In addition to this travel blog I also maintain a Tech-blog since I’ve been repairing home PCs and operating systems for the last 22 years. With all the attention on adjusting to the culture here, flight arrangements and immigration requirements it’s easy to forget that you’ll need to re-connect the Tech side of your life when you arrive. Here is a check-list of items you may find helpful as you prepare for your long-term stay..
In the States I used a desktop PC for major projects and a laptop for mobility and webcam. I thought about it long and hard before taking my flight and in the end, personally, I decided life would be much easier if I simply began doing everything from a laptop upon moving to the Philippines. For one thing, transporting a monitor and large desktop is something of a drag considering all the other stuff you’ll be bringing along. Now that I am here I am so glad I switched everything to laptop. I also keep a back-up on an external hard-drive just in case something happens to the laptop.
Here in the Philippines the power from the wall is 220volts. The cable for my laptop is able to run either on 220 or the usual 110volts back in the States so, no problem there. However my alarm clock, electric-shaver charger, electric-toothbrush charger and iPod player all run on 110volts. What you will need is a “Power-Down Transformer”. It’s a rectangular box that plugs into the 220 socket and gives you several outlets, some for 220volts and a few more for 110volts. If you can get a good one in your home-country, do that. They do sell them here at the hardware stores for about $75 but I’ve had trouble with the fuses blowing out often on them even with minimal usage. And that was buying from two different manufacturers.
Another two items you’ll want to get as some added insurance for your electronic equipment are a quality Surge Suppressor and an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) station. The Surge Suppressor will help with when the power comes back on since power outages are fairly common here. Especially during typhoon season the power will go out for about 15 minutes and then suddenly reappear so, to avoid electric spikes damaging your stuff.. use a suppressor. The UPS station is kinda optional since your laptop will continue to run on battery even if the power goes out so, it’s up to you. Each evening, even if there are no storms, I unplug my laptop from the wall before going to bed.. just to be sure it’s safe while I’m asleep. Storms can roll in at the drop of a banana around here.
There are two ways you can go on this. The first is to get a DSL landline. Personally, I don’t like this option even though it’s slightly cheaper per month, but only by a few dollars. Reason being that when it’s especially stormy out the service gets sketchy as the lines get overloaded. Plus the service is tied to the house so not only can you not take it with you on the go.. but you’ll have to work this out with your landlord for billing. To me the much better route is to get the Unlimited Surfing plan via Globe services. It’s a USB adapter that picks up either 3G or 4G depending on what’s available in your area. Service is about $19 to $21 per month in USD. I’ve been very happy with it since it allows me to use my laptop with internet anywhere I go. Also, it will continue to work even when the power goes out since the adapter gets it’s power from the laptop. (Another reason to go with laptop instead of desktop.) Another good thing is that renewal is easy. Just buy a ‘load’ card, same as you would for a cell phone.. enter the numbers via the software that comes with the adaptor and you’re paid up for the next month. Load-cards are available almost on every block around here so getting one is no problem at all. This is the ‘Prepaid’ Plan.
Now, there’s one thing to keep in mind with what they call ‘Unlimited’. What they mean is, unlimited surfing 24/7. However.. downloads of video/music are limited to 800Mb per Day ending at Midnight. Another thing, they automatically ‘Throttle’ down any downloads via Torrent programs. There is no problem using Skype, Youtube, IHeartRadio or MagicJack, but torrent downloads get throttled down to about 8kb per second making it pretty much useless for downloading movies/music. I have found that some signals in town do not filter torrent and I have been able to lock into their signal when I want to do downloads. Apart from that, I really love the PrePaid ‘[email protected]’, USB adapter method from Globe. Their service offices are found in almost any mall and I believe you can also buy load online directly from an internet Banco de Oro bank account as well for convenience.
There is also a ‘Post Paid’ Unlimited Account from Globe, where you are billed at the end of the month. For this they require your address and ACR card number, which you do not get until your 59th day renewal with Immigration. The only reason to consider the Post Paid Unlimited service is that instead of an 800Mb limit for downloads, it gets boosted to a limit of about 1.4Gb per Day, refreshing at Midnight. This is good if you plan on uploading lots of video to your website, watching lots of videos or using streaming services online.
One last thing, software-based, to consider is an online service called HideMyIP. This comes in handy when you need to access a website that does not accept access from a foreign country. Some services such as Craigslist, NFL Online or Netflix will not let you access their site from overseas. HideMyIP will mask your access “as if” you were logging in from the United States, Britain, Canada, etc. even though in reality you are in the Philippines. It comes with a lifetime license so there are no renewal fees for the basic service. I recommend the Premium service since this gives you greater control over what country you want to ‘appear’ to be logged in from, transfer rates, etc. Without it, you can read Craigslist postings in the US from the Philippines, but you cannot post to any US region because it sees you are outside the US. HideMyIP gets around that. It’s also useful for other things such as getting ‘blacklisted by IP’ to a newsgroup, you can get back in using a different IP from this software. It hides your surfing history from anyone else as well as your actual location or service provider. Runs quickly from the desktop, I’ve been using it for about six years and have been very happy with it.
Two of the major carriers here in the Philippines are ‘Sun’ and ‘Globe’. Personally, I use Globe since I can monitor both my Net and Cell accounts from one login. The only other person I call here is on Globe so, with their 1-week Unlimited Calling/Text to any Globe customer.. it only costs me about $15/month for unlimited calling within the Globe network. You can buy a phone here for about $19 at any mall. Just about every mall and sari-sari store sells ‘load’ everywhere you go. At less than $4 a week for phone service, it’s a pretty good deal.
I’ve tried a variety of methods for keeping in touch with my family ‘back-home’ and there are only three services that I have found to be the cheapest yet most reliable. These are MagicJack, Skype and Rebtel. Each one has its own benefits to offer.
With MagicJack, you make a one-time hardware purchase for the USB unit. It is every easy to set up and practically installs all on it’s own. The important thing is to set it up so that the phone number assigned to it is local to your home country, not local to the Philippines. So, if you plan to call the United States.. pick a number that is local to any of the states. Once this is done you can attach it to your laptop while in the Philippines and, using your laptop’s microphone and speakers, the laptop now becomes your phone to make unlimited calls back to your home-country at no charge. Yep.. unlimited, for free. That’s a pretty good deal. Plus you can call any landline or cell-phone so, the receiving party does not need a computer to receive your calls. The original unit costs about $65 and well worth it in my opinion. No phone is needed but you can attach a physical phone to the unit if you prefer to do that. I prefer to use my laptop since I have more leeway to boost the sound if there is a weak signal. As far as any ‘down-side’ to MagicJack, if you are using a DSL signal on your end and it’s crappy.. you may not be able to get a call through. I use it with 3G wireless all the time and never have a problem. This makes it easy for you to call others, but only works for them to call you IF you have it hooked up to a DSL router or leave your laptop on all the time. I turn my laptop off at night so, during that time nobody can reach me while it is off. The new, improved MagicJack version can attach directly to your router and receive calls 24/7 using a standard phone, thus allowing you to turn off your PC and still receive calls.
Most people are familiar with Skype, but here’s a quick overview if you’ve not used it yet. Essentially, Skype is most useful when communicating with people overseas who are at their computer. To use the free service each person must be at their computer and online with Skype at the same time. The great advantage being that it is a video-call, so you can actually see the person as well as hear them on your laptop or desktop PC. It is completely free to use, you can download it –HERE-. Because video requires a lot of data to be transferred there are some guidelines in order to get the best image possible. For one thing, a minimum of a DSL connection must be used. If you are calling someone (still) on dial-up you will be lucky if you get a voice signal. Also, while using Skype, turn off any streaming music or videos that you may have playing in the background on the computer. If you are sharing the signal with other people in the house and someone else is downloading a large file it will clog up the bandwidth and give you poor service on Skype. So, for the best experience be the only one on your router or signal when using Skype. If you are having trouble with video quality, blank moments or skipping.. try turning off the video part and just use the audio part to have a conversation. If your PC is low on memory, shut down (not just minimize) any large programs you have running such as Word, Photoshop, browser windows, etc. to open up more memory for Skype. Skype also offers the option to pay for online credit to make calls to cell phones, just like Rebtel, but last time I checked they were charging more per minute than Rebtel. This could change at any time so, compare the country rates to see if this option is for you.
If you are into digital photography then you know you go through AA batteries on a regular basis. I purchased about 40 AA batteries to bring with me when I first arrived. When those ran out I figured I’d buy some at the local grocery store. It’s been my repeated experience that even though the batteries say they are not expired it seems they only last for about 20 photos and go dead on me. Even faster if I use the flash. And this is buying top, brand name batteries, not some Chinese knock-off battery. So what I found to be a better solution is to buy a charger (here) that runs on 220volts and 8 rechargeable AA batteries that I cycle through over and over. This way I know they are charged. There is a place here called CDR-King (found in most malls here in Philippines) which carries inexpensive electronic gadgets, you can get rechargeable batteries and charger there or at most hardware stores in the mall.
It’s not a matter of ‘if’.. but ‘when’ you’ll suddenly have to deal with an electrical blackout. Having a rechargeable lantern to light up the room when the storms or heat knock out the power is a good thing to have. Again, you can get a wide variety of them at the local hardware store. While you’re there, check out the Oscillating Standup Fans.. they can help keep you cool in one room rather than running the Air-Con for the whole house. In the evening I put it by the screen door or window to pull the cool, evening air into the studio.
Purchasing Appliances In the Philippines
If you go to the large SM Malls you will find a wide variety of home entertainment items such as wide screen tv’s, microwaves, stereos, etc. Being in the mall the price will be a bit higher as well. However, if you should happen to make a purchase, whether in the mall or not, absolutely.. positively keep all the packaging, warranty papers and especially the receipt. Here the general idea is that “all sales are final”. Getting an exchange for a malfunctioning item is usually not a problem, IF you have all the original packaging items and a receipt. Want a refund? Some of the major stores may do so, or you could work it out via your credit card company and file a charge-back, but try to be absolutely sure of your purchase because it’s not as simple a matter as in the States or other countries where you simply put it on the counter and say, “I want a refund.”, and get your money back with no questions asked. Here you can view a very good Q&A on the Philippine Return Policies.
You will notice that even if you are buying something as simple as a blender, stores will almost always have an employee take your specific item out of the box.. plug it in and confirm it is in working order. They then sign a sticker that is attached to the cord with their initials. This is then entered into a written log. This is a very common practice here since stores want to simply sell it and forget about it as a closed sale. It helps their end of the story when they say, “We confirmed it was in working order when it left the store with you.”, should you return it as ‘not working’. Another thing, there is no Buyer’s Remorse latitude here. If you buy a desk, television, microwave or whatever and then return it for a refund ‘just because’ you changed your mind.. good luck with that. Stores here are extremely meticulous about tracking their inventory so don’t be surprised if once you’ve paid for your item you will need to wait while a clerk takes your receipt to someone higher up the chain to ‘sign off’ that piece of inventory as sold. They run on a very tight margin here so, ‘returns’ for no reason are not the norm. They will be polite. They will be courteous. But a refund for no reason is not something you should count on. Now, returns for store credit or exchange on a similar item.. that they will gladly provide in most cases.
When it comes to public internet access there are some I recommend and others I suggest only at your own risk. For me the big issue is Security. Is someone at that business likely to be key-logging your strokes while you are online? While this can happen anywhere, some places I trust more than others. The first place of choice are the franchise internet stations found in the major SM Malls. Usage is very cheap, usually less than 30 Pesos per hour (about 75 cents USD). Be sure to ask if the PCs do a “clean reboot” after each customer usage. This way any info or browsing history from your session is wiped out and the system’s original boot sequence is reloaded to avoid malware or spyware. A good vendor will have this in place if for no other reason to protect his systems from being tampered with or vandalized.
Another option is the free WiFi offered at some coffee houses, restuarants and better cafés. These places will provide you with a password to their secured WiFi signal while you are there. I usually order an ice tea or something in exchange. A password-protected WiFi signal is preferable to the Non-Secured WiFi that you might encounter at some Mom ‘n Pop breakfast place. Chances are they have no clue what a router is and their teenage son is probably the one handling all the WiFi issues. To me, that just means trouble.. no password means an open network and some kid as the Admin is just asking for trouble. If you are in a total emergency and absolutely need to go online at one of these places.. avoid entering your online banking or social media accounts like Facebook while logged on. Just check your email and then, when you are at a more secure signal or have purchased your own.. immediately change your password just to be safe. This will prevent them from gaining access unless they change the password ahead of you. If that happens, you are the one now locked out.
The absolute best way is to simply go to the nearest Globe communications store in any major mall.. get their Tattoo internet adapter via USB for about $24, plus the first month’s service for about $19 and immediately you have your own mobile 3g or 4g internet access that only you can use. Do this and you will be fine.
If you have any other tips or tricks , software or hardware items that you’ve found useful in your travels for being online, feel free to mention them here in the Comment section below!
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.