Is the Philippines one of the best digital nomad destinations in 2020? Short answer; yes. It’s like Thailand circa 1994 with internet.
And no visa runs required to live here long term, unlike Thailand. That’s huge right now.
I’d been craving something more authentic, something that doesn’t try so hard to cater to Westerners. And while they do try, I like the happy medium I find in the Philippines.
Here’s why, the caveats, and how to set yourself up as a Philippines digital nomad.
As Southeast Asia continues to evolve, I’d like to make a case for digital nomads to embrace the Philippines as a top destination in 2020.
You’ve already heard sensationalised reports about flooding, the war on crime, and so on. This article is about what its really like for my wife and I personally.
This is a companion article to our How to Become a Digital Nomad guide.
Table of Contents
Reddit Digital Nomads Wanted to Know
Reddit’s /r/digitalnomad is an established, very helpful subreddit for digital nomads. With over 334,000 subscribers at the time of writing, it’s the most active digital nomad Reddit channel and the world’s largest digital nomad community by far –making Reddit a great inspiration for digital nomad blog posts like this one.
Nomad Philippines questions are common on Reddit, and every few months I will find a thread where someone is asking if the Philippines is ready to be considered a prime digital nomad destination. Responses often range from cold to lukewarm.
So, I answered a few of them. Conversations followed, and I decided to piece together the updated nomad Philippines information I shared with them into a blog post.
I came to the Philippines soon after writing Digital Nomad Escape Plan to turn over a new leaf and break out on my own, outside of the massive nomad community of Chiang Mai and its crowded cafes and coworking spaces for a change of pace.
Nomadic life in the Philippines has been changing rapidly since I first got here for a number of reasons I’ll discuss in this article.
Digital Nomads in the Philippines
While the general consensus by Reddit digital nomads is that the Philippines is not a nomad-friendly destination, I’d like to politely create a counter-argument, explain my reasons, and shed some light on why I think it’s such a hotly debated topic in the first place.
After that, I’ve got a Nomad Philippines mini-guide for those interested in exploring this beautiful country. Click here to jump straight to it.
Doing my own research, the general consensus in regard to the Philippines by Reddit digital nomads, travel bloggers, and your average expat is as follows;
- English is widely spoken, lowest language barrier in SEA
- Dating is more approachable between foreigners and locals, there’s less cultural barriers, and generally, the people are pretty amazing (I should know, I married a local)
- Air quality, places to work from, overall friendliness, freedom of speech, cost of living, fun things to do, peace, and air conditioning are all “great”
- Online business in the Philippines is difficult due to poor internet speeds
- Food is either too salty or too sweet to appeal to Western taste buds
- Quality of life is mediocre and racial tolerance is “bad”
Not all the cons on this list are accurate today.
The majority of my general consensus points above come from NomadList, Reddit digital nomad threads, and travel videos on YouTube.
For those who haven’t heard of NomadList, it’s a great crowdsourced resource that aggregates information from a wide range of data sources to help those in our circles select their next digital nomad destination.
To its credit, NomadList is a massive undertaking and the hard work that went into it is outstanding, although I respectfully disagree with one single point about Palawan; its “bad” rating for racial tolerance.
Even in the more provincial areas of the Philippines where foreigners are rare, I’ve always been treated kindly. In these areas you’ll often hear “Hey Joe!” or “Fuck You!” from little kids –a product of limited English and pop culture; seeing a cute little dude giggle and make a gang sign yelling “Fuck you!” is more comical than it is “racially intolerant”. It’s fucking funny. It’s high five worthy.
Other research comes from what other bloggers are saying.
I always enjoy a good travel video about the Philippines, with Lost Leblanc and Just One Way Ticket being my two favorite vloggers that have invested a lot of their time in covering the Philippines. I highly recommend watching their videos as part of your own research.
My Nomad Philippines Experience
The Philippines is less gentrified than Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Vietnam. It definitely has world class areas, but for the most part it’s laid back, rustic, and for those who prefer to live off the beaten track outside the scope of traditional nomad hubs.
The beaches are phenomenal, many of which are great for surfing –and they’re not overcrowded if you know where to look.
For some nomads, Philippines is a place to go if you need reprieve from language barriers or want to hang out with locals who understand your culture in ways that few other Southeast Asia countries do.
The nature of your personal reasons and/or online business in the Philippines is a key factor to consider. Being a digital nomad in the Philippines isn’t black and white, only good or only bad. It’s nuanced.
I’ve been a Philippines nomad for the majority of the last 4 years or so, and I rarely run into problems with internet speeds, personal safety, or quality of life.
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Since the internet speeds are the main concern for Reddit digital nomads considering the Philippines, I’ll fill you in on what I use it for;
- Video Skype calls on a regular basis
- Copywriting research for blog posts
- Downloading large files on Bit Torrent protocol
- Watching news television programs on YouTube
For personal use or online business, Philippines internet speeds suit most digital nomads just fine. Large files can be downloaded in minutes, only 1 out of 10 Skype video calls drop (and in those cases we just switch to audio), I can stream YouTube in high definition, and I’ve never had a problem getting shit done.
On the contrary, if you’re a vlogger who needs to upload a lot of large video files on a regular basis, the Philippines may not be for you. Internet speeds aren’t as good as Thailand, however, they will suit your needs if you’re a moderate internet user like myself –and they’re steadily getting better.
The current president has cautioned local telecommunications companies that if they don’t start modernizing their networks he will open the borders to outside competition. And local telcos have been listening.
Ookla SpeedTest reports a steady improvement in internet speeds over the course of 2018 and it’s a trend that will continue into 2020.
Why do some Reddit digital nomads think internet in Philippines is terrible?
If I had to guess why some Reddit digital nomad users take such a hard line on the Philippines, I’d attribute it to either not staying current, having above-average internet speed requirements, or they went somewhere that didn’t have good internet and called it a day.
Even if their experience was only six months ago, bandwidth in the area they visited may have already increased.
I noticed this passing through Cagayan de Oro recently; on our first pass it was sketchy, two months later it was vastly improved.
I can vouch for the local cuisine often being a little too salty or sweet and lacking vegetables –even pasta sauce could have Carnation Condensed Milk in it (that stuff they use in “Thai Coffee”, gross), and a lot of the baked goods have an over-manufactured fakeness to them; the texture isn’t right, I can’t put my finger on it. Bread almost always has sugar added, and when a recipe calls for it, fake processed Eden cheese is used instead of the real deal.
However, in tourist-friendly areas like Cebu, Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Boracay, Siargao and Palawan, it’s not hard to find more world class food variety.
Here in Palawan we’ve got a lot of international foods served in local restaurants. It’s not as great as Thailand’s selection, or that of Vietnam, Singapore, or Hong Kong –but it’s enough. Especially once you start cooking at home.
Quality of Life
Everyone agrees that the cost of living in the Philippines is low, but some believe that the quality of life is lacking. If you’re resourceful, your quality of life as a nomad in the Philippines can be similar to that in Thailand.
And unlike some parts of Thailand, there isn’t a two-class pricing system (one for locals, one for foreigners).
In fact, SM Malls which are common in the Philippines offer discounts to tourists. I recently bought a plunger and the cash register flashed “class discount”. I don’t like the semantics of a “class discount”, but I like saving money so I’ll take it.
When I first got here I found that probiotic foods like kefir and kimchi were hard to find; and then local grocery stores started carrying kimchi and I discovered an organic farm for kefir.
I thought locally sold vitamins and health supplements are an overpriced, low quality rip off in grocery stores, and then I started using Lazada, the Amazon of Asia.
Making friends with locals and foreigners is even easier than other parts of Asia. Most islands are large enough that you don’t get claustrophobic. And it’s as easy to get around as anywhere else in Asia.
In the Philippines, there’s a bit of a hierarchy of tourist hotspots; Boracay being on the top of the list, followed by Bohol, then Siargao, Cebu Province, Palawan, and finally, Siquijor. (Locals reading this, did I get that right?).
We chose Palawan because it has all the comforts of home; international food options, less dangerous/major highways so I feel safe riding a motorbike, good enough internet, cheap rent, rarely a line-up at Immigration, modern shopping malls, nearby beaches, and it’s not as busy during high season.
In Palawan, most tourists flock to El Nido and they’re on their way out of Puerto Princesa as soon as their plane lands. Puerto Princesa is peaceful.
Puerto Princesa is like Chiang Mai surrounded by ocean. This city covers all our bases. And there are others like it; Cebu city was excellent for all the same reasons.
It’s More Fun in the Philippines
If you’re glued to your laptop 24/7 what’s the point of being a digital nomad?
If adventure activities, island hopping, scuba diving, surfing, nature hiking, and chilling on the beach are why you got behind the digital nomad lifestyle, the Philippines is high on the list of nomad destinations to explore.
Nomad Philippines Top 10
To reiterate the how ideal the Philippines is for nomads if you’re skimming this article:
- Internet speeds increasing rapidly
- 7,107 islands at last count; that’s a lot of beaches
- Low cost of accommodation, Airbnb widely used
- Low cost of food, beer, social activities
- Travel within the country is cheap
- Everyone speaks English
- Great people, great dating scene
- Great weather
- Air conditioning is ubiquitous
- Lots of cafes, coworking spaces
I recommend any Reddit digital nomad reading this give the Philippines a whirl for a month. Try out Cebu city, explore Boracay, Bohol, Siargao, Palawan, and if you like more urban areas similar to Bangkok, give Bonifacio Global City (BGC) a shot.
It’s not all holiday hotspots, there’s a lot of ideal locations to set up a home base.
Digital Nomad Philippines Guide (2020)
This nomad Philippines guide has been updated for 2020 with a focus on banking, how to dodge the onward ticket requirement, how to easily get an apartment, and how to setup your mobile phone for the cheapest internet.
As previously mentioned, consider this brief supplemental Nomad Philippines guide a companion to our more general How to Become a Digital Nomad article.
We’ve also got another companion piece for Bali digital nomads that you might want to look at, too.
The best cities for digital nomads in the Philippines right now are as follows –each links to their resource page on NomadList for deeper insights, as well as a hotel and a hostel we’ve either visited ourselves or hand picked based on price and reviews. These are suggested for when you first arrive, before you find a cheap apartment in the Philippines.
The Agoda links below are affiliate links; you can also find resorts or guest houses with them, and we make a little percentage of the profit without any additional cost to you. We just wanted to be transparent, hope that’s okay!
- Bonifacio Global City (
NomadList, Agoda: Loft, Hotel or Hostel)
- Makati City (NomadList, Agoda: Hotel or Hostel)
- Cebu City (NomadList, Agoda: Hotel or Hostel)
- Davao City (NomadList, Agoda: Hotel or Hostel with a gym)
- Siargao Island (NomadList, Agoda: Villa or Hostel)
- Palawan Island (NomadList, Agoda: Hotel or Hostel)
If you have a bigger budget and want the stable life (and best internet) that living in one of the best cities in the Philippines offers, you’ll want to head to Bonifacio Global City (BGC). It feels like a world class Western city, it’s probably the safest in the country, and plenty of celebrities live there.
Siargao is our top pick for digital nomads who want to live near the beach for 3-6 months. Beyond that, the excess foreigners and touristic focus start to eat away at it. Unless you enjoy repetitive conversations with normie foreigners, we kind of don’t.
If you visit Palawan, most of El Nido is a bit of a construction mess these days. Instead, check out Nacpan Beach, Duli Beach for surfing, Coron or San Vicente for some tranquil island life if you find Puerto Princesa boring (we chose boring for 2+ years).
Each location has solid internet connectivity from the top 3 internet providers in the Philippines (more on that later), and each is a paradise in their own unique way. Check NomadList Philippines links for more information.
Worth mention; the quality, cleanliness, and condition of buildings in the Philippines can range dramatically from one city block to another –hell, even neighbouring buildings can be a stark contrast. If you’ve ever gone to Vientiane in Laos, it can have a similar vibe at times. If this bothers you, head to Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Makati, or Cebu (IT Park) urban centres.
In order to keep this post evergreen, I’m not going to get into coworking spaces for each individual nomad Philippines location because those open, close, and move around as with anything in Asia.
Get a Visa
Visas for the Philippines are a lot easier to manage than Thailand or Indonesia; most Western countries will get a free 30 day waiver on arrival, and from there you can get back-to-back visa extensions without having to leave the country.
I’ve got pages and pages of tourist visa extensions as I haven’t yet explored my new visa options after marrying my wife here.
After a couple extensions, you’ll also be given an ACR card; (Alien Certificate of Registration) a plastic local photo ID card with a smart chip that allows you to open a local bank account, among other benefits (I leave this with bike rentals instead of my passport).
Visa extensions will cost you about $60 USD, bring 5,000 pesos with you to be sure. Prices differ based on whether you’re being given an ACR card or not, which expire annually.
Don’t Pay for an Onward Ticket
When you first enter the Philippines, you’ll need proof that you have an onward ticket –a flight booking out of the country within 30 days. This is mandatory, even though it’s likely a wasted flight because you plan to get a visa extension.
I once paid a hundred bucks on a wasted flight to get around it. Bullshit.
If you have an ACR card from Immigration already, you don’t need an onward flight ticket –another way the Philippines makes it easy to come and go.
Get Cheap Accommodation
Accommodation is incredibly cheap in the Philippines, even cheaper than Thailand.
I’ll include a widget below so you can explore hostels, hotels, and resorts on Agoda –however, I’ve got a little tip to help you find a cheap apartment in the Philippines.
We currently have two apartments in the Philippines that we keep year ‘round to make life easier; one near the in-laws, and one in Palawan. It allows us to travel light, wherever we go. We don’t pay more than $300 USD for both apartments combined, and they aren’t tiny studio apartments, either.
Here’s the tip;
Find a place you like on Airbnb and rent it for a couple days at the listed rate. If you like it, make them an offer to rent it off-app, monthly. Your offer for a full month should be about 8-10 days of the listed rate on Airbnb.
The reason for this is that few listings get rented more than 8-10 days per month, even in peak season. In most cases the landlord will be happy with your offer.
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Get Internet and Mobile Data
Globe, Smart, and PLDT are the three most prominent internet service providers in the Philippines.
Globe is currently our favorite and the best internet service provider in the Philippines for your phone due to its ever-expanding coverage.
PLDT is the best internet service provider if you’re looking for a fiber optic internet connection in your apartment. In some rural areas, Smart is the only option for your smartphone.
Dual SIM smartphones are common in Asia, and I use one so I can tether off either, on a per-case basis.
The best deal you are going to get with Globe Telecom on your smartphone is 3GB full speed, un-throttled internet data usage plus unlimited texts and phone calls for 120 pesos. That’s under $3 USD.
To get 3GB of data with Globe, text “GOSAKTO120” to 8080. It’s the best deal you’ll find in 2020 (this code was updated on 01/06/2020).
Get a Bank Account
Philippines digital nomads have a few options for banking below; if you’d like something more international check out our “Best Bank for Digital Nomads” post.
Once you have your ACR card, getting a bank account with a traditional bank is a pretty straightforward process. Branches of all major international banks can be found in most cities across the country, locally I’d recommend BPI, China Bank, Security Bank, or BDO.
- ACR card
- Passport photo
- Utility bill or rental contract
- Minimum deposit, card fee
GCash as a PayPal Card
GCash is little more than a prepaid Mastercard, with an optional small amount of credit based on your “GScore”. It’s got a handy app, and you can also make purchases scanning a QR code.
What makes this even more useful is that it’s linked to your Globe number so you can easily top up your phone service “load”.
If you create a Philippines PayPal account that matches your name, address, and ID to your GCash account –you can withdrawal from PayPal seconds after getting paid, without a fee. From there, it’s on the card and can be used like any other banking card.
Visit a Globe store or GCash kiosk at any mall to get an account.
Coins is another really handy app you can use to buy load, pay bills, and even send, receive, or hold cryptocurrencies. Yep, it’s a cardless hot wallet for Bitcoin and Ethereum with support for other altcoins rolling out as it matures.
Coins is a crypto exchange that allows nomads in the Philippines to top up its balance at a 7-Eleven with cash, and then convert it to the cryptocurrency of your choice.
You can download Coins.ph from your favorite smartphone app store.
In most cases, the Philippines are the cheapest in all of Asia for buying groceries. Most groceries. Some foods you might be used to back home are either not available, hard to find, or more expensive –but your staples are covered.
Pro-tip: Get a blender or juicer and make strawberry-banana-beet-spinach-coconut oil smoothies at home to ensure you’re getting enough vegetables! You can’t taste the veggies, and the coconut oil ties it all together.
As with most of Asia, the beef is always tough and awful, don’t recommend it unless you boil the shit out of it until it’s tender.
Eating out is incredibly cheap –cheaper than Thailand in most cases. However they don’t have the selection Thailand has and vegetables are scarce. If you like Pho, noodles and Chinese food, you’re in luck.
Local restaurant chains far outnumber bespoke restaurants. This might turn off some people, but in many ways, it’s the only way you’re going to get any consistency.
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This book was one of the first to kickstart my journey to become a digital nomad. While some parts are a wee dry, no one can argue that this book is a must-read.
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We’ve got a few other articles related to the Philippines you may want to read:
- A Collection of the Best Palawan Beach Resorts Starting at $5 Per Night
- A Travel Itinerary for the Top 10 Best Beaches in the Philippines
Once you settle in, you’ll find that the Philippines has a handful of what could rank as “the best cities for digital nomads”. There’s something for everyone, with options that range from urban to beach life.
I recommend the Philippines for digital nomads who have been to at least one other nomad hub like Thailand, Indonesia, or Vietnam first –and are well adjusted to setting up shop in a place that’s a little more rugged. I find Chiang Mai, Bali, and Ho Chi Minh to be great places to cut your teeth in the beginning of your nomadic lifestyle.
After that, you’re ready for nomad Philippines life. The reason for this is that there’s less digital nomads in the Philippines, and that means less support if you run into trouble.
Check out our other nomad guides:
- How to Become a Digital Nomad
- How to Get an Entry-Level Remote Job
- Nomad’s Guide to Living in Bali
- Nomad’s Guide to Living in Chiang Mai
- Nomad Travel Insurance Comparison – World Nomads vs Safetywing
What do you think, did I cover enough bases? Let everyone know what you think of this nomad Philippines 2020 guide in the comments.
Read: Location Independent Jobs That Are Always Hiring –this article links to active job listings. Won’t hurt.
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