All you need to know about working remotely from the Philippines
The Philippines for digital nomads at a glance
- Absolutely gorgeous beaches
- Life is cheap
- Relaxed atmosphere out on the islands
- Internet can be really slow and unreliable
- Bad roads and physical infrastructure
An introduction to the Philippines
Ranging from the Sulu Sea to the Pacific Ocean, through smoking volcanos and wild jungles and beaches so white you’ll have to squint to see them, the Philippines is one of the most alluring destinations on the planet. That’s especially true for digital nomads. They see a place where the dream of swinging in a hammock with the laptop is very much achievable; where workdays can end with a surf or a swim in waters that are glassy and warm; where the view from the office is talcum-powder sand and stooping palms.
But, before we get carried away, it’s worth noting that the Philippines has its downsides as a DN destination. For a start, internet speeds can leave a lot to be desired. The cities are ramshackle and pretty polluted – Manila, we’re looking at you! Infrastructure (especially roads and electricity) on some of the less-developed islands isn’t up to scratch, which can be fun if you’re holidaying but not so fun if you’re trying to get projects done. All that adds up to somewhere with highs and lows, where perhaps the most gorgeous landscapes on earth are balanced out by rustic living and a lack of connectivity. Let’s take a look…
Connectivity in the Philippines
Let’s not sugar coat it – the internet in the Philippines is among the worst in Southeast Asia. In fact, average download speeds in even relatively built-up places like Baguio (a mountain resort near highland lakes and pine forests) and Davao City (the gateway to Mindanao island) averages at under 1 Mbps. That’s under 1 Mbps! Upload speeds aren’t much better either and mobile coverage can be patchy at best.
On the flip side, there are reasons to be cheerful. Connectivity across the nation has a 4.5 Mbps average, and it’s improved consistently year on year in recent times. It’s also super-easy to get linked up to the mobile network in the Philippines – there are sellers of SIMs in almost every major airport and tourist town. We expect the situation to improve drastically over the next decade, too, with the implementation of fixed and mobile 5G.
WiFi in the Philippines
It’s a common story in the Philippines for digital nomads: The hotel or Airbnb they’re headed to lists a fixed, high-speed internet connection, but it’s simply nowhere to be seen on arrival. Either that, or it’s all too slow to get anything done. Frankly, the country’s connectivity isn’t comparable to other nations in Southeast Asia. Yet. The story is changing though, and you’re sure to find destinations – spots like Cebu and Siargao – that are actively trying to up their game for the 2020s.
It’s always a good idea to send a specific request regarding WiFi speed to your would-be host or hotel. If you’re going to be relying on the connection throughout your stay, there’s no harm in asking for a speed test screenshot to prove there’s something decent on offer. Generally speaking, professions that use big files and lots of bandwidth frequently – think vloggers and video editors – are the digital nomads that are likely to run into the most trouble in the Philippines. Checking mail, downloading small files, and uploading text is rarely an issue.
4G and mobile in the Philippines
As a digital nomad in the Philippines, it’s pretty important you sort a mobile connection. These will not only act as a good backup to the landline internet but could even be your main source of connectivity on the islands (and let’s face it – you’re surely headed for the islands). It’s easy to get hooked up. Just check out the arrival hall in any airport and there’s sure to be loads of SIM stalls vying for custom. They have monthly packages that cost around the $20 mark, usually including 12GB of data with extra credits for social media.
There are two main providers worth noting:
- Globe – considered to have slightly better coverage overall.
- Smart – considered to have stronger signal strengths and faster 4g.
A lot of digital nomads in the Philippines will actually go for both SIM options and mix and match the two. The reason for that is that coverage is spotty and rarely converges. You might find that you’ll have a good link from your Smart card down on the beaches of Palawan, but it’s only Globe that works next to the lagoons of Siargao.
Visas and documentation for the Philippines
The Philippines hasn’t got the same harsh visa conditions imposed by say, Thailand. In fact, it’s one of the more accessible nations in Southeast Asia for casual travellers. That’s thanks to the standard 30-day waiver that’s on offer to citizens of most developed countries. It’s just a case of jetting in, having the passport stamped, and on you go to the white-sand beaches and turquoise lagoons.
Of course, this is technically a tourist visa. But, because eligibility for a Philippine working permit requires a petition from a particular company, many consider that an unfeasible route to go down. So, while we’d stop short of actively recommending entering the country on a visa waiver as a remote worker, it’s probably fair to say that most digital nomads in the Philippines are doing just that.
The good news is that these travel visas are easy to extend. After your initial month, you simply need to get to an immigration office to apply for a 29-day visa waiver addition. That will bring you to a total of 59 days in the country when you become eligible for what’s called an ACR i-Card (used to open local bank accounts and other things) and up to another 36 months of extensions if required.
Where to work as a digital nomad in The Philippines
Digital nomads in the Philippines take a more nuanced approach to remote working than their compadres across Asia and Europe. That’s largely down to the unique geography of the country – it’s spread across more than 7,000 islands! In the bigger cities – Manila especially – you can look forward to a pulsing metropolitan scene that includes co-working spaces and cafes. Venture to the islands and you’ll probably find you spend a lot of time working on the deck of your beach bungalow or in the restaurant of your resort. Go to wilder places – think Siargao and Palawan – and there are eco camps and surf camps well set up for digital nomad workers.
There seem to be more and more co-working spaces arriving in the Philippines each year. The bulk of them congregate in the capital, with the likes of Weremote (in the huge Metrowalk Commercial Complex) and Plug it (more centrally located on España Boulevard) leading the way. Unfortunately, the trend to shared office spaces catered to DNs hasn’t yet reached the islands. The growing community of remote workers and ex-pats based in Siargao is awaiting theirs with bated breath. The divers of El Nido have made several attempts, but nothing seems to have taken off on Palawan just yet.
The Philippines isn’t huge on café culture. Of course, Metro Manila has all the roasteries and hip joints you could need. The focus of them is around historical Intramuros, the modern and clean Bonifacio Global City, and the gritty streets of Binondo (the city’s Chinatown). You also find great cafés in many of the main tourist regions, like Boracay and Cebu, but be aware that these often double as seafood kitchens or are specifically aimed at week-to-week visitors. They might not take too kindly to long sessions on the laptop, particularly during the high season!
Surf camps & yoga camps
In the last couple of years, the Philippines has boomed as a surf destination. That’s mainly down to one island: Siargao. It’s got a series of pretty sweet reef breaks rolling up its eastern coastline, ranging from beginner-friendly Jacking Horse to gnarly Cloud 9 (pros only, please). That’s brought with it a miniature Bali scene, with surf camps and yoga schools aplenty. These are often accommodations that are well-appointed for digital nomads, precisely because they cater to an international crowd. They offer comfy, stylish rooms with ensuites, in-house exercise classes and activities, and – best of all – good internet connections.
Tech stuff for digital nomads in the Philippines
The tech side of things in any country should be a concern for budding digital nomads, so be sure to check out the section below for the lowdown on the digital Philippines…
Plugs and things in the Philippines
Mains supplies are 220V at 60 Hz across the Philippines. Sadly, there’s little uniformity in plug types. The country uses three in total, with the Type C two-pronged plug (used widely in Europe) joining Type A and Type B (the sort used in the US). There’s no real way to tell what connectors your chosen hotel or destination will throw in with, so it’s a good idea to bring along a universal adapter.
A note on the electricity supply on Philippine islands: It’s not the best. In fact, long periods of downtime should be expected in places where building work has outstripped infrastructure investment in recent years. So, expect lengthy power cuts in Cebu, El Nido, and definitely Siargao.
Security and accessibility
Digital freedoms in the Philippines are generally good, particularly when compared to other nations in Southeast Asia. Bills like the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom are helping to open discussions about online rights to expression and publication, and there’s still little to no government censorship of online content. That said, Freedom House has noted that the country is on a downward curve. Recent concerns include mass mobile network shutdowns and a narrowing in the diversity of news outlets.
Repairs and computer shops
It’s fair to say that the Philippines is not the best place to have tech issues with the laptop. You’ll probably be okay if you need urgent repairs in Manila, Davao City or Bonifacio Global City, which all boast large, modern malls and up-to-date computer shops. In the capital, there are also authorised Apple resellers, but we’d recommend checking and double-checking their credentials. If, like most digital nomads in the Philippines, you’re looking to get to the islands, make sure your gear is working tiptop before you arrive and take backups of anything crucial – part of the charm of places like Siargao and Palawan is that there are no computer outlets.
Cost of living in The Philippines
Yep – the Philippines is a pretty cheap corner of Southeast Asia. Nomads who have been comfortably living in Thailand or Bali should find little to worry about on the finances front. Average total costs are estimated at just below $1,400 per month, but that’s for the big city of Metro Manila. Major tourist destinations like Boracay can see that crank upwards to around $1,800 per month but bear in mind that usually involves living in a chic resort right by the crystal-clear Sulu Sea. It’s also possible to live comfortably for considerably less than that, especially if you’re not fussed on staying close to the beach or in the historic core of Manila, for example.
Here are a few example ballpark prices you can expect to find in the Philippines:
- A large domestic beer – 80 PHP ($1.50)
- Local street-food dinner – 100 PHP ($2)
- Sit-down meal in an international restaurant – 500 PHP ($9.80)
- Cost of a six-hour bus from Puerto Princesa to El Nido (a popular route on Palawan) – 900 PHP ($17.50)
Travel basics for the Philippines
Before you start dreaming of opening the laptop in a swaying hammock by the sands of Siargao or amid the amazing Chocolate Hills of Bohol, be sure to read below for a few travel basics about the Philippines.
Linguists will love that there are upwards of 180 languages spoken throughout the Philippines. That’s just the reality of a country that’s fragmented into more than 7,000 islands, many of which grew up in isolation, with varying cultures and tongues. Thankfully, there is one language that ties almost everyone together: Filipino. This is the first official language of the country and is used for academia and news. It’s based on the Tagalog language, which is also still widely spoken across the islands.
And the other official lingo of the Philippines? English! In fact, lots of Filipinos go on to become TEFL teachers and tutors, precisely because they’re brought up with a good grasp of English. For digital nomads, that’s all pretty good news. Simple tasks like haggling for a taxi or sorting accommodation can usually be done in a global tongue that’s universally understood.
When to visit The Philippines
The Philippines experiences a wet and a dry season. Most travellers will want to touchdown for the latter, which lasts roughly from November to March. After that, the rains become heavier, storms can be common, and some of the resorts might even shut down entirely. The hottest months tend to be May and June, which see regular daytime highs in the middle of the 30s. It’s always a tad cooler in the mountains, where you’ll want to be certain to pack a raincoat regardless of the time of year.
Whether it’s a simple stinky durian fruit or a charred chicken inasal fresh from the coals of a street-side BBQ in El Nido, the food of the Philippines promises to be a real feast for the senses. It’s a strange fusion of Chinese, Indian, Southeast Asian and Spanish flavours that manages to pack a punch on the spice front. The main complaint is that things tend to be super salty and meaty (not much for veggies in these parts). But you’re sure to find some adventurous flavours, from the hanging puso rice packets of Cebu to the succulent tuna fillets cooked on the beachfront of Palawan.
Where digital nomads love in the Philippines
From traffic-clogged cities to paradise beaches and remote islands, the Philippines is a true wonderworld of destinations. Here are just a few that digital nomads seem to love the most…
There was a time when Siargao might not have even been on this list. Today, it’s sitting pretty up top. In the last 10 years or so, it’s risen from relative obscurity to become one of the hottest islands in the Philippines. That’s mainly down to its surf breaks, which brought international pros to the heavy reef tubes of Cloud 9. There are also waves for beginners, and a vibrant mix of cafes, bars, and surf camps has now sprung up around them, all down the main road heading out of General Luna (the main town). And even if you don’t surf, Siargao is a doozy, with its white-sand beaches and super-clear ocean waters right on the Pacific.
Cebu is an action-packed and beach-heavy island that runs right through the heart of the Central Visayas. It’s long been a place of refuge for lovers of the water, especially the diving mecca of Moalboal and the town of Oslob, where it’s possible to swim with whale sharks. Lately, it’s also been an Instagram celebrity on account of the idyllic Kawasan Falls that hide in its mountainous interior. Downsides for DNs include slow internet and spread out accommodations on the desirable west coast.
No digital nomad guide to the Philippines could possibly be complete without a mention of big and bustling Manila. The sprawling, seething capital of the country, it’s one of the fastest-growing metropolises in Asia. Its heart is a mix of aged Spanish-styled churches and plazas filled with interesting monuments. You’ll want to see that, but most DNs move to areas like chic Makati, student-filled UP Village, and the all-new Bonifacio Global City (a mix of mega malls and international eateries that has a Singapore feel).
Calling all divers – Palawan is the place to be. Coral reefs that burst with pastel colours and bulging brain corals ring this whole island on the western edge of the country. It’s not too much like other places you’ll find in the Philippines. The coastline is rocky and rugged, spiked by craggy needles of stone that form pools where marine creatures of all shapes and sizes thrive. When you do get a beach, you can rest assured that it’s stunning, like the ones around El Nido or Port Barton. Internet in these salt-washed areas can be an issue, and getting around can take hours, but it’s worth it if you’re only after sand, sun and sea.
Boracay cut its teeth as an out-and-out tourist destination. It’s still just that, with huge hotel resorts fringing beaches that look painted white. The upshot? This is the one to aim for if you want to be pampered. Don’t come in search of authentic Philippine cuisine or cultural encounters. Come for infinity pools by the Sulu Sea, snorkelling sessions, and lots of sunbathing. Oh, and thanks to the international vibe, the internet tends to be relatively good in these parts.
Accommodation for digital nomads in the Philippines
It certainly shouldn’t be difficult to find amazing places to stay in the Philippines, particularly if you’re not watching the budget too tightly. This country has been magnetising international visitors for decades with its soft white-sand beaches and stunning coastlines, so there’s a real focus on seaside cabanas and lux hotels. In the cities, you’ve got penthouses and condos with pools. And you’ll find surf camps or eco-lodges to boot. Check it out…
Airbnb is a strange one in the Philippines. On the one hand, it lets you check loads of verified accommodation listings for quality and internet speed before you even arrive. On the other, the letting rates can be astronomical to what the locals would pay. A good way around that conundrum is to rent only short term if you find somewhere you like, and then offer the host a longer-term let directly if it does meet your standards. If it’s a no, you’ll still have time to hunt for a stay on the ground. Sticking with Airbnb the whole way can also work. We’d just say to contact hosts beforehand to ask for information on the in-house internet, and always negotiate on month-long rentals.
Be there in person
Any digital nomad or traveller who’s been in the Philippines long term will probably say that there’s simply no better way to get a bargain on accommodation than by being there in person. Because the local landlords will often jump at the chance to avoid pretty hefty online service fees to sellers like Booking.com or Airbnb, they’re usually very much open to negotiating rental rates themselves. One sure way to do that is to look out for signs hanging off properties offering short- or long-term rentals, but there’s also no harm in dropping into resorts to ask for monthly rates directly – it happens a lot.
The Philippines has been drawing sun-seekers, scuba divers and snorkellers for decades. With increasing internet capabilities and a move to improve infrastructure across the islands, perhaps this is the era it becomes a mainstay destination for digital nomads too?