How to Survive in The Philippines – A Brief Guide for Expats

Living in the Philippines can be a very enjoyable and enlightening experience. You’ll be treated some of the world’s best beaches, great weather most of the year, and beautiful women. That being said it’s not for everyone.

Expats who come here and expect to be treated like kings and queens are in for a rude awakening. The fact is we are guests in this country and if you hope to make it you must humble yourself. If you don’t the consequences can be dire. See my article on why foreigners get killed in the Philippines.

How to Survive in The Philippines

These tips should serve as a guide to help new expats survive and thrive in The Philippines.

  • Choose Your Friends Wisely
  • Scams are a fact of life
  • Develop a good network of people
  • Avoid Legal Risks
  • Don’t live in ‘da hood’
  • Understand it gets hot and humid
  • Bring a backup laptop
  • Have an income before you arrive
  • Decide how you will stay legally

Tip 1: Choose Wisely Who You Associate With

If you hang out with trailer park trash or hood rats anywhere in the world, expect the same results in the Philippines. If you want to avoid these petty dramas. STAY AWAY FROM HOOD RATS.

If you call this elitist, or whatever, well suit yourself. While Juan Tambay (tambay is the tagalog word for bum) is ripping you off and pretending to be your friend, I will prefer to associate with a better class of people.

The same rules go here as home. Stay away from drunks, drugs, gamblers, the chronically unemployed, and lazy.

The Philippines has a much higher percentage of these types in the general population. There is a significant brain drain with higher IQ Filipinos emigrating out and leaving the shiftless behind. The average IQ here is 86 (source).

You need to choose your friends and associates carefully. Not every friendly person is your friend. When I hear “hey Joe!” I check for my wallet–literally.


Tip 2: Factor Scams into Your Cost of Living

You have to be stubborn and clever to crack the coconut that is the Philippines and survive long term here. Do not spend your wad of cash in the first 5 months.

I have seen so many Americans come here, blow their retirement fund with the ‘help’ from Filipino wives and go home tail between their legs at the one year mark.

Me personally, I too got hosed. Married a doctor. Turned out she was lazy. My success was only after I cut her off from the cash.

BUT this may not be your case. I also know Westerners here who are very successful because they have wives who are not wasteful and backwards. CHOOSE YOUR WOMAN CAREFULLY.

Also, stay the hell away from women with little kids, and who wants to send money home to mom and dad. You are just a chump if you get sucked into that.

Business here is hard. Especially because of the Filipino habit of ‘tawad tawad’ I did not charge enough in the beginning of my business and let customers bully me into insane low prices. I only started to earn when I stopped caring. By that If someone wants me to work my butt off and I make 100 bucks for a week’s labor, they can pound sand. Piss on them.

Tip 3: Develop a Good Network

Develop a good network. of people who actually work, have successful businesses, and are not scammers. This takes time. In general, you will need to know someone here at least 6 months before you know if they are a scammer.

Join your Masons, Rotary, Lions Club, Knights of Columbus to integrate yourself with the local area.

Tip 4: Avoid legal risks

Do not buy property without a complete investigation. there is NO TITLE INSURANCE in The Philippines. Due diligence is very very important. Many ads for real estate are people selling property they do not own. (fraud)

Get a driver. Filipinos are reckless drivers. Put your driver thru driving school. If (or rather when) the inevitable tickets and accidents happen, your driver gets it, not you.

Tip 5: Don’t Live in ‘Da Hood’

Filipinos live in gated subdivisions for a reason. Crime and infrastructure are better in gated communities. this is because the government is weak and unable to do these things, and/or the gov officials have stolen the funds for roads, sewage etc. Security is also an issue.

Keep in mind that not all subdivisions are created equal. Most guys can’t afford to live in a class A subdivision. That’s where the big wigs and politicians live but class B (middle/upper-middle class) subdivisions are just fine.

When you select a subdivision look for ones that have uniformed guards on duty 24/7. You can join any expat group to get the inside scoop on the best ones.

When you see a group of hood rats in Baltimore passing around a bottle on the stoop, you stay away. Well the Philippines has more than its share of those guys too. A good subdivision limits access of those guys.

Inside my subdivision, we do not have to lock our doors. Outside the gate, People will steal everything because the tambay boyz have free rain.

Disclaimer: I lived in a class C subdivision (da hood) in The Philippines and loved it. I found the girls to be much less pretentious than Makati girls. I think it worked for me because I grew up near the ghetto in the US, I had a good girl who was protective of me, and most importantly I really didn’t have any money to give away in the first place.

Tip 6: Prepare for The Tropical Weather

Most of the time the weather in The Philippines is quite pleasant, but tropical weather does have tidbits that you need to be aware of. Typhoons (hurricanes) hit the country every year. If you live in a decent area chances are they won’t affect you much.

The most important thing you need to be aware of is the heat. It GETS HOT AND HUMID. It’s not uncommon to see temperatures of 85 degrees with 90% humidity.

Tip 7: Bring a Backup Laptop

Unless your laptop is new I recommend you bring a backup with you. Why? Because new laptops are insanely expensive due to tariffs. You can expect a laptop in The Philippines to cost double what it would cost in America.

It’s kind of misleading too since most electronics are cheap but yeah be ready for that.  See my full article on things to bring to The Philippines.

Tip 8: Have an Income BEFORE You Come

Unless you have a really special skill set you’ll find it very difficult to find work here and you won’t be happy with the salaries. Guys often ask how much money they’ll need. The general rule is you need between $800-$2000 a month to live a western lifestyle that you’re used to back home. Guys that try to live like locals usually don’t last long here.

Please don’t think you can live the rest of your life on a $10,000 lump sum. If you have a lump sum you’ll need about $300,000-$500,000.

That’s assuming you have no additional income and you have your money invested in an index fund which will give you a 10% average annual return. Based on the 4% rule, this will allow you to withdraw $1200-$1666 a month from your account without sucking it dry.

I know there are blogs out there from guys who are living off a 100k lump sum but trust me those guys aren’t living a life that most of us westerners want to live.

They probably don’t have hot water, air conditioning, and can’t eat out much.  They’re not living, they’re surviving.

Tip 9: Decide How You Will Stay Legally

Most westerners (Americans, Europeans, Aussies, Kiwis, etc) just stay on a tourist visa. The Philippines allows you to extend your tourist visa without leaving the country for up to 36 months. There are some disadvantages though.

  1. You’re easily deportable should you ever get into mischief
  2. It’s very difficult to open up a bank account on a tourist visa
  3. You’re subject to the whims of the current administration. They can change the rules for a tourist visa anytime.

Some other common ways people stay in the Philippines permanently is on a retirement visa or a marriage visa. You can read more about those in my article How to US Citizen Live Permanently in The Philippines.  UK citizens click here.

Tip 10: Learn Some Tagalog Words

The big appeal of The Philippines is that most of the locals speak English, unlike most other low-cost destinations. However, English is the second language not the first. In Manila, most of the locals will speak Tagalog.

I strongly advise you to learn a few key phrases before you go. This will give you a leg up when dealing with locals and earn you some brownie points also. They can also help you tell if your girl is really into you or not.

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Jerald Lynch
3 years ago

“The average IQ here is 86”. Site your source of this tidbit, or remove it.