Michael and his wife Barbara moved to the city of Cebu on the Philippine island of the same name eight years ago and have never looked back. “We actually feel younger. My kids are amazed at the transformation in me,” says Michael. “We came here thinking we would quietly and warmly head “into the sunset”. We very quickly found that we were actually heading “into the sunshine”.
The oldest city in the Philippines, Cebu has history. Portuguese explorer Magellan met his end here in 1521. You can visit Magellan’s Cross in the oldest part of Cebu, close to the Santo Niño Basilica, built in 1565. For 20 cents choose a coloured candle. Green for success. Blue for travel. Yellow for health. Red for love. Then hand it to a woman in a bright yellow dress who will dance and pray for you.
But while Cebu has colonial heritage, it’s very much a modern-looking city. High-rises dominate the skyline and the city is at the forefront of the country’s booming BPO industry (business process outsourcing). With English widely spoken and costs so low, many expats make a handsome living setting up such services for international clients.
In his sixties, Englishman Paul Whiteway has helped many get started with his expat services business, Cebu Expat Services. “I worked for many years in Australia before making the move to Cebu. I live a blessed life here. I knew I couldn’t afford to retire in Australia, but in Cebu you can live on a pension of $700 to $1,400 a month.
“We eat out a lot. Most times we spend $8 or $9 total. We know plenty of places where we can get a plate of barbecue and rice for $2.50.”
The two-bedroom home Paul and his wife Elsa rent for $250 a month is about nine kilometres from the city centre. There is no specific expat neighbourhood, you’ll find foreigners live all over town. But I did visit some hangouts where you’ll find them together.
Over $2 beers in the Emerald Isle Bar I met Irish, American, Canadian and German expats—many of them members of the lawn bowling team. About 15 minutes’ drive away, I ate in Antica Ostreia where a top-notch meal washed down with Italian red wine cost three of us just $48. Then on to the Banilad Club—Cebu’s most established expat hangout—where you’ll find tennis, snooker and plenty of friends. (This is where Michael and Barbara come for Tuesday night salsa.)
It’s easy to fill a social calendar in Cebu. The Expat Bowling Union meets every Wednesday. There are cycling groups, and you could join the Cebu Expats Club. “This has grown enormously,” says Michael. “A year or so ago we approached hotels about a discount for the group dinners, bearing in mind we can bring 150 to 200 people and we like to go out as a group about once a month. We get around 50% at the top hotels. Also some businesses have offered up to 20%. The group is incorporated and we carry the membership card.”
The Banilad area is richest in amenities and it’s also where you’ll find Maria Luisa, an upscale subdivision popular with foreigners. One three-bedroom home with a pool I saw here was available for $1,000 a month. It’s twice the rent of other properties in Cebu, but the location puts a wealth of dining options on your doorstep.
Farther out of town rents are much lower, and many people prefer the slower pace of life. About 40 minutes out of the city, Charles and Barbara Wygal pay rent of just $140 for their two-bedroom house in the sleepy area of Compostela. The couple, in their 70s, say their pension payment of around $1,300 funds their lives here.
It’s hard to get bored in Cebu. And I haven’t even mentioned the beaches and water sports around the island.
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