Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Cost Of Living In The Philippines
The Philippines is dubbed to be one of The Eight Top Places In The World To Retire by “International Living.” I would argue that of the 196 countries, including the newest country, South Sudan on the continent of Africa, there are more than eight countries that make up an excellent environment for which to retire. The cost of living that you chose, largely has to do with which of the 196 countries you chose to live in.
One hundred ninety-six countries make up our Planet, so there are many more than eight countries in which to chose from to retire to, but the Philippines is the subject of this article. Of the 196 countries of the world, only 192 are members of the United Nations. Why is that important to understand? Well, if you chose to retire to any one or several of these 192 United Nation member countries and have a problem on the magnitude that you need United Nation’s intervention, you will sure be grateful that the country you retired to is a member, not only for the extra sense of safety that it implies, but for arbitration purposes too!
Two countries, such as Kosovo and the Vatican are also not members of the United Nation. Kosovo and the Vatican are independent countries, but I digress. The Philippines is a great place to live if you are willing to take the time to understand the culture, the people and the aspirations of those around you. The Philippines like most developing countries has what most foreigners to the country seek, such as friendliness of the population, fresh food and clean water, interesting terrain, seas and oceans and a vibrant culture that is sure to please any human with a pulse.
Most visitors to the Philippines are blessed with a positive experience during their visits and at some point in their lives, chose to relocate and settle in the Philippines if not for the entire year, surely for many months at a time, while exploring other parts of East Asia and South East Asia. Staying in the Philippines for a few months makes it possible to save enough money to travel more extensively through out other parts of the developing world, although the developed world is considerable more expensive to travel to and stay for any period of time without substantial resources.
The Philippines government has many retirement schemes available for those interested in settling down and for many it is an affordable option. For those who are interested in buying real estate, it helps if your Asawa (spouse) is a Filipina citizen, otherwise you will be limited to just purchasing a condominium but not owning the property that it sits on. No foreigner can legally own land in the Philippines unless they are in a relationship with a Filipina or Filipino.
The cost of living in the Philippines is really a non-issue for the overwhelming majority of foreigners who have some form of reliable cash flow that comes in frequently enough that they are within whatever budget that they have set for themselves. It is generally those who don’t have a budget or don’t know what they’re spending whom often run into problems financially. Many foreigners have some sort of predictable cash flow and they try to stay within their budget. Having said that, you can live in the Philippines on $400.00 a month or $4,000.00 a month. It all depends on how you chose to live and where you live in the Philippines. The Philippines has something for everyone on every budget, but you don’t want to be broke in the Philippines, unless you have a cadre of friends that have your back.
The hardest decision for many who move to the Philippines is determining what sort of environment they wish to live, such as in the city, just outside the city by a few miles or the rural area or on or near the coast. The Philippines is just as safe as any big city where you’re from or any rural area that you’ve been to back home. The area you chose to live has a rather substantial impact as to what your cost of living will be. There are advantages to living in each area, no matter which area you chose to live. For example, if you chose to live in the city, you can anticipate lots of traffic, noise, people who are often in a hurry and the stress that comes from it all. If, you chose to live in a rural area, you can anticipate having to give up some of the conveniences of the city, such as a late night taxi or a meal outside your home and any nightlife, if that is your preference. If, you decide to live on or near the coast, there are the concerns about typhoons, tsunamis, flooding, mudslide (primarily in areas where there is little or no foliage around your dwelling), but you’ll have access to beautiful landscapes and fresh seafoods.
You can live a relatively comfortable life in the Philippines if you live like a citizen from the Philippines, instead of trying to duplicate the place from which you came from. If, you try to replicate your life from your home country in the Philippines, you may find that it can get very expensive, very quickly, especially if you’re consuming imported foods from back home.
Philippines cooking and cuisine most foreigners who enjoy Chinese food will agree is quite delicious and nutritious, although for most of us, we have to be mindful of the salt (sodium) content of many dishes, unless we are sweating profusely each day, doing whatever. My meals are cooked in a dirty kitchen which is outdoors using the insides of a fresh young coconut (lobi), with one or two handfuls of rice grain placed inside and then placed on top of coconut charcoal to cook and about twenty minutes later, the meat is placed inside with fresh garlic, lemon grass and or peppers. Masarap (delicious) and satisfying when served.
If, you eat seasonal vegetables and fruits, which is almost laughable, now that I think about it, considering that the Philippines has basically two seasons, wet and dry seasons and fresh vegetables and fruits are available all year round. Elect to eat native foods of the Philippines and you will be in excellent shape financially, but if you eat fast foods that are located in the Philippines, you will blow through your budget rather quickly, but you’ll have comfort food that might remotely remind you of the familiar.
Furniture and Appliances
Bringing furniture from your home country to the Philippines is expensive when you compare the cost of furniture in the Philippines, that can be built from native materials, but more than a few foreigners do just that, import their lifestyles from back home. I sit on the bamboo floor and sleep on the bamboo floor with a Nilo wood pillow that looks like a half-round, one-foot fence post, but I understand too, that most foreigners want the pleasure of a mattress.
Appliances should be brought within the Philippines if at all possible and can be easily financed over a period usually not to exceed a year. A refrigerator is a must for most households, but since I don't store foods and eat fresh raw foods each day, I don't have a refrigerator. I do have a two burner gasul (LPG) stove that is more than adequate to cook with when it is raining. Most foreigners will want more conveniences, but I don't need more than that to live comfortably in the Philippines.
I live in a Nipa hut or bamboo house on the property of close friends, so there is usually someone at home all the time. My Ninong (Godmother) and Ninang (Godfather) are retired university professors and they have a nice piece of property not too far from the ocean and I enjoy my place there, but I know that most foreigners would be uncomfortable living in such a fashion.
Even with the number of times in all the many years that I have to replace the palm and bamboo thatched roof, side walls and floors, the cost of maintaining the place is about one or three months rent or household expense of many of my foreigner friends. There are housing choices to fit every situation from the native, like me, to the gated communities with ever-present security guards. How much you spend on housing largely depends on how populated the area you chose to live is and how close it is to modern conveniences.
More than a few foreigners have one or two and sometimes three domestic workers or maids, who clean, cook, do laundry and teach their children the native languages Tagalog or Visayan or Chinese. It’s all a matter of personal preferences, but I do not have a maid. I clean my own Nipa hut, do my wash outdoors by hand and hang my clothes to dry in the fresh breeze, although there is usually someone burning cobra, which is dried coconut shell as charcoal to cook their meals, so my laundry smells like smoke most of the time. I cook my own meals and sometimes go out and eat at a nearby sari-sari (small store), which is often incredibly cheap and tasty.
Unless you live in the Manila area and go over to the Divisoria Night Market, clothing is inexpensive for some, but expensive in my opinion, unless you buy from the Utay-Utays, which are tables set up like some flea markets in America, where the prices are generally fixed priced. Each table at a Utay-Utay will have clothing at a set price and you look for clothing that suits you.
Many foreigners will be frustrated that it is sometimes quite challenging to find clothing in their size, so it may be a good idea to bring as much as what you need to wear, when you come. You need at least one long pair of pants for casual outings and one long pair of pants for more formal occasions and if you like, at least one Barong Tagalog, which is mesh-like dress shirt akin to a suit in the Philippines, but more comfortable in its tropical climate.
Ultimately, what it cost for you to live in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world is largely depended on your lifestyle and your environment. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke and I don’t chase women or fool around with other men’s women, so my life is rather sedate compared to most of the foreigners that I have observed here in the Philippines. I don’t own a car here or a motor scooter, but I do have a hybrid bicycle that I ride occasionally, but my principle means of transportation is the jeepney, the trike, the bus, and the ship or ferry. I rarely fly except to enter or leave the Philippines to travel somewhere else, but if I’m just going someplace within South East Asia, such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam or Indonesia, I prefer taking a ship.
I find that the majority of people who overspend their budget in the Philippines, do so because of an unplanned emergency, too many girlfriends, too many expenses that probably could have been avoided if they had taken a little more time to do some research and counseling from those who have lived in the Philippines longer than they have, but mostly because they were in a hurry.
Currency and Exchange Rates
The exchange rate in the Philippines realitive to your home currency fluctuates from time to time and for many of us, too often, but still most foreigners do okay by not having to exchange their currencies too often. If, you’re fortunate to have a little money tucked away in some investment that pays in Philippines Pesos, you’re indeed one of the lucky ones. One other necessity is to develop right away, the instinct to adopt the idea of thinking in Philippines Pesos rather than your home currency. It’s okay to use your home currency for references, but the sooner you get used to the idea of thinking in Philippines Pesos, the sooner you’ll realize how expensive some things that you routinely buy are really not a good deal, such as the price of food items inside the mall, as opposed to the price of food at a mom and pop stand (sari-sari), just outside the mall. The same food essentially and actually better tasting oftentimes then the mall foods and definitely cheaper.
You will get the best exchange rates from the Chinoy-owned (Chinoy-Chinese-Filipinos) and Indian or Muslim-owned, foreign currency counters in the large malls such as SM, Ayala, Robinson and Gaisano. When converting your currency, use large bills because it brings a higher exchange rate and some foreign currency counters may or may not exchange smaller denominations. Most foreign currency desks won’t exchange coins, so hang on to that or give it away as charity or tips.
Major banks are just so-so for foreign exchange transactions and many foreigners tend to use bank atms for this, but be wary of the Philippines peso amount that bank atms will give you because many foreign banks will charge you a certain foreign currency transaction fee amount for each time you get money. Most credit unions charge about 2% foreign currency transaction fees, whereby many foreign mega banks will charge you a $5 foreign transaction fee plus 3-5% on top of that for the amount you withdraw.
Often, to get more substantial amounts of Philippines pesos for your needs, you will need to walk inside and use a bank teller, to save on having to withdraw multiple times to avoid the excessive foreign exchange transaction fees which add up over time to be a concern for most living in the Philippines. You may even want to consider opening up a bank account in the Philippines to facilitate some of your financial needs.
I know that this article will disappoint many who read it, because they were expecting to see a dollar comparison of living in the Philippines versus where they live now. If, there is one point I wish to make about living in the Philippines, it is that it is all realitive to what standard you wish to impose upon yourself. You live a fantastically luxurious life here in the Philippines or you can live similar to what I do and have a fantastic experience that memories are built on. Pretty much whatever your budget in dollars or whatever your unit of currency is in your developed part of the world, you can live comfortably and in the company of people, you can call friends here in the Philippines.
You can’t be in a hurry when you live in the Philippines. Most of your overspending will result from being in a hurry. As Westerners, most of us enjoy conveniences of saving time and if you have money (relative to your home country, when you compare prices in the Philippines), it is too easy to overspend, because you want to save time. If, you’re truly retired in the Philippines, there is no rush to get anything done, unless you’re trying to impress your friends or those around you.
Health care is reasonable in the Philippines and down right inexpensive if you plan ahead for medical care. More than a few Americans living in the Philippines are veterans of the U.S. military and some of them enjoy the added benefit of being able to use the Veteran’s Hospital located near Manila in Quezon City. Most of us rely on local medical providers for our ongoing chronic medical conditions and pay out of pocket for everything. Those who are married to Filipino/Filipina citizens can avail of different in-country health programs such as PhilHealth.
Hospitals vary widely in quality and location and if you have a life-threatening condition, you’ll probably want to live rather close to a comprehensive medical facility, which are generally located in the big cities. Private hospitals tend to be more expensive than the public hospitals, but the Philippines is becoming a place for medical tourist, so I really wouldn’t worry about health care too much. Quality care is available and affordable if you ask your Pinoy or Pinay friends who they recommend.
I live in the Philippines because I love the people and the culture and it is a healthy and an affordable place to live on my limited budget, whereby back in America, I would be just another homeless individual, struggling to make ends meet. In the Philippines, I can eat fresh foods, walk every day when I feel well and enjoy the company of great Filipino and Filipina kabigans (friends), who look after me when I’m ill.
Education in the Philippines is free from age 7 to age 12, but many of the schools will have additional fees from time to time, to help support extra activities at school such as field trips and the like. Students will be required to furnish their own books and materials. Many foreigners send their children to public schools in the Philippines and some opt for private schools. Most of the schools require a uniform of some sort, so budget for that. There are numerous colleges and universities and a host of vocational and trade schools available also. Education is affordable compared to Western costs and the quality of education is generally dependent on the school funding and parental involvement.
Entertainment is one of the areas that you have a wide sway over, considering your vices if any and how much you entertain them while in the Philippines. I like to walk and sightsee and take a boat ride to other islands when there are promos. I spend a fair amount of time talking to locals and riding my bicycle to adjourning villages. I go to the mountains for several weeks at a time and I spend some time on the coast and very little time in the city, unless I’m going to some free event.
Entertainment is not really a challenge or concern unless you drink heavily and wonder where you are when you sober up or like to club hop or chase the beauty around you. If, you take your time in the Philippines and plan some of your activities, you will find that the Philippines has an abundance of things to do and most of those things cost less than you thought.
Whatever you do for entertainment in the Philippines, be aware that it is an unspoken custom that if you invite someone to go somewhere with you, don’t be surprised if they show up with one or two extra folks that you didn’t count on. It is common in the Philippines for a woman to have an escort if she is from the village and maybe less likely to have an escort in the city. Just be prepared for the unusual and enjoy yourselves.
Lifestyle and Environment
Sure there are foreigners who live in gated communities and big high-rise condos here who look down on foreigners like me, but I live with the Filipino people and interact with them every day and have learned to speak many of the dialects of the islands here and surrounding countries. To those foreigners I say, in the Filipino tradition, “more power to them,” I’m just making my way in life, trying not to create any drama for anyone, in hopes that no drama will impede my path.
No matter what lifestyle you chose to live in the Philippines and no matter what environment or area you chose to live here in the Philippines, remember this one truth about the Philippines; no one builds a fortune here in the Philippines that can’t be taken away from you, unless you build that fortune with the many friends you have garnished during your stay here that isn’t based on money. People will be drawn to you for one or two reasons or both; you have money and you don’t mind sharing it and/or, you are simply, simple, but genuine. "More power to you, should you decide to join us the land of smiles."