Retirement in Philippines Primer

While many American retirees opt for Thailand, more and more are seeing the benefits of retirement in the Philippines. 

The Southeast Asian nation offers attractive living costs, a much lower cost retirement visa, excellent health care and most of all, an English speaking environment. 

Let’s take a look at how easy it is to retire in the Philippines. 

Why People Retire In The Philippines

Retirement in Philippines

So, why opt for the Philippines for your senior years?

  • Medical care. Medical care in the Philippines is first rate. Many of the developed world’s medical staff hail from the country. You can hire a private, qualified nurse for much less here than anywhere else.
  • English speaking. Thailand is wonderful but English is not always easily spoken by locals. In the Philippines, everyone speaks English and the vast majority are fluent in English.
  • Low cost of living. Currently, the overall cost of living in the Philippines is ranked as the lowest in Southeast Asia. An area already known for its low cost of living. 
  • Low cost retirement visa with solid benefits. While the Thai retirement visa may be cheap, the only benefit it has is that it allows you to reside in China. The Phillipines goes over and above this (see below). 
  • Great weather. The Philippines is also a tropical nation and everywhere in the country is warm all year round. 

How To Retire In The Philippines

Step 1 – Get A Retirement Visa For The Philippines

Retirement Visa For The Philippines

The Philippines has an awesome retirement visa program. It’s called the SRRV (Special Resident Retiree’s Visa) and it is, by far, the best value of any such program in Southeast Asia.

Holders of an SRRV are exempt from the annual reporting requirements of most expats (in Thailand you have to report to immigration every 90 days), they do not need a re-entry permit to leave and come back into the country as the visa is truly multiple entry.

They are exempt from the “travel tax” (a fee applied at airports in the Philippines to most long-term residents) and they get a one-off customs fee exemption for up to $7,000 of household goods. 

In addition, they get access to the “Greet & Assist” program at the nation’s airports, discounts and a free newsletter, free assistance when dealing with the government and most of all…

…they get free access to the national health insurance program Philhealth!

We would point out that Philhealth doesn’t cover very much and you will need to top it up with other insurance but this is still an incredible benefit.

Oh and the visa is easier to obtain than the Thai visa, though slightly more expensive, and you do not need to tie your money up in a bank account, forever, either.

You will need to:

  • Deposit $20,000 in a local bank account
  • Or deposit $20,000 in a bank account and then spend it on a long-term lease or use it as part of the costs of a condo (minimum $50,000)
  • Or demonstrate a pension of $800/month and place $10,000 in a bank account and then spend it on a long-term lease or use it as part of the costs of a condo (minimum $50,000)
  • Or demonstrate a need for health care services, place $10,000 in a local account and have a pension of $1,500 a month plus some form of health insurance
  • And if you are an ex-serviceperson from the US military? You only need a deposit of $1,500 and a pension of, at least, $1,000!

The visa itself, however, is more expensive than in Thailand.

The initial cost of the visa program is $1,400 for the application and then $360 per year spent in the country. 

However, if you add up the value of the benefits – the visa pays for itself. 

If you want to visit the Philippines prior to retiring, you can get a tourist visa easily from a local embassy or you can fly to the country and get a 30-day exemption on arrival. 

The tourist visa and the 30-day exemption can be extended (for a fee) for up to 3 years while you’re in the Philippines too!

Step 2 – Make Sure You Can Cover Your Living Expenses

Make Sure You Can Cover Your Living Expenses

Most retirees opt for Dumaguete or Bohol to live in. These are pleasant seaside towns with relatively low costs of living.

It’s worth noting that it’s not free to live in the Philippines and if you don’t have a pension, you will need some sort of income – check out the best paid work for retirees or low stress work for retirees for some ideas on earning in your senior years. 

The two big cities of Cebu and Manila have expensive rents, for the region, and you can expect to pay $1,000+ per month for a decent sized Western-equivalent apartment in them.

Whereas in the rest of the country, you can rent a large house for $300-$400 a month (unfurnished) or a small-ish apartment for around $400-$500. 

Electricity is expensive and if you intend to run the air conditioning all day long, it is going to set you back up to $200 a month, per unit. However, if you learn to use fans most of the time, electricity can be kept under $100 a month. 

Internet can be had for around $40 a month and water won’t set you back more than $5 a month, unless you’re bathing a herd of elephants every day. 

Food and water are cheap and Western imported goods are cheaper than in the rest of Southeast Asia. Oddly, alcohol is also cheap. Expect to spend around $100-$300 a month of your food and drink

Everything else is relatively cheap in the Philippines and while you need a budget for fun and hobbies, what that is will depend on you.

You’ll need about $1,000 a month for a decent standard of life in the country and, perhaps, $2,500 a month if you want to live in Manila or Cebu. 

If you bring a partner, budget an extra $500 a month, no matter where you are. 

Step 3 – Jump On A Plane and Move The Philippines

Jump On A Plane and Move The Philippines

As long as you don’t want to bring too many possessions with you, this is the easy bit.

As an SRRV holder, you can send up to $7,000 of household goods in a container and pay no customs tax. 

You will also not be taxed on any personal items, no matter what their value, in your luggage. 

So, you can book a flight – which will cost between $700-$1,200 for economy and maybe $2,500+ for business from the US to Manila and then catch a local flight to the part of the country you will live in.

Please note: the Philippines is a bunch of little islands and it is often impossible or incredibly time consuming to go from one place to another by road. You usually need to fly. 

Just watch out for Taxi drivers at the airports who can try to rip you off – it’s better to use the “Grab” app on your phone to book a taxi. This guarantees a fair price for your journey. 

Final Thoughts On Retiring In The Philippines

The author has spent nearly 5 years in total in the Philippines and while he’s not retired there, it’s a safe and fun place to retire. 

It is not as developed as Thailand but the lower costs and the fact that everyone speaks English can make it very much as attractive to the discerning retiree. 

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