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Expats Key To Survival In The Philippines

Three years, almost, is long enough for me to offer some advice and some tips as to the key to survival in the Philippines.

This is aimed more at people thinking of retiring here but I guess it applies as much to those who struggle to adapt to a new way of life.

If there is one word that sums up the key to survival in the Philippines it is that one – adapt.

Adaptability, flexibility whatever you want to call it are key. If you want to stick to your old ways, then perhaps a foreign country is not for you.

The need to be flexible applies in all kinds of ways. But more than anything else it applies to your mindset, your attitude. The Philippines is not the UK, US, or anywhere else for that matter so stop comparing.

Yes, I know things can be frustrating here, very frustrating. But that’s the way it is so deal with it. It ain’t gonna change any time soon!

Change? The country is not going to change. The people are not going to change. It is you who needs to change.

The Beauty of the Philippines

Of course, I hope for change. I hope for better government all round. Better infrastructure including faster and cheaper internet. Better roads, better drivers, and much better customer service.

Sometimes it is hard for me to accept things the way they are but accept them I do and with a shrug. To do otherwise invites stress into your life and that is no good at all.

Tales of Frustration

Engine Overhaul

One of my most recent causes of frustration was when my engine blew up. Not my ticker but the car 🙂

Various auto mechanics looked and listened. “It needs an overhaul,” they said.

“But what kind of an overhaul?” said I.

That question was met with a blank expression.  I mentioned a compression test to some of them. Some had not got a clue what I was talking about. Others told me they didn’t have one. One told me he used to have one but someone borrowed it and it never got returned.

A compression tester costs about 1600 Pesos, roughly $30. It can tell a mechanic whether the engine needs a top or bottom end overhaul. Sounds essential to me – a bit like a doctor and a stethoscope, don’t you think?

Even the Isuzu main dealership in Bacolod does not have one! So I asked them how much for the labor for an engine overhaul. “55,000,” they said.

After I recovered from the shock, I worked out that was about $1100 so I fainted again 🙂

Once more I recovered and said to the dealership, “So you have no compression tester, right? So you will charge me 55,000 pesos to take my engine to bits, right? So what if then you find nothing wrong with it  as you haven’t done a compression test?”

Needless to say there was no answer so I replaced the phone on the handset.

Yes, I was frustrated but… and it is a key but… I chilled and adapted.

I asked around and eventually decided to trust a mechanic who was recommended to me. He came and lifted the hood of the car and listened, for lo and behold he had no compression tester either 🙂

I adapted yet again because I trusted him and his labor charges were a fraction of Isuzu.  Good call! He arrived today and stripped down the sick engine. he discovered it needed new piston rings but assured me the cylinder liners were fine.

That was a double relief. Cylinder liners and the associated parts would have cost a lot of money. Secondly, it kept his labor costs down. He is honest. He could have told me it needed new cylinder liners thus increasing his labor by fifty percent and the expensive extra parts I would have required.

Frustration resolved through adapting.

Water Leak

Now this one was and is more difficult to adapt to because I felt I was being cheated. I came to realize I wasn’t. It is simply a Filipino mentality thing. Let me tell you the tale:

I’m still renting here and we moved into a new rented home with a 500 sq.m. lot. We love it there and the landlord is a really nice guy. Just before we moved in he had his maintenance guy refurbish both CRs (comfort rooms i.e. the bathrooms).

We had been in just over one month when the first BACIWA (local water company) bill arrived. It was for P8000!! Our normal monthly consumption is around the P400 mark.

BACIWA checked and we had a leak from both cisterns in the CR. The plastic seat and seal had not been fitted properly in either. We pointed this out to the landlord but not much happened so at our own expense we arranged for the leaks to be fixed. They were and took a competent local about five minutes to fix.

Now we tackled the landlord about contributing to the bill as it was not our fault. He did eventually make a small contribution but we have ended up having to pay some P4000 toward the outstanding bill. It’s not fair and not just.

The point is the landlord simply does not get it! It is not dishonesty or trying to dodge the bullet. It is a Filipino mentality thing.


Whether with women or their families, relationships can be stressful.

Let me tell you it matters not how old or ugly you are as a foreigner here. Women think you have money. Some will want you simply because of that. You may be tempted because some of the women here are beautiful. Beware! Many are scammers. Many already have a boyfriend or husband hidden “backstage.” They only want your money!

Tres Maria courtesy of

Check out your woman before you make a commitment. Check out her family.

The family can see you as a “walking ATM.” Lay down the rules beforehand. Better still choose your Filipina wisely and make sure she supports you in shielding you from greedy family members.

I am so blessed to have Zabrina in my life. I don’t have to worry about this stuff. And she has an honest hardworking family.

Final Thoughts

If you can’t accept any or all of the above then you will have stress all the days of your life here and your life will be shortened as a result.

Go with the flow, adapt and be flexible. Be happy! This is as great a country to live as you want to make it.




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Published inBacolod LifeRetiring To The Philippines


  1. Bob Forshay Bob Forshay

    Hello Stephen, Found you online. Nice to read about your experiences. Glad to see you have an outlet in your writing. You offer a good representation of reality here. I wish I had found you earlier. No regrets, but it might have shortened my own learning curve (still underway). Met a a Filipina last year, did my due diligence and then married her. Enjoyed reading your work on driving in Bacolod. I guess you got it out of your system for the most part. I know I am frustrated more at stupid drivers at home in USA. Somehow I have arrived at a conclusion here that its a foreign country to me and it will always be difflerent. And I might mention it is WORSE in India….
    I am not retired, yet… Still working and commuting to/from Denver (Colorado) to Bacolod. Work remains there (and internationally) for a time. Family here, for a time. I’ll settle here at some point. Wondering if you have any thoughts on local healthcare for expats?
    thanks again, bf

    • Hi Bob! Thanks for the kind comments and pleased you find the blog helpful. If you read my book on driving in Bacolod then please consider leaving a review on Amazon. They all help 🙂 Your query about local healthcare is a good one and one I’m not really in a position to talk about as (so far) I have been blessed with reasonably good health.
      There is a local health insurance scheme called Phil Health but it is limited. Most other expat schemes I have seen are truly expensive. The hospitals here have a good reputation. It’s just like the US though, if admitted, they will ask for payment. That’s a contrast to the UK where I did enjoy free treatment.
      If you are on Facebook, search for Retirees of Negros. You may get a better answer there than I can give you. Take care!

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