From its gorgeous beaches to the buzzing industry of Manilla, the Philippines is one of Asia’s best countries for expatriates and retirees. With a huge English-speaking population and a wide variety of services aimed at foreign residents, this island archipelago is welcoming to foreign retirees and expatriates, both in its laws, its culture, and in its generally affordable cost of living.
Once a Spanish colony and later a temporary colony of the United States, the Philippines is home to a culture that’s unique in Southeast Asia. Unlike the French colonies of Indochina, or Thailand, a country that was never colonized by a foreign power, the Philippines was colonized by the Spanish during the Imperial Age, leading to a unique culture and a language that isn’t familiar to the region.
Years of American leadership and large doses of international television have made the Philippines one of the region’s most Western-focused countries, with a culture that has a lot in common with the countries of the English-speaking world. From industry to pop culture, life in the Philippines will be both familiar for English speakers, and different enough to keep foreign visitors interested.
Made up of over seven thousands islands, the Philippines is a diverse and interesting country. Most of the country’s infrastructure and activity is found in the northern regions, where cities like Manilla attract foreign investment and large corporations. Unlike Thailand and Vietnam, which are largely off limits to foreign capital, the Philippines is an easy country for foreigners to conduct business.
As with many other developing countries, the cost of living in the Philippines can range from costly and taxing to surprisingly inexpensive. Large condominiums in Makati City – a prosperous part of Manilla – can be found for around $1,000USD per month. This will generally include a two room unit, as well as access to a swimming pool and fitness center, both located in the same building.
Cheaper accommodation can be found in other areas, with small apartments available in cities like Manilla for little more than a few hundred dollars a month. It’s worth noting that crime is more of a concern in the Philippines than in nearby countries, and that it’s often worth spending slightly more on accommodation to ensure that you’re located in a safe, crime-free area.
Internet access is cheap and relatively fast throughout most of the country, with high-end areas like Makati City generally linked to T1 and broadband connections. Most apartments will come with an internet connection installed in advance, particularly those aimed at foreigners. For those that don’t have an internet connection, it’s relatively easy to set up your own independent phone line.
Cellular service is provided by several large telecoms and independent providers, with service on the cheap side throughout the country. Cell signals are generally strong, particularly in urban areas, and cellphones form the backbone of communications amongst Filipinos. Foreign residents can buy a prepay cellphone easily, or acquire post-pay service as a long-term resident in the country.
Unlike many other countries in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has taken a proactive approach to ensuring that foreign retirees are taken care of within its borders. Retirement visas are available through a government department known as the Philippine Retirement Authority. The program is aimed at allowing foreigners and former Filipinos to retire legally within the Philippines.
To qualify for a retirement visa, you must be aged above 35 years, have no serious criminal record, and pass a doctor’s physical exam. Some financial requirements are also included in the visa, such as a modest $75,000USD deposit to be made in the Philippines for any applicants under 50 years of age.
The retirement visa program has a variety of benefits for foreign retirees and expatriates. Some of the most important are that it allows foreign residents to open a bank account, purchase property in the Philippines, and register a corporation in the country. Others include the ability to lease areas of land that may have otherwise been restricted for non-residents located in the Philippines.
Retirees and expatriates are able to open up bank accounts in the Philippines from a variety of local and international banks. Bank of the Philippine Islands, one of the country’s largest banks, is known for allowing foreigners to open accounts without the ‘required’ Alien Certificate of Registration. For the most part, this policy seems to be enforced on a branch by branch basis in the country.
Several foreign banks operate within the Philippines, including HSBC and Citibank. These banks are known to require the ACR-I in order to open Philippines-based accounts, but will allow clients with accounts based in other countries to access their funds from the Philippines in many cases, as well as make changes to accounts from branches located within the Philippines.
While not famed for its food as much as Vietnam or Thailand, the Philippines is home to a variety of unique dishes and comfort foods. Grilled meat dishes are staples of Filipino cuisine, as well as a few unique dishes that may catch foreign visitors off guard. Eating is a staple of Filipino culture and many restaurants are open late into the night, serving up fresh food for locals and visitors alike.
Likewise, Filipinos love to have fun, and drinking and karaoke are a key part of entertaining guests in the Philippines. Karaoke is the nightlife staple, with hundreds of locals packing into karaoke pubs and bars on the weekend or after a hard day at work. Domestic beers and snacks are served, making the entire experience fun and particularly interesting for foreign guests that aren’t as familiar with the local customs.
The Philippines is a diverse country with several major ethnic groups and religious communities. A largely Christian country, many Filipinos are devout followers of the Catholic Church. Paintings of religious events are found in many homes, and religious holidays dot the calendar, particularly in the northern and central regions of the country.
Despite this, however, the country is home to several other religions. The southern islands are home to a large Muslim minority, as well as a distinctly different culture. If you’re retiring to a remote part of the Philippines, it’s always worth researching the local religious and spiritual customs, as they can vary dramatically from one part of the country to another.
From its sunny beaches to its large cities, the Philippines is a country that offers a great deal of variety for visitors. With a retirement visa program that’s more welcoming than those found in a lot of other countries, as well as a culture that’s immediately comfortable for foreign visitors, this island nation in the Pacific Ocean could be one of Asia’s best places to retire to for English speakers.