Moving on Up…

Posted on 01/12/2012

One of the first things that I wanted to accomplish, after making my move to the Philippines, was to find a good place to live. Originally, I stayed in a rather small (think large closet) apartment that I was able to secure from my wife’s family. Actually, it wasn’t too bad and pretty inexpensive. It had two narrow floors with the one bedroom on the top floor and the kitchen, “dining area”, toilet and shower on the lower floor. I couldn’t actually complain, since it served our purposes and we were only charged 5,000 pesos per month. With the exchange rate at that time, it came out to about $115.00 USD (!)

Of course, one thing that you need to remember, in any location in the world, is to find out what the utilities cost. Unfortunately, the Philippines has the highest electric costs in Southeast Asia (and most of the world, actually). I only ran a small air conditioner in the bedroom at night, a couple of fans, refrigerator, etc. and I ended up paying about twice what I paid in the U.S. where everything was electric! You can save a bundle, though, if you can get by with just fans and no A.C. But that wasn’t me, since I was convinced that I was catching on fire the moment I stepped out into the sunlight.

The apartment was also convenient because we had a lot of helpful family members living nearby. At first, I got the feeling that they just wanted to keep an eye on the new “foreigner”. You never know, I might be one of those New York types that they regularly saw on various movie DVDs and cable TV. If those guys aren’t blowing up the neighborhood, they’re most likely engaged in some hideous drug trafficking venture. Here’s another tip, if you happen to be from New York City (which I am, by the way) it’s best not to introduce that tidbit until the in-laws get to know you a little better (if you can help it). But in a relatively short period of time, I learned that one of the biggest advantages that you can have, when relocating to a new country, is a group of helpful family members who are focused on getting you up to speed in your new environment.

So, after I became acclimated to my surroundings, I decided to set out and find a more permanent place to hang my hat. One of the first things that I noticed is that if you’re not already destined to live in a location with housing provided by a work assignment, there are two major options you can take. The first one is living in a gated community with a number of other expats. The other option is living out “among the locals” in a rented house or apartment. Purchasing a home is a huge topic that I can cover later but it should be noted that a foreigner is not allowed to own property in the Philippines, so the house would normally be under your spouse’s name. Now the choice between a gated community and a place out in town is the subject of much opinionated discussion and I’ll go over the pros and cons in my next article