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I'm a US vet who decided to retire in the Philippines. The political divide in the US became too much for me.

Marielle Descalsota   

I'm a US vet who decided to retire in the Philippines. The political divide in the US became too much for me.
  • Steven Johnson, a veteran and retiree, moved to the Philippines five years ago.
  • Johnson holds a special visa that allows former servicemen to live in the country indefinitely.

This as-told-to story is based on a conversation with Steven Johnson, a 60-year-old American retiree and content creator living in the Philippines since 2018. It's been edited for length and clarity.

Five years ago, I decided to retire and move abroad.

I'm from a small city in Massachusetts and worked as a therapeutic mentor and school safety officer for 18 years. Before that, I had a career in the military as a cook in the US Navy, where I worked on two submarines in the '80s.

As I got older, I realized the culture and politics in the US was evolving. Living there was no longer a fit for me, so I set my sights on the Philippines. My ex-wife was a Filipina, and I had visited the country before, so I knew what to expect. I moved to the Philippines in March 2018 and settled down with Susan, my 55-year-old girlfriend.

I applied for the Special Resident Retiree's Visa Expanded Courtesy. This non-immigrant visa is specifically for people with prior service in the military. I found the application process cheap and easy — it cost me $1,400 to apply for the visa from the Philippine Retirement Authority.

There were several requirements to get this visa — I had to make a security deposit of $1,500, be over 50 years old, be honorably discharged, and have served at least two years in the military.

The visa allows me to stay in the Philippines indefinitely, and I can still travel out of the country whenever I want. This privilege also extends to two dependents — and more, for $15,000 each — which means I could have other family members join me here down the road. My daughter is 33 and lives back in Massachusetts. We keep in touch over the phone, but she's not interested in moving.

I started a YouTube account, The Philippine Info Channel, to share with other expats what it's like to retire here and have 28,000 subscribers. Many of them hold a Special Resident Retiree Visa too, but through other means, like investing in property. In total, over 73,800 foreigners are holding this special visa.

Life here is much more affordable.

I decided to retire in the Philippines as the cost of living here is much lower than in the US. I live in Trece Martines in Cavite, a province some 30 miles from Manila, the capital.

The exceptionally low rent is a plus point. For example, Numbeo, a comparison website that provides crowdsourced summaries of the cost of living in major cities worldwide, lists renting a three-bedroom house in Cavite as costing 9,000 Philippine pesos per month, or $218. In comparison, renting a similar house in Boston would cost some $3,450, per Zillow.

Traveling around the country is affordable too. A flight from Manila to Boracay — one of the most popular tourist spots in the Visayas islands — costs 1,636 Philippine pesos on Philippine Airlines, or $30, on average. Overall, it's a great place for expats on a budget.

I also have access to a US Veterans Administration Clinic. They help me with my back condition, and I'm much better taken care of here than in the US. The Filipinos working at the clinic take their jobs very seriously and are loved by most veterans here.

No plans on returning to the US

Despite small drawbacks, I would never return to the US after living in the Philippines for over five years. I have fond memories there, but the skyrocketing prices and the toxic culture between the two major political parties have deterred me from returning. I've found workplaces to be cutthroat if you are not in the same party as those with influence there. The way people treat each other can be very disheartening and sad.

On the other hand, as a foreigner here, I don't have to get involved in local politics. I've made my home here in the Philippines and am here to stay. It's not without its issues, of course, but the key is to have some patience and find an area that best fits your lifestyle and budget.

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