Costs of Living: General – June 2012

While this is probably one of the most commonly asked questions on moving to the Philippines it is also one of the easiest to answer. Some of the considerations are:

How Many: Single, Couple or Family          Where: City or Provincial Town

Aside from influences such as a relationship, job, health needs, interests, etc. your budget is certainly a very important if not the major factor in where and how you live. There are many individuals living on less than $1,000 a month and some I hear living on $500 a month (personally never met anyone here doing this) while others live without any regard for budget. For the purpose of this article I will first focus on the actual expenses and costs people will encounter living in both urban and suburban areas. Second, I conducted a survey of people living in various areas and will show what their actual expenses are as they relayed them to me.

Whether you are single, a couple or have a family there are basically three types of places expats tend to live. In a major city like Manila, in a Provincial City like Davao or Cebu or a Provincial Town or Small City like Dumaguete, Bacolod or Iloilo. Of course there are some that live in the middle of nowhere and mostly off the grid. We hear about these folks but rarely if ever see them (but they do exist). However, we won’t address that demographic for this study.

After conducting the survey, I found there was not a tremendous deviation in expenses from one living area to another EXCEPT for rental housing costs. This was the major expense variable and was especially relevant to those living in a city like Manila where rent can be at least two to three times as much as anywhere else. This impacted overall expenses by $1,000 – $3,000 plus. There are of course many expats that own their own housing so we will show that cost and their total monthly bottom line but, we will also show the rent they would be paying in the same building for the benefit of those that won’t be buying and only renting.

Another expense deviation would be for those sending their children to International Private Schools in the Manila area. These averaged $10,000 Annually. Nothing to sneeze at.


Housing – This obviously depends on the kind and size of the place you will stay. Following is based on a central location close to Shopping, Schools and Hospitals.

Place 1BR 2-3 BR Small House
(1 – 2  BR)
Large House
(4 BR)
Major City $600 – $3,000 $1,000 – $3,000 $1,500 – $3,000 $4,000 – $10,000
Provincial City $300 – $1,000 $500 – $1,000 $500 – $1,000 $1,000 – $2,000
Provincial Town $200 average $300 average $400 – $600 $500 – $1,000

Internet – Most of the providers are fairly competitive in pricing. Generally you will pay more for higher bandwidth but figure on spending for all carriers about $31 for up to 2mbps. $100 for up to 10mbps monthly

Cable –Like Internet, provider pricing is competitive so for all the channels figure on about $25 monthly. There are specialty packages available that can push the pricing up

Schools$100 – $2,000 monthly for a Private School based on ten months when you factor in all fees. Following are Annual Tuitions for Pre-School through High School for some of the Best Schools in the Philippines. Most of these schools are non-sectarian. The Schools in the Provinces tend to be lowest in Tuition and Fees.

School Location Tuition
British Manila   $6,390 – $16,697
Chinese Manila $4,852 – $8,994
Brent Manila   $5,651 – $16,297
Kings Manila   $8,603 – $17,573
Singapore Cebu $1,817 – $3,313
Ateneo Davao $1,108 – $1,525
Religious Various $1,000 – $2,000

Electricity – is very expensive in the Philippines. The price is a whopping .25 cents per KWh. Depending on residence size, monthly bills can range between $50 for a small apartment to well over $500 and higher for a larger house and that is by not using the Air Con 24/7 but only when at home and in occupied rooms. I made the mistake a little while back of running my air con most of the time (even when we were out) and found our bill was more than twice our $500 monthly house rental cost. Ouch!!!  

Help – This also depends on where you live ( Provincial Town versus Major City ) but will range as follows:

Helper $40 – $90
Yaya (Nanny) $40 – $100
Driver $100 – $300
Gardener $50 – $90

Gasoline – $5.10 a gallon. Fortunately, in the Provincial Cities and Towns the distances are not that great and fuel consumption not that drastic. Remember most Expats are retired and use their vehicles mostly to go shopping, on trips or taking their children to school. Many opt for Public Transportation.

Public Transportation

Taxi .95 Drop and .08 per km
Jeepney .19 and .03 per km
Pedicab .16 per trip

Dry Good Shopping – You will find clothing and shoe prices are very reasonable here, but electronics very expensive as most are imported and subject to high customs duties. LCD prices can be more than double than in the U.S.A. Cigarettes and Alcohol are very, very cheap.

Club MembershipFitness$20 – $40     

Golf$120/mo. (playing rights – all club membership benefits including green fees)

Movies$2.35 – $3.55     

Digital 3D$6.00 – $7.10

Building – When it comes to building your own house figure on between $28sqf (low end) to $60sqf (high end) for construction. Therefore a very high quality 2000 sqf house, will cost you about $120,000. These higher end or more expensive houses usually reflect better indoor fixtures and treatments i.e. tiles, cabinetry, lighting, windows, doors, bathroom fixtures, etc.

Manual Labor – Almost any skilled labor needs you may have (plumbing, electrical & carpentry) will run between $8 – $12 (plus materials) for the job assuming it can be done the same day. Anything longer will require some discussion.

Restaurant Food – For the most part I find restaurant food to be quite affordable in the Philippines. I know a number of guys that eat out 2-3x daily at good restaurants for less than $15. Most Full Dinners in quality restaurants (regardless of location) will run about $12.00. This includes an appetizer (soup or salad), the main entree and a Drink. Entrees alone will cost about $5.00 to $8.00. A whole pizza for example is about $5.50. Meat or Chicken Entree dishes were about the same. Soft Drinks $1.00.

Sample Restaurant Prices

Moon Café Baby Back Ribs – $3.66
Canvas Cream Dory – $5.53
Gustavian Ceasar Salad – $2.84
Gustavian Beef Stroganoff – $7.81
Pizzeria Michelangelo 14" Pizza Margarita -$5.90

Home Food –  Much of your expense will revolve around how much imported food you eat. If you sick to local foods it will save lots of money. For example a pound of Sushi quality Sword Fish or White Marlin is only $4.00 a pound. Boneless Chicken is $2.15 a pound. Vegetables are pretty anemic here but are fairly cheap and local fruits are very, very cheap and incredibly delicious. I recommend Mango, Papaya and Banana.

Here is a sampling of Supermarket item pricing as of 5/12/2012 with the dollar exchange rate of 42.25p/$         

Item Quantity Price
Apples – Fuji 1 lb. $1.42
Beef – Ground 1 lb. $2.36
Beer – Local Can .71
Beer – Heiniken Bottle $1.37
Bread – White Loaf $1.32
Butter 8 oz. $3.26
Cereal 12 oz. $3.79
Cheese – Cheddar 8 oz. $4.73
Cheese – Cream 8 oz. $3.10
Chicken Boneless 1 lb. $2.15
Chicken Breast 1 lb. $1.53
Chicken Thigh 1 lb. $1.42
Coffee – Folgers Bean 1 lb. $9.46
Coca Cola 1.5 Quart $1.08
Cream Cheese 8 oz. $3.10
Eggs 12 $1.42
Ice Cream – Local 1.5 Quart $5.08
Ice Cream – Haagen-dazs 1 Pint $11.33
Lettuce 1 lb. .95
Marlin Filet 1 lb. $4.00
Milk Fresh or Uht 1 Quart $1.60
Mustard 8 oz. $2.72
Olive Oil 1 Quart $11.57
Onion 1 lb. $1.06
Oranges 1 lb. $1.42
Peanut Butter 16 oz. $3.78
Pear 1 lb. $1.42
Pepsi 1 Quart $1.08
Pork – Chops 1 lb. $2.13
Pork – Ground 1 lb. $1.89
Ragu Spaghetti Sauce 26 oz. $2.17
Red Grapes 1 lb. $2.83
Rice 10.5 lb. $4.73
Rum – 12yr. Old 700 ml. $2.95
Spaghetti 1 lb. $1.60
Steak 1 lb. $4.25
Steak Sauce – A1 15 oz. $5.72
Sugar 1 lb. .55
Swordfish – Filet 1 lb. $3.78
Tomato 1 lb. .71
Toothpaste   $2.13
Tuna – Yellowfin Filet 1 lb. $2.60
Tuna Fish – in Oil 6 oz. .73
Water 1 Quart .55


Survey of Actual Expats Living in the Philippines


Single Man (in Provincial Town)

Rent – $289 (furnished 1 bedroom and includes cable, internet, electricity)
Food – $402 (eating out 3x day at places like Moon Café)
Gas – $29 (motorcycle)
Phone Load – $29
Entertainment – $118 (imagination)
Misc. – $118 (medical, travel, etc.)

$985 give or take


Single Woman (in Major City)

Owned – $165,000 (1500 sqf 2 bedroom bondo in mid-range makati building)
Condo Fee – $142
Internet and Phone Landline –$24
Electricity – $60
Cable – $24
Home Food – $237
Helper – $85
Transportation – $24
Entertainment – $36
Misc – $200 (medical, Restaurant, cell, etc.)

Rent – $700

$832 (actual out-of-pocket expense give or take)
$1,532 (with rent expense if no-Condo ownership)


Couple (in Provincial Town)

Owned – $190,000 (3500 sqf 5 bedroom house on 2.5 acres)
Electricity – $50
Cable – $25
Internet – $50
House Food – $300
Helper Food – $60
Motorcycle Gas – $40
His Spending – $200
Her Spending – $200
Helper – $40
Gardener – $70
Dining Out – $200
Misc – $400 +/- (shopping, repairs, medical, travel, etc..)

Rent – $950 (you can also find a nice house for less than half this rent like ours)

$1,635 (actual out-of-pocket expense give or take)
$2,585  (with rent expense if no-house ownership)


My Family of 4 (in Provincial Town)

Our Rental House

Rent – $473 (furnished 4 bedroom house plus helpers area)
Electricity – $260
Cable – $24
Internet – $47
Food – $473
Helper Food – $118
Car Gas – $24
Motorcycle Gas – $14
Other Transportation – $36
Daughter Pre-School – $83
Son College – $76
Son Spending – $71
My Spending – $118
Wife Spending – $118
Helper 1 – $36
Helper 2 – $36
Yaya – $47
Dining Out – $118
Misc – $237 +/- (laundry, clothing, load, medical, travel, etc..)

$2,400 give or take


Family of 3 (in Major City)

Owned – $426,000 (2850 sqf 4 bedroom condo in high-end makati building)
Condo Fee – $675
Electricity – $300
Cable – $25
Internet – $50
House Food – $500
Helper Food – $150
Car Gas – $200
Other Transportation – $30
Daughter School – $1,150
Husband Spending – $400
Wife Spending – $200
Helper 1 – $70
Helper 2 – $70
Driver – $150
Dining Out – $400
Misc – $1,500 +/- (clothing, golf club, medical, travel, etc..)

Rent – $3,500

$5,870  (actual out-of-pocket expense give or take)
$8,770  (with rent expense if no-condo ownership)


There will be exceptions of course but for the most part, these numbers are reliable and a true representation of monthly expenses. As high as the cost of living in parts of Manila (Makati and Fort Bonifacio) as reflected in my example of a family living there, it is still about 1/4 to 1/3 of what the same lifestyle would cost living in a Major U.S.A. City like New York. Still, the costs for a family living in Manila are high and it is important to note that many of the Expats living in Manila are retired executives and those currently working for companies with high net worth or incomes. On the surface it sure seems better to own in Manila (if you can afford it) than rent as renting increases monthly costs dramatically.  I will certainly be interested to see what the actual expenses will be for my family once we move there next year. I anticipate (since we will own) that they will fall in the $3,500 – $4,000 range due to the added expense for our daughters school and the need for a driver.

What I am seeing is a dramatic rise of expats making the move to the Provincial Cities and Towns where costs are more affordable. I would highly recommend this as well.

In Conclusion: I have no doubts that some of you reading this may have differing experiences with the cost of living here. Of course we all have different priorities in our spending. It would be great if you could share yours as well. My overall conclusion based on my own experiences and with those of people I interviewed is: in the overall scheme of things it is far, far cheaper to live in the Philippines than in the States especially if you take advantage of the labor factor. In the Philippines you can have maids, nannies, chauffeurs, gardeners, masseuses and entertainment for a fraction of the cost in the U.S.A.

Single Man$1,000 – $2,000

Couple$1,200 – $3,200

Family (3-5) – $2,000 – $10,000

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