Cost of Living in the Philippines – How Cheap Can I Live? The 123 Rule.

Bikini Bar - Sabang Beach, Philippines
Bikini Bar - Sabang Beach, Philippines

People often ask me about how much it costs to live in the Philippines. They want to know if their retirement or social security check is enough for them to survive here.

This is a complicated question because everyone has their own “needs” and wants. Each person has different “standard of living” requirements. I put these words in quotes because these days we think we need things that for our first 2 million years, we lived without. There is a major difference in needs vs. wants. If you’re considering moving to a country like the Philippines on your small retirement check, let me first break down some reality so you know what you’re getting into.

(This post is a rambling collection of thoughts and really has no structure. The main objective here is to explain the simplicity of the 123 rule.)

Everyone has a different perspective on the topic of cost of living. I recommend you read as many articles and watch as many YouTube videos published by expats so you’re not just taking my words as law.

When I started writing this article back in October, we were staying in a room for $28 USD per month! I know that’s hard to believe for those of you living in the West, but 1,500 PHP is how much we were paying for our little beach condo. The water bill for one month was about $7 USD and the electric rang in at $13 USD.

Monthly Income Needed to Live in the Philippines? The 123 Rule.

Here’s how I answer the question with simplicity. I call it the 123 Rule. It’s easy to remember and is pretty damn accurate.

Lifestyle Pesos USD
Live Like a Local 54,000 1,000
Live Comfortable Like an Expat 108,000 2,000
Live Good, Drink, Smoke, & Chase Women 162,000 3,000
How Do You Want to Live? ??? ???

Those numbers are as simple as I can put it. It’s the 123 Rule. You either need $1,000 USD, $2,000 USD, or $3,000 USD per month to live in the Philippines. The amount depends on what kind of player you are.

I know what you’re thinking:

“Holy shit! I can’t believe you quoted those numbers. You just told me you’re living in a room for $28 USD per month! WTF? Why are you saying I need $1,000 per month? I don’t get it.”

Listen. Carefully.

Just because you move away from your home country, you don’t change. Your environment changes, your daily way of life is different, and your living conditions are not the same. This applies even when moving to a different region of your own country. However, you don’t magically change overnight. If you’re used to eating at McDonald’s five times per week, and there is a McDonald’s near your new home, you will find yourself eating a Big Mac several times per week. Humans are creatures of habit. Just because you can live cheap over here, it doesn’t mean that you can live cheap over here.

These numbers, if you look at them over a one-year time period, will start to make sense. The reason is that things you don’t plan for, do and will happen.

You may have to book a flight back to your home country at a moment’s notice because of the death of a relative or someone there has fallen ill. A last-minute flight is expensive. For most of us, that will take $1,500 USD out of our pockets with the click of a mouse.

What if your laptop gives out? That’s another $500 to $1,500 USD out of your pocket to replace the damn thing.

Factor in immigration fees for your visa. If you don’t live near an immigration office, you have to factor in transportation and lodging every time you make the journey.

As an expat, we cannot live as cheap as the locals—over time. They do not have the extra expenses or circumstances that I just detailed.

If you really believe you can live off of $500 USD per month, I recommend you double that to $1,000 and then you will have a number closer to reality. I speak from experience, my friends.

Living Like a Local

Some of you aren’t going to make it if you try to live like a local. It’s just not going to work for you. Let me be up front with that. It’s hard for me at times as well. It has nothing to do with the condition of my room, the fact that I have no air-conditioner or hot water, or the fact that thirteen roosters are stationed outside my window.

Living out in the province where everything is much cheaper is like living in the backwoods of Mississippi or Alabama. There’s not much to do. If you’re over the age of 70, you probably won’t care. Anyone under the age of 70 is going to get bored out of their mind at some point.

Another difficulty of everyday life in the province is that everyone thinks I’m rich. Any foreign guy in this region is rich. That’s what the locals think and you will never convince them otherwise. As I have been working on this article today, I’ve already had one neighbor stop by and ask me for money because her daughter has a headache. Now, first of all, her daughter does not have a headache. She comes up with daily excuses as to why she can’t go to school. So, her poor mother thinks she’s sick and came all the way over here to try and get money for medicine.

My wife gave away a sack of rice to a neighbor yesterday when I wasn’t here because she was too shy to tell her no. When you live locally, you can’t give anyone free money or a loan. Once you give one person money, there will be a line at the door everyday. I hate that I have to be that way but I’m not rich and it sets a bad precedent. I recommend that you never loan anyone money and damn sure don’t give away free money. Both courses of action are bad for you as the foreigner. If you give your wife’s family money, give it to the mother or father only. Never stray from that. If anyone in the family needs money, they use the chain of command and it leaves you out of the bullshit and drama.

I love helping people when I have the capability. I hate having to be the bad guy and tell people no when they ask for help. It makes me feel like shit for the rest of the day. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but if you live on the cheap you are living among the locals. They have little to no money. They don’t understand that the reason you are living among them is because you only draw $495 USD per month from social security. They don’t get it. Be prepared to tell a lot of people no if you want to live in a $28 USD per month room.

We enjoy staying at the beach condo, but there are challenges. We’ve moved out of the beach condo due to travel plans and are currently in Angeles City. Our accommodations here are much more luxurious than what the beach condo had to offer. But, we do miss the beach condo and look forward to getting back down there at some point.

Condos and Apartments

You can get a pretty decent condo or apartment for $250 to $350 USD per month. Everyone’s idea of what is decent obviously varies. The location you’re in obviously effects the price as well. However, at that price range, you’ll be able to live quite comfortably in pretty much any area of the Philippines.

For $600 USD per month, you can get a badass studio condo in Angeles City, in a new building. The place we’re at right now has a swimming pool on the roof deck, fiber optic Internet, brand new appliances, T.V.’s with all of the cable channels, etc. A one-bedroom in this building runs right at $1,000 USD per month. This is on the high end of the scale if you’re trying to retire cheap. But, if you’re looking to change your geography but not your standard of living, a building like this is perfect. We’ve even got a stainless steel gas barbecue grill up on the roof available for use. If you stay at a place like this, it’s like you never left the West (as far as your crib goes).

Don’t Buy a Car

If you move to the Philippines, you don’t NEED to buy a car. You may WANT to buy a car, but it’s an unnecessary risk and expense. Transportation here is not expensive. You can take a tricycle, a GRAB car, a taxi, jeepney, bus, or flight pretty much anywhere for cheap.

If you buy a car, you’re creating bills for yourself for no good reason. The main thing about you buying a car is that you open yourself up for litigation. However, the litigation here goes something like this: You, the foreigner, get into an accident with a local. The police show up and you are the one who’s at fault 99.9% of the time. Open your wallet and get ready to shell out money to fix the local’s vehicle, pay their hospital bill, and then pay some money to the cops. Why open yourself up to that bullshit? Take a tricycle. Take a taxi. Take a GRAB car. Take a bus. All of these options have zero liability to you or your wallet. You driving a car around here is an unnecessary risk.

My buddy Don is around 80 years old. He’s lived in Southeast Asia for 40 years. His philosophy is:

Never drive anything in Southeast Asia with a motor.

Don’s point is that you open yourself up for the chance to get to pay a local a bunch of money. Ride a damn bicycle and you never have to worry about paying anyone.

In Angeles City, you can take a tricycle pretty much anywhere in the tourist area for $2 USD. If you need to go to points in the city a bit further away, it may run you up to $4 USD. A GRAB car is about the same price. You can take a damn jeepney from our condo to Walking Street for about 9 Pesos (17 cents U.S.). A ride on a brand new bus from the airport in Manila to Angeles City (2 hours north) is only $7 USD. With these prices on transportation, you cannot even begin to justify buying a vehicle. In most places around the population centers, there are no parking spots anyway.

Just factor in a transportation budget of $100 per month and you’ll be much better off. I can’t give you our numbers because we are constantly on the go and our travel expenses are not typical.

Local Food

If you want to eat at a local canteen / carinderia, you can get a meal for around $2 USD. It would actually cost you more to go buy the food and prepare it vs. going to a local spot. However, you can’t eat at these spots everyday. You may think you can, but in about two weeks you’ll be craving the food of your home country. So, you really can’t figure $2 USD per meal unless you’re dedicated to living cheap or so damn broke you have no other choice. Eventually you’re going to want to go out to eat at a restaurant that serves international food.

Your Thoughts?

I’ll add to this post as I think about things. If you have time, leave a comment down below so others can learn and try to get a handle on how much they’re going to need to live here.

1 COMMENT

  1. The giving/loaning money, that is good advise.

    Giving the money to Mom, that advise is golden. You can help and stay out of the drama that way.

    Once you put money in a Filipinos hand, it is their money. Don’t expect to get it back.

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