What does it take to live comfortably in the Philippines?

This definition varies person to person. Firstly are you looking to eat out regular or have restaurants on speed dial? If so city dwelling is probably the best solution as the further you head out the less opportunities there are for restaurants. Prime example Minglanilla that only really has the AA BBQ restaurant. It does have food stations and a few eateries but if your a foreigner you may struggle with the tastes and selection of a lot of localised dishes.

Then there is power cut issues. From my own experiences I believe you actually get less power cuts in the provinces. I know Mactan for example (where Cebu airport is) has been having up to 5 power cuts a day in the last few months. Minglanilla we have had 3 power cuts over 6 months.

City living throws up pollution and generally sub-division life is very compacted as lots are generally construction maximised which means that all that concrete builds up heat over the day. The airflow is minimal through the streets which means your Aircon bill will be a lot higher than that of living in the province. Example here I have no aircon on I am sat under a P300 fan and I don’t even feel hot. The other thing in the provinces if you build above ground level generally you get more airflow because most people build single level houses. So swapping a sitting room and bedroom over so you can sit upstairs during the day with the windows open you will find you get good airflow and a cheaper electric bill.

Condominium living is something I haven’t experienced but I do know from others that the aircon is on a lot as well as the fact bills are higher per Kw/h than out in the provinces. Although in a condominium you do have a lot of extra facilities you won’t get in a Sub division or provincial living. At the same time you are paying for those. Swimming for example out in the provinces you have resorts all over the place so going for the day generally costs P100 same goes for badminton, tennis. But there are always cheaper alternatives.

Screens and security bars are something I would say is pretty much a must on property. Even in a sub division. There was a case last year where a neighbour was breaking into an expat’s house regular to use things like the phone and steal his dog. So having good security is something the locals do so makes sense to take a note out of their book. The other thing is if you get the screens up and a nice rubber strip on your doors you won’t get cockroaches in the house which here they can be 2” long. As well as the mosquitoes are kept out you notice a huge difference in personal comfort levels because of being safe and secure from critters and burglars in the house because your not itching at the same time you can rest your mind at night.

ATM’s often get overlooked, for example our nearest one is about 4 miles away which isn’t really an issue but if your going up into the mountains there are enough problems getting fuel and water never mind picking up your pension every month. So its important to find where your ATM’s are and that they are in areas that are safe. No point picking your money up and getting robbed 5 minutes later because people are watching the ATM. Robinsons mall for us the ATM is inside a supermarket mall and in an area that isn’t very public.

Buying a vehicle isn’t needed. I am currently selling our Jeepy and multi-cab because of running costs. Simply its cheaper to use a taxi, I looked at the times we go out every month and the cost of maintaining and registering vehicles as well as fuel consumption and the figures don’t make any sense as to why bother owning a vehicle. I have though already bought a new scooter which is handy for going into the city as often its quicker than most local transportation. Public transport here is cheap and reliable you can literally stand at the side of the road and have a Jeepney bus stop for you and you will see at least one behind it and another in front of it in the distance its a constant flow of traffic. Only issue is when something like Sinulog is on and they become over laden at peak times. Best advice is if you want to watch Sinulog in Cebu rent a hotel room in advance and stop near the events you can avoid all the bustle of crowds and the problems of  trying to get out of it.

Do you need furniture? Best policy is rent someone furnished or unfurnished if your “STAYING” because the problem people have that I noticed is they buy a lot of furniture have financial problems or something else happen and need to downsize or go back to their home country. Big problem your furniture is virtually worth nothing because nobody here really wants to pay for anything Expat or local they want a bargain and they know you need to offload the goods. So if your renting try and get something semi-furnished. With the rental costs as well and the land ownership laws I would advise not buying a house either. Rent is cheap and you can move when the new neighbour has Karaoke at 3am every day or you find that a new sub-division is opening up nearby creating huge congestion because nobody bothers to increase the road to deal with the new traffic. If buying furniture I would be cautious of bamboo as it suffers with termites if not well treated and there are local timbers here that you should research. No point me writing anything about them because you need to be able to identify them locally. But they are termite proof.

Dealing with the ant invasion is a big problem that when you first arrive you will spend a lot of time trying to kill off its a part-time hobby of all new comers to the Philippines until they realise if you wipe out one colony another one arrives. Best case of action is deal with it when it gets more than an irritant e.g. Red ants that bite getting into your bed at night then you need to sprinkle some poison along their entry point until they get the message not to come there anymore. Black ants although annoying with a trail along the wall don’t bite and to be honest I have wiped out the majority of ant problems in the house except for one colony of red ants that seem to enjoy invading the sink until I attack them. Three days later they will be back again. Big part of the Philippines is realising you can’t beat the ants they are part of the neighbourhood.

Visa issues are one of the time consuming factors in the Philippines but there are people that will even do this for you for a small fee. I can recommend someone depending on where you relocate to as they do it monthly for other expats. I have a 13 (a) resident visa which only needs an end of year fee of a few hundred pesos but its because I’m married to April who is from the Philippines which gives me that privilege. You will have to play that one by ear as you may need to come to Mandaue regular to update your visa. They are also fussy on dress sense which is better to go long trousers (doesn’t matter if jeans) and a reasonable shirt (not basketball top) as otherwise they will make you wait outside when you could have been sat in an aircon waiting room.

So what should you bring? To be honest there aren’t many essential items you need but there are things I would bring because it makes sense. E.g. laptops they are rock bottom in price compared to the cost they are here in the Philippines if you buy them in the US. if you believe in Vitamins then send yourself a supply via Balikbayan boxes as well as yo
ur clothes as most of the guys here seem to be of a “larger” size you may find it difficult locating some clothes although the bigger stores like SM are accommodating. But why pay twice if you can wrap stuff you want to send inside your clothes for safety and it reduces your luggage weight. Razors and shaving foam quality is very poor here even though branded not sure why and they aren’t any cheaper than I pay in the west but where I would normally do one swipe for a shave it takes about 5 with the local razors. So sticking a few cheap packs in the box would also be something that gets round the problem. Voltage here is 220v so I wouldn’t advise bringing appliances unless you really needed them. But a lot of the goods here are more expensive and often quality isn’t as good. If your doing several trips over a transition period take a bit of time to look around and see what makes sense to bring. E.g. our house most of our kitchen appliances including a good bread maker come from the UK. I stick them in a Balikbayan box when I am working takes two months to get here but I know its going to work for at least a couple of years not a couple of weeks or days. The other thing though is things like cameras seem to hold value and I believe the price difference for a good camera in the U.S. is around 30% cheaper than I would pay here and obviously it would be guaranteed not to be a Chinese copy. So if your into photography that would be a good investment.

A quick summary….

Look at the location you want to live not as a tourist there for a few days but as someone who is going to be living there permanently.

Don’t bring too much stuff or buy what you don’t need as you may end up going back to the U.S. or other country if something goes wrong.

Don’t marry the first girl you meet. There is no rule saying you have to get married and settle down at all and its often after people get married that things start going wrong. Take your time if your wanting a relationship otherwise it could go very horribly wrong.

If you can do it in a transition period you will find it easier and less stressful.

Engage with a lot of expats as you will find you will filter people out very quickly and end up with a short list of people you can call friends. It does get frustrating at times purely because of they dynamics of the expats here.

2 comments for “What does it take to live comfortably in the Philippines?

  1. Jcjimc
    July 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Hi Matt- Excellent reference point for those wishing to come and live here. One exception to your advice we built our house in 2005 on land we purchased in the early 80's and it was the best thing we ever did as we have no rent to worry about per month. Another thing we shipped our sitting room furniture from the UK including TV, CD player and Sterio etc along with other items that we could not have got quality wise here and besides we would have got very little in the UK if we had tried to sell them.
    All our kitchen appliances also came from the UK including our dishes and cutlery etc.
    It's all about preference but when I look around our house it's like being back home in some respects only because we brought our personal effects with us so it was easier to settle in for us.
    Finally we budgeted for a new vehicle before we came here as living in the mountains requires us to have our own transport and we bought new rather than buy someone elses problems.
    I must confess living in a small town albeit only 20 mins drive away from CdeO has been a good choice for us as we have the best of both worlds.

  2. Tropicalpenpals
    July 3, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Hi Jim,
    as regards buying it all depends on circumstances. The post is in reference to a new comer on first trip. As personally I think people shouldn't buy if buying for at least 12 months once they have worked out the real costs of selling/buying and know they want to stay there permanently as well as being able to buy land/house as its often where a lot of expats lose the money (divorce). We own land here ourselves and will be expanding out over the next 5 years developing properties for the rental market. But at the same time if I had P4million I could retire here on it but if I bought a house with it there is the fact I am probably going to find it impossible or very difficult to sell it in an emergency, its not making me money and most of the housing market in Cebu is inflated. Your location also sounds like mine as I am not far from the SRP which is a quick run to the Malls or central Cebu at the same time its fairly quiet in our location and a lot less pollution.
    Vehicle wise its also an issue because getting a decent vehicle here is expensive at the same time its difficult to sell on at a good price. If someone is a new comer and living in the city spending P500k+ on a car would be better spent in taxi fares that's a fair few years of taxi rides and jeepneys. Unless like yourself you need the transportation. Personally I use a scooter as its cheap and reliable when April is going with me we use the bus or a taxi.