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Personal Safety for Expats

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If you are a foreigner and you are going to live in the Philippines, security is something that you should keep on your mind.

I am not the type that constantly worries about my safety. I have lived in the Philippines for more than 17 years, and really I don’t get too concerned about safety and security, the truth is that I feel very safe here. I have never experienced any kind of threat to my well being here, and I don’t expect to. I feel pretty comfortable, frankly.

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However, feeling comfortable does not mean that you should be cavalier about your security. One of the reasons that I don’t worry much about my safety, and that I feel quite comfortable is because I have taken precautions which I feel minimize the risk of bad things happening. Now, don’t take me wrong, there is still risk, but it is minimal, even though I am a very high profile foreign target. Because of my large web presence, and the fact that I live in Mindanao, I am probably a nice target for those who would wish to do me harm.

Mindanao is not the only target

Even though Mindanao has a very bad reputation when it comes to security, this is certainly not the only target in the Philippines. A lot of bad things happen on every island in the Philippines and can happen in any city. Kidnappings happen in Manila, in fact over the years Manila is the primary area where kidnappings happen in the Philippines, although most people would think otherwise. The main targets for kidnapping in Manila when it comes to kidnapping are very well off businessmen there. Also, most people of Chinese ancestry are targets as well. The children of these people are perhaps the ones with the biggest target on their back.

So, while Mindanao gets all of the bad press, it is certainly not the only place in the Philippines where your safety could be in danger.

What do I do to lessen risk?

Security - Take care of yourself

Security – Take care of yourself

As I said earlier, I am a pretty high profile foreigner here. When I have traveled around the country, it would be rare that I would go to a city anywhere in the Philippines and not have somebody know who I am. If I walk down the streets, a lot of times just “regular folks” will say “it’s MindanaoBob“. I am not trying to brag or anything, it is just a fact of life. It is because I have a large following on the Internet, and not only foreigners or those abroad.

Although I generally do not publicize it, there have been times when I have been contacted by the City or National governments to warn me of various threats that I should be aware of. I appreciate this, but it has also made me aware that I should take care of my security and take measures that would lessen any danger (although I don’t feel the dangers are that high).

One thing which I do not do is “announce” publicly when I will travel or where I am going. I see a lot of foreigners give out very specific information about their travel, primarily on Facebook. They will come right out and say something like:

I am flying on Tuesday to Cebu on Cebu Pacific Airlines, flight xxx

Frankly it is crazy to announce something like that. If there is a bad guy who is looking to kidnap a foreigner, what great information for him to get ahold of! This gives him specific information where he can find the type of person he is targeting. I would not consider it bad to announce something like:

I’m going to take a trip on Tuesday, hope I have fun!

And, then, after returning home you can share pictures, post about your trip and stuff, because you are not announcing specific future plans. But announcing it in advance, especially with specific information only makes you a target for trouble.

Giving your home address

In the past, back when this website was young, I freely published not my exact address, but enough information where nearly anybody would be able to easily find my house.

Not only was this stupid and invited problems, but it actually did cause problems for me.

Believe it or not, the problems were not from Filipino bad guys either. No, I got serious security threats from other Americans living here. It got to the point where I had to bring in the PNP and give them the threats that I had received for them to evaluate and deal with the threats. It was not that I was threatened, but my children were threatened by these other foreigners. It was pretty scary.

You can bet that I no longer give out much information that would help people find where I live.

What kind of threats?

Although what most people worry about is kidnapping, there are other kind of threats or hassles you could face. One thing you might face, while probably not dangerous, is that a lot of beggars and poor folks might show up at your house and try to get money from you. If you think this is not much of a hassle, spend some time in the Philippines during November and December of any year. This is the time when people freely come and ask for their Christmas money at your gate. It is a huge hassle. You don’t want to invite this kind of activity for the rest of the year.

If you don’t tend to your security situation you may face any number of other problems ranging from mundane to extreme danger. Best thing you can do is to defend your personal information, be careful about who you share such information with (even sharing with foreigners can lead to problems), and generally don’t give you trust to anybody who has not earned it and proven that they mean you no harm.

Enjoy the Philippines, but also protect yourself.

Posted in

Bob Martin

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur. Bob is an American who lived in Mindanao from 2000 until 2019. Bob has now relocated back to the USA.

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Alex Kennedy
Alex Kennedy
4 years ago

BIG difference between “thinking” you are safe or “feeling” safe, and actually being safe.

Bob - Expat Answer Man
Reply to  Alex Kennedy

I would say that assuming yourself safe is not a good thing. Always assume that you should take precaution, then you’ll be safer.

Jason Silverman
4 years ago

Good article. I find that most people who discuss the security in Mindanao have never been to Mindanao.

Bob Martin
4 years ago

You are right on point, Jason. Those who really talk bad about Mindanao are the ones who have never been here.

Mark Gianetta
Mark Gianetta
4 years ago

Nice article Bob. Security is always on my mind here especially with school age children. The perception that all foreigners are rich is an issue. I take it day to day and keep both eyes open. I like it here and enjoy the company of my Filipino neighbors but mama didn’t raise no fool. If someone strange is hanging about I make sure they know that I know. I’ve had several neighbors offer to sell me guns for personal protection but with the laws here and the current state of affairs I think I’ll skip that. I’ll do the best… Read more »

Bob - Expat Answer Man
Reply to  Mark Gianetta

It sounds like you have made some wise moves and following the right policy, Mark. I hope you have continued safety and enjoy life in the Philippines.

JeffinFerndale
JeffinFerndale
4 years ago

Good read Bob, and I will take note. I already have announced on Facebook about my upcoming trip to the Philippines in September. I posted the date, but not where I am flying to. I will keep it that way. During past trips, I often tagged my location when I was in an airport, or a nice resort or hotel. This time, maybe I will wait until I am back home, or at least away from that location. My American brother in law and my sister in law are currently traveling all over northern Luzon with no escort. He says… Read more »

Bob - Expat Answer Man
Reply to  JeffinFerndale

Thanks, Jeff. I don’t think that you have to wait until you are back in the States to post stuff, but waiting until you have moved on is a good strategy!

Jay
Jay
4 years ago

Hi Bob,

I think your suggestion on not mentioning travel plans on Facebook, other social media or your site is great advice! We keep an extremely low profile when we go visit. My primary concern when doing this is that I don’t want people in the USA to rob my home there while away. We also wait until we come back to post pictures or videos. It would be difficult to post anyway from a net cafe.

Peace

Jay

Bob - Expat Answer Man
Reply to  Jay

Jay, that is great thinking. I had not considered the possibility of a home robbery while traveling overseas. It has been so long sine I have lived in the US that the thought did not even occur to me. Another great reason to not publicize your travel itinerary.

Jay
Jay
4 years ago

Hi Bob,

I bought my 9 year old son a bike a couple of weeks ago. He left it outside our garage. My wife took the boys to the store for a couple of hours. When they came back the bike was gone. What kind of scum steals a kids bike from in front of the garage. It was a cheap bike from WalMart, but still I will have to replace. Nice article! It gave me an idea for an article, but that would be own the road…maybe.

Peace

Jay

Bob - Expat Answer Man
Reply to  Jay

Hi Jay – Yep, those kind of things happen worldwide. Some people try to tell me that such tings just don’t happen in the US and it just shows how bad the Philippines is, but we all know that petty theft and such happen elsewhere. Sorry for your son. I am sure he was heartbroken!

Gary Neil Dadds
Gary Neil Dadds
4 years ago
Reply to  Jay

Insurance companies also check social media to see if you have told the world you won’t be home for a few weeks.

Bob - Expat Answer Man

I didn’t know that, but it’s not surprising.

Doni Brooks Jr
4 years ago

Great job! All it takes is using a bit of common sense tk stay safe.

Bob Martin
4 years ago
Reply to  Doni Brooks Jr

Common Sense is the key!

Trevor Hari
4 years ago

Keeping a low profile is common sense.Foreigners cannot get a gun licence but their Pinay pertners can. A stun gun can also give you peace of mind.

Bob Martin
4 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Hari

It is not always possible to “keep a low profile” for example… I have a high profile and it would take yeas to change that, which is why it is necessary to take a little extra care with security issues.

Don Keahey
4 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Hari

If your a foreigner go into your local gun club I’m pretty they will help you get a legal gun in your name

Gary Neil Dadds
Gary Neil Dadds
4 years ago
Reply to  Don Keahey

You can have a gun at a gun club but the gun stays at the gun club. Even if you arm your wife it will be assumed that you fired the weapon, even if you hadn’t. So it will be you that gets prison and deported.

Bob - Expat Answer Man

Yep

Bob Martin
4 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Hari

Can’t be done, my friend. They will tell you it is legal, but it is not.

Don Keahey
4 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Hari

Hmmm how weird

Bob Martin
4 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Hari

The law is clear.

Don Nishimoto
4 years ago

A Singaporean lady was kidnapped right out of Solaire. After RW, this will hurt the gambling sector since security issues are on minds of the PRC and other big rollers. Maybe no impact to expats who retire here, but the industry does create a lot of jobs and tax revenue goes a long way towards infrastructure.

Bob Martin
4 years ago
Reply to  Don Nishimoto

Any kidnappings or negative events lead to reduced tourism and fewer people making the move.

Donald John Lecraw
4 years ago

Bob, maybe this post could lead to a compendium of practical, specific, action-oriented, “common sense” measures. Your article mentions one: Don’t post your exact travel plans. But what exactly does “be vigilant” mean? Here is my list. We live two places, 40 km ouside the provincial capital in a fifth class municipality and, during the week in a rental in the capital so our kids can go to a better dchool. In our house in the country: 1. My wife’s mother is very social. She has asked her friends in the market to any strangers asking about us or just… Read more »

Bob Martin
4 years ago

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. What things need to be added are somewhat different from person to person depending on their lifestyles.

Jay Alexander
4 years ago

Great suggestion Don! Like the rest of the folks responding, I echo the need to take certain precautions. Likewise, I enjoy a secure feeling traveling in my wife’s hometown on Leyte, as well as southern Samar. I will be retiring there soon, and will take similar precautions such as poison proofing our security dogs, maintaining a low profile, avoiding predictable routines, establishing strong relationships with key people. Also, I understand the legalities that a foreigner cannot own a firearm, so I transferred ownership to my wife. Now I need to learn how to travel with firearms from the US and… Read more »

Cordillera Cowboy
Cordillera Cowboy
4 years ago

Many good points in there Bob, Much the same as we were taught by the military in Europe during the Cold War. The same things that protect you from garden variety criminals like pickpockets and burglars, go a long way for protection from the more serious ones. I don’t even advertise that I’m going to take a trip. That could tell potential burglars that your house is vulnerable. Necessary coordination takes place in private. I’m also a firm believer that spontaneity is my friend. Over the years we’ve also cultivated an expanding circle of acquaintances among our neighbors, and have… Read more »

Bob - Expat Answer Man

Hi Pete – It sounds like you are making wise choices. Spontaneity is certainly your friend in this kind of thing, and I applaud you for that. I am also quite spontaneous myself.

Wayne Broomfield
4 years ago

this is a very good post Bob .I may have to make the move to the Philippines spent two winters in parst of Manila never realy did feel quite safe no matter wher I was the first winterI took a cab most places and the last time jeepneys but always had a feeling of cautiion when ever out

Bob Martin
4 years ago

Sorry to hear that Wayne. Personally, I feel quite safe when out in public, but I also keep in mind that I might not be as safe as I think I am, so I take prudent precautions.

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