Time and time again I meet people, or get emails from people, with questions about living in the Philippines. Without a doubt, the most frequent question I hear … the favorite by at least 10 to 1 odds … is “How much does it cost to live there”?
You’ll also see, if you look on-line, something like 4,870,000 other websites that mention “cost of living, Philippines.”
For a great many reasons, cost of living is one of the least important questions for you to consider. Unless you are thinking about moving to the Philippines from the Sudan or from Biafra, they cost of living here is, overall less than where you live now. Unquestionably. But here’s an article with a great many issues aside from costs regarding moving to the Philippines that you might want to consider;
According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, approximately 172,000 Brits left their homeland in 2008, with only half leaving for work reasons. The rest were accompanying someone, looking for work or just travelling around, presumably in search of a better life. It’s more difficult to get US figures, as the government measures immigration but curiously, not emigration; a recent UN report* however, states that in 2009 three per cent of the world’s population (200 million) lived in a country other than the one in which they were born. In short, there are a lot of people relocating around the globe.
Be prepared – From the practical to the cerebral, there are lots of things you can anticipate to make your relocation smoother. Expat American Michele Oyen recalls “The biggest hassle of moving for me had to do with banking and credit cards; there are plenty of things I could have done that would have improved my life if I had set up international banking services before I left the US.”
(A note to Americans from the IRS, “If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, the rules for filing income, estate, and gift tax returns and paying estimated tax are generally the same whether you are in the United States or abroad. Your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you reside.”)
It helps to read about the culture into which you are heading, even when you think it’s not going to be too different from where you are. Adds Oyen, “The irony is that it never occurred to me to look into advice for expats before I moved–no books, blogs, or any of the other resources available. I’d certainly advise someone to look.” Indeed, with the amount of information readily available on the Web, there’s no excuse these days.
I couldn’t agree more. In addition, I think far too many people refuse to do enough research “on the ground”. You can not learn everything you need from blogs or books, nor can you learn all you need to know from being a vacationer in a far off land.
Far too many US folks move here to the Philippines without an adequate cash cushion as well. It’s going to take thousands and thousands (of dollars, not Pesos) to get yourself set up and functioning here. if you can’t get that much together before you go, then I suggest you don’t go … this is a bad country to be poor in, I can guarantee you that.
Learn the language – Jo Parfitt, author, publisher, mentor and public speaker advises, “If I were moving to one country and staying there, learning to be fluent in the language would be my number one priority, from this everything else feeds.”
She adds, “I’ve been abroad 22 years and this is my 5th country. I like to work and running my business is where I spend my time. I simply do not have/make the time to learn the language where I live. After 5 countries it is just one thing too many to learn another one. Yet it is my unwillingness to learn the language that is the cause of most of my stress…running a business in another language is very tough. I can’t even read my VAT return. Sure, I can read a menu, understand a train timetable and use public transport. But I can’t read the long words in official documentation and it gets me down. I also do not understand the rules of taxation, allowances and so on and after several countries this is wearing.”…
The popular British blogger Potty Mummy, who has recently moved from London to Moscow, has also found language acquisition to be crucial, especially in a country where the people don’t automatically learn English. She has found that doing the weekly shop, and communicating with taxi drivers, plumbers and school staff is impossible unless you learn the language properly. As someone who relocated from one English-speaking country to another, I would advise making yourself as familiar as possible with the new “language” as confusion and communication failure can still be an everyday occurrence.
Recently my friend Bob posted an article about learning the language here in the Philippines where he used an interesting analogy.
He referred to one of the most frequently heard complaints regarding illegal aliens in the USA … “Those Mexicans coming up across the border don’t even learn English!”
Well what about, say, and American who comes to the Philippines and lives for years and doesn’t learn the language either? Is he lazy, or even perhaps a bit bastos (rude) and overbearing, expecting the country to change around him, rather than he, himself to change to suit the country? Don’t plan on living here permanently without factoring in language skills … or so Dave opines.
Visiting home – Australia is the top choice for relocation by Brits. That’s a long way from home and an expensive trip back. I have many friends who relocated there and although they loved the people and the lifestyle, more than a few have gone home because the separation from family was just too much. One friend used to make the 26 hour, multi-stop journey on her own with three sons ages 6, 4 and 18 months. Absolutely exhausting.
Even if you’re not on the other side of the world, trying to schedule meaningful visits home when you’re juggling work and/or school is a challenge, and the expense of flying back often means that people go years before seeing family.
Visiting “home” can often stir up deep feelings of homesickness. As Carla Young, a Chicagoan who lived in England for ten years said, she didn’t anticipate that “every year, when I would return for a month in the summer, I would realize how much I really missed my life here. It was always hard to go back…”. For many years I would return to the States after a summer in England and be completely restless and fed up for about a month.
Much better, in my view, to plan to visit ‘back home’ very infrequently. I know of many a couple who plan to spend say half the year in the Philippines and half back in the US. More power to them, if they can put up with this … but if you wanted me to go back to the USA every six months, might as well let me stay there permanently.
Returning home – after several years of living abroad, many expats begin to wonder if they can ever return to their country of origin (repatriation). Questions about whether they can settle back into the lifestyle are common but a surprising factor is whether or not they can afford to go back. Many Brits move abroad for a better (cheaper) lifestyle which may mean that they can’t afford to sell up and buy property in the UK should they want to go back. In addition, the costs of physically moving all your belongings around the world can be truly staggering.
I had a hint of this just recently. My wife and I ran the numbers in pretty good detail re: buying a home in central Florida and the conclusion is … with my pensions alone we can swing it, but it means 30 more years of debt, my wife perhaps going back to work … worrying about how often we can fill the car each months and so on. Not for us, we decided. Remember that once you make the move you may well be in the same boat as well,
Being “on your own” – There will usually be people around you when you relocate, but that doesn’t always make things easy. As American Carla Young says, “For me, the psychological component of having my entire support system across the ocean was the hardest. I was sick over there for more than a year, and not having family around to support me or the kids was extremely stressful.” If you have children, this loneliness can often be compounded by cultural differences.
You will have to deal with this very, very often. Even though you may have a great many helpful neighbors, none of their ideas and your ideas (especially if you have children) are going to match all the time. You’ll likely have helpful family as well, but there are times you feel you just need a break from that.
Being the foreigner – for some this is a novelty that never wears off and for others it’s a sign that they’ll never really fit in. I am still often referred to as the Brit, the English woman or “the one with the accent” if they can’t quite figure out what brand of English I speak. One of the joys of being back in England during the summer is the complete anonymity I have. There’s no one peering round the dairy aisle in the supermarket to hear me talking (although three American children tend to draw attention).
least expect it … and you will be listened to … especially when you carelessly make comments you would just as soon you didn’t make. It’s a lot like writing emails or comments online … lose your temper some afternoon and complain about a neighbor and you’ll find you are quoted, verbatim, the next day to people in your neighborhood and even from far away. If you frequently lose your temper, and if you ‘live’ for sarcasm and ‘putting down’ the other fellow … just in jest, of course … this may not be the place for you to live.
Making new friends – This will be very much up to you. Unless you’re rich and famous, Your arrival will cause little more than a ripple; everyone has their own life and may promise to have you over for dinner or get together for coffee, but you’ll have to make it happen. If you’ve moved from a situation where you had lots of people round you, suddenly only having a spouse and/or family members can be hard for everyone. It’s slightly easier if you go out to work or have small children at school, but it’s important even then to reach out to others to ease the transition.
There are expat social groups all over the globe so if, like me, you occasionally miss listening to British slang, you can usually find some comrades. However, as Brit in Bosnia discovered, “- expats can be really weird. I’m not sure if being a slightly more random country like Bosnia attracts stranger people, but the expats where we are are probably here because they don’t fit in anywhere else… “. (my emphasis) Gulp! Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Sadly, based on personal experience, you will find this is a problem in the Philippines. There are agreat many “misfits” here, and sadly, more than a few guys hiding our from child support or other legal issues. In addition, although in theory I have thousands and thousands of “brothers in arms” from my years serving in the military, in point of fact a great many retired US military I have met here in the Philippines seem to come here only for the purpose of complaining, particularly bitching endlessly about the Filipino family and how the Philippines is ungrateful for the “massive investment” they make here. Boring and boorish, both. You will find you have to pick and chose your friends very carefully, and the field for you to choose from will likely not be large.
The familiar – You may find yourself missing silly things like foods, shops, and smells. American Kerry Roe-Ely has been in the UK for about twenty years and says, “For the first couple of years I missed all the junk food in America so my family would send me care packages. When I went home for visits I would make sure I ate all my favourite foods. I missed hearing American accents and would watch Oprah Winfrey just to hear people speak. Every ex-pat I’ve ever met has gone through the same process. At first you’re so excited by all the differences. That wears off after about three months. Then you’re annoyed by all the differences. Then depressed. I would cry every afternoon. Then, eventually, you accept all the differences.”
This is perhaps the biggest reason I made my recent trip back home to the USA. I love that so many things are different here, but there will come times when you just have to say … enough already, I miss the way we do it at home …
The stress factor – Stress can be a surprising factor in your relocation experience. Anne Naylor,suffered eczema on her eyelids which her Australian doctor quickly described as stress-related and likened it to one’s body going into temporary mourning. A quick Internet search of “expat stress” pulls up many physical, emotional and mental examples of stress-related conditions. Even if you are thrilled at your new habitat, it is still a huge change and you may experience some of the symptoms. …
If you think life can’t be stressful in the Philippines, just as it can be back home, then I have some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you.
In point of fact it can be very much more stressful, especially given that many things (like the mail) just don’t work right. You need to allow extra time, and you need to limit your expectations regarding what you are going to get done every day or even every week.
To make a long story short? There are very few countries you can live in where the minimum monthly expense can be as low as you can make it here (if you choose to), but there is much more to think about before you start figuring costs.