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The Reality of Living Abroad in the Philippines

A street in the Philippines.
Living abroad often gets romanticized, but the reality can be markedly different.

Have you been looking to start a brand new life in the Philippines?

People leave their homes for a variety of reasons. They do it for a job, for an educational program, for a partner, or for themselves. How far they move can vary. Some people take it a leap further and move across the world. As far as expat destinations go, the Philippines remains a popular choice for individuals looking to relocate.

But anyone who wants to start living abroad needs to consider a few things. It’s not as simple as packing a bag and jumping on a plane with a one-way ticket in hand.

The truth about moving abroad is that it’s romanticized quite a bit. A fair number of people dream of leaving their home country and settling somewhere else.

The Philippines is quite a popular destination for expats, with Americans making up one of the largest expat communities in the country. But what’s the country really like when you move past the beaches and seaside towns? And is leaving America worth it, despite the negative that you may have heard about the Philippines?

In this article, we’ll break down what you need to know and the truths about living in the Philippines.

Living Abroad in the Philippines: The Good and the Bad

You will need to determine beforehand whether you are likely going to be happy abroad. The following are important factors to consider:

1. The Languages Spoken

The first thing a person needs to know about moving to a new country is if they’ll be able to communicate there effectively. For example, an American who moves to Thailand is going to have a hard time speaking to any of the locals considering the low rates of English fluency in the country. So, outside of expat communities, talking to anyone else there is going to be difficult.

However, if that same person were to move to the Philippines, then communicating would be a lot easier considering that many people there speak English. The English spoken in the country is often mixed with whatever regional language the speaker knows, but outsiders from English-speaking countries should be able to understand them just fine.

You will discover that the great majority of Filipinos can speak English with varying degrees, from passable to near-native fluency, depending on their educational and economic background.

2. Money Goes Further

One of the biggest benefits of living abroad can be dependent on a number of factors. Moving to a poorer, third-world country can mean a lower cost of living, which translates to a higher standard of living.

The cost of rent for a studio apartment in a first-world country can be the mortgage on a five-bedroom house with a pool. Or it can go towards renting another, larger apartment in a luxury building that comes with a gym.

Basically, money from a first-world country goes a lot further in a third-world country, which can be a huge benefit for a lot of expats who collect income from their home countries.

3. It’s a Tropical Paradise

For the most part, what people claim about the Philippines being a tropical paradise is true. It is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and nature sports you will ever lay eyes to.

While getting to those spots can pose a bit of a challenge without the right connections and know-how, these places are the real deal once you do get there.

It’s always best to travel with a local who can help you circumvent the tourist-trap elements of these destinations and help you avoid being over-charged.

A box being packed.
Learn everything you can about your destination before moving.

4. Healthcare’s Spotty

However, one drawback to living abroad could be healthcare. Moving to a first-world country can mean getting access to high-quality healthcare and, depending on whether or not that country has universal healthcare, lower healthcare costs. That said, moving to a third-world country with a lower cost of living can mean lower healthcare standards.

In the Philippines, for example, many of the most competent healthcare professionals often leave the country for greener pastures abroad. The healthcare infrastructure may also be lacking in the country. Maybe the machines are outdated.

But because the country is a source of medical and healthcare workers worldwide, do expect good and competent service regardless.

5. Poor Infrastructure

Speaking of infrastructure in general, it may be poor in third-world countries. Public transportation, for example, is often lacking in third-world countries. Many of the public transportation options in a country like the Philippines aren’t comfortable.

Take the most widely-used public transportation option, jeepneys. They’re often cramped, with lots of people crammed in the back like sardines in a can. That’s not all, drivers in the country often take traffic laws as mere suggestions. In fact, most drivers on the road tend to take traffic laws as suggestions at best.

Speaking of public transportation, not every city is going to have a rail system. There’s also a lot of informal public transportation with many motorcycle riders often taking pedestrians on for a small fee. This practice is not regulated.

That said, the country does have taxis and ridesharing apps, both of which generally work just fine.

6. The Climate Is a Mixed Bag

There’s another consideration to make before moving to the Philippines and that’s the climate. Yes, the country is often a tropical destination with lots of sunshine and clear skies. But the heat and humidity can be uncomfortable, particularly for someone who isn’t acclimated to it.

Speaking of the weather, there’s also the calamities. The Philippines is an archipelago that sits right on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so there may be more volcanic eruptions than you’re used to, including underground eruptions that cause earthquakes. But while earthquakes do happen from time to time, they are uncommon.

The Philippines also experiences quite a lot of typhoons over the course of a year. Most of them aren’t worse than some strong winds and heavy rain, but a few of the big ones can cripple a city’s infrastructure and leave a veritable wasteland for weeks on end.

So if leaving the United States or some other first-world country is a serious goal, then the weather is something that needs to be kept in mind.

On a positive note, a lot of people do love the fact that the temperature is fairly consistent throughout the year. This means that you need only to have one wardrobe for one general climate.

7. Filipino In-Laws

A common reason that many expats move to the Philippines is that they marry someone from the country and decide to settle there instead of taking their new spouse back home with them.

That sounds all well and good, but the reality of a Filipino marriage may be something unfamiliar to Westerners.

Here’s the reality of living in the Philippines with a Filipino spouse; their entire family will be in your business. You may all have to meet up on Sundays for church, followed by Sunday lunch that lasts the whole afternoon.

And forget about privacy. Everyone is going to know everything about everyone. It won’t just be blood relatives either. Her grandma’s best friend is going to have the same familial access. There are no secrets and family means more than just blood. There won’t be a shortage of opinions either. Everyone will have something to say about everything, even when they don’t have the first clue what they’re talking about.

On the other hand, once you get used to the family culture in the Philippines, you’ll realize it’s a great support system. You won’t feel alone and you’ll always be welcome in someone else’s home. There won’t be dull moments during parties, events, and occasions. You’ll realize how much family contributes to your overall well-being and happiness.

A woman leaning against a fence.
Her family will be your family, for better or for worse.

Before Moving There

Knowing all that, is moving to the Philippines still something that’s desirable for you?

If it is, then there are a lot of things that need to be done at home before flying out of the country.

1. Get the Red Tape Sorted

First up, there’s the paperwork. While being married to a citizen helps, there’s still quite a bit of red tape you have to go through before you get a 13(a) visa. Consult with migration lawyers and make sure you follow every single step thoroughly so as to avoid any bumps in the road.

2. Put Your Assets in Place

When it comes to your finances, leave no stone unturned. You may have to transfer your funds from one bank to another. You’re also going to have to set it up so that any income you have, be it a pension or a paycheck from a job you can work from anywhere, makes its way into your account. Don’t forget to make sure your credit cards will work in your new country.

Also, make sure any real estate that you may have is going to be taken care of. Leave that in the care of a trusted friend or relative or hire a caretaker to look after it. Real estate is valuable so make sure any that you have is maintained while you’re away.

Of course, you could also just sell it. That takes care of the problem of maintenance and also puts quite a bit of cash in your pocket.

On that note, use reputable currency exchanges. Some of them might be less than honest in their business dealings, so stick to banks or chains when exchanging any foreign currency you might have.

3. Let Your People Know Where You’re Going

Next, make sure your friends and family at home know where you’ll be, how to contact you, and how to get in contact with you if they can’t reach you.

You can’t just disappear from a bunch of people’s lives. Plus, having someone you trust who knows where you’re going, where you’ll be when you get to your destination, and who to call if not you is what people do when they travel for safety’s sake. It’ll be even doubly important if you’re planning to move to a different country entirely.

Moving to a new country can be a hard thing. Aside from the actual flying to it, there’s going to be an adjustment period during which you’ll probably experience quite a few growing pains. There are a lot of reasons not to move abroad, but the people that do often find that those reasons don’t outweigh the potential benefits.

That can be especially true for people who move for love. Yes, the new country may have some infrastructure problems, but living abroad can be worth it when you’re living with the right person.

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