If you are thinking of moving to the Philippines, know that this is Southeast Asia. Anyone contemplating a move abroad, especially to a developing country, really needs to completely research the country/city/province/area they plan on moving to. Thoroughly. And after that, they need to research some more. The very reason I say this is simple. Unless you were raised in the part of the world that you contemplate moving to, and in this case Southeast Asia, there will be profound and incomparable differences in every aspect of life. From Geography to climate to culture, if you are not prepared to accept all the differences, you will not readily adapt to life wherever it is you choose to settle. Generally speaking, the Philippines has had much external influence to its culture over the last few centuries and is probably the most westernized of all Asian countries. Life and living here will still be in stark contrast to the western country you are moving from. When a westerner visits the Philippines, and while cultural differences might seem very noticeable, the differences seem subtle. But when one moves and lives here, those subtle differences take on an importance from an entirely different perspective.
About. The Philippines is a volcanic archipelago made up of 7,107 islands and lies mostly within the inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) of the Western Pacific. Typhoon alley to be more specific. Typhoons, monsoons, landslides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are all possible here and make this country ripe for natural disasters. Almost every year you can count on a disaster of some proportion occurring somewhere in the country. 36,289 kilometers (22,549 mi) of coastline makes it the 5th longest coastline in the world. Most of the mountainous islands are covered in tropical rainforest and the islands are home to a diverse range of birds, plants, animals, and sea creatures. It is one of the ten most biologically mega-diverse countries in the world and is at or near the top countries in terms of biodiversity. If you like mountains, whitewater rivers, waterfalls, jungles and rainforests, caves, beautiful beaches and ocean related activities, you will enjoy what this country has to offer in adventure and natural beauty. (A friend once asked my why I would move to a country that has typhoons, floods, monsoons, landslides, earthquakes and 50 volcanoes, 23 which are considered active? I replied “to get away from those darned tornadoes!”)
Climate. The tropical climate of the Philippines can be very oppressive and can drive many foreigners back to the mid latitudes after just a couple of seasons. While it is quite sultry across the archipelago, there are micro-climates across the islands that determine stark differences in annual rainfall patterns and amounts. Typhoons affect some areas more than others and mountain living can provide some relieve from the heat. Heat?…yes. Copious amounts of rainfall?…yes. Humidity?…cut it with a knife YES! The weather should play an important role in determining if you can and, where you should settle.
Economic. In recent years, the Philippines has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. They are experiencing an unprecedented period of macro-economic growth and political stability which is reviving both domestic and international business confidence in this nation. This is not to say there are job opportunities here. Jobs available to foreigners here are almost non-existent, and even if you were lucky enough to find one, it would pay very little. Investments though in the financial sector make much more sense now than in years past. Funds that can be derived from investing or online sources are a best bet for income generation. Of course, already having an established income such as a pension or a social security package will certainly ensure one’s survival here.
Bottom line: You will need an income to live here! How much income? That is not a black or white question – the answer has everything to do with your lifestyle choices and how you wish to live. Go native and you could get by on an income of $500 per month. Throw in a few amenities and western conveniences, then $1200 might get you by. Want to live like you do in the West? Then $2,500+ per month is what you will need. And it all hinges on the strength of currency exchange rates. There are no correct answer to these type of questions. You must make your own assessment and then begin doing your homework.
Culture. The culture of the Philippines is reflective of the country’s complex history. It is basically a Malayo-Polynesian culture with observable ingrained influences from Spain, China, Japan, Korea, India, and the West (specifically the United States). Because of a lengthy U.S. occupation and influence, English is widely spoken here. Generally speaking though, the farther you venture into the remote provincial areas, English-speaking becomes less prevalent and can eventually become almost non-existent. The official language of the Philippines is Tagalog and is just one of 8 major speaking dialects in the country, and is among 175(+/-) dialects in all. The Philippines is predominantly a Roman Catholic country with approximately 80% of the population practicing Christianity. About 11% of the population is of the Muslim faith (with a majority living on the island of Mindanao. The sociocultural way of life here is very family oriented and heavily religious.
People and Societal status. Despite the booming economy, the Philippines continues to struggle with population growth and poverty. With just over 1/4 of the population living below the poverty line (P16,841 or $380USD per year), poverty remains a critical social problem. Although middle class growth here over the last decade is obvious, the gap between the have’s and have not’s is seemingly becoming wider. In my, and many the other opinion, poverty has a direct correlation to education. Living here, you will deal with outstretched hands and open sewers. There is much noise, pollution, and trash. There will be crowded venues, some pushing and shoving, scammers, hustlers, etc. Animal cruelty…it is excessive here. If you have a weak stomach, this is not the place for you. In correct political speak, this is a developing country. In reality, it is still third world in most areas.
Once you feel comfortable with making the decision to move to the Philippines, you should begin the process of the more specific decision on exactly where you need to settle based upon your lifestyle preferences. That includes your desires, wants and needs (not necessarily in that order). I previously discussed the “wants vs. needs” dilemma in a previous article titled The Simple Life…or is it? . “The Simple Life” should also be a required read to help you grasp, in more detail, some of the finer points you should expect to experience when living here. While I portray my own personal experiences through this blog, and you when you read about my life here in the Philippines, you should keep one thing in mind….You are not Me and, I am not you! No two individuals are alike and therefore cannot have the same desires, likes, tastes, and needs. I have had many of my readers make the comment to me “you are living the life!” How could they possibly know this? …as it cannot be factually true. Everybody has their own set of life’s requirements and no two sets of requirements can be exactly alike. The similarities of having the need of a loving and devoted partner, good and abundant food, and a solid roof over one’s head end there. Below I have categorized some things to consider in you planning:
Timeline: When will you be moving? When will you retire? Are you ready to move now? If you haven’t planned this out well in advance…I’d say you’re not ready. You need to plan, save money, liquidate, save some more, and execute your plan over time. You should always set short-term and intermediate-term goals with the objective of achieving your long-term goal. DO NOT drink a lot of beer on Friday night, recover on Saturday, buy tickets to Manila on Sunday and fly out on Monday. That would be a tragedy going to happen – and it happens more often than not. When is the best time of the year to travel? …the cheapest time to travel? You should take your time and plan accordingly.
Immigration: How do you plan to immigrate to the Philippines? The visa process in the Philippines offers perhaps more options and flexibility than most other countries. Many expats come to live here on a tourist visa and will convert their status later, if and when it becomes more advantageous. Because I am married to a Filipina, I obtained my 13A Visa from a stateside Philippine Consulate before we departed and then applied for and received my permanent residence (ACR-I Card) once we arrived. I could write about some of the different options here but because immigration requirements tend to be somewhat fluid and information can become easily outdated, I recommend visiting the Bureau of Immigration site for the most up to date information (hopefully). Generally speaking though, you can come here, receive a visa stamp at the airport, and extend several times for an extended period of stay. Keep in mind though that each extension costs money.
Partner? Do you have a significant partner here already?. Will she be living with you? Is she your girlfriend or your wife? How long have you known her? Are you getting married as soon as you get off the plane? If you answered yes to that last question, I refer you back to the previous “Timeline” paragraph. Dating and marriage to a Filipina is an entirely different subject and is probably worthy of its own blog site(s) so, I will not begin to approach that topic here. If you are coming here with the intention of finding a life partner well, that will be the easiest goal of all to achieve (you should do plenty of research though in this area) and near the end of this article, I will provide both caution and simple advice on the subject of the “Significant Other” and how they can affect your chosen settlement location. So keep reading!
Financial: Are you prepared financially to move abroad, and more specifically, to live here in the Philippines? By this I mean do you have the funds to set up residence (goes back to my earlier comment about saving) and the income to survive? The one thing I cannot do here is tell you what it will cost for you to live your life here. There are other blogs and forums where you can obtain the general cost of living for the area you look to move to (the best source of info will be from expats who live in the specific areas that interest you). As mentioned earlier in this article, the cost of living here will be solely determined on your lifestyle. Another huge factor will be whether you will be supporting ‘her’ family? You might repudiate this suggestion now, but wait…in a rather short time, you will learn more than you care to know about this topic when you arrive (this is a cultural based and family expectations issue). You need to consider city living verses living in the province…there is no comparison! I know a few expats that need their western “Cheeseburger Fix” on a regular basis and will spend the money to travel to other islands just to get to a McDonald’s burger. If you need to have western conveniences and foods, you should know that it will drive up your budget. Learn to eat locally prepared foods and you won’t need as much $$. (This is not to say I don’t enjoy a good cheeseburger from time to time, and with a little patience, I can make them here when the ingredients become available.) My advice here is simple: If you are frugal now with your fiat, stay frugal with pesos when you get here. Your money will go much farther and you won’t be easily labeled as an “ATM” machine.
Health: How healthy are you? Are you bringing health insurance with you? Will you participate in a HMO here? Will you need to be close to a hospital that can perform emergency major surgery? Maybe you are healthy now, but what about 10 years from now? Your health should be a high priority in the overall decision process in determining where you choose to live. Medical facilities and services in the Philippines range from “world-class” hospitals to village healers and witch doctors (Kulam). How about exercise? Will you need a place to workout or swim? (note to some: sex is not considered a valid or recognized exercise program.) Have you any respiratory problems? Living with large city pollution may not suit you (diesel fumes, smoke, etc.) Keep in mind that people here make fires for daily cooking, processing of coconuts, clearing rice fields, and burning of trash (which can produce potentially toxic fumes from the burning of plastics and other things). An added benefit to living out in the province or along the coastline is fresh air (sometimes). Living here, you can also enjoy an abundance of organic foods like fresh fish, fruits and vegetables. Provincial living can be a healthier alternative to living in the city on a processed or fast food diet (and if you need that fast food to live, you might as well just stay home). Here it is much easier to achieve that holistic approach to your overall health.
Housing: Will you rent or do you plan on purchasing or building a home? At this time, land cannot be titled in a foreigner’s name. You can however own a condo and should also research property ownership laws in the Philippines. You should gain a good understanding of the laws of property ownership. Type of housing…can you live in a basic native Nipa Hut (pictured above) or would you feel more at home in a sturdy concrete built home? Are you prepared to do your own home maintenance or would you need to hire it out? Depending on where you choose to live can determine whether you even have running water and proper sewage. Need electricity? This is an entirely different issue of profound importance to many. While there is electrical service to almost all areas of the Philippines, the dependability and reliability of that service cannot be guaranteed. Some areas can experience multiple brownouts on a daily basis while other areas only experience outages during scheduled maintenance or weather events. If you need dependable electrical service, say for a CPAP machine or other medical devices, you should make a note of this. Generators can help get through the periods of dropped electrical service but at the price of fuel, it’s can be more expensive than the electricity itself!
Transportation: The Philippines is known for it’s sometimes hysterical public transportation system of buses, jeepneys, motorized tricycles, pedal trikes, ferries and boats. There are more ways to travel and get around the islands here than Thurston Howell III had bags of money on Gilligan’s Island. The cost of ground transportation here is nominal and mostly a real bargain. But if you choose to live away from the city and out into the reaches of the province, then the convenience of transportation becomes more prohibitive and not so cost efficient. Some expats here purchase their own scooters or motorcycles. We started with a motorcycle and about the ump-teenth time we got soaked from a rain event, we decided to get a car. Now we use both, weather depending. The cost of owning basic transportation (scooter, motorcycle, trike) here is not that great. Buy a car, truck or SUV and the cost goes way up. Fuel prices here currently hover around P42 per liter of unleaded gas (about $3.45USD p/gal – price updated as of 4/5/2016) and slightly less for diesel. So while it is definitely cheaper to use public transportation, you will pay extra for having the convenience of having your own vehicle. Owning your own vehicle is like having your own ambulance service, should you need it.
Communications: Internet and phone. These are two things most expats obviously CANNOT do without. Living in such a far away land used to be a bit of a challenge with extended family members so far away. Today, living abroad does not pose the same inconveniences it once did due to technology advances in audio and video communications that we all enjoy…unless you live wayyyyy out in the province. Take me for example…I spend much time online with researching, writing, blogging, and keeping in touch with family and friends. I rely totally on cell tower communications and we have our days when signals are bad or non-existent. It is because of our location just outside the envelope of local city hard-wired amenities. We have cable TV and yes broadband is coming…well, it’s coming. Yes, we do live on the fringe of civilization! If you absolutely cannot make do without spotty communications signals, then provincial living might not be for you. What do I do when I have no cell phone signal or internet? I’ll go spend time in the garden or simply head over to the beach!
Entertainment: Do you like going to the theater to watch movies? Do you enjoy the nightlife and have a need for clubbing? Like to shop? You will need to be near a bigger city in order to enjoy all of the above. Or, do you prefer a more laid back Gilligan’s Island type lifestyle? Would you rather be sitting on a quiet, deserted beach or enjoying the view of mountains and lowland rice fields? Want to raise pigs, chickens, goats? If so, provincial living is what you are suited for. In the major cities like Manila, Cebu, and Davao, you can count on having all the modern conveniences and amenities you could want. But the farther you get from these large metropolitan areas, the more the luxuries disappear, just like in many other developing countries.
Foods: I will be brief here. I like the food here. I’ve been a rice eater since first arriving in Guam in 1974. I love ASEAN and Asian foods. It don’t matter…Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai….it’s all good to me (except for some of the really exotic stuffs). I like fresh fish and the freshness of the fruits and veggies here. I’m no longer eating a lot of GMO’s and processed foods loaded with preservatives. And the longer I am here, I discover more and more about what is good and or bad with this food. Do I miss a good pizza and a good cheeseburger… now and then I do. Do I miss fast food franchises – Absolutely Not (well… a little!). Unfortunately, there is an abundance of comfort foods here like ice cream, cookies, pastries, chocolates, etc. I just have to walk around with blinders on some days. Bottom line here – If you need western foods and cooking, stay close to the larger cities here or stay in the west. It’s that simple.
Expectations: We all expect to live a relaxed and comfortable lifestyle into our retirement years and all I can say about that is this: When you begin packing your bags, do not pack your suitcases with an abundance of expectations. Leave them there. Much has been talked about how some expats arrive here with huge expectations or with the idea that they can make a difference and affect positive change in people’s lives once they move here. It is most likely not going to happen! Period!!! It has been said that “The best way to avoid disappointment is not to expect anything from anyone.”
What to Bring: Here is where a little knowledge goes a long way. Many expats have learned that is the simple things in life that make the world go ’round…like a good deck of Bicycle playing cards or a good dual voltage electric shaver. That reminds me…do you like your aftershave? Bring extra! If you have computers and electronic components, also make sure they are dual voltage. Quality kitchen ware, pots & pans, good cutlery and cooking utensils would all be a good choice. Bungee cords are a nice thing to have but can be difficult to find outside the city. A good set of hand tools…metric and SAE…absolutely. How about a hand-held cheese slicer? A good therapeutic pillow? Cork screw? Yes, yes, and yes. Even if you can find certain things here, the quality of locally produced (or China produced) items is questionable and things seem to break easily or wear out quickly. If you have a real need for something of quality, then I suggest you ship them in a balikbayan box. Power tools and appliances and anything else that is NOT 220V, SELL IT!… or donate it to charity because even if you bring it, you will not enjoy it for very long. While some guys are thinking “I’ll just get a transformer!” I will only say this…you or someone else WILL burn it up eventually! It WILL happen…it’s just a matter of time until your 110V appliance gets plugged into a 220V outlet. Excuse me while I laugh now at your future mistake….Bawaahaaaaaaa! There, that was exhilarating. Do go out and get yourself a good quality battery charger (“D”, “AA”, “AAA”) and a good supply of rechargeable batteries before you head this way. Battery life (shelf life) here is always a gamble and replacing batteries can get expensive. I’ve bought batteries one day only to replace them the following day! My next suggestion going forward is to visit the many forums on living in the Philippines and you will get a better feel for what to bring from many other expat’s perspectives. Personally, we shipped our entire household (I’m glad we did) but in one year’s time, I have lost the following electrical things: air compressor, a drill, coffee pot, flatbed scanner, and a mismatched transformer. These days, I hide my rechargeable drill and other 110V tools. Like I said, it will happen!
The Significant Other
Okay, I saved this for last. The one thing I did not mention that will have the biggest influence on where you settle…your “Significant Filipina” (or Filipino if you swing that way). If you already have one, trust me on this….they will have their own set of “wants” and “needs” which will be like an ongoing train derailment of your entire well-intended planning. You will face many detours and roadblocks in arriving at your chosen location – when trying to match all of your important needs and living requirements up with her wants and needs (dreams). “Her” choice will most likely not fit within the parameters you worked so hard to define. All future expats will deal with this situation at some point. Because of the cultural influences, family ties are very important and most times, everything else aside, they will dictate where you will eventually settle – close to or with her family. Of course, for those who have not been hooked by a pretty Pinay yet, there is yet another approach…a better way. Come to the Philippines for a visit or extended stay, search out your chosen spot on the paradise map, and then let that special person find you in your chosen location! Trust me, of all the things you could ever accomplish here, this plan will work and it will be by far the easiest.
If you have read this far, there is some proof that you at least possess some determination and, as I hope you can understand from what I have presented here, there is so much to consider in planning a move abroad and choosing where to settle. By no means is this article an all-encompassing checklist. Moving here to live is much more than dreaming of laying on some unpopulated beach with your umbrella drinks, enjoying tropical sunsets every day. It requires a certain motivation and a committment to planning. It requires patience and long-term determination to achieve your goals. And above all else, it should include a visit or three to the Philippines (if you have never been here before). It will require a complete adjustment of your mindset.
Without any premeditation and all the encompassing thoughts, and…without possessing an open mind, you could already be programmed for failure. Accomplish all of the above, and your dreams may just become a reality, and even better, more likened to your own terms.