From the temperate hills and valleys of Baguio, to the thousand islands that flank its emerald coast, the Philippines offers an easy-going way of life yet unmarred by mass tourism. Getting around is very easy, considering English is so widely spoken among the country’s hundred million population. Add to that the cheap cost of living in the Philippines, and you end up with an appealing place to call home.
If you’re asking yourself why the Philippines isn’t as popular as other Southeast Asian destinations, the answer, in my opinion, is two-fold.
One, it is generally more expensive to get to.
Whereas a bus to Cambodia may cost a few dollars from a neighboring border, a plane trip to the Philippines is likely to cost far more. And the trip time is similar to going from New York to Orlando by plane, as well as the hassle of airports, baggage check, etc. versus just showing up, putting your backpack on a bus, and going.
But, once there, the cost of living in the Philippines definitely works in your favor.
Rent is cheaper than Thailand, sometimes up to 50% less. Public transportation is convenient and organized in most parts. And two, I think there is a misconception of crime in the Philippines. It is true that parts of the country are prone to terrorism, especially the South.
But if you steer clear of General Santos city and the surrounding areas, you should be fine. Simply put, you should take the same precautions as you would back home.
The currency of the Philippines is called the Peso and it currently trades at 1 USD = 46 Peso.
The drawback to the cost of living in the Philippines is the higher fees you’d incur traveling back and forth from the mainland countries like Laos, Vietnam, or Thailand. If this doesn’t bother you, you’ll find living in the Philippines to be an experience second to none. It combines the best of all Southeast Asian countries, at possibly the cheapest housing prices.
Here’s a break down of the cost of living in the Philippines to help you plan for a move or a visit:
This is where living in Philippines really pays off. I’ll compare the rents to Thailand for simplicity’s sake. I will also be using a country average. Depending on where you live in the Philippines, you may see slight variations in these figures.
Crime can be an issue in some neighborhoods, especially when they see a foreigner move in. You’ll need to check the security measures in place before getting into any contract.
The contractual norm for housing is one month’s advance rent and two month’s security deposit. I’ll give you another piece of advice: that security deposit often gets spent by the landlord and not returned, so be sure to take photos of every part of your apartment before moving in.
Hostel dorm — $7-10 / night
Hostel private room (ensuite) — $20 / night (many not listed on Hostel sites)
Mid-range hotel — $50-$100 / night
Top hotels — $100-$250 / night (I found these to be comparatively more expensive)
Luxury resorts — $250+ / night
1 bedroom budget apartment — $200 / month
1 bedroom luxury apartment — $600+ / month
1 bedroom budget apartment (so-so neighborhood) — $100 / month
Accommodations will significantly help you reduce your cost of living in the Philippines. But just remember to pick a place that is safe, as there are many beautiful apartment that lack proper security measures. If you are looking for larger apartments–such as 2 or 3 bedrooms–they’ll cost you $100-$150 more than a single bedroom.
Food & Drink
Alcohol is cheap in the Philippines, although not as cheap as Vietnam. As far as food, Western chains seemed to charge less, on average, than neighboring countries. Local food, however, seemed more expensive. It was easy for me to get a full meal for a dollar in Thailand, but I found myself paying $2-3 in the Philippines for a similar dish.
It definitely makes sense buying your own groceries and cooking at home to save money.
Street food — $2-3
Inexpensive restaurant meal — $3-4
McDonalds (or similar) meal — $3
Mid-range restaurant — $10-14
Starbucks Latte — $4-5
Local Boutique Latte — $2-3
Average grocery bill — $120 / month
Average grocery bill — $300 / month (high end)
It’s hard to nail an exact grocery bill, because some foods are much cheaper there, while others more expensive. Either way, your food bill will be very manageable, keeping your cost of living in the Philippines well in check.
I found technology to be pricier in the Philippines compared to other Southeast Asian countries. This may naturally change over time, but everything from phone plans to wifi plans seemed more expensive.
Thankfully, these are usually fixed costs that only need to paid once a month, so they will not significantly affect your monthly budget.
Cell phone (basic surf & message/phone plan) — $10/month
Cell Data plan (5 GB) — $21/month
Cell Data plan (10 GB) — $38/month
International call — $.16/minute
International text — $.05/text
Internet — $40/month (you can get a 3G stick for about half that)
TV Subscription — $6-$34 (basic to max plan)
Even if you pay more for internet in Manila than you’d pay in Bangkok, it may only amount to $10 or so. But if you’re a heavy data or international minute user, you will find yourself with a hefty bill.
Philippines has one of the strongest transportation infrastructures in Southeast Asia. It’s transportation is both reliable and cheap, and taking the local “Jeepney” will keep your cost of living in the Philippines down.
The Jeepney is a war-era elongated Jeep, which looks like a beefed-up Thai songtaew, and can comfortably fit 15 people (although drivers sometimes try to cram in many more!). I’ve also found the price of gasoline to be similar to its neighbors.
You can get around by bus, taxi, and in the case of Manila, the light rail (LRT). A variety of smaller options, such as tricycle taxis, do exist, but if you want to get around on the cheap, renting a scooter is the way to go.
I’d be very careful driving around, not just because of the hectic traffic of some cities, but the fact you cannot purchase insurance for your scooter. You’ll have to foot the bill for any damage done.
Gasoline — $.9-$1 / liter
Jeepney —$.15 (higher if over 4 kms distance)
LRT — $.60 average, varies with destination
Express Bus — $1
Scooter — $5/day
Budget Car rental — $21+/day
To clarify the insurance issue, you are insured against third party damage (repairs on the others’ property/vehicles). But you are fully responsible for the damage done on your own vehicle. I would check your rental contract and agree on a maximum liability cap. You may otherwise find your savings depleted as your cost of living in the Philippines sky-rockets due to an accident. What more, it may have been the other driver’s fault.
Whatever your mode of transport, I’d advise you steer clear of the entire Southern archipelago, which is home to several dangerous terrorist organizations. Do not let that dissuade you from visiting the Philippines. It is a gorgeous place and, thankfully, the more dangerous areas are localized to the South.
The entertainment scene in the Philippines is fabulous. Fortunately, it has remained somewhat insulated from the mass tourism which hit destinations like Thailand. You’ll find no shortage of things to do there, from water sports to clubbing. The price of domestic beer in the Philippines is nearly half of what it is in Thailand, and many entertainment options, such as movie tickets, are also cheaper. The fact you can go to clubs and speak with locals in English makes it easier to socialize and make new friends.
Cinema ticket — $4
Local Beer — $.9
Import Beer — $2
Club Drinks — $3-5 (more for elite clubs)
Bottle Service — $100+
Jet Ski rental — $40/30 mins
Bottle service is where other places in Southeast Asia really have a leg up over the Philippines. The price of bottle service in places like Manila is expensive–the tab can hit $100 or (much) more.
In comparison, it isn’t uncommon to get $30-40 bottle service in neighboring Vietnam. The cost of living in the Philippines becomes incrementally more expensive if you’re a recreational sports lover, since the price of these activities is higher than in Thailand.
Random expenses you have to take into account are utilities, clothes, and staple goods. The price of apartment utilities are similar to the west, especially if you use a lot of A/C. If you can make do with only a fan, you’ll save $30-$50 a month on electricity.
Utilities (electric/water) — $120-$150
Chicken breast (1kg) — $3.50
Cigarettes — $1.50
Household helper (live-in) — $150-200
Living in Philippines will place you centrally near many top world destinations and beaches. The drawback is that these paradises–namely those in other countries–require a plane or overloaded ferry to get to. Unless, of course, you only choose to visit beaches in the Philippines. You can’t just hop onto any of the hundred buses, like those found near Khao San Road, and head out to tons of other countries. Do bear in mind that the sex industry in the Philippines is active and in your face. It definitely gives Bangkok a run for its money.
My total breakdown of the cost of living in the Philippines:
Accommodation, modern— $450 (includes utilities)
Food & Drink — $300
Technology — $50 (includes basic internet)
Transportation — $100
Entertainment — $200
Total — $1100
The above budget allows for a comfortable living in the Philippines, without having to skimp on fun. You could realistically cut this budget in half if you’re willing to rough it and live in a questionable neighborhood, and eat mostly street food.
The Philippines job market isn’t the best for English teachers, and you certainly won’t make a lot of money there if you choose to teach. It is probably another reason why the expat scene hasn’t caught on like it has in Thailand. The cost of living in the Philippines may be cheap, but it’s job market could use a little improvement. If you work online or remotely, however, you won’t have to worry much. You’ll soon find your days turning to months, and possibly more.
The Philippines and its photo-perfect mountains and beaches won’t disappoint.
A few additional resources you may be interested in:
- What Is The Cost Of Living in Thailand?
- Finding love in the Philippines has never been easier with Filipino Cupid!
- Work remotely: start a drop-shipping business today–featured on Entrepreneur and Wired!
- Digital Nomad Lifestyle: How To Make $100,000 In One Year
Have you ever lived in the Philippines? What was your cost of living in the Philippines? What prices would you update on this list?