Before setting off on any grand adventure, a little preparation and knowledge can go a long way. If you are serious about moving or taking an extended vacation in the RP, consider joining one of the many forums devoted to expats in the Philippines. I joined one about a year before I actually came here, and the knowledge and information that I gained there was worth its weight in gold.
That said, let’s examine some things to keep in mind before you step on that plane bound for your tropical destination.
It makes the world go around, and even though the cost of living here is very low, you are still gonna need it.
DO bring cash – at least enough to cover your expenses for the first six weeks. Travelers checks are nearly impossible to cash. Get a concealable money belt if you think you need it – you can find them for short money on Amazon. I got one but never ended up using it.
DO notify your credit card and debit card banks that you will be traveling in the Philippines. Then call them back and verify that the information is actually noted in your account. Note that there are ATM fees, foreign transaction fees, and terrible conversion rates when using foreign cards so….
DO set up a Philippines bank account. It’s painless and takes only a short amount of time. I opened a US dollar AND Philippine peso account at BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands) in one day.
DO bring checks! Remember those things? The easiest way to transfer money from the US to the Philippines is by writing yourself a check from your US bank account and depositing it in your Philippine US dollar account. It will take 3-5 weeks to clear, so plan accordingly.
DO keep an eye on US dollar-Philippine peso conversion rates. They vary from place to place – sometimes your Philippine bank has the best rate and sometimes private exchange companies have better rates. Ask local expats what company/service they use. DON’T use the guys hanging around outside the banks. Their rates are lower and you are more likely to get scammed. Also DO keep an eye out for who is watching you in the bank, money exchanger and en route to these locations. Situational awareness is very important.
2. Health Care
Your foreign health insurance will NOT cover you in the Philippines. The closest place to use it is in Guam, which is a long plane flight away. You can get travelers insurance from a variety of companies but due to the ever changing nature of insurance, you will have to do the research on that to find the most appropriate costs and coverage that best suit your needs.
If you get sick, a visit to the local doctor will only set you back about 200 to 300 pesos, which converts to about $5-$6 USD. Now, since this is a developing country, you might not exactly get the First World care that you are accustomed to. That said, I have had two experiences with the medical system here, and I can honestly state that I was impressed on both occasions. Medications in the Philippines cost approximately the same as in the United States. When I had a severe near septic infection from a sea urchin needle, I was forced to take three antibiotics which cost me about $120 USD. Costs can also increase if you find yourself taken into the hospital on an inpatient basis. There are both public and private hospitals here in the Philippines, with the private hospitals generally offering much better healthcare services then the public hospitals. There is a local saying here that a public hospital is where people go to die. Do make sure you have sufficient funds to cover any medical emergency; have this and either a cash reserve for a credit card. Also, it makes sense to provide emergency contact information to some of the ex-pats acquaintances or friends that you are going to make over time. Because of something catastrophic happens they might represent your sole means of getting the medical attention that you need.
Thankfully, the Philippines has millions of nurses.
Private Hospital – worth the extra pesos.
Public Hospital – More of a social experience.
Once you are here for a while you can sign up for PhilHealth, a public insurance program that generally covers 50 to 60% of your medical care costs. Yearly converge under PhilHealth at the time of this writing is 3,600 pesos, or $80 US.
You can find out more about PhilHealth at their official website located at here at their official site.
DO evaluate your medical needs. If you have chronic ailments, you might want to sign up for some comprehensive travelers medial insurance.
DO have a cash or readily available credit reserve to deal with any catastrophic medical emergencies!
DO make sure you inoculations are up to date. I also recommend getting the Hepatitis A and B vaccines before coming here (which need to be spaced out months apart, so plan accordingly). More information on what inoculations/vaccines you should get are located here at the CDC website..
DO recognize that the Philippines is basically a massive Petri dish for bacterial growth. The hot and humid weather makes the RP a favored travel destination for these single celled invaders (even more so than Koreans – a local joke that; please don’t get offended). I have had two serious bacterial infections since coming here – infections that are extremely rare in the US but are not so uncommon here. Make sure you purchase some cotton balls and hydrogen peroxide when you get here, and if you get even a minor cut, douse it regularly with some sort of antiseptic.
DON’T drink and drive a scooter or motorcycle here in the Philippines. It’s bad enough adapting to the local driving styles sober – I can only imagine what it is like drunk. Horrible bike accidents happen here every day – a figure that is tossed about is that over fifty percent of hospitalizations are due to bike accidents.
3. Weather and Clothing
This one’s easy: It is VERY hot and humid most of the time here in the Philippines. Its proximity to the equator makes for the penultimate tropical environments. Combine that with the intensity of the sun, and it is best to attire yourself accordingly. If you’ve seen my other blog posts or some of the YouTube videos that I have done, you will note that although I brought five pairs of blue jeans, I have yet to wear them. I also brought a bunch of nice Polo shirts, and those have likewise sat in my closets gathering dust and gecko droppings. If you have been to Florida, Louisiana, or other tropical states or countries, you will know what I am talking about.
DO bring cargo shorts. They are well-suited for the Philippines as they provide some level of ventilation while at the same time giving you a variety of pockets store your keys and wallets, camera, bandannas, phones, and whatnot. When purchasing cargo shorts make sure that the front pockets are deep enough so that it’s your change, money, etc. does not fall out. Also, it is good to get cargo shorts with pockets that can be secured with buttons or zippers.
DO bring a large number of light weight T-shirts. You will be wearing these every day and sometimes changing them multiple times a day as you sweat through them. There are some high tech fabrics that are supposed to be well-suited for tropical environments, but I have simply stuck with cotton. It seems to serve me well.
DO bring a decent set of sandals. I was waaaaaay to cool to be a sandal guy in the United States, but on the advice of ex-pats who were here, I invested in a pair of Teva sandals which I basically wear every day. Do not worry about purchasing or bringing flip-flops to the Philippines, as you can find them for sale everywhere at rock bottom prices. A quick note: It’s amazing to see how surefooted Filipinos are in flip-flops – or, what they refer to as “slippers.” Me and my girlfriend visited a local waterfall and the approach to it was through a slick gorge that had a number of swiftly flowing river crossings. I was wearing hiking shoes and ended up slipping all over the place. She was simply wearing her flip-flops and was a surefooted as a mountain goat. Also, if you are a dress-up type guy (which I am not) you might want to bring some shoes. Also bring a pair of light weights sneakers/ tennis shoes that are designed to dry easily.
DO bring appropriate head covering. Unless you have been near the equator, you cannot sufficiently appreciate how brutally intense the afternoon sun can be here. Do some shopping and find yourself a nice wide brim, lightweight hat, and. at the very least, bring along a baseball cap and a good supply of bandannas.
DO bring along at least one long-sleeved T-shirt. Again, this is to be utilized as sun protection, typically while taking long rides on your motorcycle or scooter. I brought along two skintight, long sleeve UnderArmor workout shirts which have served me well both on long bike rides and snorkeling, where the sun’s rays are magnified by the water.
DO bring along appropriate eye protection. Make sure the sunglasses you have our rated for sufficient ultraviolet protection. There are a number of cheap sunglasses available here in the Philippines, but most of them are of Chinese manufacture and I have some question as to their level of UV protection. Also if you are going to be writing at night (or in the rain), I suggest having a pair of clear work-type glasses to protect your eyes from rampaging beetles, floating cinders, and rocks kicked up by vehicles in front of you.
Protection from giant, Jurassic Park flying insects.
OK, that’s the end of part one of the Ten Things to Know Before Coming to the Philippines. I will do another three topics in the next post and the final four in the following. I am doing them in sections as I will be doing YouTube videos on the same subject and my limited upload speed here means I have to to the Ten Things in sections.
Hope you enjoyed it.
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