Saturday, July 20, 2019

Best of Both Worlds (USA v. the Philippines)

I have come upon this topic and have been wrestling with it myself, of where the better place is to live in - the USA or the Philippines.  For those of you who live in the US, and enjoy the amenities of living here, I can understand how you may say that living in the US is far more superior than living in the Philippines, but there are many advantages as well to living in the Philippines.  It is of course, not to say that there are no advantages to living in the US, there are! Both have their pros and cons and deciding on which country to live in will depend entirely on what you have available to you at the time and which country offers the better option.  


While it may be true that there is an Affordable Care Act that you can take advantage of, the truth is there are many moving parts to this story yet.  There are legal challenges to the law presently pending, and the outcome is anybody's guess. 

More importantly, if you are thinking of bringing your wife here (and her minor children - not related to you), she usually will not qualify to avail of the Affordable Care Act because of the 5-year bar for lawful permanent residents. There are, however, exceptions given to veteran families.

If you should choose to get private health insurance for her and/or her children, the high monthly premiums, high deductibles and co-pays are something you should consider.  Unless they are generally healthy, it may not be a good idea to bring them here, because ultimately healthcare in the Philippines is far cheaper than it is over here.  Healthcare can be a great drain on your finances if she or you are chronically ill.  Even with Medicare, you still have to consider that part that will not be covered by Medicare (20%).  There are Medicare Advantage Plans but with an average of $100 a month or more, it may still be cheaper to get healthcare in the Philippines.

Although I have healthcare now, I continue to pay my very cheap (P200) monthly premiums for Philhealth as a "back-up" plan.

Also with the Affordable Care Act, if you made the poverty threshold for the Affidavit of Support for your wife (and children), you most likely won't qualify for Medicaid, your next alternative would be to be covered under Medicaid Expansion.  Before you move to a state, check if they have Medicaid Expansion, because not all states offer them.

Realistically, since you pay for everything in the Philippines, the cost of healthcare can also be heavy for someone who is older. That is why if you can retain access to some healthcare that you are entitled to in the US, it is advisable to keep them.  After all, you pay about $100 a month for Medicare which you don't use while in the Philippines. 


Again, depending on which state you are in, the availability of "good" work is something to consider.  In my city of Flint, most work seems to be service crew work which I have no inclination for, and I also don't see myself doing good work in that field. I guess I am picky, but I did leave a job with "good pay" by Philippine standards and it is not physically straining.  It is mentally straining but I always preferred that type of work.

I have found jobs outside of our city an hour of drive away.  My husband does not want me to take those jobs because: (1) they don't pay well enough to cover the cost in gas; (2) not all of them offer healthcare; and (3) it is dangerous to drive in the freeway, during the winter, for a new US driver.

I have found work as a substitute teacher; more flexible hours and I work close to home.  But when I do think of not doing work that I am most passionate about (study of the law), it does bother me big time. But I am willing to think of it as a temporary thing while I study for the bar. 


The cost of education here is atrocious! I went to the state university in the Philippines for my undergraduate on P2,000 a semester of tuition.  After that, I went to law school on P20,000 a semester of tuition.  In both times I NEVER incurred any debt.  When I went to law school, I worked full-time (40 hours a week). I graduated with zero debt! Of course I had no savings though, after paying for my tuition and books.

I worry for my son and we are working hard for him to get good grades so that someday he can qualify for a scholarship.  Because if he can't qualify for one, he will have to go back to the Philippines for his college education. Not going to college is NOT an option.  I believe education is important, not only for the edge in getting a job, but also in the ability to think critically to better ones self.  

I do not want my son to do service crew work or factory work for the rest of his life.  I want work that will challenge him and make him more prepared for a 21st century economy.  I cannot see that achieved without an education.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Caught Between Two Countries

I am firmly into 1.5 years of being in the U.S. I, however, am ambivalent about this place being my forever home.  I cannot imagine myself shoveling snow or mowing the lawn into my senior years. But the benefits my husband receives as a veteran with Priority 1 rating keeps me thinking this is the place to stay in the mean time.

One thing that disappointed me the most is the public education system here in the U.S.  I do not know if it has to do with the training of teachers, the limited resources, or just the attitude, but it is wanting in so many ways.  Maybe it is the school district that we are presently in that does not appear to take the state standard seriously, or it is the teacher herself who does not have enough commitment to her profession, but I find that the school system is detrimental to my son.  In his first school here in the U.S. (kindergarten level), he finished in the honor roll.  After taking him from the regular public school to a Montessori one, he has so far degenerated that his reading skill was only at 1.5 grade level after the end of the first grade; and that in spite all the effort that my husband and I have done to teach him ourselves.  If it were not that my son is an only child, I would seriously consider doing home schooling. But I want him to have opportunities to socialize, and I could not get that with homeschooling.

On the other hand, I admit I also want some time-off for myself. If he was home schooled he would be all over me at home and I want to be able to study more. When I was working, whenever the teacher said he needed help, I would pay a tutor to do it.  These days I feel I am ill-equipped to teach my own child, partly because I am too nice to him when I should push him a little bit more.

The truth is, being here in the U.S., is like starting over again without the benefit of all my past legal experience. Unlike in the Philippines, with my experience, I am more likely to find job at a shorter amount of time than I would over here.

I computed my salary in the Philippines vis-à-vis the hourly rate here.  Although my hourly rate there would just be equal to the proposed minimum wage here, the truth is, there is no mandated minimum wage such that I could at least enjoy my previous pay.  The short of it is, it is hard to even get minimum wage if your background is from another country even if it were extensive. 

As a side note, I am, however, preparing for the NY bar.  If I pass the bar, I can potentially have limited practice or employment in my present state.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Can a Foreigner Own Real Property in the Philippines?

Believe me, the question is not answerable by yes or no, since I intentionally worded the title to cover two types of properties that may or may not be owned by a foreigner (not including a natural-born citizen of the Philippines who lost his/her citizenship by naturalization in a foreign country but later reacquired the same through the Dual Citizenship law). For foreign nationals the answer to this question is not a hard and fast rule.

Understanding What is Considered Real Property

Under the Philippine Civil Code, real property includes not only the land but all the accessions rooted to it, i.e. buildings, trees and their crops.  Consequently, a foreigner may not be able to own the land, they can however own the building (and condo units in it) because the Philippine Constitution specifically prohibits ownership of the land by foreign nationals.

Ownership of Condominium Units

During the time I was in the Philippines, I learned of this foreigner who bought a condominium unit and put it under the name of his significant other (not his wife).  Now that is wrong in so many levels, one of which is that on paper he is NOT the OWNER.  Consequently, he cannot execute acts of ownership on the property, like complaining on the substandard materials used on "his property".  I do not even understand why he did not put it under his name, when he could have put it UNDER his NAME all along.  We are talking of a condominium unit after all, NOT land! Consequently, there should have been no legal deterrent to his full ownership of the condominium unit.  Even on matters of succession, he would have to make a case in court to show he is actually the owner of the condominium unit and not his "significant other."

Foreigners Cannot Own Land Even By Succession

Laws are presumed to be consistent with existing laws including the Constitution.  Thus, although the rules on succession may provide that the spouse (who may be a foreign national) would inherit property (including land) from his spouse (Filipino), it cannot inherit in a manner such that he/she (a Foreign national) would have title to the land.  At most, what would happen is that the land may be sold to a Filipino and the proceeds from the sale shall constitute the inheritance of the foreign national. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Getting Used to the New Normal

Those who know me personally, and not just from this blog, know that I am undergoing cancer treatment.  It is unfortunately Stage 3A Breast Cancer; advanced but not too advanced yet that I feel hopeless.  Although I must admit some days I think of my mortality and wonder how all these planning about the future is futile if later on they find out it had metastasized to another body part, i.e. they see five lesions in my liver that may be benign but also may be cancer but at this point it is too small to know for sure if they are or aren't cancer.  So honestly, I have that lingering thought of my mortality sometimes.

I am turning 48 soon, in less than a month now. I almost always plan 10-year intervals of my life.  My first few years in the U.S. I planned to take the NY bar. 

On the other hand, work or work-related efforts and responses have been pretty dicey.  Since my experience is very much specialized (government corruption) and difficult to cross-over to private law firm work (i.e. personal injury and family law) I have had great difficulty finding work.  Not that I have made a lot of effort. In fact I have not made too much effort, because I know finding work right now will be next to impossible with my cancer diagnosis and treatment plan.  I go to chemo now once a week for twelve weeks.  I know no employer will take me with that treatment plan.  Nonetheless, when I first started looking for a job, before my final diagnosis, I did get two requests for interviews, which I declined after I knew for sure I had a far more advanced cancer than I thought.

So I had started thinking about what I truly wanted to do with my life.  And frankly, I have started to think I want a less restrictive life than a "JOB."  I am thinking that this time of lull may be what I need to look at more freelancing work, or building a more professional blog on a different platform.  I am also thinking of shoring up on studying aspects of law that may be more practical for someone like me who wants to practice in both the U.S. and the Philippines, topics like Elder Law, Social Security, Veterans Affair, Trust and Estates, U.S. Immigration, etc.

I am just thinking out loud of course. On the Philippine side I am thinking on shoring-up on more studying on Property and Philippine Immigration.

What do you think? Good Idea?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Advocating Your Healthcare

During my husband's last health crisis in the Philippines, I have come to realize how it is incredibly important for a foreigner to have someone advocate for their healthcare.  Let me explain.

When my husband was bedridden for awhile because of his back pain (spondylosis) and after his initial hospitalization, we contacted the Veterans Affair in Manila at the end of October 2015.  He was given oxycodone to manage his pain.  However, one of the significant side effect of oxycodone is constipation.  So you can imagine how difficult it was for my husband to manage constipation when he could barely walk to the bathroom.  I cannot tell you how difficult that time was for me (as a caregiver) and for my husband as a patient.  We requested the VA in Manila several times for valium which my husband knows to be effective for him in previous bouts of back problems and does not have the same side effects.  I called VA Manila constantly, asking the primary care doctor to either refer us to a back specialist OR give us a Valium prescription.  By the end of November 2015, I still did not hear even a bleep from the VA.  Upset, angry and at the verge of a meltdown, I dug deep into my "lawyer" mode, and brought my disabled husband in a wheelchair to the VA even without an appointment.  I wrote a long letter to the VA director and although we had no appointment I demanded to speak to either our primary care doctor OR to a patient advocate.  The staff at the reception/lobby at the VA was ready to dismiss me as just another Pinay, but I look them in the eye, spoke fluent English, and told them I was not leaving until I spoke to either our primary care doctor or to a patient advocate.  Once I spoke to the patient advocate, I told him in no uncertain terms, that if the primary doctor doesn't do anything to help my husband over a clearly service-connected disability, I will have his medical license revoked for negligence.  To make a long story short, we changed primary doctors then and there and the new primary doctor scheduled us with a spine doctor in less than a week.

As a foreigner, it is difficult sometimes to be taken seriously in a foreign land.  Your "loud" "cantankerous" manner can be viewed as something that  most foreigners are prone towards and the average Pinoy can view it as menacing.  Most pinoys may just ignore you or report you to the Bureau of Immigration as an undesirable alien. But it helps when you do have someone who can advocate for you who is a Pinoy and not necessarily a laywer.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

U.S. Public Education System vs. Philippine Private Education System

First, I would like to make a caveat that I am making a comparison between the U.S. public education system vs. the Philippine private education system, which are two educational systems my son has been exposed to.  The Philippine public education system, with the exception of the well-known science high schools like Philippine Science High School, Manila Science High School and Quezon City Science High Schools, is something I would not go into evaluating since I myself have not been exposed to them.

Philippine Private Schools

Depending on the private school your child is enrolled in, some schools like Ateneo and the Katipunan-schools do try their best to maintain a level of excellence they can be proud of.  They are above average, so you get a lot of feedback from them.  My son went to John Dewey School (in Quezon City), which is  a progressive school with a fairly expensive yearly tuition ($2,000 a year).  I get a lot of feedback from the teachers on what my son needed to work on and what he is good at.  I think it is absolutely important that more than just making sure a child improves on something, they likewise need to provide positive feedback on what they are doing right.  So I got that from my son's private school education in the Philippines.  Since I was working 40 hours a week at the time, I honestly did not have a lot of time to tutor my own son.  Even his nanny could not provide the tutoring he needed. So on top of his regular school tuition, I paid a tutor to help him meet his school goals.  I would say I paid roughly an additional P2,000 a week for the tutor.

What I also particularly liked about my son's school was that it taught Singapore Math and Mandarin for the higher elementary grades.

U.S. Public School System

Having been here for a year, I would say first the quality is dependent on the district, after that that it depends on the level of commitment of the teacher.  I learned that the hard way because when we came in on the middle of the school year and we were forced to enroll my son in a school outside our district since ours was full, it turned out that it was a better choice because the teacher he was with on the first year (kindergarten) was excellent in communicating to us first what the expectation was, and second where my son was in that expectation.  Since I am not working at present, I am able to supplement what the school was doing.

The teacher this year is just dismal.  Since we moved to a Montessori setting (with no homework), I had no idea what the standard was for my son's first grade education.  On top of it, the teacher is fairly new into the school system and thinks that "grading" is just a matter of pass or fail without even communicating first what is expected of the student.  There are no benchmarks as to what is supposed to be covered for first grade reading, writing, science, etc. and I have found that I have had to supplement a lot of what my son is not learning in school.

The long and short of it, in either settings, the level of learning a child learns is wholly dependent on the parent.  No teacher or school system is more committed to seeing a child learn more than their parents.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Why Move to the Philippines?

I know it would seem strange that I would encourage you to move to the Philippines, considering I am right now in the USA.  I still consider going back to the Philippines, mainly because I have "retired" there and will begin receiving my pension when I turn 60.  So after I potentially work here for ten years, I can go back to the Philippines and potentially draw 2 pensions.  But since I am younger than my husband and I have a young son who has never known his US heritage, for the mean time, I can see the wisdom of staying here.

But if you are older, like my husband, with limited income (pension), moving to the Philippines may be an option for you.  But, just like him, you have to consider things that may sway your moving to the Philippines:

1) Healthcare
 If you are above 65, you have to seriously consider if living in the Philippines vis-a-vis living in the US with Medicare is a better option for you.  It may be true that Medicare doesn't pay for everything but you also have to ask if the 20% you have to pay above what Medicare covers will just equal the cost out-of-pocket that you have to make in the Philippines.  In the Philippines, there is no, absolutely NO government-sponsored healthcare.  In the US, for low income families, even if you already have Medicare you can also have Medicaid.  In addition, you can look into the Medicare Advantage Plans. So ask yourself how everything will weigh over all.  When my husband was in the Philippines, it appeared that we were spending between P50,000 to P100,000 for diagnostic expenses that is fully covered here as he is a disabled veteran.  On top of medicines that you have to pay also out-of-pocket.  Being an elderly American with potentially a lot of health problems, maintenance medicine can be quite cost prohibitive.

2) Security
Where do you live? How familiar is your wife with the area? How potentially dangerous is it for you a foreigner to live too far away from areas where the police regularly monitor.  Are there Communist Party of the Philippines - National People's Army militants known to roam your area? Unless your wife is quite aware of the present situation in the country, it might be wise to do the research yourself.

Additionally, right now, there are a lot of vigilante killings in the country.  If you irked someone, you may not know what hit you if you get gunned down by a vigilante or hired killer.  Of course, you can try to always lie-low and not be loud and aggressive.  That can also work.  But if you are hard-headed and opinionated, I suggest you stay in your country.  Because this is not the time to be opinionated in the Philippines, right now.

After I virtually ran down your "dreamy" idea of staying in the Philippines, what would make you stay in the Philippines:

1) Low cost-of-living when you consider the present value of the dollar to the peso.

2) Rent is low, unless you buy a house in which case it can be costly.  But unless you are leaving your house to your wife, I suggest not to buy a house because as a foreigner you cannot own land.

3) Utilities are also low.  Our water bill here in the "tainted-water" of Flint is about $80 to $100 compare that with the P300 I used to pay for water bill. But of course, even in Manila, you cannot drink the tap water.  Better just get a water filter or like what we used to do, buy jugs of purified water, which was only about P25 per jug.

As for electricity, the $130 (non-winter) we pay here in the US is almost comparable to the P5,000++ we paid in the Philippines, when we used our air conditioner 24-hours.  But of course, we just air-conditioned a small room 24 hours so that probably accounts for that.

4) Groceries if you don't keep buying things at SnR , can also potentially be low.  If you keep buying those imported American products, it is clear that your groceries can be high.

5) College for children is still more reasonable, than the cost of college here in the US.

For me, the only reason I want to go back to the Philippines is that it is my home.  I am sure your wife may feel the same way about the Philippines and it can be a place you can consider for yourself when you retire.

The winter weather is not something I like, myself, but then again my husband didn't like the constant rain in the Philippines. Moving to the Philippines should be planned carefully and thoughtfully because you can potentially die there already if you are much older, and you should ask yourself if you are at peace with that.