Western Expats in the Philippines: Why They Migrate and Marry Locals and How it all Works Out
(Extract from “Islands in the Orient Sea: Travels in the Edgy Twenty-First Century Philippines” by R. Howard. $3.99. ISBN: 978-1-938296-59-8. Ebook published in 2012 and available from Amazon.com and Apple ibooks.)
“People used to say that I was crazy to live outside the United States. But I do not get that much these days.” Internet poster.
The Philippines increasingly is drawing adventurous Western settlers. Optimistic books and websites advise how to relocate to a Margaritaville fantasyland just over the rainbow, where Western men do not lead lives of quiet desperation.
Some migrants first visited as tourists or were stationed at one of the huge, now-defunct U.S. military bases north of Manila, and they stayed on in a perceived enchanted land. Some are retirees, cashed up baby-boomers redefining the Agolden
years@ and, like others of their ilk, flocking to greener pastures overseas. Some foreign residents go for the tropical climate, active street life, friendly people and low living costs. Some see their Western homelands as cold, unfriendly, politically-correct,
precarious surveillance societies, whose frenzied 21st Century hyper-capitalism is working many people to death. Some expats flee rampant individualism and growing incivility in the West. Some foreign males, perhaps unable to adjust to assertive,
career-driven women at home, are drawn by the ready availability of attractive, feminine, traditional partners.
Living in one’s favorite holiday destination usually turns out to be a quite different experience from visiting it for a few weeks each year. One often must work instead of play and the reality behind the tourist facade eventually
Expats have a long history in the Philippines and always have fraternized enthusiastically with the locals. Before 1972, Manila had a large American colony. Many Westerners lived in colonial splendor in Makati and other enclaves, with large
household staffs of helpers, nannies, and drivers. The men managed companies or were linked to the American military. Life revolved around in-group social activities. But their Western wives often had little to do, perhaps having abandoned their
own careers in the United States. They were prone to boredom and overuse of gin. The marriages could get shaky due to their spouses’ long working hours and the ever- available, attractive Filipinas. Many American men succumbed to Filipina
charms but the Western community did disapprove of such marriages. The men were designated “squawmen” and only were invited to social functions alone, if at all.
That world mostly has vanished. Many expats went home but some found that they never could. Home had changed and they had changed. Some floated around other expat jobs elsewhere in Asia.
I informally conversed with expats who had lived in-country for a median six years. All were male, with a median age of 49, and were from the United States, U.K., or Australia. Half were retirees, living on pensions and investments, most
held at least a bachelor’s degree and most were married to or lived with a Filipina. About a third lived in Manila, others in Cebu City, Angeles City, Davao, Dumaguete, Iloilo City, and elsewhere. Two without Filipina partners lived in
Angeles City, one actually stating that the dismal city’s temptations unduly challenged the noble institution of marriage.
Why specifically had they moved to the Philippines? Low living costs predominated. .
Motive Percent citing this motive
Low living costs 77%
Pace of life/lifestyle 50
Filipina partner wanted to return 31
Liking of Filipino culture 19
Dislike home country 15
Availability of attractive sexual partners 15
To take up a job
arranged overseas 12
Some gave further reasons; “Adventure, fun…”, “beautiful countryside, new life adventure, love and marriage”, “Much greater personal … freedom than in the West. There may be some rules and regulations
you don’t want to flout. But it is not a nanny state like Australia”.
Most still were happy with their shift, with 81% saying they still would move there if given the choice again, and 58% would stay even if they won U.S. $10 million in a lottery. However, two said they would return home in the latter circumstance.
Most (58%) planned to stay for life (“I will never return to the United States”, said one emphatically) although the rest were less certain (“Currently revisiting retirement plans. Day – to -day living can be difficult [here]”).
What did they miss least about life in the West? Some comments were; “Stress, high taxes, feeling lonely, hurry up lifestyle”, “Too many controls on personal freedoms”, and “Suffocating political correctness”.
What did they like most about living in the Philippines? Some comments were; “Very friendly people”, “Life is slow and easy-going”, “The lack of stifling rules and regulations” and “Opportunities
arising from a low cost of living. A feeling of freedom and lack of restrictions”.
A total of 88% rated their well-being in-country as good or excellent, 73% felt personally accepted by Filipinos, and 88% felt that the acceptance of foreigners in general was good or excellent. Most (77%) had a good or excellent knowledge
of local culture, but some did not want to learn any more about it. However, while 38% socialized mostly with Filipino friends, 31% did mostly with other foreigners. One socialized mostly with “Other foreign friends and their Filipino partners”.
But life was not all rosy. What did they like least? Three dislikes were quite familiar to me; “The food”, “Driving here is dangerous”, and “Poverty”. Others were “Lazy [Filipino] men wanting
everything for free”, “Abundance of ripoffs and petty theft… scams in business” and “Corruption is everywhere”. Asked what they missed most about life in the West, comments were; “Food”, “Brains”,
“Family”, “Clean air in the cities”, “That things work all the time and people are efficient and competent”, “Freedom to drive where I want to reasonably safely”, but “Almost nothing”.
Many experienced a variety of problems living in the Philippines, as would be expected. Twenty-seven percent had been a victim of crime. Comments were; “Minor burglary”, “Pick pocketed”, and “Mugged once
when … drunk”. And, 35% cited crime as a major personal concern. One clarified “A concern yes – but one that requires care and balance”. Other cited problems were; “Assumption that all foreigners are rich and the
consequences that flow from that”, “Endless stream of callers to the house trying to sell goods”, “Deciding how much help to give to relatives financially”, “Food and brownouts”, “A lack
of rights for foreigners in general. If there is an accident or dispute there is even a legal assumption that the foreigner is in the wrong and must pay to resolve the situation”, “It takes time to learn how to cope and the first
one to three years here were hard. It also takes some money, as it is not cheap to have a first world existence in a third world country”.
So to sum up, some suggestions for a successful transition are the usual ones for immigrants; be adaptable, take the good with the bad, and have lots of money. But in addition, perhaps the trial needs a few years and one should be sure that
the bridges back to the West are not burned if it all goes wrong.
Interesting. What would perhaps be even more interesting would be to ask the same questions to a similar group in Thailand and compare their responses.