The Philippines is an English-speaking archipelago nation with much to offer retirees and others seeking a low-cost yet comfortable life in an exotic locale. With just a little care, a $1,000 monthly budget will go far in this country, providing everything you need to make a new home and enjoy your life. In fact, in International Living magazine's 2015 study of international retirement destinations, the Philippines ranked behind only Nicaragua and Vietnam in the Cost of Living component. Whether you decide to live in the city, in the highlands or near the beach, you should have no trouble making your budget, likely with funds left over for dining out, entertainment and perhaps some travel.
Top Low-Cost Cities
The Philippines is home to a diverse natural environment consisting of more than 7,000 islands. While there are many worthy and inexpensive destinations in the country, expatriates tend to cluster in developed areas that provide access to services, health care and other amenities. Additionally, while English is an official language in the Philippines, it is not widely spoken in less-developed, rural areas of the country.
For a big city lifestyle, the national capital of Manila, located on the northern island of Luzon, delivers all the hustle and bustle you could want. Most expatriates, however, opt for smaller cities dotting the length of the archipelago. North of Manila on the island of Luzon, the mountain city of Baguio is a terrific option for those interested in a cooler climate at 5,000 feet. Moving south along the archipelago to Cebu island, Cebu City and nearby destinations provide access to modern amenities in a Filipino center of commerce and education. Southwest of Cebu City, Dumaguete is a port town on Negros Island, popular for its seaside location and diverse natural attractions. On the far southern island of Mindanao, Davao City is a large metropolis with modern amenities and easy access to beaches and mountains.
Rent and utilities can be exceptionally cheap in the Philippines. According to the international price comparison website Numbeo.com, rent for a centrally located one-bedroom apartment in cities such as Davao City, Baguio and Dumaguete is between $155 and $220 per month on average. A centrally located three-bedroom apartment goes for about $325 in Davao City, $380 in Baguio and $420 in Dumaguete. Prices for apartments in outlying areas are generally 25 to 35% cheaper, a terrific bargain if you are willing to live outside the city center.
Manila and Cebu City are more expensive. One-bedroom apartments in central districts near services, shopping and entertainment cost a little more than $400 per month in both cities. While rent over $400 is probably manageable on a $1,000 budget, you may want to make things easier on yourself by considering cheaper options in outlying areas where a similar apartment is under $200. A three-bedroom condominium in central Cebu City is about $600 on average, while the same accommodation in Manila is over $1,000 per month.
Utilities are generally very reasonable, especially if you avoid around-the-clock air conditioning. Outside of Manila, utility costs including electricity, water and garbage service are typically around $30 to $50 per month. Unlimited broadband Internet service averages $35 to $45 per month. In Manila, utilities average around $80 per month, and Internet service costs about $66 per month. Prepaid cellphone service costs between 15 and 18 cents per minute across the country, and may be cheaper depending on current service plans and promotions.
You should have no trouble eating very well on less than $200 per month if you dine mostly at home and stick to Filipino food brands and local fruits and vegetables. Many staple foods common to the American diet are cheap and plentiful in the Philippines. A dozen eggs costs less than $1.50, the same as a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Rice is under 50 cents per pound, bread is less than $1 per loaf, and locally produced cheese is about $2.65 per pound. Pasta and other packaged foods familiar to expatriates are widely available in most of the country. Fruits and vegetables are sold in open-air markets and grocery stores across the country, usually at substantially lower prices than in the United States.
According to Numbeo.com data, basic and mid-range restaurants are cheap enough that you can afford to eat out on a regular basis if you choose. A simple but tasty and hearty meal at a busy local restaurant costs a little more than $2 on average. A three-course dinner at a mid-range neighborhood restaurant costs about $13 for two people, not including alcoholic beverages. A half-liter Filipino bottle of beer is about 86 cents, while a 12-ounce import costs $1.72. Beer prices are slightly cheaper at local markets.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that tap water is unsafe to drink in the Philippines. Bottled water is widely available and inexpensive throughout the country. A 1.5-liter bottle costs about 74 cents on average. In most cities, 5-gallon containers are also available at an even lower price per volume.
Health Care Expenses
Many cities in the Philippines, including all those mentioned, have first-rate hospitals with modern equipment and highly trained medical professionals, many of whom were educated in the U.S. However, access to quality care is generally rather limited in smaller cities and in rural areas of the country. International Living magazine reports that many expatriates choose to forgo health insurance because the costs of care are so low in the Philippines. While self-insuring is definitely an option, expatriates may choose to purchase a health insurance policy. PhilHealth is the public health insurance option in the Philippines; policies are also available from private insurers.
Basic living expenses including personal hygiene products and household cleaning products are generally inexpensive in the Philippines. Items such as clothing, contact lenses, home decorating items, souvenirs and the like are generally much cheaper than similar goods in the U.S. if you shop wisely and purchase local brands. Although these types of expenses vary from person to person, most expatriates should be able to meet a budget of $100 per month for these items.
Public transportation is widely available in Filipino cities. In most cases, there are at least several different options, including taxis, motorized tricycles, jeep taxis known as jeepneys and public buses. A one-way trip in the central city districts costs as little as 17 cents on a bus or tricycle. Taxis start at less than $1 plus approximately 50 cents per mile.
A Final Budget
Basic living costs in Dumaguete, Davao City or Baguio might include $225 for a nice one-bedroom apartment in a good location; $200 for groceries; $125 for utilities, Internet and cellphone service; $100 for personal and household items; and $40 for transportation. This budget leaves $310 to spend on health care, better accommodations, dining out, travel or another personal priority. You might also consider committing some funds to a special account for emergencies or other needs.