Are you planning to move to El Nido? What is it like to live in the Philippines?
In this Expat Interview, Lena shares her experience and practical tips for newcomers.
You’ll learn useful information to prepare for your new life in El Nido, such as the cost of living in El Nido, how to find apartments, and other practical tips.
What is it like to live in El Nido?
With some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, high limestone cliffs, and a friendly community, El Nido on the island of Palawan is one of the most desirable places to live in the Philippines.
This tropical paradise is located in the northern part of Palawan, which is the most beautiful part of the island.
The town of El Nido is relatively small, so it’s easy to get around.
Most places in El Nido are within walking distance, and if you want to venture out to explore the rest of the island, you can rent a scooter or use public transport such as buses, minivans, and local motorbike taxis.
When I was living in El Nido, I spent a lot of days relaxing at the beach or going on day trips to the surrounding islands. So, if you’re a beach person, El Nido is the ticket for you!
Plus, if you’re working online, you’ll be happy to hear that many cafés in town provide high-speed internet and sockets to plug your laptop into.
How to prepare for moving to El Nido?
Moving to El Nido is pretty easy.
The tourist visa allows you to stay in the country for up to three years so that you can settle down here for a while without much hassle.
In certain situations, getting a business visa for your stay is possible.
In Manila, you can extend your tourist visa on arrival for six months at a time.
If you want to stay longer than that, or if you didn’t extend your visa in Manila, you’ll have to visit the immigration office in Puerto Princesa (the capital of Palawan) every two months to extend your current visa.
Besides that, you should have some savings in your pockets to sustain yourself if something goes wrong (which it probably won’t, but you never know).
That’s pretty much it. You just have to book a flight and go. Everything else, you’ll figure out when you get there.
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The cost of living in El Nido
Although El Nido is one of the most expensive places in the Philippines, it’s still more affordable than in Western countries.
However, the prices for apartments, transportation, and food vary hugely depending on your choices.
While you can find a small, simple apartment in town for $400 per month, you can also pay up to $1000 or even more for a flat if you’re looking for a comfortable and modern living space.
This will most likely be the main cost for your living expenses in El Nido, so I recommend choosing an apartment wisely.
Furthermore, if you decide to rent a motorbike for your stay (which is the best option to get around the island), you can expect to pay about $4 -$5 per day for a long-term rental.
If you’re staying for several months or longer, it may be worth buying a motorbike instead, which you can sell again at the end of your stay.
A meal in a restaurant typically costs $4 – $8, while you should expect to pay about $2 for a beer.
Here, you’ll find a rough breakdown of the cost of living in El Nido:
|Rental price (one-bedroom flat)
|$400 – $1000 (including electricity + water)
|Prepaid cell phone plan
|$30 – $150 (depending on the type of accommodation you choose)
|Eating out and drinking
|$50 – $200 (depending on your lifestyle)
|$80 – $120
|$50 (including one island tour)
|$634 – $1544
What salary do you need to live in El Nido?
If you’re planning to live in El Nido on Palawan, you should make at least $1000 to $2000 a month. This way, you can live comfortably without worrying about spending too much money.
Still, as I mentioned before, the cost of living in El Nido can vary, with the accommodation being your biggest cost.
If you’re happy to live in a small, simple apartment, $1000 per month is enough to keep you afloat and even save a little money on the side.
Where to live in El Nido? – The best areas to stay
The town of El Nido is categorized into several subdistricts. In my opinion, these are the best areas to live in:
Corong-Corong: Corong-Corong is one of the best areas to stay in. The district is between the town center and Vanilla Beach, making it a perfect location. Although I’ve never lived in Corong-Corong myself (I stayed in town), this area would probably be my go-to if I was looking for accommodation in El Nido.
El Nido town: The town of El Nido itself is not that beautiful, but if you don’t ride a motorbike, it’s a convenient area to stay in. This way, you can walk to most places without relying on motorbike taxis or public transport.
Lio Beach: Lio Beach is about a 15-minute ride from El Nido town and a popular area to stay in. Here, you’ll find several upscale resorts but also some small flats to rent. This might be a good option if you prefer to stay in a quiet area, although it’s a little far from town.
How to find apartments in El Nido?
If you’re looking for a comfortable place and willing to pay a bit more, Airbnb will be your best bet.
However, if you’re trying to save money and you don’t find any good options on Airbnb, you should try to get involved in some Facebook groups of El Nido or talk to the locals.
Keep in mind, though, that guest houses and hotels usually don’t provide a kitchen, which could be a downside if you want to cook yourself.
Practical information for living in El Nido
Here are some useful things to know when moving to El Nido.
- There are many Saris (Filipino kiosks) in town, but if you want to buy groceries, it’s best to check out the local wet market, where you can buy vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, and some canned goods.
- Most Filipinos speak very good English, so there’s not much of a language barrier.
- Smart and Globe are the major Sim card and internet providers. They cost about the same, but depending on which area you’re in, one may be faster.
- There is a hospital in town (Adventist Clinic) in case of an emergency.
- The water in El Nido is not safe to drink, but there are many refill stations where you can fill up your water bottle or water canisters with purified drinking water.
Transportation in El Nido
The best way to get around El Nido is by motorbike.
You can either rent one or buy a motorbike if you decide to stay in Palawan for a longer period of time.
Once I decided to stay in El Nido for longer, I bought a motorbike, and I truly enjoyed the freedom it brought with it.
This way, you don’t have to worry about organizing transportation, and you can go anywhere you want, anytime you want.
Alternatively, you can use tricycles (local motorbike taxis) for short distances or buses and minivans for long distances (for example, to travel to different towns on the island).
Weather in El Nido
The tropical climate on the island is pleasant and although the occasional tropical storm will pass through (particularly during the rainy season from May – November), you can expect mostly hot, humid weather and many hours of sunshine.
If you’re only planning to stay in El Nido for a few months, I suggest moving here for the dry season.
However, the weather in the Philippines is quite unpredictable, which is why you can also expect beautiful sunny days during the rainy season and casual rainy days in the dry months of the year.
What do you love about living in El Nido?
Living in El Nido on Palawan feels like heaven on earth.
Although the town itself is not that special, the surrounding area is absolutely beautiful, and there are many places you can visit on day trips.
Plus, there are several beautiful beaches not far from town.
I particularly liked the simplicity of living here. Filipinos are very relaxed and go with the flow, which is a lifestyle that’s easy to adapt to.
When you’re not working, you can chill out by the beach, go on day trips, participate in yoga classes, or simply grab a beer at one of the beach bars.
Whatever you want to do, you can. There’s really not much holding you back in a small beach town like El Nido.
What are the best things to do in El Nido?
The highlight of El Nido is unarguably Bacuit Bay, which is home to 45 islands that are so beautiful it’s hard to put it into words.
The islands are covered in jagged limestone cliffs, a feature for which El Nido is famous.
On top of this, you’ll find many stunning beaches on the islands, clear water, and decent snorkeling spots.
Despite this, other things to do in El Nido include visiting the nearby beaches on the mainland, going surfing at Duli Beach, and checking out the nearby waterfalls.
Did you experience any difficulties when you first moved here? How did you deal with that?
Yes, there were a couple of difficulties I experienced when I moved to El Nido.
The first thing I was having trouble with when I first came to the Philippines was the food.
Having traveled through Southeast Asia before coming here, I expected delicious and affordable street food, as I knew it from countries like Thailand and Vietnam.
Yet, I found the street food scene in the Philippines to be lacking variety and often quality.
I adapted and started cooking my own food (something I’ve never done when traveling Southeast Asia).
Plus, I found a couple of good street food spots in town, which I went to regularly, but overall the scene was quite disappointing.
Another thing I was struggling with was the electricity supply in El Nido. There are regular and sometimes long power outages, which you should keep in mind if you’re working online.
Luckily, I found out quickly that there are many accommodations in town providing a generator (I moved to an apartment with solar energy as a backup) and numerous cafés providing power to online workers in times of need.
Is it easy to make new friends in El Nido? Where to meet new people in El Nido?
Yes, it’s very easy to make new friends in El Nido.
The locals are curious and welcoming, and the expat scene in El Nido is thriving, which means you can easily meet people from all over the world.
It’s easy to meet people just walking around or hanging out on the beach, but there are also many bars and cafés with a social atmosphere to meet fellow travelers and expats.
Where are your favorite cafés in El Nido?
If you’re looking for a café with Wi-Fi, my favorite café in El Nido is hands down Art Café, as they have high-speed internet and a cozy atmosphere.
Plus, many people come here to work, so it’s easy to meet other expats.
Not to mention that they’re absolute lifesavers when there’s a power outage, as they always provide power and internet with their generator.
Where are your favorite restaurants and bars in El Nido?
If you’re looking for good value (and tasty!) Filipino food, I can recommend the restaurant Happy Home, which is located right on the main beach of El Nido. Definitely try the seafood curry, which only costs about $4, yet it’s overloaded with fish, shrimp, and squid.
When you’re living in El Nido, I’m sure you’ll get a craving for Western food after a while. In this case, Bella Vita has got you covered. It’s more on the pricier side of things, but their truffle pizza is out of this world!
Bar-wise, I can recommend Tuko (a restaurant with a balcony bar upstairs), Pangolin if you want to go for a dance and the Beach Shak at Vanilla Beach for sundowners.
Do you have tips for finding a job in El Nido?
Working online is the best way to live in El Nido as an expat.
I’m not taking any liability for work and visa regulations, so please check yourself what work you’re allowed to do with which visa.
Most expats I know in El Nido have freelancing jobs that allow you to work on a flexible schedule.
If you don’t know how to start, I recommend signing up for platforms like Upwork or Fiver.
What have you learned from living abroad?
Living abroad has taught me a lot of things, but the most important ones are going with the flow and being open-minded about different cultures.
When I lived in the Philippines, I realized that the locals don’t always approach things in a way that would seem logical from a Western perspective.
But it’s not worth getting irritated over, and if you go with the flow, you’ll see that everything works out just fine.
Life is about enjoying the moment and having new experiences, and living abroad is a perfect opportunity to do just that.
Lena has been traveling the world for more than six years.
During this time, she has lived in the Philippines for almost two years and has returned to Southeast Asia several times.
If you’re traveling to this part of the world, you should check out her travel blog, Not Another Backpacker, where she shares her stories and tips! Alternatively, you can follow her on Instagram or Facebook!
The opinions expressed here by Expatolife columnists are their own, not those of Expatolife.