Living As a Retired Expatriate in the Philippines

American expat Rick is satisfied with the decision he and his wife made to spend their retirement years in the Philippines, a country where he feels very much at home. Here he shares some aspects of his expatriate life in Metro Manila, where they have "a good thing going," because of factors such as the lack of a language barrier and the reasonable cost of living.


Rick Levy

-Where were you born?

Chicago, USA

-In which country and city are you living now?

Quezon City, Philippines

-Are you living alone or with your family?

With my wife. We are child-free.

-How long have you been living in the Philippines?

Since August, 2005 

-What is your age?


-When did you come up with the idea of living in the Philippines?

This was my wife's idea, which she hatched around 2000. She wanted to retire to her birthplace because it thought it would benefit us both: no more job stress for me, closer ties to my wife's family for her, and in general a more comfortable life for both of us.   

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?

There was some red tape in getting the permanent visa, but nothing out of the ordinary.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?  

As in the U.S. the average person is on his/her own when it comes to health coverage.  We did get medical insurance here.  I might add that our premium is about 1/4 the cost for identical coverage in the States.

-How do you make your living in the Philippines? Do you have any type of income generated?

Our income is mainly our respective social security benefits from the U.S.  We get along just fine by living a comfortable but modest lifestyle.  There is no way we could do this in California (where we lived prior to relocating here). 

-Do you speak Tagalog and do you think it's important to speak the local language? Please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs.

My wife is a native, so she speaks Tagalog fluently.  Not so for myself.  Fortunately, English is the second language in the Philipppines, so communication is generally not a problem for me.  The older one gets, the more difficult it becomes to learn a new language. 

As for the culture I already had a heads up on the way of life here having traveled here before. Plus I have a big advantage by being married to a Filipina. But aside from all that, I believe that it's always important to be mindful of local customs and to follow them to the extent that it's practical and not morally or ethically objectionable.    

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? And describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.

Occasionally I miss my few remaining family members in the U.S.  But I'm also close to my in-laws, and on the whole I'm very happy that I overcame my initial objections to and reservations about relocating here. I'm very glad that we made the move.  

My main activities here are writing and Internet surfing.   Here in Metro-Manila, when it comes to recreational acitivites, there's something for almost everybody, regardless of one's interest.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

My wife and I plan on staying here indefinitely, possibly for the rest of our lives.  We've got a good thing going here and feel that we would have a very difficult time surviving on our income in the States. The political/economic scene here is turbulent, but it appears that things are turning that way in the States as well. I'm glad that we got out when we did. 

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

We rent a one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit in a high-rise located in a nice area called Eastwood City.  Our rent is the equivalent of about $475.00 USD per month. You can't get a garage for that amount in the U.S., at least in California. 

-What is the cost of living in the Philippines? 

In a word, cheap. Our rent is an is an example. Other expenses like food and public transportation are also very reasonable.  

-What do you think about the Filipinos?

Filipinos are known for their hospitality, especially to foreigners. I feel very much at home here. But there is also a dark side to their psyche which I discuss in detail in my blog, "Your Guide to Living In The Philippines".  

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in the Philippines? 

One positive aspect is the inexpensive cost of living.  Another is the great cuisine.

The disadvantages are private business and government inefficiency and corruption, as well as laxity in public sanitation.  

The climate is tropical, and temperatures in Metro-Manila rarely fall below the mid-60's.  Rain of course is frequent. All this can be a blessing or a curse depending on one's personal preferences and location in the Philippines.  

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in the Philippines?  

It helps to have personal contacts here especially if you're new to the culture.  Family or friends who are locals can show newbies the ropes and can facilitate adjustment to the society.    

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about the Philippines?

My blogsite "Your Guide to Living In The Philippines" ( gives an in-depth take on my impressions and experiences about life here. 

I also wrote an article "Moving To The Philippines--My Story" for the "Expat Focus Newsletter." This narrative details how we  planned and carried out our decision to move here. (See

Your article

Adjlynch's picture

Dear Rick,
I was rather fascinated by your article.
I will retire in the coming few years and am toying with the idea of living in my wifes country of birth as it would be more affordable then my country.
She is Chinese, and I am Irish.
I know the Philippines and China are rather different, but just as an idea I was wondering what kind of monthly income you require to live modestly in the Philippines and what you major expenses are?

Any information would be gratefully received.


Tony's Inquiry

rblevy's picture

Hi Tony,

Thank you for your kind words about my article. My wife and get along on a combined income of about $2,200 USD/per month (I think that's about 1,600 euros, isn't it?), the source of which is our U.S. social security benefits. Keep in mind that we are have no debts, are frugal, and live a modest but comfortable life style.

Our major expense is rent, approx $475/month for a 1 br 1 bath condo,. followed by groceries $165/month (not including occasional dining out), private health insurance $165/month (U.S. Medicare coverage does not extend to U.S. citizens living overseas, so if you have nationalized health care, check to see if your benefits are likewise blocked for expats). For non-insured medical expenses, throw in about another $50. The Philippines is taking steps to become a medical tourist center like Thailand.

We don't have a car, so we depend on public transportation which is incredibly cheap here. However, our community has a lot of amenities, and a lot of services are just down the street (e.g. laundry, pharmacy, medical clinic, restaurants, etc), so that's another way that we save in transportation costs. Speaking of restaurants, the tab for a meal at afirst class restaurant (for two) is about $50.00.)

You can find more info about life in the Philippines in my blog "Your Guide to Living in The Philippines (

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Hi Rick, thx for your

Adjlynch's picture

Hi Rick,
thx for your valuable feed back. Just a couple of folow up question, although your basic outline does encourage me.

How you you mitigate for future inflation? It is a bit of a worry to me that presently one can live on 2,200 USD - but who knows what it would be like in say five years?

Secondly - an easier question - do you manage to get away
for the occasional vacation?


Tony's follow-up question

rblevy's picture

In these financially perilous times when everything seems to be coming unglued, I think that there are still some basic fundamentals. These have worked for me so far anyway:
(1) Hedge your bet by leaving some of your money in a savings account and a checking account in your home country.
(2) You can open a dollar or Philippine peso savings (I suggest the latter) account shortly after you arrive here, but you have to wait 6 months to open a checking account. To hedge against inflation, you can also open a long-term savings account here as well. Thse of course pay higher interest. The "experts" here claim that the Philippine banking is still safe and has not had great exposure to loss from the meltdown in the U.S. (But both Europe and Asia have been hard hit, so I don't know think the Philippines could be invulnerable, especially with all the fraud and corruption that go on here.
(3) If you don't already have one, get a Visa Debit card on your checking account account in your home country. Wen you it at ATM's here , it will automatically convert your and dispense your withdrawal to Philippine pesos.
(4) Contact your local branch of Philippine National Bank (I think that there is an office) in almost every country to see if there any additional steps about safeguarding your money here and to see if there are any omissions or corrections to the foregoing advice.

As for vacations, my wife and I tend be homebodies (and what the heck, retirement is a vacation in itself anyway). The only place that I've visited since I've been here is her home province. But as you may know, the Philippines is a sightseer's and vacationer's paradise. There's so much to see and do here both in Metro-Manila and the country as whole.

Thx Rick

Adjlynch's picture

Excellent information !
Really much appreciated,


You're welcome, Tony. It's a

rblevy's picture

You're welcome, Tony. It's a pleasure to help. BTW, my apologies for the typos in my previous reply.

Hardly even noticed the

Adjlynch's picture

Hardly even noticed the typos Rick, no probelm!

for the moment , I have to sit tight snd let the current market turmoil ease.
Not the time to do anything at the moment, but the time to plan ahead !

Best of luck to you and your

rblevy's picture

Best of luck to you and your wife, Tony.

Thanks for the info rick

rickandwylie's picture

Hi rick my name is rick also. My wife sue and i want to move to the tagaytay area as soon as possible. We have never been there but have been looking into things for about a year now. If there is anymore information you could send it would help alot. We are in our fifties and i have a $2500 pension a month. We would like to rent a house the first year at least. We live in henderson nv. at this time but can't afford this place anymore. Thank you for any help you could give us.

Thanks Rick&Sue Thompson


rblevy's picture

Dear Rick and Sue, I'm sorry to say that I've not yet visited Tagaytay. But I hear it's a beautiful place, and from what I understand, you should be able to make it on $2,500 USD/month.

But Just like any prospective relocation, if you've not already done so I would urge you to visit the Philippines and stay in Tagaytay for a month or two in order to get the feel of the place and decide if it's really for you. It takes a lot of adjusting to cope with Philippine culture and society.

I also googled key words and phrases like "renting in Tagaytay" or "rent house in Tagaytay" and got quite a lot in search results. I hope that I've been of some assistance.


hannahmurdalsh's picture

Hi there. It seems like you have a good life in here, happy if I may say. And Tagaytay is one of the best place in the Philippines. Overlooking the Taal Volcano which is one of the smallest volcano on earth. I have a friend who is from the USA who intend to relocate in the Philippines maybe in the next few years. And I think you can help him on some insights in adjusting in the culture shock. Kindly visit his site if you have time.

Have happy and wonderful years.

Hi Hannah

rblevy's picture

I've followed up on your request to contact your friend. Thanks for writing and for your good wishes. I've followed up on your request to conctact your friend.

Rick,again, Makati,though..:)

dolcevitaric's picture

Hi, Im Rick in Makati,also Americano....Would you know what is necessary,if anything, keep my residency(ability to return to the US) valid? I have perm. residency here now,married to Filipina,been here 1 and half years. hope all is good, Salamat po....:) Rick


rblevy's picture

If you're an American citizen with a valid unexpired passport, you should have no problen entering and leaving the U.S. at will. IMHO the issue is exiting and re-entering the Philippines. But if you have a valid unexpired I-card which the Bureau of Immigration began issuing about 2 years ago for streamlining the process, then that should likewise not be a problem.

I must qualify this last remark by adding that since I've been here, I have not occasion to leave the country, but I have not heard of any horror stories from some of my American co-expatriate acquaintances who leave and return to the Philippines on a regular basis.

Hello Rick

kellydhotbabe's picture

I just recently visited the site and I'm happy to hear plenty people love here in my country. I was an expat myself in the Carribean, I was an Architectural Designer, but right now I'm here back home to take care of my baby, working freelance as a real estate agent. It was sad to hear you're spending a lot just by renting when you can own a unit in affordable prices. I have luxurious but affordable condo units near the US Embassy in Manila, in Paranaque City near the Mall of Asia and in other areas. Just let me know what do you want and I will present to you options that will fit your demands and budget. Feel free to email me.


Hi Raquel. It's always nice

rblevy's picture

Hi Raquel. It's always nice to read about professional Filipino expatriates /OFW's such as yourself who have returned home. I wish you great success in your real estate sales venture.

Hi there. It seems like you

zombo09's picture

Hi there. It seems like you have a good life in here, happy if I may say. And Tagaytay is one of the best place in the Philippines. Overlooking the Taal Volcano which is one of the smallest volcano on earth. I have a friend who is from the USA who intend to relocate in the Philippines maybe in the next few years. And I think you can help him on some insights in adjusting in the culture shock. play roulette poker reviews play blackjack online video poker movie download horse racing betting iphone ringtones


rblevy's picture

I'm always glad to help and offer advice. Once again, my blogsite for helping newcomers adjust is "Your Guide to Living In The Philippines http// .
But I need to clear up something: I live in Quezon city, not Tagaytay and have never been there. However, I hope that all changes within the next couple months as I would really like to visit that resort.


rblevy's picture

Whoops: correction of the blogsite url: It's

Hi Rick... I'm smiley(John)

smiley's picture

Hi Rick... I'm smiley(John) from Chicago.... I read the expats commits on a daliy basic now. In this commit you wrote "IMHO" can you tell me what tht is and explain what a "I-card" is... My daughter and brothers and sister would be the only people i would visit back in the states after moving to the Phils which i hope i can do every 18 months... and if you have the time, tell me what type visa i need . I think I need a 13a permanant resident visa but i'm not sure.... can you help with these questions... thanks, smiley

Rick I'm not sure you might

smiley's picture

Rick I'm not sure you might recieve this twice but here goes. I want to know what "IMHO" stands for and also what a "I-Card" is. My wife and I will be moving to phils in about 18 months. I don't want to have to travel out of the philippines once a year to stay there. I believe if i read correctly I can get a 13A Permanant Resident Visa and not have to leave. I would maybe going back to the states every 18 to 24 months at most. I have many question but need to know where to sstart... any help would be thankful... Smiley

Hi Smiley, "IMHO" is an

rblevy's picture

Hi Smiley,

"IMHO" is an abbreviation for "in my humble opinion". It's used mainly in chats, forums, and cell phone texts.

An I-card (full name the ACR I-card) is issued to aliens who are permanent residents in the Philippines by the Bureau of Immigration (natch. It's the equivalent to the American Green Card and enables the cardholder to pay the annual report (a yearly registration fee and to leave and return to the Philippines with no hassle. Previously,a foreigner had to go to the BI and spend the day just to get the damn exit and re-entry permit. Since the I-card is biometric, you just present it at the airport when exiting and re-entering the Phils. I didn't believe it would be that easy to use, but for the first time in the 5 years that I've been living here, my wife and I took a trip abroad (we just returned today). We just flashed our I-cards upon departing and returning and (aside from having to pony up a departure fee for which we were already prepared) we were done in a few minutes.

As I mentioned I've been here 5 years and never left the Phils until about 10 days ago. So with a 13(a)visa and an I-card, you could stay here the rest of your life, never leave the country, and it wouldn't matter. I think the confusion is a crossover in that at one time (I don't know about now). aliens who held U.S. Green Cards and then returned to their native land had to return to the States at least once a year.

Hope this helps.


Rick... thank you so much.

smiley's picture

Rick... thank you so much. Sometimes this all seems so confusing. AS I think I already said, in about 18 to 24 months I and my wife will be moving to Cagalan De Oro and i want to be ready when that time comes. Which card do I need first ? Where do I get these cards? Can I get these cards before moving to the Phils? My wife has her green card for here in the states and whats to get her U.S. citzenship before we move there. She has about 1 year to go. So from what I understand from what you said... If my wife (Philippine Citzen) get U.S. citzenship she will have to leave the country 1 a year also... Please clear this up for me. Thanks for all your help in advance and thanks for all you have helped me with so far.... Smiley

Smiley, After you arrive in

rblevy's picture


After you arrive in the Philippines and have your 13(a) visa processed at the Bureau of Immigration, you can probably apply for an I-card at that point. As far as I know there's no way to get one before your arrival in the Phils. As for your wife, if she still holds a green card when she returns to the Philippines, I think that she will have to visit the U.S. at least once a year until she becomes a U.S. citizen. But once she's naturalized, she's free from the yearly trek to the U.S.

Another thing to consider is consulting an attorney who specializes in U.S.-Philippines immigration issues. One such service is the law office of Michael Gurfinkel who has offices in both the Philippines and the U.S. I heard of him via his newspaper column. Click on if you're interested.