The Philippines: Expectation vs. Reality

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 thatrealityvsideal 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 semipermanentvacationhad 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.. stretchingyourmoneyespecially 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.  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.

Henry ‘Reekay’



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. Wow, $577 budget…Now that is something I can live with because I am very frugal too and I could even put some money aside at that rate. I like to do alot of my own cooking too, so that should save me some money. I don't need alot of things, I have always enjoyed living a rather "Spartan" life and enjoying my surroundings, ie, "people watching" and nature…Thanks for the article Reekay!!…:)

  2. Very informative Henry, Thanks. We are planning of retiring there on Bohol in a few years. If all goes well. I am trying to learn as much as I can.

    Love your videos and articles Please keep up the good work!

      1. Hi Henry! Would love to meet you in Bohol or Cebu. Ill be in Cebu on the 8th, any chance to meet you?

  3. the important takeaway is that you can live and enjoy life on $577 in the PI, in the usa you would be living on the street,and the only roof over your head would be a homeless shelter, also you would be considered a street person. I would rather be poor like a pinoy in the PI rather than usa anytime…..

  4. Good day Henry, have question for you…. got civil wedding in Philippines few years ago, I am canadian and my wife is filippina. We lived in Canada and we did get separated here. We will get official divorce here in about 1 year. Did recently meet another filippina, all is great and I am moving back there in few months. Besides annulment, is there any option if I wish to re-marry there ? Thanks for your help, will surely need it 🙂 also provide me, if you can, with a contact who could possibly help me there with this matter (the rest is fine as I already lived there before.


    1. If you have a divorce from the first Filipina, recorded in Canada, the PH will honor that as both of you being free to re-marry. There is another article going into this in more detail. Search the site here for “getting remarried”.

  5. Hello Henry…

    Thank you for your informative website and videos. They are to my expectations and research I have done, as well as visits there twice. There is new US controversial global tax law, FATCA, (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), has finally arrived after years of delays. It is mandating that all non-US financial institutions are required to report the financial information of American clients who have accounts holding more than $50,000 directly to the IRS. Some US financial institutions, Vanguard included, have insisted on US Citizens living aboard to withdraw all their capital and assets in compliance with this new law, Hw will this law affects expats who has income on property here in the USA, and would it be wise to transfer all our funds to a Filipino Bank, knowing that many of them go solvent very fast in the midst of a global financial crisis?

    Thank you

  6. Unfortunately to date I haven't been in a position to visit my friend Mike Bannister in the Philippines but this reads like a realistic take on life there. I have never been able to understand why someone would want to go to live in another country and try to turn it into the country they left. Surely understanding and adopting (or adapting to?) the culture of your new homeland should be the first item on your "to do" list.

  7. i made my first trip to pi in february of this was amazing,but im not sure i could live there full time,i believe i would get bored quite easily after i was to visit all the different islands.i went to manilla,carmona,negros occidental and boracay.the people were great for the most part,everything was considerably cheaper than being in mississippi,but at the same time,realestate is quite expensive to own for what lil you get.outside kitchens(wet kitchens),no hot water,no ac (where i went,except in the hotels) and most of the time your bath was taken out of a bucket and ladle, fiancee is there as we are making plans for marriage in the near future at which time she will come to the states when paperwork is in order and we will see about living there half the year and here half the year. henry your articles are great,i enjoy reading them,pi is a great place to spend short amounts of time but compared to life in the usa,we really dont have it so bad.

  8. i agree with the adapting to the culture part of Michael's comment, here in Tennessee is a different culture then up north ( upper USA), but allot of people from up north come here expecting to make it like it was up north, when they left up north for the southern culture. besides lets admit it some have ruined their home state doing business as usual there. i am learning allot from your site. i grew interested in the Philippines when i meet a keeper from there. thank you for your guidance Henry..

  9. Thank you Henry for sharing your experience of living in the Philippines in such an informative and helpful way! The most important thing for me that you shared is something that is so helpful no matter where you are living: “Attitude has more impact than situation”. I like how you emphasized that if you are unhappy where you are and move to the Philippines thinking it will make you happy, you are deceiving yourself because your inner unhappiness with go with you on the plane. Thank so much for everything you have shared, maybe I will see you over there in Mactan!

  10. You lost me at "I like everything about it here,….the food", that's the worst food in the world! Nowhere compares, it's hands down! The MSG laden, overlooked, over sauced, over salted, fried excuse hardly edible food on a pile of pesticide covered white rice and you "like" it, your either lying or your taste buds are dead!

    1. Your comment is not only unnecessarily insulting, but inaccurate. I quite enjoy the odd meal of adobo or calderata. Anyway, if you don’t like the local food, teach you gf/wife some other kinds, like I have. The rice here has improved dramatically in the 20 years since I first came, thanks to introduced varieties, and you would know this if you actually tried any. Anybody who posts such derogatory comments on such a friendly forum has serious psychological issues.

    2. Hi Henry,
      I have only been in Metro Manila, but enough times to qualify your posts as pretty factual. I currently live frugally in Chiang Mai Thailand, and there are many parallels.
      One thing, you love the food? I agree with Mike Murray, hands down PI has the worst I’ve ever tasted, except perhaps most sub Saharan African nations. But buying at local markets, and making ones own should solve that. Also not everything in a PI kitchen sucks, just most of it!
      Otherwise, and crime aside too, it seems an OK place.
      I do agree you gotta take anywhere for what it is and focus on the positive, even at the dinner table!

  11. Hey Henry,
    I want to go move to the Philippines for awhile and live frugally while making a career change through the internet. But I am curious if 15 mbps is an unreasonable expectation? Are 15 mbps and about $600 monthly living expenses mutually exclusive?

    1. Hi Gary,
      OK I’m not Henry in PI but Will in Northern Thailand.
      Anyhoo… when you consider a whole bunch of e-work is now sourced in the PI by the west, there has to be the tech to support that. Whether that tech has reached the more prosaic islands yet is a question best left to Henry, but I’d guess most medium sized towns/cities (especially those with universities) would have the speed available… cost again is another issue. Further, Henry appears to be running a fairly comprehensive WordPress operation right here, from where he is, so that alone should answer your question, hope this helps!

  12. What if I just wanted to live there indefinitely to do my art and actually do the projects that I want to do in peace. If I get a guaranteed disability check from the VA for $800+, would I be safe? I’m pretty frugal too. I plan on giving a lot of my things away and just bringing my computers, art equipment, and my clothes. It’s not that I am unhappy in America, I’m just not as impressed with what America has that may not be a constant or given in another part of the world. I’ve lived in Korea before and it was a culture shock at first, but it wasn’t like I was expecting it to be where I came from and just about every other state I’ve lived in besides NY where I’m from was the same situation where I wasn’t expecting it to be what I was used to and most of the time, it was cool because the purpose of moving was to get away from the environment I came from in the first place. But, serious question. Would it work if I did this?

  13. What places did you go that are bad as far as food. Serious question. And did you end up with any health problems due to it? Because if not then good or bad is a matter of opinion.

    1. One place I would keep away from that is Maxima on the Island of Samil I had very bad food poisoning last June also there were no first aid facilities toilets were smashed in a cr absolutely disgusting place in contrast paradise resort on Samil is very good

  14. Nice discussion Henry, I will have to read and watch more of your comments.

  15. Very nice site. I moved to Siargao last December after spending 9 months traveling to different Islands looking for the right place for me. After 20 years between Thailand and Myanmar I had decided to move permenantly to the Philipiines basically for the beauty of the Islands and the people. Any one interested in Philipppines should read this article why Filipinos are so Special. It gives wonderful insights into the people and culture.

  16. Hi my Budget is even cheaper than that as I am very lucky to have a Lady with 2 professional grown up sons who pay the Mortgage example as I am from the uk I will give you figures in uk pounds Water bill £3.58 thats for one month !!! electric £15, skye tv and broadband £20, Food around £160, gas bottle which lasts around 3 months £9 thats £207 add transportation around £10 the odd meal out £10 and you get the picture but I am in a unique situation as I dont pay any rent or mortgage here

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