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I’m writing this post from the Manila apartment I’ve been renting for the last two months – the one I’m about to pack up for the final time. In fact, I might even be using this as an excuse to not pack….
Unlike the other digital nomad destinations I’ve decided to make my temporary home, I’ve been to the Philippines before. As soon as I left last year, I began planning a longer stint here. The two weeks we spent exploring Palawan was incredible but simply wasn’t enough. And so, I found the next two month gap I had free and pencilled it in.
And now it’s coming to an end. The Philippines has been just as incredible this time, but I’ve seen it in a totally different way. Not just because Siargao and Banaue are totally different to Palawan, but because I had time to establish routine and see what it’s really like living in the Philippines this time around.
And now, as I did with Greece and Georgia, it’s time to take a look back on it. If you’re thinking about moving to the Philippines, I hope this guide will help you. And even if you’re not planning on living in the Philippines as a digital nomad or expat, I hope it gives you a little insight into life here in this island paradise.
Living in the Philippines
Like usual, I’m breaking everything down into categories. They’re the things I think about when choosing where to live as a digital nomad – and, ultimately, what I would look for in a place to settle more permanently.
Cost of living
Compared to somewhere like Europe, the Philippines is a very affordable place to call home. Prices are fairly similar to the rest of South East Asia, with a small budget getting you considerably more than it would in other parts of the world.
The cost of living in the Philippines can pretty much be what you want to make it. There’s no shortage of budget-friendly options, but you can also enjoy a little more luxury for a relatively reasonable amount. Here’s how much you can expect to spend in Manila:
- Rent for a one bedroom condo in a popular part of the city: £500 per month
- Dinner at a nice restaurant: £5-8
- SIM card: Free, plus around £4 per month for 4GB data
- Transport: Around £2 for a 20-minute Grab ride
The accommodation in the Philippines really depends on which island you’ll be staying on. Condo living is common in Manila, but it’ll be hard to find anything similar on the islands.
Guest houses and small, independent hotels the normal choice for travellers all over the Philippines. Many of them are more affordable than an apartment in Manila, so you could even live in one long-term if you wished to. If you prefer your own space and a more Western-style apartment, though, you’ll need to stick to the big cities.
Our Manila apartment was one of our nicest Airbnb finds yet! We found ourselves on the 50th floor with a view across the city, two balconies to enjoy it from and a rooftop pool and gym to escape to.
When I consider the food in a destination, I think about two things: how tasty the local cuisine is, and how easy to is to get hold of my favourite non-local foods.
As much as I love the Philippines, the food doesn’t really do it for me. There are a few things that Filipinos do REALLY well – pork, breakfast and coconut water, to name a few – but I don’t get excited about the rest of it in the same way I do about foods.
Luckily, it seems Filipinos love my favourite foods too. Japanese restaurants are all over Manila, Taiwanese bubble tea is never far away and delivery apps can help you with all your other cravings. The only issue with delivery is that it rarely takes less than an hour because of the traffic!
WiFi & Work
Ah, the important one. And also the one I was most anxious about when I decided to spend two months living in the Philippines.
I fell in love with Palawan last year, but the WiFi was appalling there. I’d be lucky if a video uploaded overnight, and usually just had to give in and give up. That’s fine for a week, but it’s not something you can deal with long-term as a digital nomad.
To say I was apprehensive was an understatement, but I was surprised (and relieved!) to find our Manila apartment came with speedy internet speeds. For a while, I thought maybe it had to do with being so high up in the sky. But I was surprised to find that most of the places we visited had really good WiFi, and there was nearly always 4G available.
Digital nomads in the Philippines
Apart from the WiFi, the Philippines has always seemed like an ideal digital nomad hub to me: there’s loads to do, it’s affordable to live there and it’s well-connected to the world. Now that the WiFi is improving, I wonder if it will become more popular.
If the number of networking events and coworking spots popping up is anything to go by, it certainly seems that way. Sadly, it’s still kind of hard to get to places in Manila, but the events and opportunities are there if you’re willing to wait out the traffic.
WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU STAY CONNECTED?
Stay connected wherever you go with SkyRoam pocket WiFi. This handy little device will give you unlimited data for your time in the Philippines, so you’ll never be without maps, emails and a way to contact home. And you can take it on to your next destination when you leave!
Health & fitness
It’s been an eventful couple of months for all things health-related, so I have a lot more to say than usual. I’m going to keep it short, though, and spare you the gory details.
Nearly everybody who visits the Philippines gets sick at some point. Stomach bugs aren’t uncommon, and I came here knowing it was likely to strike at some point.
Sure enough, it happened, and I tried to fight and deny it for too long. I spent four miserable weeks battling on/off stomach issues when all I needed was a course of antibiotics. Since I finished them, my stomach has been (mostly) fine.
While of this was going on, I also noticed a lump on my jaw growing bigger and bigger. I tried to ignore it, thinking I would visit the GP when I got home to the UK, but it was causing too much anxiety. And so I had my first true overseas hospital experience, my first ever ultrasound and my first time dealing with medical issues on the road.
And the doctors were incredible.
I simply can’t fault a single member of staff at the clinic I was in and out of. I’d always thought I’d only visit a hospital abroad if it was urgent, but now I wouldn’t hesitate to go right away. I was seen instantly, the doctors and surgeons were incredibly friendly and efficient, and the whole thing couldn’t have gone better.
And so, I stand by what I always say: NEVER travel without insurance! I use World Nomads, which covers me for up to £10,000 of medical expenses and even includes mental health treatments. You can find out more about why I swear by them in this post, or get a quick quote right here:
Things to do
With over 7,000 islands, there’s so much to do in the Philippines that you might never need to leave. But, if you do, the transport connections are pretty good.
Manila airport can be a bit of a nightmare to travel from, but you can catch direct flights to everywhere from Japan and New Zealand to Dubai and Canada. You can also fly internationally from Cebu airport, with direct flights all over Asia.
What I learned from living in the Philippines
Aside from learning that seeing the doctor abroad isn’t so bad (and perhaps even preferably to the UK’s NHS), I feel like living in the Philippines taught me a couple of lessons I needed to learn. Well… I say learn, but I guess I already knew them both already, so perhaps reinforced would be a better term.
Those lessons were to listen to my body and that the nomad life isn’t full sustainable.
Even though I know I’m not superwoman, I like to push myself as if I had some superhuman power. I don’t. I know that. And from now on, I’m going to try harder to remember that. If I need to rest, I’m going to do just that. It sounds kind of ridiculous typing it out, but it’s something I’ve always struggled with and expect many entrepreneurs do.
The nomad life thing is a little more surprising. I always knew that this probably wouldn’t be a forever thing, but I had zero idea of how or why it would come to an end. For the first time ever, though, I’m craving a house and a place to call my own. I still want to travel, but I don’t dislike the sound of having somewhere to go back to when the trip comes to an end.
So… whisper it… that’s something I’m working on right now. I still plan to be fully location independent, but I wouldn’t mind having somewhere to dump my things and build a little home office.
WHAT’S IN MY SUITCASE?
I’ve been travelling full-time for 18 months, working as I go. Here’s everything you’ll find in my digital nomad suitcase and here are all the essentials I use to work remotely while travelling.
Would I live in the Philippines?
Here’s another thing that’s been on my mind. When we arrived in Manila, we fell so in love with our apartment (okay, mostly the view) that we considered buying our own. I was just about ready to splash all my savings on a 2-bedroom condo and call it my new home, but I’m glad we didn’t.
It’s not that I wouldn’t live in the Philippines, but I just don’t see myself living in Manila. Everything’s a little bit hard to get to, the airport isn’t one of my favourites and it just doesn’t feel like home to me. That said, it has everything you need for a good expat home, and it definitely makes a good base if you spend most of your time in Asia.
As for the other islands… I would seriously consider it. I’d need a guarantee that the WiFi would be good and I’d have to want to travel much less, but I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. More likely, though, I will come back and forego the base altogether. With the WiFi seemingly improving everywhere I would spend a few weeks on each island and move slowly.
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