Moving to the Philippines
My Story So Far — Last update 25 May 2014
It seemed to me at times that this day would never come, but it has. It’s time to start documenting the process of a 61 69 year-old Colorado cowboy wanna-be moving himself and his Filipina wife to the wide open plains of Bulacan. ( a province just north of Metro Manila proper).
See some of the best places to live and retire in the Philippines here: Best Places Philippines These are all actual places, put there on the map by real people living here in the Philippines. No sales hype, no “opportunities” for sale … just real world people enjoying a better life
Why Move to the Philippines
Why move, you might ask? I’m retired, on several good pensions (no crooked IRA’s involved with any of them), so I am fixed for life, if you will.
Well some of my reasons are already common knowledge … lower cost of living, fascination with travel and all things Asian, living with a larger extended family … oh, did I mention No Frickln’ Winter (it’s 0930 on the 3rd of October and my feet are cold waiting for the damn furnace to come on … I think it’s run 30 hours or more already and this is “Indian summer” *sigh*)
Aside from the reasons above, I’m bored. We have our life here in Colorado arranged so that as long as we penny pinch a bit I never have to work another day in my life.
But I want to see more and do more. Some things we undertake will be a roaring success others will undoubtedly fall flat … but we’ll do them rather than sit around like so many of my age group who wait eagerly every month for their despicable AARP news letter (ask me sometime show much I despise the AARP) and wander from one senior’s early bird special to the next.
(I have to get old, I Do Not have to get boring)
Stay tuned and I’ll document some of our trials, tribulations and successes.
This is a re-write of articles that originally appeared on my blog, PhilFAQS .. where you find the answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) about the Philippines.
If you have questions, contrasting points of view or corrections to offer, feel free to use my dedicated, spam-free contact page above .
I will not enable comments here because important questions often get asked and answered in comments and many people don’t read the comments, or don’t put the comments in context with the basic text, so they get intellectually lost. I’ll respond directly to all contacts,and those I consider of value, I’ll incorporate in the text.
Moving to the Philippines — Part One
Not a lot to report today, but things are moving along well. I’ve struck a deal with my son to buy our car … nice for both of us because of the situation we’re both in, so we can drive until moving day and then hand him the keys in return for cash.
Went to our credit union and they were pretty good … didn’t get bent out of shape at all when I told them we were going to move overseas “for a while”. Ordered new checks with the new address, counted up and cashed out a whole bag full of US change Mita had been saving (not any use for US change overseas) and went to Wal*Mart and bought some “stock up” items we know are going to be hard to get.
Tomorrow I better get some of these shiny new packing boxes filled. Must have been all the traveling I’ve done in the military, there’s a good feel about the smell of those new boxes and every time you “square one up” and put the tape across the bottom you think of the new adventure in store. I’m excited.
Hmmm, things to do before the move. How will I ever get a subject like that whittled down to size? Well, no one blog post or series of blog posts will ever handle it all, but let’s see if we can get a start on it here.
Because of the way I am restructuring the site, there will be a dedicated pointer or index page to all the articles in any particular subject, so as posts about the moving process grow, they will always be easy to find. Just click on the “Contents” tab on the top menu bar and the complete guide to all content will open, broken down by subject, then you can click on any individual article to read more. (yeah, maybe someday *sigh*)
One way to cut this subject down to size is to divide an conquer. I have always had good luck with chopping things up into “threes”, so here’s a thought … three “M’s” … Money, Mail and Medical, that is if you want to Retire in the Philippines Now.
Moving to the Philippines — Money:
This one is kind of important because you are going to need some to live on. I have heard one can live on love alone, but I haven’t tried it yet. Probably isn’t in my near term plans, either.
There are two possibilities I will deal with here … those of you who will have a pensions, retirement benefit or other ‘doled out’ source and those who are planning to still be earning their living while here in the Philippines. Several ‘foundation steps’ I think are essential to both:
Get you bank account(s) stable and make sure they will work while you are living in the Philippines. Although I have Philippine bank accounts and tend to do business here in the Philippines as if I were planning to stay forever (I am, at this stage of the game), I do not believe in severing the ‘home country’ ties completely.
One very good reason, in my case, is that several of my income streams will not direct deposit in foreign bank accounts.
For another reason, I am still a US resident for a number of business/tax/voting reasons.
Thirdly, although I have no plans to leave at the moment, all my decisions are subject to change.
If something caused me to leave the Philippines permanently, I’d likely not go back to the US … I have other countries on my list that I already have enjoyed living in … but you can not beat having a ‘base of operations’ in the USA.
Will your bank or credit union accommodate this lifestyle?
The answer is a firm yes, no, or maybe. That’s one of the reasons I put this step at the top of the list … you might need to find a different banking institution. Better to be getting this out of the way now.
Plan to get rid of all paper.
If your bank insists on paper statements and lots of other mailing back and forth, ask yourself why you are dealing with them.
We’ll talk about mail later, but for sure you want to look at the calendar and realize that the process of killing trees for no real purpose is passé’.
I do everything I need to with my bank, online or over the phone. I recommend you do too.
If you have bills that you will be paying in the US while you live in the Philippines, the first question is, why?
Get rid of every one that you can before you move.
For those you just can’t get rid of, move them on-line. My bank has a free bill pay service that allows me to pay any person or company in the US, by check or direct deposit, at any time I chose. All good banks do.
Virtually anyone I have paid over the past few years has also had a website where I could get my current billing information. If you have people whom you owe who are not smart enough to be online and save everyone time and money, fire them, you do not need the complication.
Ah, another whole big aspect of money that I currently think about very seldom. I have some, but I almost never use them.
They need some thought and preparation though, whether you love them or hate them.
Some credit card companies will deal with you living overseas just fine … others don’t like it … may not even mail new cards and otherwise restrict you.
There is only one way to tell. You can’t find out about it from any web site or from what your cousin experienced.
You need to call each one of your credit card carriers (the 1-800 number on the back) and level with them about your plans.
You don’t have to do this, but if you make the move and have been planning on keeping a certain card and then they dump you because they found out, you can have a hassle you don’t need.
I have no problem in finding credit cards who are happy with my living arrangement, you just have to ask.
You want, in my view, at least two credit cards left in your possession.
One should bill to an address in the US … this is very important as some merchants will not ship to an address other than the card’s billing address, and one card which bills to your Philippine address … for obvious reasons.
A parting thought, which makes me happy, is that here in the Philippines all the insanity which grips the US regarding credit ratings, FICO scores and the rest of that artificial trivialities fomented by the big credit reporting companies does not exist.
There are no nation-wide credit reporting agencies in the Philippines. The Philippines does not exchange information with the ‘US big three”. No one asks for nor even has a FICO score and life, to me, just feels a lot simpler.
Moving to the Philippines — Mail:
Got a good query regarding my post a day or so ago about getting ready to move from the US to the Philippines.
An address in the US … I had recommended you keep at least one US-based credit card with a US address, and my reader, quite properly, wanted to know … how? Well, there are a number of good answers.
The first question that will help you decide upon the answer that is best for you is, are you retired US military?
It happens that I am, so one of the easiest ways to deal with mail from the US is then to use the joint US Postal service/US military AFO/FPO system.
This is provided to retirees in the Philippines as a courtesy by the several Retired Affairs Offices in the Philippines, here are the web sites of several: RAO Clark, RAO Manila , RAO Subic and all of those offices have satellite locations scattered across the Philippines. mail can be either be delivered to virtually any Philippine address via express service (fees apply), or held for pick up at the main offices.
I have one US credit card which uses my retired APO address for billing, so I can always be pretty sure I’m going to get important information from them.
This will not serve as a way to use the credit card for shopping … you can not receive any sort of merchandise via the APO/FPO system, but I keep this card for two main reasons … medical emergencies and emergency air fare, if something should come up in a big hurry.
Because I made sure the company knows where I live and because I use the card every 60 days or so, I can be pretty sure it will work for me in an emergency. otherwise I leave it alone.
As with banking institutions, some card companies refuse to deal with overseas customers, so this is essentially a long-lead time step … you need to find the card or card that will suit you and your life style before you make the move.
OK, ok, I know, many of you are not retired military, so what am I going to propose for you? Fear not, there are some good answers.
Moving to the Philippines — Mail with Relatives.
Hmm, don’t know if that’s a good answer for everyone, but it works really well for me. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful son back in the old home state of Colorado and he kindly lets me use his street address for another of my US-based cards. He also receives mail for me that is not addressed to my APO address, opens and shreds most of it … 99% junk mail … you can not believe how much mail you get everyday in the US that you really do not need.
For the rare item he thinks might be important … especially checks from some of my US Internet business partners who haven’t gotten on the on-line bandwagon, he drops them in an envelope and sends it off to my APO address …takes two weeks or less from his hand to mine and the cost is the same as domestic mail, plus the very small fee I pay the RAO folks to have it couriered right to my door. Works out pretty well.
I have a very kind sister-in-law in Florida who sends Balikbayan boxes regularly to my in-laws here in Marilao,so if my wife or I have something we need that we can only find in a US store, we have it shipped to her sister to go into the next outbound box. Works out pretty well for me.
There are some people out there (and often for good reason) who are already fuming, I bet, because they have no relatives handy for these tasks, or do not want their relatives involved. That’s certainly a valid concern. (remind me sometime to tell you about the bright spark of hope I knew who used to live in the Philippines and prevailed upon his ex-wife in the US to handle his mail Long story, but I digress).
Moving to the Philippines — Mail with no relatives involved:
Fortunately, there are a number of reliable, not too expensive companies in the US who provide essentially the same service.
They provide a street address you can have your mail sent to )by the way, don’t use a post office box, UPS, FedEx, etc. won’t deliver to them). A simple address change with your credit company gets the card billing there as well.
When I started writing this article I went looking and I found the business has mushroomed since last year when I last looked. here are just a few sample services, there are many to choose from:
- My USA Here’s a company, physically located in Florida, which provides a street address, forwards mail, receives and forwards packages and pretty much does everything you would need to maintain a presence in the US while living in the Philippines. The link I furnished opens on
their rates page, seems pretty reasonable to me. This company comes recommend to me by a friend who has used them for nearly 5 years now, so they seem pretty reliable and established.
- USA2Me.com This is another service, physically located in Texas which provides a street address, forwards mail to you or discards it, at your direction and will even open important mail at your request and scan it to their web site so you can see it almost instantly. They have tons of other services as well and as you can see from the page I linked to, their fees are reasonable.
There are tons more companies to evaluate, a simple Google search will turn up pages of them. Chose the one that is best for you.
As a parting thought, think about how much mail your really need. The recent US tax rebate program is a good example.
I knew what I was supposed to get, I file my taxes electronically to direct deposit in my primary US bank, so on the date the IRS said my rebate was going to be sent out, I checked my bank and presto, it was there.
They have since sent at least three more pieces of paper about the program, but for what reason? Beats me, except some clerk had to get paid to monitor the machine sending out the explanation.
How much explanation do I need for a simple bank deposit? They could have rebated me $1250 instead of $1200 if they hadn’t wasted all the paper, postage and time.
While I was getting ready to write this article I came across two more paper statements I am getting currently, and canceled them. There is nearly nothing that has to be done via paper mail any more and a simpler life is certainly a better one.
Next topic … keeping in touch by phone and fax.
Last post under this subject we talked about physical (snail) mail and some strategies to handle it. This time I want to talk with you about phones. The world of telephones, especially Internet telephony, or VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) is changing so fast that many don’t even have a concept of what’s actually available out there today.
Moving to the Philippines — Phones:
The simple bottom line is, you can live in the Philippines as if you were still living in the US with a properly set up phone system. And, if you are handling your US phones the way I was, before I moved, you can save a bundle just by moving you voice services into the 21st century, in the Philippines or in the US.
If you are still paying a legacy phone company for a land line monthly subscription charge, you really need to ask yourself, why? You do not need a land line. The only reason most people are doing it is because Americans have for years, and people seem to expect it, etc., etc. I’ve been living without a land line now for nearly two years and I have yet to miss it. Looking back I recall how many land line calls I got that were solicitations and ‘dreck’ that I didn’t want in the first place. There is no method I know of that will let you keep your current US land line number and have it ring in the Philippines … but you don’t need to.
Suppose your current US number is very, very important to you? OK, you can move to the Philippines and keep that number in the US if you really want to. Just order voice mail and call forwarding for it … assuming you don’t have them already … and get your calls and messages by one of the methods I’m going to suggest below. Change your billing address to the US presence snail mail address I covered in the last post of this series … and there is no need for a paper bill, ever, pay the bill with your US banks online bill paying service. Presto. Done deal.
To receive calls in the Philippines as if you were in the US there are two simple and related ways I am going to suggest. They both essentially work the same, just small differences in price and equipment.
Before you move you have the option of switching to Vonage (actually there are competitors to Vonage for VOIP service you might want to check out, but I’m using them as a known-to-work example). For something like $25 USD per month Vonage will give you a ‘real’ US phone number. You can pick one in your local area or, as many of my friends have done, pick one in the local area of a friend or relative whom you expect to be making a lot of calls to you. To them, your phone number is just like any phone number. They need no computer, no Internet connection, they need only to know how to dial a standard phone number and talk.
At the other end of the Vonage service you have to have a little box that is plugged into a broadband Internet connection. Standard phones you already own then plug into the box (technically this device is a IP router), or, if you chose the right box, wireless US phones will also connect. A person calls, the phone rings, you answer. To call out to the US, you pick up the phone, get dial tone and place a call. A three-year-old can handle it.
I have several friends here in the Philippines with Vonage and we use it all the time to call from one Philippine location to another … the fact that the call ,logically routes from the Philippines to the US public phone system and then back to the Philippines doesn’t matter. It costs nothing (aside from the monthly subscription) and the call quality is typically better by far than if we made the call over the standard Philippine telephone network.
Aside from the modest monthly cost, I know of no reason not to say everyone should get Vonage before they move. I know of no problems at all that I have ever had nor any of my friends who use it … it just works.
Notice I have said several times that you need to avail of Vonage before you make the move. That’s because Vonage will not ship you the router you need to use the service outside the US. So you should have it before the move and carry it with you. You can, though, use any of a number of US to Philippine shopping services to get the Vonage box sent here if you want to sign up, with your US address, after you have already made the move. But I have two even better ideas…
Note: I’ve used Skype for years now. I have no business relationship with the company, but I highly recommend them. I pay $60 USD per _year_ for my local US number … 719-966-4295 … and they are always there when I need them. Outbound calls to the US are about 2 cents a minute … I have $8 credit in my account right now, I forget the last time I bought any. And, of course, it’s 100% free to call US toll free numbers … the majority of calls I might make to the USA. recommended.
Skype is a world-wide VOIP, messaging and specialized messaging service that essentially ‘does it all’. It’s the service I currently use. You can dial my number, and if I am at my computer, I’ll pick up. Skype can be used to call computer-to-computer anywhere in the world, totally free. You just download a free agent program to your machine and anyone else who has Skype can call … or you can call them. But your bank, for example isn’t going to call you from their computer. So, you buy a “Skype In” number for $60 a year and anyone can call and talk as long as they want. They pay whatever it costs them to call that standard phone number, you pay nothing.
At your end, it is totally free if you receive or place calls on your computer. For as little as $50 or so, you can buy a box (Amazon is one source, there are literally hundreds of others) which plug in to any Internet connection and let a regular phone connect over Skype, exactly as the Vonage router described above does. My Skype has been working fine for months now … I have absolutely no complaints and the voice quality is at least as good as when I used to make expensive ‘conventional’ land line calls.
An extremely “kewl” thing about Skype is, you can select inbound numbers in any of 21 countries: Australia, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong S.A.R.(China), Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the US. So if you have friends or relative outside the US whom you want to stay in close touch with, you can order a “Skype In” number that is local to them.
Most people buy a combination plan from Skype. the most extensive is $12.95 a month, roughly half of Vonage’s plan and allows virtually unlimited calls to 34 different countries. You can’t get a much stronger calling plan than that.
Google Talk / Google Hangouts
If you have a Gmail account, you may already know Google Talk (Gtalk). From your Gmail account, you could call people who are in your contact list. You can’t call cellphones or other phones with this service, though you can chat with other Gtalk users who have installed it on their device, or anyone using the web client.
In 2013, Google announced it would merge Google Talk client software into a new chat environment, Google Hangouts, including an app for smartphones.
Google Hangouts works like a combination between Facebook Chat and WhatsApp, but a lot faster and with a tighter interface. An advantage of Hangouts is that it makes sharing things much easier, through its connection with Gmail. It has a big advantage over WhatsApp in that you can block people, and that not just anyone can start a conversation with you.
Another slick substitute for Skype. You can make free video or audio calls to up to 12 friends or family members (who also run ooVoo ) at once. Talk about staying in touch …
Moving to the Philippines — Moving Visas:
When I promised last time I would talk about the ways to actually get your possessions and your family here to the Philippines I later realized I have jumped the gun a little. The methods that are open to you and the actual rules on bringing things vary quite a bit depending upon your legal immigration status before you actually commence the move … so we had better devote a little space to a who, what, why discussion … because over the past 10 years I’ve found this to be one of the most misunderstood areas of all.
I hate being put into a category or stereotyped, but there is no other way to get the information people need to know organized and out into a form people can make heads or tails of. So, let’s perform a little triage here, and cut the problem down to size:
First of all, are you a Filipino or former Filipino ? (by former Filipino I am referring to a natural-born Filipino who gave up their Filipino citizenship in order to accept citizenship in another country).
Be careful you don’t answer that question too fast, because even if you were born outside the Philippines and have never claimed Filipino citizenship you may still be a Filipino if either or both of your parents were Filipino citizens.
13(g) Permanent Resident
If the answer is yes, or if you can make it yes by legal means (reclaiming or re-acquiring your Filipino citizen rights, then you have no “mother may I” problems … you can either enter the Philippines on a Philippine passport or avail of a 13(g) series Philippine Permanent Resident visa which will allow you to live in the Philippines as long as you care to, and to move certain possessions to the Philippines without customs duties and other hassles.
I’ll address this category of folks in detail in a future post in this series. (a ;ink will go here)
Are you married to a Filipino/former Filipino? If so, then your rights and privileges are essentially the same as a Filipino citizen, so far as the move is concerned … so you can expect to find your answers in the next installment as well. Of course, this is assuming you spouse wishes to sponsor you.
13(a) Permanent Resident
That’s not as facetious of a statement as it might first seem, because I’ve known of guys who were married but separated or at odds with their spouses and tried to use the spouse as their ‘ticket’ into the Philippines anyway.
I also know of some terrific foul-ups these guys got into, so if you and your spouse are not ‘together’ and together on your Philippine plans, you might want to reconsider and take a route to Philippine residence that does not depend on a spouse. You might want to take a look at becoming legally free to marry also, but that’s a horse of a different color … for another time.
Ok, if you’re still with me here it means you are either single or married to some one and neither has Filipino citizen rights. Is there still a way for you to move to the Philippines, including some possessions and live there? In fact, there are several routes open to you.
First you can avail of several international investor visa plans. These are not of interest to many folk and I won’t cover them here, but keep the fact in mind. If you were planning to start a business, for example, then you would need to dig out the facts because the programs have some good benefits, especially if you want to locate in certain economic zones which the Philippine government is promoting. If there’s interest in more info on this aspect, let me know, I’ll write more.
Second, you can take the route many foreigners do and just come here and live here for years on a simple tourist visa. (technically, a tourist visa waiver).
This costs money, but it’s relatively small amounts, spread over time.
It requires visa renewals every 2 to 6 months.
It requires you to leave the country at least once every three years.
But it’s relatively simple and, very appealing to some folks, requires very little pre-planning.
You just ’show up’, visit (or have your agent visit) the most convenient Bureau of Immigration office every time your expiration of stay comes up, and make a trip home, or a shopping trip to Hong Kong, or a casino trip to Macao every 12 months and you are a happy camper.
You do not get any sort of household goods shipping privilege with this method, but you can ship essentially any amount of small items in advance via the Balikbayan box method.
There is, however, one better method that I’m going to point out in closing ..
The method I would recommend any single person or non-Filipino couple should look very closely at is the Special Resident Retiree Visa (SRRV). A lot, and I do mean a lot, has changed with this program recently. In researching the latest changes I find I really need to write a separate post on this aspect also, because there is just too much to squeeze in here.
In summary, the SRRV allows you to make a deposit of cash (in interest-bearing bank accounts), or some other investments, including condos or homes on leased property, and in return you get a lifetime visa
a and a number of special privileges. For years the cash requirements seemed rather steep and the program languished, but it’s very much alive and well today and much more attractive.
Do not let the word “Retiree” in the name throw you off … the program is available to anyone 35 or over and one of the benefits is permission to work for salary or run your own business … so it’s a possibility for others than the old pensioner set, like me
More About the SRRV
I promised I would talk more about the Special Resident Retiree Visa before I got deeper into the mechanics of moving. It’s always a toss up to decide how much or how little detail to include in these posts .. looking back over the past few days I sense I have been too verbose, so I’ll try to do better and breaking things into bite-size “lumps”.
The SRRV has been around for some years now. For years it had the reputation among foreigners that it was a program where you “bought” a visa and it was nothing but a useless expanse, only for rich people, etc.
Well, it does require that you make an investment, so for those who consider that buying a visa, so be it … but it’s a very viable program, it’s very “alive”, that is many important changes have come about in just the past few years, and for those not married to a Philippine citizen/former Philippine citizen, it is a very viable consideration. Let’s look at the pros and cons:
- Gives you the option to reside permanently in the Philippines.
- It gives you an indefinite-stay status.
- Provides you with multiple-entry privileges that allows you to go in or out of the country at anytime.
- Exempts you from securing the exit & re-entry clearances from the Bureau of Immigration
- Exempts you from the payment of Travel Taxes (conditions apply).
- You can work in the Philippines subject to the issuance of an Alien Employment Permit (AEP).
- You can start your own business in the Philippines.
- Entitles you to bring two (2) of your dependents (spouse and/or unmarried children 20 years old).
- You or any family member wishing to study will not need a Special Study Permit or Student’s Visa.
- You can purchase and own your condominium unit or lease a parcel of land anywhere in the Philippines.
- You may also invest in golf memberships or in shares of stock traded in the Philippine Stock Exchange.
- You may import household goods and other personal effects (worth up to $7000 USD) tax-free.
- You must be 35 years of age or older to avail.
- You must make an approved investment. Amounts vary from $75,000 USD down to $1500 USD.
- There is an application fee.
- There are yearly fees.
- If you decide to withdraw your investment (which you can do at any time) you revert to tourist status.
- You do, of course, pay tax on investment profits, as you would on any other Philippines-source income.
I am not a salesman for the SRRV … and I don’t hold one (I’m married to a Philippine Citizen and can hold long-term residency without the SRRV).
But I do think the program’s plusses and minus’s stack up very highly into the plus side of the ledger, and for those who are single, those who have a life-partner they are not married to, or for married couples who are both non-Filipino it is the best game in town. SRRV website is here.
And a special note for those (there are a lot of you out there) who absolutely won’t live in a condo, or want to live somewhere where condos don’t even exist,
You Don’t Have to Live in a Condo
I hope you have been looking at some of the properties I’ve been writing about here … and will continue to write about. Rents on big city condos can be huge, there is certainly the potential for significant profit, The SRRV program says you have to make an investment, it does not say you have to live in it. Worthy of careful consideration.
Getting Started On Your Visa
By now you should have decided on which of the legal methods of residence I have covered in the past few days is right for you:
- SRRV (Special Resident’s Retiree Visa)
- 13(a) or 13 (g) Filipino or former-Filipino sponsored residency visa
- Tourist Visa
So how do you get any of these options started? Basically everything can be at least started online. I highly recommend, for US folks anyway, that you do everything you can while you are still in the US. The service you will get from the Philippine Retirement Authority or the Department of Foreign Affairs will like be better, faster and cheaper than trying to traipse around Manila to the various offices you will need., and for some things, like your special household shipment privileges, you may need some visa paperwork in hand.
To start the SRRV process, just go to the main SRRV website, ask any questions and download and fill up the application forms. The PRA (Philippine Retirement Authority) has an excellent staff who will help you get on your way.
To start the 13 series Permanent Residence visa process,first go to the Philippine US Embassy’s listing of consular sites in the US and look for your state of residence. Each office has a certain area of responsibility and the one who serves your state (or US possession) will be the one’ to take care of you. If you aren’t in the US, here’s a list of all Philippine foreign service posts, world-wide.
You Can Start Everything AFTER You Are In The Philippines
If you are coming on your own as a tourist, you actually can just get on a plane and fly if the airline will board you and if the BI lets you in) , but I highly recommend you comply with the rules if the Philippines from day one. The Philippine government states “tourists intending to stay longer than 21 days should obtain a visa in advance”. If I had a dollar for every argument I have heard on this issue in the past 8 years I’d be rich … but why argue. Do the right, legal thing to begin with and, as a bonus, it’s better, faster and cheaper … hard to argue. Your best bet for starting the tourist visa process is the consular listing referenced above, they have the simple form required and will be happy to help you out.
By the way. don’t be confused. ALL tourist visas are for 59 days of in-country stay. Period. Unless you are planning to go in and out of the Philippines multiple times in your first year, you only need the cheapest, shortest option. You will have to extend at the end of 59 days, regardless of the validity period you buy.
Some folks are very put off about sending their passport through the mail. I can understand this, but unless you can make a personal visit, it’s a fact of life.
Passports by Mail
It should work just fine.
- Go to your local post office and get two of the free 9×12 Express Mail cardboard envelope mailers.
- Address one to yourself, address the other one to the consular office you will be dealing with.
- Put the forms, payment and your passport inside one, ask the clerk to give you the postage for both envelopes.
- S/he will put the postage on the return envelope.
- You fold it up and put it in the outbound envelope and
- Hand it over for postage and mailing.
Your passport is safe under US mail and you get a tracking number and proof of delivery, so I feel the risks are very small … after all, your passport came to you through the US mail, now didn’t it?
Anyway, that’s your task for the weekend, while I’m sipping a drink with a little umbrella in it, you can get to work on your paperwork so that you can retire to the Philippines as well.
OK, you’ve figured out , how to support yourself, how you are going to communicate via paper, phone and computer, how to work your banking and how to get a visa. Now the actual fun part begins. You get to move things.
Moving to the Philippines — Mechanics:
The first question is not always as simple as it seems …
What will you Take?
In general, after having made a “cubic foot” limited move, I’d say, bring everything! Several acquaintances of mine who are living here now also share that advice.
They each shipped a whole 40 foot ocean freight container … and feel they made good use of it. I shipped less than half that much, and while I got most things that I needed, and the Unofficial Cook got to bring most of what she needed to keep her fabulous kitchen in operation, we both still miss things every day.
No Car or Motorcycle
The one thing many Americans want to bring is their car or motorcycle. In general, the answer to that is, you can’t. The import rules for motor vehicles, 2 or 4 wheels, (and motor vehicle parts, as well, should you be thinking about taking the motorcycle apart and shipping the pieces) are very restrictive, and the customs duties add up to more than the retail value of the vehicle.
Shipping itself will add several thousand to that. If you insist you must ship a car, Google for specialists in that department, because I can’t offer any more detailed advice. Auto import and auto smuggling are a really big hot button with the government, so it is something I don’t choose to delve into.
Guns, also, are a big issue. Legally a foreigner can not own a weapon. There are ways to legally import them under the control of licensed importers and store them in approved facilities, such as gun clubs … you can’t carry them and can’t keep them in your home … but again, that’s way outside my scope.
Mostly, Anything Else
Aside from those issues, pretty much anything that is your personal property, in reasonable quantities, can ship. If you are shipping via the multiple box method, customs usually does not check very closely.
If you are making one shipment under a visa entitlement, there is a restriction of $7,000 USD total value. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you look at used prices .. fair market value .. it covers most households … I mean, how much would you make if you sold it all to a used furniture dealer?
Just don’t so as I have heard of some bright sparks of hope doing .. declare the value of less than $7,000 and then attaching insurance papers showing you bought a policy for a declared value of $30 or $40,000 USD … come on now, these inspectors can put 2 and 2 together, you know.
OK, inventory, valuation issues, now the actual how.
Moving to the Philippines — Moving Companies:
You can find any number of moving companies (Google is your friend) who will come to your house, pack your belongings, ship them and deliver and unpack them in the Philippines. The amount it costs will depend upon how much you ship and how much service you want to provide yourself.
The method I used, and the one I recommend is to use a Philippine shipping specialist company who deals directly with the Philippines using ocean freight containers. Again, there are many to choose from. The one I used and the one I very highly recommend is Manila Forwarder in Los Angeles, CA. they can do it all. The CEO, Manny Paez, is a personal friend of mine, don’t hesitate to ask Manny or any of his excellent staff for help or special requests.
basically there are three options:
- They send a container to be dropped of at your residence and you set a time for it to be picked up for shipment.
- They arrange a time for a truck to come with a container and you get a couple of hours to ’stuff’ the container and send it on it’s way.
- You deliver you goods to their warehouse in Los Angles and they stuff the container for you and deliver it at the Philippines end.
Option 3 is the one I chose. I rented a U-Haul to get my stuff from Colorado to California, took about 2 days to pack the truck and 2.5 days to schlep it out to LA. Method 1 or method 2 would be easier, believe me, but my wife and I had to get to California somehow so the U-Haul served as our transportation as well as the household goods. There’s a U-Haul dealer within site of the Los Angeles airport, so you can drop off your boxes, then drop off your truck and finally drop into your seat on the outbound flight.
So, that’s some thoughts on the mechanics of getting your items moved … tomorrow I’ll give you some specific tips on packing and perhaps some things you don’t know you want to bring.
A few tips I really didn’t get to put into my last post on moving.
The real key to success in moving is in the details. I made a lot of moves, mostly for the US government in my career, so they were done by professionals. Believe me, a pro is no guarantee of good performance … I’ve seen both sides of the coin. It’s not for no reason that an old saying in the military is that “three moves are as good as a fire”. It’s hard to keep nice things nice for multiple moves … but you can do it if you do it right.
The earlier you start the better your move will go … this applies no matter if you use a professional or do it yourself.
Get rid of stuff you don’t want (if you are sure you or someone else won’t use it in the Philippines … see Part 1 for more on this.
Pack things yourself that you have the original materials for or that you feel are special. A good example. I once shipped two TV’s which I had the original boxes and packing for.
The “professional” packers not only refused to use the original boxes,(leaving me even more garbage to get rid of to be ready to leave my house) but packed two TV’s together in the same carton, the ‘right way’ as they told me. When I got to the destination, both TV’s had all the knobs on the front cracked or broken off.
In case you’re wondering it’s darn hard to find replacements for little things like proprietary plastic knobs for a 5 or 6-year-old TV. I tuned one TV for years with a pair of pliers, vowing never again to take the word of an expert over my own good sense.
Go through your house, garage, storage shed, etc. with a little packet of stick-on colored labels. Red for junk/sell, blue for store or send to relatives, yellow for pack for the Philippines (or some other color scheme you like). This will save untold hours when the day to begin packing actually arrives.
There are lots of ways to find boxes and cushioning materials for your stuff. One thing many don’t realize, though, is that ocean shipping is not like having a name-brand household moving company handle your goods from packing through transport to unpacking.
Containers are handled, often roughly by forklifts and cranes. Containers may be stacked on the deck of a ship and subject to several weeks of rain and salt spray.
Flimsy cardboard boxes that are sold by consumer-oriented outfits like U-Haul, Office Depot, etc. are not what you want.
Look in your local Yellow Pages for commercial moving supply outlets. I bought all my boxes, except a few U-haul ‘cheapies’ that I already had on hand, through a local company in our former home town.
When our stuff got to the Philippine end of the trip the difference in the state of the boxes was phenomenal.
The U-Haul boxes looked like refuges from WW II and the commercial-grade boxes were mostly still ready for another move.
In addition the moving supply store had better package sealing tape and some wonderful multi-layer sheets of paper for covering dressers, living room furniture and such with a vinyl layer inside the paper to seal them against moisture and dust while letting things inside ‘breath’.
I see plenty of domestic US moves where furniture is wrapped in plastic shrink-wrap sheeting … if the container sits in the alternate sun and rain on a Manila dock for a few weeks the wooden furniture inside the plastic might just as well be outside in the rain … don’t do it.
Incidentally, our overall costs for materials came out quite a bit less than if we had bought everything at U-Haul.
As I believe I mentioned earlier, most shipping companies offer several options for actually getting your good into a container and on their way.
One method that has worked well for many is, you arrange a date and time with the shipper and a local hauling firm arrives with your container on a trailer at your home and the driver waits a fixed period of time while you (and some strong-backed helpers ’stuff’ the container.
Typical ‘free’ wait times are on the order of two hours. An experienced warehouse crew can ’stuff’ a 40-foot container in two hours, but they will work up a sweat doing so.
An average home-packer will be sorely taxed to get it done in that time, so make sure you know how much extra waiting time will cost you … you may need it.
One thing that sounds silly, unless it happens to you is, remember the floor of a shipping container on a truck frame is about 48 inches above the ground … a full 4 feet.
A friend of mine made a two-hour pickup arrangement, had his packed goods all ready to load and was waiting with a crew of helpers when the trucker arrived, on time.
One thing he didn’t have was any kind of ramp or ladder … everything was packed, remember? It’s a lot of work to lift everything 4 feet into a container and it wastes a lot of time over the alternative of rolling in stacks of boxes on a hand truck. Be prepared.
A better alternative for many is to have the container dropped at your location and picked up after loading. This will add considerably to the trucking costs .. the company has to make two trips .. but will remove the time pressure. Make sure, however, that your local laws and neighbors will put up with an ugly container in the street in front of your house … again, better to find out sooner rather than later.
Since I had to get my household goods from Colorado to California (where my shipper, Manila Forwarder had their offices) and my wife and I also had to get there (our car was sold with the buyer taking delivery on the morning of our move) I decided to rent a U-Haul truck and let the one vehicle move both the household goods and us.
Worked out pretty well, although you never know about Colorado weather and driving a truck that distance is sure not as comfortable as traveling in your car … but it went all right and the boxes got to the container and we got to our gate at LAX all with time to spare. So it’s a method you can keep in mind in case it gets you out of the same pickle we were in.
Hope these tips are of some value in helping you with your move … my only regret is we waited longer than we needed to … we’re here in the Philippines nearly 10 years now and I haven’t regretted making the move seriously once.
What else do you want to know about Moving to the Philippines.