I’m not trying to be facetious about the title of this article. I was inspired to write this posting a bit by a recent article that Dave Starr wrote on his blog, entitled, “Things To Consider Aside From Philippine Cost Of Living”. You see, there was a recent event in our lives that occurred that really drove home this point. I’ll relate the story below, and I hope that all of those who are considering moving here give this some serious consideration.
Dave mentioned that he gets frequent comments and questions from people wanting to know the cost of living: What does it cost to live here? It is an understandable question, given the considerable expense in moving here, along with the fact that many people who read LiP are intending to retire here, often on fixed incomes. However, any of the points that Dave mentioned in his article are valid, one perhaps more than any other: Healthcare.
Last month, Becky and I became Godparents to her newborn nephew, Geoff Zaldy Carrao. The baby was born, and seemed to be OK. After a few days, his mother became really concerned about the sound of his cries. She took him to the pediatrician in Aparri, and was told that there wasn’t a problem. Fast forward a month. The baby is crying nearly constantly. Several more trips to the hospital in Aparri (1.5 – 2 hours away from Abulug), and they tell her that there is some form of heart problem, but they don’t know what. The baby and his mother come to Manila to stay with us, and we bring him to Juanito’s pediatrician. Around 2 seconds after hearing the baby cry, he says, “I’m booking him into the heart center immediately… This is serious.” It turns out, there was a birth defect in his heart, where one of the arteries was transposed with one of the veins in his heart. The blood was not flowing through the heart, but rather, circulating within, and as a result, he is not getting enough oxygen. He has about a month to live if he does not receive the proper surgery. All hospital and surgeon’s bills in the Philippines need to be paid in advance. This surgery will cost several million pesos and Phil Health covers 20%.
The point behind all of this is that, beyond all of the “paradise, cheap cost of living, live like a king” talk, the Philippines is still a developing nation. The facilities and capabilities are simply not normally up to Western standards, outside of the major cities. The baby was misdiagnosed at first, then they couldn’t be certain without the expertise, then we have to bring him to Manila. Let me put it this way, and if I’m being too blunt, I apologize: If you are a retiree in his 60’s or older, and want to live in the Provinces, you may not survive a major medical problem or emergency. Most cities outside of Davao or Manila do not have 911. In most towns the local ambulances are used as personal vehicles for officials. If you do manage to get to a hospital, they may not have the proper equipment or drugs to even treat you. Don’t believe me? Then read this posting that John Grant wrote several months ago about the death of his friend. After reading this, I can’t help but wonder if he would have survived had he lived in Davao, Manila, the UK, or the States, or in the developed world. What was the cost of his living here? Well, you can never be certain, but it appears that the cost was very high indeed.
After what we are dealing with medically speaking, combined with the lower quality of provincial schools, this sealed the decision for Rebecca and I: If we continue to live in the Philippines, it will be in Manila. Juanito’s welfare is far too important to us to risk otherwise.
Moving across borders requires a hell of a lot of planning. If you are very young, and can easily bounce back, then fine… take the chance. However, there are many things to consider before making the leap, none of which are related to costs:
- Is adequate healthcare nearby? Do you have the means to pay the bill? (Many people have died in the hospital here because they didn’t have any money).
- What about local health insurance?
- What about life insurance? Can your family survive without you?
- What if your income stream dries up?
- What about fire, earthquake, flood?
- What about the schools for your children?
- Are you prepared to help with family obligations? (Back to my story… The parents have Phil Health and that is all… The rest has to come from somewhere. Guess where? Could YOU look at a godchild only one month old and say “NO”, when several doctors have said that death would be imminent?) Forget all the crap about being tough and putting one’s foot down… There are certain things that are out of your control, and when you marry here, you inherit certain moral obligations. In my case, this is not my fault (We are insured in this house), technically not my problem, but could YOU decide differently in my shoes? Could you come up with $30K – $40K in a similar situation? Healthcare is cheaper than in the West, particularly hospital expenses, but specialized care is still quite expensive… Far beyond the means of the average Filipino.
- Can you REALLY adjust to the culture? It is easy to go on holiday a few times, and say “Yes”. It is very different living here.
- Are you prepared to feel totally alone at times? You are, and always will be, an outsider. You can adapt, but bottom line, you will never 100% be Filipino. (Though, the longer you are here, the more integrated that you will become). Remember that you are leaving all that is familiar behind. Many people forget this fact and have a difficult time adjusting once they are here.
- What if you must be repatriated for some reason?
- Do you still have obligations, financial or otherwise, in your home country?
In my mind, all of the above points are far more important than the cost of a loaf of bread. Overall, the cost of living IS cheaper than the West on most things in your daily life, especially locally produced food and rent. The problem is that when you see the ability to rent an entire house for the cost of a car payment in the States, it tends to distort reality. . Some things are also more expensive (Electricity, imported food, electronics, vehicles).Yes, you can get by on minimal funds here, and, God willing, no disaster will strike. You can also blow through money very, very quickly here, if you try to maintain everything just like “back home”.
The big drawback is that the infrastructure and public services in the country are developing. This is something that people from the first world tend to take for granted… If there is a burglar, the police will come. If there is a fire, the fire department will come. If you have a heart attack, the ambulance will come. In most of the Philippines, these things do not exist. Yes, there are enclaves where they do (most of Davao, Makati, and so on), but it requires planning and forethought well beyond price inquiries. Bob, Dave, and most of the other writers always suggest visiting at least once to decide if a location is the right one for you. Only you can decide if the risks and real, but intangible, costs, are worth the benefits.
In the long run, it may be far more expensive than you may realize!
*** UPDATE *** Little Geoff Carrao was given at best a 20% chance of survival before the surgery. The surgeon later confided that his real odds were 1 in 200… They almost lost him. The surgery finished, and the staff called him “Winner”, because they didn’t think he would make it. He should leave the hospital tomorrow, he has good color, and is making soft happy noises instead of cries of pain. A miracle baby.
John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.