Bang for Buck in The Philippines: What Your Dollar Will Get You

Dazzling beaches, bountiful seafood and friendly, English-speaking locals aren’t the only things the Philippines has got going for it. Expats looking for a sunny place to retire will find a little money goes a long way in this island nation. Because the Philippines hasn’t—yet—developed to the extent many of its Southeast Asian neighbours have, it’s possible to live quite comfortably on modest means.

Here’s a quick rundown of what you can get for your dollar in the Philippines.

Renting

Rental costs vary from the big cities to the small provinces. If you’re staying in a central location in Manila or Cebu, you can expect to shell out $550 a month for a modern one-bedroom apartment or $800 for a three-bedroom place. But if you’re not into city living then head for the countryside and the world-famous beaches…

In small towns just outside Cebu or secondary cities like Baguio, Dumaguete or Bohol, you won’t have a problem finding a good one-bedroom apartment for $250, double your budget to $500 and you’ll pretty much double the space. And if you’ve cash to splash, there are plenty of beautiful beachfront homes and villas on the market starting in and around $1,500.

Bills

Generally speaking, you’ll pay around $55 to $95 per month for electricity, water and phone bills—perhaps more if you use the air-conditioning liberally. Unlimited broadband internet costs around $50 per month. If you need it, adding a call-text-data prepaid plan to your smartphone will run you anywhere from $10 to $20 a month.

Shopping

Shopping in the local markets is the best way to buy groceries in the Philippines. However, if markets aren’t your thing, you’ll find air-conditioned supermarkets in almost every city. One person, cooking often at home, will spend around $200 a month to stock their fridge and pantry well. In the supermarkets, a kilo of rice costs $1.30, a dozen eggs costs $2.40 and a loaf of wholegrain bread costs $1.60.

Dining Out

Eating out in the Philippines is affordable, however it’s good to note that real Filipino food is not street food like it is in Thailand and Vietnam. In the Philippines, the best cooks are home cooks. Restaurant menus are designed for family-style sharing rather than individual courses.

A nice breakfast with coffee will run you around $5. A quick lunch at a local eatery will cost you $4, opt for a Western fast-food joints and it’ll be about $7. A three-course dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant–say modern Filipino cooking for example–will average around $20. Even the best restaurants in cities like Dumaguete or Bohol rarely charge more than $8 for a main dish.

Going Out

You can kick back with a local beers here for less than a dollar, for imported coldies, double that. Cocktails in clubs and bars average around $6. In simple beachfront bars, G&Ts or rum and cokes had be had for $2.50.

Travel and Transport

There are plenty of ways to get around without buying a car. Outside Cebu and Manila most families use trikes, scooters or jeepneys. An eight-kilometre taxi ride in a city costs $5.

The Philippines is a vast archipelago so hopping a boat is a pretty regular event. The well-run fast ferries between destinations like Cebu and Bohol cost about $21 and for routes like Dumaguete to Siquijor–a 45-minute trip–you’ll pay just $6.50.

Return flights from Manila to Sydney start at about $450.

Little Luxuries

In the cities or outside, you can score a quality massage for $10.50, tip included, splash out on a mani-pedi for about the same price.

Many expats get housekeepers at a rate of $4 per hour, about the same cost as a latte at a Filipino branch of Starbucks.

Of course it’s possible to manage on less than this if you try – it all depends on how local you want to go. On a side note, almost anywhere in the Philippines you can find and knock down a fresh coconut completely free. The best things in life… as they say.

Related Articles

My 3 Favourite Islands in the Philippines

Striking a Balance in Cebu

How to Try Out Life in Asia—3 Havens Where Renting is Easy