DO NOT move to the Philippines…

… IF you have not prepared yourself for what will possibly be one of the biggest challenges of your life. The decision to move to the Philippines is definitely one of the biggest decisions you will ever make, next to buying a home or getting married. If you have never lived (or just vacationed) here, you first need to understand that life here can be different, much different. It can be downright difficult.

On the surface (by vacationing here or by reading a few blogs) you can be fooled into thinking life here will be grand and easy (cheap is another topic!). After all, it’s a westernized society, everyone speaks English, McDonalds, etc, etc., right? Not so fast! There are day-to-day challenges here that all expats will struggle with (some more than others), yet many of these challenges are never sufficiently addressed before making that big decision. Many times, major issues or personal conflicts are not even recognized until well AFTER the Honeymoon is over… which leads to a major question:

“How long does the Honeymoon last?”

While that is not a trick question, the answer is as elusive as a cockroach on a Polvorón high. For a select few, the honeymoon never ends (these are a special breed of people). For many others, the honeymoon begins to wither after the first 30 days. That’s when reality begins to set in.  When one first vists the Philippines, it feels like the world has slowed to a crawl and that maybe you have just taken a step back in time. In many ways, you will find that societal norms in the Philippines have not evolved at the same pace as most other parts of the word, so in essence, it is like stepping into the past. While it may be surreal, it’s definitely not utopian.

Some expats do learn to accept things the way they are, and some don’t.  David Knox, internationally renowned sales trainer and keynote speaker, affirms that “Some get it, some don’t. Some will, some won’t. Those that do, do. Those that don’t, don’t.”  Those expats that don’t are the same folks you’ll hear bashing the Philippines every chance they get (“The Complainers”), complaining about everything under the tropical sun.

Commonly referred to as the “Ugly Expat,” some will eventually leave, and some won’t. It has been claimed over time (in several forums) that the average expat will last 3 to 4 years living in the Philippines before bailing out and moving back home. I’m not sure how that number came into being, but it seems consistent with everything I’ve read and witnessed first-hand (my experience anyway).

It Is What It Is! (Bahala na).

Recently I ran across an article about pollution. Anybody that has been in this country long enough is full aware of the problems Filipino society has with littering and pollution. It is one of those things that many foreigners have come to accept as a societal norm while living here. Most of us cringe at the sight of it all, but we are generally and utterly helpless in changing the course of this ugly ship. The best result we can hope for is in providing encouragement to those proactive locals who attempt to tackle this enormous problem. The amount of pollution in this country can be really unsettling to many, and can be just one of the many drawbacks to living here. If one can turn a blind eye to it all, they will not have a problem living in the Philippines.

The trash and pollution is just one of a myriad of… lets call them cultural drawbacks… that can detract from the easy-going lifestyle that is “living in the Philippines.” While on the surface the Philippines looks to be a progressive, up-and-coming westernized Southeast Asian country, the cultural pitfalls still permeate society… and they are deeply engrained. And while “up-and-coming” is what many expats hope to find when they settle here, they reject the very idea that progress here can literally be only a state of mind. In the 6 years that we have been living here, the only progress we have seen is on the capitalistic front – new stores, restaurants, resorts… commercialism and big ideas! And if one does a little more research they will find that the Chinese and Koreans are really a big driving force in the country’s commercialization and expansion. Culturally speaking though, there has been little change.

Mae West once said “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” But the Chinese put a different spin on it – “Too much of something can harm you.” (You might recall that line from the movie The Karate Kid.) This Chinese idiom effectively translates to: “When things reach an extreme, they can only move in the opposite direction.”  To put it in a slightly different context would be to say that too much of something can turn out to be bad. Ha, now I’m getting somewhere.

Karaoke in the Philippines
Despite the new laws, karaoke continues late into the night!


When anyone speaks about culturalisms here, what really is being talked about are the differences between our western cultures and Filipino culture itself. Please don’t misunderstand me here… Filipinos are wonderful and hospitable people who love having a good time. They relish the idea of getting together to sing, dance, and eat (maybe a little too much). There are plenty of good things about the culture such as their resiliency, religion, respect, strength of family, and how they value their own traditions and culture. But there are so many things that can offset the good – and cummulatively, it can all send a happy-camping westerner packing. A fellow forum commenter states that:
“Until Filipinos understand why the rule of law is so important, and the damage that continued corruption inflicts on this country and its reputation and, of course, its prospects for the future, the Philippines will continue to fall further behind other SE Asia countries and be the brunt of cruel jokes.
Unfortunately, the passive-submissiveness (of the Filipino) means the tiny population of wealthy/powerful Filipinos will continue to manipulate the masses and refuse to enforce the rule of law without fear of retribution from the seemingly ‘spineless’ Filipino overwhelming majority.”

If you were to Google “Filipino Culture” you would find a plethora of praise for the Filipino and the country’s culture. Then if you Google “Bad aspects of Filipino society,” you will be returned about 29 million results, and is likely where many westerners fail in not doing their due dilligence before making their decision to move to the Philippines.

Deal or No Deal?

How one deals with the (sometimes self-perceived) pervasive negative aspects of the culture greatly depends basically on two things; the standard of living they bring with them when they move here (expectations) AND their mindset. For example, if someone on a lower, fixed income arrives here and is forced to live a more “Filipino lifestyle,” the honeymoon will wear off much more quickly than say if one settled here with that same standard of living they are accustomed to in their home country. Personally, my wife and I could not live here without all the creature comforts we have evolved with over the last 30+ years living together… with some subtle differences of course. My wife cringes at the thought of having no running water while I would much rather have electricity. I can stand in the rain if I want to take a shower, but I need that fan more than anything else!

Aside from living with a disfunctional electrical power and water distribution systems, there is the day-to-day cultural experiences that can cause even the toughest expat to begin looking for his suitcase. I could fill the rest of this post with examples of the things I don’t like, but I will spare you (someone has already written all about it… 29 million times – Google). Personally, what we have done to alleviate some of these annoyances is that we have built our home inside a compound… one that protects our privacy (a big deal for most expats), our property, air quality, and most of all, our sanity. While we live in western-styled, air-conditioned comfort inside our compound, we still must deal with the noise, roosters, un-muffled motors, sqeeling pigs and late-night karaoke. If you want to eliminate all of that, then gated subdivision living is what you will require.

In short, if you want to live a happier and less stressful life in the Philippines, you’d best bring along your western accomodations… or at least enough money to create the living standard you desire – for your own sanity. You might even want to take up Yoga or start practicing some Transcendental Meditation. And don’t pack an abundance of expectations!

And if you have done all your homework and still decide to move to the Philippines, make sure you leave any western bad-attitude behind (if you should happen to possess one). Because nobody wants to hear it… again!

About the author: Arel (Filipino for R.L.) first arrived in the Western Pacific in 1974, and has been coming and going ever since. He and his filipina wife of 33 years now share residency and travel between the Philippines and the island of Guam. He pulls no punches when he blogs about life, liberty, and happiness under the tropic sun, all the while Living in the Pacific… the Western Pacific – One Day at a Time!

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2 thoughts on “DO NOT move to the Philippines…

  1. Kudos! I totally enjoyed this. Truth in so many ways. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do..’ Life will be much much more acceptable. Great article!

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