An important part of making the decision to move to a foreign country is to weigh the pro’s and con’s. It is a different weighting system for most individuals. What one person sees as a good thing, somebody else might cringe at the thought.
Over the years, I have had a tendency (like many bloggers do) to try to be upbeat and put a positive spin on life and living in the Philippines. The “More Fun in the Philippines” mantra! Well, now that I have spent over 4 years living here, I feel I am qualified to submit to some honest objectivity and spell out some of the contrasts to living in paradise, at least from my perspective.
Here I will offer some ideas why some people probably should not move to the Philippines.
To anyone over the age of 50 (or those with pre-existing conditions), this is probably the most important topic of interest that can be detrimental to the enjoyment of life in the Philippines. If you already suffer from a chronic illness, you should evaluate your needs and research the availability of medical attention you will need living here. Certain medications are tough to find or can be really expensive. And then, that same medication you have been buying one day can be out-of-stock or no longer available.
Health insurance is not that portable, so to assume you will be covered in the Philippines is not wise. It is also a good idea to check out Philippine based insurers if you feel you need coverage. Typically, if you need emergency care, many hospitals require upfront payment before certain services can be performed. Many clinics and hospitals are not up to Western standards and some are simply filthy (from a sanitary standpoint). Facility medical equipment is poorly maintained and in some cases, doesn’t even work. Ambulatory services – forget it… almost non-existent. In areas where ambulatory services are available, think traffic! I personally have known two expats to go into the hospital (fairly healthy) and come out deceased. One of them became totally septic while hospitalized. I believe the other person also died from sepsis.
There is also a big difference between public hospitals and private hospitals. There is much to be considered within the realm of medical care here, so be prudent and do your due diligence BEFORE you make the decision to come live here. While some larger more well-known hospitals in the major metropolitan areas like Manila and Cebu have some excellent medical services and care, the more provincial areas can be lacking to non-existent.
Have you ever been to Central Florida or Houston, Texas in the mid-summer? (I can only speak to these particular sultry locations as a comparison.) The Philippines can be like Orlando on steroids when it comes to heat and humidity. While there are noticable climate differences in the Philippines, it is mostly HOT and HUMID. This is the biggest obstacle to living here… comfortability Some people actually make a living walking the streets selling “sweat towels.” Even during the evenings when things cool off a little, without any wind flow, it is still almost unbearable. Forget sleeping without air conditioning or a fan. Might as well just stay awake.
A blog reader once sent me this question: “How long will it take to acclimate to the weather there?” As I pondered his question, I remembered the day prior when I seen three elderly Filipinas sitting on a bench during the evening fanning themselves like there was no tomorrow. My reply to him… “Never!” If you are sensitive to a high heat index, then, the Philippines (or the tropics) are not for you.
A friend once asked me why I would “move to a country that experienced super typhoons, monsoon rains, rampant flooding, mudslides, earthquakes, and 37 volcanoes, of which 18 remain active?” My reply was “To get away from them damn tornadoes!” The Philippines is located on the Ring of Fire and sits in the Western Pacific’s typhoon alley. It is a country that suffers from multiple natural disasters every year, this year being no different from the year before, and the year before that, etc.
Just last month (July 6th, 2017) a shallow earthquake (7.5) on the island of Leyte left two people dead and over 100 injured. It also did some major damage to the regions electrical distribution system, knocking out power to some eight provinces in the Visayas. Estimates were that it would take 3 weeks or longer to restore power. I can remember the 27 day power outage caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, and life during those times (as a westerner) was not for the faint of heart. It was pure misery! It prompted me to find and purchase a generator to get through it all. Even with the Genset, it was still a struggle.
If you think you are a survivor, then okay. But disasters in this country can test a man’s inner strength. Few expats can get by on the inconveniences brought about by a disaster, many more suffer harshly. Those native folks who live here with no running water and basic electricity service… even they can be inconvenienced.
LANGUAGE AND SOCIAL.
Overall, people in the Philippines are very friendly. When you first arrive, you will connect with a few people, but creating a strong and trusting network will take time. You may make friends with a few expats like yourself, and there are some whom are not that social and can be reclusive. Although English is said to be widely spoken in the Philippines, some days you will struggle to even find someone just to converse with in your language. Contrary to what you hear, there are just as many people who DON’T speak English as those who do. And if you wind up living in the more provincial areas, even less English is spoken. You will make friends eventually, and unless you are a natural introvert, you will experience feelings of being detached and left out more often than not. If it weren’t for social media today and the ability to connect and have conversations online, some expats would go stir-crazy. When living in the Philippines, you eventually learn to live a detached and reclusive lifestyle.
There are also barriers to social and cultural relationships. Although I get along just fine with my wife’s family, there is still that cultural disconnect. It will always be there and there is not much you can do to change it. Some days, all you can do is scratch your head and think “why?” Then compound all this with a belief system that is purposed with a lack of trust (Filipinos are not trusting people) and superstition. You will need thick skin to endure it all.
Bottom line here: YOU will be the one that needs to adapt, they WILL NOT. Learn to speak their language and learn their culture. Note that I did not say “understand” their culture, but just to have some idea will help get you by.
There is crime such as burglaries, pickpockets, robberies, etc., just like anywhere else in the world. Most of that type crime is opportunistic. More serious violent crimes tend to be more Filipino on Filipino, resulting from underlying causes related to jealousy, humility, and politics (along with heavy alcohol indulgence and gambling). Staying out of politics and away from Filipino drama can keep you safe. For the most part, foreigners are not the target of more serious crimes unless they subject themselves to it.
Of course, there are the terror groups (and claimed ISIS affiliates) that can target foreigners, kidnap for ransom and cause one harm, but they are mostly in the southern Philippines, mainly operating on the island of Mindanao (although recently, groups have been operating as far north as Bohol and Cebu). Personal awareness is of utmost importance as a foreigner does stick out here like a rotten mango on an empty tree. You must learn to utilize that third eye at all times. Come to the Philippines to relax and enjoy life? Sometimes there are some things can get in the way of living a more simple lifestyle, relaxation or enjoyment of life. Constantly watching your back is not something some folks would consider being in a relaxing environment.
You will see homes with high walls topped with barbed wire, spikes or shards of glass. All a deterrent to illegal trespass. You will also see most homes with bars across the windows… again, designed to keep people honest. You will see gun-toting security guards almost everywhere… from banks to fast food restaurants. Remember that the Philippines has a high incidence of poverty and that fact alone provides for an increased opportunity for some crimes including petty theft. Consider this: some people will do almost anything to eat or feed their family.
Imagine going into a restaurant to eat. You read the menu and place your order. 15 minutes later, the waitress returns to your table to inform you that your order is out of stock. It happens all the time. I once ordered my regular ham-egg-cheese omelette for breakfast only to be told well after the fact “Sorry sir, omelets are out-of-stock.” Upon interrogating my waiter, I eventually learned that the only thing out-of-stock was one lowly ingredient… mushrooms (and I don’t care much for mushrooms to begin with!). My patience was already worn thin that day and out of frustration, I demanded him to make me an omelette without the frigging mushrooms!
You will also get the “out-of-stock” response for reasons other than being out-of-stock, i.e., they either do not understand you or they do not want to engage in English conversation (makes a Filipino’s nose bleed so they joke). Some times there is this tendency to avoid foreigners over fear of conversation, rather than try to be helpful.
Communicating in the Philippines can be frustratingly difficult which results in things NOT being done right. From the construction of something to services rendered, somebody will undoubtedly misunderstand seemingly simple instructions and screw it up. Remember, what might seem simple to you can be quite complex to those that are not proficient in a foreign language. One day I had two air conditioning service guys come to the house to service and clean our two units, and because of a miscommunication, they came to work with no tools! And once, I charged a roofing installation crew P100 rent for the use of MY ladder so they could get access to the roof (they paid!). Some of the tools I previously imported have been lost or destroyed through neglect because there is no sense of care or accountability.
Filipino Time… that would take up entirely too much time to discuss here. Oh, wait… I already wrote about that… Real Filipino Time Scenario. And traffic and driving? That is worthy of its own publication.
If you “Expect” something, prepare to be frustrated. It is that simple. Things may sometimes seem as screwed up as a football bat and, if you have a low tolerance for what you perceive as ignorance, you best stay in your home country. If you still want to come live here, you will need an attitude adjustment or a frontal lobotomy. Frustrations here can lead to yelling that leads to public embarrassment that leads to humiliation that leads to revenge. Remember that.
SPIDER AND SNAKES AND CREATURES, OH MY! Depending on where you come from, you may or not be familiar with many of the things that come out at night. Oh, and they come out during the day time too! Giant spiders, extremely poisonous snakes (pit vipers and cobras), large monitor lizards, and deadly mosquitos (carriers of dengue and malaria), killer wasps and a varied selection of homicidal sea life (sea snakes, Stonefish, fire urchins, box jellyfish, etc.). Then there are falling coconuts! (Never string your hammock between “un-harvested” coconut trees!)
So, these are just a few of the reasons the Philippines might not be right for you, and by no means is this an all-inclusive list. In my opinion, the most important barriers to long-term living in this Republic are chronic medical issues and an inability to maintain a positive attitude in the face of the country’s perceived intrinsic inefficiencies.
I hope to expound on this article over time adding more of the inconvenient truths of living in the Philippines to this blog. If there is anything my readers would like to add, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or via PM on my Facebook page Retired in Samar and I will share it with all.
Thanks for visiting.