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Posted March 05, 2022

Sean Ring

By Sean Ring

The Adventure Begins

  • The end of our time in Cebu has come.
  • Through lockdowns, typhoons, and power outages, we made it.
  • I recommend moving out to a cheap place to reset, but there are costs.

This Wednesday, my family and I truly get over the hump.

Weve left our house in Santo Nino Village for the last time as residents. Were heading to Samar, where Pam was born, and her parents still live.

Micah and I havent been there yet, and its our first adventure in years.

For Pam, its bittersweet, as she knows she wont see her hometown again for quite some time.

At least well have three whole weeks with the in-laws, and Micah will have his belated family birthday party.

Hes very excited, as itll be a Star Wars-themed party.

Should I be frightened that he likes the stormtroopers better than the rebels?

I cant wait for the beach and super fresh seafood, myself.

After that, well return to Cebu for a week in an Airbnb. Before we head out on March 31, well be able to hit our favorite places here one last time.

But after that, itll be onto Rome, via Doha.

As I sit here, I reflect on how this all came to be.

Its crazy, but Ill lay it out for you as best I can. Perhaps itll be of use to you if youre trying to make moving decisions soon.

Leaving Hong Kong

Theres an enormous difference between visiting Hong Kong and living in Hong Kong.

I learned that the hard way very quickly.

Visiting Hong Kong is all about spacious hotel rooms, loads of crowded bars, and a great night out.

Living in Hong Kong is all about an apartment the size of a shoebox, a crowded commute, and a lot less partying.

After three months, I had admitted to Pam I had made a mistake.

We resolved to leave and move back to Barcelona, where I had attended a coding bootcamp with my friend and business partner, Andy.

There, Andy wrote the first iteration of Finlingo, our financial training app.

As Filipinos get fast-tracked for Spanish citizenship, that wouldve solved Pams passport issue.

But then, Pam fell pregnant with Micah.

We were stuck in Hong Kong for another two years.

Once that agonizing two-year period ended, we were unsure of where to go.

We secured a visa for Pam so we could all move to Switzerland, but the financial math didnt work out for us.

Then we thought about Barcelona again, but I wasnt happy with Spains porous maritime borders or tax code.

Finally, and with much reluctance from Pam, we decided to head to the Philippines, the only country where we had the unabated right to live.

Thats right, though Micah and I are both UK citizens, it wouldve been insanely expensive to move back to the UK as a freelancer.

As Pam is a non-EEA citizen, I wouldve been forced to park about $100,000 in a bank account and not touch it for a year and also pay GBP 1,500 in application fees to get there.

(I couldnt send her on a boat across the Channel for free, though the thought crossed my mind!)

Parking that cash wasnt an option for a startup owner like me.

Unfortunately, the idea to check my Italian roots hadnt come to me until we were leaving Hong Kong, a mistake that cost us much time and money.

Though, thanks to the Wu Flu, it now seems a blessing in disguise.

In contrast to the UKs idiotic freelancer policy, Italys freelancer law, passed in 2020, is a boon to digital nomads.

But in late 2018, if it wasnt going to be Switzerland, Spain, or Italy (yet), it had to be the Philippines.

The Philippines and Southeast Asia in General: The Pros

While I bitch a lot about the place, theres a lot to recommend Southeast Asia in general and the Philippines in particular.

First, the tax advantages.

American citizens get a foreign earned income exclusion of $112,000 for the fiscal year 2022. That means if youre a digital nomad earning under $112,000, you must still file a tax return, but youre not going to pay any tax.

If youre not an American citizen, you dont have to worry about that anyway.

Second, the Philippines has a territorial taxation system, which means you wont pay income taxes in the Philippines, either.

Yes, you can make $112,000 in the Philippines and not pay taxes on that income, as long as your income is foreign-sourced. So just dont take any money from Filipino companies.

For example: if youre from California, on average, you will pay $24,994 in income tax on $112,000.

To put it another way, to take home $112,000 in California, youd have to make a gross income of about $150,000.

And you dont even have to set up a company.

Its glorious.

Third, youre going to like - what shall we call it? - the companionship here.

I just dont understand the men in Western countries whining about purple-haired feminists.

Get on a plane to Southeast Asia, and youll be relieved of that complaint quickly.

I cant elaborate further, sorry.

The Cons

The heat is brutal. If youre a skier, avoid this part of the earth. Especially Bangkok.

You can cut the air with a knife in Bangkok. Im a walking water fountain there.

The Philippines are a bit cooler, but not much.

Next, the driving here is so substandard and full of motorcyclists who havent a clue, youll pull your hair out.

I would if I had any.

Swerving. Speeding. Riding with the brake on. They do it all here.

Its frustrating as hell.

Also, the governments here are nothing but tyrannical losers trying to prove their civilizational credentials to Western governments.

Dont think for a second theyre independent.

Had they been, this entire part of the earth wouldnt have been shut down during the Wu Flu.

Theres enough Vitamin D here for the entire planet and zero obesity.

But, hey, they had to impress people on the other side of the earth.

Wrap Up

I forgot to mention that married men can have a great time here - even with their wives!

If youre an American couple that wants a break here, you get a $224,000 income tax exclusion. Again, youll have to file, but you wont pay tax.

But the best part is that you dont have to deal with the madness in the western world.

You can live cheaply and really think about what you want to do with your life without a boss interrupting you all the livelong day.

If you can do that in Tulsa, Topeka, or Toledo, be my guest.

But for those of you who want a different life for a little bit, you can do far worse than getting on a plane and unwinding far from home.

And then, once youve built the foundation of your business empire, you can go home to finish the job.

Just like my family and I are about to do.

Until tomorrow.

All the best,


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