It seems that in recent months the expat community in the Philippines is shrinking. I personally know about a dozen expats living here in the Philippines who either have already left the Philippines in recent months, or will be doing so shortly.
It’s not a big surprise to me in most cases, most of the people whom I know of that are leaving are people that I did not expect to make it here anyway, so it’s not shocking to me. On a couple of people, particularly one who lives in the Visayas, I was a bit surprised to hear that he was going home, but for the most part, I expected it to happen sooner or later anyway.
Living the the Philippines is not as easy as most think
For those of you who have never lived in the Philippines before, you have visions of San Miguels while sitting under the Coconut Trees on the beach and such, but life here is not easy.
Both Feyma and I have said in the past that you need to give yourself 5 years to adjust to living here. I know a number of people who have chuckled when I have told them that, thinking that I am crazy, and life here is nothing but pleasure. But, in almost every instance, these same people come back to me after a while here and told me that they were surprised to see that I was right.
What do you have to adjust to? Well, almost every part of life. Some of the things that I can think of, and in no particular order, would include:
- Financial. Everybody instantly thinks that life is cheap here. It is true that life can be cheap, but if you want to live cheap you must adjust the way you live to more “local standards,” and that is not an easy adjustment to make. For those who want to live a “western lifestyle” they will not realize how quickly their funds will become depleted, and soon panic will set in when they realize that money is about to dry up. For those who come here with a sustainable income from a business back home, a pension or some other means of income, they are in the best position financially. For those coming with only savings, or not much of a financial plan at all, it usually doesn’t take long before they end up leaving the Philippines in total disillusionment.
- Culture. At first glance, many westerners think that the culture here is “just like back home.” But, the longer you live here, the more you find out how wrong that thinking is. The culture here is very hard to adjust to, and it takes an effort. If you don’t make an effort to understand and adjust to the culture here, you will find yourself getting angry regularly, not understanding the things that are happening to you, and probably you will end up leaving the Philippines. I have personally lived here for nearly 10 years, and in that time I have tried to be a student of the local culture and learn things about how to live here. Even so, I still find that I regularly learn new things that I didn’t realize or understand previously. If you want to learn more about how the culture here works, you might check out my book, Culture Clash. The basic element of culture in the Philippines is SIR, which means Smooth Interpersonal Relationships, and it is important to learn the aspects of SIR so that you can get by and also so that you can understand the things happening around you.
- Loneliness. A lot of expats living here find themselves very lonely. You need to have some friends, and have some things to do, or you may wind up crazy with loneliness. A lot of expats end up isolated in their homes and rarely socialize. Loneliness can come from any of the reasons above. For example, if you are having financial difficulties you may not have enough money to get out and socialize with your friends. If you are having difficulty with the culture here, you may not want to go out where you always seem to end up having troubles. It’s important to overcome these problems, because loneliness can be a serious problem and lead to depression and such.
- Climate. I know a lot of expats, sometimes including myself, who experience problems with the extremely hot weather here. It’s important to give yourself an opportunity to adjust to the climate. Make sure that you use sunscreen to stop sunburns from occurring. But, the main thing is to force yourself to adjust to the climate. Spend some time outside. Start out with short periods out in the hot climate, and increase it gradually. If you spend all of your time in air conditioning, you will find it difficult to go back out and spend time in the hot climate.
- Language. A lot of expats experience difficulties in adopting to the fact that they have difficulty in communicating with some parts of society. Most people here can speak English to some extent, but some cannot at all, and you must either accept that, or make an effort yourself to do something about it. About the only thing you can do other than just accepting it would be to learn a bit of the local language. It can really help improve your life here, and I highly recommend it. You don’t have to become fluent, just learn enough to get by, and you will see a marked improvement in your lifestyle here.
These are a few of the reasons why expats have a hard time adjusting to living in the Philippines.
While I don’t have any scientific data, and I doubt that such data exists, I would estimate that more than 50% of expats who come to live in the Philippines end up leaving within just a few years. It may be much higher than 50% in my observation, but I think that 50% is a safe figure to use. If you don’t want to be part of the 50% who end up leaving in frustration and anger, it is important to look at the factors that I listed above and make a plan of how to deal with each of these aspects of life here.
In the past, I have mentioned many times that when Feyma and I moved here, we agreed in advance that we would stay here for a minimum of 5 years no matter how much we disliked the place. As it turned out, it was a wise thing for us to do, because there were a number of times during that initial 5 years when we wanted to go back to the States, but given our previous agreement, we stuck with it and made it through the adjustment period, and we now find ourselves very happy with our life here.
I have kind of been surprised over the past few months at the sheer number of expats that I see “bugging out” and going home. Like I said earlier, most of these people are people that I kind of expected would not make it here, but I didn’t expect such a volume of people to suddenly decide to leave, and seemingly all at the same general time.
One thing I know for sure, though, is that I won’t be leaving any time soon, and probably I will never leave. It is not something I foresee happening, at least no time soon. How about you?
To all those who are leaving the Philippines, I truly hope that you find happiness and a better life, no matter where you are going. Remember, if things don’t work out, you can always return, but the downside is that you will have to go through all of that adjustment all over again.
Mabuhay, and bon voyage.