Ciara Kenny

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The Philippines is a great retirement home

Typhoons aside, weather, lifestyle and cost of living leave Ireland in the shade, writes Edgar O’Neill

Edgar O'Neill at the Imperial City in Hue, Vietnam

Fri, Dec 6, 2013, 00:00


Edgar O’Neill

I live in the Philippines, the focus of world attention recently after a devastating typhoon. In the last few weeks I’ve been reassuring my friends elsewhere that, yes, my wife and I are still alive.

Typhoon Haiyan occurred in the southern Visayan island region, a long way from the northern Luzon area where my wife and I live. Apart from being a little overcast, the weather here remained normal. Tropical storms are one of the hazards of living in this country and, since moving here five years ago, we have experienced flooding a couple of times. All things considered, however, it’s a good place to be.

My wife, who comes from this area, lives close to her relatives and there is a sizeable community of retired expats for me to mingle with; I wouldn’t have chosen to live here otherwise. They are mainly Australian, Brits, Americans, Swiss and Scandinavians, and one other Irish resident, from Co Clare. Our home is in a beachfront area by the South China Sea, a six-hour drive north of Manila.

We moved here from Australia five years ago, having earlier secured a retirement visa to live there. But we had certain work restrictions and were not entitled to government medicare or other welfare entitlements, so it wasn’t sustainable to live there permanently.

I didn’t consider returning to Ireland because of the cost of living and the weather. I had become too tropicalised, having lived in Papua New Guinea and north Australia. Most of my Irish friends live elsewhere on the planet anyway.

Good lifestyle

It wasn’t an impulsive move to settle here, as we’ve taken many vacations to this area over the years, and established many friends. You can have a good lifestyle for a fraction of what it costs elsewhere, which explains why many people from the West have relocated here. American ex-servicemen, many of whom receive a pension of $5,000 per month, can live like kings. Some Brits and Aussies I know manage on $1,000 a month.

We rent a fairly new apartment for only $200 a month – less than our weekly rent in Australia. Electricity is quite expensive for this part of the world, at 25 cents per kilowatt hour, yet our monthly bill is about $45. We don’t have or need air conditioning or hot water, and we don’t have a vehicle. The national highway is less than one minute’s walk away and jeep taxis go by about one every minute. Air-con buses ply the same highway to take us all the way to Manila.

Trekking country

It’s easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The beach is close by, and behind us are the foothills of a huge mountain range stretching along most of Luzon island, where we live. It’s excellent trekking country. There are no trespassing issues so you can walk anywhere. We have an active hash house harriers club (“a running club with a drinking problem”). One can also play golf or tennis, or cycle the backroads.

Many prefer a more sedentary lifestyle and spend more time on a high stool or engaging in activities that revolve around drink, like snooker and dice. There is a fairly high mortality rate here due to drink. Part of the problem is beer is very cheap, about $1 a bottle. “Sin taxes” were introduced this year, which considerably increased taxes on cigarettes and drink, yet prices remain a fraction of what they are in the developed world.

Apart from typhoons, not much happens here to grab the world’s attention. One exception was the recent passing in parliament of the Reproductive Health Bill, which provides for family planning education and the provision of contraceptives to poor people. Every farcical argument was used against it by the Catholic Church and they still haven’t given up, with an appeal to the supreme court holding up enactment.

Meanwhile, “girlie bars” everywhere attract a constant supply of young girls, who have had to end their education and look for work of any kind because they suddenly have a young mouth to feed as a result of unplanned pregnancy.

For retirees here, the ramshackle locality beats a sanitised concrete jungle back home, where an over-regulated and politically correct environment can stifle the spirit.

This article appears in the print edition of The Irish Times today.