I wrote an article or two, both here and on my friend Bob’s Living in the Philippines web magazine, that concerned the question “can you live in the Philippines on $770 USD per month”? By the way I notice Bob has been kind enough to still have all my old living in the Philippines articles up there for general reading on his site … you might want to read them, once or twice I have managed to string a few sentences together to the made sense .. the rest of the time? Well, I didn’t charge anything…)
Anyway, back to the magic $770 USD. Is it possible? Absolutely. Not only do about 70-something millions Filipinos live on a heck of a lot less than $770 USD per month, but I even know more than a few foreigners who approach that as a monthly budget figure … and a few who live on substantially less. You can see my most up to date monthly expenditures living in the Philippines here … hasn’t been updated in the past few months because frankly, not much has changed.)
One of Bob’s writers, John Miele, however, just wrote a nice article that points out something that I am not sure how to convey to many of my readers. See John’s article about shopping at Trinomial, or Triangle North of Manila, , if you have the time, it’s well worth it. This is the operative paragraph I wanted to touch on, though:
… There is a hell of a lot of money in this country. Income distribution is widely unequal, and the “have-nots” certainly struggle just to survive from day to day. But what about the “haves”? Well, say that 5% of the population are well off. That equates to roughly 5 million people who are very much high-end consumers, most of whom live and work in Metro Manila. These consumers demand all of the goods that one could find in Europe or the United States, both in terms of quality and availability. In other words, everything that you could expect to find in the West is available here… For a price. That is what expats need to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to move here. Yes, the modern, top-line, feature-laden, LG refrigerator is for sale here, but do you want to spend the additional money to purchase this type of refrigerator, or would a simpler model suffice? These are the types of questions you will need to answer when moving here. What is important to you and a “necessity” or what will be sufficient for your standard of living. Once you head out of Manila to the provinces, availability of “luxury” goods drops quickly… Remember where those with the money tend to live ….
To a great extent people reading this site and others in this genre are here for one reason … they are researching … seriously considering, or at least “toying” with the idea of moving to the Philippines … and they have a great thirst to know ‘what it is like” here.
Now researching, reading, questioning, soaking up the information like a sponge, even performing “due diligence” is a useful and important thing to do. No question. No argument from me.
But the point I want to make and the one I find it hard to explain is this. It is not what you don’t know about the Philippines that is likely to get you in trouble if you want to move here. It is much more likely to be what you do know that will cause a problem.
Confusing? In one paragraph I say that learning is a good thing and then I turn around and say don’t learn? Wassup?
Well here’s what I am trying to get across. This is an especially important consideration for those of you who have always lived in the US, or in some other first-tier, developed country. because the Philippines has always been talked about and categorized as a “poor” or “developing” or “third-world” country, while the US is always at the top of the economic heap, you most likely think you “know” a lot of things about the Philippines that just are not so.
As John mentions in the excerpt I quoted above, this is, at the same time, a country of vast poverty and a country with a huge amount of money floating about. There are some very rich people here. There is virtually every form of luxury good and every sort of personal service available. In fact many European fashions and certain fancy designer goods, jewelry, electronics and things of that nature may be available in the Philippines before they are seen in America … Rodeo Drive in Hollywood as a possible exception.
So don’t expect that because you know that some Westerners come here and live quite happily on $770 USD per month, or $1,000 or $1200 (my personal ‘low end limit’), that you can live “happily” on that sort of money if you want to “live large” in any way, shape or form.
If you like to shop where the “nicer” people shop … let’s say perhaps you are a dedicated “avoid Wal*Mart” shopper in the USA … then don’t think that that magical, mystical $770 USD is going to let you shop at all the better places. It’s going to facilitate a decent standard of living, but as an example, my wife and I shop at TriNoma perhaps once every other month, to stock up on items in the Landmark supermarket that aren’t stocked anywhere else. And we don’t go into any of the exclusive designers shops along the way. Those are way out of our league (at least the league we chose to spend in), just as we would never be seen shopping in a Neiman Marcus store in the USA.
Now don’t get me wrong … I think Neiman Marcus is a fine company and anyone who wants to shop their should … by all means. However, don’t expect many trips there per month on your magical $770 a month.
Just because you know the Philippines is a poor country, do not get the idea that:
- We don’t have the “finer things” in life and
- They don’t cost,and cost like crazy in some cases.