A Canadian’s Move To The Philippines
In my previous two articles, I described how I got over my initial mental hurdles of searching for a new life and also why I chose The Philippines. In this article I will get to the more practical aspects of how I ended up in Dumaguete and the challenges I faced along the way, most of which were rooted in my own mistakes.
Planning The Dream
With it clear in my mind that The Philippines would one day eventually be the place I called home, I went back to work in Canada with a purpose. Now instead of getting up day to day and plodding off to work with no clear future goal in mind, I was in a word, possessed. For once in a very long time, I had dreams again.
Being the owner/operator of a small business, the first thing I had to think about was putting money aside for those dreams. No more worry about day-to-day luxuries. Every penny I earned that I did not need, would go into a separate account that would fund my eventual move.
My original thinking was that in a few years when I had saved a decent chunk, I would spend 6 months in Canada, running my construction business during its peak earning period, then for the remaining 6 months, I would live in The Philippines. I thought I could wind down my Canadian business to its bare minimum in the winter, during which time I could have one of my key employees manage the day-to-day operations, and while in The Philippines find a small business to run so that my winter stays in that country did not bite too heavily into the savings I was accumulating during the summers.
Sounded like a good plan, right?
Not so easy to pull off in reality, and I will get to why in a little while here.
For the next few years, I visited the Philippines a few more times in the winter, each time for a little longer duration. I did a little more traveling around the country, but always ended up back in that wonderful tropical paradise I came to love even as my second home, Carabao Island. I lived the dream, getting up every morning to new and exciting adventures.
Then one year, disaster struck!
Lol, not really a disaster in the strictest sense of the word, but definitely a disaster in my planning process.
I fell in love! This time with a beautiful Filipina woman, not just the country! Within 2 weeks of meeting Shirley, I asked her to marry me. As I mentioned in my first article in the series, marriage was never my goal so this new development really, really complicated all the plans I was making. I call this a disaster, simply because from that point forward, all my decisions were made from a very emotional state of mind, rather than one of purely rational and logical thought. Lo
Now, it was a situation of how quickly I could move up my plans.
This is where the trouble began. My plan to spend 6 months in Canada and 6 months in The Philippines, was in reality impossible at that stage.
My business in Canada just did not have the proper people in place and trained, for me to be able to be absent for extended periods. With my ever lengthening overseas stays each winter, every time I would come back to Canada, I was faced with deeper and deeper business management holes I would have to dig myself out of. Even just thinking about leaving it for 6 months caused me to shudder at the mess that would be created.
With the time quickly approaching when I would have to leave the new love of my life behind, I made a snap decision to throw my initial plans out the window. They just would not get me to the point where I could be with the woman I adored, in the country I now loved, quickly enough. So, with emotions running rampant and guiding my actions, I made the knee jerk decision that I would wind down my business in Canada, liquidate what I could and put it together with the nest egg I had already squirreled away. I figured that cash would give me ample capital to return to The Philippines, start a new business here, and live happily ever after!
So, this is where I get into the idea of owning and operating a business in The Philippines and I warn you, the first part is ugly.
Again, emotions played an outsized role in the business decisions I made, which I can honestly say now were simply boneheaded. Read on and weep, or maybe laugh a little , at how a 50+ year old entrepreneur with decades of successful business experience behind him, could screw things up so badly, lol.
Just as I was getting ready to leave The Philippines, what appeared to be an opportunity made in heaven, seemed to fall out of the sky and into my lap. I think I even believed at the time that it was divine intervention. Maybe it was, but probably more of a way to feed me a great big helping of humility rather than setting me up for a life of tropical wonderment and joy beyond my wildest dreams.
The Norwegian owner of the resort I always stayed at on Caribou Island, just happened to be visiting on his yearly pilgrimage, and lo and behold he made me an offer to buy the resort. Immediately I had images dancing through my head where I could enjoy the spectacular lifestyle I enjoyed there as a tourist; all the while funded by the profits of the resort. Wow! What a no brainer, and guess what? It turned out I was the one with no brain
So, I am sold now, no matter what the cost or the viability, and we started talking money. He put a price tag of 25,000,000 pesos on the resort, which to me sounded reasonable. Hell, I could have all this, for less than what it would cost me for a house in the suburbs in most Canadian cities. What a deal eh? Problem was, I just did not have that type of money anyway. Never one to quit on a dream though, I put together a proposal to take over the resort, use my capital to upgrade the rooms and facilities and start installments on the purchase price. As I found out later through hard experience, the property at best was worth no more than about 8 million Php, lol. Knowing that he now had a sucker on the line who had swallowed the bait, he accepted with a broad smile on his face.
Okay, so off back to Canada to close up shop there and get this deal rolling!
Over the next few months, I wound down my Canadian business, and started sending cash to Shirley in the Philippines, who would oversee the construction of the resort upgrade. Things seemed to be going well and the new resort was taking shape.
While the construction was ongoing, Shirley received a visit from another foreigner, who showed up off the shore in a big fancy boat and what can be aptly described as an entourage. He said he loved what we were doing and was so impressed that he wanted to speak to me directly about tying up for some other ventures. Sounded great I thought. This guy sounded highly successful with a string of supposedly successful enterprises, so I was flattered that he would even consider me as someone who he wanted to be involved with. Another con job swallowed hook line and sinker by yours truly, . I was quickly the proud partner in a water sports business as well as the local publication in Boracay, The Boracay Sun for what at the time seemed a paltry sum.
With all these potentially lucrative investments and the sun, sand and my soulmate waiting for me across the seas, I packed my bags for the last time and left my old life in Canada behind. Little did I know of the hell that awaited me for the next year or two of my life.
Here, I would like to only briefly tell you of how it all went downhill fast. Sad stories similar to mine are a dime a dozen, and I would much more like to focus on explaining the mistakes I made, and how I eventually turned it around.
Off the plane now and settling into my new life, reality started to set in quickly. First off, I was an idiot to think that running a resort was in anyway similar to visiting there as a tourist. Gone are the carefree days spent snorkeling, swimming, hiking and exploring and all is left is the huge time commitment and stress that is required to run any small business. Adding to the workload, the business ventures I signed on for the water sports and newspaper were simply a disaster. I found out that not only was my new partner totally dysfunctional businessman without a clue of basic business principles, he was also a well-known international con man with 20 years of prison time under his belt back in his home country. He had enticed me in with a small buy in payment and promises of stellar returns and what I got instead were two unprofitable business which required a steady influx of cash to keep the lights on and to pay for what turned out to be my partner’s lavish lifestyle. He was using our joint ventures to fund activities, cloaked in “public relations” expenditures entertaining future investors for his other businesses.
I would say that within 6 months, my entire Philippines dream was dead in the water, listing hard to starboard and ready to capsize.
I had entered into a foolish deal for a resort that was overpriced and would never be profitable. Even if there were the possibility for it to be so in the future, It would take years of me working 16 hour days to make a subsistence level income. I also had to extricate myself from the joint ventures with my friend the con-man.
To make a long sad story short, I had screwed everything up. By the time I was done, I had maybe 20,000 pesos in my pocket, which was not even enough money to get a flight back to Canada. Even if I had been able to swing that, there was absolutely nothing waiting for me back there and from the airport it would have been right to the welfare office. A scary and demeaning place for a middle-aged guy to be, of that I can assure you.
So broken, both financially and spiritually, Shirley and I packed up our things, got on a boat and headed back to Dumaguete City, her home town, to try and figure out what to do next.
So there is the ugly. Thankfully though, from here the story takes some amazing tuns that can only be described as miraculous. Before I get into the good, I would like to expand a little on what I learned from those bad experiences, since without those lessons, I could not adequately explain what I did differently the second time around.
First off, there is no one to blame for what happened to me. I alone take responsibility for the mistakes I made which led me to the predicament I found myself in. Though many of the more astute readers will have already identified those mistakes, however I will list the worst here for clarity:
- I let my emotions guide my decisions. Though I firmly believe that emotions are an important factor when making life changing decisions, when I allow emotions to blind me to facts, I am going to screw up. In my case here, I chose to bend the facts to fit my dreams, with disastrous consequence
- Thinking in Canadian dollars rather than the local currency. The cost of living is way cheaper here for just about everything. Just because it may seem like a good deal in Canadian dollars, does not make it a good deal here
- Having local knowledge. Though the biggest mistake on my part in this story is lack of knowledge of the local real estate market, there are many smaller examples I did not share where my complete lack of experience in local ways of doing business, laws, culture etc, caused me much grief, aggravation and money
- Trusting people I should not have trusted. Living my life in relatively small cities in Canada, it was fairly easy knowing who you could and could not trust. I brought that trusting nature to The Philippines, and that was a huge mistake. There is a saying “trust, but verify” and that is the code I live by today.
- I was Arrogant. I came to this country at 50, believing I knew it all. Clearly I did not, lol
So, lets move on to the fairy tale story ending where I lived happily ever after. And this one is true
As I mentioned, Shirley and I moved back to her home town, Dumaguete City. Broke and beaten, we did not have a clue how we would survive. The only safety net we had was her loving family who we new we could count on if it ever came down to us potentially not having a roof over our heads or anything to eat. Thankfully, we never got to that point.
Starting Over Again
The two things I did have was experience, and more importantly, humility. I could say that I also had a “never give up” attitude, but honestly starting over again was simply more necessity than moral courage.
Fortunately, we had a few people who saw the potential in us and with a little bit of seed capital and a lot of hard work, we started off on a small new business venture. Our only true goal being survival. With my own new found humility, I was able to now fully understand and accept how little I knew, which meant for the first time in decades I was capable of learning.
Though it was hand to mouth for the first two or three years, and plenty of hard work, we slowly grew our business and expanded. Today, we run a very successful and respected group of companies that include real estate sales, construction, land development, solar and cabinetry businesses.
After 8 years here, most importantly, we now have the financial freedom and the key employees trained, to slow down our day to day activity in the operations and spend more time living the Philippines dream I first set out to follow. To be honest I can say with complete sincerity, I now live a life beyond my wildest dreams!
So what is the moral of this story? I guess it is simply, don’t do what I did, because though it ended up pretty darn good, it could just have easily gone the other way, with disastrous consequences. At the very minimum if you learn anything from my story, you might be able to avoid the fear and pain that I put myself through.
My more specific advice in a few points, would be:
- Rein in your emotions. Its great to have a dream, and to follow it, but don’t bend or ignore the facts that may get in the way. They will anyway, whether you ignore them or not.
- Leave your arrogance at home. Most of what you will see here will be new to you. Some will be good and some will be bad, but you have to have enough humility to learn how to adapt to it successfully. This goes for everyday life, not only business
- Do your research. I thank you for reading this article, but remember my story is only one of many. There are many people who are willing to share their own stories and you can use the knowledge of those who have already walked the path you will potentially be taking yourself
- Be careful with trust. I am not cynical when I say this. I personally have found many, many people, both Filipino and Foreigner who are straight up and honest, but it does take a while to be able to recognize the good ones from the bad ones. Trust in the basic goodness of mankind maybe, but friggin verify!
Hopefully, I have not dashed anybody’s Philippines Dreams with this article, because that was not my intent. I believe this dream is worth it to any of you who want it, I just hope at least part of my story will give you some help to do it right! If you need my help, or any of our ambassadors, we will gladly oblige, so do not hesitate to reach out rather than risk going down your own path blindly.
I leave you with a few pictures of my life today with the woman I love, in a country I would not leave: