How to Retire in the Philippines – Information for Americans
If you want to retire in the Philippines, you probably fall into one of two categories. You’ve either been to the Philippines in the past or you have some type of relationship with either a male or female Filipino who lives in the Philippines. It’s rare for anyone who doesn’t fall into one of these categories to suddenly want to retire in the Philippines.
Before you decide to retire in the Philippines, you need to think of the consequences. This is a life-changing event that could affect friends and family.
Take a Trip and Explore
Even if you’ve been to the Philippines in the past, you need to take a trip and explore the area you think you want to live in. Things may have changed considerably since the last time you were there. You can find some nice areas to live in and you can find some horrible areas to live in and the distance between the two could be just a couple of streets.
You can stay in the Philippines for up to 30 days with only your American passport. Just make sure you have a round-trip ticket to avoid issues with immigration officials. If something unexpected happens, you can get your return flight changed and a visa extension without it being too terribly expensive.
Things to Consider
While medical care is a lot less expensive in the Philippines, it could still cost you more than you can afford if you have a catastrophic illness or injury. Make sure you have adequate health insurance that covers you outside of the United States. If you’re not in good health, moving to the Philippines isn’t a good idea.
While you can find a lot of American products in various places in the Philippines, you won’t find everything you’re looking for. Some of the local versions of those products are just as good, in my experience.
You should read through the pages published by RAO Subic, starting with the “Thinking of Moving Here” page. After you’re done with that, you should find some expat forums and read what others who decided to retire in the Philippines are experiencing.
What Visa do you need?
There are enough visa differences that the best thing for me to do is to point you to an official page that tells you what all the requirements are. The Visa Requirements and Procedures page for the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles is pretty thorough. When reading, pay particular attention to the “Non-Quota Immigrant Visa” section if you or your spouse is a Filipino national. While it’s not stated, this is the permanent resident visa. It’s the type of visa I have and it’s the type of visa most married couples will want to get.
If you or your spouse is a Filipino national, you can get the “balikbayan” stamp on your passport and you’re good for up to a year. That gives you plenty of time to get the right type of visa to permanently stay in the Philippines. If you’re a single non-Filipino (or a non-Filipino couple), the only visas you can get are the automatic 30-day visas with your passport (and extensions to that visa) or the SRRV.
It’s best for me to point you to another page at the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles website. Their Dual Citizenship page explains things far better than I can.
If you or your spouse is a Filipino national and not a dual citizen, you should take care of that before you retire in the Philippines if you can. It’s easier and much faster to get it done at one of the Philippine Consulates in the United States than it is at the Bureau of Immigration in Manila. My wife became a dual citizen in one day at the Los Angeles office while it took more than one trip to Manila for my mother-in-law.
If you’re planning to retire in the Philippines, you probably have income coming from the United States (or a pension). You have several options for getting your money in the Philippines and it depends on how long you’re willing to wait for it. You can keep your current bank account if you wish, but you won’t be able to get anything but Philippine pesos from an ATM in the Philippines.
Some expats have Navy Federal Credit Union checks and write one for their pension amounts every month. It takes a month for each check to clear, so one month of pay is always in limbo. Americans can open a dollar account at several banks and have their pensions deposited directly (direct deposit). That’s what I did more than 10 years ago and I haven’t had a problem yet.
Freight Forwarders and Freight Companies
There’s a more economical way to ship your goods than with a freight forwarder. Freight forwarder rates are affordable if you don’t have more than a few boxes to ship. I remember shipping six balikbayan boxes when I moved, and it was probably two or three boxes too much.
When you have a lot of household goods you want to ship, you should consider using a freight company that deals with shipboard containers. One container is probably going to be cheaper than the equal amount of freight through a freight forwarder.
The most expensive option is to going to be a courier service like FedEx, UPS or DHL. They ship packages fast but they do it at a premium price. Unless you need some packages to beat you to the Philippines, it’s not worth the added cost.
What do you Want to Keep?
Almost everything you can ship to the Philippines can be purchased in the Philippines. It didn’t used to be that way, but things have changed a great deal in the last several years. For many items, the cost is comparable to what you would pay in the United States for it. There are exceptions, of course, like laptop computers. They’re always more expensive in the Philippines.
Finding things in the Philippines can be a challenge, but don’t let that hold you back. While there isn’t a Wal-Mart style of department store anywhere, there are plenty of alternatives. Of course, it also depends on the area you choose to live in. If you live in rural areas Filipinos call “province”, you’re going to be doing a lot of traveling if you want to buy American-style products.
Annual Report of Registered Aliens
Unless you’re using a temporary or tourist visa, you have to file a report with your local BI office if you arrived before November 2 of the preceding year. Although the BI web page for the annual report doesn’t specifically state it, you have until March 1 to complete your annual report. Fines start accruing on March 2.
You can view the checklist from a link on their page, but that information is probably outdated. The annual report fee isn’t expensive. The last time I paid it, I paid 310 pesos (less than $7.00 USD).
Emigration Clearance Certificate Fee and Airport Terminal Fee
If you have to pay a travel tax when leaving the country, it should be included in the airfare. You have to pay a terminal fee and an emigration clearance certificate (ECC) fee. It’s best to check with your local BI office for the amounts and where to pay the ECC fee.
I recommend having 5000 pesos on you before you enter the airport. The ECC fee is higher every time I leave the country.
The Cost of Living
Electricity tends to be more expensive in the Philippines than in the United States. Water tends to be cheaper. Some Internet services are cheaper and some are more expensive. Cable TV is usually cheaper.
Imported American food (American style, not necessarily made in the United States) tends to cost about the same as it does in the United States if you buy it at one of the duty-free, tax-free economic zones. If you still have children to care for, be aware you have to pay all of their education expenses. It isn’t expensive – it’s cheaper than the property tax used to pay for it in the United States.
If you want to live like an American when you retire in the Philippines, your cost of living will be higher than if you live like a Filipino. I live somewhere in the middle and I’ve done so since moving to the Philippines.
Not Enough Information to Retire in the Philippines?
I condensed multiple articles to create this one. Even so, I didn’t leave anything out (I just removed a lot of fluff). As long as it is, I’m sure it doesn’t include everything you want to know.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If I don’t know the answers, I can probably point you in the right direction.
Originally published as multiple articles in October of 2014 – I’ve updated and corrected some information.