The Philippines Alternative
Stick’s weekly of February 16th, Everyone’s Talking About Vietnam, made me wonder why everyone isn’t talking about the Philippines. The title of my current series about the Philippines, Angeles City: Same Same but Different, may be a cliché, but it’s true – Thailand and the Philippines are about as similar as you can get (for two countries that are completely different), and if you love Thailand, you won’t find it too difficult to adapt. You might miss some aspects of Thai culture: the language, Buddhism, the temples – and the girls, but you will save a ton of cash, and come to appreciate the somewhat blander culture of the Philippines, the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the landscape – and the girls. Let’s take a quick look at what the Philippines has to offer.
For expats wishing to live in the Philippines, there are several attractive long-term visa alternatives. For example, the SRRV (Special Resident Retiree’s Visa).
Applicants must be foreign nationals who are at least 35 years old. These are the fees:
- One-time Processing Fee:
- US$1,400.00 Principal applicant
- US$ 300.00 Dependent applicant
- Annual Fee of US$360.00 (for the Principal & 2 dependents)
(Source: Philippine Retirement Authority)
As with any other country, things are much easier if you are married to a national. For example, the Philippine Bureau of Immigration issues a permanent residence visa (specifically, the 13A Non-Quota Immigrant Visa) to the qualified non-Filipino spouse of a Filipino citizen. All you need is “evidence of sufficient financial capacity to live in the Philippines, such as, but not limited to, bank statement of accounts, CPF contributions, property deeds, certificates of stocks.”
(Source: Bureau of Immigration)
The most convenient of all, and the one I use, is known as the “Balikbayan Privilege”. All you have to do is to enter the country with your Filipino spouse and you will be given a Balikbayan visa stamp which is valid for one year – how easy is that?
Salaries are low in the Philippines unless you get a job with an international company on an expat package. Several years ago I had an interview in London for a job in Manila, for which the remuneration was comparable with the UK. Other than that, forget it. That’s why the Philippines has more overseas workers (which they call OFWs – Overseas Filipino Workers) than any other country in the world.
The only other alternative is to run a business, and for that you will need a loyal Filipina girlfriend or wife (loyal, because 51% of everything has to be in her name). The Philippine economy is cash-starved, so if you have a little capital, you can invest it to good effect.
An example is our rental property in the outskirts of Cebu. It is a lot of 250 square metres surrounded by concrete walls. The building is so basic that three of those walls serve as the walls of the building. It is divided into six rooms with plywood partitions and has a corrugated iron roof. It was broken into last year, so now the walls are topped with coiled barbed wire (add a couple of Lewis guns and it would look like a WWI pillbox). We rent the rooms for bed spaces at a 1,000 PHP per bunk (four per room). That’s 24,000 PHP (c. £364) per month (when it’s full) – not much when you consider the work involved, as the tenants are always coming and going, or can’t pay, or are falling out with their room mates.
Our latest venture is a karaoke bar, Karaoke Korner, in Lapu Lapu (the name came with the business, and is suitably “korny”). We offer singing, snacks and drinks – there are no hostesses – it’s not that kind of bar!
To give you an idea of the kind of thing other expats do, one of my neighbours runs a chain of hairdressing salons with his Filipina wife, and does very well out of it, and another has just finished building four luxury apartments which he rents out for 15,000 PHP (c. £227). Another lives on his pension from the American military, and spends his time teaching sport (gratis) in local schools.
COST OF LIVING
In a nutshell, the cost of living is cheap, and at the moment, the exchange rate for most currencies is favourable as the peso is weak. Here is one statistic that says it all:
Consumer prices in the Philippines are 21.79% lower than Thailand
You can check out the details on this website:
We live like royalty (though not quite to Meghan and Harry’s standard!) on £1,000 per month. We have a house with swimming pool in a subdivision about an hour’s drive from the city. We have a full-time, live-in maid, so I don’t have to lift a finger to do anything (except write). Groceries are cheap, though the cost of alcohol is rising thanks to Duterte’s “sin tax”, and I do like a bottle of wine with a meal – my favourite, Listel, a French wine, is 475 PHP (c. £7.20) at the moment.
Another great thing about the PI is the fabulous holiday destinations. We have visited all the usual tourist haunts, such as Boracay, Bohol, and Palawan, and many that are off the beaten track: Sipalay, which resembles Boracay, but is hardly ever visited by western tourists because of its out of the way location on the west coast of Negros Occidental; Baguio, one of the coolest (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) places in the Philippines because of its elevation, but a six-hour bus ride from Manila, and Magaso Falls in the Visayas. To get to the falls, I had to drive for about half an hour on a road so steep and badly rutted that I had to select four-wheel drive. It was scary, but great fun. The PI is one of the best diving destinations in the world. That is not my thing, but I enjoy a boat trip with snorkeling (as long as there are no sharks around).
Despite its problems, nothing can beat the NHS in the UK, where treatment is free at the point of need. I have heard of people dying in the Philippines because they can’t pay for treatment, and that’s just barbaric. The quality of health care varies from province to province, so if you have a particular medical need, make sure you live near a city with good hospitals, like Cebu, Clark or Manila. Treatments are much cheaper than in the west, though costs are rising to the extent that health insurance is becoming necessary. If you are married to a Filipino, you can take advantage of PhilHealth insurance, which is a government agency.
This is where the Philippines beats every other Asian country (except Singapore). English is one of the country’s official languages, and is taught at school. Every Filipino who has passed high school will have a reasonable level of English, and every official document is written in English. For example, when I bought our rental property in Cebu, I was able to read through the deeds because they were in English, and could understand them at a deeper level because Philippine law is based on US / UK Common Law.
The main official language is Filipino, though there are many regional dialects. You’ll find learning a Philippine language somewhat harder than Thai. They use the Latin alphabet, which helps, but they have a peculiar grammatical system (ergative/absolutive) which is hard for a westerner used to subjective/objective grammar to understand. It’s worth the effort though. Begin with about 20 phrases and 200 words of vocabulary and take it from there.
Like any other country, you will get the most out of the Philippines if you are married to a national, and if you are reading this in Thailand, you probably aren’t. Well, that’s easily remedied. Read my series Angeles: Same Same but Different, then go to Angeles and get a feel for the place and the girls (pun intended). Next, visit the real Philippines: Baguio, Bohol, Boracay, etc. Then if you decide you like it (and I’m sure you will) go back to AC and find yourself one of those sweet, unsullied cherry girls (see my article on that subject), try online dating, or just turn up and find a local girl – or let her find you (once the local Filipinas realise that you are single and available, they’ll do the hunting).
The PI is not suitable for everybody, but if you have the right profile why not give it a try? If you do, and you like to sing, come over to Lapu Lapu and ask for Karaoke Korner – the San Mig Lights are on me!
The author of this article can be contacted at : [email protected]