Each year, InternationalLiving.com’s Global Retirement Index ranks the top 25 retirement destinations in the world, based on factors like climate, health care, fitting in, benefits and discounts, and cost of living. The Philippines – an archipelagic country of 7,000+ islands – made the 2018 list, scoring especially well in the Cost of Living, Fitting In and Entertainment & Amenities categories (it did not make the top-25 in 2019).
Though the Philippines is still a low-cost country, it did not rank at the very cheapest level for cost of living; that honor belonged to Cambodia, which got 100 of a possible 100 points. For 2018, the Philippines earned 90 – the fifth cheapest. (Vietnam came in second, at 96.) The country also scored 96 for "Fitting In" (is English spoken, are locals welcoming, is there an expat community, etc.), the second best of any nation. Only Ireland scored higher, earning 97.
For most people, the decision to retire abroad is a difficult one, and it can be even more of a challenge to decide where to settle down. With the world the way it is, issues of safety are of increasing concern, along with costs. The recent anti-drug violence in the Philippines should be factored in with other issues.
Here, to get your research started, are some of the pros and cons of retiring in what is considered one of the world’s best retirement destinations: the Philippines.
Low Cost of Living
Many choose to retire overseas in order to find a lower cost of living. The Philippines doesn’t disappoint, and most expats can live comfortably on about $800 to $1,200 a month – including dining out and in-country travel – according to InternationalLiving.com. The average retired U.S. worker’s Social Security benefit is $1,404 per month as of January 2018, which means your monthly benefit alone could be enough to cover your basic living expenses in the Philippines. An added perk: Household help is very affordable, so it’s possible – even on a tight budget – to hire someone to help with the cooking and cleaning.
The Philippines welcomes expats and even has a government agency dedicated to attracting foreign retirees. Expats here receive a number of financial benefits, including discounts for the 60+ crowd, the duty-free import of $7,000 worth of household goods, and exemption from airport travel taxes. In addition, expat residents are allowed to work or start a business. Also helpful: once you have permanent residency, you can stay in the Philippines for as long you like (your retiree visa does not expire), and you can leave and return without reapplying for residency.
The Philippines is known for its tropical climate and natural beauty. From the tops of its lush mountains to its colorful coral reefs – and everywhere in between – it’s easy to be in awe of your surroundings almost anywhere in the country. Its many beaches (remember those more than 7,000 islands) are perhaps the biggest draw: places like Boracay in Aklan, with its white sand and crystal clear blue water, and El Nido in Palawan, a richly bio-diverse area where limestone cliffs rise from the sea, attract people from all over the world.
In recent years, the Philippines has been one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, but problems with infrastructure could hold the country back. According to a recent World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, infrastructure problems are the leading economic obstacles the country faces. What does that mean to expats? Depending on where you live, you could experience power failures, prolonged water shortages, outdated telecommunication systems, and deteriorating bridges and roads.
Although expats have access to excellent and affordable health care in Manila, the country’s capital (International Living's 2018 list ranks the country 88 for health care), some areas in the Philippines don’t offer the same level of care, lacking both infrastructure and investment. This can be especially problematic for expats who have chronic conditions that require regular treatment, or who have conditions that would be considered out of the ordinary.
The most recent violence issue is the campaign against drugs launched when President Rodrigo Duterte came to office on June 30, 2016, that had resulted in thousands of deaths. The Philippine Senate is investigating the deaths, and President Duterte told legislators not to interfere, warning that they could be arrested or killed if they blocked actions directed to improving the country.
A recent Philippines Travel Advisory from the U.S. Department of State, dated Jan. 24, 2018, urged U.S. citizens to "exercise increased caution in the Philippines due to crime, terrorism, and civil unrest." It further stated that citizens should avoid travel to the Sulu Archipelago, including the southern Sulu Sea, due to crime, terrorism, and civil unrest. It also urged citizens to stay away from Marawi City in Mindanao due to terrorism and civil unrest and to reconsider travel to other areas of Mindanao for the same reason. The advisory suggested citizens reconsider traveling to "the vicinity of Mayon Volcano in Albay Province, Luzon due to volcanic activity." Certain regions in the Philippines are generally considered as safe as other places in Southeast Asia.
The advisory noted that "terrorist and armed groups continue plotting possible kidnappings, bombings, and other attacks in the Philippines. Terrorist and armed groups may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. The Philippine government has declared a 'State of National Emergency on Account of Lawless Violence in Mindanao.'"
Note: U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in the Philippines are encouraged to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which provides security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you and/or your family in case of an emergency.
The Bottom Line
The Philippines is home to a well-established community of expats who have retired overseas in search of a better climate, change of scenery, new cultural experiences, affordable healthcare and a lower cost of living. The Filipino people are very warm and welcoming to foreigners, and the country offers a number of incentives to retirees.
Making the decision to retire abroad – and figuring out where to go – are difficult steps that take lots of research and planning. Like every other country that might be on your list of potential retirement spots, the Philippines has both its pros and cons. Each should be carefully evaluated before making any decisions.
It’s a good idea to visit the area, preferably more than once, before making any decisions about retirement. Try to visit from a resident’s perspective, rather than as a tourist.