Is life in the Philippines cheap?

Published : 11/17/2016 15:34:35
Categories : Hardy on Philippines

A specjał thank you to my sister Beata Wolczuk Pietkiewicz for being my support group,

for proofreading and translating my scribblings from Polish into English.

You can get in touch with her in your hour of need at this address

All rights reserved. Pictures Tom Bufeq.

Is life in the Philippines cheap?

All prices are counted as follows; 10peso- 0,90 pln. €1-4,2pln, 1$US-4PLN. It may not be very precise but it gives a relatively adequate idea of the lifestyle and that's what I want to convey.
The prices observed during my several stays might have changed but only for higher.
The rate of peso to $US balanced between 35-40 peso to $. It may seem a lot, but you will see it doesn't matter too much as the prices of many goods depend on the exchange rates..

I decided to write this post since I am often asked about the living costs in countries let's say, exotic. There are many who believe in luxurious and opulent existence for a proverbial dollar a day.

Is it possible to live in luxury for $1?


Such expectations are born from lack of knowledge and experience. Media often inform how in third world countries people often for shamefully low wages and even manage to survive. We are informed about hordes of sextourists with itinerary of Thailand or the Philippines with regard to low living costs and other earthly delights. But the news don't necessarily reflect local reality. 

Can one live cheaply in the Philippines? It depends...

Mainly on what  standard of living is acceptable to you.
Mind you,warm climate, no cold seasons, some basic available food make survival quite easy with minimal costs. But acquiring even ersatz of European standard is very costly. So life typical of usual Anglo is expensive. What's shocking and unbelievable it is even more expensive than in  Europe. Mainly because most goods symbolizing European standard are imported. There's transport, taxes, VATs, licenses, bribes so everything is overpriced. In a country where ca 60-80% population exist outside of tax system, without ID, social security number sometimes on the verge of barely existing, the only way for the government to collect their due is to overtax goods which sooner or later will be purchased. Most citizens cannot be milked dry, but everyone can be squeezed to cough up a tax while buying gas, a TV, electricity, a phone,food. So gas costs ca.30 pesos- €0,64-$0,67. Electricity is expensive, can't say how much exactly, because bills are so convoluted differ to interpret as there are too many entries and extra fees. However an electricity bill for a rented apartment, like a beds item,,a onero, flat with a kitchenette, a few appliances, AC at night amounts to 3000-4000pesos, €66-86, $67-90. Electricity bills are for an average Phillipo a nightmare. The rule is not to switch on any appliances. I've often seen in different houses appliances and gadgets on display, often received as wedding present or bought in better times. AC, electric stoves are unplugged and unused to save money. An average household has got a fridge, a phone charger and 1 or two energy-saving bulbs plugged in, and that's all. In the country electricity bills are often non-existing, as there are no utilities at all.
Renting an apartment is another story. There are very few condos built in a so-called European standard. We are talking 1-2bedrooms, with window panes , a bath, a half bath,and heated water, even a kitchen corner with a hot plate.
The capital-Manila-can offer some choice,but most towns with a recent influx of investors are short of places to rent. They're under construction, but every town I've recently visited: Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Davao is a place with call-centers, language schools for Koreans, firms counting on cheap workforce and overflowed with a great number of foreign employees, overseers with their families...
In Cebu a very average bed sitter,,ca.400 square feet, a sitting room with a kitchen corner and one bedroom and a small bathroom costs 36K pesos- €770 -$800, and utility bills. In Davao prices have soared, now that the president is often in residence and there are lines of supplicants.

In the outskirts one can live cheaply. In the picture you can see kids playing basketball with a typical cabin behind. I occupied a shack like that for some time, to air cobwebs from my brain and recharge my body, just for free. On the edge of a jungle, with a view of the ocean, water for washing dripped into my own reservoir 200yards from the shack, personal needs were taken care of under Palm trees -only remember to shake coconuts from the tree and cut down the undergrowth to get rid of unwelcome night intruders or avoid a falling nut from high above Ina windy weather. For supplies like mineral water or basic food essentials you sail about 30 minutes across the sea. Well, splendid life, but not for everybody and not for long.
Similar dumps are easy to rent in town for can stay the night for a few dollars. Only they squatting areas, forget privacy, safety, all valuables must be under your care. Cooking over fire pits in the country, or eating in diners in the city.

Or is it better to buy or even build somewhere to live?

Maybe better, but neither it is cheap. I've taken it into consideration. I go to the Philippines on business regularly and stay there for longer periods of time so renting a room in a hotel became  
overpriced. Usually I spend there a month or so, return home for a month and go again. So I rent a place for a few months and don't even need to pack my stuff. Laundry is cheap. You pay for 1 kilo -2 pounds. Washing, ironing and folding clothes into perfect squares costs ca.  25 pesos-€0,5-$0,6. So once I considered seriously acquiring some property. The only problem is I travel from region to region so it wouldn't help me.
A foreign citizen can purchase legally and own an apartment. Prices differ of course accordingly to,place and standard, but anyway they are similar to those in Europe. 6-8 months pesos, €140-180K, $150-200K for a condo, ca 110square feet, decorated modestly in Cebu, near IT Park, a neighborhood with call centers and shop and service area. Fact is that the rents are extraorbitant but I think it's a 'peak' for real estate. Besides Cebu is over invested. That's for another post. A shaky political situation in the Philippines and all,over the region. And let's not compare Cebu to London, Berlin or Warsaw.  Typhoons, earthquakes, bombings... So-it's expensive, better to invest in a flat in Europe, let it and then rent a place in the Philippines. 
Building a house/cabin in the country is more complicated. A foreign citizen can't be a landowner. So a house is built on land with no act of property. Often houses are built by Anglos hitched to,Philipos. Then the land belongs to,a wife and the cabin is founded by 'a rich, German retired alcoholic'. If you've ever seen a documentary 'My Thai wife' you get the situation. I admit however to knowing many mixed couples with a built property and I have never seen a story like that documented. The guy must have met a complete bitch or must have been a complete fucktard. In the Philippines mixed couples exist without a hitch. But surely we are not traveling to the Philippines to get married. At least not everyone and not at once. So not everyone can get their hands on a plot of land. For committed bachelors there is another solution. You lease the land for a long period. Perfectly legal. You hire an experienced lawyer to check everything, to,protect your interests in case of landowner's death and protect you from cons, cause I have to admit, Philipos are great con artists. Maybe not super talented, but in their poverty they try to scam you even in pitiful cases so that it's worthless to get a rise out of it. It's also a topic for another post. I may write about it some other time.
It's entirely possible to lease a plot of land for 100 years like the British in Hong Kong and start building.
Construction costs are not too high, but only if you supervise it yourself and don't mind local standards. So-called bamboo house, or made of reinforced concrete, plates, bars, or drywalls, a roof covered with palm trees,or more expensive tin, walls made of rushes, poles, filled with something, inside decorated so-so, a type of a student dump or a pool house. Such a creative wonder costs -depending on size, design, standard-800K pesos- €16,500- $17,500 and you can move to your own place.

And now the most important issues. Costs of everyday life; good, fares, clothes etc.

Food is most interesting. Local food products are very cheap,but only when purchased from area of harvesting or fishing. Near Davao there are some largest pineapple plantations. In harvest season 1kilo-2pounds of pineapples costs 6peso-1eurocent-1dime. 

Fish,seafood, mules are cheap if only bought straight from the market. More often than not, late evening or night most villages hold local open air markets and one can buy everything needed for peanuts.

Ale muszę powiedzieć, że wybór jest bardzo słaby. W trakcie mojego pierwszego pobytu było to jedno z zaskoczeń, że w rejonie ciepłym i wilgotnych, klimacie wydawałoby się sprzyjającym wegetacji roślin jest tak marny wybór warzyw i owoców. Jakość produktów też pozostawia do życzenia. Zazwyczaj możemy kupić jakieś pomidory, małe i zielonkawe jeszcze, kukurydzę, rzepę, bakłażany, ale niezbyt okazałe, cebulę, dość podrzędnie wyglądającą paprykę, czasem ziemniaki, z owoców: mango, banany, ananasy i buko czyli zielone kokosy.

But-to tell the truth-choice isn't the best. I was really flabbergasted during my first travel that in a warm and wet climate there was no real choice of fruit or vegetables. The quality was subpar. Usually there are some tomatoes, small and green as they are, corn, radish, eggplants, not too big, a bit underdeveloped peppers, potatoes, onions, and fruit like mango, bananas and bull-green coconuts.
Fish, seafood aren't too expensive-but there's no surprise here- best specimen and sort are sold straight in bulk to middlemen and paid in cash, and exported 
, like lobsters (becoming a rarity here), big crabs or some scrumptious fish like laps-laps, which go straight to store chains where prices are much higher. General Santos boasts of a large fishing dock, where everyday fish are sold and bought. Beautiful Merlin and tuna go straight from fishing boats to Chinese middlemen who control the whole trade in Gen Sen . Just opposite the stalls one can see waiting trucks ready to haul the load. Most prices get higher in the blink of an eye and thus fish become luxury out of reach for a common consumer. 

In bigger cities it's possible to get most products known from our shops. But the prices boggle the mind.
Well, here is the proof. The pictures were taken at some green grocers'. I didn't enter the most expensive stores, took pictures just where I was shopping.
Potatoes 3pieces as seen in the picture-only 40 pesos -€0,80-$0,90

Shrimps (fished locally, but sold in a store) 480pesos per kilo i.e.2pounds-€10-$11

1kiwi fruit 32peso-€0.70-$0,80

Now, what I liked most.
Lemons-mind you, 1 fruit- 32 peso- €0,8 $0.9

4 pieces 160 peso / 3,20 EURO, 3,6 $

And what I liked even better

onion, 150 peso/kg / 3,50 euro / 3,70 $

Tomatoes were: kilo for 240 peso / 5,20 EURO / 5,5$, after discount "only" 150 peso / 3,50 euro / 3,70 $

And on top of the list: plums 1kilo, 2pounds 1200 peso / 26 EURO / 27 $

milk od 157 do 200 peso / bottle / 3,5 - 4 EURO / 3,9 - 4,5 $

Two curiosities:

cheap alcohol brewed locally, famous Tanduay Rum costs ca. 40 pesos a bottle0,250ml.

Expensive rice!!!!

In a country famous for growing rice, rice fields, the main and basic food for every meal is twice as expensive as in Europe.
1kilo rice-47-54peso,€1-1,30, $1,2-15. Simple robbery. Regularly the Philippines hear about the 'rice hates', with Rodrigo as the new president, the news highlight even more such scandals. The Philippines import rice from other Asian countries, with great corruption, bribery of custom officers,unsafe products from polluted areas, local smuggling rings and fortunes built on importing rice.

In other pictures there are prices of other goods, the prices are easy to count in different currencies.

The Philippos use small and disposable packaging. Poverty and low income are reasons why people can't afford to buy larger quantities of products. They simply buy small portions of food to eat in one go, even shampoo, washing detergent, fish jerky, salt, sugar, soya sauce, even single cigarettes. Whatever isn't prepackaged as a single portion is portioned by owners of small stores somewhere in a maze of living shacks. For2-3 pesos everybody can find something to buy. Of course all small portions put together would be more expensive, but people here don't have too much cash on them, so they buy little and expensive. 

Everywhere there are pawnshops, usually with Chinese investors. Interests on instant loans are horrendous, but people here don't care. They live day to day.
But to make a point I saved something real good for the end.

Watch out:in public toilets there are coin disposers selling toilet paper by pieces.out of this world...even there poor people are robbed blind for shitpaper.

Well, the state treats their citizens like slaves.

I'm not going to describe all costs and journey through hell for common Philiposwho are privileged enough to get a passport. But once they get a passport... Well-hang on- while leave in the country, at the airport they pay the tax for going abroad.Rates depend on where and for how long, but more than 1500 pesos-€35$39. It's a ransom, can't be called otherwise. That's not the end. At the airport there's another unpleasant surprise waiting: a gate fee paid by all travelers flying abroad. Fees differ from airport to airport, they are collected before security checkpoints. Recently in Cebu they amounted to 750 pesos.

Yeah,€16$17 just for getting on the plane.

What happens when a broke Anglo or an unprepared Philipo is short of cash? A pawnshop is just round the corner. You can pawn your last shirt to leave this cheap paradise behind...

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