Is the Philippines the right country for you to live?
I have lived 3 years and 3 months in the archipelago of 7107 islands. I have seen a lot, visited many places and learned a lot. I lived among Filipinos and I think it is fair to say I can write a review from an experienced foreigners’ point of view.
Many people wonder about the Philippines and retiring there, or moving to the Philippines and building a business. I was one of them. Yet I have decided the Philippines is not for me.
The rules and cultural habits in the Philippines are very different from your home country and probably the culture will baffle you at times. It is weird doing business with people that nod yes and say no and who smile while they dislike you secretly. And the bureaucracy and corruption are things you have to be able to deal with.
There is a lot of outdated information on the Philippines available on the internet and I got fooled by some of it. The Philippines is a country moving forward (although sometimes it feels like it moves backward) and tries to catch on with modern society, but in ASEAN (A kind of EU for Asia) the position of the Philippines is weak, the peso is declining per week and new tax laws make things expensive.
When I lived there the government changed to the rule of President Duterte and he does not seem to get the decline of his country under control, on the contrary, the gap between rich (Manila and Davao based privileged land and business owners) and the middle class and poor people get bigger by the day. And that does something with the atmosphere in the country. Although there is a lot of positive propaganda about President Duterte and the changes he makes, in reality not much is happening, he is barely scratching the surface when it comes to a financial balanced well thought through govern of this so divided and poor country.
I was told before I got here that Filipinos are polite, service-minded, clean, and civilized. I found a country that is self-centered, a huge money grab and highly polluted. And there is a growing intolerance towards foreigners that sometimes can be explained as hatred.
So before you move to the Philippines, do consider if this is the right country for you to start a new life.
Let me start at the beginning of your journey:
Why choose the Philippines?
Many people, mostly men, but more and more women follow them, choose the Philippines because of the affordable way of living. And that is a good choice. Although the prices are rising every month, it is still affordable to live here. And depending on where you decide to rent a house you can live from a basic income as low as 650 US$.
But that will not get you a comfortable lifestyle though, and when you do get sick bills add up easily. Please note that that estimate is for a very rural area, with little shops, infrastructure, and entertainment.
Men come here in the hope to find the love of their life in a Filipina beauty. And the Filipinas are more and more drawn to Asian men like Korean and Chinese, who have much more money to spend. Love here is based on economic improvement and a better social and economic position for the whole family.
You have to keep in mind that in a country that suffers under a huge teen pregnancy, and a widespread obese problem due to all the affordable fast food it will be hard to find a beautiful girl that has not a few kids stashed away at some family members house.
Due to the huge amounts of sugar consumed in the Philippines on a daily base (even bread and spaghetti is sweet), your loved one will need a lot of dental work.
I have seldom seen so many rotten front teeth or molar-less chewing people as in the Philippines.
Visas in the Philippines
The Philippines is one of the easiest countries in the world to get a visa. There are not many questions asked at the border as long as you present a valid passport. Most countries get a visa upon arrival for 29 days. You can easily extend that visa up to 3 years before you have to do a so-called visa run.
And there seems to be a visa for every situation: re-entering the Philippines as a national, marrying a Filipino citizen, investors visa and permanent and temporary resident visas.
They are pretty affordable, although some may come with hidden fees. Like the tourist visa: if you stay longer than 6 months you have to get an exit clearance. And all holders of the obligated ACR Card need to sign up for the annual report.
And there is a travel tax you have to pay each time you leave after staying for more than a year.
Visas rules changed a lot over the three years I was in the country and so did the prices. And the Bureau of Immigration has stepped up in maintaining visa rules a lot. Was it very easy to enter at first, more and more people complain that it gets harder to ‘just enter on a tourist visa’ if you stay longer than 3 years, You have to have proof of sufficient income, and you are not allowed to work or start a business on a tourist visa.
Earning an income in the Philippines
Many people think they can own a business in the Philippines and many foreigners do. Renting out cottages or having a bar or even a resort is the main business. They all try to do it on a tourist visa.
It might be tricky because foreigners are not allowed to own a business all by themselves. There is a rule that the business should involve Filipino ownership. So a lot of them have a Filipino partner that has the land (rental or owned) and the business permit to their name.
And that includes trust. And I have seen many men being kicked out of their business after a while. Some even before the paint got dry on the newly built resort.
And when you do own a local business on a tourist visa, as many do, you may not be able to enter the country after your visa run, and you risk losing everything.
To own a business, or land to build a house, you need a retirement visa or an investors visa or you marry a Filipino citizen. But even then the business can only be partly yours. You can start a corporation in which you are the main shareholder of the property, but that comes with an annual payment to all corporation members.
Again, the government websites will give you the best information on the latest rules and requirements.
When opening a business in the Philippine you have to be creative. Many open a sari-sari store but they are not so profitable anymore, as are eateries. Pig farms still are big business as are fish ponds, but there are so many already, that it might be wise to invest in another more sustainable business.
The supply lines in the Philippines are very different from what you know about supply lines in your home country for example and you definitely need an accredited accountant to do your taxes. And can you trust your accountant in a third world country? Even writers of the best business concepts for the Philippines and plenty ‘survival guide’-writers out there that warn people about being scammed are scammed at some point themselves and although they might seem to know all, they are just as vulnerable as you are.
Filipino law will always favor the Filipino, that is how the law is, and court cases can drag on endlessly and absorb so many finances that you might as well start over again from scratch elsewhere when it comes to a dispute.
Handing over your business permit in the hands of your loved one whom you just found on the internet, might not be a wise thing to do, for Filipinos have a different way of handling money. They see 100 pesos and spend easily 200 or more. It is normal here. You cannot even blame her. All you need to do is teach her to handle finances properly and keep a close eye.
Make sure that your dream does not become a nightmare. Do not rush into things and have a lot of patience when it comes to applying for the right visa and setting up a business with Filipinos. Do get to know them and let them get to know you before working together. I have seen too many foreigners being kicked out of a business they build op under the ownership of a partner and left with nothing.
Working for a Filipino company is not allowed unless that company gives you a work permit, they have to apply for your visa and work permit. But on average the wages are so low here that it may not be enough for you to live comfortably. Minimum wages vary from district to district and in a rural area, people earn 150-300 pesos per day. In the cities that amount is slightly higher. There is a Filipino law on minimum wages, but in daily life, only a few business-owners apply that rule and working conditions are harsh.
Is it safe in the Philippines?
Let me start by saying that where I lived, I never locked a door. The community watched over each other, and plenty of dogs to bark when a stranger arrived.
Yet, in the last few weeks, I felt less safe than ever before in the 3 years of my stay.
The Philippines is not more unsafe or less unsafe than any other country in the world. You just have to keep a few things in mind:
You are a foreigner, and in the eyes of a Filipino a foreigner is rich, so you can be an easy target
You are vulnerable by law in the Philippines, a dispute will always settle in favor of a Filipino if it comes to that, under the reign of the new president more and more Filipinos take matters in their own hands and settle disputes in a violent way.
There are definitely ‘no go areas’ in the Philippines, like the Sulu Islands. Your government’s foreign department will have a listing of those areas.
Information on the internet about Filipinos being all welcoming and friendly is outdated. Filipinos have met the world through the internet and it is in many people’s nature to want it all and want it now and without a lot of effort. So the scams are flourishing and the intolerance towards foreigners is rising. With prices going up and foreigners buying all the land, the Filipinos form an opinion about us, and the attitude of a lot of foreigners behaving badly in this country is feeding the masses.
I have gotten ‘the eye’ (a deadly stare) on many occasions, and people are plain right rude, even in public. They easily push you off the road, enter your private space on the beach just to make sure you get the message: it is their beach and not yours.
Not all do so, but it is a fast-growing attitude and becoming more obvious. The whites are ‘out’ and the Chinese and Koreans are welcomed in.
Do not expect them to welcome you with music and dance.
The days you are welcomed in homes and in families without any second agenda are gone. People will look at you on how they can get the most out of you.
Especially in the tourist areas prices are scandalous high for foreigners and without the blink of an eye they raise your price with a few 100 pesos while the Filipino in front of you paid less. When you confront them with it, they have a quick excuse about transport cost, fuel prices, and tax raise as if that happened in a split second.
There is also a group of Filipinos that blame the foreigners for the price raises and overlook the good influence we have on their economy and the bad decisions of their President.
And you are not to criticize the Filipinos, they can’t stand it. They will openly attack you and yell that you should go home if you do not like it, or ignore you completely even if you are next in line.
I have seen it happen to those standing up for their rights in stores and bus stops and even in simple conversations. The atmosphere turns in a split second from friendly to intolerance. The president himself, in multiple of his famous speeches, told us, foreigners, to shut up or leave, and not to criticize the country’s manners.
All this change in attitude can lead to a feeling of being unwelcome. I just got so tired of being looked upon as a walking ATM, as a problem solver for the endless bills and as the cause of the high prices. But also the road rage I encountered while doing my road trips, Every Filipino owns an SUV even those that got their (easy to obtain) drivers license through a fixer and there are simply no rules, it is the law of the strongest and not even the fastest on the road. Honk your horn and people will go to the side. And you easily drive in 4 lane traffic on a 2 lane street. SUVs, Ceres Busses they drive like mad, no speed limits and there is an attitude towards foreigners that makes it deadly dangerous out there.
Some rules on safety:
avoid ATM’s in quiet places and out of sight from a guard.
don’t visit the ATM after dark, use one in a Mall instead
don’t flash money or valuables in public, avoid the suggestion you are really really rich
split the cash you carry, a few hundred pesos here and a few there, and some small money in your pocket
be patient, polite and keep your voice and head a bit down
do not get involved in money lending, giving a loan in this country means for them you gave it to them as a gift and they will never pay you back, even if they keep telling you they will. If you borrowed money from them, they will charge you huge interest and payback does not always involve the end of the payments.
When you sell something to a Filipino of value, have a deed of sale and have it notarized. That makes it a legal document that gives you some security.
rent a house in a decent area with other expats or in a gated area. If not, have bars on all the windows and proper lock, if you live rurally have a guard dog, and be friendly to your neighbors
When people ask you for money, be empathic, but firm in your refusal. But think with them in a solution, if they seem to be stuck. I found out that a family looking at me for money owned a prime location land in the town near the highway, we set up a rental contract with a foreigner that was looking for land. Now they have a steady income for many years. Although they still send me occasional money requests through Facebook, even now I have left the country. Drop by a few days later with some groceries. When you are dating in the Philippines, do not mistake the family’s kindness and curiosity towards you and your income for genuine interest. They are weighing your value for upcoming bills. Simple as that! I have never met a Filipino that does not think ‘money’ when he sees a foreigner.
Managing finances while living in the Philippines
I wrote some articles on this website about opening a bank account in the Philippines. With the rapid devaluation of the peso that might not be the wisest thing to do. But if you want to invest, you have to. I found BDO to be the best bank with a good internet banking app. But that is my personal choice
Getting money into the Philippine is not a problem, getting it back out is rather complicated for Banco Sentral has strict policies on money transfer out of the country and the banks are not so flexible as you might think
My son and I transferred a lot of Euros to our Peso account (big mistake because of the weakening peso!!). The initial idea was to invest in a business in the Philippines. But we changed our minds and now we have the unpleasant task of transferring all the money back to Europe. We opened a BDO Online Peso Savings Account after receiving our first ACR-iCard, proof of long stay in the Philippines, and we received a BDO Mastercard, a debit card ... Read More
I would never ever rely on one account and only a Filipino bank account, I always have Paypal on the side and kept a Dutch bank account. Although Financial borders are closing more and more and for example Dutch banks do not allow people living abroad in Asia to have a Dutch bank account anymore, it is worthwhile to work around that rule with a family member or an accountant, or even a postal address to keep some finances secure out of the weakening economy and bank position in the Philippines.
In the Philippines, you mainly use cash anyway. So the only reason you need a Filipino account is to get easy access to your cash and cut back on international transaction costs.
Bank rules have changed since I came to the Philippines and it is not so easy for a foreigner to open a bank account here anymore, most banks require a TIN number (Local Tax number) which is not given to those on a tourist visa. But since every branch here is an institute of its own and ruled by the local manager, they might be willing to help you.
Why did I leave the Philippines?
I loved the Philippines, nature is gorgeous and the possibilities to travel seem endless. The country has a huge diversity in landscape and I loved the patience in which the people worked the land and crafted bankas
But the growing hostility towards non-Asian foreigners, the increase of karaoke in the neighborhoods and the endless need for Filipinos to make noise, preferably with a loud base that is heard from miles away, vibrating through your house. The endless pro-Duterte propaganda, the growing lawlessness of the country with a police force that does next to nothing and has little power, and the endless corruption of a country that says it wants to move forward but preferably does that over another person’s investment was bothering me more and more.
The increase in pollution. Packs of wild scabies dogs roaming around eating from garbage that seems to be everywhere, barking and fighting all night, even in the cities like Dumaguete.
The Philippines deteriorated before my eyes. And it got to my happy feelings. I started to lose the balance between contentment and irritation. Talking to other expats living there for years, they confided in me they felt trapped, having all their money tied up and family ties, they could not leave. Or others spending more and more time abroad only returning to check on their business, it worried me to see that. As for me, the Filipino culture is an incomprehensible thing for me, I really could not stand the greed, the social classes, the silent treatment when you do something they don’t like, the avoidance among each other that give the strongest all the rights and pushes the weaker citizens even more backward.
I could no longer ignore the endless pollution, the tons of plastic and filth by the side of the roads and on the beaches.
I could no longer ignore the fact that this countries government does not have the ability to learn how to deal with wastewater and garbage from other countries, how they can claim to be CO2 neutral while the air pollution is so massive that your snot is black.
I could no longer deal with the people living in cardboard boxes next to wealthy Filipino houses and being okay with that vice versa.
I could no longer deal with the endless bureaucracy anymore and the growing rudeness in the streets. The ignorance for their own behavior and the total narcissism that rules daily life here, also among Filipinos
I could no longer deal with the fast-growing tourism that brings multitudes to the once empty beaches while this country cannot even handle its own waste and electricity and water supply, let alone all the strain tourism puts on a developing countries infrastructure.
I could no longer handle the constant noise pollution that is increasing day by day, or the fact that whenever a foreigner builds a house, the neighbors open a karaoke bar, so it seems, I have seen it happen in many locations.
The Philippines is a gorgeous country, and when experiences are balanced I can have a great time living in a country like the Philippines. For I love the nature, the beaches (when they are clean) and the crystal clear water (when no sewers are emptied in them)
Believe me, it is a country where some can live forever in peace and that drives others away because they cannot stand it, just like in our home countries I guess. It is a matter of personality and choices you make. And I made a choice to leave after more than three years of beautifully and dangerous road trips, living in the most amazing houses and meeting tons of people I did love and that did capture my heart.
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Jeanette, a Dutch female nomad, started to travel the world at the age of 17. Walker of beaches, shell searcher and iPhone photographer. Writer and owner of two websites
Currently, she lives in Mexico.
She is an emigration coach and works online.