I’ve been saying for a long time that the cost of living in the Philippines is about 1/10 of San Francisco. This is my personal estimate, based on my 9 trips here over the last 4 years, and on living here the last 3.5 months. In total I’ve spent about 7 months here over 4 years.
Of course, this is an average. Not everything costs 1/10 of what it costs in San Francisco. Some things cost 1/20, some things cost more. But this average is based just on my impressions, and is therefore biased and based on small sample sizes.
In this post I will attempt to give a wide range of examples.
Because exchange rates vary, I will give both dollars and Philippine pesos for each amount, using the recent rate of 43.5 pesos to the dollar.
Of course, cost is not the only relevant issue. There are also issues of availability, convenience, and quality. For some things, equivalent quality here is very hard to find and more expensive when you do find it, but adequate alternatives are much cheaper.
Haircuts and highlights
For example, let’s look at men’s haircuts. For my first 8 trips here, I thought they cost about 50-100% of the cost in San Francisco. This was because I only had my hair cut at David’s Salon, a chain of salons here that you can find in most malls and cities. For example, at David’s Salon in Tagaytay a haircut and highlights cost me $37 (1600).
But last Fall, my boyfriend Dindin suggested I have my hair cut by his hairdresser, in his town of San Pascual, Batangas, as it would be much cheaper, and I always like Dindin’s haircuts.
When I was done, I asked Dindin what it cost, he said 50 ($1.15). I was in shock. I didn’t believe him at first. The haircut was every bit as good as the one I got at David’s. A month ago I had my haircut at a salon here in Tagaytay. It looked a bit more sophisticated than the place in San Pascual, and Tagaytay is a mountain resort where lots of expats live, comparable in costs to Manila. I got a haircut and highlights for $6.44 (280). Had I gotten the haircut only it would have cost me only $0.87 (38).
So, instead of haircuts being 1/2 to the same cost as San Francisco, I would now say they are about 1/20 the cost.
Let’s take a look at another essential of life, housing. Rents vary widely, as does the availability of places to rent that are comparable to what you may be used to in the USA. For example, in San Pascual I rented a two-bedroom apartment for about a year. Rent was $103 (4500) per month. However, the apartment had no air conditioning, no hot water, no tub, and no shower. There was a bathroom with a modern flush toilet, and a faucet and drain in a washing area. The “kitchen” consisted of a sink, some counters, and some cabinets under the counters and sink. We bought a small refrigerator and a portable 2-burner electric stove for the kitchen, and used a fan. The apartment was fairly large. It was on the second floor of a small building that had a vehicle repair shop on the first floor, set back only a few feet from the National Road, a major 2-lane road that serves as both a highway and a local road. The road noise and road dirt were both extreme. The road dirt made it impossible to get the place clean. Although I learned to sleep there, it was kind of like sleeping directly underneath a freeway. It felt like I was only 1 foot underneath in fact. Still, in San Francisco you can get a storage cube that is about 4 feet by 5 feet for $103 a month.
In January, 2011, Dindin and I moved to a 4-bedroom house with a large outdoor pool in Tagaytay. (See my last post for a detailed description of the house.)
When we moved to the house in Tagaytay, we vacated the apartment in San Pascual and took a different apartment, on Dindin’s family’s land. This is much smaller than the old apartment, but below the level of the road, so it is cooler, quieter, and gets very little road dirt. For that we pay Dindin’s mother $69 (3000) per month.
The house is located in a mountain resort/tourist area, similar to Lake Tahoe. Rent is $805 (35,000) per month. For the first two months we had no hot water and very poor water pressure, however these problems have been fixed, we can now take hot showers and hot baths. There is still no hot water on the first floor, including the kitchen. I’ve learned that you don’t really need hot water to wash dishes. The washing machine is probably beyond repair, and the jets on the whirlpool tub will likely never work, but the 3-burner stove and the microwave work. And, miraculously, one item I thought would never work now works fine – the oven. We roasted a 2.8k (6 lb) chicken the other night, it was delicious. The house sits on a 600 square meter lot, on a quiet, lushly wooded street only 5-10 minutes by car (30 minutes walking) from the center of town.
A similar house in Lake Tahoe I’m guessing would cost several thousand dollars per month at least to rent year-round, which put rents here at about 1/5. In other areas outside of Manila, such as San Pascual, it is probably closer to 1/10. Manila is probably closer to 1/5 than 1/10. So I would say, in general, rents are about 1/6 of San Francisco.
What about purchasing property? According to the constitution of the Philippines, foreigners cannot own land, however you can own a condo. I’ve been looking at condos in Manila for several years now. The cost ranges from $46,000 (about 2 million) for a very well-constructed small studio apartment in a good area of Manila to $180,000 (about 7.8 million) for a very large 3- bedroom apartment. Both are in the newest modern hi-rises, built to withstand a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, with significant building amenities (gym, pools, gardens, etc.), but not parking, included.
In San Francisco, a small studio in a good neighborhood will cost you $375,000 or more, and a large 3-bedroom condo will cost you around $1.5 million.
Two days ago I had a pain in my shoulder blade, I wanted a Thai massage. The Thai massage place nearby didn’t open until noon, so I went to another spa. A full body massage cost $10.35(450). It was a good massage but I still had about the same pain, so I went for a Thai massage that afternoon. The Thai massage cost $5.75(250), and it reduced my pain by about 90%. I went back for another Thai massage the next day.
A trip to the supermarket to buy a week’s worth of groceries for 2 people costs me about $110 (4785) here, versus about $150 for one person in San Francisco. However, that may not be a very useful comparison, as I’m not buying the same things (mostly because they are not as readily available here). (And yes, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I spent that much on groceries in San Francisco. I have a very restricted diet and try to eat very healthy. But I digress.)
In working on the examples below, I realized there is a very simple way to do these conversions.
If something costs 100 pesos per kilo, at a conversion rate of 43.5, that means the price per pound is about $1.04.
Some specific examples:
- Chicken legs, raw, cost about $3.22 (140) per kilogram. A kilo is 2.2 pounds, so that’s about $1.46 per pound, about half the cost in San Francisco.
- Salmon, the most expensive fish here, when you can find it, costs about $13 (588) per kilo, or $5.90 per pound. That’s between 1/5 and 1/2 the cost in San Francisco.
- Cabbage costs 55 pesos per kilo, about 57 cents per pound.
- Cantaloupe costs 50 pesos per kilo, about 52 cents per pound.
Vehicles and Transportation
I did a lot of research before buying a car here. In general, it seems that most new cars cost about 150% of the cost in the USA. I think the main reason for this is the import tax. Also, buying a new car here is a bit different. This is one area where the haggling over price takes place in the USA, but not in the Philippines. The price is the price. They have different incentives each month or season, which are available to everyone. You can’t negotiate the price. My theory about this is that the car dealerships, like most companies here, seem obsessed with youth in their hiring. There are no laws against age discrimination in employment. I went to 5 dealerships and found only 2 salespeople I would describe as competent. Companies want to hire young, good-looking people, especially for jobs involving contact with the public. While age and experience are valued on a personal level much more so than in the US, in the work world they are often not valued at all. It’s interesting that in the spheres of family and intimacy Filipinos are less youth-obsessed or ageist than people in the USA, but in the sphere of work they are much more ageist.
I found a way around this problem. I ended up purchasing a Toyota Innova, an “Asian Utility Vehicle” (minivan) that is made in the Philippines. I suspect that is why you get more value for your money with the Innova, the lack of import tax. In any case, 3 months later I am still thrilled with my purchase. I paid about $25,000, which I think would be a good deal in the USA as well.
In Manila, a taxi cab across the city will cost you about $3.00-$6.90 (130-300), depending on whether the cabbie uses the meter or demands a flat rate. A jeepney ride in a province (small bus with no air-conditioning, often very crowded – everyone sits but maybe not comfortably, travels distinct routes but stops at any point for passengers to board or leave) costs between 16 and 23 cents (7 to 10 pesos).
Computers and electronics
This is an area where I would say costs range from 75% to 110% of San Francisco. I recently bought a new laptop here, a Samsung, it uses an Intel Core i5 processor, has 4 GB RAM, DVD R/W, webcam, etc. I paid about $1,011 (44,000). Again, I think the reason is the import taxes on electronics. I also bought a new cell phone recently. I got a MyPhone, which is made by a Filipino company. I paid $87.36 (3800). A comparable Nokia phone would have cost me 2-3 times as much here.
This page puts the cost of living in the Philippines at between 1/5 and 1/4 of the USA. That might not be at all inconsistent with saying the cost of living in the Philippines is 1/10 of San Francisco, as San Francisco is one of the costliest cities in the USA.
Another way to express the cost difference is to compare my total budget for living expenses in San Francisco vs. in Tagaytay. I am spending much more than 1/10 of what I spent in San Francisco, for two reasons: 1) I am supporting two people instead of one, and 2) I have significantly increased my standard of living.
I estimate that I’m spending about 1/3 of what I spent in San Francisco, however, I’ve increased my standard of living in a couple significant ways:
- Instead of living in a 2 bedroom/2 bath condo in downtown San Francisco, I’m living in a 4 bedroom house with a pool in the mountain resort of Tagaytay. I’m renting out the San Francisco condo for about $3000 a month, about 3.75 times the rent I pay for this house.
- Instead of driving a 16-year old BMW 325i convertible, I’m driving a brand-new Toyota Innova (minivan).
So I think I will stick by my estimate of 1/10, but with an important caveat for anyone considering a move: You will likely take advantage of the cost differential to increase your standard of living. So, even if you move from a high cost area such as San Francisco, your costs here will be higher than 1/10.