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Moving to the Philippines: The Ultimate Guide for Expats

You’ve probably heard of their picturesque beaches and scenic landscapes, but did you know the Philippines is the most pro-American country in the world? Thus, it’s no surprise that millions of Americans are considering moving to the Philippines and finding a place to settle. If you are one of them, you’ve come to the right place because we’ll cover everything you should know before boarding the plane to the Philippines.

Before focusing on the details and explaining each aspect, we should revisit the basics and see what the Philippines are all about. For instance, did you know English is one of the two official languages in a country with over 120 spoken languages? Here are other things to know before moving to the Philippines.

Updated: 12/12/2022
Read time: 15 minutes
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Moving to the Philippines: Checklist

Another thing we advise before scouting for houses or looking for employment in the Philippines is to go through this checklist:

  • Use online resources to learn about the Philippines
  • Check job vacancies and your eligibility for work
  • Figure out visa requirements and procedures
  • Gather the required documents
  • Submit the necessary documents for a long-stay Philippine visa
  • Look for accommodation and transport options
  • Buy a plane ticket to the Philippines
  • Get health insurance
  • Get your shots and medications
  • Pack your belongings

If you have done none of these things yet, don’t worry because we’re here to help. So, now it’s time to learn more about each point on the list so we can start crossing them off.

Visas, Work Permits, and Residency Requirements

Most countries offer several types of visas, and the Philippines is no exception. Everything depends on the nature of your visit and the duration of your stay. Thus, understanding the Philippine visa requirements is essential for a successful move or employment.

For instance, visitors coming from the United States of America or one of 156 other countries don’t require a visa for stays up to 30 days. However, you must have a two-way ticket with a return journey scheduled earlier than the expiry of your visa-free travel and a passport with at least six months of validity beyond your stay in the Philippines.

People who plan to stay longer than the allowed visa-free period must obtain a permit from the Philippine Embassy or a consulate. Namely, people planning to emigrate to the Philippines can apply for the following visa types:

  • Temporary Visitor’s Visa
  • Special Non-Immigrant Visa
  • Non-Quota Immigrant Visa
  • Quota Visa
  • Student Visa
  • Special Resident Retiree Visa (SRRV)
  • Special Investor’s Resident Visa (SIRV)
  • Treaty Trader Visa (9D Visa)
  • Employment Visa–9G Working Visa

There are several ways to apply for a visa, with the processing time depending on the applicant’s nationality:

  • You can visit the consulate of the Philippines in your home country
  • You can hire a third-party agency
  • You can apply for a visa on arrival at an international airport.

Depending on the visa type, Americans moving to the Philippines will have to submit the following documents:

  • Filled and signed visa application form
  • Visa fee payment
  • A valid passport (with photocopies)
  • 1x recent passport-size photo
  • Ticket/flight reservation

Of course, the consular officer might require additional papers, so prepare in advance. For instance, people for a long-stay visa in the Philippines must submit profession-related documents.

Moving to the Philippines

Once you sort out the paperwork, it’s time to plan the trip and ensure a smooth transition to your new life. The Philippines is famous for its multicultural society sculpted by various influences, but many westerners may experience a cultural shock after arriving.

After all, this South-Asian melting pot has had a turbulent history with years of Spanish and American colonial rule. After its independence in 1946, the Philippines continued close relations with the US, with English as one of the official languages.

Nevertheless, if you are a US citizen moving to the Philippines, you’ll want to start the preparations as early as possible. For instance, booking a plane ticket is only the beginning since you’ll have to find a way to move your belongings, including pets and vehicles. In addition, adapting to life in a new environment will require plenty of research.

Moving Your Things to the Philippines

The Philippines attracts millions of visitors with its breathtaking beauty, rich history, and low living costs. However, relocating to the Philippines will not be without its challenges.

Namely, The Philippines is an island country, the second-largest archipelago in the world, with 7,641 islands squeezed between the South China Sea, Celebes Sea, and the Philippine Sea. The main island groups are Luzon, Mindanao, and the Visayas.

Unless you are an ultra-light traveler, you’ll need to ship your belongings to the Philippines, and this process typically requires professionals. In other words, hiring a removal company to pack and transport your possessions could be your best bet, albeit not the cheapest one.

If you are moving to the Philippines permanently, a removal company will arrange everything on your behalf, sorting out import duties and (potential) fees. Even so, taking out insurance to cover your belongings could be wise, besides making an inventory before sealing the container and sending it via sky or sea toward the Philippines.

Luckily, the Philippines has a favorable position, and its well-connected nature ensures plenty of air travel options for sending your possessions. Of course, air freight is cheaper and quicker than sea voyages, with most shipments from the US to the Philippines arriving within 60 days.

Moving Your Pets to the Philippines

If you are moving to the Philippines with a dog or a cat, start by checking import requirements and vaccinating your pet. A valid health certificate filled out by an accredited veterinarian is among the primary documents you’ll need to submit to the Bureau of Animal Industry in the Philippines.

Since relocation to the Philippines requires a long journey, kennel acclimation should also be on your checklist. Pets typically arrive at international airports in Manila or Cebu, with a 30-day quarantine period.

Note that you can’t bring birds of any kind into the country, while the relocation of exotic animals requires additional permits and documents.

Moving Your Vehicle to the Philippines

If you decide to immigrate to the Philippines, transporting your vehicle could be tricky but not impossible. Importing new vehicles in the Philippines is more straightforward than shipping a used car, even though plenty of bureaucratic paperwork awaits.

The authorities in the Philippines will categorize your vehicle as “new” if it hasn’t been registered yet, you are the first owner, and it has less than 125 miles (200km) on the odometer.

On the other hand, moving a used vehicle requires meeting elaborate criteria listed under the Executive Order 877-A from the Bureau of Import Services (BIS). If your car meets the requirements, the shipping will cost around $3,000, excluding taxes and import fees.

Adapting to Life in the Philippines

Many locals in the Philippines often shower foreigners with hospitality and friendliness, but this isn’t always the case. Day-to-day life in this scenic country is not without its challenges, and expats arriving in the Philippines will need time to adapt.

For instance, the Philippines is a left-hand drive country, making the transition more challenging for people from right-hand drive countries like the USA, Russia, China, Germany, France, and others. In addition, the chaotic traffic in metropolitan areas can be overwhelming.

On the other hand, expats in the Philippines can expect little to no communication barriers, low living costs, a tropical climate, and plenty of sightseeing opportunities.

Weather

The Philippines has a climate similar to the countries in Central America, with abundant rainfall, high humidity, and relatively high temperatures. In other words, the archipelago has a tropical and maritime climate influenced primarily by the monsoon season.

The so-called wet season in the Philippines lasts from June to November, while the dry period starts in December and ends roughly in May.

The tropical climate can be a double-edged sword, and we could include it in both the pros and cons of living in the Philippines. On the one hand, the country has many warm and sunny days you could spend lounging under the palm trees. However, high humidity can be unpleasant and often results in typhoons and tropical storms.

North of Manila, Baguio City receives the highest rainfall, while Cotabato City experiences the least rainy days.

Culture and Language

The Philippines offers a unique mix of cultures because this is the country where Asia, Europe, and America collide. Over the years, Spanish and American colonizers imposed their visions and values, giving an unusual twist on the Southeast-Asian way of life.

A diverse culture is among the primary benefits of living in the Philippines. For instance, the country boasts more than 170 indigenous languages with many more dialects across the archipelago. Yet, the official languages are English and Filipino, a standardized variety of Tagalog.

Because of the Spanish influence, Christianity is the dominant religion in the Philippines, making up approximately 90% of the population. Even so, the islands in the south, including Mindanao, Palawan, and Sulu, have predominantly Muslim communities, making up around 6% of the country’s population.

In addition, the Philippines are famous for their love of basketball, karaoke, flavorful food, and a relaxed approach to punctuality. So, if you are moving to the Philippines from the USA, prepare for these elements of everyday life.

Transportation and Infrastructure

The Philippines has a growing economy with various city-to-city transport options. Of course, the best methods for island-hopping are plane or ferry rides, but the Pan-Philippine Highway is the country’s transport and economic backbone.

When it comes to commuting, many people in the Philippines opt for the attention-grabbing jeepneys, colorful public utility vehicles that have become the country’s unofficial symbol. These minibus-like vehicles are synonymous with life in urban areas, even though modernization efforts threaten to oust the jeepneys from public roads.

We already said that a foreigner living in the Philippines must adapt to driving on the left, but a more significant problem could be bumper-to-bumper traffic and infamous jams. For example, Metro Manila ranks as the eighth worst city in hours spent in traffic

Uber is not available in the Philippines, but you can use Grab, the leading ride-hailing service in the country. In addition, public transport options in many cities in the Philippines include motorized tricycles, habal-habal, kalesas, and pedicabs.  

Cost of Living in the Philippines

It’s no secret that low living costs motivate many Americans to retire in the Philippines, but your lifestyle and location will influence your monthly expenses. Some Filipino cities are more expensive than others – nonetheless, the overall living costs are considerably lower than in the US or Europe.

Cheapest and Most Expensive Cities

The Philippines offers many attractive destinations for expats, from pricey, high-end neighborhoods to laid-back, more affordable areas. The country has something for everyone, even though your specific standard of living in the Philippines will depend on your salary and profession.

The cities with the lowest costs of living in the Philippines are:

  • Davao City
  • Dasmariñas
  • Bacolod City
  • Bacoor
  • Dumaguete City

Conversely, the most expensive areas in the Philippines include:

  • Makati
  • Metro Manilla
  • Quezon City
  • Silang
  • Cebu City

In 2022, the Filipino population had an average annual income of around $5,000, but the nation flooded with inflation shows massive income inequality. In addition, the global financial crisis could worsen the Philippines’ living conditions.

Working in the Philippines

Despite its problems, the Philippines has an emerging economy with plenty of multinational corporations operating offices in Makati and Metro Manila. International companies offer the most opportunities for expats, given that local businesses prefer to utilize the domestic workforce.

As a rule, expats in the Philippines should secure employment before moving to the country. After all, the hiring companies must prove they are hiring a foreigner for a position a Filipino citizen cannot adequately fill.

Various websites and platforms list jobs in the Philippines for expats, so browse the offering and apply for suitable positions. The Philippines offers plenty of opportunities for a skilled workforce, primarily in the IT sector and finances. Marketing specialists and business consultants should also find many vacancies.

Healthcare

The Philippines is among the biggest exporters of medical staff, and many doctors and nurses are leaving the country. The departure of skilled professionals affects the public healthcare system, meaning that expats typically opt for private hospitals and healthcare services.

For instance, the best options for health insurance in the Philippines for expats are with private insurance providers. At the same time, the country offers free healthcare through PhilHealth, a government-controlled scheme. Expats are obliged to enroll.

So, foreign nationals and their dependents will have insurance coverage, with access to affordable pharmaceuticals and public facilities. In addition, all hospital staff across the Philippines speak English. Yet, the quality of services and technology varies, with urban areas having state-of-the-art equipment and many rural hospitals lacking essential items.

School and Higher Education

For many young foreigners, high-quality education and an English-speaking population are the reasons to move to the Philippines. Besides the rich culture and friendly neighborhoods, the Philippines offers many private and international schools for expats.

On the other hand, public schools remain underfunded, with the lack of resources and learning materials affecting the overall quality of education. Nevertheless, the Philippines had more than three million university students enrolled in the 2019-2020 school year.

In addition, many expats choose to homeschool their children. This alternative is legal and allows for a tailored curriculum with extra guidance. On top of that, many schools offer home study programs and tutoring options.

Finances, Taxes, and Remittance

If you are living in the Philippines as an American, it’s essential to understand tax-related laws, procedures, deadlines, and exemptions. For example, you could avoid “double taxation” by claiming the credit on foreign tax via Form 1116.

Non-resident aliens in the Philippines are subject to a 25% tax on gross income, while those engaged in business or trade are subject to a 20% tax rate on the gross amount. At the time of writing, there’s no Value Added Tax (VAT) in the Philippines, and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are exempt from income taxes.

Another benefit of moving to the Philippines as an American is the current tax treaty between the countries since it facilitates taxation procedures. The crucial thing is to check your taxpayer category (resident citizen, non-resident citizen, resident alien, etc.), given that these classifications determine the taxpayer’s liabilities.

Of course, foreigners in the Philippines will have to open a bank account. Aside from international banks like HSBC, Citibank, Bank of America, or Standard Chartered, expats can open an account with a local institution like the Philippine National Bank or Metrobank.

Marrying and Starting a Family Abroad

Even if you are moving to the Philippines for work, you never know when love can strike. That’s why it is helpful to know a thing or two about marriage laws and requirements for starting a family in the country.

For instance, the Philippines recently banned child marriage, and spouses now must be of legal age (18+) to marry. Nonetheless, the average age of marriage is early, and societal norms expect you to have kids in your early twenties. A child-free existence is still taboo, especially for women in the Philippines.

The Catholic Church strongly influences Filipino society, which means divorce is illegal – making them, aside from the Vatican, the only place where courts forbid divorce. Likewise, foreigners could list the ban on same-sex marriages among the disadvantages of living in the Philippines, although the battle for legalization continues.

Buying Property in the Philippines

Although laws prohibit foreigners from owning land in the Philippines, there are a few possibilities for expats looking for a place to settle. Namely, purchasing a condominium is the preferred way for most foreigners, as long as Filipinos own at least 60% of the units in the building.

Of course, you’ll have to pay monthly fees for owning a condo unit, besides paying for shared amenities like gardens and pools.

Another option for setting your residency in the Philippines could be a long-term lease agreement. The Investor’s Lease Act allows foreign nationals to sign 50-year contracts, with an optional extension for another 25 years. The average interest rates on 20-year mortgages are around 7.1%.

Alternatively, you could purchase a property after marrying a Filipino national – but you’ll still be prohibited from owning land, and your name will not be on the title.

The last option would be to purchase land through business, but only if Filipino citizens own 60% or more of the company. Even so, the limit for purchasing residential land is 1,000 square meters of urban or one hectare of rural land.

Retiring in the Philippines

Foreigners moving to the Philippines to retire will have to jump through a few bureaucratic hoops, but the Filipino government has made the process as effortless as possible.

Notably, getting the Special Resident Retiree Visa (SRRV) shouldn’t be a problem as long as you meet the following criteria:

  • You are at least 50 years old and have a pension
  • You are at least 35 years old and deposit at least $50,000 in a bank account in the Philippines
  • You have no criminal records

Of course, applying for the SRRV program requires collecting a few documents, including a medical clearance and marriage certificates.

If you prefer retiring in the south of the Philippines, expect low living costs and quick access to breathtaking beaches. On the other hand, the northern parts allow hassle-free traveling to the USA, China, Japan, or Europe. In any case, the SRRV visa allows multiple entries and indefinite stays without constant renewals.

Conclusion

Although the Philippines recently tightened visa requirements, this picturesque Asian country is a popular destination for many westerners looking for a change in their lives. As you could’ve seen from our guide, there’s a lot to love about the Philippines. Of course, the country is not perfect, and that’s why we covered all the pros and cons hoping to help those planning a move to the Philippines.

How much money do you need to move to the Philippines?
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Darko Jacimovic

With over six years of writing experience, Darko is a prolific writer in multiple industries including, but not limited to, digital marketing, SEO, finance, and technology. Acquiring a BA in English pushed him to pursue his lifelong dream to conquer the internet and take over the SERPs with high-quality content. While looking for his next travel destination, Darko developed impeccable research skills that helped him craft some of the most popular stats pages on the World Wide Web.

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