experience – good and bad.


Western drivers will need a complete re-training of their brain to drive anywhere in this country. There are no road rage incidents here although the driving habits will have you reaching for a weapon or at least letting loose with some angry words. Don’t waste your time getting angry, and don’t waste your time driving here until you lift your tolerance levels above western standards.

A new car here is as expensive if not more expensive than a similar model in Australia. Second hand is a good investment considering the standard of driving.

Rent or Buy

As previously mentioned, if you are not married to a Filipina, then you can’t own a house that is on a block of land. You CAN buy a condo that is on the 2nd floor and upwards. A condo in a big city will cost you about $70k to $150K depending on location and size you are after.

You can rent anywhere and for a reasonable rate. Again, rental costs depend on the property’s features and the location. Rental costs outside of cities are unbelievably cheap.

moving to the philippines and living in the philippines

Making friends

Locals – To make friends with locals will be easy if you live amongst them. Sadly, if you make friends with the really poor, then their motives will not be all that honourable. Just remember, regardless of the level of your friendship, you will never become a local. While people speak English if you want to communicate with you, all other communication is in the local language. If you don’t become fluent in the local language AND the dialect, you will never really know what’s going on around you. That will always give you a sense of isolation and the feelings that you are an outsider.

Expats – You will gravitate towards other expats, regardless of country of origin. You and your expat friends will have a lot in common – trying to get by and live in a strange country. However, you will find most of the expats have barricaded themselves behind castles with everything except a moat to keep people away. That style, by the way, is common even amongst the local people themselves. Theft is rife in the country and you need to protect what is yours.


You might find this the rawest aspect of moving to the Philippines. You are surrounded by poverty and will wonder, like I do, just how people get by. They have nothing. Many houses in the barangays (small suburbs) have no water, no toilet, certainly no air conditioning and some are without power. Some of the dwellings, and I use the term loosely, have been cobbled together using whatever scraps people have been able to find, salvage or steal. Turning a blind eye to it might sound harsh, but it’s impossible for you to consider helping everyone. The minute you start putting your hand in your pocket to help a little here, a little there, usually friends, or relatives of your partner, then that’s when you become a mark. And the requests will never stop…ever.

The Best Part

Aside from the negatives, your reason for thinking about moving to the Philippines is because there is a lot to do, unbelievably beautiful natural sites to see and enjoy, and the cost of doing it all is well within your budget. If you like a cold beer, you are going to have to part with about $0.80 for a cold stubby of San Miguel. Food is cheap and if you live here long enough, your craving for steaks, pies and pasties will pass, albeit you can catch up on the trip home.

What to do?

Island hopping and lazing around on amazing beaches, snorkelling, romantic walks on the white sand, standing under waterfalls, diving into rock pools, surfing at almost deserted beaches, or if you have settled here, enjoying a wine and a snack while sitting on your beach front house balcony as the sun sets, are daily opportunities that are very possible.

moving to the philippines and living in the philippines

Overseas Decorum

Remember, you are living in another country and their customs, religions and laws should all be acknowledged and tolerated. The normal frustrations will apply when opening a bank account, applying for visa extensions and generally dealing with bureaucracy. But if you take everything on board and make allowances for things being different to home, which they are, living overseas has some great advantages. Remember, you can always go back home!

Save money when moving to the Philippines

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About the author

Australian Expat Investor Contributor

These articles have been written by an Australian Expat Investor Contributor. Please see their details in the relevant post. The views expressed in the article are his or her own and may not reflect the views of The Australian Expat Investor. If you are interested in contributing an article or story to The Australian Expat Investor please visit our contact page.

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