The Ultimate Guide for Expats in the Philippines

The Ultimate Guide for Expats in the Philippines

Are you thinking of living and working in the Philippines? Making a new life in a new country is never going to be easy, but it doesn’t have to be especially hard either. We’ve created this guide to help you successfully navigate through the complexities of moving to the Philippines and starting a new life, career or business here.

Moving to the Philippines

You would be well-advised to pay an extended visit to the country first before you start seriously consider relocating or setting up a business here. Diversity is the Philippines’ foremost defining feature; from its geography to its cultural influences – and while this all translates to a wide range of options and opportunities, it can also get somewhat confusing. Scout possible locations and try to spend at least a few days in them.

It’s an Archipelago

There are over 7,100 islands in the Philippines, less than a third of which are inhabited. It is the world’s second-largest archipelago and the islands vary in size from the densely populated almost 110,000 sq. km. Luzon to unnamed islets that get submerged at high tide. The coastline, an estimated 36,289 km., is one of the longest in the world and the country is justifiably famous for its abundance of beaches. Most major cities, including Manila, Cebu and Davao, are located along the coast. The country has three main island groups – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – and the terrain varies from mountains to coastal lowlands.

What’s the Weather Like?

In general, the Philippines has a warm tropical climate with two seasons, wet and dry. Rainfall, temperatures and humidity levels will vary depending on location and elevation, though it must be said that the last two don’t change by much; still, it’s best to research a particular area’s weather patterns. Like neighboring Taiwan, Vietnam and Southern China, the country is part of the typhoon belt and experiences more than a dozen every year, around half of which hit directly.

Your Visa Options

The Philippines has a fairly liberal immigration policy and foreigners can obtain a diversity of immigrant and non-immigrant visas such as:

9G – A pre-arranged employment visa applied for by the employer for the employee. Initially valid for 1 year and extendable to a maximum of 10 years.

13A – Can be obtained by a Philippine citizen’s wife, husband or unmarried child under 21 years of age.

SIRV – The Special Investor’s Resident Visa, which allows residency in the country for an indefinite period as well as multiple entry privileges for as long as the investment (a minimum of US$75,000 in approved economic activities) exists.

SVEG – The Special Visa for Employment Generation, which also allows an indefinite stay and multiple-entry as long as the holder employs at least 10 Filipinos in a commercial enterprise.

SRRV – The Special Resident Retiree’s Visa, obtainable by foreign nationals as well as former Filipino citizens considering retirement in the Philippines. Requirements vary.


The Philippines’ transportation infrastructure is still developing and the quality as well as available options will vary depending on where you are.

Air – The country has a dozen primary and secondary international airports, the busiest of which are the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Manila), the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (Cebu), the Francisco Bangoy International Airport (Davao), and the Iloilo International Airport (Iloilo). Other international gateways are in Clark, Subic and Laoag. In addition, there are almost three dozen domestic airports and almost four dozen general aviation airports scattered across the country. The Philippine Air Lines (PAL) is the flag carrier as well as the largest airline.

When travelling by air into, out of or around the country, try to avoid doing so during holidays – Christmas, New Year, All Saints’/Souls’ Day, and Holy Week, in particular – as things can get hectic and it will be virtually impossible to book a flight at short notice.

Land – The Philippines has over 200,000 km. of roadways in total, though only around 20% is paved. Luzon has the most highly developed highway and expressway network. As for rail transportation, it is still in the development phase. Currently, the main railway networks serve only the Metro Manila area and some provinces in Luzon.

Water – Because the Philippines is an archipelago, its waterways and ports are always busy. Ferry services are the backbone of inter-island travel and boats range from fleets of multi-deck ships and sleek fastcraft to small wooden pumpboats. The largest seaport is the Port of Manila and other busy ports include the ports of Cebu, Subic, Batangas, Davao, Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro.

As it is with air travel, it’s best to avoid travelling by ship during holidays. Also bear in mind that weather conditions will affect ferry schedules.

Local – Inner city transport in the Philippines is dominated by the ubiquitous jeepney, which is essentially an elongated jeep. Bigger cities are also served by buses and taxis and Manila has an elevated railway system with three lines. Vans/minibuses and both motorized and un-motorized pedicabs complete the mix of available local transportation options in most cities.

Working and Doing Business in the Philippines

With its vibrant economy and strategic regional location, the Philippines has been attracting significant foreign capital and an increasing number of expats in recent years. Read on to learn more about the current business environment, sunrise industries, and what to expect if you’re planning on working or setting up a business here.

Economy and Business Environment

The Philippines is an emerging market economy that has proven itself remarkably resilient in the current global economic slowdown. Its GDP grew by 6.6% in 2012 and agencies such as Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s (S&P) have recently given the country investment grade credit ratings. A stable banking system, high international reserves, and the business-friendly institutional reforms spearheaded by the current administration have been the main contributors to this overall improvement. Business process outsourcing (BPO) is the country’s leading sunrise industry, with growth and revenues having risen steadily in recent years. Other sunrise industries include tourism, retirement and courier services.

Investing and/or Starting a Business

If you’re considering investing in and/or starting a business in the Philippines, you would be well-advised to explore the programs and services offered by the country’s various investment promotion agencies. Encouraging foreign investment is one of the country’s top economic priorities and agencies such as the Board of Investments (BOI) and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) exist in order to help investors safeguard their investments and to provide various fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Foreign investors are allowed to invest 100% equity in companies in the country, but be aware that there are restrictions in place for those firms that engage in business activities which are included in the Foreign Investments Negative List (FINL).

  • Firms that will be over 40% foreign-owned and intend to cater to the domestic market have a capital investment requirement of US$200,000 minimum. If the firm is involved in advance technology or employs 50 direct employees or more, however, the capital requirement can be lowered to US$100,000. If the firm intends to export at least 60% of its goods or services, then the capital requirement is just Php5,000.

  • There are hardly any restrictions on transactions by foreigners in the Philippine Stock Exchange.

  • While starting a business here is not yet as seamless as one would wish, there have been notable improvements in processes and processing time and more enhancements are planned for the near future.

Take a look at our other articles and browse the site for more detailed information on choosing the right business entity, the process of establishing a business here, and so on.

Employment Requirements

As an expat, finding employment in the Philippines, while not impossible is not going to be a breeze either. This is primarily because the competition for jobs here is fierce and there already is a large pool of skilled, educated labor. That said, if you have special skills and/or experience, there are opportunities available, especially in the BPO and high tech industries.

All non-resident foreign nationals who intend to be gainfully employed here need to acquire an Alien Employment Permit (AEP), which is issued by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Typically, employers will process this for their employees along with the 9G visa. As for resident foreign nationals, they don’t need to apply for an AEP.

Business Etiquette

The Philippines is highly westernized, but is also quite traditional at the same time and as with most Asian countries places a premium on courtesy. Be aware that Filipinos in general are leery of possibly giving offense or of making anyone, particularly a guest, uncomfortable. As such, direct confrontations are typically avoided and many will have a difficult time saying no to a request.

In general, however, as long as you are courteous and respectful (particularly to those who are older or who hold a higher position), keep your word, and avoid being too direct – especially when communicating something negative – then you should be fine.

Living in the Philippines

The Philippines has had various influences throughout its history, foremost among which have been Spain and the United States as well as China and its other Southeast Asian neighbors. It has a unique culture and is remarkably diverse and the people are generally friendly and welcoming.

Culture, Languages, Population

The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian (mostly Catholic) country in Asia, though it is worth noting that there’s a solid Muslim core in the Mindanao area, where Islamic states were already in existence before the arrival of the Spanish in 1521. Over 300 years of Spanish colonization has left its mark on everything from the dominant religion to the language, cuisine and architecture. The American influence is just as pervasive – the country was a US territory from the early 20th century to 1946 – and is reflected primarily in the fact that English has long replaced Spanish as the non-native lingua franca and is one of the country’s two official languages.

The country has one of the world’s largest populations – more than 105 million as of last count – and has over 100 different indigenous languages. Those with the largest number of speakers are Tagalog (which is the basis of Filipino, the official national language), Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Kapampangan, and Bikol. If you’re interested in learning an indigenous language, you can’t go wrong with Tagalog, which most non-Tagalog Filipinos speak as a second language. If you plan on staying mostly in the south (Central Visayas and Mindanao), however, then Cebuano is more useful.

Housing Options

Housing in the Philippines is as diverse as its numerous islands, languages, and people. Here your options can range from luxurious homes in gated communities to new condos to a cottage by the sea. Housing prices and rental rates will be significantly higher in metro areas like Manila and Cebu. Note that foreigners are not allowed to purchase land in the Philippines.

Currently, the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) here is not as comprehensive or easily accessible as the ones in the US, for example. So if you’re looking for a place to stay, it’s best to consult with local friends or colleagues who will also be able to advise you on which neighborhoods will be better suited to your needs. If you plan on staying here for less than a year, you might be better off renting a serviced apartment since most leases run for at least 12 months.


There are both public and private healthcare service providers in the Philippines, with the latter typically providing a higher quality of care. Note that the vast majority of hospitals will be located in cities and urban communities, so don’t expect to find tertiary care facilities or specialists in remote rural areas.

At the moment, there are four hospitals in the country that are accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI): St. Luke’s Medical Center, The Medical City, Makati Medical Center, and Chong Hua Hospital. All but the last, which is in Cebu, are located in Metro Manila.

If you have additional questions about what life is like here or if you need advice on investing or starting a new enterprise, please explore our site and get in touch with us anytime. We look forward to helping you make a smooth transition to the Philippines.