Friday, August 8, 2008

An Expat's Perspective on Life in The Philippines (Part 1)

As an American who has lived in the Philippines since 2005, I would like to share my experiences and observations regarding life here with new and soon-to-be residents of this country. Of course, your own experiences in settling in may differ from the following. But my intent in furnishing this information is to try to ease your adjustment, and if I have made a difference, no matter how small, it will have been worth the effort.

Within the first few days of your arrival, you are required to register with the Bureau of Immigration (BI). There are two locations you must visit. The first is the Medical Office to confirm that your physical exam report from your doctor—and you—are in order. My own experience with this step was surprisingly agreeable. I was processed and out the door in about 30 minutes. That’s the good news.

Now here comes the bad news: The second mandatory appearance is at the Bureau headquarters itself, where the registration of the visa that you were issued at the Philippine Consulate in the U.S. will be completed. At Immigration you will have to go through several steps and queue at various service windows, so it is essential that you arrive there early in the day as early as possible, around 7:45 a.m. (doors “officially” open at 8:00 but sometimes sooner). This advice for early arrival applies to the Medical Office as well.

The building where the BI in Metro-Manila is located is dismal and decrepit and not fully air conditioned, so dress comfortably. Take along reading material or anything (or anyone) else that can keep you from going out of your mind with boredom from the tedious delays that you will no doubt encounter. For although the procedure appears to be streamlined according to the instruction sign inside the building entrance, the workers that you will be dealing with are—with a few exceptions—indifferent and sluggish. You can expect to spend 1—2 full business days there in order to complete your registration.

Even so, steer clear of so-called “fixers” who for a fee can supposedly grease the wheels and speed up the process. You’ll just be wasting your money, and might even be entrapped and extorted in a sting operation. Instead, if you have a friend or family member who is a local, try to get that person to accompany and help you work your way through the system. If you have to go it alone, that’s OK, but it just helps to have someone with you to run interference with government workers who might otherwise be inclined to take their time with your paper work or take advantage of a lone foreigner.

Speaking of taking advantage, when my wife Lydia and I were about to pay our processing fees at Immigration, unexpectedly we were each automatically assessed an extra 500 Philippine Pesos in order to qualify for express lane cashier service, although we hadn’t requested this option. It turns out the “express” lane is really very long and slow, as this is where all applicants are directed anyway. Now, the BI also oversees the departure of Philippine nationals from the country, so to make matters worse for everyone else in the queue, travel agents are allowed to cut to the front of the line with stacks of passports to be processed by the cashier while the other applicants just have to wait. In short, the express lane charge is really little more than a shakedown.

By the way, unless you have an appointment, arriving early at the BI is essential for any business that you might need to conduct with that agency—not just registration. Immigration, just like any government office, takes the approach that if requiring a particular form from you is good, then insisting on multiple copies is even better. One way that you can save time and avoid the hassle at the BI forms copier section is to call Immigration the day before you go there. Find out how many copies are needed for the various documents and photos—and the size of the latter—which you will need to present. (Duplication quantity and photo size requirements are subject to change, so I can’t present that information here as it may become outdated in short order). Getting through is difficult, as the lines are usually busy, but keep dialing. It’s worth the effort. Remember, when dealing with this Bureau whether by phone or in person, patience is essential.

As previously mentioned, certain forms, applications along with other information can also be downloaded or accessed from your local Philippine Consulate General. Upon successful navigation of the registration maze at Immigration, you will be issued a receipt for an I-card, which is similar to the Green Card issued to permanent resident immigrants in the U.S. The I-card usually takes a couple months to be generated, and it is your responsibility to follow up and find out if it’s ready to be picked up as there is no automatic notification system.

But even if you follow all the instructions and complete all the requirements, there is no guarantee that your I-card paperwork and issuance will be properly serviced. When Lydia and I applied for our cards, we did so on the same day, so there was no reason to think that they wouldn’t be ready at least approximately at the same time. My card was available for pick-up a couple months later.

However, every time that Lydia called to inquire about the status of her card, she was told that it’s “still in verification”. It turns out that somewhere in the pipeline, Immigration lost her I-card or the supporting paperwork to order it. For months the agency refused to acknowledge that this is what happened, and when they finally admitted they couldn’t find it, they said it wasn’t lost but was just “misplaced”.

Finally after numerous calls, letters, and personal appearances to various BI department heads, Lydia got her I-card. Interestingly, the Bureau of Immigration has a reputation of being among the most corrupt government agencies in the Philippines. But we wound up not paying a single centavo in bribes. Perhaps we were just a lucky exception in not being extorted, but I think it also had something to do with our keeping all the appropriate BI receipts, logging our calls and interviews, and when there was a need for correspondence, sending it via registered mail through a private courier service, (not through the local postal system whose inefficiency is legendary and my personal dealings with which are another story in itself.)

By the way, as a permanent resident, you must appear at the BI every January to file an annual report to advise the Bureau of your current address, whether or not you have relocated within the previous year. The fee for this transaction is currently 310 Philippine pesos. Effective in 2008, the procedure has become more streamlined via a first come-first serve number process. In addition, Immigration sets aside a special area for annual report applicants. This section fills up very quickly, so try to arrive around 7:15 a.m., even if the doors are not yet open. (When Lydia and I went to file this year, we arrived shortly before 8:00 a.m., and there were already 32 people ahead of us.) As with the I-card there is no automatic notification by Immigration to foreigners for this annual filing. The penalty for failure to register is a fine of 200 Philippine Pesos per month, plus the hassle of additional processing queues.

After you’re settled with a permanent address, it’s also a good idea to register with the U.S. Embassy, which you can do in person or on line. One purpose of registering is so that you can be reached in an emergency or notified if political conditions here require that foreigners evacuate the country. Also, you can file for any Social Security or Veterans benefits to which you are entitled from the U.S while you are residing here.

Just because you’ve moved abroad doesn’t mean that you’ve surrendered your right to vote in U.S. federal elections. It simplifies matters if you are a registered voter in a state where you resided before leaving the U.S. The Embassy will furnish you with a Federal Post Card Application which you can mail to that state in order to receive an absentee ballot.

Beyond that, the American Embassy here—or in any other country—cannot assist you if you run afoul of the local laws. Some Americans mistakenly believe that if they get in trouble in a foreign country, the American government will come to their rescue. They couldn’t be more wrong. You are subject to the laws of the land where you are residing, and if you are arrested, about the most that the Embassy can do is find out where you’re being held and notify your family. If you wind up in prison here, you will discover a whole new meaning of “Philippine hospitality”.

This is not to say that the Philippine government necessarily makes it a point to pick on or intentionally make life difficult for foreigners. After all, tourism is an important industry as is relocation to the Philippines by foreigners, and there are many different nationalities residing here, the largest number of whom are Americans. So officials are not out to kill the goose that’s laying the golden egg. But expecting special treatment just because you’re a foreigner is not only rude, it’s counterproductive. A smile and a friendly attitude go much further in getting along here.

Practicality is another important consideration in making life easier in this country. Earlier I mentioned that I had encountered health problems after I arrived here, including a few illnesses and a trip-and-fall accident. Just as in the United States, private health insurance is a necessity as there is no government sponsored health plan. So shortly after I arrived, Lydia and I took out a major medical health policy with a well known insurance company which we still carry.

In addition, the clinic that Lydia and I patronize for our health needs offers a discount program which is well worth the yearly membership fee. It includes free family doctor consultations and x-rays, and reduced fees for specialist consultations and other benefits.

When purchasing insurance coverage here, make sure that you deal with a reputable and well established insurer. In theory, businesses such as these are regulated, but just as in the States, regulatory agencies are prone to being “captive”, that is, heavily influenced by the companies that they are supposed to be monitoring. Cronyism is also widespread, so regulatory agency heads are often appointed by friends and relatives who hold high political positions, regardless of merit and integrity—or lack of same. As a result, insurance companies and other corporations can go belly-up, leaving investors, clients, and in the case of insurance companies) policyholders high and dry. The quality of health care in the Philippines is inconsistent. When it’s good, it’s very good, but in many places especially in the more remote provinces, it can be abysmal if not lacking altogether. Not surprisingly the best hospitals seem to be in Metro-Manila and other larger cities, such as Cebu. It’s true that a great number of medical doctors and nurses are leaving the Philippines for greener pastures. Yet there are still many qualified medical professionals who have stayed behind. In fact, the Philippines has the potential to become a center of medical tourism. Also, I can attest to that compared to the U.S., the price of health care here is a bargain. For instance, I had minor surgery for what would have cost several times more in the States than what I was charged here.

Optical services are comparable in quality to that in the U.S., and eyewear is much cheaper. I saved about 50% on a pair of eyeglasses here as compared to the same prescription, style, and frames in the U.S. (Note: American senior citizens residing outside the United States are ineligible for Medicare coverage. If you have health insurance through a U.S. provider, make sure that their benefits include coverage while you are abroad.

Medicines here are the weak link in the chain of low-cost care and are among the most expensive in Asia. The price of brand name prescription drugs is about equal to that in the States, but as in the U.S. generics are somewhat less expensive. Recently, however, a law was enacted by Congress here to control the pricing of drugs and bring it into line with countries like India, where consumers pay less than in the Philippines for a given medicine produced at identical cost by the same manufacturer.

Dental care is a bargain. A visit to my dentist for a routine exam and teeth cleaning costs the equivalent of about USD$10.00.

Unfortunately, encounters with other kinds of services are often more painful than getting a tooth pulled. Whether the cause or result of corruption and fraud in the Philippines, red tape is common especially in financial dealings. For example, even if you’re a permanent resident and can produce proof of legal immigration status, most banks require that you reside here at least 6 months before you can open a checking account. Starting a savings account on arrival is doable but not easy thanks to the required steps of obtaining a local tax certificate (“cedula”) and a police clearance.

So in order to make sure that you have enough cash on hand until you can start a bank account in the Philippines (and even afterwards), do not close your checking account in the U.S. Make sure that you have a Visa debit card on that bank that is good for use worldwide and does not assess transaction fees. When you need money here, just make a withdrawal from your U.S bank account at any ATM that accepts Visa. The funds that you receive will be in pesos. This is extremely convenient as it saves the time and hassle of converting dollars at a currency exchange office which may offer an unfavorable transaction rate for this service. Just ask Lydia. After arriving here, she had her monthly Social Security benefits transferred to a dollar savings account at a Philippine bank. When she wants take out any funds, she first has to have the bank convert them to pesos. To add to the inconvenience, she must conduct this transaction in person. Had she been aware of the option of keeping her monthly Social Security at a bank in the States via direct deposit there and just drawing on the funds here as needed, she would be having an easier time of it.

When it comes to the international rate of exchange, keeping your cash in the U.S. also allows you flexibility to adjust your withdrawal amounts according to the value of the peso to the dollar at a given time. At this writing the dollar has weakened against the local currency by about 15% over the last year. So this would be the time to convert my dollars into pesos. Conversely, if the peso falls again in value, then I would just change enough dollars into pesos from my bank in California to cover my living expenses.

As the above picture demonstrates, while residing in the Philippines, most likely you will continue financial dealings with businesses in the U.S. But due to the high rate of fraud incidence here, many companies in other countries will not conduct business with anyone having a Philippines address. For example, if you have a home computer and want to shop via the Internet from a business in the U.S., the transaction may be rejected because the merchant or credit card service will recognize the IP (Internet Protocol) address in your computer as located in the Philippines. If this happens, complete the payment of your order through Paypal, which is more accommodating in this area.

However, that won’t solve the problem of companies that refuse to ship to the Philippines (also due to fraud concerns). But there is a way to get around this barrier as well. Just open an account with a mail forwarding service located in the U.S. They will assign you an address with a U.S. city and state, which you can then use as your mailing address for those businesses.

The mail forwarding service will not only receive letters and packages for you and send them on to your address in the Philippines, they will also repackage correspondence in a plain brown envelope before doing so. This is important because mail pilferage and theft are a problem here (which may be why there are no mailboxes on the streets), so you may not want workers at Philpost, the national postal service, to know what you’re receiving, such as letters with a bank’s name in the return address portion of the envelope, or expensive magazines which publishers often send in transparent wrappers. Moreover, there may be instances where you may be the one who does not want your American correspondent to know that you live abroad.

Yet even this step won’t guarantee problem-free transactions with foreign businesses. For instance, if you try to open an account at a U.S. bank via the Internet and use your mail forwarding service as your address, the bank will likely detect that company as a mail drop and will require you to furnish an actual U.S. residence address in order to proceed with your application. In this case you will have no choice but to try to get a friend or relative in the U.S. to accept your mail “care of” their home address and forward it on to you. If they consent, be sure to instruct the bank to include “c/o” before your contact person’s name on the envelope. The bank will likely insist on sending their “hello” letter to that address, so make it clear that all subsequent correspondence is to go to your mail forwarding address instead.

As can be seen, it takes a lot of ingenuity and flexibility for foreigners to make the transition and adjust to life here. This is particularly so in coping with one of the most hazardous aspects of Philippine society, especially Metro-Manila and other large cities: traffic. For a supposedly poor third world country and one where fuel prices are approximately equivalent to those in the U.S, there is a disproportionately large number of private vehicles, motorbikes, and motorcycles on the roads. But what’s really strange is that most of the cars, vans, and SUV’s here are fairly new (Light trucks are not very common, at least in Metro-Manila). Rarely do I see junkers on the streets, in contrast to what I encountered in California. Such is not the case for commercial trucks, many of which are old and dilapidated.

Public vehicles still rule here, including buses and passenger “jeepneys” (or just “jeeps”). The latter might best be described as a cross between a passenger van and as the name implies, a military personnel carrier. Jeepneys ply most main and many side streets in urban areas as well as provincial roads in the Philippines—truly an indigenous form of transportation. The main form of long distance transportation is intercity buses which vary in comfort according to service and fare class. Domestic air and rail service are also available to the more distant cities and resorts. Rail service is also available between Metro-Manila and various locations.

Taxis are also another way to get around Metro-Manila. But beware of reckless and dishonest cab drivers. Many of them use “fast” meters and / or request extra money above and beyond the metered fare on trips beyond a few kilometers. Some of them will even turn away passengers who are heading for a destination that the drivers considers personally inconvenient. Actually, this is illegal, and sometimes cabbies will yield to threats by passengers to report them to the LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising & Regulatory Board) which is the government agency that regulates them.

When taking taxis, make sure that you have enough small bills and coins to cover the exact amount of your fare. Drivers usually don’t give change. Tips are optional and should be given only if the driver is especially courteous and careful. There is also mass rapid transit in Metro-Manila, which is about as safe a mode of transportation as anything in the Philippines can be. However, at morning and evening rush hour the trains become so packed that you may have to let 4 or 5 of them take the waiting passengers in front of you at your station before you can finally squeeze on board. During this busy time, the trains are divided into “male” and “female” coaches, in order to protect women riders from being molested by opportunistic male passengers under these extremely jam-packed conditions. Such protection is not the case on crowded jeepneys and buses, anybody regardless of gender may become a crime victim. Pick-pocketing, purse snatching, and hold-ups (even in the day time, but especially late at night) are all too frequent. Vigilance is the price you pay, along with your fare when taking public transportation. But if you think about it, this is true almost anywhere.

Traffic jams and gridlock are common, and evening rush hour on the main thoroughfares can last up till 9pm. But beyond the sheer volume of vehicles, both public and private, the overriding problem is the lack of discipline among drivers and pedestrians alike.

Even if you are the cautious type yourself, due to the behavior of others, you literally take your life in your hands in just getting around from one point to another. Drivers often ignore traffic signals, and while there are crosswalks, just crossing the street even in these supposed safe zones is extremely dangerous because in reality right of way for pedestrians is nonexistent. In all fairness, pedestrians’ behavior isn’t much better. In crossing the street, some of them even climb over medians and barriers meant to divert pedestrians to designated crossing areas.

To compound this problem, a lot of jeepney drivers do not turn on their headlights at night under the mistaken belief that they will conserve the life of their batteries this way. This makes crossing some streets on foot after dark almost suicidal.

And to make getting around Metro-Manila even tougher, especially for the uninitiated, most intersections in Metro-Manila do not have street signs. So if you don’t know where you are going before you start your trip, you can become hopelessly lost. Fortunately, there are street maps and map books that can make tour trip easier. Also try to memorize the route ahead of time. Many of the public transportation vehicles and private trucks are poorly maintained and are smoke-belchers. This of course aggravates the already serious air pollution problem. (It’s no wonder that lung problems are a very common ailment here.)

The attitude of motorists is a reflection of the culture here where life is cheap, and people’s mindset is “My family first and to hell with everybody else”. Yet for all the emphasis on family values here, vehicles are often overcrowded, seat belts go unused, and the only car infant restraint is a mother’s arms. Sometimes you will see as many as four riders on a motorcycle, including one or two young children.

However, for expats who nevertheless intend to drive here you can continue to do so with a valid foreign driver’s license for 90 days from the date of your arrival in the Philippines ,so bring along your passport too, or at least a carry a copy of the page showing that date.

You can also convert a valid foreign driver’s to a Philippine DL. Just present your passport, a valid U.S. driver’s license, and ACR (alien certificate of registration—now I-Card). The LTO is another bureau where you can expect to spend several hours to complete your application and will likely be approached by fixers. So see the LTO website in the Appendix, especially the FAQ section.(In my opinion, this is one of the better designed Philippine government websites.)
You can also obtain an international driving permit before you leave the U.S. This document is good for one year, and if you’re a member of the Auto Club, you may be able one through your local American Automobile Association branch. An international driving permit is usually an acceptable form of identification, and to that extent it can be very useful. Speaking of the Auto Club, there is counterpart to that organization here: the Automobile Association of the Philippines (AAP) which performs many of the same functions as the AAA in the U.S. In fact AAP membership holds international reciprocity with the AAA and with Auto Clubs in other countries. But frankly, if you can get by without driving while in the Philippines, you will be better off. For non-drivers, acceptable forms of identification here are passports and I-cards. Another form of identification is a postal I.D., which is issued by Philpost. This card is less commonly used by foreigners, but is recognized by just about any private business or government agency that asks for identification.

In order to adapt to Philippine culture, it’s important for foreigners here to understand the complex psyche of the people here. The smiling faces and hospitality especially to foreigners can mask a temper that can erupt over just a minor provocation. It is this national character trait and not necessarily the result of poverty that is behind the high crime and incidence of violence in the Philippines, for this short fuse cuts across all socioeconomic classes. At the risk of oversimplification, the difference is that a poor person who is aggrieved by a real or imagined slight will take on his enemy directly. The well-to-do and well-connected who have a score to settle will hire thugs to do it for them. Political office here is often won as the local expression so aptly describes via “guns, goons, and gold”.

According to Lydia who was born and raised here , the roots of these character traits can be traced to family dynamics. Filipinos may be very loving to their children, but at the same time they demand total obedience, and kids are trained never to talk back. Corporal punishment and humiliation are common. So people learn from an early age to bottle up their anger. Under these conditions, many individuals displace their hostility against family members by redirecting it to others, or are walking time bombs who simply explode with anger at the slightest perception of ill-treatment and go berserk, or as the phenomenon is referred to here amok.

That was the excuse that the accused killer of an American Peace Corps volunteer used. He claims that in a case of mistaken identity, he thought that she was a male neighbor with whom he was feuding and who he believed was following him. The assailant then supposedly just blindly struck out without even noticing the gender difference between the victim and his enemy. More recently, a man in a town just outside Metro-Manila went on a shooting spree and killed eight people—because he felt that they had been ridiculing him.

There is also a great deal of envy and “crab mentality”. If a crab tries to climb out of a pot of hot water, the other crabs in the pot will pull it back down. So it is with the people here and among Filipinos living abroad. If someone is on the verge of success in an endeavor, jealous co-workers will try to scuttle that person’s achievement, which as a little reflection would show is petty and self-defeating for everybody in the long run.

With the notable exception of such public institutions as the University of the Philippines critical thinking is not encouraged even at the university level, as many colleges as well as most private elementary and high schools are run by religious orders that may emphasize rote memorization instead. But whatever the qualities of tertiary level education here, Filipinos place a high value on obtaining a college degree, and accordingly parents often make great sacrifices to put their children through school up to and including college.

And speaking of religion, this is another factor behind the high crime rate and corruption in the Philippines. Many people here regardless of socioeconomic status have the distorted notion that they can commit just about any legal or moral offense and then absolve themselves through the act of confession, or as Lydia would put it, washing their hands, and repeating the cycle ad infinitum. With the lax attitude here about concern for the greater good, it’s no wonder that when it comes to the environment, many parts of Metro-Manila are dirty. Filipinos as individually are clean to the point of being personally fastidious. But they are woefully indifferent when it comes to their surroundings. Public littering for example is a huge problem. Regardless of socio-economic class, people here think nothing about spitting and tossing cigarette butts, food wrappers, and even garbage on the street.
Lydia and I live directly across from a call center building operated jointly by two well known computer hardware companies, one of many such outsourced service operations in the Philippines. They are staffed by agents whose demographic profiles are middle class, average age range of mid 20’s, and have at least some college background. Yet, despite their age and level of formal education, in general these people are very irresponsible. Most likely they were spoiled by their parents and were never trained to pick up after themselves or to be considerate of others, which is in keeping with “My family first…”. Wherever they congregate, they leave an unbelievable amount of litter.

But their thoughtless behavior doesn’t stop there. Until we complained to their management, Lydia and I were frequently awakened in the early hours by the graveyard shift agents who gather outside the office on their breaks and become as loud and boisterous as kids in a playground—totally indifferent to the fact that across the street from where they are carrying on is a residential complex.
However, no locale is perfect, and on the balance I would still rate the community where we reside as very livable for foreigners and locals alike. It’s very conveniently located and so for the most part is fitting for our needs. And besides the other amenities, it has good overall security which, due to the high crime rate in Metro-Manila, is a key consideration in deciding where to live.

If I were recommend for areas for foreigners to settle in, my choices are Eastwood City (which is actually a community within Quezon City) and Makati City, which is also the main business and commercial center of Metro-Manila. Other good locales are The Fort in Taguig City (near Makati) and Santa Rosa (a thriving suburb just south of Metro-Manila). As far as amenities go, some newer multi-unit buildings are equipped with electrical outlets for both 220-240 and 110-120 voltage appliances. (The former set is the voltage furnished by the electrical utilities in the Philippines and many other countries outside the U.S.) Now, many newer condominiums and apartments are equipped with phone lines. However, in multi-unit complexes, the phone service may be connected to a PABX system and as such is blocked from dialing other landline numbers beginning with a “1” and from calling cell phone numbers.

Whether selecting a multi-unit or single unit dwelling, parents of school-age children should keep in mind that in seeking a residence near a “good” school, private academies are numerous in the better areas of Metro-Manila. For security reasons foreigners usually send their children to these schools rather than to the public grade and high schools. (Incidentally, the school year in the Philippines begins in June. Summer vacation runs from March through May, the hottest part of the year.)

Foreigners may not own real estate in the Philippines. However, they can purchase dwellings without the land on which they are located, so non-Filipinos may own condominium units. For a comprehensive discussion on this topic, please visit

If you’re particularly concerned about personal safety, consider locating in one of the numerous private communities or compounds spread throughout Metro-Manila and its suburbs. These communities are usually protected by security guards at the front gate who log in visitors and issue passes to vehicles entering the area. By the way, security guards are also a common sight in most retail stores, banks, schools, and office buildings. Yet, everyday there’s news of bank robberies, muggings, shootings and other violent crimes. But depending on the police for help especially in Metro-Manila is a waste of time. A recent survey showed only 15% of crime victims bother to file a police report. So private security as imperfect as it is, protects people where police can or will not do so. For one thing, law enforcement here is rife with corruption. Often you will hear in the news that captured criminal suspects are current or former police officers who are in cahoots with criminal organizations. Street justice is a frequent means of dealing with crime. Two ways that police confront criminals are shootouts and “rub-outs.” The latter of course is ambushing or shooting perpetrators in cold blood after they’ve surrendered.

And because of the high crime rate, it is so important, whether you are a native or a foreigner, not to call attention to yourself with flashy attire, jewelry or vehicles outside secured areas. Wearing funky attire and a modest life style will not necessarily guarantee your personal safety in most sections of the country, but it does help, and what good is a projection of wealth anyway if all it does is induce stress and bring unwanted attention, or worse?

Obviously, the wealthier you are, the more comfortable you will be in just about any part of the world that you live in, and the Philippines is no exception. The downside is that kidnapping for ransom is practically a cottage industry here which is why the very well to do here are accompanied in public by a retinue of body guards.

Nevertheless, you don’t need to be rich to enjoy a comfortable life style here. For example, if you’re collecting Social Security, as Lydia and I are, you can get along here nicely just on that income alone. (Just try that in the U.S!) However, the senior citizens discounts that you may observe here are given only to elderly Filipino nationals. This is due to the fact that these discounts are mandated by law and are not optional as in the U.S, so businesses will not extend them beyond the legal minimum. The only way that foreigners can avail themselves of these price adjustments is by obtaining a Special Resident Retiree’s Visa (SRRV) which costs about $50,000 USD. This visa also entitles the bearer to other such privileges such as faster processing for exiting and re-entering the Philippines.
As is the case almost anywhere, the further out you live from Metro-Manila, the safer and less stressful life can be unless you have to commute daily into the city. However, due to an underdeveloped infrastructure, the amenities that are available in the larger cities may not be accessible in the smaller towns and rural areas, including such basics as paved roads, municipal water services, and quality medical care. Ideally, the best place to live is in a suburban development that’s within one or two kilometers of urban amenities but yet has a countryside environment. For this, Santa Rosa comes to mind. But the most popular locale for foreigners to reside is Makati City, which is also the business hub of Metro-Manila.

But wherever you choose to live, select a residence that’s not in a low elevation. This is because many parts of the country, including Metro-Manila, are prone to flooding (partly the result of blocked street drainage due to careless garbage dumping) in the rainy season, which lasts approximately from May through February. Typhoons are also an occasional hazard during this time.
March through May is considered summer in the Philippines and as previously mentioned is the hottest season of the year, with temperatures reaching 100ºF (38ºC) and little or no rain. (However, in 2008, due to La Niña, the rainy season started a few weeks ahead of schedule.) When you add the high humidity that is part and parcel of the tropical climate here, the Philippines is particularly uncomfortable this time of the year. Regardless of the heat and humidity there are many forms of recreation and physical fitness venues including gyms and spas. Golf and tennis are also popular. However, the Philippines is a lot closer to the equator than is the U.S., so sunlight here is more intense. Depending on your skin sensitivity and physical stamina this is important to keep in mind when planning outdoor activities. If you would rather “chill out”, literally, with indoor sports, there are ice skating rinks at some of the malls in Metro-Manila. You can also stay inside with the 3 “B”s: badminton centers, bowling alleys and billiard halls. Chess has a large following, and players abound, from the poorest to the wealthiest socio-economic classes.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your real and at the same time unjudgmental take on what to expect when living in Metro Manila. I am from the practically anarchic University of the Philippines, live in a condo building in Makati above call center agents who chain smoke and flick their ash outside their balcony without care to other residents and passersby, dream of moving to Sta. Rosa (will they start renovating the PNR south line already!), try to avoid the bureaucracy at all cost, refuse to enrol my kids in those uber-conservative Catholic institutions (I'm atheist-humanist), detest all the trash and litter strewn about by the general public. Despite all these problems and irritations, like you I am endeavoring to live my life here in the Philippines the best way I can. At the end of the day, life in the Philippines IS good. :)

dannybuntu said...

Hi very interesting and useful information. I am a Filipino by the way. Sadly, your portrayal of Philippine Bureaucracy is very very accurate.

Anonymous said...

Well written and informative...great insight into Filipino life. Most articles I have read keep repeating the same picture of a corrupt and slow bureaucracy.

Secular Guy said...

Thanks for your kind words, Anonymous, However, as you can see in subsequent posts I've done my share of grousing about corrupution and the bureaucracy here.