Dodging Expat Drama

When I was living in California the many years before relocating to the Philippines, I didn’t have to deal with drama much.  Even my last divorce went very smooth and we stayed friends.  But mostly, I didn’t deal with much drama because myself and everyone I knew was generally too busy working to have time for it.

But then.. enter the Philippines.  You and most of the expats you will know are either fully or semi retired.  Plenty of time on our hands to get into all kinds of mischief.  And with mischief comes drama.  You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh.. I have no use for that nonsense.  I won’t get dragged into any of that.”  Ha!  That’s what I used to think.  But it happens faster and easier than you’d think.

Where Drama Comes From

The first and most likely source of drama will come from your dating, social life.  Don’t get me wrong, Filipinas are wonderful, amazing women.  They are full of joy, love, affection and energy.  But.. when things go wrong that’s when the drama comes out.  It might be you did something wrong, or not.  It might be she has a jealous streak.  It might even be that you and her are doing great but.. her jealous Filipina friend or neighbor will purposely spread gossip to break up your happy life.

I’m reminded of an expat friend of mine who was getting into a serious relationship with a Filipina years ago.  They are now happily married, over five years now.  But when they were first dating a different Filipina came to him and said that his girlfriend was secretly married and had children hidden in the province.  But.. coincidentally, she herself was single and available.  It took some serious conversations and fact-checking but it all worked out.  The woman was just lying to him in hopes of dating him herself.  But that is how easily drama can come to your doorstep in the Philippines.

The next likely source of drama can be your Filipino neighbors.  In the province areas of the Philippines.. there basically is no enforcement of noise control.  Your neighbor might have a dog chained 24/7 and so it barks day and night.  Which is what the neighbor wants.  He wants the entire neighborhood to know he has a dog in his yard for security.  But you don’t want to hear that dog bark all day and night.

Now, back in your own country you might calmly knock on the neighbor’s door and politely ask them to unleash the dog in the yard so it won’t bark so much.  In the Philippines.. good luck with that.  99.9% of the time that conversation is going to go nowhere and will only result in resentment against you for even bringing it up.

karaoke-videoke-philippines-problemsSame thing if they buy a new karaoke machine with big speakers.  I’m not kidding.  I knew my neighbors had bought a new machine because I heard it, very loudly, for weeks until 2 or 3 in the morning and during midday.  At near concert level loudness.  Fortunately for me, I can sleep right through loud noise.  But plenty of people can’t.

In that same neighborhood, my neighbor to the left had planted a small garden of vegetables.  All was fine.  Until my neighbor on the right, his pig got loose and entered the garden to eat everything in sight.  It got ugly.  The neighbor who owned the pig ran to the Barangay Captain first.. to file a complaint that the other neighbor’s vegetables made his pig sick.  But was not about to admit it was his own fault the pig was not secured in his own yard to begin with.  Yah, it’s that nuts in the province.

motorbike-philippines-beware-dramaAnother source of drama can result from making sales or purchases with strangers.  Maybe you have a motorcycle to sell or you’re looking to buy a refrigerator from some guy down the street.  It should be a simple transaction.  Money for item.  Sold ‘as is’ and done.  Don’t count on it.

I had an incident where I decided to buy a used motorbike, small one, from a Filipina who cleaned my house twice a month.  She said she really needed the money and even showed me the paperwork that she was the legal owner via LTO documents.  It was only about $250 so I paid her in about three payments.. each time having her sign a receipt for each payment.

Meanwhile the motorbike was with me.  So, after the last payment I asked her for the paperwork so I could transfer it into my name.  She said she’d forgotten it but would go five blocks to her place and bring it back.  She didn’t come back.  That was the beginning of 2 months of promises to bring the paperwork.  Two months of constant lies.  I gave her one last chance and told her that if she didn’t either return my money or give me the paperwork I’d go to the police.  She still refused.

It was only after speaking with the Barangay Captain and the local police chief that it turned out they knew who she was and that she was on parole for a previous drugs violation.  That leverage got me my money back from her uncle who didn’t want to see her go back to jail for a parole violation of ‘estafa’ (fraud).  I got my money back and gave her the motorbike back, but the whole incident gave me three months of stress.

Another source of possible drama is with your landlord.  My own personal experience has been that renting from expat landlords is a better bet.  Nothing is 100%, but in my dealings, westerners understand the concept of an Agreement.  Expect that when you give a security deposit with a Filipino landlord, that money is not going to sit in a saving account for the day you move out.  It condo-lease-contract-philippineswill get spent.  You will rarely get it back unless you are dealing with a good landlord or a corporation handling a condo building.

What most landlords in the Philippines do is offer the last month’s rent when you are ready to leave as ‘consumable’.  Instead of getting your rental deposit back, you just don’t pay rent the last month.  I’m fine with that.  But my first Filipino landlord then tried to say, after 6 months of paying rent on time, that I was one month late.  I made a copy of all my receipts for the 6 months and only then did she back down.  So.. always get and keep your rent payment receipts!

And finally, one other source of drama is with other expats.  It might be online.  It might be face to face.  When I’m single I like to enjoy a night at the dance club every so often.  Most nights all goes smoothly.  But as is the case with any place that serves alcohol, you once in a while run into some drunk a-hole who runs his mouth on you just a bit too far.  You have two choices.. ignore him or  escalate things.  Much better to ignore him and let it go.  Otherwise, you better have some credible fighting skills and a few friends on your side if you plan to take it up a notch.  As for online idiots, just block them and ignore them.

Overall, your chances of encountering drama is bound to fall at your feet eventually.  The best thing you can do when this happens in a foreign land is to keep your cool and calculate a resolution that gives you the most satisfaction with the least amount of liability.  If you have a Filipina girlfriend and you run into a legal issue.. ask if she’s got any relatives either in the local law enforcement or even better, at the mayor’s office.  You’d be surprised how many people are related to the mayor.  That’s how things are done here.  It’s not always if you’re in the right or not, it’s who you know that can smooth things out for you from an influential position.  I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that’s how it’s done here a lot of the time.

Your best bet to dodge drama in a foreign land is to;

Scrutinize and verify women you date,
Stay under the radar,
Keep your receipts,
Get a contract,
Use a local attorney to oversee large transactions, 
Ask other expats you trust for reliable references.

Then you can minimize your chances of dealing with drama and focus on enjoying all that the Philippines has to offer.

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Chief Editor

philippines survival guide advice expats

Author: Reekay V.

Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat and spent 1999 living in Vietnam.

Share with me my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Hopefully you find my observations helpful in your own adventures.
— Reekay


  1. Thanks for another great episode. I talked with my wife about this article and she confirmed everything you said. I can’t believe people would lie like that right to your face. But, she says, of course it’s all about money.

  2. Yep, I experienced it at a hotel on vacation there . I showed up , they said they i had no reservation and the hotel was going to be 70/night . Expensive in the PH. I showed the online receipt ….well there you go , they had a room for me at the online rate of 35/night. It was funny in some ways . Nice gal at the front counter , however I think her boss puts her up to it. Later that week she actually got me free drinks in the Hotel bar and a free meal there too ! Just the way it is – I learned. Buying a motor bike would be a chore I think- Do you have one Reekay? It would sure be handy to have. I rented one there for a week (about 20.00 dollars) if I remember)- it was great to have your own Bike ! Do you own one, and what one would you recommend??. BTW, the Filipina I workout with here at the gym locally in Vancouver , confirms everything you said . I think she calls it “filipino Style” culture heheheheh. She said you should introduce yourself to the B- Captain or his helpers if you plan to stay in the community . They can help with rental suites, and many other things ( I think her father is one !) ….she says no one will give you a problem if you know the Barangay Captain or people in his office. As a short term vacationer last time I had no need to drop in for Coffee , but If I was living there ….maybe .

  3. Heeeeyyyyy Reekay,WOW,those stories are amazing.I think it takes time to learn from past experiences before you start getting a feel of the place.
    It sounds like some people lack integrity.anyway, I’m sure they can’t fool an old fox like yourself,hehehe
    Next you’ll be telling me that my girlfriend will be expecting payment for her services,hehe
    Take care Reekay,it’s all part of the journey.Merry Christmas.

  4. Informative post as always. I’ve seen a lot of this selfish usury of others and find it repulsive. Accordingly, I avoid such environments / cultures. But, being a TFL type of guy (can’t get a good affectionate and attractive woman), this is the reason I have visited the Philippines and I found the dating not all that good either (no rock star effect some speak of). By my observation, if the woman was single, no kids, had a college education or attending university, they were taken by middle-upper class Filipino men their same age. And, the women seem to want marriage, children, support of family and are very religious (without being ethical). I noticed very old men with one foot on the banana and the other in grave getting more women, if they had money. Am I correct to presume the rest of the poorer SE Asian countries are very similar in this respect?

    1. With regard to the dating options, much of it has to do with the expat and the type of women he pursues. I’ve been with Filipinas who have plenty of money, own their own land, own several businesses. I’ve dated older women in their early 50’s and younger women.

      If some guys only get women with problems and baggage, part that is due to their own selection process.

      1. Very true. Also, I think the type of “vibe” one gives off and various clues of “attraction” make the “fishing” much easier for some men. For example, when I alone, or with most of my male friends, we are like walking ghosts to women; obvious rejection before even trying. But, with a few guys I know (same age, income and education) the women are giving them signals of attraction I never see, these few men even get approached by women. But, on average, I found these few male friends are tall, well built, have a “playful” (almost childlike) demeanor, spend money easily, and don’t behave like the scientists or engineers they actually are at work. It’s as if a switch changes when they are in public around women. I don’t have that switch, the added foot in height, nor bench press 300+ pounds.

        1. I’m only 5’9″ and, let’s just say I’m never lonely between relationships. 🙂 I believe it is more demeanor than physical with women. If I’ve picked out a Filipina in the crowd, 99% of the time I end up going out with her a few times. Much of it is in the eyes, I’m convinced. I already know before I walk up to her she’s given the ‘green light’. It’s all about first impression. Conversely, I can tell when there’s no interest on their part. They might be already taken or just ‘not looking’ to meet anyone that day for whatever reason. But a man’s own ease in being who he is, and not something else, has a lot to do with it.

    2. Bob, I’m sorry for your troubles finding a woman. I followed this conversation with interest because, while being quite shy, I didn’t have too many problems. I am 6′ tall with blue eyes, but I’m 52 and bald and my teeth are a little messed up. But, basically, I get the rock star affect every time I’m there. (And you should have seen it when I brought my 18 year old daughter and 14 year old son, both light brown hair and blue eyes – their Facebook blew up with friend requests).

      I draw 3 conclusions, which may be totally wrong of course. (1) Girls in the city are a lot more hard-hearted than girls in the provinces. The provinces are so easy going and friendly, where as the city is so much more cut-throat. (2) Smile like you’re on vacation. Province girls, especially, are very shy. But a smile will put them much more at ease. You probably don’t want someone that comes up to you anyway. Look for them to smile back, and that’s your opening to start a conversation which can be as simple as “Hi. You have really pretty eyes.” followed with “Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?” (3) Don’t look for a girl that is your everything. You should be your everything. Have your very short checklist, but no one can fill that hole in your heart except you. The girl is there to be a good wife or girlfriend, not to complete you. My checklist looked like this:
      – Single (of course)
      – Prettier than my fantasies
      – Very small and slim – just my preference
      – honest and sincere to a fault – no lies, no exaggerations
      – No drama, truly respects me, defers to me on most things, and truly attracted to me in bed
      For me, I found lots of women online that seemed to fit the bill, and of course many more that did not. Online is a good starting point because my lack of social graces don’t show. I can think about what to say without being tongue-tied. We all have our own definition of beautiful, but when this one girl noted interest in me online, she was so incredibly beautiful, that I blushed when I saw her pictures. I was so sure it was a scam that I went offline for a full month thinking this internet thing was just full of con artists. After a month, I figured, ‘What the hell?’ If she’s real, she really is my fantasy – just be prepared for it to be a scam. We’re married now and she fulfills everything on my list, including initiating sex most nights, which is how I know my last checkmark is completed.
      I’m not saying there aren’t any arguments. We’ve had 4 arguments in the last 18 months, but once I gave up the idea that she had to be my everything, it all got so much easier. She’s not a genius or college educated, but I had that with my first wife and she questioned me on everything and constantly told me how I could do it better. I don’t need that, and I don’t want a girl that wants a career now that she has a degree. I like being her life.
      I hope any of this helps, Bob. I know you can find your fantasy girl also.

      1. Chuck, thanks for your encouragement, we have the same tastes. I’d be looking to do what “Reekay” is doing, just live there when I can with no marriage visas or children. The few I’ve gotten bites from usually end things right there or when they know I’m non-religious. In the US, I’ve swallowed the “red pill”. In the Philippines I’m a “purple pill” type, but I will not lie, cheat, game, or play with bar-girls. The girls in the tiny provinces I go to for diving seem so shy in their barkadas, that I don’t approach for fear I’d be scorned.

        1. Bob, haha, I had to look up the “red pill” reference. Agreed that no marriage, no kids and non-religious is going to exclude a huge percentage of Filipinas. I explained the ‘atheist’ issue to my now-wife after about 2 months of talking online. She didn’t understand. It’s a strange concept to them, and she thought it meant (1) I have no morals, which conflicted with what she knew about me after 2 months of talking and, (2) no church wedding, which was her dream, but I made it happen anyway. I went round and round a few times explaining how I’m not amoral, I just think a bearded guy in the sky is pretty far-fetched, which led to her telling me about how she came to disbelieve in Santa Claus. So, we go to church together, but not to mass. Every Friday, she likes to go to church to light candles, and I sit and enjoy the 10 minutes and feel the Law of Attraction, which is my “religion”. Sorry, too long-winded.

          The shy girls in their little groups (I had to look up barkadas, too) are exactly the type of girl that can make you happy, if you can find one who doesn’t want marriage or kids. They are the honest, down-to-earth girls that are watching you like you climbed out of a movie screen and would probably love to approach you if they weren’t so shy. I still think online is the best start, even if you are actually there. This way, you get through the 90 girls that want marriage and kids, you get to know them a little, then date and see how it takes off. Reekay would disagree, I think, but he’s a lot more at ease with other people than I am. I see a beautiful girl and my mouth doesn’t work at all. Good luck, Bob. I know you’ll find what you’re looking for.

  5. I’m in the Philippines now with my Filipina wife and our two babies. It’s nice this time of year here. We got here on December 2.
    Bought a small multi cab for about 150,000 pesos ($3,000) to get around. Already have obtained a business license to open an Internet cafe and print/copy business. Things are looking really good.

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