Why Choose the Philippines — Is Malaysia a Better Choice?

Why Choose the Philippines — Is Malaysia a Better Choice?

Why Choose the Philippines — Is Malaysia a Better Choice?

(last updated 27 April 2019)

I originally wrote this about 8 years ago.  It was in response to a lot of mail I was receiving on the subject of what country was “best” to live in for US expats.

At the time, Malaysia was advertising The Malaysia My Second Home program and many expats wondered how that program compared with what was available to retirees in the Philippines.

Significantly updated and corrected.  Only a few things have changed in 8 years, mostly making it even easier to stay in the Philippines.

Why choose the Philippines?

That’s a very good question.  Why choose the Philippines instead of the nation of Malaysia for retirement, or just an escape from the western world rat race?

I also published a similar contrast article on the Philippines or Thailand recently, you might enjoy reading that as well.

Why Choose The Philippines? Is Thailand a Better Choice?

Why Choose the Philippines — Ground Rules

In order to try to answer this question for the maximum number of readers, I’m going to break the question down to three general categories of potential “overseas escapees”:

Why Choose the Philippines — Single or Married

With No Host Country Spouse

Why Choose the Philippines — Is Malaysia a Better Choice?

If you’re a single man or woman, or someone who cannot claim Malaysian citizenship, or a married person not married to a Malay citizen, you’re going to have to look at the types of visas available to foreigners.

In general terms, this usually revolves around entering the country on a tourist visa, or visa waiver entry stamp, and extending that form of entry privilege for as long as the rules of that country allow.

One then leaves and returns, staring the whole process over.

Note that I will always be writing about the rules that apply to an American citizen in this article series.

In Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and perhaps some other former British colonies, the rules for a UK passport holder are often more liberal.

Malaysia is easy to enter.  You fly in and get a 90 Day visitor stamp automatically.  Although I have found some conflicting information on this issue, it may be possible to extend this 90-day stamp for another 30 days at a time, for a price of a bit more than $30USD (a buck a day, give or take), but I can’t find the definitive rule for you at this time.

What the majority of single expats do in Malaysia is to make a visa run every 90 days or so, back home or to a nearby country.  “nearby countries” include Singapore, which is pretty close, since it used to be a part of Malaysia.

So far as I can find any evidence of, one can repeat this cycle indefinitely.  Leave every 90 days and return to start another cycle.

In contrast, the Philippines allows only (was 21, now 30) days upon initial entry (smart people get a tourist visa in advance, it’s better, faster, cheaper), but what the average guy/gal does in arrive get 30 days, extend that 30 days for an additional 29 at an immigration office, and then extend every 60 days (for a fee) as long as a total of (was 24 now 36) months.

The visitor then has to leave the country and can return as early as the next day, and begin the whole 60-day renewal cycle over again.

The costs for visa renewals are complex and often seem mysterious … I’ve done them for as long as 16 months (the limit for approvals at local Immigration offices, months 27 through 24 require application to the BI headquarters in Intramuros, Manila)and find that it’s much easier to say it costs an average of a little over $2 USD per day in the Philippines.

Is There A Winner?

I see no clear-cut winner between the countries here.

Malaysia requires more trips outside the country.

The Philippine lets you stay longer, but niggle-naggles with more frequent trips to Immigration, a myriad of small fees (death by small cuts), etc.

In this case, it is a definite case of pay your money and take your choice.

Winner: It’s a draw, says Philly.

With A Host Country Spouse

Here there is one striking difference between the two countries.

The Philippine Balikbayan Privilege program.

A Filipino or former Filipino (such as a Filipino who gave up Philippine citizenship for US citizenship and has decided NOT to reacquire his/her Philippine citizenship), can sponsor their spouse (and children, if accompanying the parents) for a Balikbayan Privilege (we’ll call it a BB) stamp upon arrival in the Philippines.

The only requirement is that they travel together and that they be legally married … able to produce their marriage certificate.

It’s a great program.

100% free, 100% no-hassle (not even one single form to “fill up”).

It exempts the holder from the annual registration/head tax requirements, exempts the holder from purchasing an ACR-I card, exempts the holder from the ECC (Exit Clearance Certificate) requirement upon leaving the country and can be continued indefinitely by leaving the country and returning … good for a one year stay, every time.

Hard, indeed to beat.

Malaysia has no such program.  Nothing even remotely resembling it.

A foreigner, married to a Malay citizen, may apply for a “long-term stay” visa, which, if approved, will be good for 5 years.

After 5 years, if still married and legal, the foreigner can then get a permanent stay visa. More on the conditions and privileges of a permanent residency in Malaysia based on Malaysian citizen spousal status.

This is very similar to the Philippine 13-series permanent resident visas, but the Philippine visas can even be applied for before entry, and become permanent either after only a one year stay (if applied for from within the Philippines), or upon issuance, if applied for while outside the Philippines.

The privileges that a permanent foreign resident gets along with the permanent residency are similar. read more about Malaysian permanent residency by virtue of marriage to a Malay citizen here.

Winner: The Philippines, hands down, especially if you use the Balikbayan Privilege Program.

No other country I know of on earth is as easy to enter and stay in if you are married to a Filipina.

Why Choose the Philippines — Retirees/Pensioners

Wow! Already up to 1,000 words and most of my readers prefer posts much shorter than this.  To be continued RSN (Real Soon Now)

Let’s make it short and simple for now.


The Philippines has a program known as the SRRV. (Special Resident’s Retirement Visa).  This program has many options or “flavors”.  All are available to foreigners … no marriage or connection to Philippine citizens required.

All have investments required.  The investments vary greatly from ~$50,000 USD to as little as $1500 USD.

All provide true lifetime rights to stay in the Philippines hassle-free.


Malaysia has similar lifetiem or long-term reirement visa programs.

They can all be used by foreigners, no marriage or other Malaysian citizen connections required.

Terms and costs vary significantly.

If anyone is really interested I can explore these options for both countries further.  Let me know.

You ask, I answer.

Why Choose the Philippines — Conclusions

For a tourist-type who just wants to stay with the minimal amount of paperwork, applications and with little or no investment or obligation … it’s a toss-up.  You can stay essentially as long as you want in either country, there are conditions and “visa run” requirements for both.

For a person married to a citizen of either country, the Philippines is better, faster, cheaper and easier, hands down.

Let us know your own thoughts onWhy Choose the Philippines — Is Malaysia a Better Choice?

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