The cost of living in the Philippines is known to be very low. But how cheap it actually is to live in a city like Cebu, one of the most popular destinations in the country for expats coming from all over the world? This is what we’re going to talk about in today’s article!
The Cebu province is located in the central part of the country. It had been considered one of the best areas to relocate for expats in the Philippines because it is less crowded than the capital and also has a lower cost of living.
Dubbed the “Queen City of the South,” it has highly urbanized cities and accessibility to airports and seaports making international and domestic travel a breeze.
Plus, it’s absolutely beautiful and you will love everything about it!
The cost of living in the Philippines varies a lot, depending on which city you choose to live in. Cebu has a lower cost of living than other areas – especially the country’s capital city, Manila, even though the costs have increased a bit in 2021, making the cost of living this year higher than it ever was.
But gone are the days where you could say that living in the Philippines on $500 equals to living like royalty. (Same as Thailand)
Living in the Philippines – including Cebu – is still very cheap by Western standards and today we’ll see just how cheap and why it is one of the best, cheapest countries to be a digital nomad in.
Let’s check out the real cost of living in Cebu, Philippines!
Cost of Living in Cebu
2021 has seen a lot of fluctuations when it comes to the prices of basic commodities and living expenses in Cebu City, like in the entire world. This means that 2022 comes with higher prices in The Philippines and Cebu as well.
But I still consider this country one where you can live on $500 per month (well, maybe not in Cebu City itself, but still…) so your dollars will weigh a lot more here than elsewhere!
While the government has instituted price ceilings on basic goods, it cannot be avoided that the total living expenses would vary from household to household depending on the buying habits, needs, and accessibility.
The major considerations of a typical resident’s budget would be residential costs, transportation plus your food budget. Let’s tackle them one by one!
Accommodation costs in Cebu, Philippines
For residential costs, the first item that needs to be determined is what type of housing you want to avail of.
This varies from room rental, apartment or home rental, or a condominium apartment purchase.
This also affects your expenses for electricity and gas. Fuel is imported into the country so don’t be shocked if it costs more here!
Here are some average rental costs for furnished units in some of Cebu City’s best neighborhoods. All prices are in USD/month.
|Area||Apartment or Condominium Unit||2-Bedroom House|
Renting a room in a shared apartment would start at $100 per month. Utilities such as electricity, water, and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) canisters for cooking are usually shared equally at month-end.
Based on rental prices, you can fork out an average of $260-400 on apartment / condominium unit rental or $435-600 for a whole house which is usually gated.
An average household with the basic appliances would run an average electricity monthly bill of $100 – cost plus fees and taxes. This usually includes the use of lights, one TV, one PC, two electric fans, and a refrigerator.
Remember that the weather can be humid most months and you might need an air conditioner which will run the bill higher.
Add around $20 for your monthly water bill plus another $20 for a bottle of LPG for cooking which usually lasts for two months. Although you will probably be like most expats and enjoy eating out a lot (because it’s cheap!)
For maintenance such a security and garbage costs, you can rack up to $50, depending on your residential location. Condominiums have higher fees as you contribute towards building and amenities upkeep.
IMPORTANT: You can still find very cheap studio apartments (that are more like hotel rooms) for around $150 per month, but we didn’t really consider those as an option.
You basically get a single room with almost no amenities (usually just bed, small dresser, small desk or table and maybe fridge) in a hotel-like building.
Living long term in Cebu in such a room is definitely not a good idea. The prices in the table above should be considered the REAL accommodation costs if you come to live here.
Food costs in Cebu, Philippines
While Cebu is a province that is self-sufficient in terms of agriculture and manufacturing, prices have fluctuated due to the recent quarantine mandates by the government.
This means that produce and livestock from neighboring islands that are not abundant locally have become more expensive. But still, compared to Western countries, Cebu is still an extremely affordable place to be in right now.
Where you do your groceries and what you buy also matter a lot. If you consume a lot of the local products, most mall supermarkets will have similarly priced items.
However, if you need to have certain items that are often imported such as cheeses and smoked meats, or other foods that you normally eat back home, those will be expensive.
You will find big-box membership superstores that have these items at a more reasonable price like SNR Membership Shopping. Or you might opt for the numerous gourmet shops and delis that might put a dent in your pocket.
Drinking water is also one expense you will have to add. Water from the tap is okay for cooking and washing but not suitable for drinking.
You can opt to buy a filtering system or have drinking water delivered regularly from the numerous shops that abound in the city.
Here is a sample of prices of basic food and home consumables in Cebu:
|Food Item||Price (USD)|
|Tomato||$2.15 / Kilo|
|Potato||$3.20 / Kilo|
|Lettuce||$2.70 / Kilo|
|Apples (imported)||$8.50 / Kilo|
|Oranges||$4.90 / Kilo|
|Cheese (processed)||$5.00 / Kilo|
|Egg||$0.16 / Piece|
|Chicken Breasts – skinless, boneless||$4.75 / Kilo|
|Fresh Fish Local||$6.00 / Kilo|
|Loaf of Bread (White)||$1.10 / Loaf|
|Loaf of Bread (Brown)||$1.50 / Loaf|
|Milk||$1.65 / Liter|
|Cheap Local Wine||$11.95 / Liter|
|Better Local Wine||$22 / Liter|
|Beer||$1.10 / Can|
|Sparkling Water||$2.5 / 750ml Bottle|
|Bottled Water||$0.85 / 2L Bottle|
|Natural Juice||$2.60 / liter|
|Bottled Water /Home Dispenser||$1.15 / 5 Gallon|
Now here are some generic restaurant prices for when you’re dining out:
- Meal for 2 – generic: $10
- Meal for 2 – better restaurant: $20
- Beer: $2.10
- Coke: $0.90
- Glass of wine: $5-7
- Cappuccino/Coffee: $2.50
- Lemonade: $2.5
- Fresh Juices: $2.5
However, if you have nothing against getting some (otherwise delicious) food from one of the local kiosks, then you will be in for a treat.
You can pay as little as $0.40 for a portion of fried meat with sauce and for around $1 you can have a filling, delicious meal.
Street food is not for everybody, but it is generally safe and won’t cause you tummy problems. Just make sure to eat from the place where you see many people buying.
But if there is one thing that Cebu takes pride in is its luscious mangoes.
In season, you can get one kilo for around $3.00 to $5.00.
Off-season, the price may be higher but you can always opt for the dried mango slices available in supermarkets which are priced from $10 up / package depending on the weight.
Transportation costs in Cebu, Philippines
Cebu City has a different mode of public transportation than most urban enclaves.
There are no trains that run through the areas so visitors and foreigners usually run to the obvious options – taking a taxi or a Grab can, which is the equivalent to Uber.
One trip might set you back $10-20 dollars on non-peak hours. It might seem reasonable but getting around could pile up as an expense.
Flagging a white taxi can be reasonable but beware of operators who do not start the meter and demand a fixed rate for the ride. You can report the vehicle to any police officer for this.
Another thing to watch out for is when a taxi driver doesn’t stop the meter from a previous ride which will bloat your bill in the end. These practices made the app-based transport Grab rake in more customers since they skip all this hassle.
You can opt to get a monthly rental if you are regularly commuting for work or if you are brave enough, you can take the local transport called “jeepneys” which is covered pick-up-type vehicle that has routes that ply all over the city. Fare is a mere $.30 per ride.
Have in mind that traffic throughout the Philippines is, just like in all countries in the region, pretty chaotic. Traffic rules are actually considered guidelines there and motorbikes are the main means of transportation.
This is why it’s important to rent a place as close as possible to the places you will spend most of your time in order to avoid having to travel too much each day.
Connectivity and Communication
Prepaid cellphone rates in Cebu vary depending on your usage. If you have a network of friends, it is best to get a sim card from the same telecoms provider as they usually give fixed rates for unlimited call minutes within the same network.
Coverage strength may vary in different areas. Surviving on mobile internet may be a challenge (very low, unreliable speed!) but you can get around 20GB of mobile data for less than $10 valid for 7 days.
Internet connectivity at home is a different story.
There are areas where fiber optic cables are available but they are usually near the IT and business districts.
Otherwise, you can get connected through ADSL. Make sure your residence has a working landline!
The owner might have one pre-installed otherwise you will need to apply for a prepaid landline. Monthly ADSL fees on average are around $25-$60 per month depending on your preferred speed.
Entertainment costs in Cebu, Philippines
While streaming shows and movies online are very popular, many Cebu households still subscribe to Cable TV.
This provides for entertainment without using up the precious gigabytes of your internet quota.
And even if you are subscribed to unlimited internet surfing packages, speed might not be strong enough for steady streaming. Many users often download shows in advance for uninterrupted viewing.
Going to the cinema is also one popular activity in the city. Usually, they are located with mall premises.
Cable TV: $30 /Month/135 channels
Cinema Ticket: $6.00 Imax
Apart from that, you have tons of things you can do to keep yourself entertained. From trips nearby to enjoy the beaches to visiting local attractions and everything in between, these costs will vary greatly from person to person depending on what you do.
Other Things to Consider About the Cost of Living in Cebu, Philippines
Healthcare is one main concern in the Philippines since it can turn out to be quite expensive and insurance coverage for local health care companies can be limited.
International HMOs such as Kaiser International have set up shop locally. The best advice for hospital care and medical needs we need to do the research locally.
If you are planning to expatriate to the Philippines, come in with a health care package from your home country that has an accredited hospital in Cebu.
Worst case scenario, a hospital in Manila or Makati which is 2 hours away by plane.
Different health conditions need different health care procedures. However, if you have a residence visa in the Philippines, you can check out local HMOs and avail of family packages.
Most fees, however, like doctor’s consultations, inoculations for kids, and medicines are out-of-pocket expenses that are paid in cash.
It is best to have a cash bulk set aside for emergencies. Should they be covered, they are usually reimbursable, so you still have to fork out money upfront.
Cebu is as tropical as the Philippines can get so you will only be needing summer clothes and some raingear. $100 will get you far for a full outfit if you purchase regionally produced shoes and clothing.
Brands and imported chains like H&M are available but are considerably pricier. It all depends on where you want to shop and what you buy.
One of the main reasons why so many people – both locals and expats prefer to live and work and Cebu is its location. It has an international airport and seaports which makes getting into the Philippines less of a hassle than flying into the urban jungle in Manila.
It is also easy to visit other islands via plane, fast ferry, or you can even take your car on a roll-on roll-off ferry boat interisland.
Ticket prices vary as there are peak travel seasons. Booking early is a great way to save- to the point that rock-bottom prices for as low as $1 on airfare are even given for booking a year ahead on domestic flights!
(You need to pay for taxes and fuel surcharges only). You can get airline alerts for what is locally known as “Piso Fare.”
Doing the Legwork Matters!
The pandemic may have increased prices for imported goods in Cebu but generally, the prices have fluctuated little.
The best thing to do is get a short-term rental and learn the ropes around the area of your choice. Fresh produce is often cheaper in the local markets but supermarkets also provide for convenience and safety.
Home rental rates may also vary as we are showing only the average. Many great places go for a sweet price if you look hard enough.
Always check for safety and know if your area is flood-prone since the rainy season often brings typhoons. If you’re in the wrong place, you might get stuck at home when the roads get knee-deep in rainwater!
Can You Live in Cebu for $1,000/Month?
Reasonable living in Cebu is possible for around $1,000/month on a simple lifestyle. You can work remotely and enjoy what the islands have to offer.
Everyone speaks English so getting around would not be a problem. Buy local and learn what is available. There are plenty of ways to save. Team up with a friend’s family to buy in bulk and discounts will be significant.
Let’s take a rough computation for expenses for a couple each month:
- Rental: $270
- Utilities: $160
- Transportation: $100
- Phone and Connectivity: $100
- Food: $350
- TOTAL: $980/month
There’s a bit of wiggle room if you live simply and as mentioned above, it all depends on your lifestyle choices.
If you are living solo, you might consider opting for smaller studio apartments or taking a room in a shared place. This will cut down a lot on rent and utilities.
But even as a couple, you can still live a decent life (at least) in a studio. This is up for you to decide, as most savings (or increased expenses) will be related to the type of accommodation you choose and what food you eat.
If you prefer to eat Western food at restaurants regularly, then you will pay A TON every month. If you cook at home or eat cheap street food and dine at local, cheaper restaurants, you might end up the month under the estimated budget above.
$1000 is the average monthly income of Cebuano households and with this, locals can live, learn, and enjoy. The key is to get your boots on the ground like a local and learn the secrets to budget living in Cebu.
Because, yes, living on $1,000 in Cebu and throughout the Philippines is what I would consider a minimum. I know that there are some people who manage to do it on a shoestring budget – but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
And if you have extra – treat yourself to some Krispy Kreme and Starbucks. You will find that this tiny island surprisingly has a lot to offer.
Many parks and beaches cost virtually nothing to visit. And if you do decide to dine out, many places have free internet – just ask for the Wi-Fi password from the service crew.
If you are already living in Cebu, you know that the friendly and hospitable nature of the people will make it easier for you to get around and know the secrets to getting more out of your money.
As they say locally, Tara na sa Cebu, Bai! Let’s go to Cebu, my friend!