RT Cunningham

Retired and Living as an American in the Philippines

I’m a retired American living in the Philippines. If you’re thinking of doing what I’m doing, I want to save you some grief from the unexpected.

If you think it’s paradise, think again. It can be, but only if you make it that way. There are things that happen in the Philippines that will make you wonder what you were thinking when choosing it as your place of retirement.

In my opinion only, you should live in or near any big city other than metro Manila. I wouldn’t wish metro Manila on my worst enemies. It’s too crowded and traffic is horrible.

I live on the outskirts of Olongapo. Olongapo isn’t a big city but it’s right next to the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. That’s makes the total area as large as any big city.

Retired and Loving It

Technically, I’ve been retired since I quit working in the United States. I retired from the military at the age of 37 (a couple of months before my birthday), after 20 years of active duty. I left the United States at 45 because I couldn’t find a good reason to stay. My children were grown and beyond high school. I’m not emotionally close to any relatives (including my siblings) on my side of the family. I don’t think I ever was.

I will retire again, on social security, in 2022. That’s five years and a few months from now. My wife, Josie, will retire on social security about 9 months later, in 2023.

We “survive” on my military pension, which is okay by me. Josie tends to complain when we run out of money in a month for whatever reason. And we always run out of money. We own the house but we’re making a car payment, which eats up more than a couple of hundred dollars a month. Three and half years to go.

I’ve lived in the Philippines for more than 11 years. I had to return to the United States a few times for various reasons, but it had nothing to do with living here. I have no reason to return permanently.

Despite the shortcomings of the country I now call home, I wouldn’t trade it for any other country. My stress level has never been lower and that’s because I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. Except for minor things, I don’t have to deal with either government, Filipino or American.

Convenience is an Issue

More properly stated, the lack of conveniences is an issue here. It’s slowly getting better but I think I’ll die of old age before it reaches American standards.

Paying the monthly bills is one example. I guess I was spoiled by the fact that I didn’t have to go anywhere to pay bills in the United States. I paid them all through my bank’s bill pay service. It’s one of the perks I enjoyed for more years than I can remember. And I rarely had to go to the bank because I did all my banking online.

In the Philippines, I can either pay at the business itself or pay through a local payment handler. I can pay the water bill, the electric bill, the cable bill and the DSL bill in one place or another, but I still have to go to that place.

Banking isn’t United States dollar-friendly. My direct deposit amount is going into a dollar savings account at BDO, but that’s all it does. I still have to withdraw that money and exchange it for pesos before I can pay bills or buy things. There are exceptions, like Royal Subic, where they will take dollars and give change in pesos.

Again, I was spoiled in the United States. What I couldn’t find at Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam’s Club or Home Depot, I could order from Amazon. Here it’s Royal Subic for groceries and the Harbor Point and SM City malls for non-groceries . S&R Membership Shopping is over an hour away in another province. Lazada Philippines is the closest thing to Amazon we have, but that will change by the end of this year or next.

The Weather

There are well-defined seasons of weather in the Philippines. Three months out of the year are the hottest and the most humid. I made the unfortunate decision to move here right in the middle of them.

If high humidity bothers you, this is probably not the best place to be retired. There are far fewer periods with low humidity than high.

There are typhoons (tropical storms) every year and the number I have to endure varies with the weather pattern. The rainy season can be harsh or it can be mild and it usually lasts for about three months after the hottest season ends. I was about to say “hot” but for me, it’s always hot except for nighttime. The cooling off hours are almost non-existent during the hot season.

A Sense of Urgency doesn’t Exist

Americans, for the most part, are used to being in a fast-paced environment. The Philippines is the opposite. Slow-paced is an understatement sometimes.

There are things I could resolve in a day in the United States. Some of those things take days to resolve here. There’s a reason the term “Filipino time” exists.

When it comes to local businesses, the only thing they’re fast at is taking your money. Even then, you have to wait while receipts are hand-written at some of them.

Appointments are suggestions. You can be on time, but they won’t be. I don’t like waiting when it’s not my fault that I’m not on schedule.

The Beaches

The only free beaches are those that no one wants to visit. Every good beach is owned by someone and you have to pay an entrance fee. It isn’t much but it may be more than your retired budget will allow.

There are plenty of beaches on a lot of the islands. Many are in areas you will never visit. Despite what you may see in tourism videos, most women do not wear bikinis. If they do, they cover them with T-shirts and shorts.

This is the Tropics!

The tropical environment supports a large variety of insects and animals. There are insects here I cannot name as well as some that I can. The ant population is incredible. Some people have problems with roaches. I don’t have problems with them. They rarely get into my house.

Everyone has issues with termites. That’s why most new houses are built with cement, iron, steel, aluminum and other materials that don’t include wood.

There are rats and snakes. I’ve only had to deal with one baby snake getting into my house by slithering under the front door, which doesn’t have a threshold. I could probably make a threshold out of wood, but it wouldn’t last long against the rain and termites.

The Needy

There are more poor people in the Philippines than not. More than likely, your retired budget doesn’t include charity. If you need to give money to someone, give it to the church you belong to.

It took me a few years to learn to ignore the needy. We still give small amounts to help with burials and such, but we can’t help the needy without becoming needy ourselves. My pension doesn’t last a month. If it did, I’m sure my attitude would be different.

The Governments

These are the only things I have to worry about:

I’ve renewed my driver’s licence multiple times, my ACR I-Card twice and my passport once. None of these things are terribly expensive. They’re more of pain than anything else, sometimes requiring me to travel unexpectedly.

The Retired Life

I could go on, but I won’t. Some retired Americans hate it here but can’t afford to leave. I’m not one of them.

There are a lot of good reasons to live in the Philippines instead of the United States, especially when you’re retired. The country has its faults just like any country. Just like the United States.

I don’t like being spied on by my government and I don’t like being tracked. The Philippines doesn’t have the money or resources to do either. Not yet. When it does, perhaps my opinion of the country will change.

May 21, 2017
Expats and Foreigners

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