Moving to Thailand or the Philippines and how the English language, cultural influence, cost of living, and relationships could affect your choices.
It is never as easy as choosing a pros and cons list or just doing what works for others.
If one is considering the possibility of moving to Asia and becoming an official Expatriate (or expat for short), two popular choices are:
Moving to Thailand
Moving to the Philippines
I use these two more specifically because I have lived in both countries. In addition to the idea of living in a foreign country in Southeast Asia, there are a few key factors that go into one's decision-making process. The four that I will discuss in this article are related to:
The above four items are only some of the areas that one might consider in relation to their own needs and desires.
This article also pits Thailand against the Philippines in a kind of basic match for which one might be better for you.
In order to really understand what is best for you when moving to Southeast Asia and choosing between either Thailand or the Philippines, you need to take into consideration that a choice should be made based on what you feel (not others) is a better choice. This is often done with a pros and cons list, but what is most important is:
1. Are you happy living in Asia?
2. Can you still accomplish your goals while living in Asia?
It doesn’t do you any good being on an island in Thailand where your lifestyle might be a little more laid back and relaxed if you can’t accomplish your goals and meet your own personal needs related to function.
Also, it doesn’t help to be in a popular city in the Philippines like Makati where you can network and accomplish your business needs if you are not fulfilled personally.
So your choice will need a balance between the two and this will be very unique to you as an individual. However, this article might help set you on the path of what to look for and why I consider one location over another personally.
The language of love or a failure to communicate
When it comes to the language, the Philippines is hands-down the winner here. This is especially true if you are an American expat or an expat from an English-speaking country. In the Philippines, they all speak English and it's good English too.
This is not the case when it comes to Thailand. In Thailand (although English is now the second language), it is not as widely spoken as it is in the Philippines. This can be a very large Make-It or Break-It value point for those considering to move to Asia because you might want to be able to speak easily with everyone everywhere you go and this is the case in the Philippines.
It is also why it makes up the number one value for those looking to move to Asia or deciding between moving to the Philippines or moving to Thailand. If you consider a pros-and-cons list, there might be many reasons for someone to choose Thailand over the Philippines based on some of the many pros like:
Cost of living
That is at least three areas where Thailand wins when compared to the Philippines. However, the fact that in the Philippines they speak English can make a big difference. That one pro alone for an expat in the Philippines is valued at least as much as the three pros of for an Expat in Thailand.
This one idea (because of its value) can tip the scale towards moving to the Philippines.
This is why simple pros and cons list will not be enough for you to decide on where you want to move to in Asia.
Each item on your list will have a value attached that is unique to you as an individual. This means that while one person might place a higher value (level of importance to them) on language, culture, costs or relationships, another person might have those same items low on their own interests scale in terms of value or what they value most.
This is true in your personal life when setting goals or managing relationships. What you value will dictate how you feel about where you live and what you do.
English might be needed for you to manage to keep up with your needs, which is part of the function that you might require when moving to a new country. If you want to work with the Rotary club or network, attend meetings, and events, it helps if they speak English in that country.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t do the same in Bangkok Thailand where they do speak English in the business community. It just means that you are going to be limited. For those that understand the power of social influence, they know that it helps to be able to communicate outside the business setting too.
When I was heavy into Forex training I attended an event in Bangkok that was conducted by a group of Australians for an audience of mostly Thai business types. Networking was not as easy and I spent a lot of time listening to Thai as opposed to speaking English and making contacts.
Also, the entire designated table for our group (covered with delicious Thai foods) was all too spicy for me to eat. Not really related but a memory of me only having the rice still connects me to the event.
All smiles and I was able to connect with a business owner (with the help of a friend that was Thai) that wanted personal training in Forex and who just happened to have a large office building with his own restaurant. So I was able to replenish myself with non-spicy but delicious Thai food.
When I attended a managerial event in Manila with the Rotary club, there were also many foreigners organizing the event. However, because everyone was used to speaking in English, the networking was far easier and could be taken outside of the business setting. For example:
Being invited to barbecues
Asked to join meetings in other locations
Introduced to social events
Responding without changing languages
English speaking countries are also good for those that are moving with a family as there may be some nervousness about:
Speaking with the locals or
Ordering food in a restaurant or
Going shopping and asking questions
So it might be more comfortable as an introduction to Asia for people to begin their journey in the Philippines and give it a test.
One other factor to consider would be issues related to legal matters or emergencies. When having to deal with the police, lawyers, red tape or anything official, it can make a large difference.
In Thailand, English is not spoken as much nor is it used as clearly as it should be when it is used. Yes, many Thais understand basic English but fail to be able to comprehend the extended use of the language. When living there it is almost imperative that you have many Thai friends that can speak on your behalf.
Any Expat that lives in Thailand and uses chat apps (like LINE) will know what I mean by this. The English text is often read and understood as words with definitions, but they may not convey the actual meaning or the message.
You can imagine how often you might be taken literally or out of context when using only English text. This can also extend into the conversation as well. If you are single, you will get bored really fast of very basic English and no real understanding.
Unless you are just some creep that came to Thailand because you don’t have enough personal value to meet significant others in your own country and are just looking for sex. Those weirdo types do flock to Thailand and sadly also ruin it for many of us that want to bring value to our new home country.
It must be noted that when you are in a foreign country that you can not blame them for not speaking English. If you are living in Thailand, you can also learn Thai. This is only a reference for those looking to make their move easier when taking all truths into consideration.
Are we in Asia?
The Philippines essentially tries to be similar to English speaking countries like America or England when it comes to the way that they are structuring there communities and businesses. It doesn't feel as much like you are in Asia in the Philippines as it does when you are in Thailand.
I used to joke that it was as if Asia and Mexico had a baby and called it the Philippines.
This idea is purely personal from my time spent in Mexico, although I have also lived in Spain (Zaragoza). The reference was based on how I felt driving from the airport in Manila to Makati. The city looked similar to the locations I had visited in Mexico.
When living in the Philippines, it felt more like how it did when living in Spain or being in Mexico as opposed to a more obvious Asian culture like Thailand. This can be good or bad.
Because it will be more familiar (as opposed to more foreign customs) it can be easier to adjust to and so the Philippines would win over someone looking for change but not too drastic a change.
However, if you want to be in Asia because you love Asian flair, culture, art, and ideas, then the Philippines will not provide as much as Thailand.
Here are a few things to consider in relation to religion that make this more obvious:
A Filipino’s main religion is Catholic
A Thai’s main religion is Buddhism
In the Philippines, you will see more Churches
In Thailand, you will see more Temples
You will see something similar to the above in many areas.
The same goes with being in Thailand learning the language. It feels more foreign and more Asian which is more exotic and interesting to many people.
Many will go to Asia to feel like they are in Asia and Thailand offers more of that "feeling" than the Philippines. Thailand just feels (overall) more like Asia and more exotic.
When deciding to move to Asia one of the deciding factors might be the fact that you actually want to feel like you are living in Asia. To many Expats, the idea of moving to Asia comes with a certain picture and image of exotic Asian elements to it.
However, when you are in the Philippines it doesn't feel as much like one would typically define as Asia (granted even India is in Asia) in regards to popular Asian influences in art, language, culture, food and images we see from growing up in a city like Los Angeles.
When an American thinks of Asian, they often are thinking of these influences:
I grew up with martial arts, I ate regularly at Chinese restaurants with my family, I had a Vietnamese neighbor and I would visit LA to go to Japantown (little Tokyo) and buy manga comics that read backward… this version of Asian influence was more indoctrinated though less realistic.
When taking the martial arts into consideration we often consider them to be either from Japan or China. Even though origins go back to India. In America, there are very few martial art systems that don’t have a strong history from one of these countries:
Japan (consider Karate, Ninjitsu what I teach in Thailand and hard-style systems)
China (consider Kung-fu, Wushu and soft-style systems)
Korea (consider Tae Kwon Do, Hwa Rang Do, and Tang Soo Do)
My point is, that growing up, the idea of Asia often came with certain connections and interests.
Cost of getting started in the Philippines and Thailand
I didn’t know anyone when I first landed in the Philippines and started the costly journey with only one initial goal in mind - check out Makati in the Manilla region. My first overall impression after a few weeks was:
“Wow, this is a lot more costly than I had imagined.”
I chose to explore Manila, Makati and the Fort Bonifacio area because they were the locations I had read the most about and seemed they would fit my needs more specifically. What it taught me was that the Philippines was not cheap - at least not Manila, Makati, or the Fort. I was taken by surprise easily spending over $1,000 a week and closer to $200 a day.
I half expected costs of introduction to be closer to Thailand when it came to hotels or serviced apartments. This certainly was not the case.
In Thailand, I would spend about $50 a night for a decent hotel almost anywhere and yes, even in Bangkok. When I say, “decent” it would be nice by any standards and a minimum 3-star location. I also changed my flight ticket dates 2 times and was charged a fee in the Philippines for each change while in Thailand (with the same airline) I was not charged a fee.
In the Philippines, I jumped around from place to place using Agoda and could not find anything comparable to what I could find in Bangkok. I also found many false reviews on Agoda, many non-truths and no refunds with some locations after discovering their false advertising. Though I would wager this is the case in other locations too.
In Bangkok, I have a few serviced apartment options that are nice and I pay between $40-$60 a night and they include a buffet breakfast. In Manila, Makati and the Fort I paid $50 for a basic room (a little scary) and over $100 for something comparable to what I had in Bangkok (included a kitchen and separate room with breakfast).
Yes, you can find cheaper locations away from Makati but the same can be said for being away from Bangkok. The difference is so extreme that they really can not be compared. One American living in Manila who posted an ad for a roommate stated that living in the Philippines was more costly than living in America.
This price increase from Thailand to the Philipines didn’t end with hotels. Food was also more expensive and there were odd fees for many things that you would want to do (like park your car in the mall).
In time, I decided to move to Cavite (where it was a cooler temperature in the Philippines) and rent a 4 bedroom house (to set up as an office) for a decent price. I would say that the house rental costs monthly are fair. I was paying about $700 a month for mine and it was in a gated community with a community pool etc.
Although there were FEES to use the community center that I was living in, which I always thought was funny as I also paid an annual fee for what should have included the center. It seems you can find many of these odd fees all around the country. Even going to the beach you might get a fee.
You learn to live around fees and find ways to make the costs worth the experience. In the end, the costs in the Philipines do even out and can easily be less than living in certain parts of the USA. But it must be noted that in the United States, each State has a different cost of living. You can find a house for $400 a month in Alabama that might be $1,800 in California.
Love and relationships in Thailand or the Philippines
Many single people also move to Asia to meet their significant other and settle down. This could be to meet someone new or to meet a person that they were introduced to online. In either case, it could be a reason for a person to consider moving to Asia as an option.
Both countries have a plethora of reasons why one outweighs the other. So much so that they both are great locations (especially for quality single men who bring value) to meet their significant other.
Some things to consider that we have already mentioned include the language. This could be an issue if you are looking to be able to have quality conversations and go on dates where you can communicate easier. So obviously, meeting new people in the Philippines would be a great option because they already speak good English.
In Thailand, the language is more of a barrier which means you might be more inclined to choose someone for more (let’s be frank) physical attributes. It is harder to get to know someone when you can not communicate clearly. Again, there are plenty of people in Thailand that speak good English too. It is just not the majority as it is in the Philippines.
Thailand seems to be easier for younger people that want to date and adventure. The Philippines seems easier for those that want to get married, have a family or really get to know their mate and their family. The reasons for this are many and some are related to the culture, while others are related to the way Thais are raised compared to a Filipino.
Consider that many Filipino’s still live with their parents (or will live with their parents until married) which can make it harder to date without feeling like it should be more serious.
But again, both countries have so many benefits for meeting others. I love how in the Philippines it appears that family is similar to what I experienced in Mexico and Spain, where (when you know a few people), you get to know many (very often all) of the family.
There could easily be a long and in-depth article in relation to love and relationships between the two countries, so my view would be:
If you can travel and adventure and looking for more of that lifestyle, then Thailand would fit the bill quite nicely.
If you are more settled, comfortable with finding a place and sticking to it and becoming a part of the community, then the Philippines is a welcomed choice.