Are you bored with such a predictable day-to-day existence? Fed up with cold weather all the time? Want some adventure and sun in your life? Retirement savings a little skinny perhaps? Well - there are always alternatives - and in this article, I'm going to describe some of the benefits, advantages and experiences of my own recent retirement to the tropical Philippine(Have a look at the photos...). I moved and retired to the Philippines in 2006.
First I'll describe my reasons which are all fairly simple. I'm from the UK, and my life there had dwindled into a predictable daily drudge routine that was both especially boring and mentally numbing. Everything was so ridiculously expensive, a simple night out with friends could cost £50-£100($75 - $150). Every day the same, there was always some brown windowed envelope that would creep and crawl its weary way through my mailbox - yet another bloody bill to pay. I had a fairly well paid job - I had zero debt (I'm old school...), and was a software contractor and consultant in financial software and was working for a large well-known bank in London at the time. And all my friends were just as unhappy and seemed to be in the same miserable boat as me.
As an Asian investor of some years - this interest had branched out necessarily into Economics which led me to realize that there was a major economic crisis coming. So, after several stays with an English friend on Boracay Island in the Philippines in 2005, I sold up my house in UK(which I owned), filled one huge suitcase(containing my life!!) and headed out finally to the Philippines alone. The coming financial crisis was also a big factor in my eventual move to the Philippines in 2006. As I saw it, the only way to survive this financial crisis in the long term was to to trim down expectations and move somewhere that was fairly primitive, cheap and beautiful - in order to avoid the heavy expense of modern life and the heavy cost of convenience and order if you like - this is why the Philippines fits the bill so well.
Using my friends' apartment as a base on Boracay Island, I travelled all over the Philippines, visiting areas that seemed likely to suit me. I travelled to Cebu, Bohol, Boracay, Baguio(Mountain City), Manila and some other places but finally settled in San Fernando in La Union on Luzon island. San Fernando is in the semi-provinces, on the beautiful shores of Western Luzon and I settled there for the following reasons - I dislike cities and much prefer the countryside. There are very few earthquakes, floods, mudslides or tsunamis on the West Luzon coast, and since virtually all typhoons come from the east side of Luzon - the storms have to come over both the Sierra Madre and Cordillera Mountain ranges of Luzon and are thus not so fierce when they reach the west side. San Fernando also has a nice mix of Europeans, Americans and Aussies and there is a fairly tight, friendly expat community here.
I currently live in a three storey, five-bedroomed, rented house within a gated compound next to Canaoay Beach in San Fernando. The rent is £150 ($228) per month. For some balance - the house next to mine which is two stories, two bedroomed with a drive only costs £90 ($137) per month. The white beach - which only has a few well spaced, small hotels on it - is very natural and only about 150 meters away from my house and the seawater is clean, clear and always warm.
Here is a list of all my regular bills(all prices and exchange rates as at 05/02/2009):
Electricity:............................... £30 ($45.60)
Satellite TV.............................. £10 ($15.20)
Internet Broadband(832Kb/s).... £14 ($21.28)
House Rent............................. £150($228)
Gardener+Home Help.............. $17 ($25.84)
Food(very large shop for 2).............. £22 ($33.44)
Other Adhoc Expenses
Gasoline per litre................................. £0.33 (50 cents)
Aircon bus to Manila(274Kms)............... £5 ($7.60)
Meal for 2 at Beach Resort(+drinks)....... £7 ($10.64)
Yearly Cost of Car Tax + Car Insurance ...£30 ($45.60)
Two Months Visitor's Visa.......................£30 ($45.60)
Taxes that I no Longer Have to Pay(UK Taxes)
Water Rates(My deep well natural water is extracted from my property and is free)
VAT(There is VAT on only a few items in the Philippines - and the rate is 12% not 17.5% as in UK)
All those other UK Stealth Taxes that I might have missed (..and there are so many !!)
To give you a further idea of prices - San Miguel Beer costs about 25 pence(38 cents) a bottle, cigarettes can cost between 15-27 pence a pack(King Size) depending on what and where you buy and there is VAT of just 12% on only some items.
As you can see from the above costs, life in the Philippines is certainly much cheaper than in any other developed Western country that I know. For fresh food and veg I shop at the local wet market in San Fernando and there is also a mall for other shopping. I also drive into the mountains to Baguio City - which can be over 10 degrees cooler than San Fernando - it's only an hour away. San Juan - a well known surfing area - is just north of San Fernando. The hospitals and dentists here are also very cheap(the private health insurance is also inexpensive) and there are plenty of fairly cheap private schools for children - including Montessori Schools.
Europeans and Americans are usually quite apprehensive about the crime rates in certain under-developed countries - especially concerning violent tourist crimes against Europeans and Americans, and the Philippines is no exception. But what I've found is that there is far more hustle and crime in the cities than in the countryside. It really depends where you live. Where I'm living in San Fernando, it is well known that Mr Manolo Ortega - the local Governor of the region, has zero tolerance to any violent crime on his patch. And the mayor of San Fernando - strangely also an Ortega (nepotism is a way of life in the Philippines!!) - also fully supports his cousin, the Governor. So it is remarkably quiet, friendly and easy going where I'm living now.
I guess I've lived happily in the Philippines now for about two and a half years - wouldn't want to live anywhere else. I have very little stress at all now, can't help smiling every morning when I walk outside into the garden and feel the warmth of the tropical sun on my face. But there are certain things I would advise if you are thinking of coming out here to live. First, you must be both physically and mentally adaptable. It does get hot in the Hot Season(April - June) and you have to accept this. Also, if you are unable or are unwilling to give up your grip on the trappings of modernity, if you are expecting and need the same high standards of service that your home country provides, then forget about moving to the Philippines. Bear in mind that the Philippines is still a third world country and most of the population is poor by any standards. It also helps to have hobbies like swimming, gardening, golf, badminton, walking etc. since some expats that I meet continually complain about boredom.
I have to admit that I have barely noticed the cost of the Financial Crisis here in the Philippines. Sure, gasoline prices went up for a while but that was the only expense that I noticed(Went up from 31 pence to 51 pence a litre. Now back to normal.). The Philippine Peso is also a remarkably strong and resilient currency too. I recently learned that because most of the gold and silver mines in the Philippines are owned or backed by the government, much of this mined gold and silver goes straight into their Central Bank which - together with all the remittances that are sent back to families in the Philippines every year by Filipinos working abroad - is what has kept the Pesos so strong.
Perhaps a fulfilling, satisfying life and that illusive, shadow-entity - happiness - is best described by a favourite quote from Carl Jung
"Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent."
Further Links and References:
Living in the Philippines
British Expats Forum