Advice for Expats

Thinking of Moving to The Philippines from the USA? Here’s What You Need to Know

As I sit here in a cyber cafe because my internet service is down once again, I began to ponder about how much I’ve learned since moving to The Philippines from America. Maybe you’re thinking about coming here whether it be to retire or to start a new life. That’s why I’m writing this article about things I’ve learned and mistakes I’ve made and seen others make when moving to The Philippines from the USA or elsewhere.

If you want to move to the Philippines from The USA consider this:

  • You can’t own land
  • You shouldn’t come here unless you already have a steady income 
  • Living happily ever after with someone you met online a few weeks ago isn’t likely
  • Just because they speak English here it’s not the same as moving from one state to another
  • Make sure you bring the right things
  • It’s essential to have proper expectations before moving here

No Land for You!

This seems to be a massive issue with American expats. They come here and are desperate to partake in land ownership. They know The Philippine constitution expressly forbids foreigners from owning land. However, they think they can find some clever scheme to get around the land ownership laws. Plus, it’s super easy to find someone willing to sell them a piece a paper that says the land is theirs so why not try, right? Some of the tricks I’ve seen are setting up fake corporations, creating auto-renewing or indefinite leasing agreements, and putting the land in a local’s name (usually their girlfriend) and placing a lean on the property.

The problem with all of these schemes is while some of them may be clever; they all have one fatal flaw. These schemes mentioned above all amount to de-facto land ownership which is not only forbidden by the Philippine constitution but also their Anti-Dummy Law. That lawyer who you paid 5000 pesos did mention the Anti-Dummy Act right?  The Anti-Dummy Act is a law specifically created to prevent foreigners from trying to get around the equity restrictions in land and business ownership restrictions

AN ACT TO PUNISH ACTS OF EVASION OF THE LAWS ON THE NATIONALIZATION OF CERTAIN RIGHTS, FRANCHISES OR PRIVILEGES

Be it enacted by the National Assembly of the Philippines

Section 1. Penalty — In all cases in which any constitutional or legal provisions requires Philippine or any other specific citizenship as a requisite for the exercise or enjoyment of a right, franchise or privilege, any citizen of the Philippines or of any other specific country who allows his name or citizenship to be used for the purpose of evading such provision, and any alien or foreigner profiting thereby, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than five nor more than fifteen years, and by a fine of not less than the value of the right franchise or privilege, which is enjoyed or acquired in violation of the provisions hereof but in no case less than five thousand pesos.

Read the Full Text of the Law

In short, you may rent, lease, and in limited circumstances own a condo–that’s it! The next time you hear a foreigner bragging that he owns land through some brilliant scheme ask him to provide some examples where this idea held water in court.  Expats have gotten killed over land disputes. They’ll try to buy land by putting it in their girlfriend’s name. She’ll sell it, and when he tries to get the proceeds of the sale, her family will get rid of him.

Related: Why Foreigners Get Killed in The Philippines

You Won’t Be Able to Find Work

This mostly applies to younger expats that aren’t getting a steady social security check yet. They think coming here is the same as moving to Thailand or Vietnam where you can survive off some crappy English teaching gig. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but that isn’t the case here. First of all since most Filipinos speak English as some level there isn’t the demand for foreign English teachers and second, unless you have some highly sought after skill set such as nuclear engineering or technical consulting it’ll be almost impossible to get a work permit here. And unlike other countries you may have been to working here without the proper documentation is a serious offense.

The reason being is they see you working as taking a job from a Filipino which is punishable by immediate deportation or jail time.  Third, even if you could find work here, you most likely wouldn’t be happy with it. One of the Philippines primary exports is cheap labor. That means you’d be competing with people who are willing to work for pennies on the dollar–even in the high skill fields. To give you an idea of the job market here, I’m starting up a business in a province where I will be hiring college-educated employees and will be paying them $10 a day.

Related: Why US Citizens Get Deported from The Philippines

Starting a Business

So many people come here thinking they have some grand idea for a business that will make them filthy rich! Some common ones are they want to start a sari-sari or a piggery. Aside from the land ownership restrictions I just talked about, The Philippines also restricts which businesses a foreigner may own. The general rule is 40%, but in some cases, it’s even less. However, there are cases where it’s more. While the list is always changing chances are high that you’ll never be able to own a sari-sari, a restaurant, or a piggery.

Consider this, most of the guys that try to start a business like that fail anyway. If you genuinely want to own a successful business try to think outside of the box. I promise you, most of the grand ideas that you have for a business where also thought of by someone else before.

Related: List of Businesses You May Own in The Philippines

Things You Need to Bring With You

Oh, I don’t need to bring anything with me, except my debit card! That’s what I thought when I first came here at least. The truth is there are some things that you should bring with you from the US as they are very hard to find here and if you can they’ll be very expensive. The most important one for me was a backup computer. I’m a blogger and using a computer is how I make my living. Well, when my trusty laptop decided to die, I was in for an unpleasant surprise at the computer store.

The Philippines has some tariff or import duty on computers which makes them cost nearly double what they do in the US. In my case, a high-quality computer is a must, and it actually would’ve been cheaper to fly to the US, get a laptop there, and bring it back than to buy one here.  That’s why if your computer is essential to you then you need to bring a backup computer with you.

Related: 10 Things I Wish I Brought with Me to The Philippines

Finding Love in The Philippines

I had a buddy that was having a hard time dating women here in The States. He was only 35 and had a full-time job as a nurse, but the girls he kept meeting didn’t share his values. He also had problems with women cheating on him. The problem was the girls he was interested in valued hyper-masculine aggressive males, and as a relatively soft-spoken Asian male, he didn’t fit their criteria.

We (his parents and I) suggested looking to The Philippines for a suitable wife. He was skeptical but open. We knew other men who were divorced and found their love in The Philippines. So, he decided to try it. Because he had done his homework, he knew what to expect when dating a girl from The Philippines. He also knew how to Find a Filipina Wife With Good Values, and most importantly, he understood the value of patience.

He chatted with many women and went there twice. Last time he came back he jubilantly told me he met a nice young lady that fit his criteria. She was in shape, conservative, and loved the Lord as much as he did. Even better she wasn’t demanding and all in his face like the western women he dated before.

Better still she didn’t look down on him for living with his parents. She understood that he had a full-time job and knew he was saving money to buy a house. I’ve never seen him happier! They got married last month. If you are interested in dating a Filipina, please read Interested in Dating a Filipina? Here’s What to Expect. 

So yes, it can happen but remember that Filipinas can be masters at deception. They know exactly what to tell a lonely guy searching for love to make him think she’s the one. Many guys came here expecting to put a ring on it only to be disappointed. It’s important to know that it takes a long time to know someone. Great video chats for a few weeks isn’t going to cut it.

Life and Culture in The Philippines

Bacolod City Western Visayas Philippines
View from SM Mall Sky Bridge Bacolod City

There seem to be a lot of stories out there of people living like a king for $500 a month here, but that’s not what I see. First off there’s no way you’ll be living in Metro Manila on that meager amount. Secondly, even in the province that’s pushing it. I am a homebody that sits on the computer all day and am very content doing so. However, most foreigners will want to go to a decent restaurant, a bar, take their girl out for a good time, shower with hot water, and have a home that isn’t infested with cockroaches and rodents. There’s no way you’ll be able to do anything like that for just $500 a month. In the province, I’d say you need at least $1,000 per month to live a lifestyle that’s comparable to the US, and in Manila, it can be $2,000-$3,000+

It’s Not like Moving to Another State

The Philippines is the place where basic things can go wrong. For example, when I moved from Manila to Negros, I wanted to bring some of my appliances in an attempt to save money. I used 2GO Freight Services. I went into their office on Saturday, they gave me an estimated price, and their employee repeatedly assured me that my things would be picked up on Monday before lunch. Monday evening arrived, and I called, and they told me the courier was not available, but they would come on Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon I called, and they said they would be there around 2 pm. When they finally did arrive, it turned out their estimate was way off. I decided to sell most of my appliances to my landlords. But that’s just an example of the polite but poor customer service you can expect here. Things like that can be quite maddening.

Some expats get the wrong idea that just because English is widely spoken here that moving to The Philippines from the USA is like relocating from New York to Hawaii. It’s just not true. There are some distinct cultural differences and some things that will gnaw at you. For example, ‘sorry sir out of stock’ is something you can expect to hear quite often when going to your favorite store. Being explicitly told whatever you paid for to have done by a company and then returning to find out they haven’t even started are just a few of the things you’ll experience here. Some guys can’t take it, and they lash out which could lead to more significant problems.  You need to learn how to let things go if you want to be successful here.

Related: How to Behave in The Philippines: Suck it Up

Getting a Visa in The Philippines

The visa process to move here is a bright spot for the country. The Philippines is one of the most accessible countries in the world for an American to be an expat. Most expats move here either on what I call the indefinite tourist visa or the Special Retiree Resident’s Visa (SRRV). The tourist visa is free for the first two months and can be extended every 59 days for 3,069 pesos after that. Unless you plan to work or start a business getting a visa will be the least of your problems.

Related: How to Stay in The Philippines Permanently

Dealing With Other Expats

I’ve traveled to over 30 different countries at this point and been an expat in a couple. Usually, your fellow expats are a great source of help and useful information. The Philippines is a bit different. While most of the expats here are decent people, who have decided to live out their golden years in this tropical paradise this country also tends to attract people with criminal backgrounds, mental health issues, pedophiles, and indigents.

At least once a week I read about a fugitive who was caught and arrested in The Philippines. There was even one British guy, who was quite active in an expat group that I belong to, who turned out to be one of the heads of a massive online fraud scheme. I’ve never seen so much e-begging for unfunded medical expenses as I have in The Philippines if we consider that The Philippines is one of the cheapest places in the world to receive medical care that doesn’t bode well for the quality of people this place attracts.

Then you have the ”I hate expats, expats”. These are the guys that join internet groups and boards just to crap on other expats. I suppose it makes them feel more integrated into Philippine society by doing this. Of course, they never have a good answer to the question of if you hate your fellow expats so much why are you in an expat group? I enjoy these guys the most since they are the ones who think they’ve got it all figured out and then when they get scammed they always whine to the expat community for help.

In Manila, you’ll tend to encounter more quality expats. Manila expats tend to be here for work and are younger. Provincial expats tend to be retirees, pensioners, and bloggers ;). Really though, you’ll meet great expats throughout the country.

Conclusion

The Philippines is a great place to live and retire in if: you don’t take things personally, have a lot of patience, have a pre-existing income or job lined up beforehand, and are okay with never being able to own land in your own name.

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