Moving to the Philippines. Can you make it?


We get a few of our clients and enquirers who say they want to move to the Philippines, buy a house, start a business, and to start living the easy life.

It’s not necessarily a silly idea, but it’s not for everyone. It’s definitely not something you should rush into. We live here ourselves, as you’ve probably gathered. And yes, I don’t mind saying we live a comfortable life. We have a nice house. We have household helpers. We have a driver. We have administrative staff in our office. We have no plans to go back to Australia. However, we also know plenty who are struggling here.


An Australian moving to the Philippines australian living and working in Philippines


As the husband of a Filipina lady (husband….not de facto partner), you may apply for permanent residency here. It’s not overly difficult. You may own a condominium unit. You may then work or start a business. As long as you remain married, and as long as you behave yourself, you may stay.

However, living in Philippines and visiting on a romantic holiday, it’s not the same thing.


Issues with moving to the Philippines


Main issue is that of money! And foreigners running businesses in Philippines! Or foreigners getting jobs in Philippines!

I had somebody asking me what “the wages in Philippines were like” here a month or so ago. The only honest answer is “woeful”. It’s a third-world country. Filipinos can live on the smell of an oily rag, and are OK living simply. Living in crowded conditions with leaky roofs, and on diets of rice and dried fish (in quantities that are OK for a 5’3” male who weighs 50kg) is acceptable. It won’t be for you!

And if you wish to start up a business which competes with Filipinos, you are competing with those who are OK sleeping on the floor in the business and living on dried fish and rice. You can’t live like that. You don’t WANT to live like that! And you also don’t have family members who will help you out when you don’t have enough money for your dried fish and rice either.

The other issue is that there are a lot of businesses here in markets that are oversupplied.

Just down the road from us you can see somebody with an umbrella over a cart with a pot over a gas burner with a pile of sweet corn on the cob. Yes, they’re selling sweet corn by the side of the road. 40 – 50 meters from them is somebody else selling…..yes….sweet corn. Then the same distance is another one selling sweet corn. I think there’s about 6 or 7 of them. And they’re not very busy!

We had tinting put on our first car. We went to a place that did tinting. There were about 4 similar places doing car window tinting in the same block. They were happy to shut up the shop, hop on a tricycle and to come to our place to do the job. I also have a barber who is happy to close his barber shop to come to my home and cut my hair. Business is not always booming! We bought two very nice glazed pots (plant pots) the other week. The owner was very grateful, because he hadn’t had a sale for three weeks!

There’s an abundance of “spas” and massage places nearby to us. I’m sure they’re not all busy all day, and we watch new ones open and older ones close. Over the last few decades I’ve stayed at a number of resorts where we were the only guests for a week.

Those who do OK here are either (a) those who are employed by multinational companies who give them jobs, (b) those who like myself are dealing with Australians or other western clients, and (c) those who are pensioned or superannuated or otherwise living on investments.


An Australian in Philippines


I have yet to meet any Australian who comes here and “shows them how to do it properly” and competes with Filipinos on their own turf. It doesn’t happen. Not only do you not know the market, you also don’t know the culture enough to know how to do business. I was discussing sugar cane juice with an Indian (he worked for Citibank, I think) once. Sugar cane juice is commonly sold by street vendors in India. Delicious and very refreshing when served cold. They DO grow sugar cane here. My Indian friend thought it would be a great business to start up here, with a chain of franchises, etc. I disagreed! The chances are the locals wouldn’t like it, and would stick to their old favourites like buku (coconut) juice. I’d love to see pie vans here, like we have in Australia. But maybe I’d be their only customer? Don’t assume the locals will clamour for your “great western ideas”! And your sales technique, your ways of building rapport, your slam-dunk sales closes…..they probably won’t work here either. Don’t kid yourself.

If you get a great job offer in Philippines, with a high salary, relocation expenses, house, car, maid and driver tossed in, then you should seriously consider it!

If you have a business where it really doesn’t matter where you are in the world, then yes you should consider it. Do your homework re. internet connections and any other infrastructure that you need first.

And if you’re pensioned, superannuated or have investments you can live off? Consider it too. Just be realistic about what you can live off. Come up with a household budget, and then double it. Don’t kid yourselves. Yes, we buy most of our meat, fruit and vegetables from the local market. It’s cheap compared to Australia. But I can’t stand the local sugar-infested bread, and I can’t eat tiny fish full of bones, scales, etc which stare back at you from the plate. We get imported beef. We get imported bacon. We get imported ham. We get Aussie wines, imported brie and gorgonzola, and some really nice (but not cheap) bread from Santis delicatessen. We don’t ride jeepneys or tricycles either. As I said, come up with a budget and then double it. Again, don’t kid yourself!

Ideally, keep your house in Australia. Rent it out. Don’t burn your bridges. Come and rent a place and give yourself a year before you make any firm commitments.

And keep yourself safe! Don’t rent (or buy) a place in Philippines in a poor neighbourhood. You stick out like a sore thumb. Regardless of your bank balance, you will be seen as a rich westerner. There will be plenty who will see you as a target for scams or worse! You may also get burgled, violently robbed or kidnapped. Or you may be set up for blackmail, ie. neighbourhood girl (or even boy) gets alone with you, tears clothes, runs out and screams rape. Policeman (who is probably part of it) says they will drop the charges for ½ a million pesos on the condition that you get on a plane immediately after paying up. Find a nice gated community with security guards at the gate and bars on the windows. You will ALWAYS be a target for the have-nots. Once again, don’t kid yourself.


Postscript – 15/08/2014

I’ve just had a few comments from some expats here who seemed to take offense at my last paragraph. These are expats who live in the provinces in their wife’s home town, and they feel perfectly safe. Well, good! That’s great. And no doubt if in someone lives in a town where there are a large number of family members, and Filipino society being a complex web of relationships and obligations, troublemakers will leave you alone.

But I was referring to the poorer areas in the more urban areas. This is why I said “Don’t rent or buy a place in a poor neighbourhood.” I actually know this one from experience. When we first moved here we rented a house in an area with a mix of reasonably-OK houses and a large number of squatters. And we WERE a target! Had a few close calls. And I’ve known people, both friends and clients, who have intended moving to areas where the police don’t like going! This is what I’m referring to. I had a client just this week who’s hotel was right next to a girly-bar area where an English friend of mine was attacked with a machete (which left a great scar across his forehead)! We persuaded the client to move somewhere nicer.

So no, I’m not insulting the local population, nor am I saying you should lock yourself away like a prisoner. Just a dose of reality to keep you safe.

NOTE: The is an updated reposting of a post from August 2013


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