Living abroad & Saving "Big" while doing what I want!
If this sounds good to you and you want to cut expenses to live better then read on.
My name is Al, I am American and I have been living on and off here in the Philippines for some thirty years. Actually I have lived in quite a number of countries, but as I am older now I have learned to appreciate the Philippines a lot more. Here I would like to share with you some of the Big Time advantages and smart choices there really are to living in and even retiring here in the Philippines.
Firstly, as the Housing Market-‘crash' has effected a lot of us, in one way or another (I am a Contractor so I know this part too well!) And I know also many of us are still struggling with coming up with that Big monthly mortgage every month and despite the housing ‘Glut', rentals as well are still very high! For myself being a Contractor my normal working season is, or should I say, used to be April – Nov. I then would travel abroad on an ‘extended –vacation' following the sun and now here in the Philippines. I would like to point out as well, that I had lived and worked in and around Central America, Mexico & Belize so I am also familiar with what is available in those countries. I have found personally that each country has its advantages and disadvantages that anyone should take into consideration when visiting and especially when considering purchasing any property etc. Yet, what I have found to be most important for any long term stay anywhere is- How well do you like and get along with the local people of which you have to deal with everyday? Yes, it really is the local people which really make or break any vacation and especially if you intend to live abroad.
Today it no exaggeration to say that the world over is getting to be a rougher place than just thirty years ago! Yes, thirty years ago anyone could travel from India to Europe overland- no problems; the value of A Dollar was significant and most people that had guns were the Police- another words, today our Dollars have lost much of their buying power and whole continents are significantly more dangerous e.g. essentially most of Latin America.
Today I live here in the Philippines which can be, almost is a 52nd. or 53rd. ‘State'- for the local government was set-up by The American's back in the 1940's and although the American military bases are gone 'The American Dream' is still idolized. Here things are slow and away from the few major cities like Cebu City or the Capitol Manila it can even be like, say the 1960's! (Which is more than OK with me at this stage in my life, because here there is time to relax, think and little "stress"!) But what makes the Philippines- this little oasis here in Asia so valuable is that this country shares essentially the same values as in the US- religion, politics and business. Also, for the most part Filipino's are bi-lingual and half of the TV, radio and all of the business is reported in English. Personally my own ability to speak the local language of ‘Tagalog' is almost nonexistent, but I do not have to, for so many locals want to speak English (Unlike in Latin America!) And as an American it never ceases to amaze me how open and friendly Filipino's are still and the courtesy paid to ‘me' (Hey, I am just a guy!) But, to Filipino's a foreigner, is to be treated with extra respect and assistance (Neither of which I can remember in the US!)
Shopping over here in the Philippines is largely done in huge air conditioned Super malls. Compared to even US shopping malls, over here things are brought to a whole other level not only in size, and comfort, but the overall ambiance is ‘family oriented' and not with wayward, aimless teenagers ‘hanging out'! And then there is the pricing- outside of the Brand Name items and electronics imported from the US, essentially everything else will be a bargain compared to the US and definitely much cheaper than Japan or Europe.
Over the last two decades the Philippines infrastructure, at least as far as in the private sector is concerned has started catering to their rising Middle Class' by building large and modern suburban home developments and luxury condominiums. As a foreigner I cannot own land here in the Philippines, but I can purchase and own an apartment or condo. And it is here that anyone coming from any modern industrialized country will find great deals on housing- brand new 1-4 bed rm. apts. & condo's with a mortgage between $150.00 – 300.00 A mo. and if your interested in just renting a comfortable house or apt. you can for about the same!
OK, so now you have your housing needs covered so what next- food. Depending upon what you eat and where you shop will probably be one of your greater expenses. As you can imagine, living here in the Philippines beef is an imported item, while fish is cheap and mango's are more common than apples. For myself I personally don't care much for white rice (The local staple) but Red rice grown in the mountains is another story, for it is much more ‘chewy', tastes great and excellent for keeping anybody regular! Over here you will find in the big cities modern grocery stores that also carry an imported-section with many brand names from the US and Europe- milk, butter & beef
are imported from Australia.
Ex-patriots and an international taste of home is where you can always find a friend to relate to. Personally I have local and international connections from all around the world right here- those like myself who have discovered the savings, advantages and uniqueness of living here in the Philippines. Statistically the Americans are always the largest number of tourists to the Philippines, but I seem to find that most foreign business' are owned by Western European guys that had married a local Filipina. Yes, once you do marry a local you immediately have access to many more privileges- permanent legal status and the right to own property etc. Visa's here for long term veterans like myself are easily gotten and it's just a question of how long you would like to stay- there is no maximum time limit!
OK- so now your settled in the Philippines so what is there to see and do?? In case you may not already know, the Philippines is an island system of 7,107 islands each having its own ambiance and specialty- eco tourism in the westernmost island of Palawan has become one of the premiere world destinations of small secluded islands, snorkeling and breathtaking beauty. The island of Busuanga is famous for scuba diving to sunken WW11 Japanese shipwrecks- and the Philippines even has their own Waikiki counterpart in the well known island of Boracay. Indeed, around all these islands you will find what the Philippines / PI is most noted for- Summer Time fun with down to earth to all the First class amenities. Yet you need to know this as well, "outside" of the large urban areas the Philippines is largely a Second World country. Now, here is where those of you who have not traveled to poorer countries may at first be a little startled, but as you get to what I call, ‘the state of appreciation' you will see the actual advantages in a world like the Philippines. For because it is a second world country that means for the foreigner that labor is cheap and thereby so is most everything else- a comfortable Three star hotel for $22.00 or Five star for $85.00 & up (You can also spend a night on a Five star resort on its own private island for $300.00 A night should you like!)
This all means that you the foreigner can live, travel and do most everything for much Less! With my fiance' and myself to maintain our own lifestyle renting a comfortable one or two bedroom condo with food, drinks and various beach activities for one month costs about $850.00 - $1,000.00 a month. This estimate depends largely on ones preferences where, what and how you wish to live. When you take into consideration the value you get for your money, in an English speaking country that is cheap on the wallet, qualitative in people, always summer time it all is a very good idea that is ‘do-able'!. And all of these will surely ease your economic worries and give you a stress-less lifestyle, almost like returning to the 1960's before things became so complicated. In some ways, it is like becoming young again only now you have the wisdom to live your life better this time around.
Regarding travel to PI and halfway around the world. Hey, start getting with it and start thinking airlines like- Cathay Pacific or China Air as well as some of your own major airlines now have flights here for just a few hundred dollars more than the Caribbean. (In Low Season I fly here RT from NYC for $950.00 & its good for 6 months!) and once you get here everything is cheaper!
Becoming the world traveler is now getting easier from the Philippines- Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore are only two hrs away; Japan about five hrs; Australia about seven and Hawaii about ten hrs. Thereby the Expats here come and go back to the US and Europe on regular basis. When renting as I do it is easy to simply let my apt. go and when I return I can just as easily find another for finances are not a worry, which then frees me to do more of what I want to- island hoping and discovery, meeting up with friends and spending qualitative time with my fiancé and quiet time reading.
Lastly, I would like to ad this bit on what I call- A search for Significance. Consider this, as even an average guy or gal coming from any Westernized country to the Philippines you already are well equipped to do a lot here in helping out those less fortunate then yourself. For, although the average Filipino wears a smile and is always ready for a laugh- they are poor and uneducated. Here in Manila the public schools are so neglected that the poorer children only can attend on half-day ‘shifts' and many just don't go at all. Obviously this has major ramifications when they get older and on their children. Thereby, the opportunities to help out either publicly, e.g. working with school kids, or individually helping out in an orphanage or a one on one basis is endless etc. Here one person can make a difference and you control what goes on, for there is no big anonymous organization that wastes your money! Truly, spending even part of your time sharing and helping out local Filipino's – kids or adults is time very wisely spent.
Al Klimek works for A&M Custom Guided Tours of The Philippines Icrusiebyak@yahoo.com