Be prepared for your move to the Philippines with our guide to complete all the key pre-move steps.
Renowned for its tropical beaches, lush mountains, rich heritage, and warm hospitality, the Philippines has much to offer to both locals and foreigners. Yet its complexity as a developing country with over 7,000 islands also presents unique challenges.
With over 200,000 expats, the Philippines has a sizable and growing expatriate population, with most foreign residents and workers living in Metro Manila, which is composed of 16 cities.
Investing time to research ideal locations, housing, healthcare, schools, and visas will equip expats to thrive in the country. This article gives you a comprehensive checklist of essential things expats should consider before making the move.
Successfully navigating the Philippines' visa system is vital for hassle-free relocation. Be sure to research the critical visa categories thoroughly. Below are the common visa options:
Temporary Visitor Visa: Issued for up to 2 months with extension options, this allows foreigners to enter for conferences, medical treatment, business meetings and similar short-term purposes. This does not permit employment.
Alien Employment Permit (AEP): This is required for non-resident foreign nationals seeking employment. Application must be submitted by the employer to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
9g Pre-Arranged Employee Visa: This visa is issued to expatriate workers who have secured pre-vetted job offers from Philippines-based employers before arrival.
For sponsors to petition, they must first obtain an Alien Employment Permit (AEP) from the Department of Labor and Employment by attesting no qualified local candidates are available for the position.
Student Visa: This is for foreigners enrolled in accredited Philippine academic institutions. Valid for program duration, renewable annually until completion of studies.
Special Retiree Resident Visa (SRRV): As a special non-immigrant retired resident category, the SRRV confers extensive multi-year privileges for those seeing the Philippines as an overseas retirement or second home destination.
Compared to its neighbours in Southeast Asia, the Philippines offers lower costs of living than the more prosperous countries like Singapore and Hong Kong. As you decide where to live, consider factors like:
Research the regions: Cosmopolitan capitals like Manila and Cebu provide urban convenience, while island havens like Boracay and Palawan entice foreigners with tropical paradise living.
Budgeting: Establish a realistic budget for your housing expenses. Consider not only the monthly rent but also additional costs such as utilities, association fees, and maintenance. The Philippines offers a range of housing options, from affordable apartments to luxury condominiums.
Short-term accommodation: If you're not familiar with the local housing market, it might be wise to book short-term accommodation initially. This can be a serviced apartment or Airbnb. It gives you time to explore neighbourhoods, understand commuting distances, and assess the local amenities before committing to a long-term lease.
Local real estate websites: Utilise local real estate websites like Lamudi to get a sense of the available properties in your preferred area. This provides you with a list of rental properties, including pictures, descriptions, and contact information.
Legalities and contracts: Rental agreements typically involve a one-year contract with a two-month security deposit.
Proximity to amenities: Evaluate the proximity of your potential home to essential amenities such as supermarkets, hospitals, schools, and public transportation.
Major banks, such as Banco de Oro (BDO), Metrobank, and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), are widely recognised and have extensive branch networks. Explore their services, fees, and account types to find the one that best suits your needs.
Once you've chosen a bank, visit a local branch to open an account. Requirements may vary, but generally, you'll need valid identification (such as a passport), proof of address, and a visa if applicable.
Expatriate families in the Philippines often prefer international schools due to their globally recognised curricula, English-language instruction, and diverse student populations.
Familiarise yourself with the admission procedures of the selected schools. This may include entrance exams, interviews, and submission of academic records. Start the application process well in advance to secure a spot for your child.
The Philippines has two official languages: Filipino (based on Tagalog) and English. English is widely used in education, business, and governance in the country.
While English is commonly used in major metro areas, learning some key Tagalog phrases and familiarising yourself with local etiquette goes a long way towards cultural immersion. Respecting elders by using “po” and “ho” shows politeness.
Filipinos have a different cultural perspective on time compared to many Western cultures. They tend to have a more relaxed and fluid attitude towards punctuality called "Filipino time” but it’s mostly applied to casual events or internal meetings. For instance, showing up 30 minutes to an hour late to a birthday party is often not seen as rude or unprofessional. Official business with outsiders and foreigners will likely follow a stricter schedule. Government offices and banks often run on time.
The country experiences a tropical climate with high temperatures, humidity, and distinct wet and dry seasons. However, the Philippines is also prone to typhoons, especially during the rainy season.
Hot dry: March to May, characterised by high temperatures and minimal rainfall.
Rainy: June to November, with frequent rain showers and the highest chance of typhoons.
Cool dry: December to February, cooler temperatures, and less rainfall.
Navigating transportation in the Philippines can be an adventure in itself. In urban areas, foreigners and locals alike have access to a mix of options, ranging from iconic Jeepneys and tricycles to more contemporary modes like buses, taxis, and ride-sharing services like Grab. Jeepneys, in particular, are a unique symbol of Filipino culture, featuring vibrant decorations and serving as a popular and cost-effective mode of public transport.
However, traffic congestion is a major problem, especially in Manila, where commute times can be long and unpredictable due to heavy traffic jams. According to the latest Traffic Index Report by TomTom, Manila is ranked 2nd among 389 cities worldwide with the worst traffic. This makes getting around a challenge.
Healthcare quality varies between urban and rural areas. Major cities like Manila and Cebu have well-equipped hospitals, such as St. Luke's Medical Center, Makati Medical Center, and Chong Hua Hospital, with modern facilities and skilled medical professionals. They offer advanced medical and surgical care including organ transplants, robotic surgery, comprehensive cancer treatment, and diagnostics.
In contrast, rural areas have limited healthcare infrastructure. Healthcare staffing outside major cities tends to be deficient, as few doctors are willing to work in remote regions where career development and opportunities for specialisation are limited.
Having international health insurance can help expats navigate these potential challenges with confidence in case they need emergency care or want access to more advanced facilities and treatments.
Make sure your and your family’s health is protected when you move to the Philippines. With MyHEALTH, you have a customisable coverage choice that covers you not just locally but worldwide.
MyHEALTH is the most flexible health insurance plan in the market that allows you to tailor your coverage to fit your unique needs and budget, with the ability for every family member to customise their own plan.
If you’re new to the Philippines and plan to stay for the long term, then it’s worth digging deeper into the healthcare system. First, you need to know that healthcare in the Philippines is affordable for Western expats since it comes at a
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