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5 Tips for Expats Living in the Philippines

Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats may share some gripes about living in the Philippines, but most agree that one thing makes up for all of the challenges. Can you guess what it is?

Palawan, Philippines
Palawan, Philippines

Expats in the Philippines resoundingly say that the best thing about living in the Philippines is the Filipinos. Yes, the language barrier, crowded streets and humidity might be a challenge, but the friendliness of the locals more than makes up any difficulties expats face living in the Philippines.

The Filipino Culture

We asked expats in Philippines what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:

"I appreciate most the flexibility and spontaneous ways, in the Philippines a lot of things are just different than you think/than you have planned," said one expat living in Metro Manila, Philippines.

Challenges for Expats in the Philippines

Depending upon where you choose to live in the Philippines, access to quality emergency healthcare may be in issue. Plus, many hospitals require upfront payment (even in an emergency). Read our article, 9 Healthcare & Health Insurance Tips for Expats in the Philippines for more information.

"Communication is somewhat indirect. It's so important to watch body language, in particular changes in body language (rather than overt gestures) that indicate 'something's up'. Corruption, when encountered, is upsetting and frustrating. The inefficiency of anything official from receipt giving to getting the driver's licence (though there are notable exceptions). The plus side is that inefficiency is almost always accompanied by a smile," said one expat living in Manila, Philippines.

"We're a long way from home and all the family and friends we left thousands of miles away. Our family has just had a death in California and all I can do is send a compassionate e-mail. And we are dependent on our loved ones coming here to see us which is expensive and difficult for them to do. I've had to realize I may not see many of them ever again. But immigrants have been leaving home permanently for many centuries. And we have email and Skype phone calls and FaceBook for photos," mentioned another expat in Philippines.

"Filipinos, generally speaking, do not do sarcasm. I've had to learn how to dial my sarcasm way, way back. On the flipside, when they do try sarcasm, they are generally really bad at it, and it can come off as just purely mean. So you have to learn to have thick skin. Also, ignoring sarcasm all together, there are different observational boundaries here. They will openly comment on your appearance in ways that Americans won't. (Wow, you're fat! You're SO tall! Your feet are HUGE!) This will sometimes be accompanied with pokes or pinches. This is all observational. Nothing mean is meant by it, despite how we've been conditioned to hear it. As a parent, the other thing that has been very hard to get used to is that women I've never seen before will touch my children. There is still a belief here among some that what a mother sees or touches while she's pregnant will affect the looks of her unborn child. The Philippines is a country that, right or wrong, aesthetically prizes light skin and European noses, so it's not uncommon for young women to come up to my children when we are out and about and just start stroking their cheeks. Sometimes you also come across older ladies who just like to stroke and pet cute little kids, no matter what their race, and feel free to do so. My kids are used to it now, but I still have to control the urge to tell these women to step back and keep their hands to themselves. Nothing untoward is meant by it, and it's actually a complement; they are saying they think my kids are cute. So, thanks for that? I just bite my tongue and move us along as soon as we can. I know a lot of expats struggle with the feeling of being overcharged for items or services. This does happen. Do your research beforehand on what things should cost. If you think the price is too high, just stand there for a moment, holding or looking at the item and often they will lower the price. You can try asking what their "last price" is. Sometimes asking them what the price would be if you need a receipt will lower the price, too, especially if they are just working the booth and not the owners, because they would get fired if the booth owner sees they are overcharging and pocketing the difference. Agree to prices before you get into a tricycle or get a massage or any sort of service agreement. Finally, if the price is only slightly inflated, and you can afford it, consider just paying it. Unless you are here living on a Filipino salary yourself and honestly can't afford the "foreigner tax", then look at the extra dollar or two as a form of charity. Do not let your retail experiences contaminate your feelings toward all Filipinos. My Filipino friends are embarrassed and shocked to hear what shopping can be like for me," commented one expat who made the move to Philippines.

"Jeepney exhaust, crowded streets in larger cities, lack of access to foods including salads," remarked another expat living in Iloilo City, Philippines.

"The language. People showing up an hour late. seems like every time I say, "they are not coming", is the moment they show up ;) I have to report to immigration every 2 months and pay about $75 to $110. Their offices are few and far between and you may have to travel overnight. The wait is about 2 hours which I don't mind, because they have air conditioning," added another expat in Philippines.

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Expat Life in Philippines

What is it like living in Philippines? Here is what people had to say:

"On the weekends most people go out shopping in the huge malls to socialize and then go out to eat in one of the many restaurants and fast food places. Along with the Filipino restaurants, there are franchises from every corner of the world, so there is something for everyone. Everyone goes out Friday night after work, so there are traffic jams all over Manila," said one expat living in Manila, Philippines.

"Food. If they can eat with family and friends, even better. Social life is very important. Image is also important," mentioned another expat in Philippines.

"Hmmm, locals love their shopping malls. Weekends are busier than the weekdays. "Gimmicks" are popular on Friday or Saturday night, typically in Manila, Eastwood Libis or Makati. This can be any form of going out with friends, but Manilenos love a drink ;-)," commented one expat who made the move to Philippines.

"People are more focused on working. As we all know it is a third world country - the wages on average is 4000 pesos a month If they are not financially stable they do enjoy life - this is one thing I do admire about Filipinos," remarked another expat living in Surigao City, Philippines.

"Socializing, eating, drinking, living a nice and happy life in and surrounded by nature," added another expat in Philippines.

Meeting People in Philippines

"Joining a club, a church, Freemasons, Rotary are all great ways to network and have a ton of instant friends," said one expat who inquired about moving to the Philippines on the forum.

"To get involved right away, join the very active American Women's Club. It's also for men here who have to leave their wives at home in the U.S," said one expat living in Manila, Philippines.

"Try to get involved in an US / Filipino club or establish a mixed group of friends," mentioned another expat in Philippines.

"Taking language courses at one of the Universities or Colleges is a good way to meet both locals and other expats whilst learning language and culture. I can personally recommend De La Salle/CELL or Christian Language Study Centre. If you can get membership of a Sports or Country Club, grab it. I've been a member of Valle Verde Country Club and found it to be a fantastic place to get away from the bustle and noise of Manila, not to mention play sports," commented one expat who made the move to Philippines.

"Suriago city is actually not a tourist destination area though there are some activities that are available to you here. I would certainly not consider spending a lot of time here. Siargao Island is the place to visit. Great pictures, fantastic surfing - if you need a heads up message me," remarked another expat living in Surigao City, Philippines.

"Diving, rotary, NGO like tree planting or animals or street children. Church groups," added another expat in Philippines.

Diversity in Philippines

We asked expats about diversity in Philippines and whether locals are accepting of differences. They said:

"Religous, primarily Catholic. Church and religion are an integral part of life. They don't separate religion from work life," said one expat living in Manila, Philippines.

"No, they are not diverse, but yes, they are accepting. Although very CCatholic on the surface, often it is "do as we say, not as we do". Gays and other minority groups do not seem to be unduly persecuted as far as I can see," mentioned another expat in Philippines.

"They all live in harmony. The majority are Catholics - there are a small amount of Muslims but they coexist," commented one expat who made the move to Philippines.

"They are diverse and they accept differences. Majority is catholic, then Muslims and Buddhist. Not so much atheist. People pity the atheist over here," remarked another expat living in Davao, Philippines.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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First Published: Apr 09, 2018

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5 Tips for Expats Living in the Philippines

Expats may share some gripes about living in the Philippines, but most agree that one thing makes up for all of the challenges. Can you guess what it is?
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We asked expats and searched our forums for recommendations about where to retire in Asia. We pinpointed countries with affordable costs of living and have five great retirement locations. Please add your recommendations in the comments section!

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