Surprisingly, many people ask me for tips about traveling and moving to the Philippines. I say surprisingly because I am not sure I know anything, except what seems to work for Janet and me. Nonetheless here are some useful or useless tips in no real order of importance. Take them with a grain of salt but, no matter what you think, in most cases I am definitely right 🙂
Can you find it?: Most things are here if you are motivated to look hard enough. For example, I’m not a picky eater and I like most Filipino food but there are a few items that are important to me. A bagel, and it doesn’t even have to be a great bagel, was one of them. I did my online research, found a recommendation, and went to Rolling Pin in downtown Dumaguete, which has not only passable bagels, but decent pastries and breads. Of course I’m still looking for a great New York pizza, but then I’m a masochist.
Another thing that’s important to me is acupuncture. I’ve been going to the same acupuncturist for 6 years. What were the chances I could find someone here? I did some research, contacted a couple of providers and made an appointment. I was able to find her office (in her home) thanks to Google Maps and had a good session, similar to what I experienced in the US. One more important thing I wanted to have is now off my list.
I guess my only point is that most things can be found here if it’s really important to you. BTW, the acupuncture was 500p ($10), so finding the difficult to find doesn’t even have to be expensive.
A corollary to the above is: If you find it at a good price, grab it. I have already had multiple experiences where I saw something, went back to the store a week later and the item in question was gone. So live for today, guys!
Smart/Globe or Sun: One of the most important decisions you will make when arriving in the Philippines is which of the major phone carriers to use. I have no real advise other than to wish you good luck. There is no obvious winner. They all offer similar pre-paid and post-paid packages. Coverage depends on your city, neighborhood and house. Janet likes Sun because all her family uses Sun so she can get unlimited calling and texting between all the Pillazos. I just switched to Smart because Sun’s reception within our house sucks. The jury is still out but I am not sure that Smart is any less suckier.
The good news is that most plans are cheap and there’s a fair amount of flexibility. Right now I get 30 day pre-paid plans, since I don’t want to make a longer commitment until I decide who has better reception. Many people in the Philippines have phones that take 2 Sim cards; I now know the reason why.
Driving: Driving is wildly different here in the Philippines; there’s no denying it. But the sooner you get out of the anger over the fact that “they” cannot drive or “they” don’t follow the rules of the road, the better off you will be. “They” aren’t going to change their driving habits, so stop wasting energy thinking “they” should. In fact, “you” will be the one who will have to change your driving habits. BTW, it appears that most foreigners do change their driving habits. I base that statement on the fact that 90% of the foreigners I see driving motorcycles do not wear helmits; they’ve gone native.
Horn Honking: A corollary to the above is the use of the horn. Back in the US I probably honked my horn no more than once a week. Back there the horn is usually used in anger or frustration. It can be a substitute for flipping someone the bird. In the Philippines it’s used almost as a standard courtesy, as in “I am passing you no matter what, so I am letting you know.” I now use my horn many times a day, not only for that reason but because there are numerous blind curves which I enter honking away. Now whether anyone pays attention is another story.
Google Maps: I made reference to this above but use Google Maps. You can actually download the information to your phone if you don’t have data service on your phone plan. Google Maps has most everything in Dumaguete listed; businesses, neighborhoods, streets, etc. It has taken us to weird places a couple times but generally gets me where I want to go. Apple’s Map App is not nearly as comprehensive, at least in Dumaguete.
Banking: Contrary to some reports, you can arrive here and get a bank account quickly. Janet and I did. It may be hit or miss depending on the bank or bank officer you talk to but here’s what you will need: proof of identity (passport); proof of residency (13A, ACR Card, or Balikbayan stamped passport, which is what I used); proof of where you live (lease agreement for example). Add to these items an air of “I am rich and will be passing a lot of dollars through your bank” and you might just get an account.
Bank Fees: Fees vary – don’t expect consistency. I write a monthly check against my US bank account to cover my monthly expenses. Sometimes the teller collects a 200p fee for depositing the foreign check and sometimes not. There’s no rhyme or reason, so just best to go with it.
Phil Health: Yes, the cost recently went up significantly for most foreigners. Nonetheless, I signed up for Phil Health and they struggled getting me into the system without an ACR card number. But they were very helpful and figured out how to skirt around the computer and get me my Phil Health card. I have coverage through the end of the year and next year will decide whether to continue it. Now, I’m not getting into the foreigner anger of “it’s the long nose tax.” Last time I checked I still have free will as to whether to sign up or not. So, I used that free will to punt until next year.
House Renting: Like driving this too can be a unique adventure in the Philippines. I have not rented a house in many years but I know it’s a frustrating challenge in the US. It is here too but for different reasons. For example, you may find a great house but it only has a terrible dirt road leading up to it. You may also have difficulty communicating what you are really looking for. Janet and I were adamant that 3 bedrooms was a requirement and were amazed at the agents and owners who tried to get us into a 2 bedroom place.
One tip would be to post what you’re looking for on all the local buy and sell websites/Facebook sites. But this was also an adventure. Despite posting our requirements of 3 bedrooms, I consistently got contacted by foreigners who owned a 2 or even 1 bedroom houses, asking would I be interested? But in the end we found a nice house in an area we liked. Unlike in the US, rent here is negotiable and we ended up at a price we were comfortable with.
Flights to the Philippines: Here’s a mistake we made. International flights from the U.S. allow 2 bags per person of up to 50 pounds per bag. That’s plenty when you are moving. What we didn’t consider was that domestic airlines don’t allow 2 bags at 50 pound each. The flight from Cebu to Dumaguete, for instance, only allowed 1 bag at 10 kilos. In the end we took a bus.
Don’t Expect Homogeny: I know – it’s too early for a big word. But what I mean is that people want to know definitively what the Philippines is like. As a country of over 100 million, living on 7107 islands, it’s varied – it’s not that homogenous. And because there are not strong central structures and institutions it might be more varied than your Western country. Dumaguete is not like Manila for example in almost all ways, including language. We now live in Valencia, a small town outside Dumaguete. But even Valencia is not homogenous. We’re in E. Balabag, a neighborhood at the beginning of Valencia, not too far elevated. Then you go further up the hill to the city center, and still further up to those rarified neighborhoods with rich foreigners and great overlooking views. Those neighborhoods are not the same; the prices, who lives there, the amenities and even the weather are not the same.
Flexibility: Let me ask you a question – are you flexible? No, I’m not conducting a sex survey – get your head out of the gutter.
IMO you should be flexible in life no matter where you live but you sure as hell can’t travel to or live in the 3rd world without flexibility and humor. This may be the best tip I can give you.
Actually I’ve been retired 5+ months, but 6 sounds better and when you’re retired who the hell keeps track of time. Nonetheless it seemed like a good time to report about the boredom of retirement.
Let me think about what Janet and I have done since the 1st of May. We prepped our house in Portland for sale and listed it. We personally handled about half the open houses, giving us both confidence that we too could be realtors – if we were out of our minds. We cleaned obsessively (well, that was mostly Janet). We schemed how we could sell a house that we were assured would fly off the market (it didn’t). We worried – a lot. Who says retirement means no stress.
Finally we sold the old homestead and after a pleasant stay with some friends, a week later we were on a 20 hour plane ride to Cebu, followed by a 5 hour bus ride to our new home in Dumaguete.
We arrived at the Hermogina Apartments; our apartment was as advertised and reasonably pleasant. We immediately discovered the joys of Robinson’s Mall, since we had virtually nothing for the apartment. There’s been barely a day the last two months we haven’t been back to Robinson’s at least once.
While we intended to rest and take some time before starting a search for a house rental, we didn’t. 64 years of no rest mode meant we were anxious to find a rental house and a car. We scored both within a few weeks of arriving in Dumaguete. But an unfurnished rental house meant we had pretty much nothing other than an empty house. Appliance and furniture shopping followed and we scored some nice things at decent prices.
Just as importantly we shopped for an Internet provider. The Philippines is notorious for poor and slow Internet and most expats complain (sometimes bordering on whining) about it. I expected the same. The Internet at the Hermogina Apartments was slow but adequate. Since neither Janet nor I are gamers or downloaders of porn (lol) our speed needs are modest. We found a new service in our neighborhood and so far my connection is much faster than what I had in Portland. I try to be very careful about speaking about this too much here, since I do not wish to get kicked out of the expat community. So when anyone talks about their lousy Internet I just nod in agreement (while giggling to myself). This said, I know things do change quickly in the Philippines.
After 6 weeks or so our 9 balikbayan boxes arrived from the US. For a few pesos we were able to convince LBC to deliver them to the new house rather than the apartment; try doing that with UPS or Fed-EX! So now we had a houseful of crap and spent the next few weeks in frustration, trying to figure out how to organize it all. Oh, did I mention that unfurnished in the Philippines often means no cabinets and closets. Plastic boxes are plentiful and in every imaginable size and shape here.
So now that we have been in the house about a month it’s actually taking shape. The 3rd bedroom which will be my shop and tiny office, seems to be the trickiest but I’m getting there. Another six months and I might actually be able to start building guitars here.
In the midst of all this we are still planning to build or purchase a house and are doing research on what, where and how much. And Janet has some business issues in her hometown of Alcoy which has taken her back there a few times.
I have also spent the last two months re-learning how to drive. Driving in the Philippines is not the same as in Portland. The closest example I can think of is when I spent a year in NYC, but it’s even crazier than that. I have no words to describe it really; it has to be experienced. But so far I haven’t killed anyone and it may be the masochist in me – but I am kind of enjoying it.
In case anyone reading this thinks I am just listing complaints – I am not. I am having a blast! So I will add the times I have been at the beach and went into the warm ocean, the nice pools we have discovered, the varied restaurants and sights we have taken in. There hasn’t been much time for socializing, but we’ve met a few people and look forward to more of that. In fact, we have company coming over this afternoon for the first time since we moved into the house.
In short, I haven’t been bored for a second. Boredom isn’t in my nature in general but for those who worry that retirement in the Philippines might be boring – it’s been anything but.
We’ve also got a second bedroom set up as a guest room. Our first guests will be here in a couple weeks and I expect once the word gets out we might have a small stream of guests come by.
Oh, and one more thing. I’ve spent part of the morning chasing a Huntsman spider here in my shop/office. Apparently this thing does not want to die and despite their size they hide very well. So as the cliche goes it’s more fun in the Philippines!