Now Sharing Our Retirement Locations
We moved to the Philippines 6 years ago to the day (Jul 3, 2013). And because my wife still possessed a Green Card (permanent) at that time, it was necessary to make regular trips back to U.S. soil every year to protect her immigration status. In 2016, she was finally challenged by airport Immigration officials on Guam as to the location of her actual residence. She was informed at that time that if Immigration suspected that she was living outside the country (U.S.) and using her Green Card for access purposes only, then she would be found to be in violation of current immigration statutes and could possibly have her card revoked. The kind Immigration official let her pass that time.
With no guarantees that she would be allowed to pass Immigration next time, we made the decision that Teri should finally obtain her U.S. citizenship so we set up residence here on Guam. Now we spend more time here, traveling back and forth to our Philippine home more often, and will continue to do so until such time as her U.S. residency becomes re-established. I have written about this previously also mentioning another positive reason in obtaining her U.S. passport was to make international travel more easy for us (traveling on a Philippines passport is restrictive and cumbersome for most 1st world countries). Why she never accomplished her citizenship in her first 27 years while in the U.S. is beyond the scope of this post, and the way we must do it now is to meet the current residency requirements prior to her application. With the current emphasis placed on immigration issues by the Trump Administration, we realized she cannot drag her feet with her permanent Green Card any longer. It is time to ditch the card and get her a blue passport.
Calling Guam Home.
Now that we have been on the island of Guam (where America’s Day Begins!) now for going on two and a half years, we have come to really enjoy living here. So much so that we will likely keep our main residence here and our home in the Philippines will now be our vacation spot. We are making several trips to the Philippines annually, but now we always look forward to returning home to Guam with increasing anxiety. Guam possesses all the key elements of living in a tropical environment, and with many of the combined benefits found both in the Philippines and the U.S. – From culture to cusine – Guam is typically SE Asian in nature. Located only 1,500 miles east of the Philippines, it is not surprising that it is home to a large Filipino population. In fact, Filipinos are the second largest demographic on Guam next to the indigenous Chamorro people. As of the last census, the Chamorro population comprised 37.3% of the total population, while Filipinos numbered 26.3% and caucasians came in at 7.1% of the total. Other significant demographic groups include Other Pacific Islanders (Palau, Chuuk, Ponepei, etc), Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. It is definitely the melting pot of the Far East.
Guam is an often-overlooked alternative for American retirees, despite its many benefits. Because it’s an American territory, English is spoken everywhere on the island, and its currency is the U.S. dollar. And, at least on the surface, much of the country’s culture and politics will seem familiar to many Americans, with a big pinch of Asian and Filipino culture thrown into the mix. There are sari-sari stores, karaoke bars, and filipino restaurants. There are Filipino celebrations held regularly. We even bowl in an all Filipino bowling league… well, except for two Chamorros, one Hawaiin, and this white guy!
What we like most about Guam is that we are able to enjoy that same SE Asian culture that we come to love about the Philippines, without all the drama and over the top corruption. Well okay, some drama. There is the family closeness of the people. There is resourcefullness and creativity, politeness and faithfullness of the people. There are all the smiling faces you come to expect living in the Philippines. There is the hospitality and fiestas! It is just an extension of all that found in the Philippines along with that same Spanish influence that makes Guam recognizable as an Asian nation. But there is this semblance of organization and rule of law not found in many parts of East Asia that is engrained into everyday living here… for example, normal driving rules and regulations apply. There is good, friendly customer service everywhere. There are defined working hours, and mandated hours of schooling. There is accountability. Even though you can probably get away with allot of menial infractions here, people tend to follow the law rather than not. Overall, Guam is a much more structured society than the Philippines.
Aside from the lower cost of living in the Philippines, most expats are originally drawn there for the very opposite reasons of those stated above… the lack of rules and regulations (un-enforced) – further perceived as having more freedoms and liberties. Living in the Philippines, if one wants to strap some pieces of 16-foot rebar to his motorcycle and drag it down the street through the city, it will happen and nobody will likely tell you otherwise (most places). If you want to get drunk at home and sing out-of-tune karaoke until 3am… again, usually no hassles, no problem. Those kinds of liberties are usually not tolerated very well on Guam, mostly because people here have jobs and are in that work-to-live mode. Here folks tend to respect their neighbors and appreciate (expect) a good nights rest.
Cost of Living?
One thing to note though is that Guam is more expensive than the Philippines. While many claim Guam has a lower cost of living than Hawaii and other places such as San Diego or Seattle, to retire here you will definitely need a higher level of income as compared to living in the third world. For those who might be paycheck challenged, I will note that there are jobs if you feel like working full or even part-time to help make ends meet! I know that is a nasty four-letter word for some, but I’ve seen many the expat retiree sit at home here while the Mrs. clocks in-and -out earning a supplemental income (all the while qualifying for Social Security).
If you happen to be a military retiree, you can use the island’s military shopping privileges at the base exchanges and commisaries. You can also utilize the VA clinic and the Military Treatment Facility (Naval Hospital) if eligible. Retirees in Guam can use both American and Guam-based insurers – including Medicare – to cover their health care costs. All major medical services are available at both of Guam’s hospitals, which are certified and accredited by several federal agencies in the U.S. Here it is not uncommon though to see many islanders head to the Philippines for out of pocket medical procedures like cataract surgery or dental work because of the lower costs.
Just last week, my wife and I were scouting out some condominiums in the Angeles City area of Luzon and found a nice (but small) 2BR place with a rooftop pool (similar accomodations to what we currently enjoy). The rental price was P74,000 per month or about $1,450 usd. Anyone who could afford to pay that amount of rent in the Philippines could definitely live on Guam for less, and enjoy better overall living conditions, infrastructure, and amenities. Comparably speaking, our 2BR/2BA condo here on Guam (in the heart of Tamuning) features 66 sq. meters of living area, a western style galley kitchen, large rear balcony overlooking two swimming pools, tennis courts, BBQ pavilions, yard and garden area, and laundry facility and costs $1,300 per month (with free hot water!) Our unit is centrally air-conditioned and our electricity averages about $125 per month (.25 cents per KWH). And while food costs here are higher in comparison to the Philippines, if you enjoy eating fish, chicken and pork, and can eat like a Filipino, you can get by more frugally, just as you would in the Philippines. There are local farmers markets where you can get your many veggies and fruits cheaper than in the larger grocery stores. Fresh/frozen fish in the grocery stores are very reasonably priced and there are also the local fisherman’s markets where you can pick your fresh catch daily.
All in all, you can live a very similar SE Asian lifestyle and with a much higher standard of living, but it will cost you a bit more. And you will enjoy cleaner air, normal driving practices, less crowded conditions and much more privacy, cleaner beaches, more recreational opportunities, bigger fiestas (weekends only), and NO public urination! If you like the outdoors, there is plenty to do… from long quiet walks on deserted beaches to parasailing and deep sea fishing, hiking, deer hunting, and golfing. When living on Guam, I guess you get what you pay for… or whatever it is that you can afford. And if you can’t afford much, at least you have plenty of peace and quiet… which comes at no additional cost!
If you would like to know more, please contact me and I’ll be happy to share more info and resources. The most current Guam Cost-of-Living chart I could find was this one which is current as of July 2019 (prices are not reflective of Exchange and Commissary prices which are substantially lower).
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