What you should (and shouldn’t) bring with you.

When you are making the jump to the Philippines, it can be hard to know what you should bring with you. And it’s hard to give advice in this regard, because there is so much variety of experiences. Is your company paying to move you here and back? If so, are you limited by how much you can pack along? If not, are they providing you with a budget to buy what you need here? I’ve talked to some people who have had a way to get things here when they first come, but no guarantee that they’d be able to take it home again unless they are willing to foot the bill themselves. Will your employer be putting you into a house or condo or are you on your own in finding housing? Will that housing be fully-, semi-, or unfurnished? Are you bringing kids? How long will you be here? All of these factors can influence you as you decide what to bring along. So, rather than giving straight forward advice on what you should do, I’ll just give you some information.

First of all, you can get everything here. Really. I mean, the newest variety of junk food may not be here, and a specific brand of hair dryer may not be available here, but you can get junk food and you can get hair dryers. Mattresses, La-z-boys, nice furniture, cheap furniture, electronics, washing machines, dryers (though electricity is so pricey that few use them), grills, ranges, swanky fridges, cheap fridges, cheap pans, fancy pans, nice dishes, melamine dishes, nice household linens, knives, kitchen top appliances, books in English, home décor, computers, gaming consoles… Honestly, I could go on naming things, but the point is that we do have everything here. If you aren’t in Manila, you may need to make a trip into Manila to find certain items, but they are here and people deliver. (Often, delivery is free if you are close, a few hundred pesos within a certain area, and more beyond, but you can get things delivered somehow.)

Sometimes, (ok, usually) higher-end items like the swanky fridges and such, will be more than in the US. Sometimes, there will be local equivalents that are much cheaper and just as good. For instance, instead of selling my first born to get an imported Serta mattress, we opted for a local luxury brand, paid a third of the imported Serta price, and are really happy with it. There will be something here in your budget. The Philippines’ economy ranges from the dirt poor to the mega wealthy and there are items available to all income levels. So, if you have a heart attack at the price tag, keep looking around for an alternative. Likewise, if you go hunting for something and are unimpressed by the quality of the goods you’re finding, keep looking. A lot of new expats panic, thinking that what they’d found in one or two stores is all they are going to be able to find and they buy junk or pay too much. Just breathe and try a different mall.

If you are working for a company that will move you here and home and you have enough space to move your whole household, then mazel tov, Lucky, your job is an easy one. Don’t bring anything that you’d be devastated if you had to leave behind in the off chance that you have to leave in a hurry (like heirlooms) and don’t pack any electronics that aren’t dual voltage. (You can get a device that alters the voltage, but it only takes one mistake to fry a TV.)

If you are doing this on more of a shoe string, or have limited funds, or can get things transported here, but not necessarily back home, I’d suggest you bring only things that you would be ok with leaving behind when you go. For instance, if you have your most favorite pots and pans ever that you plan to use for the rest of your life, and you expect to be here for 3 years, and don’t know if you’ll be able to take them back with you, then store them wherever you are moving from. If you will have funds to get nice pans when you get here, then great. If not, go to a thrift shop before you leave and get some good, second hand pots and pans that will serve you well and you’d be ok leaving here when you return. A $5 used pan in the US is going to be much better quality than a $5 new pan here.

No matter your budget, the one household thing I can definitively say you should bring with you if you have it are good air-tight containers. (Like tupperware.) You will need them for anything in your kitchen that does not come packaged in a metal lock-box. I really do mean air-tight, too. Test them by submerging them in water before you bother to pack them. The ants here are tiny little things and can chew through boxes and plastic packaging, so anything carb or carb-adjacent needs to be in an air-tight container in your cupboard unless you plan to use it within 24 hour. It doesn’t matter what your housing arrangement is. Even fancy-pants houses live under threat of ants. The scouts will find their way inside, and if they find food, they will come back with thousands of their friends. If you have plastic Tupperware-type containers, check the seals to make sure they are air tight and bring what you have. We do have good, air-tight plastic containers here, but they can be pricey. (Though they are almost always on sale in one store or another.) If you already own some, then bring them. You can always pack things inside of them on the way over, so they won’t take up much room.

Really, when it comes down to it, let your budget and space be your guide, and just breathe easy. If by some chance of fate, there is something you are used to having that you can’t find here, the chances are good that there is an alternative thing or way of doing whatever it is that requires that thing. And, if worse comes to worse, there are ways to get things shipped here that won’t break the bank. I’ll deal with that someday in another post.


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