|Australian expat Andrew divides his time between three areas in the Philippines, as well as places abroad (Japan, Australia & NZ). In the Philippines we live in Lipa City, having lived in Manila and also travelled around. I hope I can offer you some tips living as an expat in the Philippines.
-Where were you born?
I was born on the North Shore of Sydney, Australia. This area is appreciated for its tree-lined streets, proximity to great white sand beaches and the city. If you're lucky you get to live on the most gorgeous harbour in the world.
-In which country and city are you living now?
I have no fixed address really. My partner and I spread our time between NZ, Australia, Japan and the Philippines. In the Philippines, we live in Lipa City in Batangas province, however we previously lived in Ortigas, Metro Manila when my partner managed a call centre. We are now both self-employed, so we roam freely.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I have lived in the Philippines alone in a rural townhouse in a relatively safe military precinct, I have lived with my partner's family in Lipa City, as well as with my partner in Ortigas when she worked there. I leased the townhouse for a year or so for just USD140/mth but the neighbours made so much noise when they turned the adjoining house into a pig feed factory operating 18 hours a day, as well as leaving cocks (i.e. roosters) there which caused sleepless nights. An idylic place turned to mayhem.
-How long have you been living in the Philippines?
I lived in the Philippines for almost 2 years; now I tend to spend the southern hemisphere winters there.
-What is your age?
I am 42 years old, though immigration is suspicious because I look 28yo.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in the Philippines?
After I broke up with my Japanese GF in Japan I met my Filipino GF online. I went back to Australia, but 5 months later I moved to the Philippines to get to know my Filipino partner. It's been a wonderful relationship for almost 5 years. She is pretty much as she said, and Google Chat was a great was of protecting myself before I met her, and she met me, because its real-time and it gives you a chat history in Gmail which I can use to confirm her integrity.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
The Philippines probably offers the most generous visa conditions since foreigners can stay in the country for up to 18 months before they have to leave the country, and you can come straight back. You’d probably want an overseas holiday anyway. This means you can effectively stay as long as you want, though it will cost $30/mth as a tourist. If you get married it's cheaper of course, but for keeps.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I have never seen the need for medical insurance in the Philippines, although I am still young. The private medical hospitals in the Philippines offer a very high standard of treatment, with many US-trained doctors. In fact my partner's brother is a US-trained doctor. Very good bed-side service at Medical City in Pasig City, Manila. It is better if you know a trusted local Filipino, otherwise you will pay more.
-How do you make your living in the Philippines? Do you have any type of income generated?
I am a trader-writer-investor. I sell eBooks online and invest my savings (stocks and property). I think it's hard to get a job in the Philippines for cultural reasons unless your background is in call centres or you are a trained economist, you might have an opportunity at the ADB. There are cultural insecurities, so unless you plan to run/own a business, you will struggle to find work, and a salary you would be happy with. You might find an opportunity in the international companies as a high-level executive.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I would love to learn the local language if I had the time, but who does. I wanted to learn Japanese when I lived there 3 years. The problem of course is the opportunity cost. It makes more sense to ask my GF what people are saying. She is a smart girl able to give me a lot of insights on the culture.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss certain things only. Australian beaches, fresh fruit & vegetables, particularly things like nectarines and mandarins. I miss the sound of eucalyptus trees leaves rustling in the wind, and birds, the clean air. In many ways I miss Japan as well, so keen to go back there, for the nature & sports there too.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I have many plans ibcluding writing more philosophy-related books, establish a political party, improve my website, and engage in a number of online businesses.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I bought a foreclosed house in Japan a few years ago and my GF and I have recently bought some land in the Philippines. We bought foreclosed property near the main highway in Lipa City at the right time. We bought 2 farm lots and 1 subdivision lot. Our next purchase will probably be a beach lot.
-What is the cost of living in the Philippines?
The cost of living in the Philippines is ok. Being a foreigner you pay the prices you would tend to pay in the West because you are buying through a supermarket chain. You will pay P4000 to P30,000/mth for an apartment/townhouse depending on whether you live in the countryside or city. You can buy vegetables from rural markets for far far less, i.e. Green beans were P200 for 10 kilograms. Several bangus (fish) for P100. You will always get better prices if you buy through a Filipino. Most know they can charge you a lot more.
-What do you think about the Filipinos?
Well there is no one type, but I like educated, thinking people with life experiences, so it’s usually expat Filipinos, but there are some impressive locals as well. It is an international community now, so a lot of them relate to their expat family, or maintain a lot of cultural ties with the West. Locals are friendly and polite, even if it's superficial desire for money. I don't much relate to the sense of entitlement in the country and the self-indulgence that generally overrides personal goals and organisation. The society is divided....most people don't have a culture of saving and investment. Its spend, spend...so they are always looking to sell off land that has been in the family for hundreds of years...with no thought for the consequences. Many property owners have land taxes outstanding for over a decade. The local govt does not collect because it would lose the election.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in the Philippines?
The positive aspects are: Beautiful places and people, great nightlife, relaxed life. The Western world is over-regulated by statutory law. The Filipinos have a more common sense approach, even if common law is under-funded.
The negative aspects are: Shopping malls dominated by the same generic franchises, oily/sweet food, lack of food variety, unthinking religion. It is better in Manila, but more polluted. My ears get sore from the toxins. You do get used to it. No trees, no parks in most cities. So its a cultural experience.
Travelling around the Philippines there are some beautiful places like Bohol, Boracay (not been for a while though), Samar, etc.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in the Philippines?
It's important to have a trusted relationship in the country based on respect. My partner & her family have made living in the Philippines a joy. Stay away from partners 20 years your junior and bar girls; ambition and religion do not mix.
I like Lipa City because its close to beaches and city, but also because its a little elevated, so cooler than a lot of places, but without the constant 'cloud forest' which makes a place like Tagaytay very wet. Places like Pampanga are very hot; Manila is polluted, though that is where the best shopping and restaurants are to be found. Otherwise its the resort places like Boracay which appeal, but Cebu might be a good alternative as well, and possibly the slower pace of Davao in the "Catholic" South. The "Muslim" South is still considered a risk for foreigners.
PS: Personally, I believe the Mindanao Muslims have been unjustly marginalised by the Philippines government, and should be granted greater autonomy.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about the Philippines?