Best Places to Retire Abroad: The Philippines

June 2, 2015 at 14:18

By Charles Frost
May 31, 2015 11:01 p.m. ET

If you are considering retiring in another country, I am no doubt biased, but I believe it’s hard to beat the Philippines.

I first visited this island nation (about 7,000 islands in all) 24 years ago when I was 52 years old. At that time I was a college professor doing research, and friends introduced me to a lovely young lady who over time became my wife. I am now 76 and retired, and my wife and I plan on spending much of the rest of our lives in the Philippines.

The benefits are numerous: a warm climate year round (average low temperatures are in the mid-70s); endless beaches and water activities; easy access to destinations across Asia; excellent medical care; a relatively low cost of living; and abundant opportunities to help those less fortunate.

Of course, the Philippines isn’t for everyone. The country doesn’t have the rich culture or superior infrastructure of Europe. Poverty is widespread. Power outages are a nuisance, and getting back and forth to the U.S. is expensive. Put another way, houseguests tend to be rare.

Welcoming place

That said, I have traveled widely in Asia, Europe and Mexico and have lived all over the U.S. In my experience, few places are as welcoming.

At various times, my wife and I have lived in different parts of the Philippines. We first bought a beach lot and built a home in Bubog, a village outside the city of San Jose on the island of Mindoro. We then bought a condo in Manila, the capital.

Today, we live in the city of Lapu Lapu on Mactan Island. We’re part of the metropolitan area of Cebu, the second-largest population center in the Philippines, with more than three million people. Our house is just 20 minutes from Mactan-Cebu International Airport, a jumping-off point for, among other cities, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Most of the streets on the island are crowded with pedestrians, goats, bikes, motorcycles, taxi cabs, private cars, trucks and small van-like buses. You weave your way through the tangle and, unless you are in a big hurry, it all flows along. We own a car, but other forms of transportation are readily available and cheap. For less than a dollar, you can hop on the back of a motorcycle-taxi, if you are comfortable with such thrills.


Our four-bedroom home sits in a beachfront resort. (Note: Expats must be married to a Filipino to buy a house. Otherwise, options include buying a condo, renting, or buying a house on a leasehold basis.) The weather played an important part in choosing this area: Our particular island is sheltered by other, larger islands, which tend to take the brunt of the periodic typhoons that hit the Philippines.

Seafood deliveries

Daily life is relaxing, for the most part. I like to read, study (Internet and cable services here are excellent), do some writing and, perhaps most important, take a morning and afternoon swim. My wife and I enjoy dining out, but food shopping is simple. A nearby market offers a wide variety of locally grown or caught food. (We have fresh seafood delivered directly to our door.) There is also a version of a Sam’s Club—called S&R—where we can buy milk and butter from New Zealand, apple juice from Australia and wines from throughout the world.

We have made good friends here, and one of the best ways to do that is to join a local Rotary Club. My fellow Rotarians in Lapu Lapu include local business owners and managers, lawyers, politicians, doctors and other professionals. You get to meet other expats and build ties to the community. (It helps—considerably—that English is spoken widely.)

I mentioned the poverty. That certainly can dissuade outsiders from settling here. But the opportunity to help others, and the fact that even small acts of charity can have a profound impact, has enriched our lives immeasurably. For example, I am putting a couple of students through college here for roughly $100 a month each. What a joyful way to make a difference!

And speaking of the cost of things…many goods and services are a bargain compared with the U.S. Need a plumber? Most visits and repairs will cost about 400 pesos, or less than $10. A nice dinner for two? About 1,000 pesos, or less than $25. Our home in a similar resort in the States would easily cost $500,000 or more; here, the price is about half that. (And my property taxes are about $30 a month.)

Affordable care

Medical care, in particular, is very affordable. The typical charge to see a very competent English-speaking doctor is 300 pesos, or about $7. Recently, I had some X-rays. The cost to take and read the images: 800 pesos, or less than $20.

I bring this up because I’m already thinking about the cost of long-term care, if needed. In the U.S., such care can exhaust your resources; here, I could probably live at home and afford private care.

If you’re considering a move to the Philippines, or anywhere outside the U.S., I believe you should have an exit plan (should you decide to return) or keep a home in the States. My wife and I have a house in Nevada (Las Vegas), where we have friends and relatives. But again—for all the reasons I’ve noted—we anticipate spending the bulk of our days in the Philippines.

Let me repeat: The Philippines isn’t paradise. (The rainy season starts in June and lasts for about six months.) But then…paradise, I believe, is primarily a state of mind. If you are adaptive, if you have a positive attitude toward change and challenges, then you should do well as an expat. On the other hand, if you are irritated by things not being like they are in the “good ol’ U.S. of A,” you shouldn’t bother packing your bags.

For me, the Philippines has proved to be a destination filled with natural wonders, a  vibrant culture and ample opportunities to enjoy later life. It has been a very interesting 24 years, to say the least, and I look forward to the next 24. The age 100 has a nice ring to it.

This is part of a series in which Americans age 50-plus profile their adopted overseas locales. You can send us your suggestions and reach Dr. Frost at [email protected].


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