Where is the best place to live in the Philippines, and how to move?

What are things to consider when choosing a place to live in the Philippines?

Not every expat or immigrant can choose their own living location; if you work for an international or Filipino employer you will most likely be connected to a certain region or city. If you have more freedom in deciding where to live, check the list below. Of course personal preferences (city life or not, safety issues, climate etc.) influence the eventual choice.

Each place in the world has its own charm and positive and negative sides, the Philippines is no exception to this principle. If you look at the country in general, the most popular places for foreigners are the big cities like Manila, Cebu, and Davao. This is due to relatively good facilities and the presence of many international companies. 

  • Manila: the capital of the Philippines located in the province Luzon. Like most other big cities: busy, safety issues, health issues, but all facilities present. The business district in Metro Manila is Makati and BGC; a modern living environment but pricy and many traffic jams when leaving or entering.
  • Tagaytay: a city located 1,5 hours driving from Manila, it has an expat friendly setting and is cheaper than Manila especially when considering how close it is to the capital.
  • Baguio: cooler than e.g. Manila, located on top of a mountain. It is colder there and there is more chance of rain. At the busiest moments there can be traffic issues. It will take a six hour drive from Manila to reach Baguio.
  • Subic: also located on the island Luzon. Subic is a city that is growing rapidly, with good beaches close by, it is slightly warmer here. Near Subic is an airport.
  • Cebu: biggest city in the province Visayas. It's a big and busy city with all facilities present and some nice beaches. A lot of expats who prefer living and working in a big city, prefer Cebu over Manila.
  • Davao City: Biggest city in the province Mindanao, there are some safety issues in this province.
  • About three out of ten foreigners live in the National Capital Region (NCR), the region of Metro Manila. 
  • If you search for a place to live in the Philippines and climate circumstances are important to you:
    • The south of the Philippines is generally cooler and less typhoons arrive here.
    • Places like Tagatay, Laguna, Batangas and Cavite are cooler.
    • Visayas can become quite hot, but there are more beaches here and it is less pricy than Metro Manila.
    • More pleasant locations (to live or visit) are Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, Leyte, Mindanao, Davao, Malaybalay, Iligan, Misamis and Palawan.
  • When it concerns your living budget, it will be more expensive to live in Metro Manila, Angeles, Baguio or Cebu compared to a location outside of the biggest cities.
    • Previous expats and emigrants say that you can live perfectly fine with a budget of US$1.000 a month outside of the most popular areas, with your family in a (relatively) small apartment. Of course this depends on your living pattern and living preferences.
    • Others live for around $800 a month (with an active social life).
    • In bigger cities you can also live for well beneath $2.000 in a nice apartment and still be able to afford taxis, dinners etc.
    • If you choose to live in one of the expat communities you will spend this in a multitude.

I would find a $1,000 budget a comfortable level for a single person; in particular if you didn't want to be in the heart of a big city, sample all the restaurants, visit all the bars, and don't need to travel constantly. I think a happy medium would be to get far enough away from a larger city to find lower rents, a good public market (cheaper than western-style supermarkets), and not as many places to go spend money, but close enough to take a bus (or Jeepney, etc) to the larger city when you feel the need.

Philippines expat

I have lived for 25 years in Davao City and I must say it is the best place to retire. The place is accessible to domestic and international routes, with a state of the art international airport. Beach facilities are available in less than an hour, with virgin areas, clean, and food that is truly affordable and fresh. The medical facilities and expertise of doctors are at par with that of Manila.

Philippines expat

I live in the Bicol region of Luzon in the province of Albay. I'm in a farming area about 1.25 hours from the nearest "large" city (Legazpi) but we do live in town. Our budget is about $850 per month and we don't have to work very hard to make that budget. The budget was not set in order to just "get by", it's just what we found we spent over a few months.

Philippines expat

What to do?

  • Get as much information as possible for you to understand (the differences in) living environments and provinces of the Philippines and provide indications of living budgets based on personal experiences.

What are points of interest for building or buying in the Philippines?

  • As a foreigner you are officially not allowed to be owner of land/property in the Philippines, unless you are married to a Filipino (and the land/property is on the name of the Filipino).
  • Corporations and partnerships that are legally owned by a Filipino for 60% or more can buy land and build on it.

What are the options for long term housing in the Philippines?

Finding a place for long term stay in the Philippines can be accomplished through multiple ways. Depending on your employer you might have less influence on where to live or how to find housing.

  • You can find places through official organisations, when working for the Filipino government or as a diplomat in the Philippines. You will get in contact with home bureau's that offer official accepted foreign compounds incl. all needed facilities. These compounds tend to be luxurious but show little of the real Filipino life, Filipino guests have a hard time getting entrance.
  • Real Estate Agents that are specialized in helping western expats. These work in the big cities and have an overview per district; convenient for when you are orienting on your preferred location.
  • Free market through Filipino friends.
  • Online sites offer places to rent. You can immediately contact the landlord and prices tend to be negotiable.

Living in an apartment complex 

  • Apartment complexes are in most cases very secure and tend to have luxurious amenities.
  • To guarantee safety apartment complexes have a lot of requirements and rules that you and your guests have to comply to.
  • Always check the house rules to avoid any surprises after signing the lease contract. For example, in some cases you might find out that you are not allowed to bring any guests.

What can you do when not sure what to do?

  • Taking care of your first accommodation in a hotel, apartment or studio, which can create extra time to find a (definitive) living space.
  • Introduce yourself to the different districts and living environments in Manila. Driving or walking around can be a good way to get a feel of the different atmospheres.
  • Q&A taking care of temporary or permanent housing in the Philippines with suggestions of previous expats and emigrants.

What does an (expat) compound look like in the Philippines?

  • A Filipino village or subdivision in Metro Manila or other cities generally will not differ much from other compounds in different destinations.
  • Most of the time there is a security guard, for safety reasons at the entrance of the gate.
  • In most condominiums there is a desk on the ground floor, and the staff will call the announce the guests.

What are points of interest to keep in mind with renting (contracts) in the Philippines?

  • Decide whether you want a furnished or unfurnished home.
  • Length of lease contract is different depending on the type of housing. 6 or 12 months are common lengths for lease contracts.
  • Always check the house rules to avoid any surprises after signing the lease contract.
  • A deposit is very common and a couple of months rent ahead.
  • Sometimes proof of income is asked.

Considerations for transportation of furniture and goods in the Philippines?  

  • You can rent a van with 2 staff for around 2,500 PHP a day that can help you move furniture within Metro Manila.
  • There are organisations that can help when moving furniture overseas.

Can you put your furniture temporarily in storage?

  • Several companies offer storages rooms where you can deposit furniture or other goods.
  • Check online for reliable and affordable storage companies.

Shipping in transportation devices: car, boat and motor

  • When importing a car there are a lot of regulations to which you need to comply. 
  • It is very expensive to import vehicles and most expats decide to sell their car and use the money to buy a new one once settled in the Philippines.
  • Boats can be imported, but you will need to pay an import tax which makes it relatively expensive.

Are certain things difficult to get in the Philippines?

  • Common household appliances can be bought in malls. Check the quality carefully.
  • When you have trouble finding specific items you can try an online store. Healthy people interested in making food themselves can go online to find things like yoghurt makers, French press, and competitively priced blenders.
  • When ordering things online you should use domestic online stores (lazada is a reliable one). When receiving packages from oversees you might be required to pay high (33%) import tax when you pick up your package. It is therefore not advised to order from popular online stores oversees like alibaba.
  • Dairy products are scarce and expensive. Affordable choice in cheese and fresh milk is limited. The bigger and more varied supply of luxury (read; western) goods can be found in upscale supermarkets like Rustan's.
  • Dishwasher detergent can be hard to find. As most people don't have dishwashers and prefer dishes to be done by hand (often done by a helper) this is considered a luxury appliance. Therefore it can only be found in upscale malls and supermarkets.

What are points of interest when you want to take you pet(s) with you to the Philippines?

  • If you want to take one or multiple pets with you to the Philippines, keep in mind that not all living places allow their tenants to keep pets. When you arrive in Manila and plan to travel to another city in the Philippines after one or more nights staying in Manila, keep in mind that a lot of hotels do not accept dogs, cats and other animals.
  • You must obtain a Veterinary Quarantine Clearance to Import from the Bureau of Animal Industry in advance of your pet's arrival. This permit is good for 2 months. The permit must be applied for online or in person.
  • Check additional Health requirements, like rabies-vaccination and other vaccinations, minimum age of puppies and kittens.
  • Pets can arrive in Philippines in the cabin or as checked baggage or air cargo at the international airport at Manila.
  • All domestic dogs and cats must be free of evidence of disease communicable to humans when examined at the port of entry to the Philippines.
  • Some animals, like birds of any kind, are not allowed to enter the Philippines.
  • Always check up-to-date laws since they change regularly in the Philippines and sometimes depend on precise destination.
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