“Sundays begin with family. They arrive early and, before long, we’re on our way to the beach. We swim, eat, swim…and eat again. It’s a pleasure watching people enjoy the simple things,” says expat Paul Whiteway.
“The perfect Sunday ends with music. Like a lot of local households, ours wouldn’t be complete without karaoke. The more we drink, the louder we sing.”
But that’s on weekends. Weekdays, Paul squeezes in a little work. A perpetual smile on his face, the 64-year-old moved to the Philippines five years ago. There he found a new love and a new lease on life.
Coming of age in the 1960s was fun. For Paul, the idea that you should “live for today” (and not worry about tomorrow) resonated deeply. “We saw so many people spend their lives planning and saving for retirement, only to die before they could enjoy it. Banking on an uncertain future didn’t make sense to us [Baby Boomers].
So…many of us didn’t,” he says.
As Paul reached his 50s, it began to sink in that he could be around for several more decades. And he knew he couldn’t afford to retire in Australia, where he’d been living. His home country, England, was too cold and too expensive to be an option. Still young and fit to work, Paul nonetheless dreamed about getting out of international sales. Maybe retiring early and getting back to basics…a simple life, and the things that really matter.
Researching alternative retirement destinations online, he discovered that a lot of retirees—many of them single, like Paul—were making their way to the island of Cebu, in the Philippines.
“Life is easy for expats here. The locals are welcoming. Signs are all in English, which is widely spoken. The climate is warm year-round…it’s never cold. And Cebu is protected by its location from the typhoons that affect other parts of the Philippines,” says Paul.
“I’ve been here for five years now, and I’ve honestly never been happier in my life.”
Paul says he owes most of his happiness to his Filipina wife, Elsa. They met five years ago, after corresponding for three years. “It was purely friendly,” says Paul. “I had fallen in love with the Philippines…the culture and the climate…through my online research. I wanted to visit, and asked Elsa if we could meet for a cup of coffee sometime while I was there.”
An hour’s flight from the capital, Manila, Cebu is easy to get to. One-way flights can cost as little as $33, so even though Paul was on a budget, the trip didn’t break the bank. The rest, as they say, is history. Paul and Elsa took an immediate liking to each other. Both share a zest for life (and, they discovered, for teasing each other) and an easy-going attitude.
Of his relationship with Elsa, Paul says it was easy from the beginning. “Take, for example, my first attempts at riding a motorbike,” he says. When his inexpert driving caused Elsa to fall off the back of the bike, she simply dusted herself off and climbed back on. He was astounded.
“It’s cultural…people aren’t quick to get angry or rail at you for making a mistake. I would have expected a tirade. But it was obvious to both of us what I’d done wrong…that was that,” he says.
Paul admits the people can sometimes be maddeningly mellow. “It’s a double-edged sword. It can be frustrating—like in government offices, where nothing gets done in a hurry.” Still, he feels the pros far outweigh the cons. Many expats in the Philippines agree: It’s the happy-go-lucky people that made them want to stay.
“People don’t stress about anything…after a while here you find yourself losing your western values. Attachments to fancy equipment and cars fell away for me. If I was having a party back home, I used to plan for days. Here, we start thinking about what to serve a few hours ahead of time. It doesn’t matter when guests start to arrive…everyone mucks in.
“And life here is so affordable,” he adds…
Editor’s note: In fact, Paul says you can live in Cebu on a pension of $500 to $1,000 a month. See the current issue of International Living magazine for more budget details from the Philippines. If you’re not a subscriber, you can subscribe here and get instant access to the full Philippines article.