Stretching retirement dollars overseas

Retirement Living in the Philippines

by Don Herrington

My dollars stretch here in the Philippines so far even I don't believe it. And the quality of life is fantastic.

I am former US Peace Corps staff, former owner of my own company in the US. I only have a small pension, a little social security and some savings. But I am living in good style, on a budget, with hospitable people who speak English. I do feel like a king. And, I am putting away a few dollars every month.

My two live in maids cost $35 per month, and of course their food. Having maids make me feel like a king and take all the mundane chores out of my life. Actually, they are more like daughters. My Filipina wife enjoys the freedom from housework and errands as much as I do, and the maids appreciate their jobs, and us.

I pay $160 for a small three bedroom, three bath house, with a nice yard that the maids keep up with the help of the neighborhood kids. It is in the university area of Cebu City, the Paris of the Philippines, where the mountains meet the sea. The land of scuba diving and beaches, rain forest wandering and night club hopping. There are excellent hospitals nearby. My next door neighbor is a MD, her husband, an engineer. They are not rich, but the neighborhood is mostly professional, upper middle class. Houses in big guarded subdivisions with swimming pools can be had for about $1,000 per month, but besides the cost, I like the friendliness of the people in the more modest neighborhoods. Finding a house like mine as such a good price will take a month, maybe, but you could get lucky and find one in a day.

Retirement Living in the Philippines

Public transportation is great in Cebu City, a city of about 500,000 hospitable souls. The Philippines is the only English speaking Christian country in Asia, so communicating with the driver is not a problem. Taxis are air-conditioned, new, and readily available. You can go to anywhere in town for $2.00 and a long trip to the airport is about $5.00. Make that even less with the recent continued devaluation of the peso. Yesterday I went to visit a friend and my taxi fair was 25 pesos. I gave him 30 pesos, .75 US cents. He chased me when I got out of the car to give me the change, about .10 cents. He could not understand why such a big tip, or a tip at all. I guess I am just a spendthrift. I do not recommend buying or driving a car here. BTW, today's peso rate was 43 to 1 US dollar.

Jeepneys are the way most people travel. They are lokal (local) ornate or gaudy, depending on your taste, jeep style vehicles that carry from 16 to 18, on each side in the back. Two ride with the driver. They have flags, decorations, colors, family and nicknames, logos, mud flaps, and other ornaments covering them. And even altars on the dashboards. The shotgun seat is best and reserved for the disabled. You can travel across the whole city for about .05 US cents. Jeepneys are harder to get at rush hour, though there is not too much rush here. Have you heard of Filipino time? Jeepney travel is a good way to meet a lot of nice local folks. They do love Americans and all foreigners here, perhaps to a fault. You can do no wrong, if you are a guest in their country. Jeepneys and taxis are safe. In fact Cebu City is a lot safer generally than most places I have lived in the States. You can walk the streets at 2:00 in the morning and have no problems, male or female, in almost all parts of the city.

I got a haircut and short massage yesterday from my best barber in his air- conditioned shop for .75 cents. My dentist has put caps on my teeth for $65 per cap. He practiced in the States, Century City, as a cosmetic dentist for five years and brought all his equipment back with him. That is why he is so high, compared to other dentist here, he says. I can't let him know how outrageously low I feel his prices are, now can I? A face lift, the works, eyes up and down included, is about $4,000 including three day stay in a quality hospital and the many costly tests required prior to qualifying for this elective procedure. Airfares are low here, so if one is considering dental work or cosmetic surgery, they could save a bundle just coming here for that work. The saving would more than pay for the airfare and other expenses in most cases. Now if you are only going to have one gold heart implanted in a tooth, it may not be a good idea. But I don't know recent US dental prices. It may pay.

Related: Retiring Abroad

There are two major shopping malls here with almost everything you can get in the States. Some of the imported good are higher priced but some are lower. Books, reprints for sale only in the Philippines, can be very cheap. There are the local markets that are more "old Filipino" in nature where a lot of bargaining goes on. At the malls the prices are fixed price. The local markets are much more colorful, but you have to be a skilled negotiator to survive. Southeast Asians are known for their bargaining skills.

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If you get crazy for American food it is all here, from McDonald's to the Marriott Hotel's best restaurant I have ever eaten in. The Hyatt is pretty good too. Radio Shack is here, and other discount US retailers have just gotten permission to move in, including banks. There are Casinos, all the latest movies (movies are about a dollar for the best, in English) and thousands of computer diskettes for just a couple of dollars, though not quite legal, I understand. Playstation games are less than $1.00 but only run on the 220 voltage. I trained one of my maids who was formerly a cook for a group of Japanese students how to cook American. She is excellent. And I get my hot whole wheat bread fresh from the oven every day.

Filipino men are very handsome and romantic. The women are beautiful and a delight to be around. Nightlife is fantastic and cheap. I guess the Philippines is known for that, more than anything else is. I don't so much nightlife because I married one of these beauties seven years ago. She is the best thing that has happened in my life, next to moving here.

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Universities abound in Cebu. It is an excellent place to get a very cheap but good education. You may know of the many Filipino MD's, nurses, CPA's, lawyers, etc. working in the States on their Filipino credentials after taking a state test of certification. The courses here are geared to US requirements. Computer schools have sprung up everywhere in the last few years. A private tutorial on Corel Draw or PhotoShop or some such by a local computer school teacher, is about $50 if they come to your home: about $5.00 less if you go to them. Language lessons, if you want to learn just about any foreign language can be had for about $1.00 per hour.

There are some political and economic problems, but they do not seem to be a threat to me here in Cebu. All of that seems as about as remote to me as the States. All I know is the peso continues to weaken and the dollar gets stronger every time some radical group makes a bomb scare in Manila. I do not recommend even visiting Manila. It is dirty, expensive and unfriendly, compared to the rest of the Philippines. This isolated violence, mostly in Manila and a large island far to the south, Mindano, is recent and hopefully short lived. I feel sure it will not spread, but that as all of this above, is only my opinion.

A great book to read before coming is Culture Shock! Philippines. Also the Lonely Planet Philippines and The Philippine Survival Guide are very good, but very different. Filipino English newspapers are available on the Web. I recommend the Cebu Sun.Star for information on Cebu. Another good one is the Freeman. The web is full of information on Cebu and the Philippines.

Please be aware there are no jobs available to foreigners. So you must have some income to live here.

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