Survey of Western Expats in the Philippines – Happiness, Quality of Life, Likes and Dislikes…

Robert Howard over at conducted a survey of 134 Western Expats who are living in the Philippines.  He first visited the Philippines in 1981 and has been a teacher at the University of South Wales in Australia and is the author of five books.

What follows is his work – I have merely changed around the formatting a bit and added some headings to make reading his results easier.



Survey Results: Western Expats in the Philippines


Most migration between the West and the developing world flows in one direction. People in developing nations seek better economic and educational opportunities, safer and less polluted environments, and less corruption. in the last few decades, Westerners increasingly have been moving to developing nations, perhaps to one often visited as a tourist. Often the main motive is lower living costs. The global financial crisis and the neo-liberal onslaught have made living in the West insecure and impoverished for many, and many are unable to retire comfortably at home.

There now is a minor publishing industry advising on how to make an international move. These books often have a very optimistic tone, implying that anyone would be crazy not to leave a politically correct, expensive, regimented Western country for a developing nation like Cambodia or the Philippines, with its low costs, friendly people, and vibrant culture. Researchers have been studying how well such moves actually do work out, particularly after a few years residence. Researchers have examined expats in Indonesia, Malaysia, and various Latin American nations. In 2005, I did a study of Western residents in Thailand. The move worked out well for some but not for others. Many left after a few years in-country, as the honeymoon glow wore off, assimilation proved illusory, and the reasons why many locals wish to leave a developing nation for the West became apparent. One major concern was increasing health problems in later years. Thailand and Cambodia have many elderly Westerners whose money has run low and who cannot afford health care. Embassies often may help them little.


Western Expats in the Philippines

Little is known about Western expats in the Philippines. The country is a bit off the well-trod tourist routes and has a dangerous reputation. However, the East/West cultural gap is not quite as great as elsewhere and most Filipinos speak an English dialect. The nation reputedly is foreigner-friendly and many locals see marrying a Westerner as like winning the lottery. Is moving there a good option and for whom? The 2010 Philippines census lists 54,246 Western residents but many actually may be of Filipino descent and some Western residents are not counted. They live in-country only part of the year or are on successive tourist visas. From various embassy estimates, I calculate very roughly around 218,350 Western residents of non-Filipino descent. Most of the 134 survey respondents are male retirees, with a median age of 56 years old. Nearly half are from the United States. Most are married to a Filipina or have a live-in Filipina partner. Of the three female respondents, one was married to a Filipino, one to a non-Filipino, and one was single. Most hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Their median length of stay in-country was four years and median annual income was U.S. $45,000, with over half living on pensions and/ or investments. The most common cited reasons to move to the Philippines by far were the low living costs (cited by six as the only motive) and the climate.


Reasons for Moving to the Philippines

Low living costs 65.67 Climate 54.48 Filipino lifestyle 31.34 Dislike home country 26.12 Filipino partner returned 17.91 Availability of sex partners 15.67 To take up job 9.0 Other 36.57

Some comments were ‘… pension adequate to live here, not in U. S.’, ‘To survive on a low income’ and ‘ … everything here is super-cheap’. Some had come to an expat job arranged overseas and 17.91% had a Filipino partner who had wanted to return. A few met a Filipina online and moved to the Philippines to be with her.

Some disliked their home country. Some comments were; ‘Too much red tape, taxation. Government watches your every move’ and ‘We were very dissatisfied with the U.S. in general’.


What Do You Miss Least About the West?

An open-ended question asked for what they missed least about life in the West and some comments were; ‘High cost of living and too much work and not enough holiday time’, ‘A life that revolves around work’, ‘Surveillance state, taxation, extreme political correctness’, and ‘Cold weather, cops on every corner ready to write a ticket, unfriendly and rude people’.

Additional stated motives were ‘Low stress and low taxes’ and ‘English widely used and understood’.

For the advantages of living in the Philippines, 50% cited the low cost of living, 28.36% the possibility of having a Filipina wife and a family, and 20.15% the climate. Some comments were; ‘Easy way of life’ and ‘Less stress and great family life’.


What Do You Miss Most About the West?

What did they miss most about life in the West? Some just said ‘Nothing’ but 19.4% cited the food and 15.67% cited family and friends.

Comments were; ‘People obeying laws and rules’, ‘… parks, playgrounds, cleanliness’, ‘Intellectual conversations’, ‘Non-Mafia police, sane driving, unblocked sidewalks, people who speak English’ and ‘Mental kinship’.


What are the Biggest Problems Living in the Philippines

On the main problems they had experienced living in the Philippines, 10.45% cited health care (high cost, low quality) as concerns. Some comments were; ‘Most medical facilities are unclean and have low-skilled practitioners’ and ‘You have to pay for all medical care upfront. No money. No care’. Others cited legal problems; ‘Westerners have no rights in legal disputes with a Filipino. You will lose’.


What Do You Like Least About Living in the Philippines?

On what they liked least about living in the Philippines, corruption was most often cited, followed by trash and general lack of cleanliness. Some comments were; ‘The food sucks and you are viewed as a cow to be milked’, ‘Pollution and heat drive me nuts, along with the traffic’, ‘Insane traffic’, ‘Lack of pride in workmanship’ and ‘Nobody seems to want to do anything well or better’.


Problems with Filipina Partners

A recurring theme on expat websites is problems with a Filipina partner, particularly sending money to her family. One Internet poster summarized a common Western attitude with; ‘The best advice …regarding marrying a Filipina is live at least two islands or six hours away from her family’. Another recommended marrying only an orphan. But few respondents cited this problem. One comment was; ‘My wife’s family think we are ATM machines’. Two cited their main dislikes as ‘The common attitude that all foreigners are rich and should therefore hand out money to everybody around them’ and ‘People always asking for money’.


Crime in the Philippines

About one third of survey respondents reported that local crime was a concern but nearly half were unconcerned, sometimes because they lived in a peaceful rural setting. Some comments were; ‘Many thieves and low-level crimes’, ‘There is never an opportunity to let your guard down’, ‘Need to be very security aware all the time. If there are two or more Filipinos present, they start talking in the local dialect, even if they speak English very well’ and ‘Limitation of personal freedom due to danger of crimes’. Nearly 40% had been a crime victim. Some comments were; ‘Have been held up at knife point’, ‘Burgled twice’, ‘Gold chain snatched from around my neck’, ‘Pick pocket gang once in Manila’, ‘ATM card skimmed’, and ‘In three years I have been robbed seven times’.


Describe You Well Being and Quality of Life

Most described their own well-being and the overall quality of life for foreigners in the Philippines as excellent or good.


 Describe Your Own Feeling of Well Being

Excellent 27.61

Good 52.24

Neutral 17.16

Poor 2.99

Very poor 0


Describe Your Opinion of Overall quality of Life for Foreigners in General

Excellent 16.42

Good 50

Neutral 25.37

Poor 5.22

Very poor 2.24

No response 0.7


Opinions on Assimilation

Acceptance by Filipinos

Many respondents personally felt accepted by Filipinos but nearly half did not or were in between. Some comments were; ‘Many Filipinos are very suspicious of foreigners’, ‘… too much discrimination against foreigners here’, and ‘I sit in my front porch smiling and waving. People look at me like an ape in the zoo’.


Who Do You Socialize With

Indeed, many reported socializing mostly with other foreigners or in the bar scene and a few said they did not socialize at all. Some comments were; [I socialize mostly] ‘With foreigners with Filipino wives’ and ‘Wife’s friends and family’, ‘Mix of other foreigners, Filipino friends and family’, and ‘Foreigners with Filipina wives’.


Continued Happiness

Most still were happy with their decision to migrate but some were not. Barriers to leaving may include cost and a Filipina partner who wants to stay on. Some comments were; ‘Life for expats in the Philippines was better before 2000. Wouldn’t plan to stay if my wife wasn’t a Filipina’ and ‘The Philippines is very hot, very polluted, very corrupt, has … dangerous roads and ferries, customer service is not good (i.e. can’t return things, long queues, etc). The positive is really a lower … cost of living … I’ve lived in Ecuador and I think it’s a much better place for a retiree however my wife has family here …’.


More Opinions on Living in the Philippines

‘People who come to live in the Philippines either leave after a short time or stay for life in my experience.’

‘I would advise all not to move here. … They want your money but they don’t want you here’

‘Some love it here and some cannot adjust.” ‘

“Those who fight the Philippine ways are unhappy here.”

“Many other countries that have lower living costs, less hassles, seem attractive now.”

“I hate the place. Hate the food, hate most of the people, hate the culture.”

“The food sucks and you are viewed as a cow to be milked.”

“Retirees tend to be happy. Foreigners working here tend not to be due to the incompetence of staff and laziness.’

‘You can turn a blind eye to most of the drawbacks but in the end it wears you down.’

‘I think my experience is better than most…It’s a wonderful place, but individual experiences, obviously, will vary’,

‘Most Westerners seem happy enough. Local girls take care of older guys with health problems’.

‘Expats on modest incomes and with some serious medical conditions should be very careful before opting to retire here’.

“If you are a self- sufficient individual who loves and respects people, believes that family-centered cultures work well and have enough income to live comfortably ($25,000 per year), The Philippines is a pretty nice life. If you are a wuss, “redneck”, or think Filipinas are submissive little wives, don’t even bother!”


In conclusion, the move works out for some but not for others. Many may have left soon after arrival so the successes may actually be a small percentage of migrants. But this is true of migration to Western nations as well; Many migrants eventually leave. So any stay needs a long trial and the possibility of exiting if necessary.


This article is copyright 2014 by Robert Howard but may be used freely on any website.



  1. I enjoyed the article, and it confirmed my own experiences of the past 5 years. While I have not been a full time expat, my cumulative time here has given me adequate time to know that the Philippines is not for those that are inflexible, closed-minded, arrogant, and unthankful. It will gradually eat away at you. I have a limit myself, so there are times I just sneak away on a motorbike ride, or immerse myself into a good book. Ned, I’m sure you could form your own survey from the comments on this article. Stay positive- attitude determines our altitude! Obviously, you already know this. Ingat.
    Dave, from Beyond Idaho

  2. The article was interesting. There was a lot to say, but it is all a bit of this and that for the reasons we want to visit/stay in the PI. But no matter where you go, there are always pro and cons.

    I love Alaska in the summer. So green and fresh and just so full of nature’s wonders. But I hate it in the winter and I can’t stand how you have to be so rugged all the time. I quickly learnt why you have pickups up there. Cause nothing else seems to work.

    If the pros outweigh the cons, then you are on the winning side of things and I think that the Philippines has a lot to offer for me. Despite its shortcomings.

  3. Cant do the facebook thing. I would just prefer sending email
    This concerns resent video re “dust” on black cabinnettes. Its mildew spors nedd. The oil from the finish, and your own oil from hands are food for the mold. I generally spray 15% hydrogen peroxide for mold. TSP also kills mold but not sure about spores.

  4. Ned,

    Well written once again. As I’ve said many times its exactly the same as here in Thailand:) I miss The Philippines ,though ,it has little business prospects which is why Im in Thailand but still feel it is a better option…

    1. Yeah, I have heard many difficulties that westerners have experienced trying to set up or run a business here in the Philippines. It’s too bad as the country has an educated, English speaking population. Thanks, Steve.

  5. Very thought provoking…I have lived in several countries and up till the last couple of years I had to rely mostly on intuition and the love of adventure. My experience has been that the only why for me to tell if I can live in a particular situation/city/person/country…is to go all in! Change/ relocating/shifts has defined me as a man. When I consider a move and as always I bring a supply for 120 days while maintaining a 18 month reserve. Plan for the worse hope for the best and realize that I have 1 maybe 2 individuals that would help me find safe passage from point A to B then S back to E and finally Z. – Alksander Raleigh, North Carolina

  6. Interesting info. I could probably write a book on my experiences in the Philippines over the last 15 years ( Part Time ) some good some bad. I am one of lucky ones who met ( Internet ) an honest , loving and caring Pinay. Anyone who has spent any time there knows not all are what they pretend to be. Of course the same can be said for foreigners who visit there which may be one of the reason some Filipino’s have a bad taste in their mouths for us. Expectations and attitude play a big part in how happy a person might find living in the Philippines to be. Cost of living is going to depend on ones lifestyle and choice of location. My wife and I could live very well on a thousand ( U.S. ) a month if we chose to live in her hometown. Anyone who dislikes steamy conditions needs to do a little searching or touring. There are places in the Philippines having such cool nighttime temps. that some sort of heat source is required. One I know quite well does not need daytime cooling. If I had to pick one thing I dislike most about the time I do spend there it would have to be the fact that the Philippines does not treat me or any other foreigners the way my country ( U.S. ) treats citizens of the Philippines. The U.S. has allowed my wife to become a citizen. She is now dual. As an immigrant citizen she has the same rights as I do. I can never become a citizen of the Philippines and have the same rights as Philippine citizens have. I can not own land , vote , have a gun for protection and am restricted in many other ways.

  7. Yeah, I think if you move to a foreign country, you have to embrace the culture, be open minded and try not to compare with things back ‘home’ because, thus is your new home. After visiting the PI 5 times, falling in love with the country the first time I visited, am still working towards living there. Hoping to move next year, my plan falling into place. You really cannot compare the Phils to any western country and that is the appeal to me. The simplicity, the little people in the provinces have, yet they seem happy. And, the most important thing in life, especially to older Pinoys, family. Unfortunately, I see the younger Pinoys, more in the cities but seems to be everywhere, being seduced by western society and civilization. Enough of my rant, I love the Philippines!

    1. Bloody auto correct, lol. Not ‘little’ people, the little people have or own in the provinces, THIS is your home etc.

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