Philippines Expat Cost Of Living

Philippines Expat Cost Of Living

Table Of Contents:

COVID-19 Impact

I cannot tell yet what if any long-term impact COVID-19 will have on our cost of living. I have noticed no impact yet on the imported items that we use and some local items have decreased in price, especially chicken and pork.

Transportation has been greatly impacted. I state below that "you will have no problem finding public transportation," but COVID19 has altered that completely. Social distancing and lock downs have made public transportation a nightmare.

Lucky for us that just as the pandemic began we made some new friends have their own vehicles. They have accompanied us on shopping excursions for the past several months.

For now these issues are moot for prospective expats because you cannot travel to the Philippines at this time unless you already have a long term visa (or a pregnant Filipina wife in the Philippines).

Philippines Cost Of Living

Below I have provided a general estimate of the monthly and yearly cost of living for our family of three.

The costs shown do not include housing or vehicle expenses, as we own our house and land and we do not have a vehicle.

We also do not have water and sewer expenses, because we have our own septic and well.

The miscellaneous expense of 120,000PHP per year is to cover the unexpected.

Vehicle expense would add another ~130,000PHP per year: 
  • 25,000 for insurance & LTO (Land Transportation Office)
  • 25,000PHP for fuel
  • 30,000 for maintenance 
  • add another 50,000 per year for depreciation
This is for a sedan or a used vehicle that might cost under about one million PHP. It could go higher or lower.

What you spend on gas will depend on your habits. For us it would be about 15,000-20,000PHP for driving about 2,000 miles per year.

When we add that 130,000PHP and yearly rent/lease of 300,000PHP it brings the yearly total cost of living to about one million PHP.

The Philhealth cost you see there is for your Filipino citizen spouse and children only so add in 17,000 PHP (15,000 PHP if you have an SSRV) for your non-citizen Philhealth coverage.

Travel/entertainment will drive the numbers up.

Of course you could live cheaper depending upon your lifestyle.

Buying A Vehicle

The 130,000-150,000PHP I mentioned above as the annual cost of owning a vehicle is a low end figure. It can always get much higher. There are many things to consider before purchasing a vehicle in the Philippines.

Do you really need a car in the Philippines? We live in a somewhat remote rural area. We have lived here for a decade with no car. Public transport works well for us. 

For emergencies we have two ambulance services that we can use and  we have used one of them a couple of times. I think they do a much better job transporting us than we could have in an emergency situation. 

We use public transport jeepneys, tricycles, vans and buses for most of our needs and we rarely experience any issues. We have also had many hired drivers over the years and I have seen their bad experiences getting sideswiped in traffic or having their vehicle struck by some unknown person in the parking lot. I do not envy those problems.

You will have no problems with accessing public transportation in the cities. Of course my interpretation of "no problems" may be very different from yours. The biggest problem that you might have is inconvenience in waiting for a ride. 

But totaling your vehicle or being responsible for an accident where you damage your vehicle, other people's property or injure other people is a pretty big inconvenience.

With that in mind, consider that your cost of ownership could turn into multiple millions of pesos in a moment of time with one wrong move.
Two things that your own vehicle can gain for you are privacy and freedom to come and go at your leisure.

So, do you really need to buy a vehicle in the Philippines?

Inflation & Exchange Rate Can Destroy An Expat Budget

The exchange rate has been as low as 39PHP to the dollar since I have lived in the Philippines. At 39PHP one million pesos would cost $25,641. That is a $5000 increase from where it is now (August 2020)!

The most often overlooked budget gotcha is inflation. A quick way to estimate where your cost of living might be in the future is to use the "rule of 70." The rule of 70 just means that you take the annual rate of inflation and divide it into 70. The quotient is the approximate number of years that it will take your current cost of living to double. If we make 3% our rate of inflation we find that in about 24 years our current 1 million PHP budget could become 2 million PHP or about $40,000 at the current exchange rate.

That may concern anyone who thinks that they have just enough to retire to the Philippines right now with their current fixed income.

If your income cannot at least keep pace with inflation, then you might be in trouble when you are too old to do anything about it.

Inflation has not been bad overall per year since I have lived here, but I don't want anyone throwing caution to the wind because I stated something here that makes you think that you do not need to worry about inflation as much as you should. The Philippines is entering a period of rapid development and that means one thing: everything will cost more and more.

Cost Of Groceries

You can get just about anything in the Philippines that you can get in the US. 

Even in a relatively remote place, like where we live, we are still able to find a lot of the grocery items that we liked back in the states.

Just a few examples of the typical items you can find in grocery stores in the Philippines:

This 330ml bottle of Tabasco costs about 460PHP ($9). That is about 50% higher than what you might pay for this item in the US.

The Kraft cheddar cheese shown in the photo above is listed on my receipt as 500g, but the box says 440g. That is about 2oz difference. 440g is just shy of one pound. It costs 195PHP ($3.75) and it is worth its weight in gold.

The Koko Krunch used to be 187PHP, but it recently increased to 205PHP. The increase is due to new taxes on sugary items.

The Ideal brand macaroni is the best brand IMO and it costs 102PHP for a kilo.

The White King flour costs 96PHP for a kilo and it is also a jewel of an item.

From the left, the Ram corn costs 33PHP.

The Clara Ole blueberry jam is a fantastic product that makes life more enjoyable and is a good value at 121PHP.

The red beans and diced tomatoes are both imported from Italy and each costs 47PHP.

The calamansi sauce is another item that recently went up about 50% to 64PHP.

The nata de coco on the far right costs 48PHP.

The canned fish in the forefront is priced at 36PHP.

When we lived in the US our family went through gallons of vitamin D whole milk every week. We had a tough time finding a suitable replacement. 

Because the stores have a tough time keeping it on the shelves we like to keep 20-30 gallons on hand at any given time:

Alaska Milk
The image above shows roughly 90 one liter boxes of Alaska Milk. There are also three boxes of Magnolia on the right. For comparison, Magnolia is at the bottom of my list of favorite milk options. It is generally about 10PHP more per box than Alaska and tastes nowhere near as good IMO. Jolly Cow is the only brand that is less expensive than Alaska, costing about 75PHP. Jolly Cow is not as good as Alaska, but I do prefer it to Magnolia. Nestle is my #2 choice for flavor and it costs as much as Magnolia. But still for overall value Alaska is far ahead of the field.

The Alaska milk products that we have purchased have been sourced from Thailand, New Zealand and Australia. The taste varies slightly between them. For about the last year the only one that I have seen is the Thailand variant.

All I can say is that I love Alaska milk. There is no regular old homogenized milk available where we are and this Alaska UHT product is a pretty good replacement. It costs 78PHP per liter, which at 52 PHP per dollar makes the cost about $5.77 per gallon.

Nescafe instant is the only coffee that is always available to us. A 100g bag costs about 75PHP. It is good, as far as instant coffee goes. 

There are occasionally some better options available:

Folgers Ground Coffee
Sometimes we can find Folgers Classic Roast and 100% Columbian.

The Classic Roast costs 399PHP for an 11.3 oz. plastic canister, whereas the Columbian is 599PHP for a 10.3 oz. canister.

The difference is that the Columbian uses 100% Arabica beans where the Classic uses a robusta blend:

They are both better than the Nescafe, but the Columbian is fantastic. Arabica beans have less caffeine and more flavor than the robusta, but the downside is that they tend to be more acidic. After 2-3 weeks of drinking the Columbian I began experiencing acid problems with my stomach.

The Magnolia cage free brown eggs are another of our favorites. They cost 88PHP for this package of 7 eggs.

If you live in the Philippines, then one thing that you cannot live without is coconut oil. We burn through a 1.85 liter bottle like the one above every month. This item costs 230PHP.

If you grew up in the US, like me, then you are used to chicken fried in corn oil. We do prefer using corn oil for chicken, but it is strictly for the chicken, as nothing else will taste right when fried in corn oil - except for maybe french fries. Fish fried in corn oil is a definite a no-go.
Whole chicken runs about 185PHP per kilo, while cubed pork is higher at 250PHP per kilo for adobo cut. Ground beef tends to be more expensive at around 370PHP per kilo (~$3.40 per pound).

If you like cheese, then you may be able to find expensive and varieties and the local supermarket if you live in a larger city in the Islands, but for a good general purpose cheese we like Kraft Cheddar:

Kraft Cheddar Cheese
These one pound boxes cost just under 200PHP and we try to keep several of them because of the shortages throughout the year.

After removing it from the box and its plastic wrapper, Kraft Cheddar seems to improve in taste and texture after 2-3 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge. 

Magnolia makes a box cheese too, but Kraft beats it hands down IMO. The one time I might suggest Magnolia Quickmelt over Kraft Cheddar is when you need a pizza topping. The cheddar does not melt well. Alternately, you might be able to find shredded mozzarella.

We buy white rice at the local market on market day, but for whole grain varieties we like Harvester's brand red rice:

Harvester's Red Rice
This five kilo bag of red rice costs 330PHP. This whole grain red rice provides a nice alternative to white rice and helps to lower the overall glycemic load of our diet.

When you buy rice at the supermarket in these bags make sure they are airtight and check them well for weevils. They can still have weevils even if the bag is airtight because the weevils get in before the manufacturer seals the bags.

Ideal is our favorite pasta brand, but with the lock-down there was no Ideal and so we had to try an alternative:

We tried the locally milled and packaged pasta and found it to be very good. It costs about 30% less than the branded varieties and the quality is comparable.

The main problem with pasta is also a problem for all grains - weevils. The good thing about this local pasta is that the bags are clear all around giving you a good view of the contents so you can tell if there are any weevils.

We make lots of tortillas, pancakes, breads and cakes so for that we require a steady supply of good flour. Magnolia brand is good, but our favorite is White King @ 96PHP for a 1 kilo bag:

There are locally milled varieties, as with the pasta, but with flour the weevils can avoid being seen and I have been fooled a couple of times. For this reason I stick with White King, Magnolia or do without.

Pest Control 

Bugs are an issue in the Philippines, as elsewhere, and we deal with them with a two-pronged approach:

You will find boric acid in the Philippines labeled as brazing flux (used in welding) and it is sold in many hardware stores. 

We dust the outside perimeter of the house and the inside baseboards a couple of times per year with boric acid and then use the sprays strategically in places where we tend to see bugs and spray ad-hoc from then on. 

The only spray we use is Advanced Odorless. It really is almost odorless and the can costs about 300PHP.

This strategy works very well and we rarely see a roach in the house.

But do remember that this is the Philippines and no matter how diligent you are there will be bugs:

That bug in the image above was on our neighbor's patio. When it flew in it looked like a bat and sounded like a Huey. When they fly they release a hormone that smells like liquid satan. They are virtually everywhere and since they fly it is inevitable that you will find them in your house. All you can do is minimize and that is what boric acid and a good spray will help you to do. 

The boric acid sticks to the legs of roaches when they walk through it and since they are social creatures they groom each other and one can spread the powder to many. It swells up their mouth parts and they eventually starve. The spray can kill them on contact, but we use it mostly because they can smell it and that makes them avoid any location where the spray has been applied.

Ants are another kind of problem altogether. I gave up long ago on trying to control the ants. One thing you have to keep watch on is the light switches and power outlets. Ants like to build nests in those and when they do it destroys the outlet/switch. Every year I loose a couple of switches/outlets to the darned ants.


A few I have tried, but didn't work for me:

Red Horse is the Steel Reserve of the Philippines. I have had a few.

The San Mig All Malt is not bad, but for the price there are better alternatives. This beer, though it comes in a green bottle like Heinekin, has never had the characteristic skunked flavor or smell of Heinekin when I have tried it. I attribute this to the possibility that San Mig uses less hops than Heinekin.

San Mig Superdry is the red & silver label/next to last bottle. Superdry is a decent beer, but not my first choice.

The Asahi in the middle is a Japanese rice lager. Not bad, but too high @ ~100PHP. 

Sapporo is another rice lager and my comments for it mirror those on Asahi.

A couple of my recent undertakings:

Tsingtao is a Chinese rice lager, unlike Asahi and Sapporo that are Japanese. I expected an unimpressive beer with a free headache when I bought this, but what I got was a jolt of hops that I have not received in almost a decade. Some of the reviews say that this beer has no hops, while others had an experience like mine where the hops were pronounced. This beer was ~100PHP at the local 7/11, but it is a 500ml bottle making it a bit of a better value. I am looking forward to trying the IPA and Stout offerings from Tsingtao. Recommended.

Chang Classic is a Thai rice lager. The taste is bud light and it comes with a free headache, so I will not be returning to this one.

Some of my regulars:

Heinekin is sold everywhere and at about the same price as what you are probably used to. Skunk does not bother me and in fact I like it. Recommended.

Good Day Soju is from Korea. It is essentially watered down rice vodka with added flavors. At 16% ABV it gives you three beers in the bottle for about ~100PHP. Recommended. 

Brew Kettle Wheat Beer is a local macrobrew made by Asia Brewery. This is IMO the best macrobrew made in the Philippines - there may be better craft options. Not stellar, but very good for the Philippines. Brew Kettle is very much like Blue Moon (a Coors product). I liked Blue Moon back in the states, but it always came with free headache. Brew Kettle comes with no headache and this coupled with the fact that it tastes great ice cold and costs only 37PHP per bottle makes it a top choice.Highly recommended. 

Cerveza Negra is the only San Mig beer that I still buy. It has a smoky malt flavor that I occasionally desire, but it is a bit thin and for me it always seems to come with a free headache. Still I do recommend it. 

Kozel Dark is Czech dark lager (Munich Dunkel). Very good beer and low alcohol. Highly recommend.

Better German and Belgian:

The Leffe Bruin and the Paulaner Wheat Beer w/trub are great beers. I highly recommend that if you ever find these or anything like them that you purchase the entire stock. 150-200PHP per bottle.

The Literal Holy Grail:

yet to be found.... 

Beer Update 8-22-2020

I wanted to do better justice to San Mig All Malt & Cerveza Negra and Brew Kettle, so I recently tried all three again.

Cerveza Negra is not going on the favorites list. Still recommend trying it though. It looks like cola in the glass and has a cola-like carbonation. The taste is good, but there is something off-putting in the finish. Negra is also a headache maker for me. Every issue with this beer, IMO, is attributable to the use of adjuncts. They could have had a great beer if they could just get off the rice.

San Mig All Malt is good. Brew Kettle is a little better. And Brew Kettle is 50% cheaper than the All Malt. So there it is: Brew Kettle for the win.


Anonymous said...

it was 32 to the dollar in 1998 when i first moved there

Anonymous said...

Everything seems to be going up right now. Just hope the exchange rate does not go down.

Zab said...

How about philippine house design and cost? probably in central luzon or around batangas laguna? Do you have any idea?

Philippine Destiny said...

Hard to answer how much it costs to build a house even in normal times.

A lot of variables to that question.

and these are not normal times

Covid might be a problem in getting a house built.

As a foreigner I might think twice about putting down cash for a house right now. Things are different from when I did it. I may be more inclined to rent.

But now might be a great time for a Filipino to build a house.

again, just too many variables to answer straight how much

but here is a guess: between 500,000PHP and 50,000,000PHP

the more variables we know the closer we can get to the answer

How big?

What kind of materials? High end or bargain basement?

Price of land varies widely even in lots that are near together.

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