Expat Retirement in the Philippines Isn’t That Simple

When a friend told me in a private conversation that the retirement industry in the Philippines was driven by real estate, I wasn’t surprised because I was close to drawing that conclusion myself in the midst of my four-month research in the country.

I had just retired and was seriously pursuing an idea I fell in love with a few years before the magic age, and that is to go back to the Philippines to live my declining years there.

Going around and informally asking, asking, asking, I learned there were only lots and condo units for sale to those wanting to return to live in the country, but nothing is customized for older adults. The retiree from abroad is seen merely as a loaded (with dollars) buyer and not as an older adult with special or unique needs.

Brochures for retirement villages in Cebu (Left, Source: cebubestresidencesforale.blogspot.com) and Tagaytay (Source: homes.mitula.ph)

Brochures for retirement villages in Cebu (Left, Source: cebubestresidencesforale.blogspot.com) and Tagaytay (Source: homes.mitula.ph)

This fellow who shared my observation drew his conclusion from his experience helping foreigners who can bring in money to the Philippines. He was stationed in Japan when the Philippine government was strongly promoting the country for medical tourism and as a retirement haven. He dealt with Japanese seniors who were looking to retire where affordable care and modern medical facilities were available. The Japanese traveled to the Philippines and were shown real estate. They were told they could build their houses and be close to clinics and hospitals. But the retirees were still able and competent and looking forward to an active life. Many had careers and were used to a more structured life.

“What do we do at night?” they asked. It looked like the real estate properties being marketed to them were far from the center of the town. They could have also asked, “What do we do during the day?”

The Philippines’ advanced medical facilities and excellent caregivers were the selling point of the government. But these were low in the priorities of these active seniors who needed them “just in case” or “in the future.” Like me, they probably just wanted to stretch their pension income and have fun in the Philippines while still able.

Bonifacio Global City's St. Luke's Medical Center, one of the advanced medical facilities in the country (Source: wikipedia.org)

Bonifacio Global City's St. Luke's Medical Center, one of the advanced medical facilities in the country (Source: wikipedia.org)

In the case of the Filipino expats or dual citizens, the assumption is that they still have their ancestral homes and families in the same provinces where they were born. But aside from migrating to other lands, family members also migrate internally, so this network is now dispersed. There is often no home to return to.

And there are some Filipino expats and dual citizens who were born and raised in Manila that consider themselves as “without a province” but would like to live in one. There are others who do not want to live in their former hometowns and are willing to relocate elsewhere because of family feuds, or the fear that relatives would expect dole outs. There are many options if you are willing to purchase just a lot or a condo unit. The Philippines has more than 80 provinces, if you remember your Philippine geography.

During my shorter stay in the Philippines three years ago, I actually went real estate tripping with a broker in the area of Tagaytay. I didn’t want to live in Manila, but at the same time I wanted to be close to Manila because of my lifestyle. I looked at several lots for sale and zeroed in on one, which was in a subdivision. But I had doubts as to when the side roads would be built and when the village would have Internet access. I learned later that the subdivision had been declared “abandoned” because the owner did not have the funds to continue the project. Anyway, I wasn’t ready yet.

Lesson learned: It is good to look at many places and then narrow your choices to two or three. You need time in the Philippines to visit each one. A friend actually advised me to rent in the area first to really be sure I’d fit in.

Contact several real estate agents and ask them to send you their proposals. Tell them your requirements. While still in your current country of residence, do your own research on the Internet.

Perhaps you can base your choice of location on your current lifestyle, if you want to maintain it, or the lifestyle you want as a retiree. For some, retirement is the end of the rat race, so they may want a less stressful lifestyle. Others who are already feeling the effects of aging may want a healthier lifestyle. Many of my friends plan to reinvent themselves, like do something that they didn’t have the time to pursue while working and raising their families, such as farming, or the arts.

If there are no resources for your particular lifestyle, consider it as an opportunity. For example, if there is no gym, build one as a business. Or organize a walking, running, or zumba club. You will make new friends who share your interest. If there is no bakery selling whole wheat, sugar-free bread then start a bakery business. Or bake some and share with your neighbors. You’ll be able to educate them on the benefits of healthy eating. Again you will gain new friends. You’ll have something to do. Make it happen and you will be rewarded.


The retiree from abroad is seen merely as a loaded (with dollars) buyer and not as an older adult with special or unique needs.

Also consider the following:

  1. Do you value privacy and independence like Americans and Europeans do? Don’t worry, there are now part-time household help who do not live in with you and whom you can call for specific tasks only (there are coin laundries too). Or do you value family and the spirit of community?

  2. What is your risk tolerance and comfort level? If you want all the comforts of North America and are afraid of typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and crimes, maybe it is not a good idea to move to a place where these are common.

  3. Are you willing to go through the process of settlement again? My mother immigrated to Canada in her mid-seventies. It was a big change, but she didn’t end up as a mental case.

  4. Are you flexible? Do you have the option to return to your former country of residence if it does not work for you in the Philippines? Do you have dual citizenship?

Unfortunately you will have to build your own community and organize your own activities and schedules because there are no existing retirement homes or communities yet with programming for seniors (activation), group trips and shared resources like a shuttle and facilities such as common dining or programming rooms.

Decide carefully because once you’ve made your purchase, the real estate agent will turn over the key to your condo or the title to your lot and that’s it. She or he does not care what you do day and night.


Maripi Leynes

Maripi Leynes

Maripi Leynes is a dual citizen of Canada and the Philippines and currently resides in Toronto, a city that she loves. She spent her first 100 days as a retiree in the Philippines (the honeymoon stage) and is yet to decide on the next thousand days.