Well my retirement to the Philippines is nearly at hand. It has been a long journey. I originally had hoped to be there by the end of July but now am looking at the end of September or early October. But then in the end I am sure everything will work out for the best. I have been working with the PRA (Philippine Retirement Authority) who works with expatriates from other countries who want to retire there. And there are a lot of them from all over the world including the United States, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, Europe, etc.
Being a poorer country, the Philippines welcomes retirees as they tend to bring steady incomes and to spend money and invest in the country. However in order to prevent foreigners from becoming destitute and wards of the state, they require deposits to be made anywhere from $1,500 to 50,000 US dollars depending on age and status. That amount goes into a government “interest earning” account and is used if the retiree experiences financial or medical destitution and can no longer manage their own lives or in other words is destitute. The government then uses it to provide basic care while they locate family and make arrangements for the return of the person to their country of citizenship. If the retiree turns in their retirement visa to leave the country, the deposit is then returned to them.
The Philippines is becoming a popular retirement location due to its low-cost of living and housing but it does vary by where you stay. The Makati Financial District or other big city areas, can be very expensive (but still cheaper than most major US cities for equivalent housing.)
Also the hospitality of the people and the availability of modern medical care and housing at lower prices is an additional incentive. Medical Tourism, going there for major surgeries and medical care, is also a growing industry since it is substantially cheaper than in the US or Japan for instance.
In the past year, the Philippines was one of the fastest growing economies in the world but that has to be considered in light of where it is. Cost of living is still much less than any major developed economy.
I have been to the Philippines 3 times before and lived and worked there for a year. During that time I fell in love with the country, the people, the culture and the history. An archipelago of more the 7,000 islands approximately 2,000 of which are inhabited, it is an exciting and very diverse country. “It’s more fun in the Philippines” showcases many of its amazing and beautiful sights.
The primary language, “Filipino” is based on Tagalog but incorporates aspects of all 13 primary languages in the Islands. English is the second official language and is also taught in the schools. The 13 primary languages (there are many more dialects) are: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Kapampangan, Coastal Bikol, Pangasinan, Maranao, Maguindanao, Kinaray-a, and Tausug. If you speak Tagalog you can be understood in most places though, and English is understood almost everywhere except in the most remote regions. However while it is understood, many Filipinos may not be comfortable speaking it, but can often understand it. For instance, the son of a very good friend can chat well in English but is not comfortable speaking it. On the flip side, however you will also encounter many people who are happy to practice their English with you, even if it is only a little.
As with any country though, if visitors learn a few basic phrases and words, it is seen as a sign of respect for the people and their country, so I would recommend that any traveler learn a few phrases, as a show of respect will carry a person farther and it will be surprising how many friends you will make. Here is a YouTube video link to some basic phrases that will help any potential visitors. Here is another short tutoriall that explains things in more detail and starts a series of “3 minute” tutorials.
However I digress. After working in the Philippines I very much fell in love with the people and culture. It was then that I knew I wanted to come back, and hence my eventual decision to retire there. I don’t have a large retirement so the Philippines is a natural choice for an affordable place to retire. I have a cousin who for similar reasons, chose to retire in Thailand, a short flight from the Philippines. How short? Weill visiting him in Thailand would be little different then traveling to say California or Florida to visit family. In fact for US citizens and many citizens of friendly countries you can travel with only your plane ticket and passport and receive an automatic 28-30 day tourist visa upon landing. No prior arrangements needed. For longer stays though one must acquire a formal visa in advance. I will receive a retirement VISA which allows me unlimited ingress and egress. In the Philippines with proper permissions or papers I can even start a business or work for a company while retired with certain restrictions.
I am having a house built there, it is still under construction but is about 960 square feet with 3 bedrooms. In most places Philippines housing is smaller than in the United States for example. However I have lived in more modest accommodations in the US so that will be more than sufficient for my needs. Cost? In a gated community with security and some amenities about $28,000 when finished, give or take a little. Of course this is out in the provinces and not in the Manila metro area where housing is more expensive. I could have gotten cheaper accommodations but I think this is a good long-term solution for me. Mind you, I won’t be in an area with a lot of expats, american or otherwise. But I am only about 30 minutes to 1.5 hours from several large expat areas. 30 minutes from most amenities other than groceries and basic living needs (i.e 30 minutes to a shopping mall. 30 minutes to a hospital, 45-60 minutes to a modern but small city with all amenities, 1.5 to 2 hours to the beach at Subic Bay depending on weather and traffic. I will have cable TV and internet at the house though internet is quite a bit slower than here in the US.
A dear friend also found me a very good used car deal and is holding until I get there. (Yes, I let her use it until I get there and she takes good care of it.)
So what has created the delays? Family situations and a few other personal things to tie up here in the US, that and of course the “usual” government paperwork. Right now I am waiting on 3 federal documents. Proof of retirement/social security, FBI background check and my military DD214 which qualifies me for some additional benefits in conjunction with Retirement VISA. They have to be authenticated by the Secretary of State (yes in Washington DC) but fortunately they have a department that specializes in document authentication. Once I get that back, I will forward it to the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco for their authentication. So things I had to do to get my retirement VISA are as follows. 1.) Proof of regular retirement income. 2.) Medical check including tests and X-rays. 3.) National Background check (FBI) so they know I am not a career criminal and a few other odds and ends. That I why I recommend working with PRA that I mentioned in the first paragraph because their sole purpose is to help retirees and to assist in the process. once I am there, they will work with the Bureau of Immigration for my VISA. They also provide other helpful services such as airport pickup, work permits if desired, and help getting a Philippines Driver License. FYI if you plan to drive in the Philippines either as a tourist or long-term as a retiree, get your international driving permit before you go. It is very easy to do. Just need a valid drivers license, a couple of passport size photos and about 15 minutes. I got mine at my local AAA office and no you don’t have to be an AAA member. A small fee is all that is needed. You walk out with your international driving permit. You may need to get some inoculations but check with your health care practitioner when you get your medical check. While it might cost a little more, I recommend using a medical center that specializes in passport, visa and immigration medical physical. They are also usually capable of advising on inoculations and/or other personal concerns for the country you are going to. That is usually not needed for short tourist stays but for longer stays may be required depending on the country.
Now I have to admit I am getting very excited as the time draws near. People often ask me why the Philippines? Well there are a few reasons. 1.) I am familiar with the country, the people and the culture. 2.) I have several friends there. 3.) The cost of living which will let me get the most out of my retirement. 4.) A strong desire to travel the islands, photograph people, places, culture and history, and write about them.
People often read a lot about the problems in the Philippines but it is important to understand the full makeup of the archipelago. There are good places and not so good places. There are good people and not so good people, just like every place else in the world. What we in the US see on the news is what is “sensational”. Sadly modern news media is more interested in reporting what will “sell and will get people excited” than that is news. For the most port the Philippines is as safe as any other country (except for the traffic in the Manila Metro area which can be scary). However there are areas that should be avoided and it is generally recommended that when traveling you try to travel in groups, which is good advice everywhere. In general stay aware, know where there are active problems and avoid them. Most of all make friends and show respect. That will go a long way to keeping you safe. US cities such as Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, Newark, Oakland, Stockton, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Memphis, Atlanta, Chicago, etc, are all much more dangerous than the Philippines overall, although portions of Manila may be more dangerous than them.
The keys to safety in any foreign country are awareness, respect to others, obeying the laws, making friends (easy to do for most folks) avoid confrontations, don’t be flashy or rude and avoid public criticism of the country or people.
Filipinos are some of the most hospitable people in the world and once they know you they often go out of their way to help if asked. Friends will advise you on where to go and when and when to be careful. Within reason, the majority of the islands and cities are no more dangerous than any place else. And last, when in other countries always leave the politics to the locals. Never get involved and never publicly state an opinion.
So yes I am excited. I look forward to the warmth of the country and people and after 63 years won’t regret never seeing another snowstorm or feeling sub-freezing temperatures. I’ll be quite happy watching them on the news or internet. Like my cousin in Thailand, I imagine I’ll have a couple of pairs of slacks for visiting government offices or more semi-formal affairs and a casual dress shirt or two. Other than that, shorts, sandals, T-Shirts, polo shirts and very casual dress. Ties and suites? Not a one. They don’t make sense in the tropics anyway. Of course I’ll to weather a few tropical storms and maybe the occasional Typhoon, but nothing there I can’t handle cause I’ve been through it already when I lived there. (I’m living inland a bit so that provides some shelter from the worst storms). Going to the beach won’t be any more bother then driving to the mountains. I will miss the mountain views and sunsets some but the Philippines has their own unique versions as well.
So, God willing in a little over a month I’ll be comfortably settled in my new home. This is not an ending, but a new beginning. It is time to start a new life. So I will leave you with a few more photos. Stay tuned for my new adventures in the not too distant future.
Oh, and I look forward to seeing again my dear and wonderful friend who has helped me so much and done so much for me. (You know who you are).
Blessings, love and light – Kuya David