RT Cunningham


Foreigners Living in the Philippines - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Philippines Airport - foreigners Despite how depressed I can get by the way I’m treated (like other foreigners) by close relatives in the Philippines, I tend to see more good than bad.

There are some foreigners who aren’t as open-minded as I am and some lack the maturity to see the country as it really is instead of the way they would like it to be. Here’s some advice if you’re a foreigner thinking about moving to the Philippines.

Foreigners and Financial Planning

Before deciding to move to the Philippines, and give up the life you’ve always been accustomed to, you need to make sure you won’t end up being as poor as everyone else. If you have no permanent source of income, you have no business living in the Philippines.

The reason you see many older foreigners (40+) living in the Philippines is because of their financial situations. Like me, many are drawing government pensions — pensions that we’ll receive until we die. Others have solid businesses either here or there (their “home” country) that allow them to live almost anywhere they want to live.

If you move to the Philippines, you need to know in advance that you’ll never be in a position where you’re not financially independent.

Rich vs. Poor

The way the poor people of the Philippines treat foreigners is really no different from the way people gravitate toward rich people in any society. The “have-nots” will always follow the “haves” to gain something from the “haves” in one way or another.

Yes, the poor people will treat the foreigners as walking ATM machines. What do you expect? They know you have an income and they know that you’ll continue to receive an income. They have a low income or no income at all.

I moved to the Philippines in 2006 and fortunately, I knew all this before I arrived. Of course the culture shock still occurred, but not as severely for me as for others.

Even so, it took me a while to understand not only why it’s like this but what I could do to soften the impact of always hearing “pahingi”. (No, it doesn’t mean they’re begging – it specifically means “please give me [something]”. I’ve used the same word to get what I want and I’m obviously not a beggar.)

Love and Marriage - Generation Gaps

When I married my wife, we were 24 and 23 years of age, respectively. We are an anomaly when it comes to American men being married to Filipino women. The reason it’s an anomaly is because most marriages like ours do not last. In fact, of all the couples like us that we met after we were married, only one other couple is still married.

It is much more common to see older men married to younger women in the Philippines and that doesn’t apply only to foreigners. On the other hand, it’s much more common to see people in the same age group “living together”, out of wedlock. The reason is simple economics. Older men tend to be much more stable financially and usually capable of supporting a family.

I realize this may not seem normal, or it may be frowned upon in places like the United States, but it’s not only normal, it’s historical. The more “developed” societies tend to think in a completely opposite way than their ancestors and I’m only talking about a couple of hundred years.

Before polygamy was outlawed (or never allowed in certain societies), it was common for a well-to-do man to have multiple wives. The age of the women didn’t make much of a difference. Other attributes were more important to the men.

Living Conditions

Every place in every country has one or more areas we like to call the “slums”. The Philippines is no different. When you have the money to buy a home or rent an apartment in the Philippines, you’re the person who chooses where you live.

If you end up living in a slum, it’s because you’ve chosen to live there. It doesn’t matter why you might choose to live in such a place, but it happens. The last thing I, or other people like me, want to hear is how bad off you are.

I don’t live in the “best” area of Olongapo City, but I don’t live in the worst either. Why I live in the specific spot I live in is a story in itself, but I’m glad I live on a mountain and not in the flatlands of the city. I don’t have to deal with flooding, too much pollution and too much noise from anything other than domestic farm animals and the occasional trike or motorcycle (usually a neighbor).

Yes, there are people who live in streets or between buildings. Most often called “squatters”, they don’t really meet that definition. A better definition would be “homeless”. You see this a lot when you get away from the tourist areas and business districts, especially in metro Manila. You’ll even find people building their “homes” under the expressway bridges.

Foreigners and Compassion

I find that I have to ignore most of the poor people here, especially the beggars. I may have a monthly income and I may be considered well-off, but I can’t help everyone. I have to focus on my family and my immediate relatives (the ones that live next to me) so that the collective we aren’t poor.

Frankly, if every foreigner living in the Philippines behaved as I do, I doubt it would make that much of a difference in the overall scheme of things. The most important part of charity is helping others learn how to help themselves.

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By RT Cunningham
November 15, 2013
Expats and Foreigners