What To Do When You First Arrive In The Philippines

You’ve negotiated visas and vaccinations, packed up your home and belongings, and said goodbye to your family and friends. However, once you land in the Philippines, there’s a whole new set of essential steps for you to tackle.

Health Insurance

The Philippines offers a government-owned national health insurance programme called PhilHealth. As an expat, if you become a permanent resident, you are eligible for PhilHealth under the Informal Economy member category. This programme subsidises healthcare, so you still need to pay when you access services, some of which are more basic than you will be used to.

Most expats will arrange private health cover. This may be expensive if you are older or have long-term medical conditions, but it will help you gain access to the treatment you need. You’ll need to shop around some different providers and check what options and limitations are included within each quote. For example, policies often specify that existing conditions at the time you sign the contract are exempt from cover; sometimes this includes existing conditions you don’t yet know you have.

Another option is to obtain minimal cover and keep a savings account for more expensive treatment when you are sick. However, there are risks with this strategy. You need to keep the savings in a liquid and easily available form, which means the interest you receive may not keep pace with inflation. Moreover, you may only have enough to cover an operation or a few months of treatment. This could be a problem if you develop a long-term medical condition which needs continuous, expensive treatment.

Bear in mind that if you need to stay in hospital, all the staff are there purely for medical treatment work. There is no-one employed to look after you in the capacity as a carer. Everyone is expected to have a friend or relative there to help with caring tasks. If you don’t have anyone, you might need to privately pay for someone to help.

Prioritise healthcare cover and get it in place as soon as you can. Following that, find a good General Practitioner’s practice and register as a patient.

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Finding health insurance is an easily overlooked task when you feel fit and well, but you never know when an accident or illness will strike.

Finding Somewhere To Live

Finding somewhere to stay when you first arrive in the Philippines can be tricky, depending on your circumstances.

If you have relatives or friends already living there, or are being relocated by work, your destination is clear. Work or friends may provide you with somewhere to stay in the short term, which gives you breathing space before finding somewhere more long term.

If you are heading out to the Philippines without any known connections, you will have to make some decisions about the type of environment you are looking for. You need to be clear about the lifestyle and social life you need so that you can work out which locations meet these aspirations. You may wish to live somewhere short-term so you can assess whether the chosen location is the right one before settling there for the long term.

Obtaining A Tax Identification Number (TIN)

Every adult who receives income and lives in the Philippines is expected to have a Tax Identification Number (TIN). This number will be used throughout your life, even if you leave the Philippines for several years before returning.

It is free to apply for a TIN through the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). If you lose the number, you will have to request another one.

Your TIN is essential for making a tax return. You will be expected to file a tax return reporting all income from all sources, both within the Philippines and from around the world. It is worth noting that tax is calculated on the basis of gross receipts, and not on a net profit figure.

Registering A Business

Expats who work from within the Philippines are likely be running their own business. If this is the case for you, you will need to register the business with the BIR and pay the annual certificate.

First, identify the BIR tax office nearest to your address. You’ll need to take along personal identification, including your birth certificate and marriage certificate. Business documents should include your DTI certificate and the mayor’s business permit. After paying the registration fee your documents will be reviewed.

At that point you’ll pay for the P15 certification fee, plus the stamp duty on that. You then have to attend a compulsory taxpayer’s initial briefing. At the end of this process you will receive Form 2303, known as a Certificate of Registration. You can now start your business.

Although you only pay the initial registration fee once, you will need to pay the annual registration fee every year before 31st January.

You can find out more about this process on the BIR website.

You must also pay community tax for your business whether it is registered in the Philippines or abroad.

Registering For VAT

It is unlikely that you need to register for VAT as soon as you start your business. This becomes a legal requirement when your business has reached a minimum threshold. Once you have reached that limit, you must register and file VAT returns on Form 2550M. The amount due will be a percentage of your sales.

Community Tax Certificate

If you are over the age of 18, run a business or have been employed for 30 consecutive days during the calendar year, own real estate or are required to return an annual income tax return, you must also pay community tax.

There will be a local council or municipal offices in your area where local services are arranged. This is where you can pay your community tax.

Driving Licenses

You can legally drive using your international driving license for the first 90 days you are in the country. Your license must be in English or have an official English translation that has been provided by your home embassy.

This rule applies regardless of the type of visa you have. You must carry the driving license and your passport at all times in case you are asked for them by the police. Make sure you have car insurance and obey all the relevant laws.

However, if you stay in the Philippines for more than 90 days you must obtain a local driving license or stop driving.

To obtain a driving license in the Philippines, you must have already been present in the country for a month and show proof that you have permission to stay for at least 12 months. Your visa is the document that is usually used to confirm this.

The new license is issued by the land transportation office. There are two types of driving license available in the Philippines: professional and non-professional.

A professional driving license in the Philippines will allow you to drive in order to make a living. This includes work as a taxi driver, or as a lorry driver.

A non-professional driving license in the Philippines only allows you to drive a private vehicle up to a specified weight restriction. If you only hold a non-professional license and are found to be undertaking work as a driver, problems will ensue. For example, if you are illegally driving a taxi you will not be insured for the car or any injuries sustained by you or the passengers in the event of a crash.

Whichever driving license you wish to obtain, you will be required to pass both a theory and a practical driving test. A fee must also be paid.

Opening A Bank Account

If you’re living in the Philippines for the foreseeable future, you need a local bank account to pay your bills. Trying to withdraw cash, pay your landlord and settle your community tax bill will incur serious currency conversion charges if you don’t.

Luckily the Philippines has a decent offering of retail banks, especially if you are in a popular expat area. You’ll need to show some form of identification, ideally an Alien Certificate of Residence I-card.

Make sure you examine all the terms and conditions on offer. Charges can vary enormously from one bank to another, so think carefully about your likely financial activity. Once you sign the contract to open an account, you are bound by the terms and conditions even if you didn’t read them or understand the implications.

Making Friends

If you are moving to the Philippines to join family or friends already there, it is still important to make friends of your own. If you are moving there without knowing anyone, look around for opportunities to meet new people.

You can find a number of articles here on the ExpatFocus site about making friends as an expat in a new country.

Learning The Language

The official languages of the Philippines are English and Filipino. That takes away a lot of the pressure to learn a new language. However, English is not universal. Even younger people who have learned it at school may struggle to communicate with more than a handful of words.

If you can make some attempt to learn basic phrases or words in Filipino, you will be able to communicate with local people who also know a little English. In addition, your attempts to learn the local language are likely to earn you respect.

The Paperwork Continues…

Even once all the paperwork has been finalised in your first few weeks in the Philippines, you’ll be doing more every year, especially if you run a business or file tax returns. However, that is the same wherever you go, and is an important element of being a member of a society rather than on vacation.

Have you lived in the Philippines? Share your experiences in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!


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