Subic Bay May Be the Best Place to Retire You've Never Heard Of
By Alden Copuyoc - Subic Bay Resident
For some, Subic Bay Special Economic Freeport Zone, more popular for tourists as “Subic,” is just a weekend getaway because it is only a 2-hour drive away from the Philippine capital city of Manila, traffic jams excluded. For others, Subic is excellent for duty-free shopping and the perfect place that blends beach life and business opportunities.
For many, Subic is the ideal place to experience the good life—wine with friends on a yacht with the sunset and the azure blue waters as your backdrop, commune with nature and marvel at the place’s flora and fauna, and satisfy your cravings with the variety of restaurants, cafes, and pubs available in the area. For me, I am fortunate to call it my home. For you, retiring in Subic Bay could be just what the doctor ordered.
Pros of Retiring in Subic Bay
- Subic Bay is historic. Its buildings and concrete highways cannot hide the bay area’s rich past. Perhaps due to its majestic geography—deep waters embraced by mountain ranges—Subic was considered being a strategic sheltered harbor, which was ideal for military posturing.
- The Spaniards immediately noticed this upon discovery in 1542 and eventually established a Spanish Naval Station more than 3 centuries later. After the Spanish-American War, the Americans turned it into its biggest military installation outside America because of its geographical advantage and called it the Subic Naval Base. The old Spanish Gate, the many buildings inside Subic Bay Freeport Zone, and the shipwrecks at the bottom of Subic Bay are reminders of the region’s important role in Philippine history.
- Subic Bay is idyllic. Subic mixes historic features and nature with modern infrastructure. There are shopping centers, factories, and commercial establishments along with nature parks, forests, survival camps, water parks, waterfalls, and beaches.
Inside the freeport zone, traffic is never a problem and you can easily navigate the area. You will never run out of things to buy in Subic. Although people from the big city come here for duty-free shopping, the arrival of big malls in recent years opened the floodgates of local commerce in the area.
Local and foreign brands that were only available in Manila have reached the shores of Subic. I can’t forget how many afternoons I’ve spent just strolling around the boardwalk. To marvel at the contrast between the buildings at my back and the seemingly endless horizon before me has become an addiction. The salty air, the smiles of strangers appreciating the experience the same way, and the afternoon sun will always bring back memories of past summers.
- Subic Bay is photographic and cinematic. Subic became a subject in my interest in taking photos and videos. Almost everything inside the Subic Bay Freeport Zone is Instagrammable. The landscapes, the modern architecture and the details make it easy to find a good angle. You don’t have to spend much in achieving this, and there are taxis that can take you from place to place.
Cons of Living in Subic Bay
- Lack of public transportation inside the former Naval Base. Although there are taxis and some special shuttles that you can make do with, it can be expensive for someone who is on a budget and on a tight schedule. I’m lucky now that I have a car and I can travel on near-empty roads and highways there without any problem.
- But...what's bad for me is good for others. If you're not someone who likes to ride a bike, this is a big con. If you are, then Subic Bay is a biker’s paradise. Unlike other modern cities in the country, biking in Subic is a breeze. There are no traffic jams, road rules are strictly implemented, and there are plenty of choices when it comes to routes.
The mix between the sea breeze and the wind from the mountains promises a bike ride that you can't forget. There are convenience stores and food hubs here and there, so refreshments will not be a problem if your water bottle gets empty. Jogging or brisk-walking can be a rewarding activity, too. As for me, when I did not have a car, I enjoyed leisurely walks around Subic Bay. It’s good for the heart—literally and figuratively.
The Naval Base in Subic Bay was once the largest military installation outside of the United States.
You Won't Get Bored in Subic Bay...Especially if You Enjoy Diving
Subic has morphed and evolved with the time. It has managed to attract investors from around the world and that helps in bringing in more surprises to this place that once looked bare and abandoned when the US Naval force left.
Nowadays, you can swim with dolphins, have fun with watersports and be amazed by the shipwrecks and the marine life while diving. And if you have never been to Africa, there is a place for wildlife encounters in Subic, too, which is something for the books whether you love animals or not.
Retiring in Subic Bay, Philippines
Since Subic Bay is a former US Naval Base, many have chosen to stay here to retire—and I don’t blame them because Subic is as balanced and as versatile as versatile gets.
- Location: First, it’s relatively near Manila where the embassies are, and when you are an expat, that is a main advantage. There are several route options if you’re planning to visit the big city for whatever reason. The best one is through the SCTEX express way that can cut the travel time by almost half, and traffic jams are practically non-existent if you will go this way.
- Housing Costs & Style: If budget is a concern, worry not because leasing a house in Subic can go as low as $200 a month in areas like Cubi Point. If you are not too choosy and can settle for studio-type settings, then the Subic central business district can be a good choice where the monthly rates can be lower.
In the Binictican area, if you are the type who wants to be greeted with a good view of the bay every morning, you can rent houses and villas above $1,000. Now, if you’re a bit more practical and proximity to malls and the city proper is of importance, living in Kalayaan can cost you around $300 for monthly accommodation.
If you are used to Western standards, retiring in Subic will work. Because of the U.S. Naval Base, building were built by Western standards. As with any type of accommodation though, the design, the size, the location, and the amenities will vary depending on your budget. The residential areas here are pretty secluded and crime reports are extremely rare.
- Dog Friendliness: Pet owners will be delighted to know that Subic Bay is pet-friendly, and most residential places here—especially the gated houses with a yard—are fine with bringing a pet in. Many establishments, restaurants, and malls also allow pets, so pet-and-owner bonding will not be limited to walks in the neighborhood.
- Community: Get a car or a bike if you want to get around Subic Bay and its nearby cities. Live near the central business district if you want everything to be accessible.
Although the population of inside Subic Bay is a mixture of locals from nearby cities and provinces, there is a community of foreign nationals there, too. Residents include expats, business people and long-term travelers who can’t get enough of Subic—and they hail from east to west.
- Location: Almost every local speaks at least average conversational English, so asking for directions and casual conversations is without any difficulty. Decades of interacting with the military from the base trained the locals to use English and which has continued through the years.
- Conveniences: Major Philippine banks (and Western Union outlets, too) have branches inside Subic, too, so sending, depositing, and withdrawing money is effortless. As of writing, there are two reputable hospitals inside Subic Bay.
Now, if you still want to do business while spending your retirement, Subic is a good place for you. Processing of business papers may vary depending on the industry of choice, though. Labor is relatively cheaper, too, compared to the big cities as the employee wage is based on “provincial rates.” People here are competent, and this has been proven by businesses of whatever size that have thrived here for years and years.
Subic Bay Cost of Living Chart
Data fro Numbeo
1 Bdr Apartment Outside City
Divers rejoice - there are over 25 shipwreck dive sites to explore in Subic Bay from the Spanish-American War to the Vietnam War.
All in all, as some YouTubers point out, Subic can be an ideal place for retirement or for long-term stays. If you’re interested, book a flight to the Philippines and come to Subic Bay. See what the place offers and check if it matches your retirement requirements.
Don’t leave Subic without dining in Filipino restaurants and ordering Sisig, Adobo, and Sinigang. If Subic won’t convince you to stay in the Philippines, these local spots surely will.
It’s a live-able place that constantly adapts to the call of the times. I call Subic my home for a few decades now, and maybe one day you can call it yours, too.
If Subic Bay isn't for you because you're wanting to live in a bigger city, you may want to consider Manila or Bangkok. But if you're looking for a lower cost retirement location and you want to be closer to the U.S, then you should give Mérida, Mexico a look.
Quick Facts about Retiring in Subic Bay, Philippines
There is a wet season which is often overcast. The dry season is windy. It is hot and humid year-round. Average temps are from 73°F and 93°F
13 hours by plane to Los Angeles; 16 hours to New York
Yes. PHILAHEALTH benefits available. DIscount program available as well. More info in the link below.