Your guide to expat life in Philippines

Living in the Philippines

With a reasonable cost of living, delicious local cuisine and an abundance of beautiful beaches, there are plenty of advantages to living in the Philippines.

According to our 2018 Expat Explorer Survey, most expats (72%) find it easy to integrate into their local Filipino community. For expat families, there’s a good selection of international schools, and private healthcare is inexpensive by global standards. You’re also spoilt for choice when it comes to travel opportunities; as well as exploring the many islands in the archipelago, you can also use the Philippines as a launch pad for adventures across Southeast Asia.

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Accommodation

Most expats in the Philippines live in the Metro Manila area, particularly in Makati City, which is home to many international corporations and is the heart of the country’s diplomatic community.

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Finding accommodation

From luxury condominiums to houses in gated communities, there’s a variety of accommodation to choose from. While furnished apartments are easy to find, most houses are unfurnished. The newer the building, the more likely it is to have air conditioning, which is a necessity in the Philippines’ tropical climate. Be aware that some properties don’t have Western toilets.

Renting property

Most landlords prefer two-year leases, but short-term contracts are sometimes available. In addition to a deposit of two months’ rent, you may have to pay at least a year’s rent up front.

Utilities

Not all rental prices include utilities such as water and electricity, which can be expensive. You may also have to cover the maintenance costs for any air-conditioning units.

Culture changes

Although Filipino culture has been heavily influenced by European and American traditions, most expats still take time to adjust to their new lifestyle.

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Body language

Expats are usually forgiven for making gestures that are considered offensive in Filipino culture, but it’s worth doing some research before you move. For example, you should avoid standing with your hands on your hips as this is a sign of anger – and staring or prolonged eye contact is seen as aggressive.

Dining out

Filipinos love to eat and drink. When you’re invited to a meal or banquet, turning down any food offered to you is an insult to the host, as is placing your elbows on the table when you’re eating. In rural areas, it’s common to see locals eating with their hands. If you want to try this yourself, don’t put any food on your palms.

Etiquette

Filipinos try to disguise emotions like anger or embarrassment – so they may smile or laugh at times you consider inappropriate. They also avoid conflict and it’s not unusual for them to say yes when they mean no. The custom of ‘utang na loob’, or debt of gratitude, is also very important. Filipinos don’t forget good turns and even the smallest favour is considered a significant gesture.

Gifts

The custom of exchanging gifts is observed throughout the Philippines. If you’re invited to a Filipino home, it’s polite to take a gift for the host, but avoid giving food or drink. The exception to this would be a speciality from your home country. Presentation is important – so wrap gifts elegantly.

Education

Schooling in the Philippines has been shaped by its colonial history, and today’s education system is largely modelled on the USA. Classes are taught in Filipino and English at all public and private schools. The academic year runs from June to March, with the main holidays in April/May and December/January.

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Public schools

Public schools are funded by the government. The quality of education is poor, classes are large and resources are lacking – so most expats send their children to international schools.

Private schools

Many private schools in the Philippines started as Christian missionary schools. They follow much the same curriculum as public schools, but facilities and resources are usually a lot better.

International schools

Most of the Philippines’ international schools are in Manila, with many catering for American, British, French, German and Japanese nationals. Some follow the curriculum of their home country, and classes are taught in that language, while others offer the International Baccalaureate. Admission may depend on a personal interview and fees are high.

Use a range of social media to get in touch with people.

Robin Pascoe, Expat Explorer guest blogger

View more hints and tips for Philippines

Keeping in touch

Landline

PLDT is the main landline provider. There are sometimes problems making local and long-distance calls and services can be disrupted by severe weather. Most properties come with a line. If you need to install one, you may have to wait a few days.

Internet

The main Internet providers are Bayantel, Globe, Eastern Telecoms and Smart. They all offer cable, ADSL and fibre packages at reasonable prices. Free Wi-Fi is available at shopping malls, coffee shops and airports. And there are plenty of Internet cafés in the cities, although they’re less widespread in rural areas.

Mobile

The main mobile companies in the Philippines include Globe, PLDT and Smart. Both contract and prepaid options are available.

English media

The Philippines has a good selection of English-language newspapers. The most popular include the Manila Bulletin and The Philippines Daily Inquirer.

Postal services

State-owned Philippine Postal Corporation (PhlPost) has a reputation for being unreliable – so you may prefer to send important letters and parcels by courier. Mail is delivered to your home or office, or you can rent a mailbox at your nearest post office.

Healthcare

Healthcare standards in the Philippines range from excellent to very poor. Hospitals in the major cities are generally of a high quality, but those in rural areas often lack infrastructure and investment.

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Public healthcare

Although doctors at public hospitals are well trained, equipment and facilities aren’t always up to Western standards. Most expats use private hospitals and will travel to Hong Kong or Singapore for specialist treatment.

Medical insurance

While citizens are entitled to free healthcare under the government-controlled Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), expats aren’t covered by the scheme – so you’ll need medical insurance, especially if you want to use private hospitals. Most expats choose an international policy, which has to be arranged before you arrive in the country.

Private healthcare

You’ll find a good choice of private hospitals in the major cities. Although expensive by local standards, they’re cheap compared to most Western countries and the level of care is excellent.

Pharmacies

Most pharmacies in the Philippines are staffed by well-trained pharmacists. Some local supermarkets also stock basic over-the-counter medications. Controls on prescription medicines are very strict – and scripts written in another country must be approved by a local doctor. Signs for pharmacies are in English and easy to spot.

Emergency services

Emergency services are available in all major cities, but they’re limited in more remote areas.

Health hazards

Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are endemic in some parts of the Philippines, particularly during the rainy season between June and November – so you should take adequate precautions to avoid being bitten.

Getting around

Public transport in the Philippines is often crowded, especially during peak times – so most expats choose to drive or use taxis to get around.

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Driving

City roads are often chaotic, with drivers routinely ignoring red lights and stop signs – and overcrowded pavements mean that pedestrians also use the roads. If you’re staying in the country for more than 90 days, you’ll have to get a local driver's licence from the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

Taxis

Most taxi drivers speak basic English. All taxis are metered and you should ensure that the meter is activated as soon as you set off. It’s normal practice to give drivers a small tip.

Trains

The national railway service covers most of the country – and long-distance train travel between the major cities is becoming increasingly popular. Metro Manila’s regional service extends to its suburbs and outlying provinces, while the Bicol Express train with air-conditioned sleeper cars is a good way to travel between Manila and Naga.

Buses

Not all buses are air conditioned and most are very crowded, especially in the cities. Their destinations are displayed on a large placard, but getting off at the right place can be tricky because many bus stops are little more than a rundown hut.

Boats

Boats and ferries are a popular way to get around the Philippines archipelago. Traditional ‘bangkas’ are the most common type of transport for short distances. Ferries are more comfortable, with several companies offering daily trips between the islands. The fastest option is a catamaran – many of these travel between the bigger islands.

Jeepneys

These converted military Jeeps left over from World War II are a popular mode of transport for Filipinos. They’re a cheap way to get around and the colourful decorations embody Filipino culture. Jeepneys don’t have specific stops - you can hail them anywhere along their designated routes.

Air travel

The main airports in the Philippines include Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Clark International Airport in Angeles City, Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu and Subic Bay International Airport in Subic Bay. The national carrier is Philippine Airlines, which is the oldest commercial airline in Asia.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in June 2018. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.