Who are you?
I’m Jonny Lis, a 26 year old British expat from London now having ‘more fun’ in the Philippines!
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I moved to the island of Cebu (the Philippines’ ‘second capital’ after Manila) in September 2012. I was growing tired of the London rat race and wanted to do something radically different to the monotonous lifestyle I had been living.
Having said that, my opportunity to move here only came about by chance rather than it being a conscious decision.I was searching for jobs when one popped up in the Philippines. I applied and then two months and three interviews later I was offered the role, which was a fantastic moment for me.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Primarily it was isolation from my friends and family. I was used to always being around people and suddenly had to move somewhere on the other side of the world, where I would be living alone and didn’t know anyone. Despite that, I knew that it was the best thing for me and I was excited about my new life.
I had never even been to Asia beforehand, and going on a long haul flight for the first time was certainly an experience. I had to fly 12 hours to Hong Kong and get a connecting flight to Cebu for another 4 hours, so it was a pretty exhausting trip. Consequently I also had my first experience of jet lag!
How did you find somewhere to live?
I’ve actually just written a detailed post on my blog about renting property in Cebu City. To summarise though, the company I work for put me up in a hotel for the first few days I was here, and I searched online for some suitable properties before finding somewhere to rent after 4 or 5 days. The condo I moved to was actually in the same hotel I was staying in at the time, so it was quite easy to move my things from one room to the other! I looked at several places via local property websites but most of them were either not as good as their photos or more expensive than advertised. Ultimately I was recommended to check the condos in the adjoining tower in the hotel and fell in love with the place, so I snapped it up.
It turned out to be quite an expensive living arrangement though, as the ‘condo dues’ (plus tax on condo dues) and electricity bills were much more than I was told that they would be, and I also had a tricky landlord that took a considerable chunk of the deposit upon my leaving the property for very minor details. Despite that expensive first 12 months, I have since found a nice apartment via a property website at less than half the cost of the condo I was living in, and I’m very happy here.
Are there many other expats in your area?
In the small ‘barangay’ (town) where I live there are very few expats, but I live just a 10 minute taxi ride from the main area of Cebu City where there are more. I’ve noticed a lot more foreigners coming to Cebu in the 18 months that I’ve been here and if you go to the clubs and ‘girlie bars’ then you will see a lot. There are very few like me who are under 30 though.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I’d like to think it’s pretty good – I get on well with all the locals in my office and my girlfriend is also a Filipina that I met here. I don’t hang out with locals on a regular basis but I always have a good time when I do and equally the locals are usually very friendly towards me.
What do you like about life where you are?
I like that the cost of living is much lower and how respectful everyone is to me when I go anywhere – I get treated as if I’m very important.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Sometimes just getting things done is a challenge and I often have a number of logistical issues – it’s very difficult to pay for things online or by direct debit here, so I often have to go to the specific store of the internet company to pay the internet bill, or go to the phone company to pay the phone bill, and I’ll have to pay in cash for everything. Unless I get cash from an ATM at my local bank then I’ll also be charged a small fee.
The utility companies are always trying to overcharge or make up costs from time to time as well, so I usually have to debate with them how much should be paid on a monthly basis. This might be due to my ‘foreigner’ status though, as often the local businesses can try to take advantage of you.
There doesn’t seem to be a postal service either – if you order a package you’ll typically have to go to the one post office on the island to pick it up rather than getting it delivered to your house. My mother sent me a birthday card last year in plenty of time and it arrived 6 weeks after my birthday!
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
I think the main cultural differences revolve around regulation – in the Philippines, anything goes. People stand on the back of jeepneys (small local buses) as they ride around the city and people sometimes ride motorbikes without helmets, there might even be a family of 5 on one motorbike! These are things that you could never get away with in my own country, but the same mentality applies everywhere. There is also a very relaxed mindset towards prostitution and although it’s not strictly legal, it happens all the time and it’s just accepted as part of the culture. Within reason you can pretty much do anything you want to here and not have to worry about the consequences.
As I grew up in London, I was exposed to people from all over the world and my friends back home are from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. In the Philippines though, despite their Spanish colonisation, they aren’t exposed to foreigners on anywhere near the same level, so they sometimes get shocked/scared/shy when they come into contact with one.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
I very rarely buy clothes as there isn’t a great selection here and I’m in the office wearing formal attire 5 days a week anyway. I usually buy a few clothes when I’m in the UK at Christmas if I need any.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
It’s ok but nothing to write home about. I usually eat very healthy foods – fruit, vegetables, lean meat, eggs and oatmeal, so my diet is fairly similar to what it used to be, although there is much less choice in the supermarkets (my local supermarket doesn’t even sell beef!). The typical Filipino dish is fried meat (mostly pork) with a large helping of rice. There is some nice local food like ‘adobo’ and the seafood is very good as you’d expect, but I can’t see it catching on in the west in the same way Thai or Chinese food has.
There is even a local Philippine delicacy known as ‘Balut’, which is an unborn duck egg that has been allowed to grow for between 16-22 days, before being boiled and then eaten. I have tried it and it was horrible! I felt like I had to try it though while I was here.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Don’t eat balut! I think the best advice here would be to make friends as it can be a lonely and bewildering place on your own, although that’s not hard to do as Cebu is quite small and most people here are friendly and easy-going.
What are your plans for the future?
I haven’t really considered it. I’m happy here for the meantime and I’m getting some fantastic experience both professionally and personally, so I’m in no rush to leave!
For further information about expat life in the Philippines please contact Jonny via: