Interested in moving to the Philippines? This is our simple Philippines Immigration Guide, containing all the info you need to get started. From getting a visa to finding work and (eventual) citizenship – it’s all here. Read on!
Philippines: Quick Facts
- Consists of 7,107 islands, with a combined population of over 105 million people (12th largest in the world). 24th most dense, at 811 people per square mile (for comparison: USA has a population density of ~83 per square mile). 24th in GDP, but 160th in GDP per capita.
- Over 12 million Filipinos work outside the country.
- Metro Manila is also called the National Capital Region (NCR). The Manila urban population is 20 million. Metro Manila holds the world record for population density, with 1.65 million residents packed into just 14.88 square miles.
- The Philippine average monthly wage is $279, and the average family annual income 209,000 peso (about $4,000). Minimum wage varies by location (190 to 482 pesos per day, or ~$4.40 to $11.20). Most Filipinos live at home until they get married.
- Has a tropical climate with two seasons, wet and dry. The country is prone to earthquakes, and sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Often subject to powerful (and devastating) typhoons.
- One of the most biologically diverse areas of the world. World renowned for its beautiful coastlines and pristine, sandy beaches.
- The Philippines was a Spanish colony from the 1500s to 1898 (the country’s name derives from King Philip), and an American colony from 1898 to 1946.
- Currency: Philippine Peso (PHP).
- Spoken languages: Filipino and English are the official languages. Spanish was a third official language until 1987. Filipino has many borrowed Spanish words.
- Filipino (including Tagalog) is the first language of only 1/3 of the population, mostly around Manila. There are three other major regional languages – Kapampangan, Ilocano, and Visayan. Schools teach material in Filipino and English.
- Major religions: Catholic (86%), other Christian (8%), Muslim (4%).
- Largest cities: Manila (NCR), Davao, and Cebu. 30% of the country’s population live in and around these three cities.
Why move to the Philippines
- For better or worse, it is one of the most westernized Asian countries. 400 years of Spanish colonial rule and 50 years of US administration has defined the country’s development.
- People are open to foreigners. It has been estimated that 75% of the population has a relative (second degree or closer) living in a western country.
- In many ways, it’s on the beaten path. Millions visit the country every year on holiday, and many choose it is as the ultimate retirement destination after a lifetime elsewhere. Standards of living vary greatly, allowing a retiree to fit in where they are most comfortable.
- English is an official language and widely spoken/understood.
- Cost of living is comparatively low, even in the three major cities. Luxury living can be had for a fraction of cost elsewhere. A part-time housekeeper will cost about $50 a month, and a full-time live in maid less than $100 (plus room and board).
- Local markets provide a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at a reasonable cost. Seafood is inexpensive.
- Public transport is developed and widespread. It easy to live without owning a car. Small motorcycles and scooters are popular for personal transportation (though not a necessity by any means).
- The country is an excellent base for travel to Asia. When on sale, airfares to Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia or Thailand can be less than US $100 (round trip).
- There’s a variety of living situations to choose from – the major cities offer a fast-paced urban lifestyle, while the surrounding areas offer a peaceful retreat from city life.
- Telecom (wireless) and internet infrastructure is excellent.
Reasons Not to move to the Philippines
Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.
- Poverty is widespread – some have difficulties coming to terms with that. Income inequality is stark.
- Government red tape and corruption are real and evident.
- You will not be able to own land in your name.
- Business laws and regulations make entrepreneurship difficult (see below: Starting a Business).
- Not easy to find a decent job, much less build a career.
- While most Filipinos are honest, there will always be someone looking to take advantage of the rich foreigner.
- Depending on the location, the weather can be a serious issue. Typhoons are common and can cause massive damage in some areas. Summers are very hot – it not uncommon for overnight temperatures to be at 90 F (32 C), even in May.
- Imported food and goods can be expensive.
Getting a Visa and Finding Work
There are a number of different types of visas that are available. Each has its strengths and weakness.
- “Forever tourist”: visitors from most countries entering the Philippines are generally allowed to enter for 30 days without a visa. A 30 day visa will be issued by immigration at the airport. There is a requirement for an outbound ticket, however the ticket is not required to be within the 30 day window. Prior to the expiration date of the visa, the tourist can go to a local immigration office and for a small fee have it extended for another 59 days. The main office in Manila is able to grant extensions of 6 months. This process can be repeated for a total of 16 months. After staying 60 days, the tourist must apply for an Alien Registration Card, which is good for a year. Also once they pass the 6 months of arrival they need a clearance from the local immigration’s office to exit the country. Once you get the feel for this process it is relatively easy. The majority of the Retirees living in the Philippines use this method. Working is not allowed under this visa.
- Special Resident Retiree Visa (SRRV): this visa allows you a number of options and makes you a Temporary Resident. The visa is good for two years and is easily renewed. There are some income requirements and other documentation required (varies by age). If you’re over 50, you need to make a $10,000 time deposit and have a pension of at least $800 a month. The time deposit can only be withdrawn for a purchase of a condo or similar living arrangement. You are able to work with this visa, but still must get an Alien Employment Permit. Exit permission is not needed for stays over 6 months. Many retirees eligible under this program do not apply because of the steep initial application fee ($1400).
- Special Visa For Employment Generation (SVEG): a relatively new visa that still confuses some people. If you are a business owner or part owner and exercise managerial responsibilities in a company that employes at least ten workers you are eligible. The workers may be skilled or unskilled, but it excludes security guards and domestic workers. It is valid for one year probationary period and then renewable every two years.
- Special Working Visa: these are available for the Subic Bay and the Clark Freeport zones. To be eligible, applicants must hold an Alien Employment Permit (AEP), which requires the sponsoring company to show that no local Filipino is qualified to do the job. Officers of a corporation are issued an AEP without restrictions. This working visa is good for two years and renewals are simple. Those who have invested more than $250,000 are eligible for an investor visa (valid for as long as they own the investment).
- There are two visas available for those married to a Filipino:
- Section 13a visa (permanent residency): can be applied for prior to entering the country (or once here). Allows one to work, and an AEP is not required.
- The balikbayan visa (valid for 1 year): issued at the port of entry. To be eligible, your Filipino spouse must be traveling with you.
Permanent Residency and Citizenship
- For former Filipino citizens: a former Filipino citizen may easily reclaim their citizenship. They also have the option to claim dual citizenship.
- For everyone else: while it is on the books that a national from another country can become naturalized, it is not common (outside of cases of being married to a Filipino). There is a ten year period of residency as the base requirement. You must also be familiar with Philippine culture, and be able to prove that you have made a positive contribution to Philippine society.
Starting a Business in the Philippines
- Most corporations require 60% Filipino ownership. Depending the business type, certain industries have different ownership restriction rules. For example, a business with less that 250,000 peso capital is restricted to Filipino ownership.
- Professional licenses are only issued to Filipinos.
- Expats may open and fully own businesses in the Special Economic Zones and the Freeports. These must be established as Corporations and approved by the freeport administration. Setting up the corporation is a simple low cost procedure, with most of the paperwork completed online. One corporate officer, the Corporate Secretary, must be a Filipino. Often a paralegal from a law office performs this function.
- Simply owning a business (or a portion of one) does not actually allow you to work – an Alien Employment Permit from the Department of Labor and a working visa must be obtained first.
Recommended Reading & Resources
- How to Move to the Philippines Manual
- Philippines Bureau of Immigration – official website
- Serviced Apartment listings: Cebu | Davao | Manila