How to Avoid Expat Burn Out in The Philippines

I’ve been an expat in two different countries for nearly ten years at this point and one thing you can count on in any gathering of expats is the bitter, damaged, disgruntled expat that complains about everything.

You know what I’m talking about. The guy that prefaces every sentence with ‘well in America we did it like this’ or ‘I never had to worry about this in England’. Most of us just politely smile and nod but just wish that person would just shut up or go home.  But that’s an obvious solution and not one most people want to do otherwise they would have done it already. A lot of guys that come here are simply priced out of their homelands which is why they’re basically economic refugees here in The Philippines.

I Hate Being an Expat! -Dealing With Expat Fatigue

The first and best solution is to try it before you buy it. I see far too many people come here for a one or two week vacation and think “wow this is a cheap version of Hawaii I’m gonna move here!”  If you think about it, it’s pretty silly to think that way. If this place was really that great then why are there so many desperate locals that will do anything, like sleeping with men old enough to be their fathers, to get out of here? Obviously, there are serious issues with the place.

That’s why I always recommend you do a long term stay before you make a more permanent move. You can book long term hotels or even an AirBnB for a month or two months. Once you’ve been here for a while then you accurately calculate how much it will cost or you to live here, whether you can deal with the slow service, the garbage, the stray dogs, and all the other negative nuances that come with living in a 3rd world country.

By the way, this is why I really dislike doing cost of living videos and articles because everyone’s budget is different. I don’t drink, go to bars, nor have a sugar baby so my cost of living is quite low whereas if you’re the type of person that always goes out to the malls, bars, and other attractions your cost of living is going to be significantly higher.

The bottom line is you need to come here first. Spend some time here yourself and see how it works for you

Learn to Forgive and Finish

Okay but if you’re already here and for whatever reason, you’re stuck here the first tip doesn’t help you much. Maybe you’ve already been screwed over by a few girls, a landlord, or a local who you thought was your friend and took your money on some great ‘investment opportunity’. What do you do then? Let me just say that I empathize with you. It’s very easy to become bitter after all those things but it doesn’t mean you have to be an old grump.

When I first moved to Bacolod I was trying to save money. I ran into a local who was selling second-hand appliances and he seemed really nice, Christian, all that good stuff. We talked and I agreed to buy a refrigerator for, I believe, 6000 pesos. He told me it was only 6 months old and the person just had to get rid of it because they got a job in Dubai. He even promised to deliver it for free.

I was running errands so I couldn’t be at my house to receive the thing so he was to drop it off at the guard station in my subdivision. The guard station confirmed he had delivered it and we met at YellowCab to pay him. When I got back the refrigerator was clearly much older than 6 months. There were stains inside and clearly someone had tried to paint over it to make it look newer. I couldn’t even get rid of that thing for 2000 pesos. I got screwed.

Obviously getting screwed out of $120 isn’t the same as losing half my life savings but the concept is the same. I lost money because someone I trusted betrayed me.

Whenever I get screwed over I just forgive and finish. Yes, I said forgive and finish. Forgive and forget is nonsense to me. You’ll probably always remember that girl that took half your life savings because you believed she loved you. That’s why you should forgive and finish. What I mean by that is you realize that it happened, you’re never going to get that money back, and you move on. You don’t bring it up again, you don’t seek revenge, and you force yourself to smile.

I don’t believe in forgive and forget. It’s better to forgive and finish.

Forgiveness & Reconciliation Are NOT the Same Things

Once you forgive someone that means the debt is paid. The word ‘forgive’ literally means to give up the desire or power to punish. That’s why when a bank forgives a loan they’re giving up their right to collect the debt that a person owes them. Reconciliation means to restore the relationship to what it was before the offense occurred. In my case, while I learned my lesson and I forgave that local who took my money I would never do business with him again.  In other words, it is forgiven and finished.

It also means I’m not going to continue to complain about it either. I’m bringing it up again as an example here but I’m not going to try to tell anyone who will listen about what happened in order to ruin his reputation in town.  It is forgiven and finished.

Be Grateful

The next step to avoid becoming a grumpy expat is to be grateful. It’s easy to talk about the bad things about The Philippines or whatever country you’re in but what about the good things? For most of us, the biggest draws are the low cost of living and the attractive women. I get to rent a beautiful penthouse condo for $200 a month and I have way more dating options than I ever did back home.  I’ve also met some awesome friends here and the Philippine smile and hospitality are contagious.  Plus I get to wear shorts and a tank top in the middle of January!  That’s what makes me grateful to be here.

Whenever I think about the fact that I don’t have to be woken up by an obnoxious alarm clock at 7 am, sit in traffic for 2 hours on I-5 to get to work, deal with all the office politics and a boss I despised, just to do it all again the next day it just makes everything else I’ve been through here worth it. I would totally come here again. I’d come here 10 times in fact!

See: New to Manila? Try these Expat Hacks

Expand Your Social Circle

I hate to say it but spending too much time with other expats can really bring you down. Don’t mistake what I’m saying here. Your fellow expats can be one of the best resources you’ll ever have here. They can help you navigate the immigration system, tell you how to avoid getting cheated and give some great life hacks. The problem is there’s always going to be those damaged bitter expats that just constantly complain and want you to feel as miserable as they are.

Plus if you’re going to be here in The Philippines then why isolate yourself from Filipinos? They’re not all scammers and gold diggers. I’ve met some great friends here who have gotten me out of a lot of jams. Of course, you need to be cautious of locals who call you their friend right away but generally if you stick to the middle and upper classes you can meet some great locals here!

Guard Your Heart in More Ways Than One

It’s easy to come here and be eager to make new friends and even marry the wrong person. When I first came here I had a ring in my bag and was ready to propose to this awesome girl I had met online. I thank God every day that I did not.  You’ll undoubtedly be approached by beautiful local women pretending to love you because they want your money and local guys pretending to be your best friend because they want you to get into this ‘great investment opportunity’ with them.

The best way to weed out locals with bad intentions is to take the time to look at their circumstances. Are they poor and obviously could use an economic boost? Now I’m not saying all poor locals are out to get you it’s just that someone who lives in a house with no floor or indoor plumbing is probably motivated by desires other than friends to talk to you.  If they’re a guy check to see if they’re serial entrepreneurs. Do they seem to have a different business idea every time you meet them?

Now I’m an entrepreneur myself and I would never try to poopoo on entrepreneurs. The difference is I had one idea and I stuck with it for years until I made any significant income with it.  They have a great idea but as soon as they don’t get the results they want they jump ship. My family is full of people like that and trust me those people die poor.

The same applies to a relationship. If you meet a girl and she seems great but she always seems to be moving from guy-to-guy then she’s probably bad news. Relationships take work like anything else and a girl that isn’t willing to stick it out and make it work probably won’t stick with you as soon as you do something she doesn’t like, like not giving her any more money.

In short: Take your time and stay away from people who lack mental discipline 

See: Dating in The Philippines 

This Takes Discipline

If you’re the type of person who’s always jumping from thing to thing and from person to person then chances are high you won’t be happy no matter where you are. Happiness comes from within and you get that happiness through life satisfaction and spiritual satisfaction. People who are happiest are the ones who are economically secure and have loving relationships around them. Both of those things take work. If you’re an entrepreneur bounce your idea around your head for a long time, I’m talking months, maybe years, before you decide to go for it. Starting a business is a big expensive commitment and isn’t something that should be taken lightly. If you’re constantly jumping from business to business you’ll be broke.

If you’ve met this great girl no matter how hard she pushes for marriage right away there’s no good reason to do it. If she’s truly a good person she’ll be just as good a year down the line as she is now. Taking the first hot girl that approaches you and doesn’t ask for money right away is a big mistake. I had a friend that was so excited to marry a girl but he couldn’t even tell me what her favorite color was or even her middle name!

Know her and let her know you. Then when you both decide to tie-the-knot you’ll know what you’re getting into.

Don’t Try to Fully Understand The Local Culture

What the heck!?  Did you say don’t try to fully understand the local culture? That’s the exact opposite of what you hear and read every day. You must be crazy! Hear me out. I had a friend here in The Philippines who was exceptionally intelligent and spoke fluent English. In fact, he would’ve probably outscored most Americans on an English exam.  He’s even been to the States and lived in Western Europe for a few months. The problem arose when I asked him to help manage one of my groups. You see while he was well read and versed in English as time went on it was clear he didn’t understand the nuances of western culture and how to manage a group of westerners.

He just didn’t get it when I explained how I had to remove one guy because he was subtly and constantly trying to undermine the other member’s confidence in me. He really came off as sanctimonious and was beyond instruction because he just knew that he was right. Unfortunately, I had to remove him in order to keep the group growing and productive.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I see the same thing with expats in The Philippines, especially among the ones that have been here for a while.  They think because they have lots of local friends, have been here a long time, and maybe even speak fluent Tagalog that they’ve got it all figured out.  We’ve all met these guys. They love to talk down to other expats and make posts on social media about ‘foreigners’ as if they’re not one. Frankly, those guys are just as annoying as the ranters. I admit it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure to see those guys coming into an expat group complaining that they got completely swindled six or twelve months after they proclaimed it was someone else’s fault that they got screwed.

The truth is everyone’s experience is going to be different. I will never fully understand Filipino culture because I’m not a Filipino. Locals will never treat me as they would another local, even if I speak to them in fluent Tagalog.  The biggest thing I’ve learned in my time in The Philippines is just how much I don’t know about The Philippines.

There will always be things here that I will never fully understand. I just accept that I’ll never get it and that the locals will never get things about me either.  I just accept that fact and move on.

One Sentence Summation

A good rule of thumb for living in The Philippines if you want to avoid saying ‘i hate being an expat’ is to think twice and make a move once.

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Fred Smith
Fred Smith
3 years ago

I read all the time about people saying how cheaply say they can live. I think that trying to live on too tight of a budget can lead to early burnout. I also think that if you try to eat the same foods you find in your home country that you will find that you are not living as cheaply as the locals. In fact if you move to a rural area, you may discover that foods you are used to eating might not even be available. I agree that you should slowly enter into the idea of moving overseas… Read more »