The country has so much to offer to the foreigner looking for a second home in his sundown years
By Florentino Garcia
The Philippines and retirement. Sounds odd to you? As a foreigner or expatriate, you might not consider this country of 7,600-plus islands with so much natural beauty and hospitality as the place to spend your sundown years. Friends might tell you the archipelago is ideal only for the seasonal four-day, three night beach-hopping jaunt while your part of the world is in bitter winter, or for that extended Asian business trip that would take you elsewhere around the region.
But if you are at least 35 years old, have earned and saved enough to take care of yourself (and your spouse or family) through your old age, have grown tired of cold climates or your native scenery, and simply desire a new place to call home, then the Philippines may just be able to provide what you need in your retirement.
If no one has told you how good this country can be for you (which, we assume, is next to impossible given that over 10 million Filipino workers are scattered across the globe, not to mention the millions of Pinoy expats who have become citizens in their adopted countries), let us count the ways, especially if you consider yourself to be in the “pretirement” stage:
Geography And Warm Climate.
The Philippines sits 14 degrees north of the Equator, which gives it the kind of tropical maritime climate that’s ideal to anyone who hates shivering despite layers of clothing. Depending on where you eventually live, you can see calming green mountains, lush river valleys, and miles and miles of beaches (22,549 miles or 36,289 kilometers, to be exact) – and you can experience them all in one day with just one trip from Manila, the nation’s capital, to Baguio, the summer capital.
“Hot, humid, and wet” best describe the Philippine climate. The country has two main seasons: rainy from June to November and dry from December to May. The cold and dry season ranges from December to February, and the warm dry half kicks in from March to May.
If you’re older and suffer from ailments triggered by the cold, the Philippines has an average yearly temperature of 26.6 degrees Celsius (79.9 degrees Fahrenheit) for just the right warmth on most days of the year. If you’re younger but don’t want to sweat through your shirt that often, highland areas like Baguio can be as cool as 18.3 C (64.9 F) – much cooler than the lowland mean temperature.
Map-wise, the Philippines is the hub or getaway to Southeast and East Asia. From the airports or seaports in Manila, Cebu or Davao, you can proceed to Japan, Taiwan, HongKong and Macau in the north; Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos in the west; and Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to the south and southwest. Even the islands of Palau, Guam, and the Marianas are just two hours away by plane to the east of the Philippines.
RICH CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT
Yes, the Philippines is rich, in both natural resources and culture. Its rainforest and long coastlines are teeming with wildlife as one of the world’s ten most biologically “mega-diverse” countries. As part of the Coral Triangle, the archipelago has delighted many a diver, rookie, or pro-an astounding 500 coral species and 2,400 marine fish species are found in its waters. In fact, the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea off Mindanao was declared a World Heritage Site in 1993.
On land, animals native to the country include the Philippine eagle (considered the largest eagle in the world), the palm civet cat, the dugong (sea cow), cloud rat and he tarsier. Scientist says over 100 mammal species and 170 kinds of birds exist only in the Philippines, along with 3,200 unique plant species (including lots of rare orchids).
This wealth extends to the Philippine culture, which one of the country’s national artists described as a result of “300 years in a convent and 50 in Hollywood.” A true amalgam of East and West, Filipinos today display Malay, Chinese, Spanish, American, British, French, Japanese, Korean, and even African influences in their everyday lives, making it easier for a retiring expat like you to fit in.
ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE.
The Philippines is the only country in Asia that uses English as its second language. Indeed, the global lingua franca is the second tongue of most Filipinos, even for those in the provinces. English is taught and practiced not just in schools and universities but in virtually all medical, health care, and tourism training centers across the country.
Newspapers, signage, instruction manuals, journals, and other related teaching literature are invariably printed in English. That makes the country’s tourism and health care professionals well-versed in the world’s language and removes the critical language barrier between expats and locals.
But even for those whose native tongue is not English, many periodicals in various languages are available, and Filipinos are supremely helpful to foreigners who look lost and ask for help, even in halting English.
“ Filipinos are, for reasons I have yet to figure out, probably the most giving of all people on the planet. Filipinos love feeding people…. Filipinos give- of themselves, of their time, their money, their love – to others.”
Chef, author, and TV host
LOWER COST OF LIVING
According to the 2016 Global Retirement Index of the magazine International Living, the Philippines is 17th overall out of 194 countries on the list (ranked between Italy and Uruguay), and matches Portugal and the Dominican Republic in the cost of living category. Indeed, this country is the perfect place if you want your money to go a lot further – Forbes Magazine even put it in its list of “20 Best Foreign Retirement Havens” in 2015.
Most foreigners live comfortably in the Philippines for about $800 to $1,200 a month (about Php 36,000 to Php 54,000, or what a corporate middle manager’s monthly salary would be) and that already provides a great deal of leisure and luxury. Food is abundant and affordable, and expats are able to savor international and local cuisines. The website Number also has a very detailed breakdown on the cost of living in the PH; it says it is 51.68 percent lower (cheaper) to live here than in the United States.
A foreigner may also enjoy affordable, fast and stable access to the Internet – an absolute necessity, not only to get a hold of all the important information on visa requirements, public transportation, and local events, but also to keep in touch with their relatives abroad. Cable television fees go for just $12 (Php 540) a month, on average with the option of adding foreign channels for a minimal cost.
WORLD – CLASS MEDICAL AND HEALTH FACILITIES
Partly owing to efforts to match worldwide standards for medical tourism, several local hospitals and clinics have undergone a number of accreditations and certifications to ensure that the level, standard, and service of health care institutions in the country are world-class and globally competitive.
In addition to hospitals already accredited by the government’s PhilHealth System, the Department of Tourism (DOT), in collaboration with the Department of Health (DOH) has identified institutions certified as Medical Tourism hospitals like St. Luke’s Medical City, Makati Medical Center, and Asian Hospital.
Practically speaking, hospital costs and medicines are cheap in the Philippines. The amount of c-pay in the US may be practically equal to the amount of the whole medical procedure in the Philippines. With this kind of health care system, a foreign retiree will be able to save a lot. Also, local doctors and nurses are highly skilled and professionally competent, capable of giving top-notch health services.
FILIPINO WARMTH AND HOSPITALITY
Indeed, it’s more fun in the Philippines, but Filipino society is likewise innately respectful and caring to the elderly. The government believed in this cultural trait enough to put up the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) in 1985, a government corporation with the mission of attracting more foreigners and former Filipino nationals to the islands. The agency has now helped over 40,000 expats to invest, reside and retire here since 2010, according to official records.
Plus, the one Pinoy trait that remains consistent- and warm like the country’s weather – all over the islands in the world- famous hospitality. The chef, author, and TV Host Anthony Bourdain recently said on his travel program on CNN:
“Filipinos are, for reasons I have yet to figure out, probably the most giving of all people on the planet. Filipinos love feeding people…. Filipinos give-of themselves, of their time, their money, their love-to others.”
With such a ringing endorsement from the “Parts Unknown” host-apart from the nods of long list of global celebrities in years past-seeing yourself as a retiree here may not be a strange idea at all. Indeed, why just stay for the winter when you can spend the rest of your days in paradise?
Some people never really retire, so the PRA has guidelines for those busybodies who want to do business in the Philippines.
The Philippine Retirement Authority notes in its PRA Business Guide that as a general rule, “anyone regardless of nationality may invest in the Philippines.” That includes you, dear foreigner, if you’ve taken the steps to enjoy your retirement on these shores.
The Authority’s existing Implementing Investment Guidelines state that foreign nationals enrolled in the PRA’s Retirement Program may use the visa dollar investments they placed in time deposits in local banks after the holding period of 30 days. This is after they are issued their Special Resident Retiree’s Visa or SRRV.
Once the holding period passes, foreigners can convert their time deposits into active investments in any or a combination of the following:
- Purchase or acquisition of a condo unit anywhere in the Philippines;
- Long-term lease of house and lot for a period not shorter than 20 years; and
- Purchase a golf or country club shares.
For former Filipinos in the PRA program, purchase of a lot is limited to not more than 5,000 square meters in urban areas, or three hectares in rural areas, to be used for business or other purposes.
For other investments, especially those made by PRA retiree-members outside the PRA program as noted above, the Philippines’ laws on enterprises, foreign ownership and investment apply, particularly those indicated by the Foreign Investments Act of 1991 (or Republic Act No. 7042).
Here, retirees may use other funds separate and distinct from the qualifying dollar time deposit for their SRRV for any business of their choice. For instance, foreign ownership of up to 100 percent is allowed for export enterprises, which are defined as those business where at least 60 percent of output is exported.
For domestic market enterprises, foreign ownership is allowed up to 100 percent, except for specific areas listed under the Foreign Investments Negative List ( FINL ), where foreign investment is limited up to 40 percent.
Once SRRV applicant decides to invest in the Philippines, the PRA can assist in:
- Pre-processing and evaluation of the applicant for the conversion of the dollar time deposit into and investment;
- Annotation of the PRA restriction on the title representing the investment with the Register of Deeds (RD); and
- Processing and approval within five working days.
The PRA is always looking for new partner-investors to assist its efforts in providing world-class services to its resident-retirees and developing the local retirement industry. In particular, the Authority is looking for partnerships to build hotels, condominiums, condotels, apartments, resorts, housing facilities and retirement facilities with or without caring services.
Those keen on building businesses for the local market without any export activity, or those registering a business as a sole proprietorship under the Foreign Investment Act (RA 7042), should consult with the Department of Trade and Industry (http://www.sec.gov.ph) or the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (http://www.peza.gov.ph) can advise you too.
Finally, if you plan on an enterprise that exports at least 70 percent of its products, or if your business is among the ones listed in the government’s Investment Priorities Plan (IPP), the Board of Investments (http://www.boi.gov.ph) is the best agency for your concerns.
THESE 12 CITIES COULD HOLD YOUR NEW HOME ADDRESS IN THE PHILIPPINES
You’ve made the decision to pack up your things, leave your old home behind, and settle in the Philippines for your retirement. But where on this country’s many great places to live should you make your second home?
For expats in the PH, city living may make the most sense, as it keeps you close to the major public utilities like government offices, hospitals (especially if you have a condition that requires constant care) and schools (if you have children). If you prefer some solitude, there is no shortage of quiet places in the mountains or along with the beaches o set up your new sanctuary.
The place you choose for your new home will ultimately boil down to the lifestyle you will pursue in your retirement, and the Philippines offers a range of options across its 80 provinces, 17 regions, and 138 cities. Of course, safety is a primary concern, and you should pay heed to any advisories the government or your home county’s embassy may issue from time to time.
Before you make that down payment for your new home, here are short profiles of 12 Philippine cities you could live in. Remember, as a foreigner in the Philippines you can always rent a place, but not always buy one (and you might want to use your sizable visa dollar deposit right away for that purpose).
THE SPRAWLING GREEN CITIES
Baguio- The Philippines’ summer capital is 5,000 feet above sea level and is economic center of Northern Luzon. Built to support the region’s decades-old gold-mining industry, Baguio is about five hours from Manila by bus and about two hours from the beaches of La Union and Pangasinan.
“The City of Pines” is certainly touristy, but many hillside condos and Swiss-type chalets in gated villages on its outskirts can give you some privacy. On a typical day you might play golf, go cycling or ride horses, then hit the markets for fresh vegetables and organic produce. You won’t need airconditioning on most days, but you might need to earthquake-proof your home, as one in 1990 destroyed most of Baguio.
Angeles/Clark Green City – The former site of a US military air base, this city in Pampanga province is being groomed as the country’s first “green, global and smart metropolis” by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA). It has an international airport that’s two hours away from Manila, and boasts of American infrastructure within Clark Freeport, where many foreign firms have set up shop.
A sizable expat community lives in Angeles City, the area just outside Clark, and restaurants of all cuisines-including the native Kapampangan dishes known for their rich flavors-are waiting to be tried.
Santa Rosa- The gateway city to Laguna province, Sta. Rosa is the classic suburbia south of Metro Manila. It borders the Laguna de Gay lake on one side, and upscale villages have sprouted around its old soft drink and car manufacturing plants which earned it the moniker “Detroit of the Philippines.”
Santa Rosa is about an hour away from Manila via the South Luzon Expressway os SLEX. Kids will probably want to visit the Enchanted Kingdom theme park every day, while adults may have fun with the fishing and water sports at Laguna de Bay, or spend the afternoon in Tagaytay just up the hill.
Tagaytay- About 90 minutes south of Manila in the hills of Cavite province, 2,100 feet above sea level, is “Baguio Lite,” which sits on a ridge overlooking Lake Taal and the famed Taal Volcano. If you don’t want to stay far from Manila but love great scenery and fresh produce, Tagaytay already has great retirement homes and assisted care facilities to consider.
If you’re done exploring its row of al freso restaurants, coffee shops, and hotel diners, Tagaytay is a short hop away from Batangas province and its beaches. Stay within city limits and you could find yourself playing in any of its 18-hole championship golf courses, or taking your family to either the Picnic Grove or Sky Ranch for a leisurely afternoon.
Davao – The premier city in Mindanao region is one of superlatives. It is the largest in the world in terms of land area, it’s the most crime-free area in the country ( thanks in part to its long-time mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, who is now President ), and has amazing attractions (Mount Apo, the Philippines Eagle, durian, and other fruits) for nature lovers and adventures to enjoy.
Sitting outside the Philippines’ typhoon belt, Davao is close to both (Samal Island’s resorts are just 30 minutes away) and the mountains (Bukidnon’s cool hills are an hour to the west). Metro Davao only has a tenth of Metro Manila’s population- so traffic is almost never a problem- yet commodities cost about a third less than in the Big City.
THE MAJOR PROVINCIAL CITIES
Vigan – The capital of Ilocos Sur province, Vigan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the “New 7 Wonders” cities, cited for its Spanish colonial architecture and cobblestone streets preserved from the 15th century. If you’re looking for European-style art and culture but want a rustic feel for a retirement haven, this city has it.
Foodies will enjoy the delectable Ilocos Empanada, Vigan Longganisa, bagnet ( deep fried pork ) and other local delicacies, but active types can opt to tour the city’s museums and preserved mansions or learn how to weave the colorful abel cloth that’s an Ilocano heirloom. The amazing sand dunes of Ilocos Norte and beaches of Pagudpud are just three hours to the north.
Makati – One might argue that after retiring from corporate life, why would anyone want to live in the city that houses the Philippines’ central business district (CBD)? Well, Makati does have the best of everything an expat may need – the finest homes in its private enclaves, the best hospitals, the glitziest malls, embassy offices, top-tier schools, and even foreign clubs and associations.
Foreigners who grew up as urbanites will appreciate Makati’s parks and recreational centers, especially on weekends when pop-up markets occupy its streets. Even if you choose to live away from the CBD, Makati has the country’s richest local government, allowing it to provide better public services than most other Philippine cities. Even the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) named Makati the most retirement-friendly city in the country in 2012, based on World Health Organization (WHO) criteria.
Cebu – The Queen City of the South, and by extension the province that bears its name, has a long, rich history with expats. It’s the country’s oldest city (the explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed here in 1521), and to this day remains the country’s main domestic shipping port and the commercial heart of the Central Visayas region.
Some call Cebu a more laid-back Manila (with about the same major facilities), but you can get just as busy here while enjoying all sorts of leisure activities, from island-hopping trips to dancing in the annual Sinulog festival. Cebu is also a hub for trips throughout Asia, thanks to its own international airport on Mactan Island. Did we mention the world-famous Cebu mangoes?
Tagbiliran – Some might consider this capital of Bohol province a virtual suburb of Cebu, as it’s just an hour by boat to the south. But “Tagbi” has a growing reputation as a university town, and the cost of living here is even lower than its big Visayan brother. You’ll probably settle somewhere on Panglao Island, which houses one of Bohol’s top beach resorts and is separated from the city by a short bridge.
A new airport is also being built on Panglao, so you might choose one of the coastal towns close to Tagbiliran like Baclayon, which houses one of Bohol’s centuries-old Catholic church buildings made from coral. Sadly, some were destroyed by the earthquake in 2013, but Tagbiliran and the rest of Bohol have a lot more attractions (tarsiers included) to keep you occupied.
Dumaguete – In 2014, this capital of Negros Oriental province got the nod of Forbes Magazine as one of the seven best places to retire around the world ( Forbes based its ranking on the Retire Overseas Index ). In the same year, Dumaguete ranked fourth on a Yahoo Finance list of most affordable places to retire globally. The list said a retiree could have a monthly budget of $1,000 and still live comfortably here.
A staging area for diving adventures at nearby Apo Island and whale shark watching at the southern coast of Cebu, Dumaguete is home to Diliman University, and “The City of Gentle People” truly acts like a classic college town. Like Davao, it is geographically outside the typhoon belt, making the weather warm and pleasant all year.
Iloilo – The capital of its namesake province on Panay Island, Iloilo is the regional center of Western Visayas and the social heart of those who speak the Hiligaynon language. Its refined, aristocratic air stems from its years as the county’s textile and sugar capital, and the influence of the Spanish and Americans that used it as a hub for their activities on Panay and Negros.
From Iloilo, one can cross the sea to the island of Guimaras, which is famed for its sweet mangoes, or tour Panay to visit the neighboring provinces of Antique, Capiz, and Aklan. The city’s international airport also serves as a getaway to world-famous Boracay Island, which is off the cost of Aklan on the northern side of Panay.
Cagayan de Oro – Misamis Oriental province’s capital, “The City of Golden Friendship” is truly hospitable as a melting pot of Christian and Muslim cultures for over four countries. It is to Mindanao’s northern coast as Davao is to the south, and mirrors much of the latter’s strengths.
In Cagayan de Oro you can go whitewater rafting on the Cagayan River in one moment and kayaking on Macalajar bay the next, not to mention go splashing at one of the city’s three waterfalls (Catanico, Migtusok, and Palanan). The city hosts the region’s top power plants and oil firms, so expat workers among these companies could show you around.
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