Are you thinking of retiring to the Philippines? I moved to this group of 7,107 islands with my beautiful Filipina wife over nine years ago. Aside from getting used to men peeing in public in broad daylight, there are other issues to deal with in this Southeast Asian “paradise.” Here’s my list of 10 Things You Need to Know before Moving to the Philippines.
10. UNRELIABLE INFRASTRUCTURE
If you’re used to having a reliable source of electricity 24/7 and 365 days of the year, the Philippines isn’t the place for you. In this year alone, 2018, we’ve had over 90 power outages, “brown outs” on the island province we live in, Guimaras. Those outages have amounted to over 40 hours without power thus far this year.
Since we live in a small rural province in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines, we don’t have to deal with big city traffic. We don’t have any trains such as Manila’s MRT’s (Metro Rail Transit) and LRT’s (Light Rail Transit) that are constantly breaking down.
Our biggest traffic problem in Guimaras is early Sunday morning when locals walk their cows and carabaos alongside the road on their way to the big Sunday bazaar at our New Site Market. Sometimes it’s difficult to see them in the early morning light as we make our way to Mass at the Trappist Monastery.
High speed Internet to access the World Wide Web? Forget about it. The Philippines is consistently ranked near the bottom of Internet speeds in Asia with war-torn Afghanistan taking the bottom spot.
Excited about a third telecom entering the Filipino market? Don’t be. A third telecommunications company was supposed to be aboard this past March 2018. However, the current duopoly of PLDT and Globe, who offer some of the worst telecommunications in the world, are unhappy with any competition and have blocked third party telecom efforts in the past.
9. MOSTLY CATHOLIC NATION
The Center for Global Education reports that the Philippines is the only Christian nation in Asia. More than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 6 percent belong to various nationalized Christian groups, and another 2 percent belong to well over 100 Protestant denominations.
In addition to the Christian majority, there is a 4 percent Muslim minority, concentrated on the southern islands of Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. Scattered in isolated mountainous regions, the remaining 2 percent follow non-Western, indigenous beliefs and practices.
How will that affect you, regardless of your religious or atheist beliefs? Well, be aware that during Christmas week and Holy Week, Easter, the Philippines virtually shuts down. Many government offices will be closed along with major retail outlets during certain days.
Also, the Philippines has the distinction of having the longest Christmas season in the world. The major malls, like SM Department Stores, begin playing Christmas music on September 1st, the first of the “ber” months.
Since the majority of Filipinos are Catholic, the Catholic Church has a major influence in politics, and the social and personal lives of everyone. In fact, the Philippines is the only country in the world that does not allow divorce and abortion is not legal. While I personally don’t have any issue with that, if you’re planning to retire to the Philippines these are facts that you need to be aware of. That said, adultery is also punishable by a term of up to six years in jail.
However, despite the religious conservatism in the country, many Filipinos have no problems with gays or transsexuals in the Philippines. “Ladyboys” roam the malls in force, something which surprised me at first because of the Catholic majority.
8. HOT, HUMID, & RAINY WEATHER
If you want to get a good night’s sleep during the summer months of April and May in the Philippines, then you might consider buying an air conditioner, air con.
We have two air conditioners, one in our master bedroom and one in our guest bedroom. Both units are standard Carrier units and one unit has lasted for over eight years without any problems. I did not purchase inverter air conditioner units because I’ve read too many horror stories about them. Frequent breakdowns and expensive repairs is what I’ve heard from other foreigners.
When we first moved to the Philippines, though we were in the middle of the rainy season, which is generally cooler, I had an extremely difficult time managing the heat and the humidity that first rainy season.
I was amazed by all the rainfall we had when we first arrived. And when it rains, it POURS! I have never seen such an onslaught of rain as I have witnessed here.
The rainy season is also the beginning of the typhoon season, and we have to switch to a safer dock when we travel to nearby Iloilo whenever a typhoon is present in the Philippines. At our new home in the Philippines, we used the air con during mid-April, May and early June in 2016. It added about another $20-$30 to our average monthly electric bill, which is usually around 4,000 pesos, or 80 US dollars. In 2017, we only used the air con twice.
This year, 2018, felt quite warmer than the previous year, and we operated the air conditioner a total of around nine days. However, with the advent of the rainy season last month, we’ve been cooling off with fans and sleeping fairly comfortably.
Here are some weather facts for our region in Western Visayas, Guimaras:
Dry Season-November to April
Wet Season-May to October
- No. of Rainy Days/Month: 16
- No. of Rainy Days/Year: 141 days
- Monthly Rainfall: 231 mm (9 inches)
- Monthly Temperature: 27.3 C, 81.14 F
- Maximum Temperature: 30.13 C, 86.23 F
- Minimum Temperature: 24.58 C, 76.24 F
- Monthly Relative Humidity: 87.08%
High temperatures in the summer months of April and May can easily reach over 37 degrees Celsius, 100 degrees Fahrenheit, until the rainy season starts sometime in May or early June. July can see up to 16 inches of rain. Combined with the humidity, conditions can become brutal during those summer months.
Four seasons? Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter do not exist in the Philippines. Baguio City affords more pleasant conditions. April is the hottest month in Baguio with an average temperature of 21°C (70°F); the coldest month is January at 18°C (64°F.) Baguio is located some 1,540 meters (5,050 feet) above sea level, nestled within the Cordillera Central mountain range in northern Luzon.
Nevertheless, if you don’t live in Baguio, be prepared to perspire profusely whenever you walk anywhere, and carry a handkerchief or small towel with you to wipe yourself down. My wife calls them a “sweat towel.” It takes but a few minutes for me to get drenched in sweat.
Taking a shower two or three times a day during the extremely hot weather months is not uncommon for me. My wife appreciates that practice.
7. DO YOU NEED TO SPEAK FILIPINO?
Wikipedia states that the 1987 Constitution declared Filipino/Tagalog as the national language of the country. Filipino and English are the official languages, with the recognition of the regional languages as auxiliary official in their respective regions (though not specifying any particular languages.)
Filipino is still, at its core, Tagalog (tah-gah-lawg and not tag-a-log.) Specifically, the standardized form of Tagalog spoken in Metro Manila.
In the over nine years I’ve lived in the Philippines, I’ve never found it difficult to find someone that speaks English. Most of the time my Filipina spouse accompanies wherever I go so I always have an “interpreter” close by.
I only know a few words of the local Hiligaynon (“Ilonggo”) language and several Filipino words and phrases. As I’m apt to tell anyone who asks if I know “Ilonggo” I always remark as follows: “I’m too old and I’m too lazy.”
Nevertheless, the use of English has deteriorated in the Philippines today. That’s the opinion of Manila Times opinion writer Yen Makabenta. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Makabenta.
As the Time’s columnist points out, English is the most used language in the world. There are many English-speaking people around the world. And they include the biggest democracy in the world, India, and the 12th most populous country in the world, the Philippines.
English is well-acknowledged as the most widely used language in the world. It is the language of business, and the Internet and air-traffic control, as well as much literature.
Makabenta goes on to say that Filipinos are an English- speaking people, one of the largest groups in the world. It is partly the reason why Filipinos are one of the biggest and most coveted overseas workers groups in the world today. It is the reason why Filipinos and Philippine society can easily converse with the world, and why Filipinos can pick up the languages of others in no time.
So why are my nieces and nephews going to school in Guimaras being taught Filipino languages and dialects from different regions in the Philippines that they will probably never use? Why is the teaching of English being put on the back burner?
I don’t encourage our nieces and nephews in Guimaras to speak English because I’m some imperialistic colonist. I just want them to get all the necessary skills they can so they’re able to obtain the best job opportunities possible to them. There’s a reason the Philippines overtook India as the number one country for BPO’s (Business Process Outsourcing) several years ago. Their command of the English language.
However as Yen Makabenta points out in his opinion piece, during much of the 1980s through to 2016 when the second Aquino presidency ended, Tagalog saw a renaissance of sorts thanks to broadcast media propagating jingoistic notions that speaking Tagalog is “cool” and “patriotic.”
This was, not surprisingly, widely embraced. Mastery of the English language was, even then, still within the domain of a tiny private-school educated elite.
Sorry, “cool” and “patriotic” doesn’t translate into jobs. I’m going to keep encouraging my nieces and nephews to speak English. In fact, one Filipino business lady at SM City in Iloilo has a mandatory “speak English only” rule for her Filipino employees every Saturday and Sunday.
6. FOREIGNERS CANNOT OWN PROPERTY
Despite what some misinformed expats might tell you, in general, only Filipino citizens and corporations or partnerships with least 60% of the shares are owned by Filipinos are entitled to own or acquire land in the Philippines.
Foreigners or non-Philippine nationals may however purchase condominiums, buildings, and enter into a long term land lease.
Cool expats hanging out in Iloilo City
All of the property we own in the Philippines is in my wife’s name. My wife is a full-fledged citizen of the Philippines. I’m not though I do have a 13a Permanent Visa. Nevertheless, my name on a document, or deed-of-sale, is virtually worthless.
Also, if you do intend to purchase any property in the Philippines make absolutely sure that the owner who is trying to sell you the lot HAS CLEAR TITLE TO IT. Scammers selling property in the Philippines which do not belong to them are more common than left-wing Trump-haters in San Francisco.
5. GOLD DIGGERS GALORE
The Philippines is a country which has gained a bad reputation for marriage and visa scams which target wealthy Western nations.
Now I was fortunate to marry a loving, loyal Filipina who I have been with for over 18 years now. My wife was a former OFW, Overseas Filipino Worker. She worked in Singapore and Taiwan and in Taiwan she did not have one day off in two years. If she would have complained about this violation in her work contract, her boss simply would have replaced her with another Filipina.
Life in the Philippines is hard. It’s brutal for millions of people. With over 10 million Filipinos working overseas, 10 percent of the population, along with the high unemployment in the Philippines, many Pinoys and Pinays will resort to whatever means necessary to feed their family.
So you can expect a fair amount of scammers among the many honest and sincere Filipinas, like my wife.
These scammers entice foreign men to send them financial remittances with such excuses as a sick mother or father or tuition for a school they don’t even attend.
According to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, America tops the list of foreigners who have married Filipinas. Japanese ranked second in this category and Australians a distant third.
Other countries ranked were Canadians, Germans, Taiwanese, British, South Koreans and New Zealand.
Furthermore, scammers online could be Filipinas using pictures of popular TV and movie stars in the Philippines for their profile pic, or they could be ladyboys or even foreigners posing as a Filipina. Beware!
4. WILD WILD WEST ATMOSPHERE
There are over 77,000 “loose firearms” in our region of the Philippines, Western Visayas. That’s according to a recent article in the Panay News. 18,000 of these are in the possession of criminals such as guns-for-hire, according to the Police Regional Office 6 (PRO-6.)
The ownership of the 59,000 other guns could be easily traced, said Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, regional police director. These were registered firearms but their licenses expired and their owners failed to seek renewal, said Bulalacao, citing the records of the PRO-6’s Firearms and Explosives Office.
Many of these gun owners were politicians and businessmen, he added, and they were from northern and central Iloilo province.
The law defines a loose gun as “an unregistered firearm, an obliterated or altered firearm, firearm which has been lost or stolen, illegally manufactured firearms, registered firearms in the possession of an individual other than the licensee and those with revoked licenses in accordance with the rules and regulations.”
Mayors and Vice-Mayors and other public officials have been gunned down in broad daylight in recent weeks in the Philippines. Along with President Duterte’s war on drugs (which this author commends), the bullets are flying hot and heavy. If you’re stupid enough to sell shabu (meth) in the Philippines there’s a good chance you’re going to meet your demise at the end of a gun barrel.
A “Wild Wild West” atmosphere is pervasive in the Philippines. When you add politics (which some reports indicate are responsible for 70% of the murders in the Philippines) and Red Horse-fueled KTV bar fights, anything goes. Gunslingers like Billy the Kid or John Wesley Hardin (who once shot a man for snoring too loudly) would have been quite comfortable in the Philippines.
Many laws are written but few are enforced. That’s the reality of living in the Philippines.
3. “FILIPINO TIME”
“Filipino Time” is another major cultural difference that takes some getting used to. I’m still adjusting to it after over nine years in the Philippines (and after being married to a Filipina for over 18 ears.)
At times it can be quite maddening and irritating. For the uninitiated, “Filipino Time” is a laid back state-of-mind practiced by many Filipinos where being on time for functions, appointments or deadlines means very little and is rarely observed.
In short, “Filipino Time” can mean always being late and things get done when they get done.
Late for Our Own Wedding
In fact, my wife and I were late for our own civil wedding ceremony with the City Clerk in Metro Manila that issued our license to marry.
My sister-in-law, Marie, had to be at the City Clerk’s Office as our main witness. We were staying with my sister-in-law during my first visit to Manila.
Marie was still sweeping the floors of her house an hour before the time we were scheduled to be married. After frantically urging my soon-to-spouse to have her sister get ready, we finally took off.
We were 30 minutes late. I was not very pleased with my first exposure to “Filipino Time.”
I was only late for work two times during my almost 30 years with AT&T. I hated to be late anywhere. “Filipino Time” has been difficult for me to deal with at times.
Businesses and Government Offices Open Late
It is not unusual for businesses or even government offices to open later than their scheduled time. We went to a PhilPost office in Robinsons in Iloilo to pay our PhilHealth membership one day.
The office opened 15 minutes late. Not bad for “Filipino Time” but you would think a government office would open on time.
Any official functions we have attended in the past eight years never start on time and usually are 60 to 90 minutes late. Our niece’s high school graduation was supposed to begin at 8:00 am. It began at 9:30 am, 90 minutes later.
The longer I live in the Philippines the more I’ve gotten used to this part of the Filipino culture. I don’t always like it but sometimes it’s better for me not to get too stressed over it.
I know it’s never going to change.
2. Is Living in The Philippines Safe?
- Extra-judicial (vigilante) killings due to President Duterte’s war on drugs. 4,000 to 12,000 causalities depending on whom you believe.
- Increased presence of Islamic terrorist groups such as ISIS.
- Politicians, mayors and vice-mayors getting whacked off quicker than hitmen in a New York City mob war.
- Expats being killed for refusing to buy a Filipino man a beer at a bar.
- The aforementioned “Wild Wild West” atmosphere prevalent in the Philippines.
These all beg the question: “Is living in the Philippines Safe?”
The short answer: “Yes.”
However, Common sense and situational awareness are your best friends.
After over nine years of living in the Philippines, I haven’t felt my safety threatened any more than when I lived in the States in Central Illinois. That’s because for the most part, I try to exercise common sense and situational awareness.
Now years before I met my beautiful Filipina wife, I had an American girlfriend who had a history of dating some troublesome “bad boys.” One ex-boyfriend, while high on coke, held a loaded gun to her head and threatened to kill her. He didn’t. The woman’s ex-husband was also a drug dealer who had since moved out of town.
Nevertheless, the ex-husband had a lot of friends still in town and frequented a certain bar. The former girlfriend, who died in her early 40’s of cirrhosis of the liver, warned me to never go into that tavern.
Coward? Nope, common sense my friend.
When I first visited the Philippines to meet and marry my Filipina significant other, we visited an extremely dangerous part of Metro Manila where one of her sisters lived. The area was known to have thieves who would cut your finger off in order to steal a ring. My wife never wore any jewelry there.
As soon as my wife and I got out of the taxi, our driver warned me: “This is a dangerous place, sir. I will wait for you here.”
We were immediately surrounded by a throng of locals anxious to get a glimpse of the “kano,” “Amerikano.” I immediately felt threatened and uncomfortable.
We left after only 30 minutes.
“It’s time to go,” I instructed my new bride, “we need to leave now.”
My wife’s sister has since moved to a much safer part of Metro Manila.
Therefore I believe it is safe to live in the Philippines keeping in mind there are certain areas one should avoid. In my book “EXPAT SAFETY & SECURITY: PHILIPPINES” I give a detailed look at the best ways to remain safe in this archipelago of 7,107 islands.
1. COST OF LIVING & RISING INFLATION
One of the main reasons for moving to the Philippines for many foreigners is the lower cost of living. With the Philippine peso weakening, the US dollar and other currencies can give an expat more “bang for their buck.” It’s one of the leading reasons we moved to the Philippines.
Nevertheless, due to a new tax law passed several months ago in the Philippines and the rising cost of oil, inflation has been rising. This past June the inflation rate was over 5% and is expected to be the same for July, possibly up to 5.8%.
That said, we support five people in our household and eight canines for less than $1,500 US dollars a month. If you’re a single guy, you could still live a comfortable lifestyle on $1,000 a month if you live in the province like we do. However, if you reside in Metro Manila, you’re going to have a higher cost of living. It all depends on your lifestyle.
So if you’re considering a move to the Philippines, these are 10 Things You Need to Know before Moving to the Philippines. Want to know more about moving to and living in “paradise?” Get my helpful best-seller “The Philippines Expat Advisor” which can get you to the Philippines faster and cheaper.