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Retiring and Moving Abroad

Here is another article my good friend Tom Martin wrote. The points in this article are very interesting and correct

Are you one of thousands of Americans or Europeans that have dreamed of the day you can retire and move to Paradise in a foreign land and become an Expatriate. No more First World Countries for you. Perhaps you have been visiting Paradise for a number of years during your yearly vacation. The people are friendly, the food is great, the mountains and beaches are indescribable and it is so much cheaper to live in Paradise than back home. Maybe you have never actually visited Paradise your knowledge comes from Internet Sites and other Expatriates, but one thing you are certain of you want to retire and spent the rest of your life in Paradise.

Often people do not seriously consider the life changing move they are about to make. They are tired of the nine to five, hustle and bustle, stress and problems and a slower pace in Paradise is certainly the cure all. Before you make the move you need to take the time to make sure you are not exchanging one set of problems for another. Not everyone has the personality or attitude to become an Expatriate, especially in a Third World Country.

Visiting your future home for a few weeks on holiday and staying in a hotel are not the same as living full time in Paradise and living among the locals. Someone was talking with me recently about their disappointing move to the Philippines and were actually shocked at the differences they have encountered living here and vacationing here. When vacationing they stayed at the Marco Polo Hotel and they are now living in a very nice house. I was shocked that anyone would be that naive. They told me the food at the hotel was great, of course it was great because the chef had been trained to prepare not only great tasting, but also great looking food foreigners will enjoy. The local cook they hired most likely only knew what her mother taught her. Often times hotels have food you cannot find in the local markets because they are catering to foreign travelers and the local markets are not. They told me the Filipinos working in the hotel smiled, spoke and went out of their way to accommodate them, but their neighbors and house help would hardly look in their direction and only spoke when spoken to. Of course the natives in the hotel smiled, spoke and went out of their way to accommodate them because that was their job and a hotel job is a good job in a Third World Country, but the same is not true of their neighbors they are not being paid to be friend them and their house help has not had the training the hotel staff has. The shopping venues and restaurants they ventured to while on holiday most likely were places other tourist visited because they were looking for places they knew they would be comfortable and secure and price did not matter while on holiday. Now that they are living in Paradise and they need to start eating at the places locals eat if they do not want to feel like a perpetual tourist and spend all their saving the first year they are here. Be realistic when assessing your new home. You most likely will find that sanitary conditions in restaurants are not the same as back home and you will have to decide what is acceptable and not acceptable to you. This may help, several years ago I attended a seminar and they were saying First World Children are more sickly than Third World Countries because children in First World Countries live in over sanitized conditions and have no exposure to normal everyday virus’ which in turns makes their Immune Systems weaker. Just remember you are developing your Immune System.

You arrive in Paradise and one of the first things on your agenda is finding a place to live unless you made the mistake I did and purchased a home through a Broker before you actually made the move. In my opinion it is best to rent or lease for at least one year before buying a place of your own. That will give you time to become acquainted with the various neighborhoods in Paradise and it will also give you time to confront some of the cultural changes you will need to make and accept if you are going to be content in Paradise. Only you can determine if you can accept those cultural differences. People telling you about the cultural differences before you arrive and living the cultural differences are two different things. Know the real estate laws in the country you are moving to and be very skeptical of anyone that tells you they know of loop holes in the laws to accomplish what you want. Basically in the Philippines the courts tend to protect Filipinos over Expatriates when it comes to land disputes.

It is sometimes difficult to assimilate into the new community. Friendships with the locals are not always easy to establish. If you choose to live in a Third World Country you may find you will always be regarded as the wealthy American or wealthy foreigner regardless if it is true or not. Remember in the Philippines most of the people are living on less than six dollars a day and this includes those working in the malls, hotels, restaurants and hospitals. a large percentage are living on less than two dollars a day. A good friend of mind is a doctor in a government hospital in Manila and after ten years of service makes $600 a month. Class Systems do exist in Third World Countries and even though you are willing to be a friend to someone of a lesser income they may find it difficult to relate to you as an equal and establish a friendship.

In the Philippines a large percentage of the people speak English, but speaking English and carrying on a conversation in English are not the same. You will not have any trouble in the stores making purchases, getting a taxi, getting medical attention, etc. If you choose another country where English or your native language is not the Secondary Language you will have problems and must keep that in mind before making the move. Regardless if a lot of the locals speak English or not you should always try to learn some of their language. It puts the locals more at ease around you and they appreciate your attempt to learn their language. It will also be of value in bargaining for better prices. I do not speak Tagalog or any of the dialects and it makes life uncomfortable for me when out in public places and I do not know what the conversation going on around me is about. It certainly will make the assimilation into your host country easier if you know the language. One of the things a lot of Expatriates miss the most is conversations in their native language with friends over coffee, dinner, drinks and nights out. Unless you have been a loner all your life or you are socially inept you will most likely experience this problem and will find Expatriate Clubs will help solve it.

Living in First World Countries we take public utilities for granted. We expect them to be operational 24/7 and following a bad storm back on within twenty-four hours. That most likely will not be true in a Third World Country. You will have to learn to deal with Brown-Outs. The water may be turned off several hours during the day or night and it is just a fact of life. You can bitch and complain all you want it is not going to solve the problem. If Internet and Cable Television are important to you then you had better make sure the service is offered before you move. Just because they are available on one side of town does not mean they are available everywhere in the town. You may also find the services are available, but the system is at full capacity and they will not take new subscribers.

Depending on where you choose to live their may not be super markets and malls like you are use to back home. Your shopping habit may have to change meaning you may have to learn a new way of shopping. You may find you will need to shop at Public Wet and Dry Markets. Refrigeration in these markets may not be available. In the larger cities you will find shopping is much the same as in First World Countries, but even then some of the products you are use to buying may not be available and you will have to make adjustments. If you choose to live in smaller cities, villages or towns you will find the cost of living will be much cheaper, but less conveniences. You will pay for the convenience of having the malls, super markets and department stores that the larger cities offer.

I am shocked at the number of people that make the move abroad and know absolutely nothing about the medical services available. Most of us that move abroad are older and medical service if not now may soon be important. Remember U.S. Medicare or Medicaid is not offered outside the United States. There has been discussion for several years about making it available in the Philippines, but due to the corruption in the Philippines I doubt it will happen and certainly not in the near future. A lot of the private insurance companies do not pay direct to hospitals and physicians abroad. You must pay the medical expenses and they reimburse you and this often takes six months are longer. I found that paying for my medical care was cheaper than the private insurance premiums, especially taking into consideration my co-pay so I dropped my insurance coverage. There are also Medical Evacuation Policies available if a major illness occurs and you need to return home and depending on where you live you sometimes can find affordable premiums. I was quoted in 2005 a medical evacuation cost of about twelve thousand dollars Manila to Los Angeles, California.

No one likes to think about it, but what will happen if you should have an accident or die of natural causes abroad? The American Embassy is not going to pay to ship your body home for free. What about your Will? What are the legal requirements in the State you are from. Where will the Will be probated? Does your home State recognize Notary Public Seals other than those you can get at the Embassy?

How will you go about meeting your banking needs? Will you have your money deposited back home and use a credit or debit card or will you have wire transfers made to a local bank? I think banking issues should be resolved prior to making the move. I went to a P.N.B. office in Houston, Texas prior to making the move and opened an account. I had no problem setting up direct deposit of my Social Security Check to that account prior to coming over, but I have talked to some that spent several months getting it done when they waited until they got here to address the issue. After you arrive I have found it is much easier to address Social Security problems with the people in the Embassy than trying to solve them with Stateside offices via phone and Internet.

SECURITY!! No need discussing this issue I am sure you are aware of its importance. I feel the State Department exaggerates dangers sometimes, but it would be foolish to totally ignore their warnings. There certainly are places on Mindanao that I would not choose to live.

Give thought as to what you will ship to your new home. Why ship clothing that require Dry Cleaning if the service is not available where you are moving? Why ship Winter clothing if you are moving to the Tropics? It is better to donate those type of items to a non-profit and get a tax write off.

You can easily find Internet Sites and books about living abroad that will advertise you can live the life of a King or Queen on $200 a month. There are a lot of locals living in the Philippines on less than $200 a month and have no problem doing so. The difference is this is the only life they know and you do not miss something you never had. A couple from Texas told me they were living on $350 a month and had everything they needed or wanted and lived on the water. After I was in the Philippines about one year I visited them. They lived in a squatter area on pilings over the water without any utilities. They carried water from a public well and bathed at the well to keep from carrying bath water back to their home. Now these people were happy, but I do not apologize for saying I could not be happy living that way. That is not my definition of Paradise.

Regardless of the money you have there will be adjustments you must make living abroad. If you cannot make these adjustments you are going to live a miserable life. You are not going to make the place you are moving to a mini U.S.A., Germany or France. The main reason for your moving abroad should be in search of a different lifestyle, finding adventure and experiencing a new culture. If you are a person that demands perfection, organization and schedules you had better think long an hard about moving abroad, especially to a Third World Country. Living abroad can be paradise on earth and it can be hell. Your attitude and ability to adjust will determine which.

Any time you spend researching the country you are considering moving to is time well spent. It is far better to spend hundreds of dollars on books providing information about the country before you make the move than make the move and have to admit failure and loose thousands of dollars moving back to where you came from.

19 Responses to “Retiring and Moving Abroad”

  1. James says:

    Hi Bruce, I honestly admire your views on the outlook of lives the expatriates are going to experience once they landed in Philippines. Your points are sympathetic (dunno if this’ right word) enough to let the incomings know what to expect later on with their lives. Do all the necessary preparations because it’s not all paradise out there. Not everyone’s friendly and security is sharp around the edges of the metropolitan. It’s a country where everyone’s got his or her own complaints about quality of life. We just can’t help everybody especially those who would not help themselves.
    I wish one day, life will be better in my country and, will offer far more better paradise for you. And, my children. 🙂

  2. Bruce says:

    Thank you for your admiration but as I have on top of the article, it was written by an expat friend, Tom Martin. He has accepted my invitation to write some of his views and experiences here for my site. Merry Christmas to you and your family

  3. micro says:

    Hi bruce,

    Thanks for visiting my blog, and I am also living in Singapore as Permanent resident. But soon, I will be going back in the Philippines. You can email me…

  4. BrSpiritus says:

    @Tom: This is a fine bit of advice to anyone thinking of moving over here. I kinda took the plunge into life over here and I took about a year to make the adjustments. I can say now that I am very happy living here. Lately rather than buing the imported stuff I see if I can make it myself at home. I have always been a “do it yourselfer” and enjoy pushing the envelope with my cooking. Life is as good as you make it, and you can have a fine life over here if you have an open mind and the willingness to change.

  5. Bruce says:


    Thanks for the comment, I am sure Tom appreciates it.

  6. James says:

    Hi Bruce, I kind of looking directly into the content. sory. 😀 Well, credit to you and Mr. Martin.

    I also like reading your entry on the Search for Better Life by, still, Tom. Reminds me of a lot of things.

    I wish you all the best this season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family.

  7. Bruce says:

    I am safely back from Kidapawan. Thank you for your comment and I am sure Tom will enjoy reading your admiration and good wishes. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas

  8. Dan Mihaliak says:

    Great post! I hope many people deciding to move to the Philippines will read such blogs as ours but you know some won’t. Keep up the good work!

  9. Bruce says:

    Thanks for the appreciation. I write about my observations but my friend Tom writes in a more informative style. I hope he continues to contribute to my site.

  10. alfred says:

    Hey sir, that’s a very nice perspective. Hope many will be able to read your post. It’s enlightening somehow…

  11. Bruce says:

    I am glad you enjoyed it.

    Those insightful words are from my friend Thomas Martin. He now has his own blog. Reflections of a Retired Priest. The link is on my main page plus in the “Favorite Sites” list

  12. Anthony says:

    So true Tom. I am thinking of even getting out of davao city to my wifes province Bislig city where i once bathed with the locals in a stream and played basketball with guys in flip flops that made my air Jordans make me feel like ground Jordans as they were getting rebounds way over my head.I thought i could fly in those shoes. i love the beauty of the rice fields there. I think i have found the perfect country and wife for me or whatever. Some will know what i mean

    • Bruce says:

      My wife is also from Bislig. I would like to visit there but my wife and others say it can be dangerous with the NPA on the remote roads.
      Maybe I can go with you and you be my protection. hahaha

      • Reed Anderson says:

        NPA? they dont have issues with kanos, no worry there.

        • Bruce says:

          In Davao there has been no real NPA activity. Mayor Dutarte keeps the city safe and even safer for foreigners. I have met others in areas supposed to have NPA activity and they have had no problems either. Going in remote areas in any city can be a problem in any part of the world.

  13. Anthony says:

    Well, your wife may be right but no problems for me there as i was there. Probably the most beautiful Green Land i have ever seen. It was surreal getting there as we drove throughout the night and arrived by morning. The people in the town were fascinated with my presence. I am 6″1″ and 260 but agile and former college athlete, so no one was interested in any drama with me. Hey<great idea lets take the trip Jan 2010. I came away not wanting to leave. The people treated me like i was Famous or something. I took my wife and all of her family with us and while we challenged the local team to a basketball game word got out that a big guy with a Lakers jersey was playing at the court. Next thing you know 100 people had surrounded the court to watch our game. Some thought i was Shaq O”neill. The folks in the Wet market were equally Facinated a foreighner was present. The key i have found is to be yourself, not timid and ever gracious and take lots of pictures with them. Of course buying a bottle of Tanduay for 6 or 8 of them to enjoy dont hurt to give you a local friend card.

    • Bruce says:

      The trip sounds great, especially with a Tank driving the car. If any bullets fly, I will just hide behind you.
      As for the basketball game, with my knees and back, I can be scorekeeper.

  14. Per says:

    Thank you both, Tom and Bruce.
    The only thing I am missing is what is _your_ estimate of cost of living? I mean living fairly decent, in a small house or an apartment and eating decent food (no luxury, but say “middle-class existence)?
    Im actually considering outskirts of Davao (I dont like much noise) or Cagayan De Oro City or around there. My friend lives in Davao, but comes from Compostela Vally.

    • Bruce says:

      I do not know of apartments the further you get from downtown. You can probably get a small home in the 5000- 10000 peso range. ( $100 to $200 USD) Since we buy food for a house of 6, I am not sure I can be accurate with expenses. I have one american friend who has a small decent 2 bedroom house. H pays 5000 pesos ($100 USD) a month. He says they live on 25,000 to 30,000 pesos a month. (approx $500 to $600) I am not sure of the cost of living in CDO.
      One thing to consider if your living on the outskirts, is the commute. Jeepneys are the cheapest


  1. Moving to and Living in the Philippines | - [...] My friend Tom Martin put his thoughts in an earlier post very well in “Retiring and Moving Abroad” [...]

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