The Problem with Being a Former Expat in the Philippines

I’ve lived overseas for almost 10 years before coming back home.

There was a time I moved from Hong Kong to London, from London to Hong Kong then back to the Philippines in a span of four months, with luggage in tow.

Moving is depressing. It takes a lot of work, and there’s a sense of restlessness in knowing that the work’s not done until the last box/luggage has been unpacked and tidied up.

It’s very exciting though — the expat life.

Where you’re always the foreigner, and you can act like a foreigner because you’re not local. So some rules don’t relate to you and locals are kind enough to understand.

Where locals treat you like an oddity, and it’s so easy to make friends because you’re just so intriguing.

Where fellow expats find a sense of connection to you, and it’s great to wallow in that expat community where it’s all about parties, adventures, and fun fun fun.

Where you don’t think about tomorrow because today is already wonderful, and you’re busy living in the moment.

And where you feel that the world’s your oyster, and there are no boundaries to where you can go.

Now, with a baby and husband in tow, traveling now seems to be a luxury. But I remember when I was in Taipei, I would just call my travel agent, pick a region, book my tickets and just GO.

So a big problem of an ex-expat is nostalgia.

Where you remember the good ol’ days until your nice husband shakes you awake and tells you that was five years ago, and since we’re now living in the Philippines, I should focus on living and enjoying the Philippines.

Where you feel that the rules that you followed as an expat still applies to you back home. When you catch yourself saying, “That wouldn’t happen in (insert country where you lived here)!” and then remind yourself that you’re no longer in that country, and you just have to live with that.

Where you meet again friends who visit you in Manila, friends with whom you spent countless of hours having so much fun, only to find out that both of you have matured and no longer don the free life, and it’s no longer the same.

Where you remind yourself that being an ex-expat does NOT make you better than a local, and if ever you’re stupid enough to show your arrogant I’m-better-than-you-because-I’ve-lived-overseas, Filipinos will have no shame in reminding you that you’re just the same as them because NOW, you live in Manila with everything that comes with it.

Where you thought of all the money you used to make, money that you splurged on luxury bags and expensive far-off trips. And then you look at your current salary and then cry.

Yup, the biggest problem of being an ex-expat is NOSTALGIA.


Where you remember the good ol’ days, and think of what could’ve been.

On how lovely it is to live in a developed country where everything JUST WORKS.

Then, you realize to yourself — there was a reason why you chose to leave. Why you chose to come back, and why you chose to stay.

Yes, at times, especially when I feel especially poor, I am nostalgic about the past.

But as I look at my family, and our small little business, and the people who entrust their livelihoods with us, even though I am poorer here than overseas, my heart swells and I feel blessed and lucky.


And as I look around where I live, with all the traffic issues/corruption/disarray, I realize that no country is perfect but this is a country that I call home.

Because when I lived overseas, I was still the lao wai and the foreigner, and despite learning the language and adopting their habits, I am still different and I can never be “local” enough for the locals.

I think the problem of being an ex-expat lies on mind of the ex-expats.

It’s okay to miss the life that you’ve had… the life that could’ve been only if you did not leave.

But to regret is another thing.

I for one, thank the Lord, have no regrets.

I was able to spend time with my sick father before he passed away. It was a year, but I wouldn’t exchange that year for the world.

I was able to meet my husband, and changed his life for the better.

I am able to spend time with my healthy senior citizen mother while she is still alive. And to bring her joy via my child, who grows lovelier every day.

And I was able to find myself. I discovered what type of woman and wife I really was, and what type of boss I was.

I think if I stayed overseas, I would not have that. Because I would be so preoccupied with being an expat, I wouldn’t have much time to live as a local.

So yes, I am a former expat and proud of it. And I have made my choice and I am proud of it. And to those who are still deciding, good luck to you too!

But let this be an encouraging post to show that no matter what you choose, both are good choices.

Just make the choice you can live with.

Have a good week everyone!



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3 thoughts on “The Problem with Being a Former Expat in the Philippines

  1. What a perfect timing to read this entry.. I feel like I’ve reached the crossroads of this expat life.. im about to get my APRC in a couple of weeks, but I’m starting to entertain the thought of just packing my things and going back home to start again.. but a huge part of me is scared… How did you do it? I’m turning 28, and i think i need to figure out what to do next 🙁

    1. Hi Jackie, I think you’re still young at 28. At 28, I just changed jobs and it gave me a new boost of energy, proving that my expat life still had some juice left. I only left when I was really really serious about going home. Think it very carefully and don’t act so hastily. Because it’s not easy to go abroad again once you come back. Your family won’t leave you as easily as the first time!

      Only come home when you know you won’t regret it. At 32 years old, 4 years later, did I actually come back home. I felt at that time I was “called” home if there was such a thing. So it made that decision a lot easier for me. I remember stepping in my home garage for the first time in years, with my bags packed in the back of the trunk, and whispering to myself, “I’m here… now what?” But don’t get me wrong — When I came home, there was no fear and no doubts. I made that final decision and never looked back…

      In summary, there’s nothing wrong with getting your APRC. It’s not a lifelong contract, and even with the APRC, you can still go back. I actually left my pension fund in Hong Kong and haven’t cancelled it yet. I can still find a way to go back to Hong Kong if am really serious. But my expat life is done. I’m glad I did it, but am happy I came home. It all worked out for me. But it hasn’t worked out for all of my friends.

      You have to make that choice for YOU. Pray about it. Think about it. And don’t be hasty with your decision. Always remember, you can always come back when you get tired of the expat life. 🙂

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