Living Here: Expectations vs. Reality

I’ve officially been living here on Mactan for just over a month now, so the impressions of what was perceived and the daily reality is still fresh on my mind.  After giving it a bit of thought I’ve come to the conclusion that “Attitude has more impact than situation”.   When I left the U.S. it wasn’t because I was ‘unhappy’ there.  True, there were advantages to coming here such as my dollar going further… but I wasn’t a miserable person looking for a ‘place’ that would somehow make me happy.  By my guess, anyone who is under that sort of misconception is the most likely person to find themselves disillusioned after getting themselves all the way over here when the source of their discontent is ‘within’ them and they brought it on the plane.

Unless we’re talking about a 4 year old taking their first trip to Disneyland. I think a lot of us can say that the reality of any anticipated goal is usually much greater than the actual experience itself.  I’ve known people who waited their whole life to go to Hawaii and, upon returning their comment was, “It was nice.. but hot, very expensive and we rushed through all the tourist spots trying to cram it all in.  I’m so glad to be home.”  How many blind or first-dates existed in some romantic form only to be shattered when sitting for an eternity across the table with someone you knew in ten minutes was NOT the person of your dreams?  I think something similar has happened to all of us.

Now, in my case.. I’m having the time of my life.  I really do enjoy it here for all the reasons I’ve mentioned before.. the people, culture, food, extra time and interesting things to do.  I tempered my initial ‘ideal’ ideas of what I ‘thought’ the Philippines would be starting a year before I boarded my plane.  Yes, at first I scoured the net for images of the white, sandy beaches , nice restaurants and tourist locations.  But then, I started reading all I could about the unemployment rate, life in the provinces and asking as many people as I could find, “..what is daily life there really like?”.  After a year of online and Skype conversations I had a ‘better’ idea of what life was and wasn’t here in the Philippines.  Aside from moving to a location that can’t provide me my own porch-monkey to feed on lazy afternoons, I’d say all my other realistic expectations have been met and even surpassed in my first month here.

As a foreigner, my ‘life’ here is more like an ongoing semi-vacation.  Yes, I ‘work’ online at my own schedule and, compared to my somewhat stressful schedule back in the U.S., it’s quite the dream.  But I had to get past my own perception and see that my life is not what daily life is like for the average Filipino.  Many of them work very hard to provide for themselves and their family.  Already I’ve befriended a few people to find they work two full-time jobs.  To me, this is an important part of assimilating into the culture because it gives me more patience with the way things are done here.  If time is of an issue, I try to go out of my way to be patient because the person who is either the cashier or waitress may be doing their very best.. after having worked another job.  Being gracious to people in return for their courtesy.. of which the Filipino people have in abundance is to me another part of properly assimilating into life here.

Another factor that affects a person’s experience here in regards to what they ‘thought’ it would be is how much money they have to live on once here.  Yes, it is much cheaper to live here than in Canada, Australia, Japan or the U.S. but that has to be paired with what kind of lifestyle you expect to have here.  I will say this;  If you come from a nice suburb in the wine country of Temecula where you enjoyed a five-bedroom home with a pool and a Costco down the street.. you won’t find too much of that here.  There are some nice suburbs here, don’t get me wrong.  But little things like the standards for building codes may not be exactly as strict as they are in the US or abroad.  I know one person who lives in a very nice suburb up in the hills who returned from vacation to find their neighbor had built a reinforcement wall attached to their home.. without any permission or permits!  They are still trying to untangle that situation with the local housing bureau.  (Personally, I’d have hired some guys to sledge-hammer the thing down and be done with it.)

A person is NOT going to move here with $2,000 in savings and $500 a month income and have a nice home in the better suburbs of Cebu while raising a family of five.  Not gonna happen, not even here in the Philippines.  A nice little home rental for a bit more in a somewhat ‘less than pristine’ area of town.. okay, that’s a possibility.  So, bottom line, if one’s perception of living quarters is that it will equal or surpass what they are used to.. you’ll still need some decent money to afford that.

Now, that being said, if your attitude is flexible.. you can find a truly affordable place to stay here.. especially if you are a single person.  As a single person you really only need a decent place with a bedroom, kitchen, CR (restroom) and office area.  It’s what I would call a ‘studio’ but people here they call it an ‘apartment’.  What I used to call an apartment, here they call a ‘home’.  What I call a home back in the States, here they call a ‘mansion’.  My former home had a 1-acre yard, here 2 or 3 small communities might live in that same amount of land.  So, go figure.  Tomato-Tomahto.

My first Month’s bills, as a single person living in Mactan came to roughly.. ($USD)
Rent:  $107
Electric:  $30
Water:  $5
Cell Phone:  $12  (Unlimited Plan)
Internet:  $23 (USB Mobile Device)
Groceries/Dining-Out:  $225
Trikes/Cabs:  $75
Movies/Entertainment:  $100
TOTAL For Month:  Approximately $577 (USD)

Now keep in mind, I’m a single person and I’m somewhat frugal.  I cook many of my meals now that I have the kitchen stuff I need and a fridge for groceries.  I rarely go to ‘nice’ restaurants or resorts, I’m not out island-hopping so all that stuff would be extra on top of my base-budget for necessities.  Some people might look just at the numbers say, “Sign me up!  It’s way cheaper than what I’m paying now.”.  Well, true.  But again, can you get accustomed to not having your own car?  You notice my mode of travel is Trikes/Cabs.  My attitude is I’m paying what I normally would for gas in my own car.. but without the maintenance.  If having your own vehicle is somehow important to you either for status or whatever.. pad the expenses of car ownership on top of the budget.

To summarize, the Philippines has a great life to offer anyone who has the proper attitude to enjoy it and accept it for what it is.  If what you want is your current way of life in another country.. don’t leave your country.  This is the Philippines.  It’s not the U.S.  It’s not Australia.  It’s not France.  Sadly some of the most pitiful people I’ve come across online (not in person, yet.. knock on wood) are these senior ex-pats who come here ONLY because of the financial numbers or ONLY because they wanted a sweet, simple wife who doted on them.. but they COMPLAIN about everything else.  “Can’t get a good steak around here.”, “Nobody speaks perfect English.”, “Back home every table has a napkin dispenser.”  These are the sort of foreigners who give all us thankful foreigners a bad-name.  When I’ve asked them online, “If you hate it so much, why don’t you go back home?”  That usually shuts them up because they either could not afford to live on their pension back home or not a decent woman in their home country would put up with their miserable attitude.  And they know it.  So, news-flash for those expecting the Philippines to accommodate them:  “No amount of complaining is going to change how 104 Million Filipinos live their daily life just for you.”

So, as I stated at the beginning, “Attitude has more impact than situation”.   If you do your research, know what you’re getting into and have an open attitude.. I’m telling you, my experience has been that life in the Philippines is the BEST I have ever known.  I’m speaking of overall experience.  I’ve lived in fancier communities.  I’ve lived in Southern California ALL my life where even other Americans dream of living there someday.  And still.. my comment is that I am so happy and amazed with my transition to even this little, somewhat funky little island known as Mactan.  It’s not an upper-class place like other locations in Cebu.  It’s not as big-city as Manila (thank goodness).  But for me, it’s been a slice of heaven.. warts and all.

If you do plan on making the move here, do your research.  Bob has lots of useful tools and articles on the whole Visa thing, getting married here, all that stuff.  I did Google Earth scans of the terrain and cities to decide what kind of area I wanted to be in.  If you have children, research where the schools are and try to get referrals online from local ex-pats here and where they school their children.  But most of all, if you are married be absolutely sure you and your wife are willing to make at least a one-year commitment to acclimating here.  If you are single, have a backup plan just in case it’s not what you expected.  But my guess is, the more you do your research ahead of time the better you will be prepared to making your adjustment.  Just be flexible.  Be appreciative.  And enjoy the Philippines for the life it offers.

Post Author: Henry Velez (10 Posts)

Henry Velez is a recent (2012) addition to the Philippines and brings with him a fresh set of eyes as well as a talent for bringing his first-hand observations clearly to the reader. Motivated by both a life-long passion for writing, as well as for a Filipina he met in the US, Henry dove right in and made the move to the Philippines 'sight unseen'. He currently maintains three blogs, one which is devoted to his adventures here, and is currently working on a fictional novel set in the Philippines. We wish him the best of luck in his new adventures!

How to Move to the Philippines Manual


  1. says

    I am glad you are enjoying Mactan Island. Do you have plans to see other parts of the Philippines? I recommend Marinduque if you like peace and solitude, beautiful scenery, no pollution and a restful vacation.

    • says

      Absolutely. Just two days ago I took a full day to spend in the province area of Bogo, Cebu. My g/f has a farm there where I own several momma-piggies so I went to visit the farm. It was a whole other experience from ‘city life’.. very beautiful and peaceful. (and green!) Eventually as this and my other activities make me more money I plan to visit the many places here I’ve heard about, including several places I want to see in Thailand and Kuala Lumpur. (each location has a Monkey-Temple) But I’ll keep Marinduque in mind as well, thanks!

  2. Garf says

    It’s good to hear that you are enjoying your life there in Mactan, Henry. My hubby and I are planning to spend half of the year there in the Philippines and half here in the US before we decide to move there permanently. That gives him a lot of time to get acclimatized to the Philippine way of life.

    • says

      That’s a good plan. I considered doing the same thing since my g/f lives here in Cebu full-time. But in the end I made the decision to just “go for it”. I wouldn’t recommend that for everyone else, I’m just a bit nutty and throw myself entirely into transitions of any kind. I’ve heard of some people who say, when they are ‘back home’.. they miss being in the Philippines. And then when they are in the Philippines, they miss their family ‘back home’. I guess everyone has to find the plan that works for them individually. I with the both of you the best! :)

    • says

      When I was doing my own research in preparing to move here, the articles I really scoured and searched for where the “nitty-gritty” articles from feet-on-the-ground here in the Philippines. Some part of preparing is knowing the laws, immigration stuff, etc. which is where Bob’s Site here (LIP) become my online Mecca for information. A lot of my focus, now that I’m writing about here, is more on the nitty-gritty of the ‘social’ end of things. Getting along here, realistic expectations and having a respectful attitude for what I have is a very friendly culture.

      The only other place I’ve ever thought to relocate to is Italy. I love the history, art, culture and (like the Philippines) the importance of family relations. It’s quite possible another five years down the road my g/f and I have talked about having a summer-home near Florence. God willing, we’ll see.

      When people would ask me, “What about France? Maybe you’d enjoy living in France!”, my reply is usually, “France sounds wonderful.. it’s just there are so many French people there.” Being the outspoken conservative (politically) person I am, I’d not be very happy in France gauging by my other interactions with them State-side. To me, it’s not just the place.. you have to enjoy the people, because that’s really where it’s all happening.

  3. says

    An even cheaper option is bedspacing which is just renting a bed in a dormitory , all utilities included but you should make sure lockers are well secured.

    • says

      There’s a place that does exactly that on the northern end of Mactan. I first looked at renting a room with a family, and then at the dorm situation.. but my g/f (thankfully) insisted I have my own place so we could enjoy our own privacy. But it is a good option to start out for singles who want to take some time to ‘get their feet wet’ while checking out what other accommodations are available. I’ve seen photos of the dorms and they are ‘functional’.. room, bed, dresser and shared CR. Very simple but will definitely do the job of providing some inexpensive housing. In the long run, having my own studio for just barely over $100/month was worth every penny to me. :)

  4. Scott Fortune says

    Henry, I fully agree with everything you said! I am looking forward to getting there, and trying life, as a Filipino, and trying to get to know them as a people and a culture. I want to become part of it, not live the American life I have now. As long as I have a decent, clean home I will be happy. I do have some dreams of a small farm, but I don’t want to rush into that without being sure I like living there. So, we will be renting to make sure I like it as much as I think I will. And I am hoping that my wife will be happier there with me by her side than she was alone.

    • says

      After spending a full day in the province, to visit my g/f’s piggy-farm, I came to the same conclusions I usually do whenever I would rent a cabin in the woods for the weekend back-home. Each place offers different things.. it’s a trade-off. I think farm-living in a small, rural province is wonderful if the clean air, quiet life and simple living is a person’s highest priority.

      Meanwhile being near the city offers conveniences not found in the province such as movie theaters, wider variety of restaurants, local government offices and wider selection of products.

      Each comes with it’s own set of ‘cons’ as well. In the province, not as many nearby hospital facilities, usually an outdoor CR, more encounters with ‘critters’, etc. With the city, it’s the exhaust in the air where there’s traffic, larger crowds, more noise (in town, here at my studio is peaceful as can be).

      So, try out both.. weight out the pros ‘n cons and I think you’ll know which you prefer. Me.. I like being in a small town where I get some of the conveniences, but it’s easy to find some peace and quiet here at my studio. And if I really want, for about 200 Pesos (~$5) I can get a cab to the ‘big city’ of Cebu and enjoy the state of the art Super Malls for the day. :)

  5. Carl Parkes says

    Henry, you are a great, honest writer and I tremendously enjoy your articles written with a fresh eye. Keep up the wonderful work!

    • says

      Thanks! I appreciate the resources I’ve used here at Bob’s site and am glad to now be a part of it. I’ll keep on ‘keepin it real’ and interesting, which is pretty easy since this is such an interesting place to live. :)

  6. Mark Durrheim says

    I have a few small paid off properties that give me enough to live on on in South East Asia and am currently exploring over 5 months, looking at countries I find would suit me best. I have been to Thailand before and it is an obvious option, but I have heard from a Danish guy I met while travelling, that teh Philipines is a wonderful option: Climate, English, expense etc.
    Perhaps on this travel I need to go over for a week or so. I am in Thailand now aftera few other countries and am leaving for Malaysia. because the Philipines is so big and widespread I would have to start on recommendation. Mactan …I am picking this upa lot. is there a typical area where I could look? Any pointers would help to begin with. I am planning to coem over in May next year.

    • says

      The areas I’ve heard about the most, and the area I chose are all located in the central Visaya surrounding Cebu. Mactan, Bohol, Mindenaue being top of the list. Manila, to me from all I’ve heard is too urbanized for the relaxing life I enjoy. Mactan is a VERY small island (roughly 7miles by 14miles, wide and long) Cebu has some very nice cities as well as some province-rural areas. The big selling point on Cebu/Mactan/Mindenau is that they are insulated on all sides from any typhoons. The North and South regions of the Philippines are the ones who get hit hardest from the extreme weather. In Vasaya it’s more protected.

      I am interested in visiting Thailand for about a month since that’s about their Visa length. I love what I’ve heard about it, but not as much English spoken there in some areas, while here in Philippines English and Tagolog are taught in all schools so I’ve had zero problems with communication here. Just some thoughts.

  7. John Leick says

    Hi Henry! I enjoyed your article, thanks for sharing. I have been to Mactan many times now and may settle there next year. My business is taking me to Asia and have decided to settle in the RP, the Cebu area. My main purpose is to base myself there because I am burning out from all the long travel from Chicago to Hong Kong. Last year I almost moved to Hong Kong, but at the last minute bailed out; just so crowded and expensive. I have two employees in Cebu that help me in my business, and now a GF who lives in Talamban. She has a nice life in Talamban, but we both like the beach, so I will be looking at Mactan. Hope to see you there!

    • says

      That sounds awesome. Glad to hear things are pointing you in this direction and you’re flexible enough to consider living abroad. Not to mention the shorter flights for your business. I did ok with my flight here because I won’t be doing again for another year or so to make a visit to my folks.. I can only imagine flying from Chicago to here repeatedly.. wow.

      Mactan/Cebu.. both good choices, although Mactan seems to have better beaches from what little I’ve gathered so far.

  8. Holger says

    Hello Henry.
    Looks like you are happy in the Philippines. Great! I came to Canada in 2005 from Germany and got here like you only thinking in Germany: “What the hack.” And I love it here. 2008 my wife (Filipina) who I meet here in Canada and I made a visit to Asingan where she grow up. It was “Love” at the first minutes for me with all this “smiling” people around me – does not matter how bad there daily life is. My wife, 22 years in Canada, would like to stay in Canada – because she knows the really bad times she had in the Philippines when she grow up there. So for me it would be nice to stay there after I retire. I like warm weather – but the most of our philippine Friends like it here in Canada. 😉 So keep us informed how you are doing there in the Paradise, yes?

    And yes. I meet a lot complainers in person. Here in Canada – and the USA. My Auntie lives already 32 years in Denver Colorado. But still after all this time: “Everything is better in Germany….. blablabla.” I can’t stay it. I always give the phone to my wife… :)

    • says

      Very friendly people here, it’s such a nice change. People are friendly in California.. but ‘guarded’ at first when strangers. Everybody is worried you’re either out to steal or scam from them so most strangers keep to themselves, but are friendly once some conversation is started. But here, people seem to presume the best and are pretty friendly immediately.

      As for the ‘complainers’.. I guess some people just don’t know how to be flexible, or thankful, when in a different living situation. Me, I’m just happy to be living a simpler life, less stress and meeting nice people. :)

      • PapaDuck says

        Thanks for sharing your life in Mactan. Alot of good info. I’m gearing up now for my visit in Oct. Really getting excited about it. Several years dow the road my G/F would like to move to Singapore where she lived there for 9 years. She really enjoyed it there because it was so clean and safe. We will see though. Take care and looking forward to your next post.

        • says

          My g/f just returned from a few days in Singapore (girl’s weekend with her friends and son). She enjoyed it very much, as you said.. very clean and safe. A bit expensive at the Safari exhibit she went to.

          As for me, I don’t think I would do well in Singapore.. I’d end up getting flogged in public for some sort of indecent behavior eventually. Here on Mactan I can go out and have a fun time without worrying about the more strict laws they have in Singapore. :)

  9. Mark G. says

    Nice article Henry. My wife is Filipina and I travel to the Philippines a few times a year. I really like it there. The company I work for has a plant in Cebu and one in Manila so I’d like to transfer there but come what may eventually my wife and I will settle a little further north of you in the Calbayog City area. We both like the Cebu area for shopping and entertainment. We even got an S and R membership in May, lol. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your future posts.

  10. AlexB says

    Hi Henry,

    Very nice article, very insightful. Hope this helps a number of expats thinking of “escaping” to the Philippines.


  11. AlexB says

    Hi Henry,

    Very nice article, very insightful. Hope this helps a number of expats thinking of “escaping” to the Philippines.

    Good luck with your Mama piggies. May they bear you a lot of piglets.


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