Over the past several months, by far my most commonly-asked question has been “Why did you move to the Philippines?”
Almost every person I’ve met since I arrived in July has asked me the same question.
So I decided to write a blog post about it.
There are several reasons. The big one being that I lost my home in San Francisco, California, and because it’s the most expensive city on earth, I just couldn’t afford to stay.
I really wanted to live in this incredibly vibrant and beautiful city. I mean, this was my view at home in San Francisco. 😍
It was also clear that I needed a major change in my life.
Moving away ranked towards the top of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made.
Largely, because I had been building a fantastic life for myself in San Francisco, and I had so many friends and amazing connections there.
A good friend even recommended me for employment on the internal employee-referral program at Apple.
I’ve got to be honest — getting that email from Apple felt like a major life achievement. I’ve dreamt of working with such incredible innovators for my whole life.
But life is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes you in drastically different directions than you could ever imagine.
Thus, bringing me to my decision to live abroad for my first time ever.
After my 5-month backpacking trip last year, I narrowed my choices down to three major places.
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Bali, Indonesia
- Manila, Philippines
I really thought long and hard about this. I definitely did not take this decision lightly.
The major reason I did not choose Thailand was because of the language barrier. I don’t speak any Thai and the language looks incredibly complicated, despite already knowing many computer programming languages.
So now, I’m picking between Bali and Manila. The major reason I didn’t choose Bali was because I accidentally overstayed my 30-day Indonesian visa last year, and I didn’t know how that would affect my eligibility to stay long-term.
Overstaying My Visa
At the very least, overstaying my 30-day Indonesian visa last year gave me an interesting story.
I grew up in the mindset of counting your first full day in a travel destination as Day Zero, then the next day is Day One because at that point, you’ve only been there for 24 hours.
Every hotel, hostel, or other housing accommodation I’ve ever made has used this format.
Makes sense, right?
So about 3 months before my arrival to Indonesia, I knew I wanted to experience as long as stay as I was allowed. I literally opened my calendar and counted out the days, up to Day 30.
I quadruple-checked my calendar, and booked my entry and exit flights based on those start and end dates.
So I go to Indonesia and I absolutely fall in love with the country. It’s one of the most incredibly beautiful places I’ve ever been and the people are so extraordinarily friendly.
I made friends galore and explored places that put most postcards to shame.
30 days ran out in what seemed like only a few hours. I made memories that will literally last the rest of my life (like burning my leg on the extremely hot exhaust pipe of a moped, and then later getting into a motorcycle accident that caused me to lose my eyeglasses).
But that’s another story for another day.
So anyway, I didn’t have any plans to return to Indonesia for at least another year. Because of this, I went out of my way to spend every single Indonesian Rupiah I could so that I could get my money’s worth.
I get to the airport in a fantastic mood, ready to tackle the next adventure by visiting Penang, Malaysia.
I approach the Customs officer, and give him my passport. He looks at it, checks his computer, and then looks directly at me with a very stern glare and says “You overstayed your visa. You’re going to have to come with me.”
At this point, my heart drops into my stomach and I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was the first time I’ve ever had any issues crossing an international border.
As it turns out, I should have counted the day of my arrival as Day One, not Day Zero. It was an honest mistake!
So I follow the Customs officer into a back room where I see a family of four frightened and unsure of their fate.
This didn’t help my sudden rush of anxiety in the slightest.
So I talk to another officer and he tells me I need to pay a fine of 300,000 Indonesian Rupiah for overstaying my visa (at the time, that was a little over $20 US Dollars).
So I ask him if they accept credit cards (since I spent all of my cash). He replied “No, cash only.”
So I asked if there was an ATM nearby and he said yes, it’s on the other side of Customs. This required me to leave the secured area to use it.
But he’s going to keep my passport until I return with the cash. 😰
Now I’m really anxious and even less sure of what’s going to happen, much less how to get through Customs without my passport.
I use the ATM and stand in line for Customs again, this time with no passport and a massive knot in the pit of my stomach.
I approach another Customs officer who doesn’t speak much English and I no Indonesian whatsoever. He asks for my passport to which I reply it’s in the back room and point to the room behind him.
He doesn’t seem to understand and this time gets angry because I haven’t presented my passport yet.
At this point, I’m so stressed from the whole situation, I nearly want to cry. Worried I might be jailed for overstaying my visa (I still had no idea what would be the outcome of this), I again pointed behind him. This time he turned to look.
He must’ve seen the room I was pointing to and leaned over to the other Customs officer to whisper something in her ear.
She got up and motioned for me to follow her back, so I did. Finally, a small bit of relief!
She brings me inside the room, verifies with the officer holding my passport that I am who I say I am, he agrees, and she goes back to her stand.
I pay the fine, get my passport back, and am approved to go further into the airport. As I’m leaving, I see that same family of four still waiting and full of worry on their faces. I hope things worked out for them!
A Final Decision
There are several reasons I continued to go with the Philippines beyond this process of elimination.
Cost of Living
It’s suuuuuper cheap in Southeast Asia! I now have a gorgeous 5th floor apartment entirely to myself with views to die for! And I’m paying around 1/15th the cost of living in San Francisco, California.
Network and Friends
Mostly from my big trip last year, I had already begun to build up a network with friends that live in the area.
Having these people in my life made me feel slightly less foreign.
Compatible Power Outlets
In many parts of Asia, you need an adapter and a converter if you want to use your American electronics. In the Philippines, the shape of the power outlets are to the ones in the United States.
That makes things a lot easier.
The main difference is the voltage. In the Philippines, it’s 220 volts, but in the United States, it’s only 120 volts. Fortunately, my electronics from the States are compatible with both.
Close to Paradise
It’s accessible to 7,641 tropical islands, and these islands are truly my definition of paradise.
It’s shorts, t-shirts, and sandals weather all-year round, whether I like it or not.
So far, I like that quite a lot. It just feels so… relaxing.
Lots of Attention
I always feel a bit like a celebrity from the sheer volume of attention I receive on a daily basis — frankly, it’s overwhelming sometimes.
If I’m ever feeling lonely, I only need to step outside.
And I always forget I’m so tall (6′2″ standing) until I’m in Asia — I’m nearly a full foot taller than the average Filipino man. I just stand out no matter what I do.
A side benefit of getting so much attention is that I’m becoming used to it. For a long time, I’ve been uncomfortable with people looking at me. But now, that feeling has been flooded and I’m fine with people blatantly staring.
Everyone is so friendly and welcoming. I’ve been spontaneously invited to complete stranger’s homes for home-cooked feasts with the entire family more than once.
The World is My Oyster
The Philippines is very close to many places in the world I’ve only dreamt of seeing for years. Manila is an excellent gateway to the rest of Asia.
It’s wildly different than everything I’ve come to know, living in the United States. Fortunately, I thrive on change!