Who are you?
I’m a retired (policy analyst), widowed non-resident Canadian.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I’ve lived across Canada (5 provinces) and mainly in the middle East: Egypt and Saudi Arabia, when my late husband was alive (lived overseas from 2004-2010) due to his work. Now currently I’m living in Dasmarinas, Cavite Philippines. This is about 1.5 hours SW of Manila on the island of Luzon.I’ve been here officially since Dec 2014 (over 1 year) although I visited previously for a week or two. I also am in the country less than half the time as I travel a lot.
I moved here specifically to be nearer to my 95 year old father who (re)married a Filipina almost 8 years ago (after he was widowed 13 years) and get to know my step-family here who almost all live in the compound we currently live in (in Dasmarinas close to the Silang township border).
I also was looking for a retirement haven so as to have my limited pension funds go further and thought I’d give the Philippines a try as I’d never lived in SE Asia before.
What challenges did you face during the move?
I took out an SRRV, which is an extended visitor’s visa or retirement resident, which is different from a PR (permanent resident) which my father has since he married a local. It only took 2-3 months to do and I started it before coming, in Canada and finished after my arrival. It also required investing $20K USD in the local bank (held in trust) which could be used if I wished towards purchase of a condo in my name. It also allowed me to import some of my items from Canada (personal effects) but they didn’t tell me I had to do it immediately (it had to arrive within 3 months of me getting my SRRV) and that required getting permission to extend it by a couple of months as my schedule did not permit getting my things earlier.
How did you find somewhere to live?
Thankfully I had step-family helping me out at first. I stayed with them until I could find a suitable townhouse in the complex which would temporarily accommodate my adult son upstairs and myself downstairs, with shared kitchen. This 100 SM 2 storey row townhouse (200 SM total, up and down) cost 3M PHP to purchase (approx $75K USD) and another 3M PHP to renovate as I had to enclose the carport area to make a main floor bedroom and bath, plus to put in a/c, major appliances, draperies and blinds, paint throughout, etc.
I also decided to put in a small 2 person elevator between the floors which led to the upstairs deck in order to hang out laundry without entering my son’s area, for privacy. The elevator has caused no end of headaches with frequent breaking down and calling in for repair, especially during the rainy season. Also the water pressure was always low so I had to put in a water tank and pump. The pump keeps seizing up when the water pressure is low in the compound, which is usually on Sundays so I’ve learned to conserve water, especially on the weekends and not do laundry then.
Additionally, I could not purchase this property under my own name, since foreigners cannot purchase land or houses, only condominiums. There are no condos in the area and I needed to be close to my father and stepmom short of living with them. So it is under a stepsister’s name with the understanding that it is my property.
I pay the utilities monthly on it (approx $200/month for electricity due to a/cs going all the time, townhouse/water dues of about $30, land phone and internet about $40 and I recently canceled the cable as my domestic staff were using it and they have moved on to their relatives in another town).
Are there many other expats in your area?
No, I rarely see an expat. I’m basically living outside of a metropolitan area in a smallish town. A few expat men live in a couple higher-end compounds nearby but they are living with or married to local women. I once met a foreign US woman married to a local man but she was here for missionary work and worked in an orphanage they were running. Foreigners are rare, especially solo female ones.
I have gone into Manila once or twice for some organized events with expats through Inter Nations. But these events are largely enjoyed by younger people (in their 20s, 30s and maybe 40s), and interestingly, there is a high proportion of Filipinos attending (questionably expats?).
What is your relationship like with the locals?
We hold a friendly but arms’ length relationship. I feel like I’m under a magnifying glass here, as an anomaly of being a foreign woman alone, so I’m a curiosity. They are well-meaning and uber-friendly, and think nothing of asking endless personal questions which I find invasive, so I try to keep my interactions short but polite. Being a normally shy and introverted person, it really forces me to be more extroverted much of the time, which is tiring and stressful.
They say english is spoken in the Philippines and maybe it is, either in the malls or larger centers, but certainly it is very limited in the compounds and in townships outside of the larger centers. Many bills have to be paid in Tagalog, which I use my part time driver for, or occasionally a relative. I’m not here long enough or often enough to try to learn the language and it’s a barrier. I had some domestic staff, but it became more problematic to keep them with my frequent absences so I manage a lot of things on my own.
What do you like about life where you are?
I like the fact that I can get MOST things here, in the stores and malls, at least food wise in restaurants and that malls are plentiful.
I’m grateful for regular internet, which keeps me in touch with the world.
Good, affordable health care.
I like the fact I can live more simply and for less than I would in Canada or a similar first world nation.
And the sunsets here are almost spectacular every night.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Although I’ve lived in other countries, and even a third world country like Egypt, I think each country has its own type of culture shock. Here, I’m appalled by the lack of hygiene and cleaning practices and how long it takes to do even simple things. Maybe it’s the attitude in general in hot countries?
I can’t find clothing or footwear my size as it’s geared towards the ‘Asian’ fit, not European or American sizes.
The worst of all is probably the isolation. There are people all over, but I can’t really communicate with them or find I don’t want to (not much in common). They are noisy, undisciplined and speak loudly. Karaoke is popular and they think nothing of making noise on the streets at all hours and neighbours rarely complain (just me!). I miss talking to other foreigners in person or being in a foreigner community.
I also don’t like so many ants, cockroaches and mosquitoes and the high humidity. I’m not a big fan of rain, so I have to leave during the monsoon season.
I hate the attitude towards animals and their welfare. I’ve already spent a fortune at the vet (thank God there at least ARE vets) on fixing up some of the stray cats in the neighbourhood the last year (desex, vaccinate, deworm) and trying to rehome some of the friendliest ones (very hard job, no one is interested or are irresponsible). Dogs are kept on short leashes or in cages, often kept in the hot sun without blankets, food or water. I’ve rescued a few but I can’t be sure of how well they will be kept. Additionally, many keep roosters for the bloody cock fights to the death that are popular especially on the weekends.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Probably many of the things listed above. Climate and culture, I suppose. And lack of contact with other foreigners or people who speak English or have been in or are from other countries.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
I can’t find some foods I am used to (like turkey) and there is more pork here than I like (I don’t eat or like pork) and they serve whole roasted pig especially during their many fiestas and parties. The fish is bony. There are few vegetables and it’s a high starch, protein and sugar diet.
However they have great coconut rice! And the fresh bananas, coconuts and mangoes are great.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Firstly, I would question the need to get an SRRV if one doesn’t plan on purchasing a condo. I’ve overheard other foreigners at the Immigration Office say they just extend their visitors’ visas as needed (they can stay up to 6 months at a time after they renew the original 30 days), then just exit the country I think overnight and come back in again. Much cheaper, in the long run. I would suggest trying to live in the country a year first before getting such a visa, to see if they will stay. They need to keep the SRRV at least for 3 years before turning it back in, if they don’t stay or use it for real estate purposes.
Also it depends on the reason for coming to the Philippines. Most foreigners I’ve observed come either for work, missionary outreach, or are retired older foreign men married to Filipina women. Everyone has their own ‘niche’ and there doesn’t seem to be a foreign ‘community’ per se, the foreigners are spread out and integrated with the culture/community which I suppose is good. But its isolating for those who miss this contact.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ll be coming back and forth here for the next short while, perhaps a year or two as my elderly father needs. But he is well looked after by his local family, who dote on him and make him feel like a king so I’m really not needed here.
So I am already looking for a new place/country where I feel less alienated and more truly welcome and accepted as a solo, retired woman. I’m currently exploring other retirement havens such as Panama, Belize, Portugal and Spain and I may consider Thailand. I guess I’m looking for a first-world experience in a third-world country, to make the limited retirement funds go further! I’m probably dreaming in technicolor.
I really miss the climate of Egypt, as I really like dry, hot and arid countries, so I’m not sure if I am really wanting a tropical or subtropical country which has all the rain. Seems most of the retirement havens seem to be in tropical or subtropical regions, or else are in colder places than I would like. Hard to find a balance.
I don’t regret coming to the Philippines. It has actually opened my eyes to other ways of life and helped me realize the things I DON’T want perhaps! It can be a great place for couples or elderly retired men, as it has a lot to offer the right kind of person who feels resonance with it (like my Dad). But for solo, retired women? Not so much. Even with a step-family here, it is isolating. Wish me luck!