Living in Palawan – the + and – (part 1/10)

THE + (in no particular order)

Oh noes, another beautiful hot sunny day in Port Barton. Bummer.

  1. The cost of living

This is obviously an essential plus for the Philippines. A beer costs 1 CHF/EUR, a meal between 3 and 7 max (for a big fish fresh out of the sea, for instance). You can eat out twice a day for 300 CHF/EUR per month. Rent can vary hugely, but if you want some comfort like kitchen, private bathroom, terrace and concrete walls (bamboo walls look super good but not if you have direct neighbours), count 200 to 300 a month. You can rent a 125cc motorbike but the best deal is to buy one for 900 CHF/EUR or less, depending of the mileage. So basically you can live comfortably with 500 CHF/EUR per month, and definitely much less.

  1. The people

I know I wrote about it before, and I know some day something will happen that will make me come to my senses, and that this can be a violent and corrupt place, and that as a foreigner I will always be a second-class citizen, but, so far, even if I sound like a naive hippy, I just have to mention the Palawenos and Palawenas as one huge plus. The waving children who scream hello when you pass on motorbike, the little honk and smile of the other drivers, the extreme politeness, the helpfulness, the curiosity and genuine care… most people just seem to be super nice here. It’s weird. They must be up to something.

  1. The nature

Palawan is simply the most beautiful place I have ever seen, it is officially listed as THE number 1 tropical paradise island in the world by Conde Nast, Travel+Leisure and other travelers bibles. It has everything you can dream of – lush green jungles with amazing fauna, huge, empty white beaches under coconut trees, turquoise, transparent water, reefs, fishes, turtles, secret coves and hidden waterfalls, lost tribes and more. It is sparsely populated, just starting to develop, and hopefully they won’t fuck it up by building huge resorts everywhere – at least not in the very near future.

 

THE –

Plastic is not so bad after all.

  1. The extremely wet wet season

During the wet season in Port Barton, anything in leather will get covered in (potentially toxic) grey-green mold, which will then spread to all clothes. Nothing ever dries unless you put them in direct sunlight, and quickly take them in before rain comes, which is every day. You will find your folded clothes covered with white mold spots when you unfold them, and they will stink of gorgonzola cheese, like your bed sheets and everything else. Every small metallic piece will rust. Untreated wood will be turned to moss and crumble within a year. The smallest wound will take weeks to heal, but can get infected in no time.

  1. The shitty internet

In the main cities and towns, internet connections, while being neither super fast nor super reliable, are pretty ok. But in a relatively remote places like Port Barton, even though “Free Wi-fi” is advertised everywhere, it is mostly nowhere – the modem may be Chinese (not functioning), or out of battery (there is no electricity during day time) or the daily prepaid allowance was already used (800mb max, which isn’t much), or it’s heavily raining (rain seems to interrupt most internet coverage). You can buy your own router but it will not be any better, and I can’t decide if that prepaiment system is super clever or totally retarded.

  1. The insects

Whatever you do, ants of all sizes will be everywhere and on everything (including you) all the time, not to mention the winged variety that comes at dawn, or those swarm of flying black beetles that sometimes appear like a black cloud of hell turning into a moving carpet of pure horror. You also have huge clumsy capricorn beetles, super annoying flies, potentially dangerous mosquitoes (they can carry malaria and dengue fever), big black spiders, but beautiful endemic black and blue butterflies as big as a bird, too. The worst though has to be the sandflies, or nik-nik. These tiny fuckers are almost invisible, but will sting you everywhere. Their bites will first itch like hell for days, then get infected, and finally leave a little round white scar. It can also get so bad that you need antibiotics.

 

If you have any question about life in the Philippines, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments or write me at lars.kophal (a) gmail.com. I’ll do my best to answer them.

Retirer son 2e Pilier en cas de départ définitif de la Suisse

This week’s update will not be about my progress in the Philippines or the lack of it, but about the requirements and process to obtain your 2e Pilier savings when leaving Switzerland. This topic being of interest to Swiss citizens only, this update will exceptionally be in French, also because there are too many Swiss administrative terms (offices des poursuites? controle des habitants?) that I wouldn’t know how to translate.

La procédure pour retirer son 2e Pilier en cas de départ définitif de la Suisse est à la fois relativement simple et assez compliquée. Simple parce que c’est un droit (plus pour longtemps sans doute) et que les documents à fournir au final sont peu nombreux, et compliquée parce qu’il est nécessaire de bien s’organiser à l’avance, de se renseigner et de ne rien négliger pour que chaque étape se passe sans problème.

Nota bene: la procédure qui suit et en particulier les documents exigés concernent le canton de Neuchatel, qui semble etre l’un des plus maximalistes et tatillons en la matière.

  1. Faire transférer son 2e Pilier

La première chose à faire, si vous êtes employé, est probablement de donner votre démission. Parallèlement, ouvrir un compte dans une institution de libre-passage. Pour des raisons fiscales, choisir une caisse ayant son siège dans le canton de Schwyz. Quand la caisse versera le montant sur votre compte a l’étranger, l’impôt sera nettement moins élevé que dans n’importe quel canton romand. Pour ma part j’ai choisi Liberty et ne peut que recommander leurs services.

Une fois le compte de libre-passage ouvert, demander au responsable du fond 2e Pilier de votre employeur d’y transférer votre avoir (sans mentionner votre intention de quitter le pays).

  1. Déclarer son départ

Se rendre au guichet du contrôle des habitants de la commune de domicile pour signaler votre départ définitif, environ un mois à l’avance (se renseigner pour ces délais, qui peuvent varier d’un canton a l’autre). Il vous sera peut-être demandé de montrer une preuve de départ, par exemple une réservation de vol. Il vous sera délivre une attestation. Avec celle-ci, dans la plupart des cantons vous devrez vous rendre le jour même au guichet du service des contributions et demander une taxation provisoire pour l’année en cours. Son calcul peut prendre entre deux et cinq jours.

  1. Régler ses impôts courants

Si votre canton l’exige, il faut obligatoirement payer ce montant d’impôt, idéalement cash au guichet, ce qui peut être tres problématique. Toutefois, il est aussi possible de demander, via le formulaire ad hoc, que ce montant soit déduit de votre 2e Pilier au moment du transfert sur votre compte à l’étranger. D’autre part, merveille du fédéralisme, seuls les impôts dus pour l’année en cours dans le dernier canton de domicile sont pris en considération. Imaginons par exemple un Monsieur Z qui n’aurait pas encore payé ses impôts 2017. Le 1er janvier 2018, Monsieur Z transfere (officiellement – un passage au contrôle des habitants et un nom sur une boite à lettres suffisent) son domicile du canton X au canton Y. Il annonce ensuite son départ a l’étranger pour le 1er mars. Monsieur Z devra s’acquitter des trois mois d’impôts, de janvier à mars, dans le canton Y. Et toute l’année fiscale 2017, due dans le canton X ? C’est bête, mais elle a momentanément disparue dans un angle mort du fédéralisme…

  1. Obtenir une attestation de non-poursuites

Cette étape (qui, encore une fois, dépend des cantons) peut être également s’avérer délicate. Toutefois, par une heureuse coïncidence, le particularisme helvétique décrit ci-dessus s’applique également aux services des poursuites, qui sont du ressort des cantons, communiquent mal entre eux et sont de plus en plus débordés. Par conséquent, imaginons que ce crevard de Monsieur Z ait des poursuites pour arriérés d’impôts et d’assurance maladie, comme toujours plus de Suisses, dans le canton X. Apres trois mois seulement, ces poursuites n’auront très certainement pas encore été transmises au canton Y, ou le guichet des poursuites lui délivrera une attestation vierge de tout montant – la seule qui lui sera demandée.

  1. Obtenir l’attestation de départ

Muni de la preuve du versement des impôts courants, de l’attestation de non-poursuites et du formulaire dument vise par les deux services (contributions et poursuites), vous retournez au Contrôle des habitants, qui vous délivrera le sésame – votre attestation de départ définitif de la Suisse.

  1. Obtenir une attestation de domicile a l’étranger

Une fois arrivé dans votre pays d’accueil, il vous faudra obtenir une attestation de domicile. Les exigences pour celle-ci dépendant évidemment des lois du pays, il est essentiel de bien se renseigner à l’avance (forums, sites des ambassades, etc). En Thaïlande par exemple, le Bureau de l’immigration exige un contrat de bail et un visa non-Touriste d’une durée minimale de trois mois. Un moyen pour obtenir un contrat de bail est de passer par Airbnb et de s’arranger à l’avance avec le loueur ; pour le visa, une inscription dans une école reconnue donne droit au visa Etudiant ; et le tour est joué. Mais encore une fois, tout dépend du pays d’accueil.

  1. Faire traduire l’attestation de domicile

L’attestation doit impérativement passée par un traducteur agréé, qui y apposera son sceau officiel.

  1. Ouvrir un compte dans le pays d’accueil

La aussi, il est utile de se renseigner à l’avance sur les conditions et documents exigés (par exemple contrat de bail ou facture d’électricité a votre nom, visa…) pour pouvoir ouvrir un compte bancaire dans votre nouveau pays (c’est généralement assez simple – rares sont les banques qui refusent de l’argent, par définition).

  1. Envoyer les documents à la caisse

Une fois réunis l’attestation de départ et l’attestation de domicile avec sa traduction, scanner et renvoyer le tout par e-mail a la caisse, avec également un scan de votre passeport et du formulaire dument complété, sans oublier les coordonnées complètes de votre compte. La caisse effectuera le transfert dans les dix jours. Et voilou !

Bien sûr, les choses sont un peu plus compliquées pour qui a été marié, aurait des enfants à charge ou en cas de départ dans un pays membre de l’UE ou ayant conclu des accords fiscaux avec la Suisse. Pour plus de renseignements je ne peux que recommander l’e-book Départ de Suisse et 2e Pilier, très complet (et son auteur propose des consultations a des prix très raisonnables pour les cas complexes).

En conclusion, si cette possibilité (assez inespérée, il faut bien le dire) de financer votre départ dans une nouvelle vie vous tente, il est probablement judicieux de ne pas trop hésiter – il est à peu près certain qu’elle ne subsistera plus pour longtemps.

Greetings desde Asia Latina

I haven’t made much progress on the brewery front, so I figured this post would be about the weird case of the Philippines and the Filipinos.
One of the peculiarities of the Philippines is how comparatively familiar much of it first appears. Of course this is South-East Asia and everything is extremely different from Europe – but compared with, say, Myanmar, Bali or Thailand, the Philippines feel way less profoundly alien, strange, fascinating-yet-unfathomable. This has to do of course with the fact that the country was colonized for almost four centuries by Spain, only to be replaced by the US until the end of World War II. The result is a weird mix of colonial Spanish and American cultures coexisting with traditional island traditions and Asian ethnicity. Like two consecutive layers of paint applied on the surface of a tropical, tribal identity. I don’t know much about Central or South America, but I’m pretty sure there are places it must feel just the same. Actually sometimes I feel like I’m closer to South America than to Vietnam here.

First there is the language of course. Latin alphabet is the only one in use nowadays. Most Filipinos speak good to perfect (American) English as a second or third language. It’s amazing how this makes everything so much easier… Filipino or Tagalog (the common national lingo, originally the Manila dialect) integrates a lot of Spanish words or expressions, only with a different spelling (kamusta for como esta). Actually 1/3 of Filipino vocabulary is of Spanish origin, and as result it does sound vaguely familiar. For some reasons, the time of the day is always in Spanish (“las dos y media”), and the bigger number (“ten thousand peso”) in English. And then there is this strange habit of switching to English for a few words and back to Filipino then back to English – though I heard this mostly on television. Being totally fluent in English is the sign of superior education, therefore is a class act.

Then there are the guns. It’s a well-known fact there are a lot of weapons around in the Philippines. Every security guard (and there are lots of them, everywhere, in front of every bank, parking, malls, you name it) carries a the very least a handgun, often a shotgun too. I suppose it is for a reason.
I have heard a few horror stories – how a girl who was staying in the same cottage I usually go in Puerto Princesa, and who apparently was an out-of-control drug addict, got murdered by a hitman for 10’000 peso (200 francs/euros). That is the price of a life here. The cottage owner, who told me the story, was appalled by the fact that the hitman stabbed her 21 times in full daylight, in front of multiple witnesses. Had he been a bit more professional, it would have been totally fine, as far as he was concerned. Also I have heard stories of foreigners who liked local girls a bit too much, got local boys jealous, and ended with a bullet through the back of their head.
It has to be said, though, that he girls can be pretty flirty, in a more relaxed manner than in other Asian cultures perhaps. Not in a bad way at all – just an easy smile followed by a quick little joke, an impression of easy-going openness, quite charming actually. But everyone is smiling and cracking jokes and being nice all the time here anyway. Because even though I’m well aware that the percentage of assholes, bullies and downright criminals is the same here than anwhere else – even though I know there are many aspects of the culture that I just don’t see yet, some probably very unpleasant – for now, all I can say is that the Filipinos are the nicest, easiest, kindest, most polite people I’ve ever had the pleasure to live along. So salamat po, guys.

That grey area between legal, illegal, and nevermind

This peaceful road should be turned into a 15 meters wide, multiple-lanes street next year. Seriously.

I talked with as many expats as I could since I arrived here, people who have opened their boat tour agency, dive center, beach bar, vegan pizza place, bbq restaurant, ice-cream cafe. Their experiences seem to prove that it is totally doable – they did it, in a relatively short period of time.  My idea of a brew bar is always greeted with much enthusiasm, everyone likes it, and thinks it will do great. So on the one hand I’m reasonably optimistic.

But on the other hand… I have a feeling we are all treading on very thin water, legally, and taking huge risks with zero safety net. Because we are foreigners. And the rules of the game are definitely NOT in our favor.

Legally, a foreigner cannot own a business here.  You need either a Filipino partner, who will legally own your business, even though you might do everything and bring all the funding (that is typically the case of the White man married to a Filipino wife). Or you need to create a registered corporation, with a minimum of five shareholders, three of them being Filipinos, who won’t necessarily do anything nor bring any money, but own 60% of the company nevertheless. The multiples ways you can get massively fucked over seem quite obvious.

You cannot buy land, either. You can rent it for a limited amount of time, after which whatever you built on it goes back to the owner of the land, without compensations. But also the whole legal processes documenting who actually own or can claim what part of land seems to be quiet muddy. So your landlord might actually not really own some part of the land you just built your bar on, or anything like that, apparently. And don’t count on legal procedures to solve the dispute, it would take years if it ever achieves anything.

Then there is the visa problem. Obviously you are not supposed to work in the Philippines on a tourist visa. Yet it seems that almost everybody is still on a tourist visa, and/or waiting for some decision from the Baranguay (the smallest administrative unit, like a commune or a quartier), or from the Mayor (the next level). So almost every expat business owner could potentially be deported and blacklisted tomorrow, it seems. Just like that. And that would make a few envious locals very happy, apparently.

I could also mention that most relatively recent businesses don’t seem to be officially registered yet with the tax administration, not because they don’t want it, but once again for administrative reasons, the process being currently blocked because of some insane urban planning that would require ALL roads to be widened to 15 meters and therefore pretty much all houses and businesses along thoes roads to be torn down (don’t ask me)… so no-one is paying taxes… yet. What could happen when/if they finally get their situation straightened? X years of taxes payable within one month plus a huge fine? Deportation? Drive-by suicide? None of the above? No-one seem to know. Or worry too much about it.

 So here I am, oscillating between optimism (I can do it!) and pessimism (Eventually I’m going to get screwed and lose my last peso). Or is it just realism?…

Port Barton is the new El Nido (and the old one too)

El Nido, being obviously hell on Earth.

I absolutely wanted to go back to Palawan and El Nido for New Years Eve. It was mostly a bad idea (though we had some fun there), but in a very educational way. Who knew how much a place could change within 5 years only. With the opening of the airport nearby, the “best kept secret of South-East Asia” as Lonely Planet (I think) once described it, the charming fishermen town that I had known, with only a handful of bungalows and backpackers bars by the beach, had turned into a congested, deafening nightmare, submerged by hordes of package tourists, narrow streets blocked day and night by hundreds of noisy tuk-tuk expelling black fumes over bars and restaurants selling overpriced, tasteless fares – if you were lucky enough to actually find one that wasn’t already full, with 20 Australian teen waiting to get seated, that is… and the tap water was so toxic it was dangerous to even brush your teeth with. It’s not always that bad, though, just don’t go around NYE.

But on the way to El Nido, I had discovered Port Barton. Just like El Nido once was, Port Barton is a beautfiful, well-hidden, peaceful, long forgotten fishermen village turned backpackers heaven. No electricity during day time or after 1am. No franchise shops (well no proper shops as we know them), no mall, no 4-star resorts, no paved roads, virtually no cars, no tuk-tuks. It seems there is nothing to do but chill. The most relaxed and relaxing place on Earth. That place… was exactly what I was looking for. A paradise. Probably on the verge of explosion. El Nido was nearly the same five years ago, and the chances are Port Barton will eventually be (to some extent) wasted by mass tourism within five years seem pretty high. Sad, but probably unavoidable – and of course I am myself, my presence here, a symptom and an actor of this transformation that has already begun – the development plans have been drawn, the access roads are being built, the airports are getting upgraded, so it seems to be just a matter of time. But only time will tell for sure – and maybe now is precisely the right time to do something there, just before the big players come in and change the game? Or is it already too late?

Thailand or Philippines?

Thai people are universally know for their gentle and peaceful ways.

It’s nothing wildly original, but I always LOVED South-East Asia, ever since I first visited Vietnam in 1994. It was my first holidays beyond Europe or the Mediterranean sea. Vietnam had just opened to the world, but it was still a land out of time, that hadn’t changed much since 1975, with a lot going further back to French Indochine or to times immemorial. That trip was an initiation, almost a mystical experience, something I will never forget. From then on I was hooked. Just after I got my first real job, my first holidays were to Phuket, Thailand. I thought I had discovered paradise. Phuket was very different at the time, pre-tsunami, and it had EVERYTHING. Green jungle, white beaches, turquoise sea, still pristine coral reefs and colourful fishes under the water, glorious sun and occasional warm showers of rain above. The people were beautiful and incredibly nice. Their religion, though everywhere, was peaceful and tolerant. Everything was both more densely vibrant with life and more relaxed. And everything seemed so cheap and easy. I tried other places, like the Red Sea, Egypt – it wasn’t the same. No other place on Earth can compare. South-East Asia as a whole is the best part of the world, period. One day I would find a way to stay there for good, I thought every time I had to go back to grey and cold Europe.

When I quit my job for my one-year-round-the-world trip ten years ago, I knew most of my time would be spent in South-East Asia. I loved South America, though – but I preferred Bali, or Bangkok. So when I decided I was going to reclaim my life and get the hell out of Switzerland there was no question where I was planning to go.

At first I had thought of Phuket, Thailand, because that was the place I knew best, so I first settled here for a few months, to go through the whole administrative process before I could get my money. Thailand is probably the most economically developed country of the area (with the exception of Singapore), and the offer in terms of touristic infrastructures is already above and beyond the demand. So what could I be doing there? Opening a bar or a guesthouse was not an option – they have already way too many, everywhere, and building thousands more. So I had that idea of a craft brewery – everybody loves beer, tourists drink LOADS of beer, and a few of them would probably enjoy having some choices and diversity outside of industrial lager, I figured, and I thought that was something I could see myself doing – though I had actually never done it. It was a last minute idea, too late to actually learn the trade. Which would have been a major obstacle if… but more about this another day.

After three months in Phuket, one EXTREMELY unpleasant experience with the police (I will come back to this too), a few eye-opening discussions with Westerners who had settled here… I knew it was not going to be Thailand, a country that is definitely not what it pretends to be. Behind the amazing holidays postcard, the golden luxury of the temples, that all-pervasive elaborate glittery Thai aesthetics, there is a very dark and disturbing reality of general corruption, brutality, totalitarian propaganda (that insane cult of the King!), extreme conformism and deep dislike of “aliens”, who are only supposed to spend as much as possible then get out. You certainly can find some of this in all other South-East Asian countries, but I think Thailand is the most extreme case. They make it extremely clear that foreigners are NOT welcome anymore, unless they are 1. short-term tourists, 2. wealthy pensioners.

I knew the Philippines since I had once travelled to El Nido, Palawan for some unforgettably perfect holidays six years ago. It was like rediscovering Phuket the first time around – but better. The Bacuit Bay has to be one of the most amazing site on Earth, on par with Halong Bay in Vietnam. Philippines has so many islands, so many pristine beaches that it’s impossible to deface all of them with huge resorts, jetskis and mass tourism.  So it seemed like a logical choice. I embarked on a recon tour around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Diary of a Swiss guy in Port Barton, Palawan, Philippines

“Why would you want to stay in Palawan?!” said no-one ever.

Ok, so from now on this blog will be the chronicle of my attempt at settling in, and somehow find a way to survive, here in Port Barton, Palawan, Philippines. I have decided to write it in English, even though it’s not even my second language – it’s the language I will be speaking here and the lingua franca of the internet, wether we like it or not, so to hell with French.

A few preliminary words about me – I’m 47 (sigh), born and raised in Switzerland, where I’ve worked as a journalist for most of my life. By 2007, I had lost all my illusions about the realities of the job, particularly in the post 9/11 world where “journalist” has become a very dirty word indeed. Following a merger between the newspaper that employed me in Lausanne and its counterpart in Geneva, I got offered some incentive money if I agreed to quit so they wouldn’t have to fire me. Having no family, mortgage, obligations or any sense of responsibilities, I jumped on that opportunity, took the money and run, basically turning my old dream of travelling round the world into reality. I did just that for about a year, the best of my life up to that point, came back with a million memories, hepatitis (I’m fine now, thanks) and the realization that I would never again find work in my old field (who buys newspapers nowadays), and that traveling was everything.

After doing one Summer as a lifeguard at my local public swimming pool, I found an office job in a legal insurance company in Geneva. Though my colleagues were some of the best people I ever met, the job itself was nothing short of horrible – at times stressful, at times boring, always disheartening and repetitive, badly paid, with no possibilities of evolution of any kind. The ultimate dead end. I held on there for seven years, then decided this was not the life I wanted. I had to leave, or midlife crisis and depression would get me for real.

Switzerland sucks, mostly. Everything is insanely expensive. Rents (if you manage to find a flat, that is), mandatory insurances, taxes, transportations, even the most basic necessities like food and clothes are prohibitively priced  and getting higher every year, while the salaries are not. The Swiss – now a minority in their own country – have to compete (and the majority voted for it) with people in from all over the crumbling EU, for whom Swiss wages still seem attractive, comparatively – and it can be if you manage to actually live in one of the neighbour country and work in Switzerland, which is what hundreds of thousands are doing, pulling the salaries further down. The Swiss middle class is dying. For me and my colleagues, once we had paid the bills and filled the fridge, there was nothing left and only 25 more days till next check. But the Swiss shut up and consider themselves lucky because it’s actually worse everywhere else, or so we are told. But is it really?

It’s not all bad, though. Switzerland has a few comparative advantages. One is that, even if you’re dirt poor, you’re probably not going to end up dying of hunger and untreated diseases in the street. Admittedly it might even be better to be unemployed than to be working for minimum wage. The other one being that even if you’re a working poor within Switzerland, you’re quite well off with the same amount just about anywhere else in the world. Basically, being Swiss is great – as soon as you get get the hell out of Switzerland.

By Swiss law, if you are employed, a percentage of your salary goes to your retirement savings, called AVS. This is far from enough to live half decently once you retire nowadays though, so they doubled the amount taken off your payroll, calling it the 2e Pilier – but it’s still impossible to keep even your modest standards of living once retired if you had an average salary. So as an employee, basically the only options you have is 1° make enough to be able to save voluntarily a lot more and invest your capital wisely (basically: be among the top 20% earners); 2° Get out of the country as soon as you are too old to slave away and go die on some distant, cheap shores, we don’t need you anymore, thank you very much.

The sweet thing is – if you decide to call it a day and leave Switzerland for good today, the money saved under the 2e Pilier column can be yours, now. Not for long, they are planning to legally block that option, but it’s still possible. At the beginning of 2016, I decided I was going to do just that. What did I have to lose?

So here I am, one year later, in Port-Barton, Palawan, Philippines, with all my savings on a Thai bank account, looking for something, some place to rent, or even buy maybe someday somehow (though as a foreigner you can’t own a land or any kind of business on your own), some way to make enough so that I won’t ever have to go back (though as a foreigner you can’t work on a tourist visa). The idea is to open a beer microbrewery that would double as a bar, here in Port-Barton. But honestly, apart from a general picture of what my dream place would be, I feel a bit lost sometimes. What am I doing here? Do I have any clues? Answers in the next instalment of this blog (or not).