Living on Island of Bohol - Interview with US Expat Henry

Published: 3 May at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Philippines
Henry Velez grew up in Southern California, USA, his entire life before making the decision to move to the Philippines, sight-unseen. After spending a year researching it online he made the leap of faith and transplanted himself first to the island of Mactan and then later to Bohol. Arriving and remaining a Single Man (so far) in a marriage-oriented culture, he brings his own perspective via his blog on what daily life is like in the Philippines. Henry's expat blog is called LifeBeyondTheSea (see listing here)

Meet Henry - US expat in Bohol
Meet Henry - US expat in Bohol

Here's the interview with Henry...

Where are you originally from?
Originally I am from Southern California having lived there my entire life. But I've always been something of a wandering-gypsy since I was a kid. My Dad loved to relocate.. every year. Even as an adult I've been moving on average every 18 months as something of a way of life.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am now living on the wonderful island of Bohol. When I first moved to the Philippines, I stayed for my first 7 months on the island of Mactan. With everything so new to me, it was less stress living within walking distance of a mall where I could easily find what I needed; drinking water, groceries, local shops, etc. Although I enjoy visits to "the big city" such as Cebu, I prefer smaller cities like Lapu Lapu and Tagbilaran. I'm not much of an inner-city sort of person except for when I want a huge mall to catch a movie or visit a nice restaurant. But I think I will be keeping Tagbilaran, Bohol, as my base of operations for several years as I wander and visit other islands. It's very green, rural and has a comfortable pace of life.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
As of this writing I have now been in the Philippines eight and a half months. I am loving it. When I made the decision to come here, it really was an "all or nothing" concept for me. I decided that one way or another, the Philippines was to be my new home despite never having been here before. Which is why I spent a year researching everything I could before pulling the trigger. Travel blogs such as those listed here were a tremendous source of connections to emailing with ExPats directly here in the Philippines.

Life as a single man in the PH is anything but boring.
Life as a single man in the PH is anything but boring.
Why did you move and what do you do?
As they say, "It all started with a woman." In my case, it started the day I walked into a Filipino restaurant in California and all I saw were the most beautiful eyes I'd ever seen. I literally went speechless and couldn't concentrate to make my order. The Filipina and I became friends over that five weeks but then she returned to Cebu since she was only in the US on vacation. It began there, but much of the reason I came to the Philippines also had to do with simplifying my life so as to focus on becoming a writer. I now have a home in the province where it's simply a writer's dream with the peace and privacy of the jungle. With internet signal of course. Ha! In the States I ran my own mobile PC Repair business. I now operate that online, doing web-sites and remote-access PC repair through my site, .

Did you bring family with you?
No, I came alone. I'd been divorced for about four years and wasn't in a relationship, so I've been here as a single man. My children are all adults now and very tech-savvy so we can always text, Facebook or Skype to keep in touch. For my less technical Mother, I make use of a MagicJack to let her know I'm OK. I had to convince her with lots of photos from the Net that I wasn't just going to pitch a tent in the midst of a coconut forest surrounded by tigers and crocodiles. It was something of an education for her as well to see all that the Philippines has to offer. Every so often I send photos electronically to her local pharmacist where they get printed for a big photo album I left with her. She loves showing that to anyone who stops by the house. :)

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Surprisingly.. the transition was not so hard at all. Maybe because I've been on the move my whole life. Maybe because I did my homework and had a pretty good grasp of what I was getting into. I knew that it wasn't all "umbrella drinks and swinging in a hammock by the beach" every day. But for all the unforeseen items that came up once I got here.. the best thing I had going for me was simply being flexible to change. Whatever came up, I just had to "go with it". I only knew one person in the Philippines and she was a huge help in so many ways despite her being on another island. (Same girl I'd met at the restaurant ) With time I got to know the area and how to get various tasks done.

Exploring the jungle area of Bogo province in northern Cebu.
Exploring the jungle area of Bogo province in northern Cebu.
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialize with other expats?
I'm a very friendly guy.. maybe too open and friendly some would say. I did learn the hard way my first few months that it's best to choose your new friends carefully, and not trust just anyone you haven't known very well. Back in the States most of my friends were women. Here in the Philippines, pretty much all my friends are women. As for expats.. the only one I keep in contact with is an expat from Bangladesh who I met through my website. He was in Mactan for several months considering a move for his family and we still stay in touch online now that he's returned to Bangladesh. I like to meet with my readers whenever possible. But for the most part I live away from the subdivisions and spend my time in the marketplaces and eateries where the local Filipinos eat and hang out. They've been very welcoming to me everywhere I go.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
In Mactan my favorite simple past-time was to go on Sundays to the Lapu Lapu marketplace. There I would begin with a few hours at the Sabong (cock-fights) to have some cold beer, watermelon and place a few bets. From there I would walk to the local church for some shade, peace and quiet. Then I'd make my way a few blocks over to the marketplace where I could meet the locals and have some really good, home-cooked food out on the streets and in some of the alleys. I'd wrap up the night with buying some fresh fruit to make smoothies at my place. But when I really wanted to kick up my heels, my favorite place to go was the 'Chicago Joes Bump & Grind Disco Dance Club' party complex over on Mactan, the Marigondon side. That place has everything! Swimming pool, dance club, bar, pretty girls, karaoke upstairs, fresh bbq outside, 24/7 kitchen with American and Italian food (even Menudo).. it was absolutely my favorite place to have some fun there on Mactan. Here on Bohol, so far my favorite place is Alona Beach, especially in the evening. It's just magical there. Inexpensive food, massage on the beach, live bands all at the ocean's edge. Very relaxing.. my kind of place.

Having a hammock means you're always ready for Siesta.
Having a hammock means you're always ready for Siesta.
What do you enjoy most about living here?
I'd say the pace of life. Even though I'm technically 13 years early for retirement, I pretty much live a semi-retired lifestyle. I spend my days either writing, doing online pc repairs, staying in contact with friends or checking out things to do locally. And when I need a break from that.. I take a siesta in my hammock. Not a bad gig, I tell you that much. And then, being a single man, it's kinda nice that women here have a preference for us expats. I've met some very lovely women since arriving here. Quite a few actually. :)

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Wow. Not even close. And that's a good thing! Remember, I come from Southern California where the cost of living is high even for the US in general. My home I rent here in Bohol costs me 1/10th of what I was spending per month in the US. My utilities here in total don't even add up to what my cell phone bill was back home. I love to cook and I've noticed that raw grocery prices are about the same, but slightly cheaper here in the Philippines. I suppose it depends on what you like to eat. 'Imported' brand names from the US cost more here, but it doesn't affect me much since I just go with whatever the local brand is. Cheese and chocolate are kinda expensive. But the rum is cheap. I also switched to soy milk since real milk isn't readily available. Overall, money has been much less of a stress living here in the Philippines than it was on a daily basis there in California. With the exchange rate currently at about 40.7Pesos to the USD, it makes things go pretty smooth.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
For me, the only real negative is not seeing my grown children and Mother in person. We're a very close family and all lived there in Southern California near each other. I plan to make a trip to visit them next year, God willing. But I know that my new home is here in the Philippines with all it's pros and cons. On a much smaller scale, I'd say my only daily negative I deal with is finding shirts in my size. Ha! I'm not a super-big guy or anything, but even the so-called "XXL" size here is just way too small. But I am managing to find some places here and there that carry 'giant' sizes for us expats.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
If I had to pick just 'one' thing.. I would say my key piece of advice would be, "Come here to learn and experience, not to teach or criticize." What I think has made my own, personal, experience so much fun despite the many challenges (and there will be challenges, I guarantee you that).. is that I stay flexible, open-minded, learn from the locals how they deal with it and move on. I don't stress out about "how it should be" or with that fatalistic "back in my country" mindset. Thinking that way will only drive a person crazy here. They will never last. No, instead come here with the mindset that you're here to learn the whole Philippine experience. Living their way. Their customs. Their food. Their language. If a person comes here looking for a small slice of their own home country.. they are better off staying home, in my opinion. Come to learn. Ask and listen. That's what makes for a successful adventure here.

My new home in the province, somewhere in the jungles of Bohol.
My new home in the province, somewhere in the jungles of Bohol.
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Aside from missing family back home? Without a doubt.. the bugs! Ha!! I have become very savvy on how to bug-proof a home as much as possible since getting here. Most insects I can handle.. the mosquitoes, giant flying roaches, fire ants and such. But the fast-moving giant spiders cut me to the quick. Even though everyone keeps telling me they are not poisonous.. I hunt them down with a vengeance. And they are FAST. Very fast. Even so, thank God for the bed-sized Mosquito Net. Ha!!

How has your experience abroad changed you?
Even though over the years I've spent time in the shanty towns of Mexico (my former wife was from Mexico).. living here full-time and becoming close friends with people from those areas here in the Philippines puts everything into a whole other perspective. Looking back on my life in California, I think I was ignorantly unthankful for how good things were even when I thought "times were tough". Seeing some of the things I've seen here, I am thankful for a place to sleep and food for the day, even though I have more than that. Anything beyond life's necessities is gravy. It really is.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Know what you're getting into. -- By that, I mean.. do your homework. Use the Net, connect with others already there. Get the 'real' story of what's-what about where you plan to travel to.
  2. Be careful with your money. -- Don't be flashy. Carry small bills in one pocket, big bills in another. Never more than you need for the day.
  3. Don't trust just anyone so quickly. -- Some people will genuinely want to help you and expect nothing in return. Others will literally 'attach' themselves to you like an entourage and expect lots of favors, meals and money from you. Don't let this happen.
  4. Become familiar with a map of your area. -- I'm kinda OCD about this. Before I moved to Mactan I spent hours scanning both the maps and satellite images of Mactan AND Cebu months before I got there. I arrived with a mental image of major landmarks, connecting roads, key cities, etc. If nothing else, print a basic map to have in your back-pack for reference.
  5. Stay Hydrated. -- Drink water every time you think about it. Take a water bottle with you into town. Avoid sodas and syrup drinks. For me it's either water or booze and water if I'm out on the town. While you're at it, make note of where the cleaner bathrooms are in town. Good info to have.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
What I strive for with my blog is to give people the very same, on-the-street reality information that was so hard to find during my research period on the Philippines. Honestly, too many blogs were kinda like a big tourist brochure. I already knew there are great beaches, resorts and attractions. What I wanted to know in addition to that was.. how to SURVIVE in the Philippines. I wanted to know what to look out for. What precautions to take. What inconveniences to expect. Life is Ying and Yang. It's not all umbrella-drinks.. but it's not all giant spiders either. So I try to give a more balanced, reality-based approach as I report on my experiences. How things happened, how it got resolved and most of all.. how to just stay calm and maintain while it's happening. For this I use articles, photos and video to communicate the whole Philippines experience.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
At my site there is an "Ask Henry" page with an online form for just this very purpose. I don't know everything, but if I can help with some info.. I will. If I don't know, I'll post it to the LBTSea Forum where others can chime in from their experiences to get anyone the info they need. My Twitter ID is: @enricosuave

Henry blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. LifeBeyondTheSea has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Henry, please also drop him a quick comment below.
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Comments » There are 11 comments

DOug Pitman wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks Henry, everything you said here was very well thought out and written. My name is Doug and I should be moving there to Bohol around August 4 and I am also from California as well.

Ayahuasca wrote 10 years ago:

This report really speaks to me. I have been asking a couple friends from Phils about places to live in, and basically I just want a nice beach, good internet, and occasionally options for nightlife. Thanks much for taking the time to write this Henry. I'll also check out your blog. :-)

Donna West wrote 10 years ago:

another very good article from my favorite Philippines expat. you are the greatest author ever. lots of good information here for anyone thinking of coming to the Philippines. I and my son, like you, have never been to the RP and when we do come it is our plan to learn all about it and its people, mesh to the way of life there, and just continue to love it. there are so many disappointments about the American lifestyle anymore and we really want and need a change which we are sure we will find there. I think you are doing great, Henry, you have the right mindset for happiness wherever you go. i, like you, have moved around a lot in my life and i think when you have learned to adjust to that a major move like to the Philippines is much easier to accept and enjoy.

RandyL wrote 10 years ago:

Good interview! I've been reading Henry's blog almost from the day he got started and we have been communicating back and forth for some time. Of course while Henry is just beginning his adventure, I have been with my Filipina mate now for over 27 years and am bringing her home soon and Henry helps me to fill in some of the faded information gaps here and there. He keeps it real and humorous. I look forward to the day we travel to Bohol to visit my wife's sister and can meet Henry and drink a cold beer together.

PJ wrote 10 years ago:

Great interview. I subscribed to your YouTube channel and newsletter. You're a wonderful writer and I look forward to more of your PI adventures. Cheers.

Earl Pitman wrote 10 years ago:

Great information from My name is Earl and presently live in Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I have been traveling to the PH every year since 2005, spending three weeks at various provinces/towns/cities each time. I enjoy my visits every time and now contemplating moving there upon retirement in a few years. I am interested in Mindanao Isle, particularly the Davao/Panabo/Tagum Cites and would like to hear from any expats living in that area. Thanks...EARL

Dan Mathis wrote 10 years ago:

Henry, thanks for all your great information, video's, writing and sharing your life and how you see it. Wonderful! It all helped when I visited for 30 days earlier this year in Davao. It was a life changing trip and can hardy wait to return. Beautiful giving people, like yourself. Keep it up, I love it. Dan

Martin Lamb wrote 9 years ago:

Nice balanced article Henry .As a New Zealand expat living in the Philipines for many years your approach to liearning from the locals is so much better than trying to adapt western mindset here . I came to Bohol 1993 and have in most enjoyed the journey of adapting myself to a wonderful island lifestyle . Every day has something new to learn and I have to admit makes me feel younger than I am . Keep up the great writing , Martin

Maria wrote 9 years ago:

Great article. I just came back from MNL and missing the Philippines specially my mom and dad! Thanks for sharing what you do to sustain a living in the country.

Ray Bryant wrote 9 years ago:

Henry, you are great in telling it like it is. I have been here 3 years now and I have had a lot of the same experiences. I met my girl online before I came here and we are still single. I totally agree that before marriage a person needs to know the other person in every aspect and find out if you really are compatible. Anyway, thanks great articles that you have.

Mike Wade wrote 9 years ago:

Great article, I'm following your life beyond the sea blog and find it informative. I like the way you are honest about the trials and tribulations of your search for a companion. I myself visited for 1 month this last May, am coming back in October for 3 weeks, for a holiday, and am moving out for good on December the 1st. I have a young Phils GF and long distance relationships can have their testing times. I'm from the uk and am 65 in September. Keep up the good work.

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