Can I Live in the Philippines For $770 USD per Month?
I wrote an article or two, both here and on my friend Bob’s Living in the Philippines web magazine, that concerned the question “can you live in the Philippines on $770 USD per month”? By the way I notice Bob has been kind enough to still have all my old living in the Philippines articles up there for general reading on his site … you might want to read them, once or twice I have managed to string a few sentences together to the made sense … the rest of the time? Well, I didn’t charge anything…)
Anyway, back to the magic $770 USD. Is it possible? Absolutely. Not only do about 70-something millions of the currently 100 plus millions of Filipinos live on a heck of a lot less than $770 USD per month, but I even know more than a few foreigners who approach that as a monthly budget figure … and a few who live on substantially less. One of Bob’s writers, John Miele, however, just wrote a nice article that points out something that I am not sure how to convey to many of my readers.
… There is a hell of a lot of money in this country. Income distribution is widely unequal, and the “have-nots” certainly struggle just to survive from day to day. But what about the “haves”?
Well, say that 5% of the population are well off. That equates to roughly 5 million people who are very much high-end consumers, most of whom live and work in Metro Manila.
These consumers demand all of the goods that one could find in Europe or the United States, both in terms of quality and availability. In other words, everything that you could expect to find in the West is available here… For a price.
That is what expats need to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to move here. Yes, the modern, top-line, feature-laden, LG refrigerator is for sale here, but do you want to spend the additional money to purchase this type of refrigerator, or would a simpler model suffice?
These are the types of questions you will need to answer when moving here. What is important to you and a “necessity” or what will be sufficient for your standard of living. Once you head out of Manila to the provinces, availability of “luxury” goods drops quickly… Remember where those with the money tend to live ….
So What Does This Tell Us About The Cost Of Living Philippines?
- 0.1 So What Does This Tell Us About The Cost Of Living Philippines?
- 0.2 What I DO Know May Be a Problem?
- 0.3 You Don’t Know What You Think You Know
- 0.4 You Can Live On Almost Any Amount, But You Can’t Live “LARGE”.
- 0.5 More Philippine Cost of Living Thoughts
- 0.6 Read a Little and End the Cost of Living Confusion
- 0.7 So Here’s The Cost of Living Question
- 0.8 But Good or Bad, There Comes a Time …
- 0.9 What could they say? No?
- 0.10 Press on with that if it makes sense to you.
- 0.11 Can a Single Man Live Here in the Philippines, Affordably?
- 0.12 Some More Issues Aside From Cost
- 0.13 Asking Questions is NOT Stupid
- 0.14 The Philippines Won’t Make You “Happy” If You Aren’t Happy Now
- 0.15 Everything Will NEVER Be “Right”
- 1 Related Posts
- 2 Share this Article:
To a great extent people reading this site and others in this genre are here for one reason … they are researching … seriously considering, or at least “toying” with the idea of moving to the Philippines … and they have a great thirst to know ‘what it is like” here.
Now researching, reading, questioning, soaking up the information like a sponge, even performing “due diligence” is a useful and important thing to do. No question. No argument from me.
But the point I want to make and the one I find it hard to explain is this. It is not what you don’t know about the Philippines that is likely to get you in trouble if you want to move here. It is much more likely to be what you do know that will cause a problem.
What I DO Know May Be a Problem?
Confusing? In one paragraph I say that learning is a good thing and then I turn around and say don’t learn? Wassup?
Well here’s what I am trying to get across. This is an especially important consideration for those of you who have always lived in the US, or in some other first-tier, developed country. because the Philippines has always been talked about and categorized as a “poor” or “developing” or “third-world” country, while the US is always at the top of the economic heap, you most likely think you “know” a lot of things about the Philippines that just are not so.
As John mentions in the excerpt I quoted above, this is, at the same time, a country of vast poverty and a country with a huge amount of money floating about. There are some very rich people here. There is virtually every form of luxury good and every sort of personal service available. In fact many European fashions and certain fancy designer goods, jewelry, electronics and things of that nature may be available in the Philippines before they are seen in America … Rodeo Drive in Hollywood as a possible exception.
You Don’t Know What You Think You Know
So don’t expect that because you know that some Westerners come here and live quite happily on $770 USD per month, or $1,000 or $1200 (my personal ‘low end limit’), that you can live “happily” on that sort of money if you want to “live large” in any way, shape or form.
You Can Live On Almost Any Amount, But You Can’t Live “LARGE”.
And in case you don’t realize it, Americans, by and large DO live large. Often very large.
If you like to shop where the “nicer” people shop … let’s say perhaps you are a dedicated “avoid Wal*Mart” shopper in the USA … then don’t think that that magical, mystical $770 USD is going to let you shop at all the better places. Actually a Wal*Mart opening here would be a HUGE positive in my book. I’d be at the door at opening time to beat the crush several times a week. And so would a whole slew of Filipinos. Because there is no shopping here which even remotely approaches the price, variety and availability of your average local Wal*Mart store.
Believe me after my 9 years here in the Philippines I would stand in line to get into a Wal*Mart store, and feel damn good about the wait.
A bit more money will facilitate a decent standard of living, but as an example, my wife and I shop at TriNoma perhaps once every other month, to stock up on items in the Landmark supermarket that aren’t stocked anywhere else. And we don’t go into any of the exclusive designers shops along the way. Those are way out of our league (at least the league we chose to spend in), just as we would never be seen shopping in a Neiman Marcus store in the USA.
Now don’t get me wrong … I think Neiman Marcus is a fine company and anyone who wants to shop their should … by all means. However, don’t expect many trips there per month on your magical $770 a month.
In fact you won’t be shopping at Neiman Marcus for $7700 per month, or even $77,700 USD. It just won’t happen no matter how rich you are.
More Philippine Cost of Living Thoughts
Recently a Cost Of Living in the Philippines “can I live on $xxxx USD a month questions came in that was very thought provoking and had much more thought behind it.
It’s going to take some amount of research and time to answer this gentleman’s question the right way, and there are a LOT of you folks out there just drifting by who ought to read this anyway. I can tell you, since so many folks come by with questions on “Cost of Living in the Philippines” or “Retirement Costs, Philippines” you would find it well worth the time it will take to read through this. You’ll learn something, I guarantee.
So many visitors come buy having searched for cost of living questions .. even the Live in the Philippines for $770 USD a month” questions, and seem to expect a one sentence answer.
It’s just not that simple.
Read a Little and End the Cost of Living Confusion
One reason I recommend this article is the complete and utter confusion that comes up time and time again regarding tourist visas, how long they last, how they get renewed, how to satisfy the onward travel requirements, etc.
One would think there was already enough written on this, but in fact I run into people nearly every day who either never got sent to the right place or got sent to some buddy in a bar who spouted off some wise guy answer that was _Wrong_.
I’m not all that smart, and I have no illusions as to my writing ability, but the one thing I can assure you is, I know what I am talking about … 7 years living full-time in the Philippines, and I will tell it to you as it is, not the way someone imagines you want to hear it.
So Here’s The Cost of Living Question
Here’s what this fellow today had to say. I have removed his name and changed some of his figures a bit to avoid any invasion of privacy, but I can assure you it is close enough, for sure.
Let me add my standard Disclaimer here, I am NOT a lawyer, this is NOT legal or financial planning advice in any way, and I guarantee absolutely no results if you follow my advice or if you chose not to. One man’s opinion is all, and I may talk straight in the interests of brevity, do not construe that as ‘beating up’ the reader or failing to take him seriously. There’s lot of ground to cover and we’re all adults, so don’t take offense where no offencs is meant, OK?
1. I am at this moment living on approximately $800 dollars a month because I am paying student loans and other credit. I cannot get away from them, especially since I am on Social Security and the loans are federally guaranteed, and I want the other credit to continue in case of an emergency …
OK, understood. And for sure one is always generally advised to pay one’s bills.
But Good or Bad, There Comes a Time …
However, if you’re of Social Security age and are only earning $800 in Social Security benefits you may seriously want to consider if living the “normal” life which got you into the mess so far, is the best path to take.
One thought is, just Default on Those Loans
You are not going to live very “high on the hog” anywhere in the world on $800 USD per month, and at age 65, you should be out of debt and trying to make yourself comfortable for your remaining years, not working like a hamster in a cage paying off debts that are already a dead and gone issue.
You surely will not live comfortably and safely in the Philippines on $800 a month. You CAN live here for $800 USD a month, but it’s doubtful that you’ll like it very much. And you are going to have nothing left over to cover contingencies, like getting sick. Scary indeed.
Start putting your life in order in other ways with the money you’ll save.
But I HAVE To Pay or They’ll Garnish My Benefits
Yes you can have your Social Security entitlements garnished for this debt, but in your case, only in a very limited sense:
“…The government can take some federal benefit payments (including Social Security retirement benefits and Social Security disability benefits, but not Supplemental Security Income) as reimbursement for student loans.
The government cannot take any amount that would leave you with benefits less than $9,000 per year or $750 per month. And, it cannot take more than 15% of your total benefit.
For example, if Doug receives monthly federal benefits in the amount of $900, the government may take either $150 (the amount of Doug’s $900 benefit that is over $750) or $135 (15% of Doug’s total benefit of $900), whichever is less. So, in this case, the government can take only $135 each month.…” See more how much they can actually take from your Social Security.”
I’ve written several times about similar situations here as well, try:
And especially my thoughts on why a “Credit Rating” is way less of a consideration than most Americans think, especially if you live in the Philippines.:
Make Them An Offer They Can’t Refuse
If I were in your situation, I’d write to the creditor and say:
I hereby make one-time only good faith offer. I am broke, only have this much income and I offer you $50 a month on this loan if you “take a haircut” and reduce my loan by 50%. Your alternative is, I stop payments next month and you can “eat” the entire loan.
What could they say? No?
You’re already outside the USA or on your way outside and your FICO score means absolutely nothing. It’s worth thinking about.
… In about a year or two, if I continue to pay my bills well I will have more cash flow, but how much I would have depends entirely on how the economy deals with my SS. In two years I might still have a maximum of $10xx.
As I said I am budgeting fairly well, but I am not living in the U.S.. Yes my, so called, fabulous U.S., has programs for the “poor”, but it normally seems a person has to be from a different planet to get into any of those programs.
I am a Vietnam era vet and non-service connected disabled (due to disagreeable VA). Still, I can tell you honestly that there are close to a million vets living on the streets just in California. I will stay away from getting into that though or I will be here forever! …
Nevertheless, I am living in a Central American country and have lived in Mexico, but I am practically afraid to ever leave my apartment to go anywhere. Things are becoming almost as bad if not worse than Colombia. So I am looking for a place that is somewhat safer but still cost effective….
Now this is in answer to my previous advice, don’t come to the Philippines if you are poor, because here we here lack the myriad of “safety net” programs available in the US, It seems my reader has thought this through. If he’s making an informed decision, no problem, I can live with that.
Regarding safety, I feel way safer here in the Philippines than I did living in the US, I feel I am quite safe here, as always, YMMV (Google is our friend)
…Then there is also, the fact that I am by myself. I have had girlfriends, but down here they all practically demand to be taken to the U.S. and I cannot do that. So there goes the other issue. A woman! A good woman! I have been talking to a reasonably good looking Filipina for a while now and she wants me to be with her in the Philippines. She supposedly understands that I do not have enough to sponsor anyone to live with me in the U.S., and says she will be happy being with me in the Philippines. She speaks English fluently which is more than I can say for most Latinas and that is a BIG plus for me. For the most part, I feel like I could not ask for more, so to speak. …
Yes. Your message started off with the tone I have heard so many times before … “they” are all looking for a green Card.
The actual truth of the matter, rather than the racist bar chatter, is that many upstanding and honest Filipino women are NOT swooning over going to the US. You just have to look, and possibly you have already found a good one.
Press on with that if it makes sense to you.
Just don’t do what I know some guys have in your position =… marry solely for the sake of getting a Philippine Visa. It could be the most expensive piece of paper you ever buy in your life.
If the relationship is real, go for it. But if it’s a ‘marriage of convenience’, watch out.
Can a Single Man Live Here in the Philippines, Affordably?
Which segue leads us nicely into the heart of the matter here, costs to stay legally in the Philippines.
2. The idea I got from researching, seems to imply that I have to be a sort of lifetime tourist. Mainly because, while my pension is suitable for an SRRV I do not have $10,000 dollars to put in a bank or to buy property. At the same time, I do not want to come in there and marry someone JUST for visa purposes. So I am a tourist and that is OK, but I am confused by the visa issues. …
You’re right in the sense that at your stage of the game staying on a tourist visa may be the best option. Although one of the reasons I suggested the possibility of just defaulting on those student loans is, how long would it take to save $10,000 if you were not paying those loans off?
One thing a lot of guys neglect regarding the SRRV investment type visa is that the $10K USD does not have to sit useless or to by an overpriced condo. It can be used to lease a home and property.
When the reply is, but I don’t have $10,000, a thought is, save it, make it or steal it (oh, better not do that, LoL), because you need a house to live in anyway. Worth a thought,. (but not the stealing part, perhaps). I understand when people say they don’t have money, but they have to get it sooner or later, living isn’t free, anywhere.
…I am trying to figure the least expensive way to deal with those visa issues. I could go to a Philippine Consulate here in Honduras, but upon calling them they only seem to speak Spanish and I prefer English for clarity. In any case, It appears that I can get a 6 month, 9 month, or 12 month tourist visa from a Philippine Embassy or Consulate, but the 9 and 12 month ones are multi-exit visas. I have not been able to understand the multi-exit aspect of those visas. Does that mean I HAVE to leave and return 1 or more times during the 12 months or does that mean I am just able to leave and return when I wish. I have never had that kind of visa before. …
This is a continual problem of understanding, and many seem to get hung up on this. You are reading the rules right. You get 59 days of stay as a tourist, period. The longer term visas allow you to enter and leave the Philippines freely during that time, BUT NEVER MORE THAN 59 DAYS Each visit. Just forget what people think the law says, what I said is what it says, period.
…I have also read that I can stay in the Philippines for 18 months without leaving until the 18 months. The only thing I have interpreted is that shortly before whatever primary visa I have expires I have to repeatedly renew with a 59 day tourist visa until the 18 months is accumulated. This is where the money issue I am confused about starts to occur….
So there is no need to buy one of these longer-term visas, because you can stay for up to 18 months (36 now, actually) by extending the initial visa 2 months at a time for total of 36 months of stay at any Bureau of Immigration office, and then up to 36 month total time by requesting further extension from the Director of Immigration in the main office in Manila. There is at least one good reason you don’t want to stay more than a year at a time, but that’s a detail. You certainly can stay 36 month plus.
Also since this original post was published, the Philippine BI now allows a tourist to extend his or her Tourist Visa for six months at a time, not just two months. Costs run about the same but the expanse and hassle of going to the Immigration Office every two months is cut down to only one trip every six months.
We are supposed to have a plane ticket for coming and leaving as soon as we first enter the Philippines. No airline will allow me to change dates on my ticket every time I want to extend my tourist visa. So now I feel like a child who has never traveled, but I am very confused! It seems like I have to buy a new plane ticket every time I want to renew my visa and if I have to do that every 59 days or even every 6 months (round trip each time), that would certainly be a lot more than even $5 dollars a day.
So how do I deal with the visa routine and not have to buy perhaps 3 to 8 round trip plane tickets during an 18 month stay in the Philippines?
Also, what is the best (cheapest) tourist visa routine? Would the 12 month multi-exit visa allow me to stay for a year without leaving and how would i get around the plane ticket problem?
OK, part of the issue here is valid, and part of it is making assumptions and using logic. You are overthinking. Logic and Philippine immigration law do not often coincide.
Onward Travel Tickets and Tourist Visa Extensions
Option One: “Show Ticket”
Keep it simple. You need “onward travel” for you initial visit to the Philippines. For this you can go to a supplier like Cebu Pacific airlines in the Philippines … they sell online … and buy a ticket out of the Philippines in less than 59 days after you plan to arrive. Any international location will do, you are not ever going to use this ticket, it’s only for show. Typically you can buy a ticket several months out to a location like Macau for well under a thousand Pesos … it’s usually cheaper t
o buy a ticket leaving from Clark … doesn’t matter if you are not going to be living near Clark, you aren’t going there anyway.
Now this ‘show’ ticket will allow you boarding of your “real” flight to the Philippines and entry into the country for arrival number one.
59 days later you extend your tourist visa for 2 more months. You do NOT need to show any airline ticket for this.
Repeat the extension procedure 5 more times and your departure date will now be one year after your arrival date.
This is what I mentioned in my last mail when I said the procedure will cost about $2 to $3 a day when averaged over a year.
Under this option you just throw the “show ticket” away, amortizing the very small cost over the days you are going to be living here in the Philippines. I have factored that cost in when I say your costs will be under $3 per day for up to 3 year’s stay.
Option Two: Full Fare Refundable Ticket:
Major “Name Brand” airlines still happily sell full fare fully refundable tickets. Let’s use United as an example. I just flew from Guam to the Philippines on United airlines. The cheapest discount fare I found was about $200. But right on their website I was offered a an option for a full fare, fully changeable and refundable for about $700 USD.
“But wouldn’t I be crazy to buy a $700 ticket when a $200 ticket would do?
Crazy like a fox, I say. because if I had need an onward travel ticket to board my flight and to check in to the Philippines through Immigration at Manila, I could have bought a full fare ticket just before I departed, shown that ticket whenever I needed to, and then turned it in to United’s office in Manila for a full refund.
If you buy a ticket like that on a credit card, you normally have 20 or 30 days “grace period” before you have to pay a single dollar. Get the ticket turned in and the charge on your card reversed before the end of the grace period and the total cost for this entire option is zero. Can’t beat that with a stick.
Why Is A Year Important If I Can Really Stay Longer?
At 12 months you have a decision point. Leave at the expiration of your 12th month or stay on for 4 more months.
Seems simpler to stay, but bear in mind that after you have been “in country” more than a year you will have to pay Tourist Tax for departure, More than P3,000.
US citizens do not pay this tax for stays of up to one year.
That tourist tax is as much or nearly as much as your air fare out, so you might want to consider leaving every year and letting the avoided travel tax pay part of your airfare.
Buy yourself a round trip ticket to, say, Macau and also a one way out of the Philippines. depart. Enjoy a night in a totally different culture and environment.
Next morning return to the Philippines and start the yearly procedure over again,
Complicated? Maybe so, but it’s a legal, doable way to accomplish a goal.
Hope this has helped some … and for those with easier, better, cheaper methods, feel free to comment.
Some More Issues Aside From Cost
Followed by my comments, clarifications and free, lay person’s advice. Remember I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal, financial or medical advice. My opinion only.
… Now, in reference to medical issues, it appears that there is medical insurance that I get purchase from the U.S. that will cover me in the Philippines and it covers me entirely for almost exactly the same cost as my Medicare…
Well, first of all I’d be interested in knowing more, a lot more about this option. Since basic Medicare (Part A) is free to all Americans over age 65, I can only guess your “same cost as my Medicare” reference is to Medicare Part B, which is an option when you reach age 65, which you can, indeed ‘take or leave’.
(ed note: sad to say this reader has never come back and explained anything about this mythical medical insurance that costs only the same as Medicare. Please, if you are out there guy, give us a shout, OK?)
But keep in mind that any US-based plan that I know of requires Medicare Part B as it’s “foundation”.
Typically plans for Americans over 65 require Medicare to be the primary insurer and then the commercial plan ‘picks up’ what Medicare did not cover. This is so strongly written into the majority of plans that even my government-provided military health care plan requires I use Medicare first. They pay what Medicare does not.
Since Medicare does not pay in the Philippines,m this amounts to my “free” US military medical plan costing me 90 110 -something dollars a month, because to have the “free” plan I have to have Medicare Part B, even though in the Philippines it’s completely worthless.
So I am not trying to beat a dead horse here, but I’d like to know more about any strategies that exclude Medicare after age 65. It does not seem to me to be and “either/or” type choice. It seems that to stay US-based you Have to opt for Medicare part B
… I am not paying for Medicare right now, .but only because I have no coverage outside of the U.S.. For whatever strange reason, medical insurance from the U.S. for Latin America is 3 or 4 times what I would have to pay for the Philippines. I could get cheaper insurance here, but I have to be a resident first (catch 22 so to speak). So medical insurance for the Philippines from the U.S. is cheaper….
Again, I’d appreciate learning more about who this insurance provider is. I can not see how a US provider can compete with. say, Philippine Blue Cross, whose Philippine only rates are about 1/5 of Blue Cross US rates for coverage that will pay outside the US. Once you include the US in any plan the costs seem to skyrocket.
In six year living here I have yet to see any Philippine-based plan that is not way, way cheaper. In fact if you buy a Philippine-only coverage Philippine Blue Cross and add in US coverage, the cost increases immensely … roughly four or five times the price.
To me it makes no sense to live in the Philippines and pay for medical coverage at US rates. The cost savings in going ‘Philippine only” can be huge.
… On the other hand, I have been in Honduras for almost 4 years (have to get out of here), and have not had to deal with anything other than basic sinus issues, headaches, and one time having mild Dengue. I am disabled, but functionally healthy. So I even question needing insurance, but I am 61 and anything can happen. As such, if need be I will get insurance and if all works out with the Filipina I will eventually marry here and perhaps then get even cheaper insurance in the Philippines…
I’m a little confused by the “here’s” and “there’s” in that statement, but it does seem as if you are creating an obstacle regarding Philippine Health insurance that doesn’t exist.
- You do not have to be a resident or the spouse of a Philippine citizen to avail of any health insurance in the Philippines.
- Even PhilHealth the national health care plan is specifically available to foreigners, since the foreigners are billed and pay in cask (a few hundred pesos per month).
- Other commercial health insurance in the Philippines, such as Blue Cross Philippines is specifically available to foreigners, not just Filipinos
… I am really looking for the best way to be somewhat comfortable and have a woman who will love and care for me. I do not have to live in an expensive high rise apartment or fancy house, but I do not want to be on a street or in a closet. So the Philippines seem like the place to go. I just want to do everything right, as I said, but I am confused. I am trying to not let a gorgeous Filipina and sex control my thinking. So I write to you. I hope you will forgive my stupidity…
Asking Questions is NOT Stupid
First of all, you are not stupid. I won’t let anyone else on my site call another reader ‘stupid’, and I forbid you to also, even if it’s yourself. Asking, when you don’t know, is not stupid.
The stupid people I know are the ones who never investigate anything and then write in for help, bleating about how bad life has treated them when there was ample evidence they could have looked at that would have kept them out of trouble, had they only cared to.
But I’ll say this. My impression is you are worrying more than is necessary and you are almost looking for things that will trip you up … instead of proceeding more hopefully. I sense a lot of pent up anger, hurt and even a trace of hostility in your writings that make me wonder where on earth you would be happy. The Philippines won’t fix that, my friend.
The Philippines Won’t Make You “Happy” If You Aren’t Happy Now
I see so many people moving here thinking the Philippines is some cure-all that will make them happy. No country on earth can create happiness, and no move can effectively make you happy, because wherever you go, there you are.
From what you have said so far, it sounds like the Philippines could be a good solution for you. Your budget is tight, but it will be just as tight in any country and your money will go along way in the Philippines.
And unlike so many who have written in here, you have actually taken the initiative to already live outside the US … a huge step.
Excess Worry is Deadly — And Depressing — Avoid It
You haven’t even made the move yet and you are worrying about buying an airline ticket 12 or 16 months down the road. Immigration regulations (or the way they are enforced, at least, change constantly.
Hell none of us knows if we’ll even live 18 months, That’s three rainy seasons and almost three Christmases away, Live for now.
This statement you made, “I just want to do everything right,”?
Everything Will NEVER Be “Right”
Well it ain’t going to happen. Between now and whenever, things will go wrong, they always do.
You, like every other human on the planet, will make some mistakes (or decisions that appear to be mistakes but prove to be the right one after all … impossible to know until life as passed on for a bit).
Don’t worry about them, live for the now, so that whenever that huge ‘whatever’ it is’ happens you will have at least had some joy before it comes.
This Is NOT Like Working With Live Wires or Dynamite
There is virtually nothing you can do that is all THAT wrong, with, for example, your visa worries.
There are a lot of people in this live in the Philippines “space” who seem to be perpetual worriers, even arguing about arcane aspects of the Philippine Immigration laws.
They are arguing over what amounts to trivia.
You don’t even need a visa to come here. Get on a plane and fly. The rest will all work out.
“I just want to do everything right” is not a good motto for living in the Philippines. It’s as if you were promising to drive here and follow all the traffic laws to the letter.
Ain’t gonna happen, and why worry. As they say, “It’s more fun in the Philippines”… no matter what the cost of living Philippines.