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American Retirement in the Philippines

RT Cunningham | August 7, 2020 (UTC) | Retirement

American retirement in the PhilippinesThis post is written for Americans, still living in the United States, curious about retirement in the Philippines. Even if this doesn’t exactly describe you, you may still glean some useful information.

If you’ve never traveled to the Philippines, you could be in for a rude awakening. Once you leave the popular tourist areas, you’re going to see things that may shock you until you get used to them.

I’ve tried to keep it all organized for you. I wrote multiple articles about these things at another website years ago. Years of experience living in the Philippines gives me a better perspective than I had when I arrived.

Can You Retire to the Philippines?

Before you even consider a retirement in the Philippines, you need to think of the consequences. This is a life-changing event that could affect both friends and family. If it might create more problems than it solves, don’t do it. Otherwise…

Almost any American, who is financially self-sufficient, can retire to the Philippines. There are many people living in the Philippines on pensions of all types. Some are military or federal, some are social security, some are state or county and some are company pensions.

You need to be debt-free. If you manage to retire to the Philippines, you don’t need the worries of existing debts hanging over your head. This is especially true if you decide the Philippines isn’t for you and you want to return to living in the United States.

If you have health issues, there are some excellent doctors and hospitals in some areas. You should choose to live within reasonable distance from one of those areas. While medical care is a lot less expensive in the Philippines, it could still cost you more than you can afford if you have a catastrophic illness or injury. You should have adequate health insurance that covers you outside the United States.

Take a Trip and Explore

Even if you’ve been to the Philippines in the past, you need to take a trip and explore the area you think you want to live in. Things may have changed considerably since the last time you were there. You can find some nice areas to live in and you can find some horrible areas to live in and the distance between the two could be just a couple of streets. Hire someone to show you around if you must. Don’t travel alone.

You can stay in the Philippines for up to 30 days with only your American passport. Make sure you have a round-trip ticket to avoid issues with immigration officials. If something unexpected happens, you can get your return flight changed and a visa extension without it being too terribly expensive.

If you’re ready to make the move, there are quite a few things you need to know.

What Type of Visa Will You Need?

Just by being in the Philippines, you’ll need some type of visa. Although the first 30 days on an American passport isn’t called a visa, that’s essentially what it is. If you get a visa extension, it’s that 30 days that’s extended.

If you’re traveling with a Filipino spouse, you can get a “balikbayan” visa good for a year. Your Filipino spouse can be either a non-American or a dual citizen. You can apply for a permanent resident visa, which doesn’t expire, but the card for it does. It has to be renewed after the first year and then every five years.

If you’re single, you can get a different kind of permanent visa. See the Visa page for the Los Angeles consulate.

Annual Report of Registered Aliens

If you get a permanent visa of some kind, you have to file a report with your local bureau of immigration office if you arrived before November 2 of the preceding year. Although the web page for the annual report doesn’t specifically state it, you have until March 1 to complete your annual report. Fines start accruing on March 2. The first or second week of February is the best time period to file.

The last time I paid for the report, in 2018, it cost me 310 pesos (less than $10). I never expect the page for it to be up-to-date, but it still shows as 310 pesos.

Emigration Clearance Certificate Fee and Airport Terminal Fee

If you have to pay a travel tax when leaving the country, it should be included in the airfare. You have to pay a terminal fee and an emigration clearance certificate (ECC) fee. It’s best to check with your local bureau of immigration office for the amounts and where to pay the ECC fee.

I recommend having 5000 pesos on you before you enter the airport. The ECC fee is higher every time I leave the country.

Bank Accounts

You have several options for getting your money from the United States and it depends on how long you’re willing to wait for it. You can keep your current bank account if you wish, but you won’t be able to get anything but Philippine pesos from an ATM in the Philippines. The ATM fees can be a lot more than you expect and you can probably get a better exchange rate elsewhere.

Some expats have Navy Federal Credit Union checks and write one for their pension amounts every month. It takes a month for each check to clear, so one month of pay is always in limbo.

Americans can open a dollar account at several banks and have their pensions deposited directly. I did that with Philippines National Bank (PNB) in 2006 and switched it over to BDO some years later. The pensions go through bank branches in the United States and are treated like remittances. The last time I checked, the fee deducted at PNB was $7.00 and BDO $4.50 (or $5.00, I’m not sure).

If your only source of income is coming from the United States, you don’t have to worry about taxes on it in the Philippines. You may come across articles online that say you should see a tax professional. You only need to do that if you decide to work and draw an income in the Philippines. Speaking of taxes…

Annual Taxes and Voting in Elections

If you’re drawing a pension and have no other means of income, you probably don’t make enough to file taxes. Even if you do, you probably don’t have to file state taxes. After all, you’re no longer a resident of any state. There is one drawback, however, and that’s voting in elections.

If you want to vote in an election (absentee voting) you have to pick a state and a county. The best way to prove you can vote in a particular state is by filing a tax return for that state, even if you owe nothing. To file for most states, you must first file a federal tax return. Again, even if you owe nothing.

Computers and Cell Phones

Laptop computers are more expensive in the Philippines than in the United States. In many cases, they cost twice as much. Desktop computers, if you can find them, tend to be less expensive. Cell phones, other than those locally made or imported from China, tend to be around the same price. The local models tend to be less expensive.

I buy all of my laptop computers while in the United States. It’s less expensive to buy them and carry them back than it is to buy them in the Philippines. Both my wife, Josie, and I get our cell phones while in the United States, usually when one of our children gets an upgrade.

The Cost of Living

My house is in Olongapo, next to the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. The cost of living there tends to be higher than most places in the Philippines (certain parts of metro Manila are more expensive). Everything I’m mentioning is based on that location.

Electricity tends to be more expensive than in the United States while water tends to be cheaper. Some internet services are less expensive and some are more expensive. Cable TV is less expensive. Imported American food (American style, not necessarily made in the United States) tends to cost about the same as it does in the United States if you buy it at one of the duty-free, tax-free economic zones.

Regular medical and dental care is less expensive in the Philippines. The last time I went to a doctor in Olongapo, the cost was less than what I’d pay as a deductible in the United States. The same goes for dental work. The last time I had any teeth pulled, it was 500 pesos (about $10) a tooth. A dental examination in the United States costs more than that.

If you want to live like an American when you retire in the Philippines, your cost of living will be higher than if you live like a Filipino. I live somewhere in the middle.

Not Enough Information?

I’m positive I haven’t given you enough information. I purposely left out some things because the information changes too quickly. Outdated or irrelevant information won’t do you any good at all.

If you need specific information about anything I haven’t covered, or I haven’t covered enough, feel free to ask. I’ll answer and I’ll update this post at the same time (if necessary).

Photo Attribution: Andreas from Pixabay

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