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A Comprehensive Guide on Moving to the Philippines

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Relocating to the Philippines

  • Manila, the capital, is the political and cultural center of the Philippines.
  • There are different types of visas to apply for, depending on the purpose of your stay. A non-immigrant visa is the one you need for working or studying in the Philippines.
  • Water travel options are aplenty between islands while jeepneys are the most popular form of road transportation.

Moving to the Philippines is a consideration for many expats who dream of a laid-back life under palm trees in a warm and sunny climate. The Philippines is the second-largest archipelago in the world, and its 7,641 islands are considered the hidden treasure of Southeast Asia.

The nation’s heritage and its various cultural influences add to the Philippines’ appeal as an expat destination. After moving to the Philippines, you will quickly become aware of the diversity in the country’s culture and nature, complete with metropolitan areas and scenic landscapes.

However, the immense destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) in November 2013 sadly demonstrated that natural disasters are one of the biggest safety risks, which should be taken into consideration by anyone moving to the Philippines.

Geography and Climate of the Philippines

The Philippines are located east of Vietnam, between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. With its many islands, the nation offers 36,289 km of coastline. The terrain is mostly mountainous with extensive lowlands along the coast. The highest point is Mount Apo, 2,954 m in height.

After your move to the Philippines, you will experience a tropical marine climate throughout the year, with monsoon season from November to April in the northeast and May to October in the southwest. You should also be aware that the country is located in the typhoon belt. Each year, the archipelago is affected by up to 15 typhoons and five or six severe storms.

Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda was one of the biggest tropical storms ever observed. It affected upwards of twelve million people, resulting in numerous lives lost and countless homes in ruins. On top of that, expats can expect landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis to be common as well.

Manila: The “Pearl of the Orient”

An article on moving to the Philippines could never be complete without mentioning Manila, the capital and biggest city in the entire country. The city is not just the seat of the Philippine government. With its 12.88 million people, it is also a buzzing center of commerce, as well as the home of historic landmarks, of scientific and educational institutions. Thus, Manila is the political, commercial, and cultural center of the nation and the biggest magnet for expats interested in moving to the Philippines.

The seaport of Manila is among the busiest around the globe, making the city an important location for import and export. In addition, different industrial developments have been built throughout the city, creating new business areas. At the moment, the commercial center of Manila is Makati. Many well-known multinational law firms and construction companies, as well as banks and stock brokerages, are based in Makati. Corporations like Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, and Shell, to name just a few, all have their regional headquarters in Makati.

At the same time, Manila is a popular tourist destination for foreigners and Filipinos alike, despite the lack of a definable city center, which was destroyed in World War II. Manila is a vibrant metropolis constantly growing in population. It is also the very definition of Filipino urban culture.

The Growing Economy of the Philippines

Expats moving to the Philippines will benefit greatly from an economy that has recently experienced significant growth. Since the country does not rely too strongly on exports and international trade, the recession has not hit it as hard as it affected some of its neighbors in Southeast Asia. The labor force of the Philippines counts about 41 million people, around a third of which work in agriculture. Expatriates could be likely to find work in the services sector, which employs more than half of the Philippine labor force. Philippine’s economy is ranked the 39th-largest in the world in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Despite the strong economy, however, poverty is an issue, as around a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. This may come as somewhat of a surprise to expats. As of 2015, the Philippines also faces a large national debt of around 45% of its GDP despite its well-performing economy and high GDP. Its economy highly depends on money sent home by overseas workers.

Despite the damages caused by the devastating typhoon in 2013, the national economy is still growing steadily by around 6% every year. The storm largely spared the Manila region, the economic center of the Philippines. However, it shredded countless rice and sugar cane fields, which are important cash crops and export products, as well as causing famine and suffering in the affected provinces.

Philippines: Visa Types and Requirements

Depending on your country of origin, you may not need a visa for visits of up to 30 days. With a tourist visa, longer visits of less than 60 days are possible as well. However, if you plan to enter the country for the purpose of employment, you will need a non-immigrant visa for pre-arranged employment.

Which Visa Is the Right One for You?

There are different visa types that may apply to you when you move to the Philippines:

  • A tourist visa is only necessary for stays exceeding 30 days and requiring multiple entries.
  • A non-immigrant visa is granted for the purpose of pre-arranged employment, trade, transit, and education. The requirements naturally vary.
  • Non-quota immigrant visas apply to children and spouses of Philippine citizens and returning natural-born Filipinos.
  • Quota immigrant visas are granted to applicants with enough financial capital who possess extraordinary professional skills or qualifications to benefit the country. A maximum of 50 quota immigrant visas are granted per year.
  • The special resident retiree visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows multiple entries and indefinite stay. To participate in this visa program, applicants must submit a deposit depending on their age and retirement pension.

If you receive a pension and you are at least 50 years old, then the required deposit for a special resident retiree visa is 10,000 USD, plus a monthly pension of 800 USD for a single applicant and 1,000 USD for a couple.

If you receive no pension and you are at least 50 years old, then the required deposit is 20,000 USD. For applicants aged from 35 to 49, the deposit is 50,000 USD.

For former Filipino citizens who are at least 35 years old (regardless of the number of their dependents), for ambassadors of foreign countries who have served and retired in the Philippines, and for current and former staff members of international organization who are at least 50 years old, the deposit only amounts to 1,500 USD.

For more details on the individual visas and how to apply, see the Filipino Bureau of Immigration.

Visa Requirements

The visa requirements for the Philippines vary significantly, depending on the purpose and the duration of your stay. However, for example, the necessary documents for a pre-arranged employment visa include:

  • a passport valid for at least six to twelve months
  • two completed application forms
  • a copy of your employment contract
  • your curriculum vitae
  • several passport-sized pictures, signed on front bottom
  • a medical and physical examination report by an authorized physician (including a chest X-ray, lab reports, and a certificate that you are HIV-negative)
  • the visa application fee

If you are planning to move to the Philippines with your family, you should also attach any birth certificates and a marriage certificate. These documents must be notarized. If you apply in a language other than English, remember to submit your paperwork with certified English translations.

Don’t Forget to Register for Your Alien Employment Permit

Aside from an employment visa, the Philippine government requires non-resident foreign nationals to apply for an Alien Employment Permit (AEP) if they plan on working in the Philippines. The department responsible for this permit is the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

You can try to apply for an AEP at your nearest consulate or embassy. However, your application will be more successful if you submit it through your prospective employer at one of the DOLE’s regional offices. How long your AEP remains valid depends on the duration of your work contract and the nature of your position at your company in the Philippines.

ACR I-Card

When submitting your visa application, you need to provide an application for an ACR I-Card along with it. The ACR I-Card costs around 50 USD and is a microchip-based identification card that carries all your information relevant to immigration officials, such as your name, date of birth, age, and visa type.

The card also serves as an Emigration Clearance Certificate (ECC), Re-Entry Permit (RP), and Special Return Certificate (SRC).

Transportation in the Philippines

Getting There

When preparing to take the big step of moving to the Philippines, you should make sure to book your flight well in advance. This is especially true if you plan to move in December when many Filipinos fly home for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

The main point of entry to the Philippines is Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), where you can expect to join long lines at the immigration counter. The second busiest airport in the country is Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu City, which receives flights from Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Tokyo, and Seoul.

Fortunately, Cebu Airport emerged from the chaos of Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda relatively unscathed. The natural disaster in November 2013 devastated other important airports in the Visayas, especially in Tacloban City, where the airport was rendered unusable for all planes except turboprop craft dedicated to the relief effort. However, by now airlines have been given the green light to resume flights to and from the airport.

Francisco Bangoy International Airport (DVO) in Davao and Clark International Airport (CRK) in Angeles City both also receive international flights from different Asian countries. Depending on your destination, entering through one of the smaller airports may be more convenient for you.

Inter-Island Travel

Water travel is the primary means of getting from island to island, and it is the backbone of the Philippines’ overall transportation system. Virtually any mode of water transportation is available, ranging from high-class, air-conditioned ferries and catamarans to small bangkas or pumpboats. Bangkas are the basis of inter-island transportation. These small wooden boats run on automotive engines, and while bangkas lack the luxury of ferries and catamarans, they are cheap and widely available.

If you prefer to travel on land, you can use one of the many reliable and cheap bus services, which offer island hopping as well. While departures are frequent, drivers sometimes leave early if their bus is full. Alternatively, you can rent a car and drive yourself. Keep in mind, however, that traffic is quite hectic in Manila and in Luzon’s central mountains. In other cities and in the countryside, on the other hand, it can be quite a pleasant alternative.

While the immediate aftermath of the natural disaster in November 2013 did not allow for safe travels there, the Eastern Visayas are once again the destination for many tourists. Traveling there, you will have the opportunity to assist the local communities in getting back on their feet.

Getting Around in Town

In most cities, jeepneys, a cross between a jeep and a bus, are the main mode of transportation. They are popular for both local travel and long-distance journeys. Unfortunately,drivers tend to wait until the jeepney is full before they depart. As a result, you may have to wait a while before the jeepney leaves for your desired destination.

Jeepneys travel on set routes with a base fare price of about seven pesos. If you choose to travel long distances by jeepney, try to find out the fare in advance. Other modes of transportation in the cities are light rail (in Manila), tricycles, pedicabs, and minibuses.

Pedicabs are very traditional and fares range from PHP 10 to 30 per trip. At least, this is the price for locals. As a foreigner, you may be charged a higher fare. Vans and minibuses are becoming a popular alternative to jeepneys and buses. They are operated privately and cost you at least twice the fare of a jeepney. However, they are much more comfortable than jeepneys and are usually air-conditioned.

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  • Jacques Paillard

    All expatriates in my company joined InterNations because it really helped me get accustomed to my new life in Manila.

  • Adriana Rodrigues Zon

    The idea of getting to know other expats in Manila was very appealing to me, and I've greatly expanded my network in the Philippines.

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