Retire in the Philippines: how far from the city?

Share the joy
Beachfront for sale, San Joaquin, Iloilo - about two hours from Iloilo City (this is an example only - don't contact me about buying it)

Beachfront for sale, San Joaquin, Iloilo – about two hours from Iloilo City (this is an example only – don’t contact me about buying it)

Is living outside the city, in the Philippine provinces for you?  Here’s a few things to consider.  Certainly there are so many beautiful rural areas in the Philippines.  I think of the lush, unspoiled area around Lucban, Quezon Province, I think of the spectacular rural landscapes and beaches of Bohol.  Closer at hand for us, are the mountains and unspoiled beaches of Antique Province on Panay Island.  When the foreigner sees that fantastic ocean front is so affordable, that the promise of living the beach-front dream is so easily obtainable in these eye-catching rural places.

But, before you leap, consider why such undeveloped rural and beach properties are so undeveloped and so inexpensive.  For the Filipino there is no work.  Whenever one (Pinoy or foreigner) needs decent medical or dental care, whenever you want the most rudimentary imported groceries, whenever you want to dine out, whenever you want a shopping mall, whenever you need a hardware store, you may have to drive hours over provincial roads. Not once, but each and every time you need to see the doctor or dentist, for every shopping trip. Emergency medical care in the Philippines is poor in the cities.  Outside the cities there is none. There may be no Internet access, no Goggle and easy access to the world wide web’s rich resources for you or your kids, no Skype to keep up access to your family at home, no email and no blog. For all practical purposes there will be no police protection.  If you have kids, the public schools for your kids may not what you have in mind. There will be no private school alternatives.  You will be tremendously exotic to your neighbors, some of whom may never have seen a white foreigner before.  It’s likely that there will be no English speakers to chat with.

Even more fundamentally, are you suited to such a rural life?  Can you entertain yourself for day or weeks without a trip to the mall, a meal out at a restaurant and so forth.  Not everyone is.  Don’t get me wrong, living such a life in the rural Philippines can be richly rewarding, but we contend that it’s a rare foreigner who could really be happy without the conveniences and necessities mentioned above.  Consider too that your circumstances change with age.  You may be fit as a fiddle when you build your provincial dream home, but in a decade, or even a moment, proximity to decent medical care may be essential.

Just try to be sure of what you are doing before building your dream house in the provinces.  There may be a good market for second hand houses in the cities because there are affluent Filipinos, businessmen, professionals, etc., but in the provinces there are few that can afford your “KanoKastle” as my friend Dave Starr (see his excellent site PhilFAQS) calls them.  Take a look at THIS HOUSE FOR SALE in Bogo City, a nice small town at the  north end of Cebu island, about 100KM north of Cebu City.  We’ve been to Bogo and thought it an attractive place.  The owner builder, Charles Harman was new to the Philippines.  He bought two lots and built a house in 2004.  He says he went all out for this house. spending around $80,000 in total.   Mr. Harmon and his family now live in Cebu City and are trying to sell their former dream home eight years later for $65,000.  This is a very common scenario.  While we have never seen Mr. Harmon’s house, such second hand houses are usually well built and can be real bargains.

We point out that had Mr. Harmon built a house in Cebu City in 2004, it probably would be worth considerably more than it cost then.  That’s because Cebu City is booming and there are many who can afford multi-million peso homes.  This is true for ourselves as well.  There’s a good market for homes in Iloilo City’s upscale subdivisions, but few buyers for homes such as our which are beyond easy commuting distance from the city.

House for Sale in Bogo, Cebu

Here in Iloilo as elsewhere, land prices seem to be directly related to distance from the city.  In Iloilo City (depending on location) land is about 5,000 pesos per square meter.  In Oton, ten kilometers out of the city, land is about 2,500 pesos per square meter, in Tigbauan, twenty-five kilometers out of the city, we paid 1,200 per square meter.  Tigbauan is a far commute to the city.  Continue further out, you’ll find beautiful small towns such as Miagao, and the prices continue to drop.

My wife and I ruled out places we really liked for some these considerations.  We ended up buying property in small town, twenty-five kilometers from Iloilo City.  The town is a very attractive rural place, quiet and beautiful, rice fields, carabaos ploughing, with the mountains of nearby Antique Province as the backdrop, a 250 year old Spanish church and good beaches.  We feel it’s a good compromise for us.  We like small town, rural life.  We’ll get that but we’ll also get reasonable access to the necessities and amenities of the city.

The New York Times has an article on this same topic.  It reports on a couple who retired in a scenic rural location in Montana but are considering the need to move to be closer to medical care.  See

See also our Philippine Real Estate Primer

Comments (15) Write a comment

  1. Great things to think about. I know my wife would have little issue moving back to Iloilo…and I think she would like to retire there when we get older. As much as I do like it there…I have strong reservations for some of the exact things you mention. I think it’s easy to romanticize the idea of retiring to a rural…even tropical place…for those of us in the states, but you easily forget about all the daily things we take for granted here. If it came down to it…I do think I could live in Iloilo, but I’m too accustomed to my Internet and shopping, ect to be far from the city lol


  2. RICK,
    Thankyou for an interesting and informative article. I must be one of those rare foreigners because I bought land (in my wife’s name of course) built a big house right next to the Pacific Ocean on a beautiful beach, 10km from Borongan City in Eastern Samar. We don’t even have a proper road from the Barangay road, I always say “our address is 22 Omandoma St”, because we are just past the 22nd coconut tree on the left!! But we have been living here for 6 years and love it, altho I am 62 and still in good health, we do have some good doctors and a couple of hospitals here, and we drive over to Tacloban (or take a shuttle bus) if we really need to.
    I am used to being isolated, I lived and worked in the Antarctic for a year, and a remote island 560 miles off the New Zealand Coast for 6 years. I always lived in remote areas in New Zealand, preferring a back section in a native bush area…..

    We also have internet (cable) and 50 plus cable TV channels, even though we are not in the city. Progress is slowly but surely coming to Eastern Samar, the new road widening program from the US funded Millenium Account is now underway. They will spend US$230M over the next five years upgrading the national highway here. That will bring more visitors, tourism and new business, and improved living standards for Filipinos…..THAT is the main objective of the Millenium Project


    • Lester,

      Thanks for your comments. It all goes to show that there is are an infinite number of “right” places to live in the Philippines!

      I too used to live in remote places. When I lived in Maine, I was the only year-round residents of my township. I was snowed-in for many months of the year. Then when I built a cabin in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State, the only way to get there was by a cable tramway over the river and then a short walk. I guess I have gotten more conservative as I got older — perhaps not a good thing?

      Anyway, your life in Samar sounds great. Best wishes. Bob and Carol


    • Hello Lester,
      Just reading your article as my wife comes from Mydalong. I have visited Samar several times and we are thinking of returning to live one day in the future.
      What area is your land/ home?




    • Hi Lester, although I see this is dated 2012, I will attempt a reply. I am an american married to a Filipina. We are currently trying to buy 750 sq.meters in Guiuan. We have lived in Manila, Cebu, and even went back to Pennsylvania for 1 year before coming back to Cebu. I hate the traffic in the cities. I asked my wife about moving to Guiuan after attending a wedding. She has lots of old classmates and relatives. Let me know if your still around.
      Brad nelson


  3. Hi Bob and Carol,
    I have recently moved to an apartment in Jaro, Iloilo. It’s only for a year while I sort out the Real Estate situation. Your site has been a big help regarding alot of questions I have had about so many issues. But, could you expand on your actual land purchase? I will be building a home in Cabatuan in the future and want to ensure I buy the land properly!! Cabatuan is a nice little town with great people.
    Thanks! Rick


  4. Bob and Carol,

    Happy new year to you, both! May the coming years bring you continued good health and happiness.

    Barring unforeseen circumstances, my wife and I will be relocating to Iloilo sometime the middle of next year. Regarding taxation, do you continue paying your U.S. state tax? I understand that we can not get away from federal taxation. Our State imposes taxes on retirement income. I’m just wondering if we are mandated to continue paying US state tax even if we move our residency to Iloilo. You may not be a tax expert, but I value your input.


    • That’s great news! Many states do try to collect state income taxes. They each have their own standards — list of ties to the state which determine tax residency such a voter registration, property ownership, driver’s license and so forth. In our case, I lived in New York for over twenty years but by the time we came to the Philippines, I had none of the ties. We owned no property there, our address and voting was in Florida. We simply stopped filing New York State tax returns. In any case, New York has a quite progressive income tax system and we have so little income that we would not owe taxes in New York. You’ll have to check with your state’s taxing authority to figure out whether they’ll claim you as a taxpayer after your move.

      Some expats make a short move to a state without income taxes such as Nevada. They register to vote, get a driver’s licence etc.

      Anyway, good luck. We look forward to seeing you.

      Bob and Carol


  5. Bob, I can’t find a statistical breakdown, but I’m sure you’re right that most of the Social Security recipients are Filipinos who retire to the Philippines after working in the U.S. and the numbers could increase in the coming years.

    As for Germany, I can’t find much explanation for the increase. Presumably most have had connection with the county in one way or another and who have decided to retire in Germany. I’m not sure if the cost of living is cheaper over there than in the U.S. and medicare is not available to U.S. expats in Germany.

    Based on a few friends and other people’s account who have experienced both Germany and Italy, I would certainly pick Italy over Germany. Why the numbers are down in Italy, I don’t know for sure.

    One of the points in the article is the fact that a lot of Americans are now considering other countries as an option
    to spend their “golden years”.


  6. That’s a really fascinating tibit. I wonder why Germany is up so much, Italy down. Regarding the Philippines, I’ll bet a majority of those collecting Social Security are Filipinos who retire to the Philippines after working in the U.S.



  7. Bob,

    Just came across an internet acticle from U.S. News, by Philip Moeller, Wednesday, April 14, 2010. The Philippines is one of the top 10 ten countries who gained a significant number of Social Security Retirees in 9 years broken down as follows:

    Germany (37,100, up 54 percent).
    Italy (33,000, down 13 percent).
    United Kingdom (31,600, up 28 percent).
    Greece (23,100, up 12 percent).
    Philippines (21,800, up 21 percent).
    Portugal (12,300, up 8 percent).
    France (12,300, up 41 percent).


  8. Hi Bob and Carol. Through good people like you, many Filipinos in need of decent jobs and wages are helped. Thanks for being candid about your (Bob’s) life journey in the USA. This has further opened our minds to be truly thankful to God for the simple things in life that people often take for granted. An American seminary professor who lived in Bacolod City for seven years, before Christian Reformed World Missions called him and his wife back to the USA, told me “Bacolod is our home.” Blessings, dina & gad


  9. Hi Bob & Carol, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your articles – FULL of useful info and insights. As you may remember, I am relocating to the RP in August and Iloilo & Bacolod are on my short list of possible long term locations.



  10. Pingback: Miagao, Iloilo Province, Philippines (under construction) at

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.