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RP lagging behind neighbors in attracting foreign retirees

Wednesday, October 1, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

[ BusinessWorld Online ]

MORE FOREIGNERS have chosen to retire in the Philippines this year, government data show, but experts say there is much to be done for the country to truly become a retirement haven.

The number of foreigners granted special resident retiree visas grew 20% to 960 in the first eight months of 2008 versus roughly 800 in the same period last year, Reynaldo D.L. Lingat, general manager of the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) said in a phone interview late last week.

More than a third of the retirees are Chinese (36%), while a similar number are Korean (33%). Americans and Japanese comprise 16% and 5% of the number, respectively. The rest are from Australia, India and Germany, Mr. Lingat said.

"[But] the Philippines is not among the top 20 preferred retirement destinations in the world," he added, noting that neighboring Thailand and Malaysia figured more prominently. The PRA still needs to attract 640 foreign enrollees to hit its yearend target.

The Philippines’ laggard performance is due to the lack of a long-stay tourist program and limitations to land tenure for foreigners, International Chambers of Commerce Retirement & Healthcare Coalition, Inc. chairman Henry J. Schumacher said in a phone interview late last week.

Although visas are granted to qualified retirees, there is a need to first grant tourist visas that cover longer periods, he said.

"In order to get new people to accept the Philippines as a retirement haven, we have to invite tourists to [first] stay here for three to four months to understand how the country ticks," Mr. Schumacher said.

"The Bureau of Immigration has been very restrictive [compared with their counterparts in] Thailand and Malaysia," he added.

Mr. Schumacher also recommended that since foreigners are restricted from owning land in the Philippines, a compromise would be to apply the Condominium Act — which allows foreigners to own 40% of a unit — horizontally to include retirement villages and town houses.

Subic, Clark, Metro Manila, Tagaytay, Dumaguete and Cebu can be marketed as retirement hubs as medical services, living accommodations and recreation facilities are available there, he added.

"Quite a number of Japanese and Korean investors [are building such facilities in the Philippines]," Mr. Schumacher said.

For his part, Mr. Lingat said the PRA is working on integrating agencies to improve the provision of health care to foreign retirees. PRA, he added, has put in place a tracking system to monitor bottlenecks in retirement visa applications.

Mr. Schumacher said, however, that the PRA should not focus on registration efforts.

"The PRA view is very short-term...[It] is income-oriented," he said, referring to the agency’s collection of up to $50,000 in deposit from retirees and a monthly pension of $800. "I prefer it to be a service organization." — Jessica Anne D. Hermosa


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