The Adventure Begins
- The end of our time in Cebu has come.
- Through lockdowns, typhoons, and power outages, we made it.
- I recommend moving out to a cheap place to reset, but there are costs.
This Wednesday, my family and I truly get over the hump.
We’ve left our house in Santo Nino Village for the last time as residents. We’re heading to Samar, where Pam was born, and her parents still live.
Micah and I haven’t been there yet, and it’s our first adventure in years.
For Pam, it’s bittersweet, as she knows she won’t see her hometown again for quite some time.
At least we’ll have three whole weeks with the in-laws, and Micah will have his belated family birthday party.
He’s very excited, as it’ll be a Star Wars-themed party.
Should I be frightened that he likes the stormtroopers better than the rebels?
I can’t wait for the beach and super fresh seafood, myself.
After that, we’ll return to Cebu for a week in an Airbnb. Before we head out on March 31, we’ll be able to hit our favorite places here one last time.
But after that, it’ll be onto Rome, via Doha.
As I sit here, I reflect on how this all came to be.
It’s crazy, but I’ll lay it out for you as best I can. Perhaps it’ll be of use to you if you’re trying to make moving decisions soon.
Leaving Hong Kong
There’s an enormous difference between visiting Hong Kong and living in Hong Kong.
I learned that the hard way very quickly.
Visiting Hong Kong is all about spacious hotel rooms, loads of crowded bars, and a great night out.
Living in Hong Kong is all about an apartment the size of a shoebox, a crowded commute, and a lot less partying.
After three months, I had admitted to Pam I had made a mistake.
We resolved to leave and move back to Barcelona, where I had attended a coding bootcamp with my friend and business partner, Andy.
There, Andy wrote the first iteration of Finlingo, our financial training app.
As Filipinos get fast-tracked for Spanish citizenship, that would’ve solved Pam’s passport issue.
But then, Pam fell pregnant with Micah.
We were stuck in Hong Kong for another two years.
Once that agonizing two-year period ended, we were unsure of where to go.
We secured a visa for Pam so we could all move to Switzerland, but the financial math didn’t work out for us.
Then we thought about Barcelona again, but I wasn’t happy with Spain’s porous maritime borders or tax code.
Finally, and with much reluctance from Pam, we decided to head to the Philippines, the only country where we had the unabated right to live.
That’s right, though Micah and I are both UK citizens, it would’ve been insanely expensive to move back to the UK as a freelancer.
As Pam is a non-EEA citizen, I would’ve been forced to park about $100,000 in a bank account and not touch it for a year and also pay GBP 1,500 in application fees to get there.
(I couldn’t send her on a boat across the Channel for free, though the thought crossed my mind!)
Parking that cash wasn’t an option for a startup owner like me.
Unfortunately, the idea to check my Italian roots hadn’t come to me until we were leaving Hong Kong, a mistake that cost us much time and money.
Though, thanks to the Wu Flu, it now seems a blessing in disguise.
In contrast to the UK’s idiotic freelancer policy, Italy’s freelancer law, passed in 2020, is a boon to digital nomads.
But in late 2018, if it wasn’t going to be Switzerland, Spain, or Italy (yet), it had to be the Philippines.
The Philippines and Southeast Asia in General: The Pros
While I bitch a lot about the place, there’s a lot to recommend Southeast Asia in general and the Philippines in particular.
First, the tax advantages.
American citizens get a foreign earned income exclusion of $112,000 for the fiscal year 2022. That means if you’re a digital nomad earning under $112,000, you must still file a tax return, but you’re not going to pay any tax.
If you’re not an American citizen, you don’t have to worry about that anyway.
Second, the Philippines has a territorial taxation system, which means you won’t pay income taxes in the Philippines, either.
Yes, you can make $112,000 in the Philippines and not pay taxes on that income, as long as your income is foreign-sourced. So just don’t take any money from Filipino companies.
For example: if you’re from California, on average, you will pay $24,994 in income tax on $112,000.
To put it another way, to take home $112,000 in California, you’d have to make a gross income of about $150,000.
And you don’t even have to set up a company.
Third, you’re going to like – what shall we call it? – the companionship here.
I just don’t understand the men in Western countries whining about purple-haired feminists.
Get on a plane to Southeast Asia, and you’ll be relieved of that complaint quickly.
I can’t elaborate further, sorry.
The heat is brutal. If you’re a skier, avoid this part of the earth. Especially Bangkok.
You can cut the air with a knife in Bangkok. I’m a walking water fountain there.
The Philippines are a bit cooler, but not much.
Next, the driving here is so substandard and full of motorcyclists who haven’t a clue, you’ll pull your hair out.
I would if I had any.
Swerving. Speeding. Riding with the brake on. They do it all here.
It’s frustrating as hell.
Also, the governments here are nothing but tyrannical losers trying to prove their civilizational credentials to Western governments.
Don’t think for a second they’re independent.
Had they been, this entire part of the earth wouldn’t have been shut down during the Wu Flu.
There’s enough Vitamin D here for the entire planet and zero obesity.
But, hey, they had to impress people on the other side of the earth.
I forgot to mention that married men can have a great time here – even with their wives!
If you’re an American couple that wants a break here, you get a $224,000 income tax exclusion. Again, you’ll have to file, but you won’t pay tax.
But the best part is that you don’t have to deal with the madness in the western world.
You can live cheaply and really think about what you want to do with your life without a boss interrupting you all the livelong day.
If you can do that in Tulsa, Topeka, or Toledo, be my guest.
But for those of you who want a different life for a little bit, you can do far worse than getting on a plane and unwinding far from home.
And then, once you’ve built the foundation of your business empire, you can go home to finish the job.
Just like my family and I are about to do.
All the best,